Tuesday, March 31, 2009

2009 Rivalry Matchups: Bullpen

GM:

Theo Epstein has been the general manager of the Red Sox for seven baseball seasons now and for some reason, has never really put together a perfect bullpen. Perhaps it's because there's no such thing as a perfect bullpen. The 2004 bullpen--DURING THE PLAYOFFS--was as close as Theo got to a perfect bullpen. But there have been guys come and go, such as Kim, Lyon, Fox, Mantei, Tavarez, Gagne, who were brought in for a significant amount of money and turned out to be flops. This year is probably going to be a little bit different. Gone are the days of the old version of Timlin and Gagne, and now, all of a sudden, Manny Delcarmen is the last guy on the bullpen depth chart.


Look, Manny Delcarmen is not by any stretch of the imagination a good pitcher, but he's a servicable middle reliever. But he's been bumped by newcomers Takashi Saito and Ramon Ramirez, and Rusty Masterson is in the mix. Should the rotation stay healthy, Smoltz could be back there, too. We're talking about four (4) people who could potentially be an eighth-inning guy! That's absurd! And that is not even taking into account Hideki Okajima, whose stock has fallen considerably but at times can also be extremely reliable. Papelbon is one of the best relievers in the game, and with four different eighth-inning guys, Delcarmen and Javier Lopez will rarely have the ball with the game on the line. That is beautiful.



The Yankees have Rivera. They don't have Farnsworth. Damaso Marte is good too. But Brian Bruney and a handful of guys from SWB, as good as they may have been in SWB (please read Pat's lines below), cannot hold a candle to these guys. Even if one guy or two craps out (I'm looking at Saito here), the Sox have by far the best bullpen in recent memory.


PAT F:

I'm glad DV went first for this entire series, because it is helpful for my point in this post. He just spent two paragraphs drooling about the Red Sox bullpen, and rightfully so. The Red Sox are going to have a very good bullpen, it's definitely the best part of their team. Then he essentially dismissed the Yankees bullpen in comparison, talking about the two names every knows (Rivera and Marte), and tossing the rest aside because they aren't "names".

This is going to be the norm, at least early in the season. The Sox have a bullpen that has a chance to be very flashy. Papelbon is one of the better closers in the game. Ramon Ramirez is an excellent set-up man, and if healthy, so is Takashi Saito. You can see a scneario where an awful nickname is developed for these three (which won't be difficult, because Paps is easily the toughest nickname on the ears in all of professional sports, reminding everyone of...). Masterson can shut down righties with the best of them, and Okajima does the same from the other side. Delcarmen is a disaster in any kind of serious role, but as the 6th guy on the depth chart can certainly do his job. But what happens with he and whoever the 7th/long man is won't much matter. It's the first five that are going to make this bullpen as effective as it should be, and is the reason DV is rightfully as head over heels as he is about this bullpen.

The Yankees are not going to be as flashy outside of Rivera - the best reliever on either team - but just because people don't know the names (DV called them Bruney and a bunch of guys from SWB) is not a reason to dismiss them. If you were paying attention last year, then you already know this. The Yankees quitely had one of the best bullpens in baseball last year. They had the 6th best bullpen ERA, but if you follow this blog, you know I'm not a big fan of that statistic when it comes to the pen. What I am a fan of regarding the bullpen, in specific order, is holding as many leads you possible and striking out as many batters as possible. The Yankees bullpen lead baseball in both save percentage and strikeouts last year. Not one bullpen came up bigger in the toughest spots (the most important bullpen attribute for me), and not one bullpen missed more bats. Not only do they have everyone from this bullpen back, but have some pieces added.

The Yankees bullpen may not garner as much excitement because of their lack of names, but that won't prevent them from going toe to toe with the best bullpens in baseball again. They won't garner as much name attention, acting more workmanlike. The great think about workmanlike is that it gets the job done just as much as flashy. That's what this bullpen did last year, and that's what it will do this year. It's biggest strength, especially in comparison to Boston, is depth. Just like the Sox are prepared to replace starters more effectively than are the Yankees, the Yankees are prepared to replace bullpen arms more effectively than are the Sox. This is important for something as volatile as the bullpen. The Opening Day bullpen is Rivera, Marte, Bruney, Ramirez, Veras, Coke, and Albaladejo. Last year, three of these guys had ERA's below 2. Three more had ERA's in the 3's. Only Marte (gasp, a name!) at 4.02 had an ERA north of 4, the worst on the team. Nobody besides Yankees fans care, and I think that's great. The fact that a bullpen that did this is "Bruney and a bunch of guys from SWB" is exactly the way I like it. You may not hear about it, but that doesn't mean they aren't doing the job. And if and when one of them doesn't, they have Mark Melancon, Dave Robertson, and Alfredo Aceves to take a hack. That's not to mention guys like Mike Dunn and Christian Garcia who have a chance to come out of nowhere and help this pen. Like the rest of the Yankees team, there is a lot of balance. Righties, lefties, strikeout guys, contact guys, short guys, long guys. Can't hold a candle to Boston? We'll see about that.

"Now hold on, Pat. You like the Yankees' offense and starting pitching more than Boston's, and think the bullpens are on even footing. Yet you like Boston to finish ahead of New York. That makes no sense." Excellent point. But remember I said from the start I like the Yankees more on paper, and paper is what we are talking about here. For me it's a toss up between New York, Boston, and Tampa Bay, and I think health will be the primary determining factor. If you told me health was going to be equal, and the over/under on games the Yankees would win more than everyone else in baseball was 5, I'd take the over. But we all know health is not necessarily going to be equal. And despite how much I love this team on paper - and I love this team more on paper than any team since 2001 - that is where I think the Yankees come up short.

Monday, March 30, 2009

2009 Rivalry Matchups: Starting Pitching

GM:

This is a nerdy thing to say, but sometimes a starting rotation is like a cross-country team. And the Red Sox, this year, have a good one, a lot like the hated Williams team that--guess what?--won the conference year after year. There's occasionally a superstar that comes in, but more than anything else there are just a lot of anonymous henchmen who, on any day, can finish somewhere in the top 40-50 in the conference. If one of them has a bad race or gets hurt, it doesn't matter at all because there are another thirteen guys who can step right in and do the same thing.

That's what the Red Sox are like. They might have a superstar like possibly Beckett, possibly Lester, or maybe even Matsuzaka or Buchholz. They certainly don't have the ceiling the Yankees have. But they could win a war of attrition. If Brad Penny can't pitch, Buchholz can. If Wakefield can't start anymore, Rusty Masterson can. If Beckett gets a blister or an avulsion or Lester gets a dead arm in July, Smoltz can step in. I don't think Michael Bowden is ready yet, but the Red Sox would need to have four guys go down before throwing him. That means five guys before Charlie Zink territory.

I am not expecting miracles out of Tim Wakefield in a year that might be his last year. I am also expecting the innings to catch up with Jon Lester a little bit. Matsuzaka will be Matsuzaka and be okay despite passing a lot of games to the bullpen early. Beckett showed up to camp in shape and therefore I am expecting miracles from him. At this point, I would like to see Buchholz in that fifth spot because his spring indicates he actually has it together. If not, Penny will be okay. No miracles but he'll keep them in a ballgame. Teams, especially like the Yankees last year, had to worry about throwing some really bad pitchers, like Ponson, Kennedy, Rasner, and Dan Giese. The Red Sox will not have that problem this year unless Joba Chamberlain drives their team bus.

The Yankees, however, have a higher ceiling. Chamberain, Sabathia, and JD Drew (I mean, AJ Burnett) all have the potential to put up Cy Young-caliber seasons. I don't expect it to happen for all three, but I predict 2 1/2 solid seasons out of those three guys--a wash with what the Red Sox will get. Wang is a toss-up, but is a better fourth starter than Wakefield. And Pettitte, who tried a lot of needles but didn't like any of them, is more reliable than the Penny/Smoltz/Buchholz triad. So NY has a better baseline and a better ceiling. However, the first guy in reserve is Triple-A Aphiliate, and the second guy is Scranton Patrick Wilkes-Barre, whose ERA in his own mind is about four runs lower than it is in reality. The Red Sox' third line of defense is Masterson. The Yankees--probably someone from the Aaron Small category.

Therefore, I'll give a slight edge to the Red Sox.

PAT F:

Just as with the lineups, I find myself thinking about ceilings and basements a lot with both of these teams. They both have a lot of upside/downside pieces on their rosters and in their camps, and that creates a wide range of possible results in my eyes. Starting pitching is no exception, albeit being a bit different comparitively from the lineups. Again, I think the Yankees have the higher ceiling, but disimilarly, I think they have more risk and therefore a lower basement.

If the Yankees rotation stays healthy, it is going to be the best in baseball, and it isn't going to be particularly close. I'm not talking perfect health, but something reasonable, like 130-140 starts from the five members of the Opening Day rotation. If they get that, with 15 starts from Phil Hughes and another 7-17 from someone else, nothing else is going to much matter. What I like about the rotation more than anything else is its balance. Three righties, two lefties. Three strikeout machines, two of the bigger groundball inducers in the game. One old guy, three guys in their prime, and one young guy. A bona fide ace, three guys who could be as good of a #2 as their is in the game (to say nothing of 3s or 4s), and a reliable back-end veteran. You get the point.

They also seem to really be interested in being a unit, something I think is important. You always heard the starting pitchers of the Yankees' championship teams talking about the way they pushed each other, not wanting to be the pitcher who was going to break a winning streak, and keep passing wins to the next guy. They have started a tradition of watching each others' pre-game bullpens/warm-ups. CC is taking everyone to courtside seats at the magic. AJ is taking everyone out fishing on his boat. At the end of the day, talent and production are what matters. But stuff like this does not hurt, especially when it is all part of trying to have success as the most important unit on the team. If they stay healthy, it's not going to be a lot of fun for the rest of baseball.

That if, however, is a huge if. Wang and Joba are coming off injuries. AJ Burnett is always going to be a health risk, though the hype surrounding this exceeds reality recently. CC is a big guy who has thrown a lot of innings recently, which could be a good thing (he's just a healthy/capable dude) or a bad thing (it's bound to catch up to him). Pettitte is old and suffered from a tired shoulder at the end of last season. Out of everyone, you probably feel good about CC and Wang, decent about Pettitte, and are uneasy every time Burnett and Joba takes the mound. At the end of the day anything can happen to any pitcher at any time, it's the nature of starting pitching. Pitchers who have never been hurt can blow out their elbow in one motion, and pitchers with injury riddled pasts pull it together all the time. But this Yankee rotation does have considerable risk to go along with their ridiculous upside.

The Sox are safer to me. Not by a lot, but definitely safer. Lester is an injury risk and the 4th and 5th spots are not certainties, but what sets them apart in terms of having less risk than the Yankees are three things. One, Lester, Matsuzaka, Beckett, and Wakefield have no adjusting to do, not to a new city, not to a new team, not to a new league, not to a new role, not to a new spot in the rotation. The Yankees have a lot of this. Two, you basically know what you are getting from Matsuzaka and Beckett. Matsuzaka is going to drive you crazy with a huge WHIP and an inability to get past the 6th inning, but he can miss bats, knows what he's doing, and he's going to give you 15+ wins with an ERA around 3. Beckett is going to have one game a month where balls are flying out of the park and, like Matsuzaka, he's not going to get deep into games, but he also knows what he's doing, is another bat misser, and is good for 15+ wins and an ERA around 4. These guys aren't spectacular, but they are established. In the 2 and 3 spots in the order, that's a big advantage. Three, as much as I think the Yankees have in Phil Hughes, the Red Sox have tons of depth, not just for the 4/5 slots in the rotation, but in the event of injury. Like the Yankees' offensive depth, the Red Sox are much more prepared for injury than their New York rivals. Between Wakefield, Penny, Smoltz, Buchholz, and Bowden, this team is not only going to cover the back of the rotation, they are going to be ready to deal with injury.

To that end, as we've discussed before, Lester is a huge injury risk this year. He's Boston's most talented pitcher, and if I had to pick two guys as favorites for the AL Cy Young, I'd probably take Lester and Sabathia. A lot of people still don't realize how good he can be. He dominates same side batters, and the way he gets his cutter in and can drop his curveball and change over the outside corner, he keeps righties off him as well, almost the exact same way Sabathia does. But the innings jump is a concern. Beckett has an injury history, and Penny and Smoltz aren't exactly locks with the former's history and the latter's present situation as a 42 year old coming off injury. But like I said, they are more prepared to lose their ace than the Yankees would be. Their ceiling isn't as high, but their basement isn't as low because of this depth.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

2009 Rivalry Matchups: Lineups

GM:

The Red Sox go into the season with a lineup that certainly has its weaknesses, but contrary to popular belief, will be good without Mark Teixeira. Really this lineup has a section of five that I like a lot and a section of four that I don’t like a lot. The acquisition of Teixeira would have tried to “fix” part of the five that work.


The five that work, obviously, are 2-6 in the order (Pedroia, Ortiz, Youkilis, Bay, and Lowell). In Youkilis and Pedroia you have two players who can do a lot of different things with the bat when necessary, as shown last year. We’ve gone over how Youkilis stopped walking when he needed to start driving in runs, and we’ve seen how Pedroia hits a double pretty much every time he’s up, but also can hit bad pitches into singles and hit mistake pitches out of the ballpark when that’s necessary. We’ve gone over how Jason Bay has averaged almost thirty home runs a year over the last five years. Where a lot of us differ is how Ortiz and Lowell will do. I believe that they will bounce back and be good. I think all these people doubtful about these two guys are player hating way too much.


The problem is going to be 7-1 in the order. Drew is usually on vacation or shirking 85% of the time, and no matter what Theo Epstein says about him, he doesn’t come close to “elite” when he actually isn’t taking vacation time. Lugo is terrible and recovering from an injury, but Lowrie is the interesting part of the equation. He was advertised as a player who had some pop but is bad in the field. His bat fell off last year, but it’s mostly because of a wrist injury, they say. If he hits .285, that would be awesome—especially if it keeps Lugo on the bench. Varitek is awful. And 46, in a make-or-break season, needs to learn that he can’t steal first.


The Yankees don’t have four spots in their lineup with as much uncertainty. They’re battling time to a certain extent with Jeter and Damon getting old, A-Rod being hurt, and Posada and Matsui getting really old. It’s hard to believe that they’ll all crap out at the same time, but it can certainly be a concern. Brett Gardner (congratulations to the Bronx and all the other Brett Gardner fans out there) won the CF job, and he’s just as much of a question mark as 46 is. But the Yankees would need Gardner to be bad AND three of the other guys to crap out to be as questionable as the Red Sox presently are. Plus, the Yankees have a better bench.


PAT F:

The GM pretty much covered it. To me, these offenses have a similar quality, albeit in slightly different ways. Where they are similar is that neither of these offenses are definites. You don't look at them on paper and say definite strength or definite weakness. In this way both teams could end up having similarly strong/above average offenses. Where they differ is that if everything falls right for the Yankees their offense could be a strength, and if things go wrong their offense should bottom out at that above average level, and probably doesn't have a chance to be a weakness. If everything falls right for the Sox, I'm not sure they have the cabability to be a team that really can rely on their offense night in and night out. Their ceiling is definitley very good, but not to the point where their offense can carry them and thus really be a team strength. Conversely, if things go wrong I think the Red Sox offense could be a team weakness.

The Yankees have question marks of their own to be sure. Rodriguez is hurt, Posada and Matsui are coming off surgery, Robinson Cano had a career worst season with the bat in 2008, and Brett Gardner is a total unknown at the Major League level. But at the end of the day, Rodriguez and Posada are the ones that really, truly matter. Rodriguez is probably going to be okay. That leaves Posada. If he is as healthy as he looks this spring, can catch 100-110 games and get his bat in the lineup 15-20 more than that, this team is going to be fine offensively. DV said it, one thing the Yankees really have going for them, especially in comparison to the Sox, is depth. Both in terms of people who "could" have good seasons and bodies available if those people don't have good seasons. If Matsui is shot, Xavier Nady and Nick Swisher will probably fill in ably. This lineup also has good depth and balance within the starting 9. Jeter is best fit to leadoff and focus on getting on base at this stage in his career and Damon will be just as capable batting 2nd as he is 1st. Teixeira and Rodriguez, as two of the best overall players in baseball, could combine to be the most prolific 1-2 punch in the game producing runs in the middle of the order. Spots 5-8 can be filled by any combination of Matsui, Posada, Nady, Swisher, and Cano, and what you like about that group is their versatility. All different hitters with different approaches that can give you different things depending on the situation. If Brett Gardner's bat can play at this level, he offers something this team has not had in a long time, and that's a legitimate terror on the bases. If he sticks 50-60 steals is a near certainty.

The problems with the Sox question marks in comparison, and what gives them a lower ceiling and a better chance of faltering in my eyes, are two-fold. First, their question marks are probably bigger question marks. Varitek hasn't been a productive bat for three years, so it's a long shot that he can give you anything. The Yankees don't have anyone like this. Lowrie and Lugo don't have the upside of any of the Yankees' question marks, either. Essentially, the Yankees big question mark is Jorge Posada, a guy that if he comes through is really good, and if he doesn't is still probably better than Varitek. If Varitek plays "well" by his standards, he could still be unproductive, and his basement is a 2008 repeat of one of the worst regulars in baseball. Same goes with Matsui and Cano etc. vs. Lowrie and Lugo. The upsides are in a different ballpark for the Yankees' question marks, save Ellsbury who definitely has that upside. Second, if the Sox question marks don't pan out, where do they turn? Not a whole lot of depth if a guy like Ellsbury falters.

What it really comes down to for me is Ortiz and Lowell. I think The GM is far too optimistic with these two. I don't think that they are question marks, but I think there is a substantial chance, even if it's less than 50%, that at least one of them is operating at reduced levels, and I think GM would disagree with that. That would hurt. If those guys are a go, there is enough for this offense to be well above average. What you especially like is the way this club is constructed in their 2-6 that GM talked about to play their 81 home games in Fenway Park. Dustin Pedroia and Mike Lowell (and to a lesser extent Youkilis) are good baseball players anywhere, but they are All-Stars as pull hitters with that wall there. GM talked about Pedroia hitting a double in every at bat, but the reality is he's hit nearly twice as many doubles at home as he has on the road for his career (61 to 35). That's not a coincidence. He's a .339/.392/.501 best second baseman in baseball at Fenway, and a .288/.347/.418 light hitting middle infielder everywhere else. While this is certainly a knock on Pedroia's abilities (he did improve in 2008 home/away), it's definitely a plus for the Red Sox that all those pop ups turn into doubles 81 times per year (still 35-19 home-away doubles in that improvement last year) not only for Pedroia but for others in this lineup. They built a team that could make Fenway Park a competitive advantage, and this matters.

I would start these offenses on fairly similar levels, with the Yankees slightly ahead of the Sox. Once the games start, I think the Yankees have a chance to be anywhere from good to the best offense in the league, and the Sox have a chance to be anywhere from very good to we need to pitch on a regular basis to win games.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sore Glove Hand (Volume 1)

1. So it's settled: The 2007 version of multi-topic posts by me was called "38 Bitches." The 2008 version was "It's Why We Watch." This year, inspired by a malady that took JD Drew out of spring training activities a few weeks ago, is the year of "Sore Glove Hand."

2. Johnny Damon actually said something smart. I believe this fact ought to garner headlines from coast to coast. What is not surprising about it is the fact that Damon was talking about the Red Sox, or as I prefer to call them, the Team Damon Doesn't Play For Anymore. What was actually smart about Damon's comment was that he was right: "We probably needed [Mark Teixeira] more than they did."
3. I read Jason Stark's blog post about Curt Schilling deserving to be in the Hall of Fame. It's a pretty convincing argument: All three years he came in second on CYA voting, he was beaten out by guys who had what Stark called "historic" seasons. Fair enough. Also, as Stark pointed out, Schilling played for some REALLY bad teams. A little bit of independent research led me to the average number of runs scored by the Phillies per game between 1994 and 2000 are the following:
4.53, 4.27, 4.01 (!), 4.12, 4.40, 5.19, 4.37.
Wow. Schilling went 9-10 with an ERA of 3.19 in 1996 (the 4.01 year).
He also scores points with his postseason performance, his impeccable control, and his ability to strike out a lot of hitters. Schilling is one of three pitchers (him, Randy Johnson, and Pedro) to K three hundred people in a season in the last decade.
But Schilling, at the same time, is definitely right on the border of the Hall of Very Good classification, a very important classification that separates Baseball's HOF from the basketball version (a point that Pat brought up on the phone tonight). You think about Pedro. Pedro is a Hall of Famer. Pedro, if he was on a really, really bad team, could win those 2-1 games. I'm not saying Pedro would have won 20 games on the 1996 Phillies, but he would have won A LOT more than nine. Not all Hall of Famers need to be Pedro, but they have to win a lot more 2-1 games than Schilling did.
As many strikeouts as Schilling did put up, it is notable to say that he only led the league in strikeouts twice. He was only an All-Star seven times (you gotta be a double-digit guy to have the All-Star appearances work in your favor), and though he did finish second twice, he was only in the top five four times. He was only in the top ten four times.
There are compelling arguments both ways for this one. I'm sure one of the readers out there can throw together something for Schilling, and I hope you do. Here's a hint: Talk about how in 2004 he put his entire career on the line for winning in October, and it probably cost him several wins over the next few seasons. But I'm for the HOF being extremely selective. And both of the authors here are afraid that with the enshrinement of guys like Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter, the admissions standards are slowly creeping from the Colby level to that of...oh, let's say Bates.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pat F.'s Predictions

I'm doing it all at once as the season is almost upon us (!) and The GM and I have some other stuff we want to get in.

AL EAST:
1. TAMPA BAY - The popular theory is that their rotation can't stay as healthy as it did last year. I agree with this. The only problem is that when someone gets hurt, the rotation gets better because their best starter, David Price, gets called up. They will also have the loser of the battle for the 5 spot between Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann joining Price and Wade Davis at AAA. I'm fairly certain all four of these guys can find homes in 75% of the rotations in baseball, and yet only one will break camp with Tampa Bay. Pat Burrell not having to play the field is going to be a very productive addition to the lineup, and don't sleep on the under the radar trade of pitching surplus Edwin Jackson for Matt Joyce. Joyce can play. Longoria could win the MVP, and Upton is a year older. I'm telling you, watch out.
2. BOSTON (Wild Card) - Very close between this squad and the one 200 miles south. I like the fact that the Red Sox have done it more recently, and that they don't have to gel on the fly as the Yankees do.
3. NY YANKEES - The Big Ticket is all over me for this pick, saying I'm just doing it to not jinx them. I've definitely been guilty of this before, but not here. Listen, no question the Yankees are the best team in baseball on paper. If you told me every team was going to experience equal health, I like the Yankees to run away with the regular season and probably win 100 games. But every team is not going to experience equal health. Not only have the Yankees been very unfortunate with injuries in the last three seasons, but they already have their best player injured, and have a number of other injury risks (Burnett, Chamberlain, Posada, Matsui to start). The Yankees are more prepared for injury this year than last, but I still don't know if it's enough.
4. BALTIMORE - Pie, Jones, and Markakis could make a serious run at being the best outfield in baseball within the next two years. They get out of the basement.
5. TORONTO - Woof. JP Riccardi should stop worrying about insulting his players and everybody elses, and start worrying about winning some baseball games.

AL CENTRAL:
1. MINNESOTA - Terrible division this year. Lots of pitching, and I've learned not to bet against them. Mauer's back is a concern, but they'll get it done.
2. CHICAGO WHITE SOX - Like Danks and Floyd up top, offense has enough to hand around in this division.
3. DETROIT - Can't be as bad as last year. Bouncebacks from Verlander and Bonderman would be huge, and they could get a little boost from Edwin Jackson. I like Armando Gallaraga's upside, solid sinker/slider guy.
4. CLEVELAND - Lee and Carmona are a formidable 1-2. If Mark DeRosa has the impact he's capable of and V-Mart has a bounceback, this team could be a sleeper in this division. Kerry Wood could lock down the end of games. There are pieces here.
5. KANSAS CITY - They should be better, maybe enough to get out of the basement. Teams 3-5 are extremely interchangable here, way too many things that could go either way for all of them.

AL WEST:
1. OAKLAND - I think Gio Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, and Trevor Cahill get the job done. I love prospects, why not. Holliday and Giambi give this lineup it's punch back, and I think they edge LAA.
2. LAA of A of CA of USA of WORLD of UNIVERSE - This team will still pitch the baseball, but a shaky offense got worse this winter.
3. SEATTLE - If I could make one of those big bold upwards pointing arrows standing for upside, and only got to use one of them, I'd use it right here. If Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, and Brandon Morrow can give this team 80 starts, they could be right in the thick of this division. I like Branyan, Lopez and Betancourt to help Ichiro and Beltre put runs on the board.
4. TEXAS - Incredible that a team that has had this much offense for so long can't find a way to get any pitching. Not even a little.

NL EAST:
1. PHILADELPHIA - Very good team that is even better because they are built to play in that park. They don't blow you away in any one area (besides maybe left-handed power) but they don't do anthing poorly either, and they know how to win. Carlos Carrasco could come up and give the rotation a little extra pop. Hamels has to be healthy for them to do big things again though.
2. NY METS (Wild Card) - Every off-season, the Mets fix a glaring problem on the team. Three and four years ago, the team needed offensive help mightily so they added Carloses Beltran and Delgado. Then two years ago the rotation faltered down the stretch so they added Johan Santana. Last year the bullpen was a disaster so they went out and got Fransisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz. The problem with the Mets seems to be the age one of when you plug one hole another begins. It's tough to bet against that happening again until they show us otherwise. Also, far too much swagger for never having done anything (ever), and very tough to get a beat on their identity/leadership.
3. FLORDIA - Going to be right on the above's heals. They were in the mix last year a lot more than people know. A silly amount of talent on both sides of the baseball. Tons of tools, especially athleticism. Just need to put it all together.
4. ATLANTA - This division has a good shot not to be a laughing stock this year. Between Jurrjens, Lowe, Vazquez, Kawakami, and Campillo there is a lot of pitching there. And that's before Tim Hudson potentially gets back for the second half. If he does, it's probably the best rotation in the NL. Gonzalez and Soriano are legitimate out of the bullpen as well. Not a ton of offense, but enough that I would use my big bold upwards pointing arrow that I used on Seattle in the AL on them in the NL. There is upside here.
5. WASHINGTON - Tavarez's quote will probably be highlight of season.

NL CENTRAL (Is this a real division? Just kidding JB):
1. CHICAGO CUBS - Probably the biggest runaway division in baseball. Nobody is even close. Bandi will be rooting for them to get over the hump in October too, which can be extraordinarily impactful.
2. ST. LOUIS - Albert Pujols is a ridiculous baseball player, I hope people are paying attention.
3. CINCINNATI - Could definitely battle Atlanta for my upside arrow. Volquez, Cueto, Harang, Arroyo, and Owings? A lot of potential pitching there. A lot. Votto, Phillips, Gonzalez, and Encarnacion are one of the better infields nobody knows about. Jay Bruce is going to be a stud.
4. HOUSTON - Great #1, great middle of the order, great closer. No pieces around them.
5. MILWAULKEE - Really too bad a team as exciting as last year's has to be disassembled. But that is exactly what happened. Yovani Gollardo should be a lot of fun to watch though.
6. PITTSBURGH - Not a very good baseball team.

NL WEST:
1. ARIZONA - If Webb, Haren, and Scherzer do what I think they are going to do, it's enough to beat Manny and the Dodgers. Doug Davis and Yusmeiro Petit fill out a nice rotation. Could be a less dramatic version of the 2008 Rays, there are a lot of good young position players here.
2. LOS ANGELES - They'll push the Mets for the Wild Card. I'm hoping they play a lot of national games where Clayton Kershaw pitches so I can watch him throw his curveball, which is disgusting.
3. SAN FRANSISCO - Despite some of the worst management in baseball (Edgar Renteria for two years and $18 million in a market where Jason Giambi gets one year and $5.25 million, Bobby Abreu gets one year and $5 million, and Orlando Cabrerea - who's a better shortstop - gets one year and $4 million? Really?) this team could actually be pretty good. Tim Lincecum is silly, Matt Cain is excellent, and Randy Johnson is very servicable in that division. If Zito builds off of his late season success last year, in a division where big parks force pitching to be the name of the game more than it normally is, this team could hang around. Not likely though.
4. COLORADO - Baseball is an everyday thing for me year round. I could not tell you one thing about this team outside of who their players are, as I rarely hear a peep about them. Hopefully Tulowitzki bounces back, he was a lot of fun to watch two years ago, and he loves Jeter. Chris Iannetta seems like a rock solid backstop. It will be itneresting to see if Ian Stewart turns into anything at third. That's all I got.
5. SAN DIEGO - I'm a huge fan of Adrian Gonzalez. Jake Peavy and Chris Young is a very nice rotation front. Brian Giles continues to be a very productive player. But this team is going to stink.

PLAYOFFS:
DS - TAMPA BAY over OAKLAND. BOSTON over MINNESOTA. CHICAGO CUBS over NY METS. ARIZONA over PHILADELPHIA.

CS - TAMPA BAY over BOSTON. ARIZONA over CHICAGO CUBS.

WS - TAMPA BAY over ARIZONA.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bad Job By The Yankees

I have calmed down since talking to DV on the phone Monday night, so I am going to try and look at the Yankees' decision to make Xavier Nady the everyday right fielder, instead of Nick Swisher, with a cool head and cosider all of the factors that may be at play.

The most important thing I want to say is that I like Xavier Nady. He's been an above average player for his career, plays hard every day, and massacres left-handed pitching. If a better player weren't around, I'd not only be fine with Xavier Nady as the everyday right fielder, I'd be happy about it.

A better player is around, however, and his name is Nick Swisher. I've looked at it, Fangraphs has looked at it, nomaas has looked at it, Driveline Mechanics has looked at it, Rob Neyer has looked at it, a lot of people have looked at it statistically, sabermetrically, and from a scouting perspective. In all of these analysis, Swisher comes out the better player. Offensively, it isn't by a lot, but it is noticable. When you factor in defense, it isn't particularly close.

Let's be real about this, though. If the Yankees pitching does what it's supposed to do, and the offense is even remotely better than last year, I could play right field and it isn't going to much matter, this team is going to win enough games to make the playoffs. But should that really matter? Three questions to consider:

1. Don't you want to play the better player, regardess of circumstance? Yes. Just because Xavier Nady won't hurt us, or because Swisher will be only marginally better. should not matter. Even if it's only by a hair, the better player should play more, period.

2. Assume for a second Nady and Swisher, despite playing the game as differently as they do, arrive at the same value added (they don't, but just play along). When deciding which player should get more ABs, shouldn't a factor be which style you have less of and can therefore use more? Yes. I went over all of this the last time I talked about all of this, but Swisher is the far more patient hitter. When you used to win championships by working counts, working walks, and getting starting pitchers out of games early, and are now a team full of free swingers, it would seem that trying to insert more patience as opposed to another free swinger would make the most sense. Swisher lead baseball last year with 4.53 P/PA. Nady came in at 3.65 P/PA. Extrapolated out over 500 AB's, Swisher would see 2265 pitches to Nady's 1825, a difference of 440 (!!!) pitches over the course of the season. 440 pitches matters, and it matters a lot. Naturally, Swisher turns these extra pitches seen into walks at a very high rate, and has walked three times as much as Nady has over the last three seasons. His three year average of 93 walks is one more than Nady's three year total of 92 walks. So even where they offer the same value (again, they don't) Swisher is providing two things the Yankees used to win with and don't currently have a lot of.

3. Is it possible that things won't go perfectly for the Yankees in other areas and an upgrade in right field over the course of 162 games will matter? Yes. I've said this before: this division and the Wild Card could be more competitive than ever this year. Who stays healthiest is going to matter, and who squeezes every last ounce of production out of their team is going to matter. I don't like the Yankees' chances of staying healthy, and therefore they really need to get all the production they can out of their roster. Playing Nady more than Swisher is an example of leaving production on the table. It may very well not matter, but it may also very well matter.

This could all end up being moot if Nady is only the "everyday" guy on paper, and Girardi shuffles Damon, Matsui, Nady, and Swisher between three spots (LF/RF/DH) as successfully as he did with Damon, Matsui, Abreu, and Nady last season. I realize this. However, something that is troubling to me is Girardi's line yesterday about liking what Nady did for us last year. I'm sorry, did I miss something? After a blistering four months with Pittsburgh in which Nady went .330/.383/.535, Nady came to New York and went .268/.320(!)/.474 for two months. Which one is closer to his .280/.335/.458 career line, and therefore more likely what he is at the age of 30? I'm not sure what Girardi is talking about, and that bothers me.

Now, if somehow those four months in Pittsburgh were not a fluke, this all changes. But right now that is not likely. It sounds like I'm bashing Nady, and I really don't mean or want to. I want him to rake like he's never raked before, and hope that he did turn a corner last year. Unfortunately it's not easy to make this point without showing where Swisher is stronger than Nady, and what Nady's shortcomings have been and may continue to be, and all the while seem like I'm criticizing him. Again, Nady is a fine player, it's just that Swisher is better, and more importantly can bring more to this team.

There may be a tendancy to get excited over what Nady did for his first four months in Pittsburgh last year, and perhaps that is what the Yankees are looking at here. But that would be ignoring the largest body of work we have, which is always the body you want to look at. Nady's largest body of work is not only drastically different than his first four months in Pittsburgh last year, but not as good as Swisher's largest body of work. Hence Swisher should start, and Nady can get plenty of ABs playing everytime they face a left-handed pitcher and spelling Damon/Matsui/Swisher once a week each or something like that. Why this isn't the decision that was arrived at, I don't know. There could be a number of things at play, and I'd sure like to find out, outside of Girardi telling us he liked what Nady did for us last year.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The GM's NL Predictions

Pat is steaming mad about Xavier Nady and Nick Swisher. Please hold your comments about Nady and Swisher for tomorrow, because he's allegedly remembered his password and is ready to "light it on fire" tomorrow. Today, let's talk about Julian Tavarez's 4AM comments all day, debating whether it's the best quote in the history of baseball.

NL East:
Philadelphia
– Best team in the National League. By far. A pitcher would have probably put them over the top.
NY Mets – Francisco Rodriguez’s peripheral statistics have declined in the last few seasons. My boy Bob is a Mets fan and has an irrational hatred for Scott Schoeneweis and Aaron Heilman. He’s going to LOVE JJ Putz.
Atlanta – We’ll find out soon if Jeff Francoeur will someday be a semi-star or if he’ll end up being the next Wilton Veras.
Florida – 1997, 2003…they’re due.
Washington – The Julian Tavarez comments about the Nats being like a 600-pound woman in the club at 4:00 in the morning might be the best thing ever said. Conversely, I heard that as March 15 came around and the Nats still needed a reliever, Julian started looking like Mariano Rivera.

NL Central:
Chicago
– Will the fans really give up on the Cubs after last year’s A-Rod-esque playoff performance? Doubt it.
St. Louis – A pretty steroid-fueled team with Ryan Franklin, the injured Troy Glaus, and Rick Ankiel on the team. JB, I want a scouting report on David Freese.
Milwaukee – Better off without Ben Sheets at all? Last year was the Brewers’ “Now Year” in Prospect Theory. This year could be significantly rougher.
Houston – Wandy Rodriguez and Mike Hampton (who makes Carl Pavano look like Lou Gehrig and who makes AJ Burnett look like Cal Ripken) are being counted on. At least their new catcher lost all that weight to be so nimble behind the plate.
Cincinnati – Bronson Arroyo’s in a contract year, AKA a year-long tryout for the Boston Red Sox. He’s primed for a solid year.
Pittsburgh – Last year in my prediction post, I predicted that David Murphy will have more RBIs than JD Drew. This year, I will predict that Brandon Moss will have more RBIs than JD Drew.

NL West:
Los Angeles
– Yeah, bringing back Manny was a good move and iced the division. It’s just too bad he didn’t learn his lesson.
Arizona – Brandon Webb in a contract year is going to be fun to watch.
Colorado – Another team who had the one “now” year and have faded back into obscurity.
San Francisco – We don’t listen to that. He should wear a towel.
San Diego – They should probably sign Kenny Powers. You’re f***ing out!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The GM's AL Predictions

NL Coming tomorrow. Pat will be back soon, provided he remembers his password.

AL East:

New York – The Red Sox picked up reclamation projects, some which will work, some which will not. The Rays got a year older. Those improvements pale in comparison to what the Yankees did, as skeptical as I might be about Burnett and Teixeira.
Boston – I would have picked them to be the division winner on January 29. Things changed on January 30.
Tampa Bay – A lot of things went right for the Rays last year, and they might run into some bad luck this year. Plus, don’t underestimate the hangover effect that befell the 2005 Red Sox.
Baltimore – There was a guy named Rodrigo Lopez on a soccer highlight on ESPN yesterday. Whatever happened to the original Rodrigo Lopez?
Toronto – Like JD Drew, the Blue Jays did nothing all offseason to get better. I heard their front office is complaining of a sore back and a sore glove hand.

AL Central:

Chicago – For this whole division, I’m going to talk about which awful starters are in their rotations. Jose Contreras is #4 in their depth chart. Yikes. I like Carlos Quentin and Jermaine Dye. If they stay healthy all season, Chicago’s the least bad.
Kansas City – Sidney Ponson is on the depth chart, albeit seventh. But Coco Crisp is in the outfield. He will hit .300 this year.
Minnesota – I like Scott Baker, but Scott Baker is not an ace. They could win the division if Liriano comes back, but I think I said that last year too. Joe Mauer’s back is a problem.
Detroit – Dontrelle Willis is the fifth starter according to tigers.mlb.com. Best offense in baseball history.
Cleveland – Carl Pavano is listed as the third starter. Enough said.

AL West:

Angels – I really like the Bobby Abreu pickup. I mean it. And Mike Napoli is a beast.
Oakland – An extremely aggressive offseason. Can you win the division with a pitching staff hinging on rookies? No. Can you win the Wild Card with a pitching staff hinging on rookies? Maybe.
Texas – There’s a logjam at the catching position. And they could really use a starting pitcher. Clay Buchholz is too valuable for the Red Sox, though.
Seattle – This pitching staff provided some highlights of the “Schilling Me Softly” fantasy league draft. “Still Bitter” accidentally drafted Erik Bedard in the fifth round. “I Come In Early” drafted Brandon Morrow in the fifteenth round.

Playoffs: New York over Chicago, Angels over Red Sox. Angels over New York for the AL Pennant.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Free-Form Fantasy Friday

Next week we'll get Pat back posting again, and pretty shortly we'll hopefully get a chance to evaluate Jason Varitek's old contract, evaluate Jason Giambi's old contract, and address some things we've wanted to talk about all winter but haven't gotten a chance to. We're also going to get our annual positional matchup posts up pretty soon.

Today I'd like to change pace a little bit and talk about my fantasy team. About half of my fantasy league participates in this blog as well, and it's safe to say that at least half of our contributors also dabble in fantasy ball.

I'm curious to know if anyone else has a no-draft list, a few players they love to draft year after year (I know my brother loves Teixeira from his first season), and a few players who happened to be fantasy disasters. I'm very curious to know.

For the record, here's mine:

Guys Who Happen To Be On My Team (almost) Every Year:
Chone Figgins, John Lackey, Derek Jeter, Roy Halladay, Jarrod Washburn. I'm also usually the first person to draft a relief pitcher.

Disaster Team:
Mike Lowell, Mike Cameron, Victor Martinez, Todd Jones, Travis Hafner

Do Not Draft List:
Jose Guillen*, Giambi*, Drew, Ankiel*, Huff, Magglio*, 46, Brian Roberts*, Arod* I. Rodriguez*, Renteria, Glaus*, Milledge, F. Rodriguez, Burnett, Captain K, Gary Matthews Jr*, Guillermo Mota*, JC Romero*, Ryan Franklin*, Aychar Igawa, Dontrelle Willis, Schilling, JJ Putz, Billy Wagner, Sheffield*, Jack Cust*, Mike Cameron*, Travis Hafner, Eric Gagne*, Paul Byrd*.

Favorite Picks of This Year:
Mark Teixeira in the 2nd round (9th overall), Justin Morneau in the 3rd round (24th), Roy Halladay in the 6th round (41st), Nate McLouth and Derek Jeter in the 11th and 12th rounds (88-89th).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I have no problem with this line

A .284 batting average. An OPS of .863. Fifty-two extra-base hits, including 29 home runs pro-rated to 650 at-bats. Granted, twenty-nine double plays and a strikeout every 4.8 at-bats, but that is the downside that comes with what is actually a pretty impressive line. One that I would be okay watching on my team for the next two years.

However, I do have a problem with the following line:
A .201 batting average. An OPS of .616. Forty XB hits and a strikeout every 3.2 at-bats. Think about that. The batting average is .201 and the strikeout average is over .340. Throw in the fact that the guy thinks he should be playing everyday, evidenced by the fact that he cried about being benched in the playoffs.

This concept wouldn't be as complicated as it is if the splits weren't pretty much opposite in his other god-awful season in 2006, as Varitek hit better lefty than he did righty that year. Maybe he just flat-out sucks.

It also wouldn't be as complicated if he wasn't so friggin stubborn and would listen to his hitting coach, who is encouraging him to hit only right-handed.

Anyway, there aren't really too many original ways to say "Varitek is a stiff." I've done it all winter. But if he puts up anything close to the numbers in the first paragraph, even I would keep my mouth shut. Only thing he has to do is swallow his pride and only hit righty.

In other catching news, the Red Sox got rid of Josh Bard. This makes me a little bit uneasy, because now George Kottaras is the guy. Kottaras has split time catching Wakefield with Bard and Dusty Brown. The guy has one job, and that is being able to catch Wakefield. But the Red Sox have dicked around and procrastinated and now he only has two weeks to learn this job full-time. That makes me really comfortable, especially seeing that pretty much every catcher in the Red Sox system has said that catching Wakefield is a lot different from catching knuckleballer Charlie Zink.

Bad job by Francona and by Epstein so that their choice as Wakefield's catcher is almost guaranteed to be under-experienced. They're just asking for Josh Bard 2006 all over again, and this is something that could have been avoided by reading How Youz Doin Baseball thirty-two days ago.

What makes me the most mad about it is that they're not messing with a baseball veteran. They're messing with pretty much the definition of a fringe major leaguer. If Kottaras messes up this job, he might never play in the majors again. And the Red Sox' inability to make a decision has made it extremely difficult for Kottaras to be fully prepared for this job. They're stacking the odds against that, and that's something that just isn't right.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Selective Memory

Just a few drug-related thoughts that have stemmed from what I've seen in the World Baseball Classic: There is an absolutely sickening and embarrassing double standard toward steroid users, and while it seems that the criteria for being ostracized versus not being ostracized is being a dickhead, that's not entirely true either. Let's look at a couple of examples.

Case 1: Pedro Gomez. Dickhead: Barry Bonds. Non-dickhead: Brian Roberts. Pedro Gomez, as you probably know, was the guy ESPN put on the Barry Bonds case, from BALCO to the "I'm tired" conference to 756 and through everything. Gomez was pretty much relentless, and a joke I know I've heard is that baseball players were considering not taking steroids because they didn't want Pedro Gomez to be following them around.

Brian Roberts, who was implicated in the Mitchell Report (Page 159 for those Bud Seligs out there who didn't even open the PDF file), had Pedro Gomez following him around two nights ago during the US/Netherlands game. Roberts, a new addition to the US team after Dustin Pedroia got hurt, had a big game and Gomez was basically fawning over him. The same guy who was relentless (and rightfully so) toward Bonds was basically putting his arm around Roberts and giving him a noogie. I'd like the readers to be honest: Did you even know Brian Roberts was a steroid guy? Seriously, I'd like to know this. Throw it in the comments section.

Case 2: People implicated in "Juiced." Dickhead (???): Mark McGwire. Non-dickhead: Ivan Rodriguez. Mark McGwire was summonsed to testify before Congress. He got less than thirty percent of the vote for the Hall of Fame in each of the last two years. He no longer talks to human beings. Meanwhile, the guys on ESPN were talking about how Ivan Rodriguez (page 135, Commissioner) should be a Hall of Famer. That was dumbfounding. I cannot believe how Pudge got off the hook in the eyes of everyone in the entire world except for me and From the Bronx. Is it because everything in Canseco's first book was false? Oh yeah. Nick Cafardo in this Sunday's Globe called GMs who passed on Rodriguez this offseason "dumb."

Case 3: People implicated in "Vindicated." Dickhead: Alex Rodriguez. Non-dickhead: Magglio Ordonez. Ordonez (Page 172, Bud) is getting a lot of heat for standing up for loose cannon Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. The guy didn't even deny taking steroids after Canseco's second book came out. A-Rod is getting heat for taking steroids while Magglio Ordonez's steroid allegations have just gone by the wayside. Like the other examples, is this fair?

Case 4: Positive Tests. Dickhead: Rafael Palmeiro. Non-dickhead: J.C. Romero. Palmeiro tested positive, had his Hall of Fame candidacy all but taken away, had his appreciation day revoked, and only played seven more games until he retired into disgrace. Meanwhile, Romero has tested positive twice and has blamed it (respectively) on fertility drugs and a supplement he got at GNC. Maybe, just maybe, he's testing positive because he's on drugs. The guy is suspended. But he's still playing baseball in the World Baseball Classic. Well, actually, he's not because he loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth tonight. Good thing he's feeling the harsh punishment Bud Selig is laying down. Awesome.

So good for the media and good for baseball. They're being totally fair and giving the scrutiny that Bonds, McGwire, A-Rod, and Palmeiro deserve. Problem is, they're ignoring people who deserve the same kind of treatment: Brian Roberts, Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, and JC Romero. But instead they're WBC heroes, misunderstood, or (in the case of Rodriguez) someone on the way to Cooperstown. That is pathetic.

Barometric Pressure

The Red Sox' contract extension talks have broken down with Jason Bay, which is unfortunate. Bay will make a paltry $7.5 million this year, the last year of his contract. I'll get to why I desperately want Bay back in a second. But first it's worth mentioning why he's in such a tough position.

I'm sure the Red Sox' argument of why they don't want to shell out the money for a 30-year-old outfielder who threw down a .286/31/101 line last year and has exceeded 30 home runs in three out of the last four years is likely the following: Bobby Abreu got nothing and Pat Burrell got nothing.

If you're like me, you read that argument and you probably say to yourself, "Abreu and Burrell are over the hill and they kind of suck." Unfortunately for Bay, they really don't. Abreu's six years older, yes, and there is more of a convincing argument that Bay is a hotter commodity than Abreu is. However, Abreu still OBPed an almost-identical .370 last year. Less power, absolutely, but Abreu at a low price can still help a team win. He had 100 or more RBIs in seven out of the last eight years.

Burrell, however, is not as far from Bay as you think. He's only a year older. True, the batting average is bad, but he does manage to get himself on base at almost the same rate as Bay's .371 (.367, and between .388 and .400 the previous three years). Similar to Bay, he's averaged 31 home runs over the last four years though Bay has a clear edge in doubles. But my point: Bay has a slight edge but not by that much.

Abreu got one year and five million.
Burrell got two years and $16 million.

The other barometer of how much Bay should get paid works a lot more in the player's favor. That is the fact that the Red Sox have been shelling out quite a bit of years to their existing players, signing Pedroia through 2014, Youkilis through 2012, and Jon Lester through 2013 (which, as we previously discussed here, is a strange move).

Yup, those guys aren't as old as Bay is. None of them have exhibited such a long track record of good baseball, though. Bay is well-established as a guy who is okay with taking a smaller dollar amount in exchange for years: He previously said he wanted to sign a long-term contract extension when he played for Pittsburgh--with a home-town discount. He's said the same about Boston.

And here are reasons Bay is the right left fielder for the Red Sox for several years.

-He is probably the most underrated member of this baseball team. Once again, he hits 30 home runs and at least 30 doubles every year. He hits .285. He's perfect for the middle of the order. He's a righty who can take advantage of what Pat calls the "Little League field" in Boston.
-It would be a non-Boras client in the outfield, which is refreshing.
-He wants to come back and won't be too too expensive.
-Aubrey Huff is also a free agent next year. Though Theo Epstein is in a full-out bromance with Aubrey Huff, I am not. I've resigned myself to the fact that Bay is probably out and Huff is in a year from now, but it shouldn't be that way.

Jason Bay has established himself as a baseball player. He's not even 29 1/2 years old yet. He's paid his dues in Pittsburgh. And he most likely does not have ridiculous contract demands. The Red Sox were more than generous with Jon Lester. They ought to do the same for Jason Bay.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Injury Report

I'm sure a lot of you have some things to say about the injuries that have stricken Julio Lugo, Dustin Pedroia, Robinson Cano, and Damaso Marte. Frustration, anger, fear, everything.

Let's start with Lugo. He apparently started to get a sore knee a few days into spring training. He played through it (and I will never fault him for that) until it became so bad he had to ask out of a game. Now he's going back to Boston for arthroscopic surgery. That is pretty unfortunate. A good side effect of Lugo being injured is the fact that Lugo will not be playing baseball for the Red Sox for a few days, but it also means that Nick Green is the Red Sox' first line of protection. And there are some Red Sox fans out there in the Boston.com comments section that think that Nick Green is the answer.

Some points I'd like to make: 1. Though I will certainly fault Theo Epstein for bringing in a shortstop that isn't that good, I will not rag on him for bringing in an injury-prone shortstop that is not good. He missed the first month of his 2006 dream season, but played full seasons in 2004 and 2005 (and 2007, for that matter). 2. Pat has told me that Nick Green is a terrific guy, but there's a reason he's only played 275 major league games. It's also notable to say that only 141 of those games are really major league games, because the rest are with the 2005 Devil Rays, 2006 Devil Rays, and 2007 Seattle Mariners.

On the Pedroia injury: It is extremely troubling and it means that Green is potentially a starter for this team. Yikes. It's not like Pedroia is out of shape, so that means he will most likely recover more quickly. It also means that he won't have to play any more WBC or spring training games for the next two weeks, which could be a good thing. But if this does lag like Beckett's injury and Lowell's injury last year, there are going to be a lot of people angry about the WBC.

Same goes for Robinson Cano's and Damaso Marte's shoulder injuries. Both suffered in the World Baseball Classic, these injuries can't make too many Yankee fans happy about their players' participation.

How long will it be until teams just flat-out refuse to donate their players to this cause? Yes, Bud Selig might whine about it, but will he actually do anything about it? Probably not, because he's Bud Selig. (By the way, I think the Bronx nailed it with his WBC comment on Friday regarding drug use.)

For good measure, Jorge Posada's apparently back up to speed after already having a tired arm for a couple of weeks. I think it's awesome that the Yankees are paying $13.1 million for a 37-year-old catcher who's already feeling shoulder fatigue. Then again, I'm a Red Sox fan. At this point, I am exceeding the quota Pat put for my Posada injury-related comments.

In final news, Manny Ramirez has a sore hamstring again. Anyone think he knows which hamstring is hurt? Or if it will magically be healed in two weeks?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Isn't That Veird?

For most of this country (including one of the two authors here), WBC stands for Who Bleepin' Cares. I wrote my thesis on the lack of merits of this tournament, and it's still not really closely covered in this country--even on MLB's website.

However, everyone in the United States knows what happened with the Dutch WBC team, dropping the Dominicans in straight sets and advancing into the second round. For the record, this team is made up of players from the Netherlands, Curacao, and Aruba and, as everyone knows by now, only has three players who have any major league experience.

By beating the Dominican powerhouse team, the Dutch team has done exactly what the World Baseball Classic needs: It captured a few headlines and a little bit of attention. They are a Cinderella team and now inevitably they'll get a lot more attention in the second round and people like Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith are going to debate whether they have a chance to make it to the finals. For now, this silly little tournament is actually relevant.

Basically, the Dutch have engaged themselves in some much-needed masonry--as in, George Masonry. The George Mason NCAA tournament is regarded one of the best in recent history because it engaged the entire country, wondering how far the #10 seed could go. Even in subsequent tournaments, it seems like the NCAA tournament, despite already being a premiere event, has garnered even more attention with people wondering "who is this year's George Mason?"

For the rest of the WBC tournament, people will be wondering how far the WBC George Mason will go--the underdog team with three former major leaguers (one who is a fat slob who punched a judge and another who is best known as "the guy John Rocker called a fat monkey" or "the guy who hit the sausage with the bat") and with a pitching coach with a huge "why isn't anyone voting me into the Hall of Fame" chip on his shoulder. I mean, it's a pretty awesome story. I'm waiting for Burt Blyleven to find Keanu Reeves on a houseboat and convince him that he's Dutch and should come back and play baseball again.

But anyway, my opinions on the WBC haven't changed, but I'll admit that I'm actually interested in what will actually happen to this team and whether they can pitch effectively to Pedroia and Youkilis. They are George Mason. They are the Jamaican bobsled team. For fans of the WBC outside of Latin America, they are exactly what the tournament needs, because it makes the tournament relevant.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Getting Dustin Pedroia Out

If you want to keep the Boston Red Sox off the board this year, there is an easy solution conceptually that is not so easy in practice: keep Pedroia and Youkilis in check. That's how it was in 2008, and that's probably how it's going to be moving forward. David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, JD Drew, even Jason Bay, if you are getting the Co-Presidents of the Grit and Gut/Dirty Uniform/Bad Facial Hair (Co-Chaired by Josh Beckett) Association out, what these other guys do to you just isn't going to matter that much. They are the Red Sox core, and they are what make that lineup tick.

It is possible that Youkilis becomes what he was last year, but not likely. He is playing the part so far in the WBC, but it was such a spike from his career levels it would be tough to sustain that improvement at his age. He's probably somewhere between what he was formerly and what he was last year, as it was a breakout of sorts and he finally put it all together. Pedroia, on the other hand, is probably exactly what he was last year. So since I like him to repeat, and probably be the Red Sox best offensive player pound for pound, let's look at how teams, most notably the Yankees, should be going about getting him out.

(I took some heat in this space for again proposing Pedroia would be dealt with differently by pitching staffs and would have to adjust, because I said the same thing last year. Let me clarify. There are different levels of being on the radar. Just look at Robinson Cano. In his rookie year, he was a complete afterthought despite putting up good numbers (like Pedroia). In his second year, pitchers dealt with him much more carefully while not being the primary concern, he adjusted, and went absolutely ballistic (like Pedroia). In his third year, Cano got treated like a primetime member of the lineup, and really struggled out of the gate, before having to adjust yet again. That is what Pedroia is going to be facing in his third season as well. More IBB's with first base open. More unintentional intentionals. Just not as many good pitches to hit generally, with teams wanting to let someone else beat them. There is a difference between being handled like a good player, and being handled like a reigning MVP - however ridiculous - who is quite possibly the best player in a lineup. When I said this, in no way did I mean Pedroia will not cope. I'm just saying it's going to be different, something he will have to adjust to yet again. He is going to be the focal point of every Boston opponent from game 1-162. That was not the case in either of his first two years.)

In terms of approach, you have to understand that he is going to get his hits. The key is minimizing the extra-base hit. The way you accomplish this is by putting the ball in the one place he absolutely does not like it, and that is slightly elevated and on his hands. He has zero power in this spot. Not remotely strong enough wrists or quick enough hands to do anything with it. That MLB '09 The Show commercial is funny because it's true, he can't hit the ball up and in, let alone drive it. He can barely even get to it.

Down and in, or anywhere middle or away, and he's going to go get it. The 2009 scouting preview notes about Pedroia something we've all read over and over, and see with our own eyes every time we watch him play: he has a really long swing with a high leg kick and swings as hard as he can every time, but has an incredible ability to keep the bat in the hitting zone for a long time despite this long and hard swing. This swing lends itself to pitches middle and away. Pedroia doesn't have slow hands, so he's still able to get his bat head to the ball down and in. But he also doesn't have fast hands, and with a long swing with a big leg kick, he cannot get his bat to anything in and slightly elevated.

I think sometimes pitchers have trouble with this, because it's completely counterintuitive to the way pitching is taught these days. Keeping the ball down is something that is pounded into pitchers' heads over and over. That's the last thing you want to do to Pedroia, because you are asking for a line drive. You have to get him thinking about fastballs in early (2-seamers moving at him are even better, he has to get his bat in even further to get to it) and then get him reaching for offspeed stuff away. He has the oustanding aformentioned ability to keep his bat in the hitting zone for along time, but with his big leg kick and wind up, he can't keep in there long enough to be thinking about getting to an inside fastball up and then slow it down enough to do anything more than bounce/roll over a breaking ball or changeup away.

In the first two WBC games that I was fortunate enough to see, pitchers did an excellent job of this. Fastball jam. Fastball jam. Then start working him away. He was rolling balls over all over the place.

Obviously, this is much easier said than done. If it was so easy, everyone would do it. You try to come in, the ball leaks 2 inches back over the plate where he likes it, and you are paying for it. Pedroia is an excellent hitter, so anything less than high level execution and he is going to beat you frequently. But like I said, Pedroia is going to get his hits, he's proven that. You jam him and he'll still bloop it in, he is just strong enough to do that. He did it to Phil Hughes in the exhibition game against the Yankees last week. Near perfect pitch and he lifted a jam shot to very short center. That's fine. It's not an extra-base hit. Pedroia had 73 freaking extra-base hits last year. If you can limit that, you are limiting his game. And by limiting his game, you are limiting the Boston Red Sox, because he makes them go. The Yankees have done a good job of limiting his extra-base hits to date (his career AVG and OBP vs. them are similar to career levels, but his SLG is way down), and hopefully that continues. He should be the #1 concern of every Boston opponent this year, and the way you get him out is by exploting his exaggerated leg kick and long swing. Fastballs up and in on the hands. The more tailing movement in the better. Then you can get him lunging away with two strikes. It's really the only way, he covers almost everything else, and he covers it really well. If you can't do this, you are in for a long day more often than not.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Forty Patrick Six

There is no doubt that the 2009 season is a tell-tale season for Red Sox centerfielder 46. It's a big season for a lot of individual players (Lowell, Ortiz, Lugo, Captain K), but the importance of this year to 46's career path is unparalleled.

This weekend there was a good article in the Globe about 46 and the adjustments he's expected to make this year. I have a lot to say about it.

The first impression of 46 is someone who is confident and happy that Coco Crisp is gone. I guess the confidence is okay, but this sounds a lot like Ian Patrick Kennedy--delusional about the fact that his season really was not that good:

I finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting, scored 100 runs [98], stole 50 bases, but it's what everybody remembers at the end. Yeah, I thought I played well.

No, see, when you become an automatic out, that does not mean you played well. You can't steal first base. As the article said, there was a clear weakness in 46's swing, as he could be systematically retired by the high, inside fastball. After Dave Magadan chimed in with the fact that 46 hit popups pretty much every at-bat, 46 pulled another Kennedy, denying his inabilities to hit that fastball.

Notably absent was the fact that in many at-bats (namely the ones when he wasn't frantically swinging away and flying out to left field), he missed some high, inside fastballs only to be frozen by a breaking ball low and away. Dude, that's baseball fundamentals. And the way he looked a lot of the time last year made him look more like a future minor leaguer than the future Hall of Famer that Steve Buckley thinks 46 is.

All player-hating aside, 46 is definitely the key to the Red Sox' offense this year. If he keeps on making the same mistakes he made last year, that is not good (despite 46's opinion of what's good), because instead of just having three consecutive automatic outs in the order (Drew/Drew injury replacement, shortstop, Captain K), it would be four consecutive automatic outs in the order. A leadoff hitter with a .336 on-base percentage is unacceptable. People hated on Coco Crisp despite his .344 OBP last year, but somehow 46 is a future Hall of Famer.

If he actually concentrates on fixing his swing and, you know, thinking about where the next pitch might be--and turns into a half-decent baseball player, he will help the Red Sox win. A league-average leadoff hitter hitting before Pedroia, Ortiz, and Youkilis helps. However, he might want to start hitting and re-joining the real world.

After all, he didn't rule out another .353 season in 2009. That screams Ian Kennedy, who thought he deserved to stay in the majors despite a double-digit ERA. Don't talk about hitting .353 until you figure out how to play major league baseball.

The intro of the article talks about how 46 wants to open up a winery. It's funny, because watching 46 hit reminds me of wine--as in his at-bats would be more tolerable if I'm in an altered state. Learn how to play baseball instead of talking about how good your season was and how possible it is for you to hit .353. Last year should have been a humbling season.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Life Without Rodriguez

Of the options available, I was happy with the choice the Yankees made. Initially, I thought they would have Rodriguez try to play through it, and that we'd have a season full of complete uncertainty. By having the less invasive surgery, the risk isn't completley eliminated, but the doctors seem to be pretty confident he can get through the season, and then have the issue totally addressed next winter. The Yankees definitely have to be concerned about Rodriguez long term, as they have a lot invested in him. But it isn't like he's playing this season for free, and the Yankees are as win now as it comes. It seems to me like this strikes a good balance between their long term and current interests, not totally putting him at risk, and not totally punting this season either. Good job outta the Yankees.

However long it ends up being, Rodriguez is still going to miss time this season. Based upon the 6-9 week rehabilitation estimate, and the fact that we are exactly four weeks away from Opening Day (as of Monday), Alex would be out between two and five weeks. Obviously, the less the better. Two weeks probably isn't that big of a deal. But if it creeps into that five week range (or more) it starts to matter, espeically depending on who the replacement is and how he is playing. Rodriguez is a ridiculoulsy productive player, a career .306/.389/.578 guy. Considering that is almost exactly what he did last year, it is reasonable to expect that again this year.

In this division, everything matters. I have mentioned multiple times that I think 300-400 Jason Varitek at bats might cost the Red Sox a playoff spot, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that. Any competitive advantage/disadvantage could be the difference between 90 wins and golf clubs in October and 94 wins and baseball in October. Extended time without Rodriguez is going to be a serious competitive disadvantage for the Yankees. He was over a 6 win player last year, and he missed a month then too. So basically, for every month Rodriguez is out it's going to cost the Yankees a win, and that's assuming they get replacment level production at 3B (which is no certainty). Again, in the American League East, every win and loss is meaningful. We tend not to think of things this way in baseball, and that is typically because it isn't true. But it is in the 2009 AL East, I bet you two or three teams will be within a few wins of each other at the end.

As far as Rodriguez's replacement goes, I think you have to do what makes sense based on the circumstances that develop. I like Cody Ransom, and he's a freak athletically, but he's also 33 years old and has 183 caeer at bats at the Major League level. It's probably not going to be too pretty if he gets what would have been 150 Rodriguez at bats. He's more playable if its 2-3 weeks. If its longer, you have to look into something else I think. Maybe Ray Durham or Mark Grudzielanek. Grudzielanek was league average with the bat last year (100 OPS+) and Durham better than that (112 OPS+), so you are getting something more proven and more productive. It's not Rodrgiuez, but at least you've closed the gap. At the same time, you don't want to go throwing prospects or money away in a fashion that is not necessary. I think you have to just see how Rodriguez's rehab is coming along, when it seems like he will be back, and evaluate the replacement situation as you go.

As far as what the 25 guys are going to do while Rodriguez is gone, it should be interesting. These ideas being thrown around that the Yankees are "really going to be better" or "like the Championship Yankees with no major superstar personalities" without Rodriguez are not exactly what you would call sound ones. Listen, I'm not Rodriguez's biggest fan, and that is almost totally related to the off the field distractions that follow him, his fault or not. But there is no denying his production. The Championship Yankees comparisons are also ridiculous. Everyone takes the fact that those teams had no one "superstar" on the team and runs with it, ignoring the fact that it was an immensley talented group with six stud bats in their prime, with talented and deep starting pitching, lockdown bullpens that ran 3-4 players in trust every year, deep benches, and tremendous leadership. It was as complete a group as you can put together, and that's why they won four World Series in five years, a run we probably won't see anytime soon. It is a waste of time to compare anything to those teams, because they were so unique there is nothing comparable. Just because the 2009 Yankees are losing a mega personality doesn't suddenly mean they are the Championship Yankees. They are losing a ton of production that is difficult to replace.

However, it will be interesting, as I noted above, to watch what happens. This team has a ton of pitching both of the starting and relief variety. If everyone else is healthy, the lineup should still be relatively balanced. Is it possible that the lack of distractions could have an effect on the rest of the team? I have no idea. When I'm furious with the distractions, it makes sense in my fuzzy (at best) head. But when I calm down and look at it rationally, I realize that these guys are all professionals, and while they may not be best friends, I'm sure any discord with Rodriguez is not as striking as the media would have us think. There is a respect and an understanding of what puts checks in the win column and what doesn't. Rodriguez and his production put checks in the win column, and that's what matters most. If he's out for the longer end of the estimation or more, the Yankees will most likely feel those lack of checks in that column. Here's to hoping he's back sooner rather than later.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lester Extension: Anyone uneasy?

It's yet to be announced by anyone other than Yahoo! Sports, but rumor has it that the Red Sox have given Jon Lester a five-year extension at $30 million. The Yahoo! report says it's twice as lucrative as the second-highest deal given to a pitcher with about two years' experience.

The previous high was Fausto Carmona, who was given 4/$15 (plus three club options) a year ago. And that's precisely why I'm a little uneasy about this Lester deal.

Look at Carmona a year before his good season (he was getting lit up by David Ortiz).
Look at Carmona a year after his good season that sealed him this deal (120 innings pitched, 82 ERA+, career high 1.62 WHIP). What's to say Lester, who was less than stellar in 2007, will be any different?

Don't get me wrong, I have faith in Lester and I respect the Red Sox' efforts to retain all of their players before the specter of free agency, but what were people saying about Lester a year ago? Oh, right, this blog's been around for two years so I can link to this. A year ago Lester was extremely un-trustworthy, and though he certainly seems like he's turned the corner, is he really a sure-fire lock to be worth this money for five years? Could you imagine if this deal were signed a year ago? Holy cow.

Also a concern, as Pat wrote a week ago, is the fact that many indicators would tell that he's primed for a setback or an injury this year. Not that he'd turn into Carl Pavano, but there would definitely be some unhappy people if Lester's ERA is hovering around four this year.

This was not a bad move, and the Red Sox' heads are in the right place (as opposed to negotiating with Papelbon), but I might lose a few minutes of sleep over this one. Sure, Lester was the Red Sox' ace next year and definitely deserved more CYA consideration. And yes, another year going year-by-year runs the risk of Lester having a great year and becoming much more expensive. But it probably would have been safer to have the Sox wait another year to make sure that this guy is for real.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Mount Rushmore, however, was a stupid concept

Congratulations to Mr. H. After many innings of playing catcher in Wilmington Sunday Softball, he is starting at catcher for the Marlins against the Red Sox today. Despite being the all-time strikeout leader in the softball league, he will probably not strike out as much as the opposing catcher will today. Oh, we’re talking about another John Baker.

That’s not my point today. My point is that ESPN, for once, actually proposed a very interesting discussion topic last night on SportsCenter: Who would you rather have as a teammate—Manny, A-Rod, or T.O.? Most correspondents picked A-Rod, with some picking Manny. It’s a hard question because none of these options would really be that great as a teammate. The least disastrous, at least for me, would be…Terrell Owens. I’m serious. And here’s why: It’s all about priorities.

Let’s put the steroid thing away for a second. A-Rod would just flat-out be a crappy teammate. Why is this? Because most members of a team (excluding the JD Drews of the world) work hard to make themselves better. As A-Rod’s teammate, I don’t need to hear about how hard A-Rod works. I just want A-Rod to shut up and do his job. Clearly, A-Rod is incapable of doing that, instead fronting and pimping his own work ethic. I appreciate the work ethic, but not the associated fronting. You’re not the only one who is working out at 6:15 in the morning.

More importantly, A-Rod’s focus is making himself the best player in baseball. About hitting those home runs, about letting everyone know that he’s aware of the outfielders when he’s on second base, and about keeping that batting average up. If it comes in April in a blowout or if it comes in the ninth inning in Game 7 of the World Series, it doesn’t matter. A-Rod’s not about winning. A-Rod’s about being the best baseball player. I don’t want guys on my team whose main priority is anything but winning.

Manny’s focus is on being happy. His happiness does not hinge on wins and losses—he said himself that if the Red Sox lost in the 2007 ALCS, it’s not the end of the world. His happiness (the most important thing) hinges on his interaction with his friends. Manny Ramirez is basically the best intramural baseball player in the history of the world: He’s there to have fun and do high-fives with his friends. I’ve had a teammate like Manny before and I’ve repeatedly screamed at him about how this isn’t intramural running. It doesn’t matter if his team’s 100-0, if Manny’s not having fun in intramural major league baseball, he’ll sulk.

T.O., however, is focused on winning. He might have a skewed perception of what it takes to win (i.e. wanting the ball all the time), but he wants to win. He wants the ball because he feels like he’s the most valuable tool and the team’s key to winning. His indictment of teammates and coaches for not giving him the ball is not much unlike my indictment of Theo Epstein signing stiffs like Drew, Lugo, and Varitek. I feel like I know how to make the team win better than they do. Same with T.O. He feels like he knows how to win more than the coaches know…and he just happens to be the key to victory.

T.O. played on a broken ankle in the Super Bowl because he felt that was the best way to help the Eagles win. If A-Rod were to play with this hip injury (and I bet this is a serious consideration), he'd do it so he would be known as a hero.

Plus, at least T.O.’s funny. Sharpies, the star, and the situps in his driveway are funnier than “I Come In Early.” Probably even funnier than the high-five and the Manny Cutoff. So T.O.’s my guy.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Just Get The Surgery

We don't have all the facts yet. Who knows who, if anybody, does, and that includes the Yankees. I'm sure in the coming days everyone will, but for now I'm going off of what we have.

Alex Rodriguez has a torn labrum in his hip. This is not an uncommon injury in baseball, especially for power hitters. It is the same injury Mike Lowell and Chase Utley had last year.

The Yankees and Rodriguez are left with two options. First, a little rest, a little rehab, and try to play through it for six, hopefully seven months. Second, get the surgery right now, probably have him back by July.

Last year both Lowell and Utley went with option #1. Given the later points that they were at in the season, surgery meant the end of their 2008 campaigns anyway. Trying to play through it made the most sense. Even at that advanced stage of the season, Lowell could barely walk by September and was left off Boston's October roster. Utley, on the other hand, was able to play through it and have an impact until the end of October. So it is possible for Rodriguez to play through this, especially depending on the severity and if it isn't too bad.

Despite that possibility, I'm going with option #2. The Yankees have been flubbing injuries forever it seems like, especially those where they try to get more out of a player who needs treatment in the present, and pay for it in the future. Just look at Posada. They dragged his "rest and rehab" out for two months last year to no avail, and all that did was push his surgery back two months, two months they need right now as Posada tries to get ready for 2009, where they need him mightily. Those extra two months would have been massive, as Posada is probably ready to go right now. Instead, he's scurrying to be ready to catch by Opening Day, and has almost no room for error. This could have been solved by simply giving him the surgery when he needed it, no matter how much it hurt the present, because at least it was sound for the future. I'm not averse to players playing through injuries. I'm just averse to them playing through injuries that they have a low chance of actually prodctively playing through, and the damage this does to their future readiness.

It's time to stop this type of practice. The surgery Rodriguez requires is one with a very high success rate and does not require a long recovery period. If he had the surgery, say, Monday, he should be ready to go four months from then. That puts us at the first week of July. While that would cost Rodriguez half the season, it also gives him half the season to play at full strength. I'd much rather this than the uncertainty of wherever this injury takes us. Maybe a full season at 75%. Maybe a half season at 90%. Who knows, it could literally be anything. I know the Yankees are risking a lot by giving up half the season to have the surgery. But I think they are giving up more by having no idea what they are going to get from him. I'd much rather have some certainty. With the surgery, the second half of the season is a near certainty.

This is especially true considering the improvements the Yankees have made this winter. They won 89 games last year. Even without Rodriguez, their pitching is definitely better, and their offense is still probably better if they get anything from Posada or Cano, let alone both. With the pitching in particular, both starting and relief, they should be able to get to July right in the middle of the playoff hunt. Then at that time, they get as good a deadline acquisition as is possible in Rodriguez.

Sign Ray Durham. Sign Mark Grudzielanek. Have Xavier Nady start taking ground balls at third right now, and see where he is in five weeks at third base. Whatever it is, have Alex Rodriguez get this surgery now, and get rid of the issue. Even though that means losing him for three months of the season, I think it trumps the potential benefit of him being able to play through it when you consider the risk of it flaring up and/or knocking him out at the most inopportune time.

It also goes without saying that, like it or not, they are committed to him for nine more years. I don't think that is a major consideration in this particular case, but in general they should probably avoid having him playing through injury for extended periods of time if there is a chance it will hurt him long term. I have no idea if that is relevant here, but certainly another consideration.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

No Lesson Learned

Frank McCourt and Ned Colletti have no balls. Same goes with John Henry and Theo Epstein. Faced with the not-so-mystery competition of retirement, they both gave their respective Boras clients more money than was necessary or prudent. We've already talked too much about Varitek, and so tonight is about Manny. If McCourt had any balls, he would have used Manny as an example. But instead, McCourt just opted today to pick the low-hanging fruit.

In this space several times, I echoed the prevalent view around Boston of "Offer Manny $20 million today. If he doesn't accept, it's $19 million tomorrow. Let him retire." But if you really look at it, that was never really an option, because Manny really would retire. He already has $160 million, and he could instead use his time chilling out at antique car shows...or hanging out with Juliana...or hanging out with Julian. So we're talking about how valuable Manny's time is. If McCourt had balls, he would have let Manny walk. It might have cost him the NL West, but he could have walked out of the negotiations as the prouder--and tougher--negotiator. And Manny and Boras would have learned a lesson they need.

Scott Boras is not a dumb guy. He knows that the Dodgers needed Manny more than Manny needed the Dodgers. (Note: This should have been different from the Red Sox' situation, because Varitek is worthless as a baseball player.) Manny immediately makes LA the team to beat in the NL West and (as Gunn said, once again) makes them financially viable. What we had here was a bilateral monopoly--one possible seller (Manny) and one possible buyer (the Dodgers).

This is different from most free agent situations because in most negotiations a second bidder creates a market and the market sets the price. With no other bidders, people thought the Dodgers could kind of get him for a Moneyball price, because now Manny was the undervalued oddball. Wrong. Manny's people knew how much the Dodgers needed him, and they set the value of Manny's chilling out (instead of playing baseball) right around the value the Dodgers would receive by having Manny play baseball. Moneyball works if the baseball player wants to play baseball. Manny was indifferent. So therefore, the price is determined by how desperate the Dodgers were. Again, if McCourt had balls, he could have said that the Dodgers weren't desperate.

For one year and $19 million, Manny was probably fine just chilling out with Julian. For two years and $44 million, he was probably fine just chilling out with Julian. But it would have been very nice to see Frank McCourt say "I dare you to hang out with Julian. You're more desperate than you say you are." Who knows if it would have worked. But it would be unanimous, especially in the Boston area, that Frank McCourt has the hugest balls on the West Coast.

But all I know is, Manny got away with the following:
1. Quitting on his team in Boston. It hurt his market value, but he still got more.
2. Holding out throughout the winter and holding McCourt hostage.

Both events went unpunished. Manny didn't learn a lesson. He won this negotiation big time. And so did Boras, by leveraging Manny's indifference between playing baseball and chilling out with Julian. Though the Dodgers may have just won the West, it cost Frank McCourt his dignity.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Not Smart: Lineup

I talked last week about comments Joe Girardi had made pertaining to the rotation (before he released it officially this past weekend), and how much I agreed with it. Girardi has also made similar comments about the lineup that I disagree with. This isn't the be-all, end-all, as Girardi himself has admitted there are competitions going on and things are subject to change, but it's still worth looking at.

First, the lesser of the two issues. It seems like Joseph is planning on batting Teixeira 3rd and Rodriguez 4th. At the end of the day, it really probably isn't going to make a big difference either way, especially over 162. Both very talented players, both capable of batting in either position. But I still don't like it. Number one, as my father always says, you bat your best player third under most circumstances, mostly to get them the most at bats. Say whatever you want about him, but Rodriguez is still the Yankees' best hitter. He also has a ton of athleticism and versatility, and I've always felt he liked that spot better than the pressure of "cleaning up".

Number two, Rodriguez, as good as he is, is wildly streaky and a complete headcase. Teixeira, on the other hand, is more consistent and seems more confident. I think it matters to Rodriguez who bats behind him performance wise. I do not think it matters to Teixeira. What I mean by this is that you will probably get more out of Rodriguez if he has good protection, where as Teixeira will probably give you the same thing good protection or not. It would seem to me that batting the guy like Teixeira behind the guy like Rodriguez, to maximize his production, makes the most sense. The numbers don't necessarily back this up. Rodriguez has similar career numbers in either spot, where as Texeira is a much better hitter for his career batting third. Rodriguez has been on better teams, however, and may have had better protection in the fourth spot that Teixeira had, and there could also be sample size issues. Either way, I'm not basing this off of a lot, it's just my gut. Rodriguez should bat third, Teixeira fourth.

Second, right field. Before clarifying that it was in fact a competition, Girardi said Nady probably has the inside track on right field. I think this actually does matter, and I disagree. Before I start, I should say that I'm biased. I really like Swisher. I like Nady too, and am glad we kept both (as oppossed to trading one), but I'm big on Swisher and always have been. The things he's been saying to the media since he arrived, and the way he's apparently taken over the clubhouse have only enhanced my feelings about the guy. So to be fair, I'm coming from this angle.

I do think Swish is a better player than the X-Man, but not by much. Career 112 OPS+ to 108, slightly more power, and definitively more on-base ability. However, that is not what is important here (especially because it's so close). What is important is that Swisher, in my opinion, is a better everyday fit for this team, because he brings things they don't have a ton of, or at least didn't last year. Not only does Swisher walk more than Nady, but he walks more than a lot of people. He has averaged a massive 93 walks across the last three seasons (J.D. Drew, who is allegedly "elite" because of this very statistic, has averaged 82.3 walks over that same period). Nady has walked only 92 times in the last three years combined. Swisher also lead baseball in pitches seen per plate appearance last year, 4.53 per at bat. For these two reasons above all else, I give Swisher the nod. Lead by Cano and Jeter, the Yankees have become a team of free-swingers and guys that are more free-swingers than not. Nady would challenge Cano for most free-swinging on the team.

The Championship Yankee teams not only worked walks, but counts, getting starters out of games and into bullpens early. They need to get back to this, and this is exactly what Nick Swisher specializes in. He's also a well above average right fielder, where as Nady is slightly below average at the position. When you add it all up, it has to be Swisher for me. I still think Nady should get a lot of at bats (same goes for Swisher if he doesn't win the job), DHing every game against LHP's, pinch hitting against LHP's, and spelling all three outfielders on the regular. With Matsui probably seeing no time in the field (as he shouldn't), there are going to be at bats in almost a super fourth outfielder role (calling Nady or Swisher a fourth outfielder is not fair to them, and they should be used much more frequently than that). Damon can't play the field every day all year, and he, Gardner, and Matsui are all left-handed. The fact that Nady crushes lefties makes him even more attractive in that role, providing righty relief against lefties based upon matchups.

Of course, if either of their 2008's were more than just one season things, then this picture changes. But I am going off of the biggest sample sizes that we have. And those sample sizes tell me Swish is a better fit for this lineup everyday, and Nady is better fit for this lineup matching up against lefties, pinch-hitting late in games, and being the super fourth outfielder. Again, no offense to the X-Man. I love having him on this team, and if Swisher wasn't here, would be psyched about him as the everyday right fielder. It's great to have depth, especially when the depth is actually good like it is here. Things could also change due to injury and performance. But right now, someone has to take a slightly reduced role (unless it's a complete platoon, which I'd be vehemently against, they should platoon Matsui at DH) and I think it should be Nady.