Sunday, January 31, 2010

Changing The Game With One Swing

I will continue to reserve full judgement on not bringing Johnny Damon back until we see what he ends up signing for. Though if it is true that the Yankees offered 2/$14 and he turned it down, it's tough to argue with that no matter what he ends up signing for. I doubt he'll get more than that, and I view that as a very competitive and fair offer. I would have been willing to go above market price to keep Damon, but I think anything too much above that will end up being way above market price. That I would not have been willing to do. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

What is clear is that Damon/Cabrera/Matsui/Gardner has now been replaced by Winn/Granderson/Johnson/Gardner. In comparing the two clearly the 2010 group is going to be better defensively, and that's great. But we can all agree that defense - while very important - does not matter as much as offense.

When looking at the offense, it seems like it is essentially a lateral move from a total production standpoint. I'll be the first to admit that is what I care about most, the end and not the means. The end game for offense in baseball is scoring runs. It seems like the 2010 group is pretty comparable to the 2009 group on paper in that regard. I don't think they'll be quite as good as the 2009 group was, but that would be the wrong comparison. The right comparison is the 2010 group against what the 2009 group would do in 2010. Expecting as much from Damon and Matsui as they gave in 2009, while very possible, might be a little much. With that in mind I think the 2009 and 2010 groups would be pretty similar.

With all of that said, there are clearly different ways of arriving at scoring runs. In that way the 2009 and 2010 groups of LF/CF/DH/4th OF are not the same. All three starters in the 2009 group could change the game with one swing, putting a baseball over the fence. The only one of the four without home run hitting power was Brett Gardner. Matsui hit 28, Damon hit 24, and Melky - batting 9th - hit 13. That's 65 home runs between those three positions. Even factoring in a regression for all three, and giving the 2010 projected starters of Granderson, Johnson, and Winn/Gardner a little bump, it's tough to imagine them hitting 65 combined. After all, even with Granderson's 30 all four of them hit only 43 combined, 22 less than the three 2009 starters.

Clearly hitting home runs is not the only thing that matters from an offensive standpoint, let alone a total production standpoint. There are a lot of other things you can do and the 2010 group is full of them. But we've talked before here (TimC mentioned it recently in a very astute comment) about how critical it can be to have bats who can change the game with one swing. A huge strength of the Yankees last year was that every single player in the lineup, 1-9, could do that to you. Cabrera hit 13, Jeter hit 17, and everybody else hit 20 or more. That's out of this world. A big reason why the Yankees had so many comebacks and walk-off wins last year was because they hit so many late homers to tie and win games. 7 of their 15 walk-offs were on the homer, which while impressive doesn't even tell half the story. There were so many homers hit to tie and extend games to set up other walk-offs, and just other big homers hit in general. It seemed like it was happening multiple times per week.

Matsui, Damon, and Cabrera were often in the middle of it. As I wrote about recently, part of that was just the kind of players they were. They came up big late in games. The 2010 group may very well end up being similar in that regard. It would be unfair to judge them on that front yet. What I don't think is unfair, however, is to say that the 2010 group will not be able to change as many games with one swing. With all of the other bats in the Yankees' lineup, you might say a drop off in home runs from these positions isn't a big deal. First, I would say that is not accurate. Every bit of production mattes, especially in a division as competitive as the AL East. Second, the Yankees experienced outstanding health last year, especially after Rodriguez got back from missing the first month of the season. Considering the age of some in the lineup, a drop off in home runs hit would not be surprising. Maybe some will hit more to even it off, but if they don't losing that many homers at the three other positions will hurt that much more.

I think this is just another example of something that may not show itself as much over 162, but will on a game to game basis. Over 162 the Yankees may be just as productive offensively. But game to game maybe they aren't able to change as many games late because they don't have as many bats that can change the game with one swing, which particularly would seem to matter in a potential playoff scenario. Again, I understand that hitting the home run is not the only thing, or even the most important thing. But it is important, and I don't see the 2010 Yankees being anywhere near as scary as the 2009 version in that regard because of the totality of the changes in left, center, and at DH. Not as many guys who can take you out of the park as regularly.

Friday, January 29, 2010

I'm not trying to be a social worker...

...I'm trying to get that paper. By far the best quote of the movie "Notorious" and also by far the best way to describe the situation this year with the Red Sox' rotation and Tim Wakefield's role in it.

Wakefield, and rightfully so, said to the media this week that he deserves a spot in the 2010 rotation, but unfortunately, he is the odd man out. While it's true that he could earn a rotation spot in most rotations in baseball, it's not going to happen when the people ahead of him in the depth chart are Lester, Beckett, Lackey, Buchholz, and Matsuzaka.

I know I'm not the only one who right around July 1st last year was hoping Wakefield would embrace his All-Star selection, ride out a good 2009 season, and hang them up at the top of the world after 2009. Obviously, that didn't happen, as things really went south after the break. He only pitched twenty-one (21) innings after the All-Star Break, where he surrendered fifteen runs while being hampered by a debilitating back injury. Wakefield is turning 44 during the 2010 season, and it's looking like he's no longer the "innings-eater" he once was.

Even in 2008 and 2007, when he still logged quite a few innings out of the rotation, he missed significant time in August and September due to injury. As a starter, he cannot be an innings-eater anymore, and instead he's really only an asset in the rotation if he has the hot hand. Obviously, for the first three months of 2009, Wakefield had one of the hottest hands in the American League.

If Wakefield is not the first guy not to make the cut for this rotation, who is? It's not Lester, Beckett, or Lackey, obviously. It's not Buchholz, who proved last year that he has both the stuff and the makeup to be part of a major league rotation, even if it is the best rotation in the league. And it's not Matsuzaka, whose performance when not being an idiot in the offseason has indicated he can give more quality innings than Wakefield can at age 43-44. Wakefield would be the long guy, something the Red Sox did not have last year. And Wakefield would further be an asset, because he'd be a good stopgap if one of the starters got hurt. He would also be the guy breathing down the necks of Matsuzaka and Buchholz--it is not a bad thing if those guys are always playing to keep their jobs.

There have been discussions about a six-man rotation. This is intriguing, as some of the merits include that Wakefield's feelings would be satiated, it is what they do in Japan, and it gives starters more time to recover/work out between starts. But I don't think Tim Wakefield is the guy to inspire the six-man rotation idea. One hundred thirty-five starts (5x27) from the other five and twenty-seven from Wakefield does not give the team as good of a chance to be competitive--ESPECIALLY if they're only going to score 2-3 runs a night--than 162 starts from the other guys.

Anyone who has read this blog for a long time knows I'm a huge Tim Wakefield fan. I have defended him against people who say that you don't know what you're going to get from the guy. I wrote aggressively endorsing him for the All-Star Game. But the Red Sox aren't trying to be a social worker with Tim Wakefield. They're trying (at least in theory) to win baseball games. And Wakefield in the rotation is contrary to that goal.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A More Absurd Acronym Than GTL

Guess who's turning 28 next month? That's right, everyone's favorite Red Sox pitching prospect Manny Delcarmen. Just as Josh Reddick is in the prospect doghouse, as nobody is recognizing that he might be a good baseball player someday, the beloved "MDC" is the exact opposite. Next time we see him, he will be 28, which would indicate he is no longer a prospect, but a player in the prime of his career. There is no more upside. So let's stop saying he has all this great stuff and great makeup and will be a really great relief pitcher someday. Let's accept him for what he is: A relief pitcher like probably 75 other middle relievers throughout Major League Baseball.

It's one thing to hear a one-time slipup, like when Buck Martinez said that Pedro Feliz (at age 33 at the time) had a lot of upside and could be a 25-HR hitter one day or when Kathryn Tappan said 30-year-old Nick Green was a young player. But it goes beyond Sean Casey, who got ripped apart already in this HYD classic. People say this kind of stuff about Delcarmen all the time.

I'm trying to figure out why this player is so highly regarded. Is he the baseball version of Brian Scalabrine? I mean, it's easy to see why Red Sox fans like both Delcarmen and Scalabrine: Delcarmen grew up in the same area (except he lived in Hyde Park instead of an affluent suburb near 128) and Scalabrine looks like them. If he is the baseball Scalabrine, Delcarmen should probably play a little more like Scalabrine. Scalabrine knows he's one of the last ones off the bench and that he's just not that good. But when he goes out there he plays hard--probably recklessly hard, taking advantage of every minute he gets on the floor. Delcarmen pitches with a sense of entitlement usually reserved for Colby College or other NESCAC students. It's as if he's unaware that he surrendered well over a hit per inning on the way to a heinous 1.6 WHIP.

Francona also deserves some of the blame. Despite pretty much two consecutive uninspiring or flat-out bad seasons, Francona continues to pitch this guy a lot. In high leverage situations. There is never any threat of sending MDC to Pawtucket. If he throws an inning and turns a 6-3 lead into a 6-5 lead after walking a guy and surrendering back-to-back doubles, oh well, it seems.

In 2009, MDC threw 80% as many innings as he did in 2008. Over those innings, he struck out 61% as many batters. He threw 20% fewer innings but gave up 16% MORE hits and 21% MORE walks. I don't like where those numbers are going. At all. And like Peter Gibbons at Initech, every month was worse than the previous one. MDC is NOT a good pitcher. He is NOT going to get any better. He's too old to be a prospect, just as Larry (the Pants on the Floor guy) is too old to be the American Idol. He is what he is. Let's stop talking about the upside. Let's stop talking about the great stuff and great makeup, both of which aren't actually evident.

Let's view MDC as what he is. An average to below-average reliever, who ought to assume and embrace the Brian Scalabrine role.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Um, Yeah, Maybe Not

The New Yankee Stadium was all the rage early in the 2009 season. It was a brand new, expensive stadium for the best and most successful franchise in all of American professional sports, so there was going to be intrigue no matter what. When balls started flying out of the park at a very high rate, intrigue turned into a frenzy of attention.

Media outlets started keeping a daily track of the amount of home runs hit at the new stadium and everybody from analysts to fans wanted to get their two cents in. Peter Gammons was particularly outspoken, and before the season was even two months old said of the new stadium, "Any player that's played there will tell you that it's become one of the biggest jokes in baseball". Gammons also had this gem at the same early juncture of the season: "I'm tired of people saying it's early, we don't have enough games. We have enough games. We know that this was not a very well-planned ballpark." Gammons was not even close to the only one chiming in, but as usual his remarks were so biased and so over the top that they are the best to have fun with. After 20 some odd games we have enough information to know that the ballpark as a whole was not very well-planned just because a lot of home runs have been hit? That makes sense.

The problem, if you are dealing objectively of course, was that it was entirely too early. After 20 games, the Stadium was on pace for 300 home runs. After 81, there were 231 hit. I'm not a math major, but even I can figure out there was a significant correction in the way of a substantial decrease in home run pace the rest of the way. 75 through 20 games, 156 over the next 61 games. While 231 is still a lot and was also the most in baseball, it is not grossly above the Old Yankee Stadium high (216 in 2005). This is especially true when you consider that the team that called the New Stadium home in 2009 was the best offense and hit the most home runs. When you factor in the wild home run pace for the first 20 games, there wasn't even anything that abnormal at all about the way the New Yankee Stadium played. It was really just that wild pace for the first 20 games. Over the last 61 games, it played at a 208 home run pace. Again, that's just not out of line with big home run hitting Yankee teams in recent years at the Old Stadium. So it was way, way, way too early.

What's more, as I discussed during the season, home runs are not what makes parks what they are, as home runs are not what decide wins and losses. Runs do, so therefore they are what makes parks what they are. Last I checked, the home run is not the only way to score runs, so again they do not decided what is an "offensive" park or "defensive" park. The Old Yankee Stadium, with it's short right field porch, always allowed a good deal of home runs. Yet because of it's expansive right center and center and ultra-big left-center, it always played at a slight pitchers park. Guess what? At the end of the 2009 season, The New Yankee Stadium played just the same.

According to ESPN's 2009 Park Factors http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/parkfactor/_/sort/HRFactor), The New Yankee Stadium ranked 20th in baseball. With a mark of 0.965 we see that the stadium actually limited scoring (1.00 is a neutral park, anything below stifles scoring, anything above helps create runs), hence it being a slight pitchers park, as it has always been.

What makes Gammon's criticisms particularly fantastic is that Fenway, as it always does, played as even more of a hitter's park than The New Yankee Stadium did as a pitcher's park with a mark of 1.072 for 2009. It was first in doubles hit (shocking), while the New Yankee Stadium came in second to last in doubles and last in triples hit for the season. But it's important to remember, only home runs matter. Doubles don't help score runs.

Despite Gammons wanting to reach a conclusion after less than two months, even after a full season we still need more data. That's the main point I'm making here. Any stadium needs a few years before we really figure out how it's going to play. But based on the data we have so far, the New Yankee Stadium is going to play pretty much like the old one. The fences are a little closer and shorter in places, and that may have some impact. And who knows, there may be a reversal to what we saw in April and May, and maybe that will end up being how the stadium plays. For now, however, especially considering the similarities of the New Stadium in its first season to the Old Stadium, one thing we do know is that all the criticism was very premature.

Monday, January 25, 2010

What To Do About Hughes and Chamberlain

As it presently stands the Yankees have four very strong starters. In 2009, what will be the top four in their rotation combined for 61 wins (15.25 per), 131 starts (none lower than 32), 851 innings (212.75 per, only Pettitte didn’t top 200 IP, and he was at 194.2), a 3.54 ERA, and 778 strikeouts (194.5 per). Based on 2009, this is just ridiculous. If the Yankees were to get anything close to this again, especially in terms of health, what they do with their fifth starter will not be ultra-important for the 2010 club.

However, past success does not guarantee future success. Especially in terms of health, and especially when three of those starters are coming off of World Series workloads (which as I’ve documented has not been a good thing the following year recently). So not only should the fifth starter be an important decision, but so too should the sixth. This is even more true when your best options for those two roles are your two best young arms that you have brought along as starters, and have taken many steps to accommodate them as such along the way. So as I begin my campaign here for Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes to both begin 2010 as starters, I want to reiterate that this opinion exists for two reasons: first, to best serve the 2010 Yankees, and second, to best serve two young and talented arms moving forward.

As Spring Training begins the top two candidates for the fifth starter role will be Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Whether there will be an actual competition is anyone’s guess. The Yankees may very well already have a decision that they think one of them is best suited to be in the bullpen based on all the data they have accumulated. I wouldn’t agree with this – I don’t think 28 starts for Hughes across three seasons and 42 for Joba across two, especially given all the circumstances and limitations that have arisen and been put on them, is enough to make any determinations, and I think they should be given every chance to start since they have both proven they can go back to the bullpen if it doesn’t work out – but I would be okay with this in relation to continuing to yank one or both of them around between the bullpen and the rotation.

These two need to continue to start if they are going to become starters. Of that I am almost positive. And I think they have both shown enough to have earned that right. On August 29th of last season, four months and 25 starts into the season, Joba was 7-2 with a 3.58 ERA. Only four pitchers in the AL East finished the season with a lower ERA. Joba clearly didn’t finish at that level, but that’s not the point. The point is that he was that productive that late into the season, no matter what the final numbers say. He started to fall off about when he passed his innings limit and had restrictions put on him. Whether either of those things had an impact I have no idea. But I know I saw a pretty good starter for four months. Hughes hasn’t quite had a run like that, but he also hasn’t been given as much opportunity, and when he has actually has shown as much or more dominance at times than Joba has in short spurts of starts.

As I mentioned before, I also believe it is best for the 2010 Yankees for both, not just one, to be prepared as starters right from the beginning of the season. So since I think it’s better for both the team and the players, I don’t want to see either of them spend any time in the bullpen early in the season. If the top four starters are healthy at the beginning of the season, the one between Joba and Hughes that seems more prepared to contribute at the Major League club at that time is the fifth starter. The other goes to AAA to take regular turns in the rotation and to be ready for when a potential need with the big league club pops up. I understand the argument against this is that AAA hitters may not challenge them, and that they are helping the Yankees short-term by being in the bullpen. To me neither of those things trumps them not only developing individually but again, being ready if and when the Yankees need a starter. That’s not only potentially good for the short-term, but almost certainly for the long-term as well. They’ve brought them to this point and should give them a chance to finish the process and do the job. And if it doesn’t work, you can always send one or even both back to the bullpen. Even if it does work for the first six months of 2010, they both hopefully get there starts/innings and if they aren’t needed to start one, or again both, can go to the bullpen late in the season or if the Yankees make the playoffs.

Drewsdays Start Tomorrow

Unlike most of my competitors in the running field, I have a full-time job on top of running. However, starting tomorrow (Tuesday), I am taking a weekly three-hour class again. If I leave the office at 4:00 PM, I get to class by 5. However, if I leave at 4:15, I get to class by 5:45. Therefore, I am skipping about an hour and a half of work every Tuesday from tomorrow until mid-May. I'll be flaking out on roughly 21 hours of work, which is about half a work week, without taking any paid time off.

This is evidence if you wanted to make a case for me being the JD Drew of the organization. If memory serves you right, you may remember that Theo Epstein said "he's played a lot." This is a dubious claim, because even last year, when he was credited for 137 games, he only played 106 complete games. Many of these games he was put in as a pinch hitter (against a right-handed pitcher, of course), many of these games the $14 million player was pinch hit for (against left-handed pitchers), and many of these games he just didn't feel like doing his job anymore. These 106 games do count the game the team had to put in Clay Buchholz as a pinch runner and Drew asked out of the game. As you remember, Francona kept Drew out in the game because they needed a body in right field.

Part of the craziness that goes behind the "second-highest OPS of all AL outfielders" argument that Epstein used to congratulate himself for this asinine acquisition in 2006 is the fact that Drew's hitting conditions were absolutely perfect. Last year, the guy was the highest-paid player on the team and he sat against lefties. Sometimes you have to wonder if he sat against lefties because playing against lefties might hurt his stats and, therefore, put the the general manager's wise-ass, self-congratulating comments on the radio.

This reference will go over the heads of a lot of the readers who don't follow track and field, but that's okay. This link will give you all the information you need. One of the best middle-distance runners in the country is this kid Galen Rupp, who has basically been coddled and overprotected his entire life. He doesn't run on courses that are not "Rupp certified." In other words, he doesn't run in anything except for races on either a track or on pristine surface conditions.

It seems like Drew is given the same treatment. At-bats against lefties are not Drew certified. At-bats in the rain are not Drew certified. It's like if Hallmark stores were only open the first two weeks of February: Of course you're only going to profitable if you only do business when everything is stacked in your favor. Drew has the second-highest OPS of all AL outfielders because he sits whenever things are stacked against him.

Anybody else start getting nightmares around the last week of July because back to school was coming just around the corner? Follow-up question: With less than a month before he has to start working again provided his glove hand is not sore, is there any doubt that Drew is feeling the same anxiety?

Friday, January 22, 2010

How Big is the Scouting Improvement?

More than ever, baseball teams are valuing the draft pick. Theoretically, last offseason a lot of teams balked at signing Jason Varitek because signing him would cost them a first-round draft pick. (Of course, I think teams balked at signing him because he sucks at baseball, but that's just me and haters who don't believe in the intangibles of a cooked catcher who bitches about playing time in the playoffs) On this very blog, many people here were expressing their displeasure over signing Marco Scutaro because it would cost the team the draft pick. This is a new thing, I feel. Early draft picks have never been considered as valuable as they are today.

In the past, the baseball draft was a complete crapshoot. A decent amount of first, second, and third round picks have make it to the major leagues, but not so many that teams were hesitant to sign proven major league commodities through free agency. Or at least it has seemed that way. (I wish I had the time to crunch the numbers.) But obviously, the evaluation of baseball players has changed dramatically with the advent of sabermetrics.

Non-statistical scouting has also improved quite a bit in recent times. Teams, sensing the inefficiency of the free agent market and feeling the pressure of luxury tax penalties if they pay players too much, have instead invested a lot of money into scouting. People scout and investigate players' backgrounds extensively (maybe too much, judging by the NoMaas.org indictment of Slade Heathcott background checks) so that situations like Josh Hamilton and/or Jeff Allison don't happen anymore. Teams are spending a lot of money on signing bonuses and on picking the correct players for their needs. They don't want this money to go to waste.

It will take a while to figure out if all this extra time and attention being spent on basically high school players and amateur players will end up a worthwhile investment. But think about this: In the early 1990s, first-round picks included players like John Wasdin and Todd Van Poppel. It's hard to believe that players like Pedro Alvarez and Stephen Strasburg will end up like those two guys.

With all of this perceived enlightenment, however, I can't believe how prospects who are considered "can't-miss," specifically referring to Lars Anderson a year ago, can flop as much as Anderson is on the verge of flopping. I can't believe how players like Edwar Ramirez could go from the independent leagues to the majors. It was a really big deal two years ago when Jeremy Brown (a product of the Moneyball/sabermetric drafting philosophy) retired after failing to make a splash at the major league level.

It will be interesting to see what happens to guys like Strasburg. It will also be interesting to see how many high draft picks will be making it to the major leagues compared to ten or twenty years ago. It just seems like teams are investing the resources to have some kind of scouting revolution. I am very interested to see what the ultimate return on investment will be.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Add One Free Agent

Please excuse the tardiness of this post. My fault completely.

In the interest of hopefully salvaging some form of a comments discussion today, I pose a question: if you were the Yankees or Red Sox as presently constructed, and you could add one more free agent regardless of price or years, who would it be?

There are some interesting names still out there. Johnny Damon, Ben Sheets, Chien-Ming Wang, Orlando Cabrera, Carlos Delgado, Orlando Hudson, Garret Anderson, Gary Sheffield, Rick Ankiel, Rocco Baldelli, Jermaine Dye, Reed Johnson, Xavier Nady, Randy Winn, Jason Giambi, Jim Thome, Erik Bedard, Jon Garland, Kevin Gregg, Justin Speier, Kiko Calero, Jose Arredondo, Joe Crede, Nomar Garciaparra, Adam Kennedy, and many others.

Clearly, all of these guys are not guys that are going to perform in 2010. But all of them have at least proven semi-recently that they can help a club. Some more than others, no doubt, and I was trying to make the list as comprehensive as possible, though I still definitely missed potential productive pieces in 2010.

If I could have just one regardless of price or years for the Yankees' present needs, I'd go back and forth between Damon and sheets. Really tough to choose between those two. Damon fits a little bit more of a need, or at least represents a bit more of an upgrade, as the Yankees have a pretty deep rotation and need outfield depth. He's also proven in New York and his game is a great fit for the Yankees and their stadium. However, you can never have enough pitching, and signing Sheets would guard against potential injuries to the rotation after a World Series run. He also represents a lot of upside if returns anywhere near his 2008 or previous form. At the same time, if the rotation is healthy, clogging the rotation with too many arms potentially stunts the development of the Yankees' youngsters, most notably Chamberlain and Hughes.

In the end I'd go with Sheets, though it's very close. You really can never have enough pitching, and I think the Yankees are more prepared to find an addition to the lineup/outfield during the season than they are to find a pitcher of Sheets' potential. That potential is really what ultimately brings me to choosing him. The Yankees would figure out a way to continue to develop Chamberlain and Hughes in order to have a rotation of Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, Vazquez, and Sheets.

For the Red Sox, I'd actually probably add Damon. He's the most legitimate bat left on the market, and that's probably what the Red Sox need most. If you can't get a 1A bat, may as well get as many second tier bats as you can. I realize there is no direct positional fit, but just like the Yankees with Sheets, I think the Red Sox would find a way to make it work to add a dynamic top of the order bat like Damon.

Who would you add for each team?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Prospect Doghouse

A few weeks ago, I wondered in this space whether Mike Lowell ran over Theo Epstein's dog. Similarly, now I'm wondering if Josh Reddick pulled a Byung-Hyun Kim and flipped off the entire Red Sox fan base. It seems like everyone is forgetting about this guy. For some reason, he's in the prospect doghouse and everyone's forgetting that he might end up being a full-time major league outfielder. And a good one.

Perhaps Red Sox fans just remember him as being a backup outfielder at the very end of the 2009 season, and are just assuming that's what he's destined to be forever: A four-A guy like Chris Carter or Jeff Bailey who will continue to have serious problems hitting the ball like he did in September. The real prospects are guys like Ryan Kalish and Ryan Westmoreland, who are still further down in the minors. While those guys might end up being great baseball players, Reddick might end up great as well.

We're going to use Lars Anderson as a bench mark here, as the first baseman was the can't miss prospect a year ago. He had a disastrous year, and I read an article (can't find it now) last week about how this year is by far the most important in Anderson's career because it's a make-or-break years. While Reddick was not touted nearly as highly as Anderson, he had a similar rise from the low minors, through AA and AAA, and to the majors. Reddick was riding buses in High-A Lancaster as recently as the middle of 2008.

He had a reasonably-disappointing 2009, where he took a pretty significant hit in AAA and in the majors, but a lot of that was due to the team messing around with his swing and his approach to hitting the ball (they want him to walk more and hit less). His 2009 was not nearly as bad as Anderson's 2009. And Reddick is still a year younger than Anderson.

At 21, Reddick is not fully physically developed, and scouts think that while he gets bigger and stronger, he will develop better power numbers. If the team has their way, he will have good plate discipline, and even if the team doesn't have their way, they'll have a guy who can hack and get hits. SoxProspects.com compares Reddick to Mike Greenwell, and while that might be a bit of Kool-Aid sipping, most agree that Josh Reddick will be a serviceable starting major league outfielder.

He's not ready yet, something that was very obvious judging by his time in Boston. But it's not like he's 26 years old like number 46. He's five years younger than 46. And it's possible that the team may have done the Cla Meredith thing and brought him through the minors too quickly. That's why a two-year deal for Mike Cameron is not necessarily a bad thing. On October 2, 2011, the Red Sox will have two outfield vacancies. But with Kalish, Westmoreland, and, yes, Reddick, lighting up the minors, the roster flexibility that comes with NOT signing Jason Bay or Matt Holliday is an asset for this team's long-term prosperity.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Defending Your Title With The Team That Won It

One thing that has really been fantastic about this off-season is that the Yankees are not resting on winning the 2009 World Series. Logic that I do not understand is "it was good enough last year, so it will be good enough next year". This is especially true when sensible options to improve your club present themselves at reasonable costs. One caveat is that after a championship there is definitely less pressure to make certain moves. And that is all well and good. That doesn't mean you just sit on your team unless that really is the absolute best option for the next season. Where you can improve, you should improve.

At the same time, there is something to be said to keeping a championship team together to the greatest extent possible. Another thing that is rightly reinforced in "The Yankee Years" is that baseball is a team sport. This should be obvious but we often forget or choose to compartmentalize the game into a series of events happening individually. Just not the case. The lineup is the most obvious place where the team element matters. Certain players protect others and impact their ability to succeed. The same goes for batting in a certain spot in the lineup. In the lineup, the rotation, and the bullpen guys feed off of each other. There are also chemistry concerns. Baseball is a 162 game season and there is a lot that goes on during that time both on and off the field. You need players, coaches, and everyone involved with the team on board. Baseball is not simply a game of going to the plate four times by yourself, getting a bunch of balls hit to you by yourself, and pitching by yourself.

With that in mind, the Yankees have taken a winner and turned over 33% of the everyday lineup, 20% of the rotation, and assorted bullpen parts. The rotation aspect doesn't come in to play here because they needed a pitcher, got a really good one in Javier Vazquez, and there wasn't a contributor from 2009 jettisoned to make room for the Vazquez. The bullpen element doesn't come in at all because that is the most interchanging of the three parts of the game, and the Yankees in particular have had success in the bullpen by making it as fluid as they need to. Melky Cabrera, one of the regulars not returning, was used to get Vazquez which has been a move widely praised, so it is difficult to argue not doing that deal. You can't necessarily return every player from a championship club, especially when there is an opportunity to improve.

However, Nick Johnson directly replaced Hideki Matsui, at the same price for the same amount of years. At best, these two players are a wash talent wise. Nothing against Nick Johnson who I think is a very nice player, I personally prefer Matsui. Not only is he a better hitter in my opinion, but he's a better fit for our lineup (he bats 5 and the Yankees don't really have a 5 hitter, where as Johnson is a #2 or bottom of the order guy and the Yankees have both of those), but he does a tremendous job protecting Rodriguez, has a great swing for Yankee Stadium, and is a big game player with a penchant for the clutch. Even putting that aside, if they are pretty close to a wash talent wise, why not bring back the guy who has done it for you? Who was huge in 2009? Who has become a big part of the Yankees? I understand there are concerns. Matsui has bad knees and is getting older, and you want to let a player go before he starts to seriously decline rather than holding him while he does. But Nick Johnson, despite being younger, may be even more injury prone. And again the simple fact that Matsui was a big part of what the Yankees did last year should be enough to keep it consistent for another year.

Curtis Granderson is essentially replacing Johnny Damon and Brett Gardner is essentially replacing Melky Cabrera. The Granderson deal was a good one in my eyes, and if given the choice between Granderson and Damon moving forward I'd take Granderson. The Vazquez deal was a good one as well. Even with this said, the Yankees are still losing two big contributors to the championship team. Damon obviously had a huge year and a big playoffs, and while Melky isn't the offensive player Matsui or Damon are, was big in the clutch, brought a lot of energy, and just found ways to make plays. Going back to this being a team game, that stuff matters, and Melky's teammates were always complimenting him on his energy and ability to make stuff happen.

When you break it down, the only move the Yankees really could have gone the other way on in my opinion is Matsui over Johnson. You'd like to bring the team that won it back but sometimes it isn't what makes the most sense. Still, you'd like to bring the same team back. While you may be bettering yourselves production wise or on paper, you risk losing intangibles that are critical to winning. The Yankees clearly had something special last year. They were a great team but there was that little extra, both on and off the field, that they just seemed to have as a team. Right from Spring Training they seemed to have a lot of chemistry, and I'm a believer that translates onto the field (late inning comebacks, anybody?) Turning over as much of the lineup as they have, you wonder how difficult it will be to regain that? It helps that they seem to have brought in a lot of similarly strong character guys. It also helps that there is still a big core of key players returning. It would also help if Johnny Damon re-signed, which at this point I think the Yankees should just do. Hopefully it works out. Either way, it would have been nice to see them defend the title with almost all of the guys who won it for them last year. It was a special season, and when you make substantial changes - even when those changes are largely sound ones - you don't know how much that is going to impact creating that special atmosphere again the following season. You may not re-create it even if you keep it consistent, but at least you know it's a formula that can work. The Yankees won't know that in 2010 until the season is over.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I Feel Like My Coach

Greetings from Gate E1A in Logan Airport, where I'm on my way to Houston, TX to race this weekend. This is in the style of Pete Abraham, and plagiarizing it is in the style of Doris Kearns Goodwin, Colby College's pride and joy. Anyway...

I like to think I'm a pretty awesome athlete to work with. I like to think I work pretty hard, don't slack, and compete with balls. I like to think I am a workhorse. In a relay race, I am the one who takes the longest leg and tries to turn the race from a tight contest to a blowout. My training workload is substantially higher than 99% of my competitors, and I feel like out-training them is why I out-race them.

I am rarely injured and if I am actually hurt or sore, I run through it and don't really like to tell anyone--especially my coach--what's bothering me. Now, if you've read "The Yankee Years" in the last two weeks, you might want to compare me to Jeter. But that's going in the wrong direction: I'm going to compare myself to Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Matsuzaka revealed this week that about a year ago, he was battling a significant groin injury that, he believes, is what caused the shoulder problems that sidelined him for the majority of last season. He suffered the injury while training for the World Baseball Classic, and overcompensating for the mechanical failure is what put the undue stress on his shoulder.

The thing that pisses off the Red Sox is the fact that he covered this up. The entire organization, as Theo Epstein has been saying (obviously as part of his universal defense of DL Drew), stresses the importance of letting the medical professionals know when something's bothering you. This is the case from rookie ball to the big leagues. And while that's nice, the opposite extreme of Matsuzaka hiding his injuries, is Drew saying he has "sore glove hand" to the point that he is pulled from baseball activities.

"I didn't want to show my weaknesses," he was quoted as saying. "I didn't want them to think I was making excuses...I believe when you say you are sick, you become sick."

The real translation of that is "I thought I could play through the injury. I didn't want the team to be a bunch of pussies and shut me down. I didn't say I was hurt because I'm not a pussy." And I respect that. A lot. If you remember, I also wrote a post in support of him when he officially jumped the shark in Boston by saying part of why he got hurt was because the Red Sox weren't working him hard enough.

But as admirable as that is to me as a fellow athlete (and as much as Jeter is lionized in that book for basically doing the same thing), that has to be frustrating as hell for the Red Sox. It's frustrating for me as a Red Sox fan. Now if the team's $103 starter is hurt, he probably won't say anything about it. So we'll just think he sucks. It would be a lot easier for us if he just admitted he was hurt.

It would also probably be much easier for my coach if I admitted I was hurt, or if I admitted the extent of the injuries I may or may not be suffering from two days before my race in Houston. (Let's just say Drew would have pulled out of this race in October.) But instead, I'm evasive, enigmatic, and frustrating. And I know that. But I don't care.

I'd rather be evasive, enigmatic, and frustrating than miss any time training and making myself the fastest I can be. Something I think the heroic Derek Jeter--and the enfuriating Daisuke Matsuzaka--can relate to.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

MLBPA Finally Does Something Productive

I've been pretty critical of the MLB and the MLB Players' Association for their continuous actions that seem to be against the best interest of the game and for their inability to police themselves.

Well, now they're actually policing each other for the overall good of the game. Ain't that a B.

This comes on the heels of the Wednesday announcement that the league and the players' association are telling the Florida Marlins to use the money Obama...I mean...the league is mailing to them to improve their teams instead of pocketing the money. People have been ragging on the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, and other teams for overspending and ruining the competitive balance of the games. They say it's a travesty. What's equally a travesty is the fact that teams like the Marlins, Royals, Pirates, and Twins are not using this revenue sharing money. They are doing just as much to ruin the competitive balance of the game as the teams that are blowing out the field in negotiations for good players like the centaur, Sabathia and Teixeira...and for mediocre players like Drew, Lugo, and Cameron.

These teams are not spending enough to exploit the amateur draft. They are not spending enough to do virtually anything in the free agent market. Obviously, we're not going to see the centaur end his career in Miami unless he's in the Orange Bowl doing stairs at 6:15 AM. But why is it the Pirates can't retain Jack Wilson for a long-term contract? If he walks, why can't they afford a mediocre SS like Marco Scutaro? I feel like if they were to actually spend this money instead of keeping it under their mattresses, they could lay the foundation for an okay team. Combine this with good drafting, good scouting, and good minor league development, they could put together a good team for at least a short period of time.

The Devil Rays did it correctly. The Devil Rays are a beacon of what a team can do with the funds that the Yankees are giving them. If a team uses these dollars wisely, they CAN become competitive, even under the current structure that, admittedly, is not best for competitive balance, but probably is best for preserving both competitive balance and capitalism. Poor use of these dollars, however, hinders competitive balance as much, if not more, than what the Yankees are doing. But the reasons the Marlins, the Pirates, and the Royals aren't doing this are their own fault. They can do what Tampa's doing. But they're not doing it.

The Yankees' spending is punished by the luxury tax. And now I must give credit to the MLBPA and the league, for finally disciplining a team from doing the opposite.

Play Makers

In the age of the baseball statistical explosion, one thing I continue to appreciate about basketball and football is the emphasis that still exists on the athletes themselves, the human element of the game. There are plenty of numbers that are helpful in both sports, but the nuances of athletic ability remain paramount. Players can have similar numbers, but strong distinctions will be made between those that make plays to help their team win games and those that don't. These distinctions are derived from what we see while watching games, not what we read in the box score or on the stat sheet.

To this end, DV is right when he talks about sabermetrics having gone to far. What was once merely an immensely helpful set of statistics have now become rules in many instances. This is obvious in many different places, and one example is Pythagorean winning percentage. Many will point to this winning percentage rather than actual winning percentage as the true barometer of how good a team is. Logically this just doesn't seem right. The Yankees, for example, outperformed their Pythag. winning percentage every single year from 96-03, and did so by an average of something like 6 wins per season. Are you going to tell me that it was mere coincidence that a team on what is now considered one of the best runs in baseball history just happened to be better than their Pythag., or "lucky", every single year? I don't think so. There we were again in 2009, with the Yankees again outperformed their Pythag., this time by 7 wins. They also were the best team in baseball and won the World Series. Again, coincidence, or do good teams just find ways to win?

Sure enough, it is now being proven by Bill James himself, one of the founders of sabermetrics, that there are team qualities that defy Pythag. James theorizes that the Angels, for example, who consistently outperform their Pythag., are doing so because they consistently run the bases so tremendously. Here we are, one of the great minds who brought about the statistical revolution pointing to traditional athletic ability to explain how statistic doesn't exactly work as well as we thought.

This general theme of the game not being played on paper is a potential problem for the 2010 Yankees in my mind. Key word here is potential, as I obviously have no idea.

The Yankees have replaced Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and Melky Cabrera with Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson, and Brett Gardner. On paper, from a production over 162 standpoint, that looks great. But in my opinion 162 production is not the only thing.

In the biggest spots, late in games, I knew I was getting Matsui's and Damon's best at bats. Just look at the World Series. Matsui's two homers off Pedro in critical games. Damon's at bat against Lidge. Matsui's 6 RBI Game 6. Damon's go-ahead double in Game 3, where the Yankees never looked back in from there in the Series. Damon's double in the first inning of Game 4. These were guys that stepped up and made plays to help their team win games. Melky Cabrera, who isn't the player that Matsui or Damon are, was second in the majors in walk-off hits last year, and has had a penchant for the clutch since he first saw extended playing time in 2006. His teammates and coaches described him as someone who made things happen. These are things that are not going to show up over 162 games. But they matter in terms of winning baseball games, especially in the playoffs.

Can Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson, and Brett Gardner replace this? That remains a very legitimate question. I have no idea, and none of us do. But if I'm asking all of you Boston fans right now, 9th inning, runners on first and second, two out, tie game, who scares you more, Hideki Matsui or Nick Johnson? Is it even close? I like Nick Johnson as a player, a lot. The guy works counts and gets on base. Very useful piece. But that stuff doesn't determine who gets it done when it matters. Damon vs. Granderson? Probably a little closer than Matsui vs. Johnson, but I would still think Damon's peskiness scares you more, especially considering Granderson's strikeouts. Melky vs. Gardner is not as substantial, especially since Granderson has also shown himself to be a playmaker.

Stat heads will tell me this stuff doesn't matter. I really believe that it does. Even if it doesn't always pan out, we all know how draining it is as fans to face guys that scare you. Imagine what it's like for opposing pitchers? It also goes back something all of us who played or have been around basketball know to be true. 16 points and 8 boards on average is not the same for all players outside of the numbers themselves. Some guys are going to get 20 and 14 against weaker teams, and then disappear with 8 and 4 when it matters against the best teams. Others are going to be someone you can rely on for 16 and 8 no matter who you are playing. The same numbers on average, but which one would you rather have? In baseball, we only talk about this stuff when we want to discredit someone as a "stat padder". But there is a story to be told within every single player's numbers. Some guys are play makers, that you can count on when it matters most. Others are just guys who put together some good numbers. I'm not saying they can't do it - and I certainly hope they do - but the Yankees as a team have a long way to go to replace the late inning at bats they are going to be losing from Matsui, and possibly Damon as well.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New Year, Same Stupid Argument

While Felger is the best person on Boston sports radio right now and should probably be President of the United States because he's right about everything, he was not right today.

In the wake of the McGwire news, Felger and Massarotti re-hashed the asinine "steroids vs. spitball" and "McGwire vs. Gaylord Perry" argument. I was thinking about writing about it tonight, but I already did in December 2006.

Gaylord Perry's career was revived by his use of the spitball. He said it himself. It's not quite at the point that he's like Eric Gagne--that he was a borderline major leaguer/AAA sixth starter without his cheating--but very close. But he turned to the spitball as Gagne turned to the juice, and they both got better.

Only difference is, the spitball was made illegal because it presented a risk during the 1918 flu pandemic. After the pandemic subsided, the spitball's ability to harm people big-time diminished. Steroids kill people. Steroids to things to people like they did to Tony Saunders (the Devil Rays pitcher who snapped his arm in half).

Whatever. I already wrote it. You can read it here if you want to. Coming up is a fresh post.

Monday, January 11, 2010

McGwire Talks About the Past, What’s Next?

So today Mark McGwire decided to talk about the past. His timeliness was similar to Pat and Tank's timeliness in reading The Yankee Years: it's been five years since he decided to not talk about the past, and, perhaps like Pete Rose, it's too little, too late. It's very clear why he did it: He probably saw Clemens, Palmeiro, Bonds, Sosa, Ortiz, and others who didn't admit to anything and become punch lines. He probably also saw Andy Pettitte and the centaur admit to probably the tip of the iceberg and become lionized despite the fact that they broke U.S. law with the victim of the crime being Major League Baseball and the clean players in it.

So he decided to go from the first category to the second. That is probably a good career move, as he doesn't want his non-admission but non-denial and subsequent five years of becoming a hermit to be a dark cloud over the St. Louis Cardinals this year. I mean, Matt Holliday's blunders in the playoffs should be the main dark cloud. And there's also the Hall of Fame issue. If he continues to live the hermit life, McGwire has absolutely no chance at making the Hall of Fame. With amnesty, the people in between Tim Kurkjian ("all users are like teddy bears") and From the Bronx ("all users should face a firing squad") might go from keeping him out of the HoF to letting him in.

What does this mean for baseball and its relationship with steroids?

The general public may continue to soften toward the steroid issue, admit they were all using, and absolve everyone. McGwire’s admission was like getting partial closure about the late 1990s’ events. Even though everyone already knew this except for the people who took introduction to U.S. law a little too seriously, saying “there’s a shadow of a doubt that he did it!!!1 he diddnt admit to anythign!!1!” This increases the chances of users in the Hall of Fame significantly as long as they admit they were wrong. McGwire’s votes may double next year, and that means that the centaur has a very, very good chance of getting in as well—which sucks, in my opinion.

McGwire also said that the players’ union and the commissioner’s office have both done a good job cleaning up the sport, furthering the story that they have actually tried to rid the game of the juice. Testing is still inadequate and the actions of general managers still provide no disincentive to continue to use drugs. But with the guy from eleven years ago admitting to using, the myth that the steroid era is over is perpetuated.

These last two paragraphs indicate that today’s news is bad news. However, it’s not bad. I thought the McGwire story was really, really sad. And as much as he’s a bad guy who screwed over the Rick Hellings of the world, he’s still a sympathetic character. So I am sort of happy for the sympathetic character.

What’s more important is that people might start admitting. Clemens won’t because he might have actually convinced himself that his hare-brained story is right and McNamee is lying. Bonds won’t because he’s a complete jackass. But who’s to say Sosa won’t? Who’s to say Nomar won’t? Who’s to say Ortiz won’t? Maybe some players will come out of the woodwork because they see that there is some kind of twisted nobility that comes with admitting you forced clean players out of the game and convinced guys like Tony Saunders that the only way to keep your job is to shoot up, just to have your muscles get too big too fast and have your arm literally snap in half, ruining your career and more.

Perhaps the most important point is that if people do indeed start admitting (this is idealistic, I know), we get more truth about what happened, why it happened, and what competent executives can do to prevent it from continuing to happen. That’s what needs to take place to end the steroid era in baseball. In order to improve the present and future, more people need to talk about the past.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bring Johnny Back

A lot coming up on HYD Baseball in the coming weeks leading up to Spring Training, which by this time of year is always closer than we think. I finally got around to reading "The Yankee Years", and that provided a surprising amount of perspective, some of which will be put to use in this post and at least three others coming soon. Only one of these posts will actually be about "The Yankee Years". This one and probably many others will use insights provided therein as related to other topics being discussed. As I said, it really was a surprisingly informative book. Not just regarding its primary subject matter - the New York Yankees under Joe Torre - but many other interesting inside looks at what goes on in the game of baseball.

The Yankees should bring Johnny Damon back. The impact that it would have on the 2010 club really can't be understated. Offensively, it keeps left field consistent. That means you are replacing Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera with Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson. While the decision to sign Johnson and not Matsui is one that can be debated (much more on that coming very soon), they are likely similar over 162 production wise, and Curtis Granderson is a substantial upgrade over Melky Cabrera. So what was already a very good offense becomes much better. If left field doesn't stay consistent - and Damon is really the only bat left on the market that would keep it reasonably so - then starting Brett Gardner everyday cuts into the offensive upgrade you got from Granderson over Cabrera. The difference in upgrade between Granderson and Cabrera and downgrade from Damon to Gardner is likely pretty similar all considered.

Now, there would be nothing wrong with entering 2010 with the outfield as is. The Yankees won the 2009 World Series with Damon + Matsui + Cabrera, and on paper Granderson + Johnson + Gardner is pretty similar to that production wise. The rotation has been upgraded with the addition of Javier Vazquez, so the Yankees already stand to look better on paper than they did entering 2009. But the game doesn't get played on paper (much more coming on this soon too). The goal is to win the World Series, and there are so many things that go into that happening. As TimC mentioned a while back, defending a title and winning back-to-back is really a special thing in sports, because it is so immensely difficult to accomplish. The Yankees are in a position to do that. Upgrading left field by returning a guy in Damon who was absolutely critical to the Yankees winning it all last year would go a long way towards helping them repeat. Instead of having a similar offense to the 2009 version on paper, they would instead be improving it pretty significantly.

There seems to be very little market for Damon, especially with teams that at least are potential suitors seemingly getting checked off the list every few days (Cardinals, Giants, etc.) The only two teams left that seem to be a fit for Damon and have the resources to pay him are the Yankees and the Braves. Of course there could be others, but if there are it doesn't seem like there are any willing to give him major dollars (relatively speaking) or years. This would make a Damon return to the Yankees make even more sense. With Pitchers and Catchers little more than a month away, Damon could be heading for a Bobby Abreu-like one year deal. Even if it is a little more money than what Abreu got last year (let's say $7-8 million), I don't see why the Yankees wouldn't pay that, even if it is a little more than what they want to pay, to bring that kind of production back on a one year deal.

To that end, though, one thing "The Yankee Years" really brings to light with multiple different examples is how much the game of baseball is still a human game, no matter how much we try to reduce players to their numbers, almost like robots. Another is that a lot of things go on behind the scenes that we don't hear about, even in major media markets like New York and Boston. We look at these players and the money they make and figure they just show up and play baseball with nothing to worry about. Not true. They have emotions, feel pressure, go through hard times, all of these things and much more.

In that regard, nobody wants to take a pay cut from their employer. You'd rather take a pay cut some place else. This is about as standard a feeling as they come. This might sound ridiculous talking about the kind of money we are talking about. But as Bandi has said recently it's all a matter of scale. Going from $13 million to half that in one year and staying in the same place may not be ideal. You'd rather do that somewhere else if possible. And even if Damon did do that, the Yankees, as has been at least whispered, may have concerns about how Damon would respond to it. These are all things that have to be considered. But if Damon is willing, and the Yankees don't have any concerns about bringing him back, it is an outstanding fit. The trickle down effect is huge too, as the lineup now has a little bit more structure with a proven #2 hitter, Brett Gardner goes from everyday starter to super utility outfielder, a role that fits him very well, and so on and so forth. Most importantly, the team would be much improved, and that's what you're looking to do every winter, even coming off of a World Series. Because improving means a greater chance of repeating, and that's the goal for the Yankees this year.

On a different note, I'd like to point out that Papelbon's statement "...as far as what me and my brain are thinking..." had me laughing really hard when I first saw it. Just priceless.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Great Day for Bandi

Bandi, one of our most loyal readers and commenters since the very beginning of HYD Baseball in 2006, must be really excited about the way today has gone.

For those who don't already know, Bandi is a big Raiders fan and a big USC fan, stemming from the fact that he spent much of his childhood in Los Angeles before moving to the Boston area. And today is a great day for both USC football and for the Raiders. Here's why:

USC: They no longer have Pete Carroll as a coach. Despite being able to recruit vastly superior talent to every other team in college football, Pete's teams somehow underachieved year after year, having a heinous loss against a terrible team cost them a shot at the national title. Seems like a lot of Pete's USC teams were very good at laying down during "sandwich games" and played unmotivated football. Everyone who followed the Patriots between 1997-1999 know all about this. A lot of the time, even during games they won against inferior teams, they relied on their talent to avoid further losses in which they were outcoached.

The best team in college football shouldn't be playing in the Rose Bowl. They should be playing in the national championship. If they played in the Rose Bowl, it means they underachieved or were poorly coached. Or both.

Oakland Raiders: The Raiders are now guaranteed to win at least one game next year, as they are playing against Carroll's new team, the Seattle Seahawks. You'd think that Seattle would know to stay away from this guy as he had a similar impact on the NFL teams he coached to the impact William D. Adams is having on Colby College: A sharp decline that becomes more and more evident every year. But the Seattle-Raiders game is the classic game where a Carroll team will go in without any semblance of a game plan and have a game full of too many men on the field penalties and players who are playing like they're hung over.

So congratulations Bandi, on the success of both your teams.

Back to baseball on Monday.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Neither you nor your brain are very good

I can't believe I'm saying this, but Jason "I'd rather retire than play for $4 million" Varitek acted more professionally last season than Jonathan Papelbon has acted in his latest round of player-team-media contract negotiations. Apparently Papelbon doesn't believe in trends--or he does, but just wants to ignore the fact that he's gotten worse every year since he started pitching. Here are some snippets of what the Relief Matsuzaka said, according to Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.

On making $10 million-plus next year: "Heck yeah, as far as what me and my brain are thinking."

"Me and my brain." I like that. Papelbon and his brain have always kind of been separate, and it's actually been well-documented that he might be one of the dumbest people in America. We already know that Papelbon's brain doesn't work, but it's always been at least kind of acceptable because the guy can pitch, get guys out, and keep the ball over the plate. Every year, however, he's gotten just a little bit worse, and in 2009 he started walking the bases loaded all the time before remembering he had to get guys out. Obviously, through arbitration, the player's going to get a raise. But automatically assuming you're going to get a big payday after what was an unimpressive season is something that only JD Drew should expect.

"When you look at what I've done so far, you can't compare it to many other closers besides Mo."


Really? There aren't any other closers who have had four successful seasons? Bobby Jenks, Chad Cordero, Francisco Rodriguez, Keith Foulke, Brad Lidge, Jason Isringhausen, and Billy Koch haven't had four good seasons? Going back a bit, Tom Henke, Mitch Williams, and Rick Aguilera have been worse than you? Okay, you've enjoyed more success than Scott Zimmerman, Scott Williamson, Dan Kolb, and Heathcliff Slocumb.

"My whole thing is consistency."

Yes, that is true. You have consistently gotten worse every year.

"...just three or four blown saves a year. That's a rarity in itself."

That is insulting to our intelligence. Everyone who watched Papelbon last year knows that he probably should have had 8-10 blown saves. Thinking his 3 blown saves last year is legitimate is like saying that Matsuzaka deserved to go 18-3 in 2008. The guy gave up walks, doubles, and warning-track fly outs almost every night. Usually things catch up to you, like they caught up to Papelbon last October.

"I'd want Bard in my pen, to set me up."

Just like you wanted Rivera to set you up in the All-Star Game?


"Let's have a happy marriage. But what do I have to give up to be in that marriage? Understand, I'm in the prime of my career. Why would I give up something? I want to do things for my fellow closers, just like Mo paved the way for me."

Well, closers other than Mo have typically had a pretty short shelf life. That's why you (and other closers) would have to give up something. If you get a deal like 5/$75, then you go Keith Foulke 2005 on your team, well, that contract would be worse than JD Drew or Julio Lugo. There are a lot of indicators that the prime of Papelbon's career was in 2006 and that he's headed right to Foulke 05 territory. The fact that he's running his mouth and talking about how awesome he is and how much he should be paid instead of finding a way to make sure Foulke 05 doesn't happen.

Plus, you can't "pave the way" for anyone unless you're good. And Papelbon is NOT good enough to pave the way for anyone.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Invention of the Decade

Anyone remember that month when everyone was talking about this big old invention that was going to change the way life was going to be forever? Then, amid all the hype, the so-called revolutionary invention happened to be a stupid scooter? Well, that was this decade. So was the invention of the HDTV and the advent of How Youz Doin Baseball, which probably enhanced the way you followed sports forever. However, two events this week--the induction of Andre Dawson into the Hall of Fame and last weekend's Wes Welker ACL/MCL blowout--furthered my theory that the most important technological innovation in the past decade was:

FieldTurf.

While FieldTurf is not perfect, and while it should not be used everywhere, the surface is now widespread in Major League Baseball, the NFL, and even in soccer. They have also installed FieldTurf at lower levels, changing many minor league, college, and high school sports.

The first improvement brought along by FieldTurf is the phasing out of AstroTurf. I say this today because AstroTurf is credited with the downfall of Andre Dawson's career, and probably a big reason it took him fourteen years to get into the Hall of Fame. Apparently playing ten-plus years on pavement covered by carpet is a bad thing for an outfielder's knees. When the Hawk went to Chicago, they say his career was rejuvenated, but anyone who remembers him in Boston in 1993 knows that the rejuvenation was short-lived. With FieldTurf, who knows? He might have been an elite baserunner and defensive player for a lot longer. Put that along with his bat and he could have been like Barry Bonds before the freaky steroids transformation. A sure-fire first ballot guy. Although it's debatable if he deserved it with the fact that he did play on AstroTurf, it's nice to see him in.

The second big thing this week that makes the invention of FieldTurf so important is the Wes Welker injury. A few years ago, you may remember a really messy Patriots game at Gillette Stadium, when the field didn't recover from a rain storm two days before. The conditions took away from the quality of play so much that they just stripped the stadium and put FieldTurf on it the next week.

Not to say that the grass in Houston last weekend was anything close to that this weekend, but on the play where Wes Welker tried to cut and avoid a tackle, he slipped on the grass and blew out his knee. Not to say that the same thing wouldn't have happened on FieldTurf, but it's very possible.

I still believe grass has a very good place in sports. Specifically in baseball, I think natural grass is the best way to go. Despite the best efforts by TBS, FOX, and Allan Selig, baseball isn't played in the cold/snowy/rainy season, and poor grass conditions really only wreak havoc with baseball games played in Portland, ME. But if some owners insist that baseball games should be played in a dome or on an artificial surface, FieldTurf is a great way to go. Ten years ago, it didn't exist and players like Andre Dawson were shortening their careers by playing the outfield on cement covered with a green carpet. As great as HDTV has been, especially the way it has revolutionized watching hockey on television, the biggest change in sports in the 2000s was FieldTurf.

Fifth Best Is Tenth Worst

I'm down with value moves for most of the positions on a baseball team. For example, if you have the centaur, Jeter, Sabathia, Mariano, and other clowns on a baseball teams, filling the other spots with "value guys" is brilliant. It's a good idea to plug in "value guys" (I'm thinking specifically of Nick Swisher or Nick Johnson) for a lot of the other positions. Let's say that Sabathia's the best starter in the game, Mariano's one of the top three closers, Jeter's the second-best shortstop, and the centaur is one of the two best third basemen. Having the tenth-best right fielder or the tenth best DH in the American League isn't a problem as long as the guys aren't making $13 or $14 million a year. That's why I think Swisher and Johnson are good additions to the Yankees.

This brings me to a point that the Gunn brought up in the previous comments section. The Red Sox are jamming their entire roster with these "value guys," these guys who are supposed to be forgotten, undervalued guys. And while it might be true, if every guy in your lineup is the tenth-best guy in baseball at his position, well, you'll probably end up being the tenth-best team in baseball.

Unfortunately, only eight teams make the playoffs, not ten.

Back in the early summer when Jason Varitek was still hitting like .245, Butch Stearns was saying on WEEI (this was back when Boston only had one sports radio station) that people had no right to diss Varitek for sucking at the plate. This was because no catchers would hit. Varitek's numbers, Stearns said, was the fifth-best in the American League. He's talking about this like 5th best is incredible, as if he's the 5th-best in baseball history. But no. He's toward the top of the middle third. Just like the Texas Rangers were in terms of playoff positions. Of course, Varitek hit about .120 for the rest of the year, so the point was sort of moot. But either way, if you're the eighth best left fielder/third baseman/shortstop in the league, which Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre, and Marco Scutaro very well might be, you're worse than average.

The Red Sox' roster has these three guys, perhaps the 12th-best catcher, the 6th-best center fielder, the 6th-best right fielder, the 5th-best closer, the fourth-best ace, the fourth-best second starter, the best third starter, and a guy in the top three at first base and second base. Does that make you a good baseball team? A sure-fire October contender?

I'd say no. And though I still would not like Mark Teixeira because of how much of a douche he is, having the best first baseman, a top-three second baseman, and a top-three third baseman would have made this team a contender. As it stands, they have seven (7) semi-automatic outs. I'm not mad about this, because I think at this point, when you still have another year of Captain K and Santa Claus, two more years of Nancy, and a big mouth in the way of Daniel Bard's path to the closer spot, you SHOULD be punting a season. But they have seven semi-automatic outs. It is what it is.

But please don't talk to me about value and how it's a good thing that only seven third basemen had numbers better than Adrian Beltre's. He's just not a good player if the calendar year is not divisible by 1002. He'd be a good role player if he had a lot of stars around him.

And at least it's nice to know that unlike two of the other automatic outs, he's not making more than $12 million.

Monday, January 4, 2010

WHAT! YEAH! OKAY!

Forget Dropkick Murphy (that's a Menino reference) and Lenny Clarke as the unofficial official musicians and comedians of the Boston Red Sox. It is glaringly obvious that the Red Sox' organization wants to replace them with Lil Jon and Dave Chappelle, respectively.

Upon their acquisition of Adrian Beltre, who has been mediocre and forgettable his entire career except for 2004, it's obvious that this is the kind of person the Red Sox want. After all, their general manager also has been mediocre at best with the very notable exception of the 2004 season. So why stop there?

The height of Lil Jon's career was 2004, as that is the year that Get Low, Yeah (by Usher), Throw It Up, Lovers and Friends, Salt Shaker (by the Ying Yang Twins), and my personal favorite What U Gon Do all came out. Lil Jon was huge in 2004. Unfortunately for his fans, including myself, nothing he had put out previously nor anything he had put out afterwards was even close to the level of greatness achieved in 2004.

Dave Chappelle is the same. Season One of Chappelle's Show was lackluster, as were the vast majority of his movies. After 2004, he flipped out, moved to Africa, and has done very little. But 2004 brought the infamous Rick James skit, Negrodamus, Prince, John Mayer, A Day in the Life of Lil Jon, Kneehigh Park, Wayne Brady, The Three Daves, and other similar classics.

The 2004 season had Schilling, Foulke, the height of Damon, the height of Lowe, the height of Bill Mueller, the height of Ortiz, the Nomar/Cabrera/Mientkiewicz trade, Bellhorn and Leskanic not being terrible, and other similar feats of brilliance. The year before, we had animals (i.e. Lyon and Fox) in the bullpen, Byung-Hyun Kim, and other mistakes. The years after we had Matt Mantei, Matt Clement, Wade Miller, JD Drew, Julio Lugo, Edgar Renteria, John Smoltz, Brad Penny, trading Hanley Ramirez, Rocco Baldelli, Jason Varitek, Julio Lugo, and JD Drew.

It's pretty clear that Chappelle, Lil Jon, Adrian Beltre, and Theo Epstein have a lot in common.

What is good about the acquisition of the player who had 48 home runs in 2004 and no more than 54% of that in any other season of his career is the fact that it is no longer than two years, which continues to be consistent with punting the 2010 and 2011 seasons. It's also good that it's a maximum of $14 million, which is what some mediocre players get for one year to play right field for the very same Red Sox. Hopefully Theo Epstein will get the urge to have Adrian Beltre out of his system quickly. Unlike Renteria and Lugo, however, Theo will not have to eat any salary to get rid of him after two years.

But still, let's take a quick look at Beltre's numbers. He literally has never had more than 26 home runs in any other season. He literally had never eclipsed 100 RBIs in any season except for 2004. For those who get wood over OPS, Beltre has only come within TWO HUNDRED POINTS of his 2004 OPS once. For those who instead value hits, he has fared at least 17% worse than his 2004 performance in any other season. The guy is NOT a good baseball player. Not a disastrous pickup with only one guaranteed year and only $10-14 million committed to the one-hit wonder, but with Ortiz and Beltre now both on this roster, how long will it be until the Red Sox bring steroids dealer Angel Presinal aboard in a Greg Anderson-type capacity?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Jason Bay to the Mets

Yeah, this is not news. But we've been on vacation for a week and a half. What is there to say about this? Well, a few things:

-Joe Urbon didn't screw up. As I'm sure you remember, a lot of people, mostly in Boston, thought Urbon (because idiots blame the agent and not the player who employs the agent) of overplaying his hand. It is very, very, very rare that an agent overplays his hand. Because there will almost always be a team that is willing to take a significant risk on a good baseball player--the kind of player who might be a candidate to overplay his hand. The Mets decided that Bay was worth that kind of risk. And he very well might be.

On a similar note, there will almost definitely be a team who will give Johnny Damon $35 million over three years. I don't think it will be the Yankees, but it will be someone.

-The Mets are a freaking mess. Investing a lot in Jason Bay leaves doubt that they'd be able to put some pieces together to fix the other problems on their team. They have A LOT of other problems on their team--namely, their offense sucks and their pitching sucks. They might be able to be okay if their entire offense stays healthy. With the exception of 166 innings from Santana, their pitching was a freaking disaster. Jason Bay will not make this team a contender.

-Theo Epstein is John Madden. He says a lot of things that don't make sense, such as the "Second Highest OPS" argument when he lets the guy with the first-highest OPS of all AL outfielders walk. Fanboys love him. And in the Patriots/Rams Super Bowl, he would strongly advise that the team takes a knee and tries to win in overtime. Instead of negotiating with someone like Bay (or even like Holliday), Epstein is very content with getting a few years of leaded coffee but lousy to mediocre baseball with Mike Cameron and thinking that's the best way to win games.

-On the other hand, the fact that Bay is gone and the Red Sox didn't care too much is another indicator that they are punting 2010.

-Scott Boras is right. He called baseball owners' bluffs on whining about the economy the last two years. Teams still have money. They still have a lot of money. And with the exception of who NoMaas.org calls the "Pittsburgh Red Sox," they are still willing to spend that money. Jason Bay is not Albert Pujols. He's not even Mark Teixeira. But he got paid. Guys like AJ Burnout and Derek Lowe also still got significant paydays in the free agent market. As much as I dislike Boras, he's completely right: Teams still have that money to spend.

It's good to be back. Lots more to look forward to here on HYD Baseball between now and the time the season starts.