Thursday, 9 December 2010

The tide has turned!

After months of complaining and wondering whether Theo Epstein has lost his mind I finally have something positive to say about the Red Sox:

Adrian Gonzalez AND Carl Crawford!

This is clearly going to make the Red Sox formidable once again going into 2011. I was secretly delighted when V-Mart was allowed to sign with the Tigers. His shoddy defence means he is simply not worth paying big bucks to as a big-league catcher. And, if he is only fit to DH or play 1B then why not go after a legit 1B, like Gonzalez. Martinez is only an elite level hitter as a catcher, as a DH/1B he is relegated to being above average. Gonzalez is the best hitting first baseman not named Pujols in baseball. He is also a gold glove calibre fielder.

Another happy development in this move is the likelihood that Beltre will now leave as a free agent. This is also fantastic news! While I would never deny the greatness of Beltre’s 2010, nor would I diminish his value to the Red Sox during this injury-plagued year, I simply cannot get over the idea that he has historically been so much better in contract years than when he has the security of a fat contract ahead of him. I’m also not sold of his defensive prowess at third either. Yes, Beltre makes the flashy play and makes the highlight reel, he looks decidedly shaky making routine plays. Personally I will be much happier seeing Youkilis man the hot corner in 2011.

Crawford is another great signing. I’m not entirely convinced that paying $142,000,000 over 7 years is entirely wise, although if Jayson Werth is worth $126,000,000 (he isn’t, nowhere close, much like Jason Bay last year) then Crawford was clearly going to get a contract of this type. Crawford is the sort of play we all hope Ellsbury can become, he will make the 2011 Red Sox instantly far superior defensively and offensively to the 2010 version. I can only assume (and hope) that Crawford will play CF for Boston, with Ellsbury moving to LF. Crawford’s talent is utterly wasted in LF whereas playing in the shallowest LF in baseball will definitely extenuates the positives in Ellsbury’s defence.

Mike Cameron needs to go, there is absolutely no value in keeping him on the team at this point. None whatsoever.

Let’s see how the Red Sox compare to the Yankees in 2011 (I just can’t see a Rays team without Crawford being able to compete):

Red Sox Yankees Decision
C: Saltalamacchia Posada Yankees, particularly is one considers likely backups.
1B Gonzalez Teixiera Sox on the basis of Gonzalez being thus-far slump proof.
2B Pedroia Cano Tie.
3B Youkilis Rodriguez I’d give Youk the nod as A-Rod seems to be in decline.
SS Scutaro/Lowrie Jeter Yankees, for the so-called ‘intangible’.
LF Ellsbury Swisher Tie.
CF Crawford Gardner Red Sox, a clear winner.
RF Drew Granderson Tricky one here, I’d have to call it a tie.
DH: Ortiz Thames Red Sox if Papi can squeeze out another good year.

A pretty even split here, though as a whole I think the Red Sox are the more complete, more multi-dimensional team, particularly if Jeter and the post-steroids A-Rod continue to decline offensively.

How about pitching? I’m assuming here that the Yankees will sign Cliff Lee. I just can’t see it not happening.

Red Sox Yankees Decision
Josh Beckett Cliff Lee Yankees, unless Beckett has a major return to form.
Jon Lester CC Sabathia Tie.
Clay Buchholz A.J. Burnett Sox. A.J might be the biggest bust in Yankee history (inc. Pavano).
John Lackey Phil Hughes Tough one, I’ll give it to the Sox as Lackey should bounce-back.
D. Matsuzaka Mitre/Nova Red Sox.

Red Sox are clear winner here. Congratulations Theo, I think you’ve cracked it!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The Giants of Moneyball

I’m saving a proper post with which to close the 2010 baseball season until the season is truly wrapped and we know who the MVP and Cy Young award winners are. However, clearly I couldn’t stay away.

To begin with, congratulations to the San Francisco Giants, thoroughly deserving winners of the World Series. It is a bitter pill to swallow for a Red Sox fan as, although I like the Giants and was glad to see them in the World Series, how can one all-pitching/no-hitting team do so well and another do so miserably.

The answer of course is clear. The Red Sox were meant to be a pitching and defence heavy team who scored runs where they could. Instead they became a team which got Cy Young calibre seasons out of its two lowest paid starters and mediocre to poor performances out of $50,000,000 worth of pitchers (Lackey, Beckett and Matsuzaka). The great defence thing didn’t happen either, although as Derek Jeter managed to pick up his 5th Gold Glove at SS this week who really knows anything about defence – all these advanced fielding stats could be nonsense and many Jeter is the new Ozzie Smith. Instead what we had for 2010 in Boston was a horrendously fragile team which leaked runs like a sieve (especially on the days neither Jon Lester nor Clay Buchholz pitched) and offensively….umm, well offensively they had Adrian Beltre.

Much of the off season debate for the Red Sox will focus on whether or not to resign Beltre and Victor Martinez. The answer to both questions is no.

Martinez is worth re-signing ONLY if he is prepared to become a full-time first baseman. He is simply too poor defensively to continue as the Red Sox catcher. In a division where the Sox play against the likes of B.J. Upton, Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Carl Crawford (although hopefully he will be suiting up for the Red Sox come 2011, please Theo, just get it done) it is suicide to have someone that bad at throwing out basestealers behind the place. Of course, if Martinez moves to 1st then Youkilis moves to 3rd. Youkilis is a far superior player to Beltre (who, given his track record of over-performing in contract years will likely be far worse next season), therefore there is no need to pay Beltre the $15,000,000 or so over 3 or 4 years he is likely to demand. Clearly a catching tandem of Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia isn’t going to win anything. Boston should use their bulging minor league system to secure a good young catcher to work with Varitek. My preference would be for Josh Thole of the Mets.

Mike Cameron needs the Old Yella treatment. With Ryan Kalish and Daniel Nava emerging as legitimate big leaguers there is absolutely no need to pay the 37 year old Mike Cameron $5m a year to get hurt every five minutes. He needs dumping back to the NL even if it means eating his contract for the year, after all if we keep him he’ll only get hurt again and we’ll eat the contract anyway.

The whole LF situation will sort itself out one way or another. Come opening day either Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth or Ryan Ludwick will be patrolling Manny’s old stomping ground for the Red Sox. I’m not hugely concerned about this, all three would help the team, although I’ve put them in order of preference.

What is crucial is that the Red Sox find a good, long-term short-stop. Obviously the Red Sox are unlikely to be able to prize the likes of Hanley Ramirez or Troy Tulowitski away from their teams, but they don’t need to. Dustin Pedroia wants to move to SS, he keeps saying it every year! Let him! Then the Red Sox should go out, armed with the likes of Nava, Josh Reddick, Lars Anderson, Jacoby Ellsbury (Kalish is more valuable to the Red Sox right now) and attempt to prize a good second baseman from a non-contender. Possibilities (in order of preference) are: Nick Walker (Pirates – Neil Huntington absolutely lives to trade away hot young talent for substandard prospects, give him Ellsbury he’d probably chuck in Pedro Alvarez too, that the long term DH problem sorted), Aaron Hill (Toronto), Scott Sizemore (Detroit), Luis Valbuena (Cleveland).

In summary, I would like my 2011 Boston Red Sox to look like this:

C: Thole/Varitek
1B: Martinez
2B: Walker
3B: Youkilis
SS: Pedroia/Scutaro
LF: Crawford/McDonald
CF: Kalish
RF: Drew/Nava
DH: Ortiz

SP: (in order) Buchholz, Lester, Beckett, Lackey, Matsuzaka
CP: Papelbon (unless he can be traded – highly unlikely).

Right that’s enough Red Sox ranting.

With the Giants winning the World Series I see that there has been a lot of gloating from the anti-Sabremetrics brigade declaring that the Giant’s victory is a public slap in the face for those who put their trust in advanced stats. It is however, simply not true.

“Moneyball” is a very misunderstood book: it is a chronicle of how one small-market, financially weak team achieved modest success, not a bible of how all teams should run their baseball operations. People tend to confuse sabremetrics and money-ball. They are not the same thing. Sabremetrics is the use of advanced statistical methods to evaluate baseball and baseball players in a way that the old, simple stats such as batting average cannot do. Money-ball is about GMs of poorer teams exploiting inefficiencies in the market in order to purchase baseball players who the use of advanced stats suggests can make a valuable contribution to their club for far less than those players who score highly in more traditional statistical catergories.

The thing is the Giants are the exact model of a team which has used advanced statistics and sabremetrics to its advantage. It is has also, with a few noticeable exceptions (Zito and Rowand) played ‘Money-ball’ very effectively too.

The Giants won the World Series on the back of their pitching. This is not surprising, they reached the playoffs on the back of their pitching too. Barry Zito and his $17m a year contract is the odd man out in the Giants rotation and he didn’t even pitch in the post-season. The remaining members of the Giants rotation are all products of their own system: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner. This is very similar to the A’s teams of the early 00’s. Their closer is home grown too, the shaky but exciting Brian Wilson. It the Giants truly decide to play Money-ball they should trade Wilson immediately whilst his stock is high.

The Giants have taken a similar approach with their position players. They recognised mid-way through the season that rookie catcher Buster Posey represented a better option behind the plate then Bengie Molina, and so, Molina and his large contract went to Texas. Posey went on to put up Rookie of the Year numbers.

Aubrey Huff has been one of the most under-rated players in baseball for years. The Giants signed him on a very cheap one year deal. Huff leads the team in HR and RBI.

Andres Torres scuffles around various teams, staying around as a 4th outfielder due to his speed. Rowand gets hurt and the Giants are forced to play Torres everyday. He emerges as one of the best leadoff hitters and most dangerous base-runners in baseball.

Juan Uribe is let go by the White Sox and generally ignored by every team in baseball. The Giants pick him up and he makes the all-star team.

Cody Ross. This is dubious as the Giants only picked him up to prevent the Padres from doing so. But, while the Padres were ruining their team chemistry by introducing Miguel Tejada and Ryan Ludwick to the mix, the Giants quietly went out and picked up Cody Ross who was instrumental in driving the Giants past Atlanta and the Phillies.

Finally, the Giants picked up Pat Burrell on the cheap from Tampa Bay, where he had the worst 18 months of hitting performances I have every witness. Clearly Bruce Bochy deserves a medal of honour, much less a manager of the year award for turning Burrell into a legitimate cleanup hitting down the stretch (although he was dire in the World Series).

So there you go. The San Francisco Giants: not the throwbacks you might think.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Speed Kills

So the Cincinnati Reds’ fairy-tale season has come to a sad end. It was perhaps inevitable but, for the neutral fan at least it’s never nice to see a plucky young team dumped so unceremoniously out of the playoffs by the more polished, more experience team they met in the form of the Philadelphia Phillies. Of course it would have taken a monumental comeback for the Reds to have come back to win a short series after the humiliation of getting so convincingly no-hit in the opener.

Despite feeling sorry for Dusty Baker’s team generally I must admit to feeling slightly smug whilst watching Aroldis Chapman blow game two after coming out of the bullpen to the usual pomp and circumstance. Why? Because he simply isn’t particularly effective and represents everything that is wrong with how we prize our pitchers.

Sure Chapman throws very, very hard and (according to his BB/K rate although he looks extremely hit or miss whenever I’ve watched him) has decent control, that’s all very impressive and makes for copy in sports publications. It does not however make him an effective pitcher. While only a few hitters are able to get around on a 105mph fastball, most will be able to make enough contact to foul one off. Speed will not necessarily get you outs, this has been proven time and time again and yet every time a new phenom emerges with a 100mph+ fastball the media goes gaga over it and common sense goes out of the window.

There is a lot of talk about Chapman becoming a starter next year. I can’t see how this will be a success. He simply doesn’t have the poise that other flame-throwing starters like Strasburg and Verlander do. Plus, how well will his arm hold up? I don’t think that one can even make the argument for Chapman that he will mature and grow into his position. He is, or at least should be a lot more seasoned than Stephen Strasburg was, he’d been a major star in Cuba for years, had travelled internationally and played in the WBC. That is worlds apart from Strasburg’s experience playing college ball. Yet it was Strasburg who made it to the show first, looking like a polished veteran whilst Chapman doesn’t appear until late in the year and, to my mind at least, looks more Joel Zumaya than Nolan Ryan.

Still, I don’t want to labour the Chapman-Strasburg comparison too much as its really not my point. The point of this post is to argue that neither of them are likely to enjoy success over a long period of time. History is not kind to flame-throwing starters. For every Nolan Ryan there are dozens of others who were either forced out of baseball through injury or returned as very different players. We should be very careful about prizing velocity over the other, more fundamental pitching skills. Nolan Ryan after all may have been one of the best pitchers of all time (strikeouts, no-hitters etc) but he was also, in many respects, one of the worst (all time BB leader, poor winning percentage).

Given Strasburg’s unusual poise and his vast assortment of secondary pitches he stands a very good chance of successfully returning from surgery but I think the days of 100mph fastballs are gone. With Strasburg’s range of pitches he simply doesn’t need to throw that hard to be successful, Josh Beckett doesn’t, Roy Halladay doesn’t, not even Tim Lincecum throws that hard – it just isn’t necessary. Chapman however seems to be all about velocity and this will hurt him, just like it killed Zumaya’s career.

Chapman has become a baseball side-show. People come to watch him throw 105mph, not to get people out. It was the same with Zumaya when he was throwing 104mph and yet was not consistent enough to wrestle the Tigers’ closer role from the likes of Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney (another speed merchant who you would never want pitching for your team with the game on the line).

It’s like boxing. It’s not about how hard you can punch your opponent, it’s about knowing his weaknesses and knowing when to punch your opponent. Take a look at the best pitchers of recent years: Glavine, Maddux, Mussina, Pettitte, Wells, Cone. None of them threw hard but they combined for two perfect games and a shelf full of Cy Young awards. Even the era’s hard-throwers: Johnson, Schilling, Clemens used their guile a lot more than today’s flame-throwers.

Baseball fans and writers would do well to remember George Carlin and his routine about the different between baseball and football. Brute force will not win you pennants. If that were the case then Mark Reynolds would be the MVP every year.

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Hall-aday of Fame

After watching the brilliance of Roy Halladay once again on Wednesday night I inevitably began thinking about Doc’s hall of fame chances.

While the value of wins in determining a pitcher’s hall of fame-worthiness is a matter of great debate, a debate I am resolutely on the fence about, Halladay’s win total seems to closely match what would be considered hall worthy at this stage in his career. Halladay is 169-86 with a strong 3.32 ERA for his career thus far. He is 33. Given that his control is likely to last longer than his speed I think it’s definitely plausible that Halladay can pitch into his early 40s and continue to pitch at his current elite level for another 4-5 years. For the sake of argument lets say that Halladay has another 8 years in him as a big league starter. Playing for Philly for half of that I would predict Halladay averages around 17 wins for the next four years, that’s another 68 victories. For the remaining four years I’ll guess that Halladay averages 12 wins a year, another 48. I’ll also assume that Roy picks up an average of 10 losses a season during these years. Calculating loses is harder to do of course as Halladay might find himselves pitching for a non-contender in later years. This leaves Halladay with a career total of 275-166. Combine this with a career ERA in the 3.30-3.60 range and Halladay is clearly a better hall of fame prospect than the likes of Mike Mussina, John Smoltz and Curt Schilling (who are both, in my opinion, clear 3rd of 4th ballot inductees). It leaves him 100 wins over .500 which gets him into the best-of-the-best Pedro Martinez territory.

Without wanting to get bogged down in the advanced stats, which if anything just serve to elevate Roy’s genius, I shall move on to the intagibles which usually play a huge role in deciding who is a hall of famer and who isn’t.

Halladay has appeared in 7 All Star games. He will appear in at least 5 more unless something pretty horrendous happens to him. He has won one Cy Young award and is a lock to win another. This will put him in elite company as a pitcher who has won the award in both leagues. He has thrown a perfect game and a no-hitter – in the same season! At his current rate I would predict that Halladay will come very close to, if not exceed 3000 SO for his career.

In conclusion he is an absolute certainty for the Hall of Fame, first ballot, Greg Maddux style, bet your house on it type candidate.

But…what if Halladay never pitches again. It could happen. He could get hurt, he could join a cult, he could decide to ‘spend time with his family’. What of his chances then? In short, how long does a player have to be dominant and prove themselves as the very best in the game to be considered worthy of Cooperstown? Is it possible for a player’s performance in one season to gain him entry?

For the record I believe that it is possible, or at least it should be. I’ve long held the belief that the hall of fame should be viewed like the MVP award. It is not about selecting the best players from the era, it is about magic, aura and the stories that will live on throughout subsequent re-tellings of baseball history. While no-one minds when the likes of Jim Rice and Andre Dawson are rewarded for careers of consistency and for being very good players, for me, this is the antithesis of what the hall of fame should represent. The hall is about Babe Ruth redefining the game, about DiMaggio’s hit-streak, about Jackie Robinson breaking the colour barrier, about Koufax’s brief brilliance and so on and so until we reach Henderson’s dazzling base-running and Ripken’s beating of Gehrig’s consecutive game record. Sustaining a .300 average or having X amount of 100 RBI seasons just don’t cut it for me. I say it tongue in cheek but I do think there is a great of merit in the view that the sole criteria of election to the hall of fame should be having Ken Burns mention your name when he makes a documentary about the decade in which you played.

That said, I think Roy Halladay’s 2010 season makes the grade. He has done everything a pitcher might hope to do over the course of a long career in the space of one brilliant year. He has won 20 games, he has led his team to the post-season where they have to be considered favourites to win the World Series, he has thrown a perfect game and he has now thrown a post-season no-hitter. Ask any young pitcher starting what they hope to be a lengthy career what they hope to achieve and chances are all of these achievements will be cited. That Halladay has managed to do them all in one year is not simply excellent, it is legendary, it is hall of fame-worthy.

Tim Lincecum is another case in point. Obviously Tim doesn’t have the career numbers of Halladay and, due to his youth he is not eligible for the hall at present. But the magic is there. What could be more magical than the idea of a small, skinny kid who looks more like a character from a Harold and Kumar movie than a big league ball-player emerging from nowhere to win back to back Cy Young awards and put up Ryan-like strikeout numbers whilst almost single-handedly making the Giants a playoff team once again? While ‘the Freak’ has had a down year this year those two years of dominance equal the brief peaks of Pedro Martinez and Whitey Ford and can legitimately be mentioned in the same breath as those of Koufax. While I’m not saying that Tim Lincecum is a hall of famer, at least not yet, he represents the excitement and dazzling dominance that the honour should represent. While I’ve already said that I think Mike Mussina is a hall of famer I would take Lincecum’s brief dominance (even if it all ended tomorrow) over Mussina’s 15 years of simply being very good and very dependable any day. We watch sports to be entertained, to be shocked and to be amazed. We do not watch sports to see talented employees methodically going about their business. That is the distinction.

It comes down more or less to the old adage of whether it is ‘better to burn out than to fade away’. Whitey Ford is a perfect example of this. He was dominant for a very short period of time, then he became the sly villain of the Yankees, using any edge he could to win. Even with his ball tampering later years Ford has a very short career. His career victory total is way below the majority of his hall of fame brethren. He, along with Koufax epitomises the idea of the brief but brilliant career being more interesting and more worth of fame than, for example, the endless succession of fair to very good seasons compiled by Bert Blyleven. MLB needs to do away with this ridiculous 10 years Major League service rule associated with the hall of fame. It is utterly redundant, and, I suspect, would never actually have been enforced. If Albert Pujols had retired at the end of 2009 with 9 consecutive seasons of 30 HR and 100 RBIs, a lifetime .330 average, 3 MVPs and a world series ring would he have been denied entry to Cooperstown because he’d only played for 9 years? I seriously doubt it.

I’ve gone way off piste in this entry but I feel I’ve arrived at a point none the less. We should celebrate excellence over consistency. Roy Halladay is excellent, celebrate him.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

BBA Awards 2010

As with the All-Star game the Baseball Bloggers Alliance has asked all of its members to vote for the snappily named end of year awards. Therefore, without further ado, here are my votes.

We’ll begin with the American League:

Connie Mack Award (Best Manager): 1. Joe Madden (Tampa Bay Rays) 2. Terry Francona (Boston Red Sox) 3. Bob Geren (Oakland Athletics)

The Red Sox fan in me wants to give Francona the nod in this category and I think I would be justified in doing so as the Red Sox have been far more competitive than their injury marred roster should have allowed them to be (look for a post trumpeting the positive contributions of the likes of Hall, McDonald and Kalish in the coming days). Still, the Red Sox are not going to make the play-offs and ultimately success is the true measure of an excellent manager. Therefore I'll have to vote for Joe Madden who's Rays have dominated the AL East and outplayed the far richer Yankees all year. The Rays do not have the depth of talent New York and Boston do and therefore their ability to win so many ball-games has to be largely due to do Madden's exciting brand of baseball. I toyed with giving my third place vote to Cito Gaston of the Blue Jays but balked after it dawned on me that they are only over 500 due to Jose Bautista's freak season and Vernon Wells' half a good season. I don't think it's anything Gaston can take credit for. I've got the same reservations about Geren in Oakland and of course its long been whispered that A's managers are simply Billy Beane's puppets but I'm prepared to give Geren the benefit of the doubt and attribute the A's' surprising competitiveness to his managerial decisions. Honourable mention goes to Ron Gardenhire who is a fantastic manager however (aside from the injury to Morneau and Nathan, who as a closer is easily replaceable anyway) the Twin simply had too good a team not to run away with the Central, no managerial heroics necessary. Credit to Ozzie Guillen and his White Sox for pushing them close however.

Willie Mays Award (Rookie of the Year): 1. Austin Jackson (Detroit Tigers) 2. Sergio Santos (Chicago White Sox) 3. Brennan Boesch (Detroit Tigers)

I'm not particularly enthused about any of these guys and other than Jackson who is a clear winner (and yet would not have cracked my top 5 in the NL) the 2nd and 3rd picks could easily be replaced with any number of other AL rookies. While technically a Rookie I've not giving consideration to Neftali Feliz as I think he got too much of a look last year to really count. Honourable mention to Ryan Kalish of the Red Sox who looks to have the makings of an incredible defensive CF (Lord knows the Sox could use one after years of Ellsbury) and some decent pop. Dishonourable mention goes to Matt Tuiasosopo of the Mariners who I picked in my team of 2010 back in April and has spectacularly failed to hit the Mendoza line. Then again, he does play for Seattle, not a lot of role models around there anymore.

Goose Gossage Award (Best Reliever): 1. Joakim Soria (Kansas City Royals) 2. Ryan Perry (Detroit Tigers) 3. Sergio Santos (Chicago White Sox)

First of all I object to the BBA's insistence that this award be named after Gossage. It should be the Lee Smith award. As with the Rookie award the AL has a significantly weaker class than the NL. I'll give Soria the nod, more as compensation for having to play for Kansas City than any real merit. Perry and Santos have both been really solid competitors for their teams, nothing particularly exciting about either of them, but the sort of guys who you'd happily have on your team. Honourable mention to Daniel Bard, Rafael Soriano and Jose Valverde (before he got hurt).

Walter Johnson Award (What the Cy Young should really be called) 1. Trevor Cahill (Oakland Athletics) 2. Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners) 3. Jon Lester (Boston Red Sox) 4. David Price (Tampa Bay Rays) 5. Clay Buchholz (Boston Red Sox) 6. Francisco Liriano (Minnesota Twins) 7. CC Sabathia (New York Yankees) 8. Brett Anderson (Oakland Athletics) 9. Cliff Lee (Seattle Mariners/Texas Rangers) 10. Matt Garza (Tampa Bay Rays)

I must say I'm a bit old-fashioned when it comes to the W. I complained bitterly the other year when CC Sabathia beat Josh Beckett for the Cy Young even though Josh had 20 wins (oh to have more years like that!). However I read Joe Posnanski's excellent article comparing CC and King Felix's starts this year and I am sold, Felix has had by far the better year. I'm putting Hernandez second behind Cahill simply because I think the young A is better able to satisfy both the advanced stat and the Joe Morgan sides of me; he has enough wins, he has the low ERA and has come up big in the big game this year. Jon Lester has emerged as a legit ace in Boston and has a shot at 20 wins. Buchholz and Price are both Cy Young award winners of the future. I'll pick Price over Buchholz here partly to deflect accusations of Red Sox bias but also because Price carries with him an excitement that Clay doesn't. Liriano has been great for the Twin, who, at the start of the year lacked for a legit ace - they clearly have one now. If it weren't for the wins I'd leave CC out of the top ten entirely but deep down I know I couldn't really justify it. Brett Anderson is another white-hot prospect who if he can stay healthy will be a dominant pitcher for years to come. Cliff Lee has struggled lately but has the best walk to K ratio in baseball history this year! Garza, with his no-hitter and utter dominance against the Red Sox rounds off the top ten. Honourable mention goes to Carl Pavano who has completed his return to baseball respectability admirably and is a big part of the Twin's success this season.

Stan Musial Award (MVP) 1. Paul Konerko (Chicago White Sox) 2. Josh Hamilton (Texas Rangers) 3. Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers) 4. Adrian Beltre (Boston Red Sox) 5. Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay Rays) 6. Robinson Cano (New York Yankees) 7. Joe Mauer (Minnesota Twins) 8. Alex Rios (Chicago White Sox) 9. Jose Bautista (Toronto Blue Jays 10. Vlad Guerrero (Texas Rangers)

I want to make it very clear that I regard the MVP award as just that, the most VALUABLE player award. I believe my voting largely reflects this. While the White Sox are not going to make the playoffs this year they came close and the fact that they did so is almost entirely due to Paul Konerko's monster year. Konerko is at the stage in his career where he can sit back, hit 15-20 bombs a year, knock in 60-70 and get a pat on the back from everyone (sit Jason Varitek only less so). Instead Chicago's captain has put up Albert Pujols numbers while still providing the emotional heart of Ozzie Guillen's line-up. Hamilton is much the same, and would have one this award if it weren't for his injury. He just seems to be the talisman the Rangers needed this season. Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter in the AL but his value is significantly less than Konerko's. The same is true of Longoria, Cano and Beltre - all three had fantastic seasons and all will win MVP votes, however all three played in good lineups with a lot of other talent around to support them (and pad their RBI totals). I pick Beltre first as, given the Red Sox's problems staying healthy he carried the team on his back offensively for big portions of this year. Joe Mauer is Joe Mauer, a catcher who can win batting titles - that will always be of incredible value. Jose Baustista will probably never have another year like this and I doubt that the Blue Jays would have finished any worse off had he not hit 50 bombs. Still, 50 HR is 50 HR and deserves MVP consideration I suppose. Vlad and Alex Rios both had big bounce-back years and really helped out their clubs.

And now for the National League:

Connie Mack: 1. Bud Black (San Diego Padres) 2. Bruce Bochy (San Francisco Giants) 3. Charlie Manuel (Philadelphia Phillies)

It would appear that the Padres are going to blow their lead and end up out of the post-season. Still, no matter how things end up the 2010 Padres has absolutely no business even being a .500 team led alone one that entered September in first place in their division. Bud Black deserves huge credit for that (as does Kevin Towers, the new Arizona GM). Bruce Bochy is a similar case, he has done very well with what was and (to a lessen extent post Burrell and Guillen) is a very poor offensive team. As for Charlie Manuel, consider him the poor man's Terry Francona.

Willie Mays: 1. Jason Heyward (Atlanta Braves) 2. Buster Posey (San Francisco Giants) 3. Gaby Sanchez (Florida Marlins)

For more detailed discussion of the NL Rookie of Year award please see a previous post. There I promoted Sanchez as the true winner over Heyward. Since then Sanchez has faded while Heyward has carried on producing at a high level. Buster Posey has had an amazing year and, given that he is a catcher, I would like to pick him over Heyward. However Heyward's WAR is significantly higher and he is a more exciting player to watch.

Goose Gossage Award: 1. Luke Gregerson (San Diego Padres) 2. Johnny Venters (Atlanta Braves) 3. Nick Masset (Cincinnati Reds)

I've decided not to get over excited about closers for this vote. Billy Wagner has been sensational this year and would be a deserving winner. However Gregerson, Venters and Masset have done exceptional work all year long without the attention and praise lavished on their 9th inning counterparts. Essentially all these nominees are inter-changeable, the current order is simply how I viewed it at the time of writing, all are worthy winners who played huge roles in their team's success.

Walter Johnson: 1. Roy Halladay (Philadelphia Phillies) 2. Mat Latos (San Diego Padres) 3. Ubaldo Jimenez (Colorado Rockies) 4. Josh Johnson (Florida Marlins) 5. Tim Hudson (Atlanta Braves) 6. Roy Oswalt (Houston Astros/Philadelphia Phillies) 7. Adam Wainwright (St Louis Cardinals) 8. Chris Carpenter (St Louis Cardinals) 9. Jon Garland (San Diego Padres) 10. Yovanni Gallardo (Milwaukee Brewers)

Roy Halladay did the impossible and managed to live up to the hype, Jimenez throws a no-hitter, Halladay throws a perfecto. That's a pretty good way of summing up the whole Cy Young battle really. Given Philly's injury problems (which, to be fair, are a little over-reported) one can't even make the claim that Halladay's season is diminished by moving to a contending team. Latos gets the runner up vote partly due to his youth and partly due to playing for a team so offensively impotent. Jimenez has a great year and would be a worthy winner, he just lacked the consistency of Halladay and Latos. Josh Johnson has become the forgotten man of NL pitching. His one run complete game against Philly was forgotten as Halladay threw the perfect game, yet he beat Doc in a low scoring follow up the next week. Without any of the hype of the Jimenez-Halladay Cy Young race Johnson has quietly put up a season that rivals both of them. Oswalt, Carpenter, Wainwright and Hudson's seasons are all pretty much interchangeable. I'll put Oswalt, Wainwright and Hudson above Carpenter simply because Chris seems to be a gigantic d#ck. Jon Garland is a gamer, pure and simple. A big reason for the Padre's success. Gallardo is the only bright spot as far as pitching is concerned in Milwaukee (no matter how many ludicrous moustaches they make their closers grow).

Stan Musial: 1. Joey Votto (Cincinnati Reds) 2. Albert Pujols (St Louis Cardinals) 3. Troy Tulowitski (Colorado Rockies) 4. Adrian Gonzalez (San Diego Padres) 5. Carlos Gonzalez (Colorado Rockies) 6. David Wright (New York Mets) 7. Scott Rolen (Cincinnati Reds) 8. Jason Heyward (Atlanta Braves) 9. Brian McCann (Atlanta Braves) 10. Aubrey Huff (San Francisco Giants)

A clearer choice than in the AL. Joey Votto is unquestionably the MVP of the NL. Votto emerged as a legitimate triple crown threat and powered the Reds to their first post-season appearance in years. Extra credit should go to Votto for returning so strong from his trouble last year. Pujols is Pujols, he has another MVP calibre year but simply (given the Cardinals' collapse and the good year enjoyed by Matt Holliday) wasn't as valuable as Votto. Troy Tulowitski is comfortably the best short shop in baseball and is currently on a one-man mission to get the Rockies to the play-offs. Given the decline of Todd Helton expect Tulo to be the face of the Rockies for the foreseeable future. Speaking of one-man-offences, Adrian Gonzalez can be considered a legit MVP on the basis of value alone. Cargo drops to fifth on this list and again the reason for this is value. His numbers are inflated by Coors Field but what's more he simply isn't the most valuable player on his own team, yet alone the whole league. Neither Rolen, Wright, Heyward, McCann or Huff are true contenders for the MVP, they all however have had big years and were of great value to their teams, particularly Rolen and Huff - two great players who's solid, dependable contributions are often over-looked in favour of their more flashy team-mates.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Random Thoughts Part I

Despite what I might have said in my previous post about the near certainty of a rematch of last year’s world series – albeit with a different outcome, I saw something last night which has changed my mind…

The Giants are really good and, with a bit of luck (and Troy Tulowitski cooling off*) could actually go all the way in the even-weaker-than-normal National League.

* It infuriates me that Carlos Gonzalez is getting all the hype and all the praise around baseball while Tulo is ignored. Cargo may have the gaudy, Coors Field inflated triple crown stats (even in this regard Pujols and Votto are miles ahead in the MVP as far as I’m concerned – Votto will win it just out of everyone’s desire to actually have a sense of variety to the Barry Bonds**/Albert Pujols award proceedings) but it is Tulo that powers the Rockies both offensively, defensively and in leadership. For that alone he is a much better MVP candidate than Gonzalez.

** Another Bonds thought after the post a few weeks ago. It seems almost a foregone conclusion that the BBWA will once again seek to moralise about steroids when the time comes to induct (or not induct) Bonds into the hall of fame. Fine, well actually it’s not fine but it’s expected. However, Bonds won 4 of his 7 MVP awards during the time period in which he is widely believed to have been cheating. Where were the blow-hards in the BBWA who feel it falls on them to prescribe morality to the professional athlete when the association was voting for these awards? Where was the protest votes when a Lawrence Taylor size Barry Bonds was hitting 73 bombs or walking a billion times a season? That’s right, nowhere. Barry Bonds is, whether we like it or not, a first ballot unanimous hall of famer. If his records are tainted (to my mind they are) then it is MLB’s fault and there is no moral nor legal grounds for anyone in the BBWA to exclude the greatest offensive player in baseball history from the hall of fame for deeds which are (technically) still unproven and (more importantly in terms of the ongoing Selig vs Bonds saga) not against the MLB rules at the time. If we can prove that Bonds took steroids after 2004 then fine, we can rip up the record book and give Bonds the Pete Rose*** treatment with at least a reasonably secure basis for doing so, until then he has to be inducted. Last time I checked the bat McGwire hit his tainted record breaking home run is in the hall of fame so Cooperstown can hardly be considered a steroid free zone now can it?

*** I think Pete’s near continuous coming clean is finally working. I caught a few games of the love-in that seemed to follow his reappearance at the Great American Ballpark during the Red’s series with Arizona and I think that Rose may be very close to getting his ban lifted and finally getting in the Hall. Ideally I’d like to see Bonds and Rose go in at the same induction, that would be amazing. No-one cares about the likes of Andre Dawson and Jim Rice limping into the hall 15 years or so after the face, this simply doesn’t generate enough drama. Bonds and Rose stood on the platform at Cooperstown smirking as they once and for all got their way over the baseball establishment would be beyond brilliant – ESPN could make movies about it.

But back to the Giants. I saw them destroy Milwaukee last night and they look mightily impressive. Buster Posey would be rookie of the year in any year other than this one. Andres Torres seems to have become a fantastic lead-off hitter. Pat Burrell and Jose Guillen are greatly improved and Aubrey Huff is being his usual under-rated, hugely productive self. Plus, on their day, that top of the rotation trio of Lincecum, Cain and Zito is as good as Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels (Ok, no is isn’t but Cole Hamels is very rarely on his day). The only disappointment for the Giants this year seems to be Pablo Sandoval who’s Vlad Guerrero-lite, swing at everything (figuratively rather than literally, no-one has ever accused Sandoval of being light) act seems to have caught up with him. Still, the Giants are able to peddle panda hats to all-comers so all is not lost.

Also Brian Wilson has a brilliant name is looks exactly how a closer should look.

I’m feeling disjointed in my thinking today so I’ll launch back into random, unconnected baseball musings…

Mark Grace may be the best thing about watching MLB. Since they traded Dan Haren I literally cannot think of any reason why anyone would watch the D’backs apart from Gracie. I estimate that I’ve watched more D’backs games this year than any other team (Red Sox excluded). The man is comedy gold. ESPN need to get Orel Hershiser off Sunday Night Baseball and get Gracie on there. It would be incredible. Think of the expression on John Miller’s face as he’s sandwiched between Joe Morgan’s endless wittering on about balance and Gracie proclaiming almost everything to be “Big League”. They should all be hired to do the Oscars next year. Fantastic.

Speaking of things Mark Grace thinks are ‘big league’ I really must express how completely unimpressed I am with Aroldis Chapman. Sure he throws unbelievable heat, but so does Daniel Bard and no one really wants him anywhere near a pitching mound. I’ve seen most of Chapman’s appearances so far and he really doesn’t look at that great. While commentators continuously point to the fact that he is yet to give up an earned run, he got well and truly lit up by the Rockies in one of his relief appearances, promptly allowing all 3 inherited runners to score. Essentially the guy just looks like a left-handed Kyle Farnsworth. If he was playing in the AL where plate discipline is regarded as a necessary element of success rather than a boring inconvenience (see Reynolds, Mark) then the hushed voices bigging up his dominance would be quickly silenced. Another valid Gracie point about Chapman is that he is sabotaging the closing career of Francisco Cordero. Cordero has looked very shaky recently and it is largely Dusty Baker’s fault. By insisting that Chapman act as a lefty set up man and have him throw wild 100+ mph heat at hitter all Baker is doing is making Cordero’s mid-90s stuff look like a welcome rest bite come the 9th. This is not the sort of thing one ought to be doing in the middle of a pennant race, especially when you are a team with a much poorer rotation than any of your likely postseason opponents. If the Reds are going to achieve anything come October it is going to be through their bull pen. This issue with having Chapman set up Cordero needs to be sorted out immediately. Also, this is a lousy way to repay Nick Massett for a fantastic season out of the pen.

Finally, just how bad are the Cubs? At the start of the season I optimistically predicted that the Pirates could become a .500 team. Clearly that proved to be way off the mark (this lack of success in previous predictions had led me to predict a Yankees-Phillies world series as I desperately hope to be proved wrong). However at least the Pirates have a lot of up and coming young talent and I’m certain that they will be nowhere near as bad next year. The Cubs however are a sinking ship. Ramirez and Soriano have been as poor as they are over-paid, Carlos Zambrano has lost his mind (again) and Carlos Marmol has no idea where the strike zone is. While Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro do represent hope for the future (although Castro is an error machine as SS) the Cubs have precious little else to feel positive about – let’s face it, when your best player is Marlon Byrd you are in serious trouble. Ozzie Guillen is no doubt loving it.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Championship Calibre Players and Playoff Predictions

I was reading an interesting article the other about how the Cardinals won’t make the post season because they simply do not have enough ‘Championship Calibre’ players. Now, on the face of it this is true. Yes the Cardinals have Pujols and Holliday, unquestionably the best 3-4 in baseball and the have Carpenter and Wainwright, a duo close to if not the best 1-2 in any major league rotation. But the problem seems to be that, aside from these four stars St Louis have precious little else.

This got me to thinking: how many championship calibre players does a team need to possess if it is to stand a chance of winning a World Series? Now clearly most teams cannot afford (or at leas the owners will insist they cannot afford) to stock their entire 25 man roster with championship calibre players. Therefore we have to look at players who, while not of championship calibre as very good players who could play on most, if not all major league teams – for sake of clarity we’ll call them near-championship calibre (NCC). Evidently the point being made about the 2010 Cardinals is that they do not have enough NCCs to support their four stars.

Taking a look at the world series winners from the past six seasons I feel their rosters breakdown as so:

2009 New York Yankees

Championship Calibre: Jeter, A-Rod, Teixiera, CC, Rivera
NCC: Damon, Pettitte, Swisher, Cano, Posada

2008 Philadelphia Phillies

Championship Calibre: Howard, Rollins, Utley, Lidge, Hamels
NCC: Werth, Victorino, Burrell, Blanton, Moyer*

2007 Boston Red Sox

Championship Calibre: Manny, Ortiz, Lowell (he had a huge, MVP calibre year), Beckett, Papelbon
NCC: Matsuzaka, Lester, Pedroia, Youkilis, Drew

2006 St Louis Cardinals

Championship Calibre: Pujols, Wainwright, Rolen, Edmonds, Carpenter (although he was hurt)
NCC: Eckstein, Weaver, Molina, Isringhausen

2005 Chicago White Sox

Championship Calibre: Konerko, Dye, Thomas, Buerhle, Thome
NCC: Garland, Rowand, Contreras, Pierzynski, Garcia

2004 Boston Red Sox

Championship Calibre: Manny, Schilling, Martinez, Ortiz, Damon
NCC: Varitek, Cabrera, Mueller, Lowe, Foulke

While some of these choices are, I’ll admit, arguable and the point can easily be made that the ’06 Cardinals we not an especially good regular season team, there does seem to be a pattern emerging here. Generally speaking a world series winning team will have around five clearly championship calibre players and roughly an equal amount of players near that standard.

If (and I recognise that it is a big if) we accept that having these players is likely to lead to post-season success then how to this year’s frontrunners measure up?

American League East

New York Yankees

CC: CC, Teixiera, A-Rod, Cano, Rivera
NCC: Jeter, Swisher, Granderson, Burnett, Posada

Tampa Bay Rays

CC: Longoria, Price, Crawford
NCC: Garza, Upton, Pena, Soriano

American League Central

Minnesota Twins

CC: Mauer, Liriano, Thome, Young, Morneau (if healthy)
NCC: Pavano, Capps, Fuentes, Cuddyer

Chicago White Sox

CC: Manny, Quentin, Konerko
NCC: Rios, Danks, Jenks, Ramirez

American League West

Texas Rangers

CC: Hamilton, Kinsler, Lee, Vlad, Young
NCC: Feliz, Andrus, Cruz

Oakland Athletics

CC: Cahill
NCC: Bailey, Cust, Crisp.

This seems to back up actually results, The Yankees will eventually outlast the Rays because their talent base is bigger, the Rays do not have enough star players to last against a team with a perfect 5-5 ratio like New York. The Twins are almost as good as the Yankees, these two teams will meet in the ALCS and the Twins will give the Yankees a good run of it, ultimately they will lose because of a lack of pitching. The West is a weak division, the Rangers are reliant on too few players and will not stand up to a 5-5 team over the course of a play-off series.

Now the National League, and the Cardinals:

National League East

Philadelphia Phillies

CC: Halladays, Oswalt, Utley, Howard, Werth
NCC: Rollins, Hamels, Victorino, Ibanez, Lidge

Atlanta Braves

CC: McCann, Heyward, Hudson, Wagner
NCC: D-Lee, Prado, Hanson, Glaus

National League Central

Cincinnati Reds

CC: Rolen, Votto, Phillips, Bruce
NCC: Stubbs, Cabrera, Volquez, Chapman

St Louis Cardinals

CC: Pujols, Holliday, Carpenter, Wainwright
NCC: Garcia, Rasmus

National League West

San Diego Padres

CC: Bell, Gonzalez
NCC: Latos, Garland, Tejeda

San Francisco Giants

CC: Lincecum, Cain, Wilson
NCC: Huff, Sandoval, Burrell, Torres

Colorado Rockies

CC: Cargo, Tulo, Jimenez, Street
NCC: Helton, Giambi, Young Jr

This seems to bare out the actually situation too. The Phillies should win the East, they have the best ratio of any of the NL contenders, the Braves are a close second and therefore should win the Wild Card. Cincinnati’s 4-4 split (I considered putting Gomes down as a NCC but thought Drew Stubbs was enough of a stretch) will get them into the postseason but I don’t think they are a match for Philly or Atlanta over 7 games. The West is a dogfight between three teams, none of which have the depth of quality to beat the two teams from the East. St Louis have the worst supporting cast of any of the contenters.

Following this model for assessing team’s chances, which I do acknowledge is incredibly subjective as its my assessment of players which determines who is a CC, NCC or also-ran. However I’m prepared to use it to make my play-off predictions. Here they are:


New York over Texas (3-1)
Minnesota over Tampa (3-2)

New York over Minnesota (4-2)


Philly over Colorado (3-2)
Atlanta over Cincinnati (3-1)

Philly over Atlanta (4-1)

World Series:

Philly over New York (4-1) – This is based on pitching, A.J. Burnett will have to pitch at least once in the series.

Coincidently, at the start of the season there was, as far as I’m concerned only one team with six championship calibre players: The New York Mets (CC: Wright, Bay, Beltran, Santana, K-Rod, Reyes)

Funny how things work out.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Too Hot to Touch?

After watching Manny Ramirez perched in the White Sox dugout during their game with the Indians on Tuesday night as question cropped into my head: at what point does the baggage a player bring with them out way the value of their playing ability?

It seems that this question varies, or at least should vary, on where that team is in the standings and where it hopes to be come the year’s end. For example, a poor team, facing diminished gate receipts as they fall out of contention should probably covet the services of a controversial star more than a team in the middle of a play-off race who can ill-afford to risk their team chemistry for the sake of some extra pop in the line-up. Of course this has not proven to be the case. If it were true then why would the out of contention Dodgers place Manny on waivers and why would the contending White Sox (who are crammed full of good power hitters) take the risk?

Of course it is Manny, the baseball definition of the exception that proves the rule.

It must be said that Manny is not all that controversial in the grand scheme of things. Yes, he was suspended for 50 games last year, yes he has spent the majority of his Dodgers career holding out for obscene amounts of money and yes he did leave the Red Sox in less than dignified circumstances. But he’s clearly not yet reached the level of controversy necessary for team to avoid him like the plague. I’m sure that still being capable of 30HR 120RBI .300+ seasons doesn’t harm his chances either.

When we talk about controversial players there will always be one name that looms large over all others: Barry Lamar Bonds.

Bonds (allegedly) was so keen to sign on with a team in 2008 that his agent offered Barry’s services to all 30 Major League teams for the league minimum, pro-rated. Even that minimum salary was to be “given to kids” and yet no team offered Bonds a contract. Now, while its been rumoured that this was more a PR stunt designed to salvage Barry’s less than stellar public perception than a genuine offer it does provide an interesting discussion point. Assuming that the offer was genuine, why was no team prepared to give Barry a spot in the line-up for half a season?

Obviously the negatives with Barry are well-documented; allegations of steroid use, long held reputation as a club-house cancer etc. But the fact remains that, even at his most hated and reviled, Barry Bonds drew people to the ball-park. Think of the marketing possibilities had Barry signed on with the Royals or the Blue Jays: “Barry Bonds, after defiling the consecrated ground of the National League dares to infiltrate the AL, quickly hurry down to Kaufman stadium to boo this villain”. The Royals would make an absolute killing in merchandise and ticket sales and could easily use this money to finance getting in some legitimate free agent talent come seasons end.

And of course, let’s not forget that Barry Bonds come the end of the 2007 season was far from done as a big league hitter. He didn’t limp towards his final game in the way Giambi, McGwire and countless other ageing sluggers have. He still had the intimidation factor, still had plenty of pop left in his bat and was still putting up video-game level OBP. He could have made any number of teams better, not just AL teams. Manny Ramirez was still ‘playing’ LF for the Red Sox at the time and I’m that even a 44 year old Barry Bonds can’t have been that bad in the field. Hell, people were still paying Adam Dunn money to play the outfielder in 2008.

Yet with Bonds it is clear that his reputation, tarnished legacy and the inevitable headaches having him and what he has come to represent on the ball club were considered more important to Major League GMs than what he might be able to contribute financially and offensively. In Bond’s case this is probably fair enough, although I would argue that it is the job of every GM in baseball to wheel and deal in order to field the best, most competitive team possible. If Bonds is allowed to play by Bud Selig and the commissioner’s office and is willing to play for the minimum then I don’t see how any GM has any moral duty to refuse to sign him. Frankly if Bonds is a disgrace to baseball and a cheat then he should have been suspended and removed from the game publically by Selig. That he wasn’t and isn’t means that he is fair game (although there is every chance that teams did want to sign Bonds and Selig told them not to, he could have been black-listed like Jose Canseco keeps claiming to have been).

All in all, while there are holes in the idea that Bonds’ reputation is too big an albatross for the sensible franchise to bare, I can sympathise with teams shying away from signing players like Bonds on this basis as long as there is consistency. I’ve got no problem with it if there is some sort of united front presented by baseball which states that players with a certain degree of infamy are not to be hired.

It is however wholly inconsistent to have the Giants herd big Barry out of the back door of AT&T park with embarrassed looks on their faces and then have the Cardinals offer Mark McGwire the hitting coach job. Since when was McGwire any less culpable that Bonds is for the so-called ‘steroid era’? Sure, McGwire admitted (in a manner of speaking) to using PEDs and isn’t facing perjury charges like Bonds and Clemens but this doesn’t make him any less guilty when it comes to allegations of cheating the game/defiling history etc. Plus, at the time of his appointment Big Mac hadn’t owned up to anything. There are many problems with having McGwire as a hitting coach (e.g. what can a all-or-nothing slugger like McGwire teach Holliday and Pujols about hitting?) but the most startling is that MLB is allowing this to happen in the first place. Are we going to see Clemens sign on as a pitching coach somewhere? I doubt it. I know there is an argument to be made that Bonds and Clemens are untouchable as long as there are current legal proceedings active against them but that really doesn’t pass the smell test. Didn’t Miguel Tejeda start this season with the threat of jail time and deportation hanging over him?

Clearly there is some sort of ranking system going on here, Bonds, Clemens, Canseco, Palmeiro and a few others (John Rocker hopefully) are to be ostracised and banished from the game whilst some, equally tarnished players are to be given second chances (Sosa, Ramirez, A-Rod, Giambi, McGwire). If we are to truly put the steroid era behind us and move on there needs to be some sort of clarity about this issue. Either they are all guilty and all excluded or they are all to be given the opportunity to return and make amends like McGwire has.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Power of Hype

Apologies for the long wait in between posts, I’ve been moving house.

Returning to the same bugbear I had come the announcements of the 2009 Gold Glove winners I thought I’d take the time to rant about the impact of hype and expectation on another, dare I say, more prestigious award bestowed by Major League Baseball; namely the Rookie of the Year awards.

Although there are still some 30 or so games remaining in the season the National League in particular seems to have pretty much decided its winners in this category. In doing so more deserving candidates are likely to be left out in the cold come November.

In terms of the Rookie of the Year award it should be pretty clear that Jason Heyward is going to win this award. In truth Heyward probably won the award by the end of the very first game of the season. Heyward’s fantastic spring training, his hometown hero status as an athlete who inspired African-Americans in Georgia to pursue baseball and simple being just 20 years old already had him marked for big league awards. Hitting that colossal home run in his first major league at bat was just the icing on the cake. After the ‘Chris Who?’ reactions to last years winner Chris Coghlan baseball finally had a rookie with brand recognition. Really with this years rookie crop the MLB publicity and marketing machine couldn’t lose. If Heyward failed to live up to the hype (he has, just) then there was always Stephen Strasburg, the ‘greatest pitching prospect there ever was’ or maybe Mike Leake who missed the minors entirely. Given the buzz surrounding him in Spring Training there was always a chance that Aroldis Chapman, he of the 100mph fastball and the romantic story of defection from Cuba, would take home the trophy.

The only trouble is none of these great young hopes for baseball have panned out quite as planned. Yes, Heyward is having a very good year, at the time of writing he is on a tear and has a .275 BA and 70 RBIs and looks to be the centre piece of the Braves’ offence (along with Brian McCann) for the considerable future but he is not the clear cut best hitter in the 2010 rookie class. Strasburg was incredible but now the issue facing Strasburg is not whether or not he should win Heyward’s Rookie of the Year award given his June call-up but more an issue of whether is will be able to come back from injury and have a major league future at all. The same could be said about Leake. Chapman is definitely the biggest let-down of the four having yet to appear in a big league game.

Heyward however has a lot of less heralded competition, many of whom compare favourably with him as a player thus far this season. Tyler Colvin leads all Major League rookies with 19 HRs, Mike Stanton is proving to be everything they said he was down in Florida and Starlin Castro is having success in Chicago at the same tender age as Heyward. Not to mention Ike Davis in New York. None of these men however are having quite as good a year as Gaby Sanchez, the true NL rookie of the year.

At the time of writing Sanchez was besting Heyward in all of the triple crown statistics (* Heyward has now caught him in RBIs) and is hitting .282/.350.

I know there is of course an argument to be made that Heyward deserves the award because of the intense pressure he has been under in Atlanta to live up to all of the praise and expectation placed on him. Also he is playing a more demanding position than Sanchez. These are valid arguments and I do not for one second believe that, should Heyward win the award it will be a gross miscarriage of justice, however Sanchez deserves more credit than he is currently getting.

Heyward, because of the expectations heaped upon him and because of his value to the Braves as a marketing tool has been given all the opportunities possible in order to help him succeed, in short, he has developed into a star player partly because the Braves (particularly after Chipper’s injury) have placed him centre stage, have placed him in the RBI situations, have made him a star player. Sanchez has had none of that in Florida, he has succeeded despite the organisation’s pushing of the likes of Stanton and Coghlan ahead of him. Plus, Heyward has had the benefit of being coached by the likes of Bobby Cox, Terry Pendleton and (presumably) Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus and Brian McCann in order to develop his game. Who does Sanchez have to provide the same expertise? Hanley Ramirez dispensing advise? I very much doubt it.

All in all it seems pretty much a foregone conclusion that Heyward will win the Rookie of the Year and that’s fine, he deserves it. Let’s just not forget that there are a player equally as good and equally as deserving that got left in the shadow of Heyward-mania this year.

Give Frenchy a chance!

Yesterday the Mets traded Jeff Francoeur to the Rangers for Joaquin Arias, and it was a stupid thing to do.

It was stupid on several levels, not least on the level that the Mets absolutely do not need another middle infielder (least of all one as substandard as Arias) and surely the Rangers don’t need another outfielder (they already have Hamilton, Cruz, Murphy etc plus I can see no reason why Vlad couldn’t be trotted out at LF every once in a while).

More so, I cannot fathom why the Mets would be so eager to get rid of Francoeur so cheaply and so recklessly.

I like Frenchy but I’m not going to argue that the .237/.293/.369 is anything less than what it is, absolutely terrible. Indeed, Jeff’s offensive ability, especially when assessed in sabremetric terms has been a cause for concern for some time. However I refuse to believe that Jeff is done as a full-time big leaguer.

Let’s look at the positives. Jeff Francoeur is 26 years old. A huge proportion of great players haven’t so much as had a cup of coffee in the major by the time they reach 26 (Ryan Howard for example). Whilst a brief glance through Jeff’s stats does reveal a worrying trend of very poor batting average to on-base-percentage (the best differential he’s managed over a full season was .293/.338 in 2007) his stats for this season so far reveal a much healthier 60 point difference between the two percentages. Admittedly Frenchy’s only hitting .237 but slumps in batting average can be attributable to many things whereas low OBP is usually a constant characteristic. There has been speculation that Jeff has lost bat speed and his low average is caused by this. Frankly I don’t buy this theory. Players do not lose their bat speed at 26. Have we learned nothing from David Ortiz over the past few years, we were all quick to assume that Big Papi’s bat speed had vanished when rumours of its demise were greatly overstated. Francoeur hit above .300 last year after being traded to the Mets, there’s no reason to think he can’t do that again, and if his BA/OBP differential remains at 2010 levels then he’ll have an OBP of .360, well above league average.

I don’t necessarily think that Francoeur is ever going to be an above average hitter but I do think that many of the predictions being made about his offensive future this season are alarmist. He is simply having a bad year, playing in notoriously bad hitter’s park and is under the pressure of the New York media. There is no reason whatsoever that, at 26 Francoeur cannot enjoy a career resurgence in the American League and become the 25 HR 100 RBI man of his early seasons with the Braves.

This explains why the Rangers wanted Francoeur. Whilst one can never be certain how a career NL player will perform in the AL (see Willis, Dontrelle) there is every chance that Francoeur’s free-swinging ways will make him a hero in Texas and enable him to become what he was meant to be in Atlanta; a young (more-or-less) 5-tool player that you can build a franchise around. The prospect of Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and a resurgent Jeff Francoeur manning the Texas outfield is pretty daunting isn’t it?

Yet I’m sure that Omar Minaya didn't have the best interests of Jeff Francoeur at heart when he made this trade happen. It seems that the Mets have dumped Jeff simply for whatever they could get in return. This is the part I don’t get. The Mets have (realistically) no chance of making the post-season and have huge injury issues in their outfield (Bay, a returning Beltran who is hitting below the Mendoza line). Why not keep Francoeur until the end of the year, why sell him so cheaply to a contending team?

By all accounts Francoeur has really developed into a leader on this rag-tag Mets team. This perhaps is an indication of where Jeff’s true value lies, if his hitting doesn’t improve then perhaps he can still make a valuable contribution as a leader in the Jason Varitek mould.

And let’s not forget his arm, still by far the best cannon in the game.

Don’t count Frenchy out, he still might surprise you.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

All Star Game Selections

Apologies for having not posted in a while. I’ve been far too busy job-hunting and getting excited about the World Cup. I’ve been working on a post about the value of W-L statistics and hope to have that up by the end of the week.

Until then, as a member of the Baseball Bloggers Association I will be posting my All-Star ballot for the 2010 season. I’m following the format used by for this, plus I’ll include a pitching staff of 5 starters, a reliever and a closer from each league.

American League:


Victor Martinez (Boston Red Sox)

Obviously Joe Mauer is going to be voted into the All-Star game and, in all likelihood is going to star for the AL but V-Mart really deserves such consideration. Currently Victor is second to Jason Kendal in at bats for an American League catcher and is putting up better offensive numbers than Mauer. Mauer is of course hitting for a higher average but one could well argue that given that the entire twins offence is set up around him and Morneau he is underperforming in terms of production. V-Mart has had a fantastic June thus far and, as far as I can recall, hasn’t done anything too horrendous defensively for a while.

1st Base:

Justin Morneau (Minnesota Twins)

While Miguel Cabrera seems to be storming his way towards triple crown consideration I’m giving the nod to Morneau who is hitting .344/.455/.624 whilst playing for a team which has more offensive threats to share the RBI totals with than the one-dimensional Tigers. Honourable mention has to go to Billy Butler (who Kansas City need to sell the cow to keep hold of for as long as possible if they ever hope to contend again) and Kevin Youkilis. Ideally Youk would receive my vote here but, for the sake of impartiality and integrity I’m going to go with Morneau who is currently my hot pick for AL MVP too.

2nd Base:

Robinson Cano (New York Yankees)

It’s very difficult to see how anyone other than Cano is going to get any serious consideration for starting AL second baseman this year. Of course Dustin Pedroia will get into the game but that is entirely due to the fanaticism of the Red Sox ‘Nation’ rather than anything he has done on the field thus far in 2010. Cano however has finally fulfilled the enormous potential the Yankees have proclaimed he has (yes, I know he had 200+ hits last year but was still lost in the Teixiera, Jeter, A-Rod shuffle and never stood out as integral to the team) and is a strong bet for MVP (although I have my doubts about whether anyone playing for a Yankees team that stacked can ever meet the true definition of a valuable player).

3rd Base:

Adrian Beltre (Boston RedSox)

If you had told me that I would be voting Adrian Beltre onto the AL all-star team as a member of the Boston Red Sox this time last year I would have had you committed. However, despite my scepticism about whether Beltre could ever live up to his 2004 season he has been quietly magnificent for the Sox this year, powering an offense that (especially early on) was crying out for someone to take a lead. Beltre is hitting .333 and has 9HR and 44RBI. A year ago I would have said that I didn’t expect much more than that from him for the whole year. A third of the way through the season 2004’s 40+HR and 120 RBIs doesn’t seem so ridiculous anymore. That said, I could do without some of his defensive ‘plays’ however.

Short Stop:

Elvis Andrus (Texas Rangers)

Derek Jeter will be starting at SS for the American Leagues, that’s just a fact of life. However, this year (as with last year) one can make a very strong case for Jeter as the best SS in the AL. The same goes for Alex Gonzalez. Who would have thought he’d have hit 13 bombs thus far into the year (how many would he have hit at Fenway is a more depressing proposition). However, despite the strong cases for Jeter (who will get in anyway) and Gonzalez (who will probably taper off...he’d better) I’m going to have to give the vote to Elvis. Andrus leads AL short stops in batting average and stolen bases and is very much the catalyst that inspires the Rangers’ offense. Plus he’s a sophomore and deserves the chance to get his foot in the door as an all-star.


Shin Soo Choo (Cleveland Indians)

Admittedly this selection is based more on Choo’s excellence last year than his play thus far in 2010, although he’s been by far the most exciting hitter to suit up for the tribe this year. Now that Grady Sizemore is on his annual trip to the DL (and if you ask me if all but done as a top flight CF – see Baldelli, Rocco) Choo has taken over the dubious honour of constituting the entire Cleveland offence and probably deserve an all-star nod as compensation.

Ichiro Suzuki (Seattle Mariners)

It’s Ichiro, you can’t have an all-star game without Ichiro now can you? Ichiro should get into the all-star game on reputation alone but since he’s hitting for his usually ridiculous average he (once again) makes it in on met. Also, he hit an absolutely beautiful lead-off homer against St Louis the other day.

Austin Jackson (Detroit Tigers)

At the time of writing Jackson was still hitting over .300 and was leading AL rookies in most offensive categories. While I’m not particularly thrilled by the young CFs propensity to strike out at a Mark Reynolds clip one cannot fail to be impressed with his efforts thus far into his first big league season. As a Red Sox fan I can’t help but love watching Jackson succeed in Detroit whilst Curtis Granderson stinks up (then gets injured) in New York. Typical short-sighted Yankees trading at work. On a ‘well done Detroit for cultivating young stars’ notes if I wasn’t selecting Austin Jackson with this pick it would be Brandon Boesch getting the nod.

Designated Hitter:

Vlad Guerrero (Texas)

Apologies, completely forgot about the DH in my original voting. In a last ditch attempt to save the BBA All-Star voting system from being lopsided I'm voting for Vlad in the DH role. The reasons should be self-explanatory, he's having a massive year and could be an MVP (the comback award is already in the bag).

Starting Pitchers:

Jon Lester (Boston Red Sox)

I’ve been torn between Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz for my obligatory Red Sox pitching selection. I’m going to have to go with Jon as my pick as he’s finally taken over the ace mantle from the epically disappointing Josh Beckett. Honourable mention goes to Dice-K.

David Price (Tampa Bay Rays)

See Lester, Jon. Only better.

Mitch Talbot (Cleveland Indians)

There is rarely much to applaud in Cleveland once the Cavs are eliminated from the playoffs, and particularly since Hafner and Sizemore proved themselves fundamentally incapable of staying on a baseball field. Mitch Talbot, a Tampa Bay cast-off who was never given a proper chance by the Rays, is proving a genuine top of the rotation starter for the Indians and deserves an all-star nod. I’m not convinced he’ll still be an all-star come seasons end but still...

Phil Hughes (New York Yankees)

Even in my darkest Yankee-hating days I’ve always had a soft spot for Phil Hughes, and not just when seeing either him or Ian Kennedy at Fenway Park meant a guaranteed victory for the Sox. It’s nice to see him finally live up to all that potential.

Francisco Liriano (Minnesota Twins)

Liriano is another player I’ve always been impressed by and frustrated by in equal measure. A legitimate Cy Young calibre pitcher derailed by injury, Liriano looks to have finally shaken off the arm problems that have cost his years. If he can keep up this form he still has a chance to be as good as (if not better) CC Sabathia.

Relief Pitcher:

Sergio Santos (Chicago White Sox)

I’m always a big fan of these failed position players makes it as a pitcher (or vice versa) stories. I’d be happy enough letting Santos into the game just for that reason, but judging by the stats he’s been the most effective reliever in the American League to boot.


Jose Valverde (Detroit Tigers)

There doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut number one closer in the AL for me to pick this season. I was sorely tempted by Rafael Soriano and Neftali Feliz, but in the end I’m going to have to go for Jose pretty much solely on the basis on looking the part and having the intimidation factor that I like to see in my closers.

National League


Ivan Rodriguez (Washington Nationals)

I didn’t really want to have to vote for Pudge, largely due to the fact that I absolutely cannot stand the guy. One doesn’t want to say controversial things and cast aspersions on players’ integrity online (Raul Ibanez will come and get you if you do) but I’m increasingly coming to the opinion that; if Jose Canseco says someone did ‘roids, they probably did. Still Pudge is having a resurgent season after spending the best part of 3 years as a bit-part player. He is hitting like the Pudge of old and deserves recognition for the work he is undoubtedly doing acclimatising Stephen Strasburg to the majors.

1st base:

Troy Glaus (Atlanta Braves)

Glaus is another play who I thought was all but done as a legitimate everyday major league player. However, the switch over to 1st and a few months of health seem to have turned the clock back about 5 years on Glaus and (at time of writing) is pretty much there or there-abouts at the top of all NL statistical categories.

2nd base:

Kelly Johnson (Arizona Diamondbacks)

This was always going be between Kelly Johnson (who admittedly has calmed down from his dizzying peak when he had the South West [well, Mark Grace at least] convinced that he was a re-incarnation of Babe Ruth) and his replacement (or ouster) in Atlanta; Martin Prado. I’m going to give the nod to Johnson just because he was the one who had to re-start his career elsewhere and is doing so admirably.

3rd base:

Scott Rolen (Cincinnati Reds)

Who doesn’t like Scott Rolen? The hard-working, gritty, tough, 3rd baseman with a little bit of pop in his bat? Precisely. Role is the sort of guy everyone wants to have in the all-star games because he play it the way its meant to be played. Plus, this season, after years of injuries, he’s actually playing like a bona fide all-star too. Special mention to Jorge Cantu too.

Short Stop:

Juan Uribe (San Francisco Giants)

How did this happen? Juan Uribe, ex-White Sox cast off second baseman who I expected to spend much of this year sitting on the Giants’ bench, occasionally spot starting has 10HR and 41 RBIs in mid June! Normally this NL SS pick would have gone to Hanley Ramirez just because of my general love of the guy, not to mention that he’d be a perennial MVP if he played for a proper baseball team. However Hanley’s reputation has taken a bit of a bruising thus far in 2010 and while there is still a strong all-star case to be made for Ramirez (who is statistically the best SS in the NL) I think that based on performance, exceeded expectations and crucially, given the criticism Hanley has received, hard work and determination, Juan Uribe has to be the NL short stop.


Jason Heyward (Atlanta Braves)

The anointed one can’t miss the all-star game now can he? Heyward is slumping lately but one could hardly blame his given that he is being asked to carry the future of Atlanta baseball on his 20 year old shoulders. Still his numbers are all star calibre even with the slump and it does the game of baseball good to celebrate exciting young stars like Heyward and Jackson at the midsummer classic. I imagine that the BBWA will be straining themselves trying to find anyway possible to vote Heyward the NL APA (Albert Pujols Award) come September, he might not make it too hard for them.

Colby Rasmus (St Louis Cardinals)

Colby Rasmus is going to win an MVP award in the next 5 years. I’ve watched a lot of Cardinals games thus far this year and Rasmus really stands out as the ‘straw that stirs the drink’ on that team. Obviously the Cards are Albert’s team first and foremost but even Pujols needs a number 2 and given that Matt Holliday really doesn’t seem to be as advertised outside of Coors Fields, 2010 could well be Colby’s chance to shine.

Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh Pirates)

I ummed and ahhed about this one and thought long and hard about whether I wanted to use the last remaining outfield slot to vote in Chris Young (who is having a lovely season and finally living up to his potential in Arizona), or for Josh Willingham (a perennial second level talent who is putting up big numbers for the Nats). However I think that the young Pittsburgh CF has the edge on the competition and deserves a spot on the all-star roster for being so cruelly overlooked for last years rookie of the year competition.

Starting Pitching:

Ubaldo Jimenez (Colorado Rockies)

I don’t see much point in going into too much detail here, Ubaldo is 13-1 with a microscopic ERA. He will win the Cy Young award, no matter how many perfectos Roy Halladay throws.

Roy Halladay (Philadelphia Phillies)

Like with the likely runner up in the NL Cy Young race. Doc has been every bit as good as advertised since making the leap from the AL to the NL. The only surprise with Roy’s 2010 thus far has been the 8-6 Win Loss record, but, given that he has a sub 3.00 ERA, this less than stellar record is entirely the fault of the misfiring Phillies offence (plus that night that Boston hammered the hell out of Doc).

Jon Garland (San Diego Padres)

I’ve always been a big fan of Jon Garland and pitchers like him. Never flashy, never a dominant ace, Garland just goes out there every 5th day and makes his team better and gives them a chance to win. The success of the Padres (and particularly the success of the woeful on paper Padres rotation) is largely due to Garland’s stable, veteran presence. He could be the most ‘valuable’ pitcher on this list.

Josh Johnson (Florida Marlins)

Halladay’s arch nemesis has been every bit as good as his rival thus far this season, including two memorable face-offs one of which was Halladay’s perfect game. The Marlins really did the right things in securing Johnson’s services going forward. Given Hanley Ramirez’ problems Johnson is looking more and more like the face of the franchise.

Mike Pelfrey (New York Mets)

How did this happen? A Mets pitcher in the all-star game and it’s not Johan? Still, while it’s not something that many would have predicted back in February, Pelfrey has probably been the most effective starter in the NL East thus far and thoroughly deserves his all-star place.

Relief Pitcher

Jason Motte (St Louis Cardinals)

Motte is pretty much the only guy I’m voting for here that has no chance of making it to Anaheim in July. But he should. The hard-throwing righty has been beyond solid for the Cards this year, appearing in a ton of games and maintaining a mid 2 ERA throughout. I can’t help but think that the Cardinals were a bit too hasty giving up on this guy as a closer. Certainly, if they aren’t able to keep Motte long term he could definitely become a big name closer elsewhere.


Billy Wagner (Atlanta Braves)

Admittedly this is very much a ‘so-long and goodbye’ pick, letting a hall of the very good closer go out with a nice thank you. Wagner deserves it too, 90% of the baseball world thought he was done after losing much of 2009 to injury (and having the Mets inexplicably sign two all-star closers didn’t help) but Billy deserves major credit for contributing to the Red Sox’ playoff run in 2009 and re-establishing himself as a premier closer with the resurgent Braves in 2010.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

All's Wells That Ends Wells?

I really don’t know where I stand on Vernon Wells. On the one hand Wells has always stood out to me as the most glaring example of ridiculous contracts in baseball, as an exemplar of a team grossly over-estimating a player’s monetary value and setting back their own plans for success as a result. However, thus far in 2010 Wells is making me doing some re-thinking as, and no-one is as surprised about this than me, Vernon is actually playing like a player who makes close to $20,000,000 a year.

If Wells is able to sustain is his blistering early season form: 9 HR, 25 RBI, .328/.395/.641 with a 1.036 OPS then his name may very well be floating around in discussions for American League MVP come October. I also seems a pretty safe bet that he will make the AL All-Star team (although, given that he plays for Toronto I wouldn’t actually make that bet).

My concern with all this lies in the expectations we have of an MVP, of an All-Star. Are these players simply the best player that year in their league (if so just rename the NL MVP award the Albert Pujols award and be done with it) or do we actually take the phrase ‘most valuable player’ literally? I’m tempted to believe that in the AL at least we do. There is no other way of explaining Pedroia’s 2008 victory otherwise.

Assuming (and this is the sort of huge assumption that is liable to get oneself committed) that Well’s continue his form and carries these numbers into October, and that, by doing so he propels the Blue Jays into Wild-Card contention he could well be touted as a MVP, and under normal circumstances, rightly so.

Vernon Wells can have as good a 2010 season as he wants, he will still not be valuable to the Blue Jays. He owes them several years of early 2000’s Barry Bonds seasons offensively combined with Andruw Jones in his prime defence to even come close to being valuable to the franchise that has (idiotically, and Wells is not reasonable for that idiocy) made Vernon Wells a very rich man for, barring a Lenny Dykstra style financial collapse, the rest of his life.

Many people have called players like Wells and Barry Zito thieves, accusing them of some sort of wrongdoing in getting misguided franchises to pay way over the odds for their services. This is not the case, Wells’ lacklustre performance since 2006 is likely not the product of laziness or coasting (an accusation that case often be levelled at Manny Ramirez) and he is under no moral obligation to (as some commentators have suggest Zito should) return any of the millions he has undeservedly made during the three year period where he was putting up numbers like these:

2007: 16 HR 80 RBI - .245/.304/.402 .706 OPS
2008: 20 HR 78 RBI - .300/.343/.496 .840 OPS
2009: 15 HR 66 RBI - .260/.311/.400 .711 OPS

While 2008 wasn’t a total bust for Wells there is no doubting that a player putting up these numbers is of little ‘value’ to a team and that that value is significantly diminished when that player is making $18,000,000 a season. The argument I made that David Ortiz was still valuable last season when, despite a far lower batting average he produced similar HR and RBI totals to A-Rod made sense as Ortiz made nearly $15,000,000 less a year than Rodriguez. That argument cannot be made with Wells.

Wells has been so burdensome to the Blue Jays that they spent a great deal of last season offering Roy Halladay for a bag of magic beans just as long as someone was prepared to take Well’s ridiculous contract off their hands. No-one wanted him, which was a surprise really as, given subsequent form I would have thought Theo would have jumped at the prospect of overpaying for an oft-injured, offensively ineffective outfielder.

That a team is prepared to let their greatest ever play leave for less than they might normally demand just in order to get rid of the contract of their greatest ever financial albatross does not speak wonders for that player.

In short; Vernon, the last three years aren’t necessarily your fault but you will have to do a hell of a lot better than 40 HR 100 RBI and a .300/.400/.500 to ever be thought of as valuable again.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Moving the Goal Posts

SI writer Joe Posnanski, on his excellent blog ( has a idea: swapping the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Kansas City Royals. I whole-heartedly agree. Frankly, any change that lessens the Pirates’ natural desire to lose comically is fine by me.

Posnanski is on to something. Pittsburgh would, I think, thrive in the AL Central; a weak division by anyone’s standards. The Pirates could certainly move than hold their own against the current White Sox and Indians teams and likely wouldn’t be embarrassed by Minnesota or Detroit. A year or two to allow their current crop of prospects to develop (including the opportunity to let Pedro Alvarez acclimatise to the Majors as a DH) and the Pirates could conceivable make a run at the post-season, something highly unlikely to happen in their current league.

The less said about the Royals’ chances in the NL Central the better. That team will be appalling no matter where it plays.

Joe’s idea got me thinking about other potential swaps that might benefit both teams involved. I thought about a Texas team swap: Rangers to the NL, Astros to the AL. I can see the upside in this for the Rangers: get into a division without the Angels in it, big gates when the Dodgers and Giants come to visit, the amount of HRs their lineup will hit playing so many games at either Arlington or Coors Field. Try as a might though I don’t see much upside for Houston, other than the fact that their young non-Roy Oswalt pitching core will see a reduction in collective ERA from pitching so many games at Safeco Field and the Oakland Collesium.

No, as far as I’m aware the best, more mutually beneficial trade would be for the two Florida teams to swap leagues. Everyone’s a winner here!

Tampa Bay have played like a National League team throughout Madden’s tenure as manager. Their recent improvements are hampered by the resources the Red Sox and Yankees have available and it is decidedly unlikely that they will ever emerge as a consistent division winner, or wild-card contender. Plus, they don’t have a proper DH.

A move to the NL East would allow the Rays the opportunity to contend for a wild-card spot (if not the division itself, assuming the Phillies don’t stay dominant forever), plus draw fans to Tropicana Field with the prospect of several repeats of the 2008 World Series every year. Jason Heyward and Braves should also provide Tampa with another big-gate attraction similar (if not equal) to the visits of the Yankees and Sox.

The Marlins need a reason for people to go to their revolting ball-park. The Yankees and the Red Sox are this reason. Dolphin Stadium should sell out for a repeat of the 2003 World Series against the Yankees right? Or, how about Josh Beckett returning to Miami, or Hanley Ramirez getting the opportunity to punish his former employers for shipping him off to this wretched franchise?

The Marlins don’t stand much chance of competing in the AL East at the moment, but, given the new stadium and the (presumably) increased revenue flow that the move would generate, it seems possible that the days of Miami fire-sales could come to the end and the team could return to the now barely-plausible days of being a World Series contender.

Seems sensible to me.

How about swapping the Red Sox with the Phillies, I could get behind that.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Give Tim a chance!

Last night Bruce Bochy lost his mind.

Tim Lincecum was pitching an incredible game at AT&T park. 8 1/3 innings, 3 hits, 1 ER and boat-load of Ks. Yet ‘the Freak’ walks the second hitter in the 9th only to be immediately yanked by Bochy and replaced by the permanently enraged (and brave to the point of disaster) Brian Wilson. Wilson promptly blew the game (he didn’t even blow the save as all he needed to do was secure 2 outs), setting the plate for the inevitable extra-innings victory by the Phillies.

Lincecum had thrown 106 pitches.

Initially I had intended this post to focus around the increasingly popular issues of pitch-counts, particularly in the face of players being on the brink of making history (a la CC Sabathia and Ubaldo Jiminez). However, I’m not sure there’s much I can add to that debate. Let it just be said that, for the record, pitch-counts and late-season shut downs are bad for baseball. They are bad for the excitement of the games themselves (a hot topic given the recent comments by umpires about the pace of the game), they are bad for the fans who pay to see aces like Sabathia and Lincecum go deep into games and they are bad for the legacy and achievement of the pitchers involved. While no-one wants to see a league littered with once great pitchers becoming the next Mark Prior or Kerry Wood big league managers should be giving these pitchers the chance to stay in games if they feel they can. Lincecum had a huge smile on his face after getting the first out in the 9th yesterday. He wasn’t given the chance to stay in the game. Why not? The guy is a two-time Cy Young winner, no-one on the Giants gives that team a better chance to win the game than Lincecum, even at 106 pitches.

Rather than getting bogged down in the comparative merits of pitch counts and arm preservation I shall change the theme of this post entirely. It is an unashamed peon to the genius of Lincecum and a plea for the Giants to do all they can to give the guy a chance to win a historic third Cy Young.

Let’s face it, if Tim is to stand a chance of picking up the award against the far better supported likes of Carpenter, Wainwright and Halladay he has to be given every chance to win games he starts.

With a line-up that fades into obscurity rapidly after Pablo Sandoval and (arguably) Bengie Molina, Lincecum is only going to get so many chances to win games 3-1 against the stacked offence of the Phillies.

The Cy Young voters had an anomalous year last year and voted for Lincecum despite his having less wins that the Cardinal’s twin aces. With a prospect of a Lincecum-Halladay showdown this year the Giants need to do all they can to give Tim the best shot he can get. After all there is a lot in it for them. San Francisco is still best known as the home of Barry Bonds, the home of Barry Zito and his grotesque contract (which, admittedly is becoming less and less burdensome as he finally performs). AT&T park was buzzing yesterday as San Franciscans clamoured to travel over the grid-locked bridge to see Lincecum’s ‘poetry-in-motion’ delivery. If Lincecum wins a third straight Cy Young he enters the rarefied atmosphere of pitching greatness; he becomes Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez and Dwight Gooden. He becomes a hall of famer.

In short, Giants: Tim Lincecum has earned your trust and the right to win games on his own terms, don’t screw him up.

Friday, 12 March 2010

The Pittsburgh Pirates: .500 Team!

What I am about to suggest my sound strange....

The Pittsburgh Pirates can be a .500 team in 2010.

Yes, I know, popular opinion would seem to suggest that it is three horse race between the Pirates, the Nationals and the Royals (and the Athletics too if you ask me, Rajai Davis and Andrew Bailey notwithstanding that team is going to stink) to determine who is the worst team in baseball. Personally, having watched the Nats’ ‘new team’ player thus far in spring training I think they have a legitimate shot of being even worse that the 2009 version, Stephen Strasburg or no Stephen Strasburg (who, for the record, I did not think was as ‘dazzling’ as’s reporters would suggest in his first spring training outing).

The Pirates however look to have actually made some really good progress this off-season and are now only a few early season moves away from suprising a lot of people.

As a quick projection of the Pittsburgh starting team I would imagine it looks something like this:

C: Ryan Doumit
1B: Garrett Jones
2B: Akinori Iwamura
3B: Andy LaRoche
SS: Bobby Crosby
LF: Lastings Milledge
CF: Andrew McCutchen
RF: Ryan Church

Zach Duke
Paul Maholm
Charlie Morton
Ross Ohlendorff
Kevin Hart

Joel Hanrahan
Evan Meek
Octavio Dotel
D.J. Carrasco
Donnie Veal
Javier Lopez
Brendan Donnelly

Now obviously this isn’t the same type of calibre team as the Yankees, Red Sox or Phillies but you could do a lot worse that this lineup. I would go as far as to suggest that this lineup is as good as half the teams in the league. It certainly compares favourably to that of Houston, Kansas City, the Mets, Florida, Toronto, Oakland and San Francisco. It compares hugely favourably to that of Washington.

I would suggest that all the Pirate really need at this point (bearing in mind they have some high-ceiling prospects like Brad Lincoln, Dan McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez in the minors) is a veteran pitcher to anchor the rotation and a veteran power bat to provide instruction to young (or inexperienced) hitters like McCutchen, Jones and Jeff Clement and provide a few pinch hit/spot start bombs.

In short what the Pirates need to do if go out and sign Pedro Martinez. Petey is still a draw, is still exciting to watch and will still bring people to the ballpark. The Pirates have the nicest ballpark in the National League, they just need to give the casual fan a reason to go there. Pedro could be that reason. Not to mention the fact that he was pretty damn good last year for the Phillies.

In terms of the veteran slugger the possibilities are far greater. Jermaine Dye (although could be too expensive), Joe Crede, Geoff Jenkins, Gary Sheffield, Carlos Delgado (if healthy). All of these players could play a valuable role in this young, talented Pittsburgh club. Most have won world series and all have shown that, when healthy, they can rake. All, I suspect at this late point could be acquired on 1 year, incentive laden contracts for way below their October asking price.

On a side note, the Pirates also need to sign Rocco Baldelli, but that’s an entirely different matter, so do 29 other teams!