Thursday, 28 January 2010

The rise and fall of Moneyball

I’m beginning to have my suspicions about Billy Beane.

I loved Michael Lewis’ ‘Moneyball’ and devoured it in rapid time when it came out on paperback. I became interested in Beane’s madcap brand of sabremetrics and when, later, I saw it paying off for Theo Epstein and the Red Sox I was converted.

But somewhere along the line Billy seems to have lost his magic touch.

Eric Chavez is a case in point. I used to be a huge Eric Chavez fan and at one point (Bill Mueller and Trot Nixon not withstanding) considered him my favourite player. Even now I hope that each coming season will be the one that Eric is finally able to shake the injuries aside and play more than 50 games before being shut down.

Even Chavez for all his early 00’s brilliance was completely out of goose with the philosophy the A’s under Beane were meant to follow. Chavez struck out a ton! Sure, his defence was fantastic from a run-prevention perspective but Chavvy would think nothing of striding into the batters box at the cavernous Oakland Coliseum and simply raking, something he did very well for several years, with little or no thought to the (Bill) Jamesian creed the A’s were meant to subscribe to.

With Chavez, Beane also massively deviated from his philosophy of only paying what he had to for players. Lose Jason Giambi? No worries, get Jeremy Giambi and David Justice on the cheap! That was the old motto, yet the A’s gave Chavez a huge contract, one they are still paying despite Chavez spending less time at the Coliseum than most fans.

Basically the A’s’ recent history can be summed up as a series of very canny trades (Adam Kennedy, Scott Hatteberg, Mark Kotsay, Nomar Garciaparra, Sean Gallagher, getting rid of Mulder, Hudson and Zito before the tide turned) and bizarre financial splurges that seem to have little or no upside.

I’m not talking about the Holliday deal here. Whilst I’m not convinced that giving up Carlos Gonzalez and Hudson Street was smart, Holliday could have worked out HUGE for Oakland (and I’m convinced that Holliday’s time in Oakland was all that bad anyway) and they were able to move him to St Louis for prospects anyway. Street would have likely have priced himself out of Oakland’s range at his next free agency anyway.

But now Billy has done it again. $10,000,000 for Ben Sheets, plus incentives! Are you kidding me? The same Ben Sheets that hasn’t pitched since 2008, the same Ben Sheets that hasn’t pitched 200 innings since 2004?

This is a ludicrous deal. I’m not denying Sheets’ quality, he is a career 86-83 pitcher having played for some pretty poor Brewers teams (and some playoff Brewers teams it must be said before we get too forgiving of this less than elite W-L record).

The trouble is that Sheet was on the wane way before injury cost him all of last season.

In 2007 Sheets went 12-5 with a 3.82 ERA in 141 IP, impressive, but $10m impressive? In 2008 Sheets went 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 198 IP. Again impressive, but I’m still not sure its the elite level pitching I would expect from a 10 million dollar undisputed ace.

I would argue that Sheet’s best season was 2004 when, despite going 12-14 he held an ERA of 2.70, struck out 264 (with a 8.25 SO/BB ratio!) and maintained a 0.983 WHIP.

That is elite! Phenomenal number on a clearly dire team. In 2007/8 the Brewers, now complete with Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and an in-form JJ Hardy, Bill Hall and Rickie Weeks were a far better team, a team where Sheet’s good but not great numbers don’t stand out as much. Lets not forget, for the second half of the 2008 season Sheets wasn’t even the Brewers’ ace, that was CC Sabathia’s role.

Clearly the A’s are trying to buy-low, sell-high like the planned to do with Holliday. The trouble is they’ve fundamentally overpaid for Sheets.

Regardless of what success, even qualified success, he’s had in the past, the guy hasn’t pitched in 18 months! If Tim Lincecum missed 2010 with tommy john surgery then came back in 2011 I would be sceptical at paying him $10m!

The Red Sox have long mirrored the A’s, except with more money. Both teams play ‘Moneyball’, its just that the Sox has more money to play with, they can afford to make more mistakes.

The Red Sox however understood the concept of low-risk/high-reward last season with John Smoltz and Brad Penny. Sure, neither of those guys worked out with the Sox, but both were on drastically reduced contracts and, from the Red Sox’ perspective, no-harm no-foul. The A’s has missed the point here and have gone for high-risk/low-reward. The best that could possibly happen is that Sheets adapts well to playing such a pitcher-friendly park and performs at level one could place a $10m price tag on, at which point the A’s will have to pay him more as incentives kick in. The worse that could happen is that Sheets is hampered by injury again and ends up being overtaken as the staff ace by Justin Duscherer and Vin Mazzaro.

Surely with Duscherer having missed last year with injury himself the A’s could have made an effort to bring in a pitcher with a least an odds on chance of staying healthy to lead the rotation. Oakland could well find themselves with no No1 or 2 pitcher come July if both Sheets and Duscherer revert to their fragile type.

Moneyball indeed.

The Team of '10

While it may only be January roster across MLB seem to be solidifying in preparation for what will doubtlessly be another riveting season.

In preparation for spring training I thought I’d take the time to outline my picks for greatness in 2010, all handily structured into what I like to call: “If I owed a MLB team, this is who would play for it”.

Starting Pitching:

1) Dan Haren (Arizona Diamondbacks)

Dan (formerly Danny) Haren may just be the best value for money pitcher in baseball at the moment. Whilst its true that he faded from being a legitimate Cy Young candidate into an also-ran behind Lincecum and the twin Cardinals in 2009, Haren was very very good all year long. Just look at his stats from the past 3 years:

2007 15-9 3.07 222 192
2008 16-8 3.33 216 206
2009 14-10 3.14 229 223

All this whilst having the profound misfortune of pitching in Arizona in front of a team that couldn’t score in a brothel. Haren dominated the league in WHIP.

Considering that the A’s have just shelled out $10+ to Ben Sheets (a player I regarded as hugely over-rated even before he sat out the whole of 2009) Haren’s value (roughly the same as Sheets per season I’d imagine) seems like the biggest steal in baseball. Quite why the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox haven’t been making a big run at getting this guy is beyond me.

He’s my ace.

2) James Shields (Tampa Bay Rays)

There’s no denying that ‘Big Game James’ had a rough 2009 finishing below .500 as the Rays game back down to earth with a bump following the dizzying heights of 2008. That being said Shields is still 43-36 for his still young career (better than the likes of Ben Sheets at the time) and has logged well over 200 innings pitched since 2006.

With his value likely to decrease following the hardships of the 2009 campaign Shields could represent excellent value for money as an affordable number two pitcher. Essentially a low-risk, high-upside player, if Shields bounces back and repeats his 2007/2008 performance he and Haren would make a formidable 1-2 combination.

3) Max Scherzer (Detroit Tigers)

Scherzer is another risky yet potentially hugely rewarding player. Toiling away for the offensively woeful D’backs last year Scherzer managed 174K in 170 innings pitched. This 9.2 SO/9 ratio was good enough for 8th in the NL.

Moving to the AL, for a team that should generate more runs than Arizona managed, should allow Scherzer to greatly improve on the 9-11 W-L record he held in 2009. Barring injury I envision Max getting the opportunity to pitch 200+ innings and, as a result, challenge for the AL strikeout crown. Certainly being around Justin Verlander (the current King) can’t held but benefit Scherzer.

Keeping healthy is going to be Max’s biggest challenge, as is the case with most young flamethrowers. This is why Arizona were prepared to let him go so relatively cheaply (Scherzer has a much bigger upside than Edwin Jackson, but more risk long term). I can’t image that Scherzer will disintegrate during 2010 but decline from wear and tear is likely to be an issue in 2011 and beyond.

4) Randy Wells (Chicago Cubs)

For all the noise and kudos Rick Porcello generated in Detroit last season, Wells did the same, to much less fanfare in Chicago. My pick for Rookie of the Year honours became a valuable part of the Cubbie’s rotation last season and, arguably, is the reason they felt comfortable giving up Rich Harden to Texas.

Wells went 12-10 in 2009 all the while holding a stellar 3.05 ERA over 165 IP. He compiled 104 strikeouts. These are extremely impressive numbers that I look for Randy to improve upon in 2010. With Harden gone he will likely get more opportunity to pitch.

I actually think the Cubs have made great strides this off-season with the signings of Byrd and Nady and could really contend next season. If that is the case and Wells get the offensive support his low ERA deserve he could seriously figure in NL Cy Young discussions come season end. This is certainly the last season I will be able to get away with placing him this low down the rotation, come 2011 Wells will be a 1 or 2 starter anywhere in the league.

5) Brian Matusz (Baltimore Orioles)

Closing out the rotation is another young gun who I predict to have a breakout season in 2010. Matusz looked extremely impressive in a late season call up (followed by a nonsensical later season shut down which informed my first ever blog post). Baltimore’s 1st round (4th overall) pick in the 2008 draft finished off 2009 with a 5-2 record with 38Ks in 44 innings pitched.

I fully expect Matusz to make the Orioles’ starting rotation out of the spring training this year and to benefit greatly from the O’s inspired (for once) signing of Kevin Millwood to act as a mentor for their young, talented rotation. Come season end I fully anticipate the Matusz and Chris Tillman will be much higher profile players than they currently are.

Relief Pitching:

Closer: Andrew Bailey (Oakland A’s)

Choosing 2009’s AL Rookie of the Year and first time All-Star as my closer is as much of a no-brainer as exists in terms of compiling my bull-pen.

Bailey seemingly came from nowhere to take over the A’s closer spot and amassed 26 saves and a microscopic 0.876 WHIP over the course of a fairytale 2009 season. Bailey’s 1.84 ERA also stands out.

Given Billy Beane’s fondness for profiting off the false-economy of closers I fully expect the New Jersey native to be gone from Oakland before very long, probably for a grossly inflated contract. Get him while you can, in other words.

Setup Man: David Robertson (New York Yankees)

Setup up Bailey will be the 24 year old David Robertson, the emerging strikeout supremo of the New York Yankees.

In his 45 games out of the Yankee bull-pen last year Robertson compiled a league leading SO/9 ratio of 13 whilst maintaining a 3.30 ERA.

Given more experience I would expect Robertson’s K numbers to drop a little, yet, as he becomes more familiar with big league hitting that ERA should dip below 3.00 too. Scroll down to C.J Wilson’s 2009 numbers and you should get a pretty good idea of what I expect from Robertson in 2010.

Having a lefty and a righty in late innings roles, both producing 10+ SO/9 ratios and sub 3.00 ERAs should stand my side in very good stead in terms of winning out in tight games.

Lefty Specialist: C.J. Wilson (Texas Rangers)

Whilst he may have lost the Rangers’ closer role to Frank Francisco C.J Wilson continues to be a favourite of mine.

C.J appeared in a whopping 74 games last year, saving 14 of them. At the age of just 28 C.J has 52 career saves and a return to the closer’s role in the future seems likely, although perhaps not in Texas where they seem to have a wealth of young pitching talent rising through the ranks (for a change).

Whilst compiling a very good 2.81 ERA in 2009 C.J secured a 10.3 SO/9 ratio. Very impressive stuff!

Part of the logic behind getting C.J in this bull-pen stems from his versatility: should Bailey fall prey to a ‘sophomore slum’ C.J has the experience and the stuff to close. Likewise, C.J could replace Robertson in the setup role if the young Yankee also stutters.

Middle: Ramon Ramirez (Boston Red Sox)

Continuing my young bull-pen (only Guerrier is over 30) is Ramon Ramirez. I’ll admit I didn’t know much about the 27 year old flame-thrower before he arrived in Boston, but what I saw this season I was extremely pleased with.

Taking over the traditionally tricky middle relief role in the Boston bull-pen (the Mike Timlin role essentially) Ramirez excelled, posting a 2.84 ERA over the 70 games he appeared in. Ramirez also gave the Red Sox plenty of opportunities to win, finishing the season with a 7-4 record.

Middle #2: Matt Guerrier (Minnesota Twins)

In 2009 Guerrier appeared in 79 games. This was the highest number of appearances in the AL. 2009 also marked the second consecutive year that Guerrier has led his league in number of appearance, solidifying his reputation as the premier workhorse in the AL.

Whilst the option of having Guerrier pitch essentially every-other-day would make him a valuable player in and of itself, his performance is exceptional in many areas other than simply just the amount of games he appears in.

In 2009 Guerrier held a 2.36 ERA through his 79 games of work. Add to this his 0.969 WHIP and, in Guerrier, my team has an extremely capable middle inning man to eat up a bunch of innings as the season progresses.

Fireman: Junichi Tazawa (Boston Red Sox)

The Japanese wonder-kid Junichi Tazawa was rushed by the Sox last year. Signed as a non-drafted high school player out of Japan the Red Sox handed him a late season big league call-up WAY before he was ready. The rest is history. Tazawa get shelled routinely during his starts last September finishing with a 2-3 record and 7.42 ERA.

Still, now that his baptism of fire is over I fully expect Tazawa to develop into a proficient, if not spectacular big league ball player. I don’t think that Tazawa is ready to begin 2010 as a starter, hence his positioning here as long relief. Once he is able to further acclimatise to the Major Leagues in a less pressured environment Junichi could become a useful back of the rotation guy.

This guy is brimming with potential. Only 23 years old, with experience of pitching in the pressure cooker that is Fenway Park in the middle of the playoff run behind him, the future looks extremely bright for Junichi Tazawa.

Position Players:

C) Kelly Shoppach (Tampa Bay Rays)

While Kelly had a poor 2009, batting just .214 for the Indians, I fully expect him to bounce back in his new job at the Rays. Doubtlessly being V-Mart’s backup cannot have helped Shoppach’s confidence after a very good 2008 where he hit 21HR and drove in 55 RBIs.

Given the decline of Dionier Navarro I would have expected Shoppach to begin 2010 as Tampa Bay’s number 1 catcher and return to form accordingly.

Shoppach is a player in the Jason Varitek mold. His OBP is extremely good (in 2008 Shoppach’s line was .261/.348/.517) and he brings a sense of professionalism and maturity to whatever ball club he plays for.

Part of my reasoning in selecting Shoppach as my Catcher is for him to play a mentoring role to Lou Marson, my big pick for the future, just as he did in the closing months of the 2009 season.

1B) Adam LaRoche (Arizona Diamondbacks)

In an ideal world I’d have stuck Pujols or Miggy here. However I decided that I would limit myself to a team that one might legitimately be able to compile in a Fantasy Draft.

Nevertheless, whilst LaRoche is included here as a 2nd (or even 3rd or 4th) choice player, he is a very, very good replacement.

I was furious when the Red Sox acquired LaRoche only to ship him off to Atlanta 2 week later. His production is excellent (better than Adrian Beltre, who we just paid megabucks for) and no less an authority that Big Papi declared him a great guy to have around the club house.

Take a look at Adam’s stats from the past 4 years, a model of consistency if ever there were one.

2006: 32HR/90RBI .285/.354/.561
2007: 21HR/88RBI .272/.345/.458
2008: 25HR/85RBI .270/.341/.500
2009: 25HR/83RBI .277/.355/.488

As Adam is only 29 there is no reason to expect a dramatic drop off from these numbers in 2010. Batting 5th in my order behind Ramirez and Holliday I see no reason why LaRoche couldn’t produce 25HR and 90RBI. All that and the guy’s defence is above league average at 1B as well.

2B) Matt Tuiasosopo (Seattle Mariners)

This might be the most surprising pick. I’ve been following Tuiasosopo for years as he progressed through the minors and 2010 looks like being the first that the converted third baseman gets a prolonged shot at the majors.

Whilst Matt’s average and production have not been stellar during his tastes of the big leagues thus far, both stints have been ‘cups of coffee’ and I expect him to receive a significantly higher amount of Abs this season.

Tuiasosopo has shown a great deal of pop in his bat (including that memorable first big league home run so fantastically predicted by Mariner’s radio announcers) and as his conversion to 2B continues I would expect his natural athleticism to allow him to become an effective defender.

I think that, given time, Tuiasosopo could become ‘the new Dan Uggla’, ideally with a better glove, which seems likely given the company he will be in in Seattle.

3B) Ian Stewart (Colorado Rockies)

Here is a player that could go either way. I was really impressed with Stewart last year as he had moments of brilliant during his rookie campaign. Certainly the power numbers speak for themselves; Stewart hit 25 bombs in 2009 and drove in 75 RBIs. Whilst these are certainly not numbers to be sniffed at, they were achieved at the expense of 138 strike outs and a miserly .228/.322 batting average.

I’m not a fan of the Mark Reynolds ‘all or nothing’ school of hacking and would certainly hope that, as he gets more comfortable in the big leagues, Stewart will develop greater patience at the place and we will see these percentages increase. Certainly having the combined hitting expertise of Jason Giambi and Todd Helton in the locker room in Colorado can’t hurt.

SS) Hanley Ramirez (Florida Marlins)

I’ve not been shy about singing Hanley’s praises on this blog before and I will continue to do so here. He is simply the best player not named Albert Pujols playing the game today.

Whilst I’ve shied away from including the likes of Pujols in this team for the sake of presenting a team one might realistically be able to compile and for the sake not being predicable, I make no bones about ‘predictably’ including Ramirez.

How can anyone argue with 30HR/100RBI out of the SS position?

LF) Matt Holliday (St Louis Cardinals)

What can one say about Matt Holliday that hasn’t been said a million times before? Simply put, he is an absolute beast: athletic, powerful, patient and (high-profile playoff blunders aside) a lot better in the field than he is given credit for.

Holliday hit .353/.419/.604 after being traded to the Cardinals last year, and he was nowhere near as bad as people seem to like to suggest at the A’s either. Matt’s 162 game average now stands at an awe inspiring 195H, 29HR, 112RBI .318/.387/.545!

Having Matt bat clean-up behind the Stubbs, Byrd, Ramirez 1-2-3 I intend to go with would certainly give him ample opportunity to drive in a lot of runs, plus it would give LaRoche plenty of protection batting fifth.

CF) Marlon Byrd (Chicago Cubs)

Marlon Byrd has a monstrous 2009, there is no other way of explaining it. Given the opportunity to play 146 games for the Rangers Byrd turned in 20 homers, 89 RBIs and a .283/.329/.479 batting line. While ideally I’d like that OBP to be a little higher, getting this sort of production out of a mobile, defensively sound CF has great value in and of itself.

Given his 2009 performance, and the fact that Lou Piniella seems to have a huge grudge against Kosuke Fukudome, I would expect Byrd to at least equal his career high 146 games started in 2010 and replicate his 2009 production.

RF) Drew Stubbs (Cincinnati Reds)

Stubbs is a player I’m a little wary of. He seems to have phenomenal potential: power, speed, fielding... However, he play’s for the Reds and that means he plays for that infamous wrecker of young careers, Dusty Baker.

I remember well the excitement that followed Jay Bruce’s entry into the league a few years ago. Bruce seemed poised to become great only to be hit with injuries and a retreat into being Ohio’s own Mark Reynolds.

Stubbs could go the same route. While the 8HR and 17RBIs he put up last year translate into 31HR and 66RBI when put in the context of a 162 game season I do have concerns, based on the low HR/RBI ratio that Drew might become an all-or-nothing hitter like Bruce.

That being said, Stubbs offers many other upsides. His BA is actually not bad, especially for a rookie player (.267/.323/.439). Plus he looks to have decent SB potential. While the 10 bases he stole in 2009 (39 over 162 games) won’t put him in Jose Reyes/Jacoby Ellsbury territory, they are certainly very respectable.

With the proper coaching I can see Stubb’s developing into a highly competent lead-off hitter, a role he would occupy on my team.

DH) Garrett Jones (Pittsburgh Pirates)

As the comments above his statistics on plainly state: “Garrett Jones is the real deal”. Certainly his performance in 2009 after finally at the age of 28 getting an opportunity to play in the Bigs was exceptional and Jones (along with McCutchen) finished strongly in the NL Rookie of Year voting.

Jones clubbed 21 HR in just 82 games last year, driving in 44 RBIs in the process. Adding icing to his already strong batting line of .276/.351/.525 was his outstanding OPS of .872!

Jones looks to be a solid play for Pittsburgh for years to come, providing some much needed power into a lineup that has been starved of it since the departure of Jason Bay.

Also notable about Jones is the fact that, in his 82 games as a Pirate last season, he stole 10 bases. If this continues and Jones is able to steal 20 bags this year too he could turn out to be a far more complete player than his early reputation as an emergent slugger would seem to suggest.


C) Lou Marson (Cleveland Indians)

Lou Marson seems to have become the forgotten man of catching in Cleveland, what with all the excitement surround the development of Carlos Santana (no, not that Carlos Santana). Nevertheless what I’ve seen of the 23 year old former Philly (and I got the chance to see him personally when the Indians visited Fenway in October) has been encouraging and impressive.

Over a 162 game average season predicts that Marson would produce 7HR, 44RBI and a .262/.355/.415 batting line. Whilst this is nothing special, it is very encouraging for such a young player with so little big-league experience behind him. Particularly exciting is the already very good BA/OBP differential. If Marson can build on this (and I expect him to get a lot more playing time in Cleveland this year) he could easily become a solid, first-choice catcher come 2011.

IF) Ryan Roberts (Arizona Diamondbacks)

I was impressed with several of the D’backs’ young call ups in 2009, notably Roberts, Trent Oeltjen and Rusty Ryal. I’ve gone with Roberts here purely for his versatility and hussle.

The heavily tattooed Roberts proved a very useful player for the offense-strapped Diamondbacks last year, providing 7HR and 25RBI in 303AB. Roberts also stole 7 bases and hit .279/.367/.416.

Roberts looks to be a mature, patient hitter even at this early stage in his Major League career. His BB/K ratio was a very respectable 40/55 and already that .367 OBP is more or less where it needs to be for a player who is likely to be a career backup infielder/utility player. A useful addition to my roster.

IF/OF) Emmanuel Burriss (San Francisco Giants)

Burris is here on this team to provide a specific role; speed off the bench. Whilst the everyday lineup contains a little bit of pace in Byrd and Stubbs, we lack a legitimate speedster.

In 2009 Burriss managed 13 RBIs and 11 SB in just 202 AB. At just 24 years old I fully expect him to build upon this, given the opportunity to play regularly. Whilst the Giants are well stocked with young prospects Burriss should get a reasonable opportunity to play, even if he does not start in 2009. Expect good things.

OF) Rocco Baldelli (Free Agent)

I can’t make any justification for including Rocco based on statistics, although, due to his early career brilliance his 162 game average production is still 19HR. 82RBI!

I’ve made no secret that I am a big Rocco Baldelli fan, I love the story, I love the guts and the determination to play. Rocco was absolutely fine for the Red Sox last year, he performed his role as a temporary OF to perfection and I have no doubts that he will continue to do so wherever he ends up in 2010. It’s easy to forget just how good Rocco was when he broke into the league at the age of 21. Despite the health issues he will never lose those natural instincts that could have made him at least the player Matt Holliday is. As such Rocco will always have value regardless of how little actual playing time he is limited to.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Where have you gone Joey Gathright, our nation turns its lonely heart to you...

With the signings of Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron there has, not surprisingly, been an outpouring of dissention from ‘Red Sox Nation’. Of course, this is the Red Sox and doubtless their fans (and I count myself as one of these pitiable people) would have found someway to complain even if we had signed Pujols and Holliday rather than Beltre and Cameron.

I must admit I’m sceptical about the two acquisitions. While I am completely sold on the defensive prowess they bring to the team, I’m less convinced of their offensive value.

While I’m not one of those Sox fans who feels that all that was wrong with the 2009 team can be solved with a ‘big bat’. Upgrading the defence is clearly a priority. Nevertheless, I’m not convinced that, combining both their offensive and defensive value, Cameron and Beltre represent a significant upgrade.

Beltre, one could argue, has 40HR 120RBI potential. After all he did have that stellar 2004 season upon which his subsequent reputation (and salary) have been based. The trouble is he has never gotten close to those numbers again. Frankly, Beltre’s 2004 reminds me heavily of Brady Anderson.

My point is therefore is, does Beltre, who’s offensive production is likely to be around 25 HR 75RBI represent a clear upgrade over Mike Lowell? I don’t think he does.

Lowell is a tricky case. He was dogged by injuries the past two years but I can still remember the chants of ‘MVP’ that echoed around Fenway at the close of the 2007 regular season.

The way the Sox front office has treated Lowell this off-season has been shoddy, even in a sporting environment where mercenary players are the norm. Frankly the guy should be given the opportunity to make the starting 3B job his. Failing that, what is the worst that could happen? Youk moves to 3B, V-Mart spends time at C and 1B. We could call up Lars Anderson..... Plus we’ve picked up Bill Hall on the cheap....

Cameron is more cut and dry a bad idea than Beltre. At least with Beltre one can make the (very sound) argument that he is the best defensive 3B in the game today. No-one is quite as good at manning the hot corner than Adrian. While I doubt bringing him in represents a significant upgrade on a (healthy) Lowell, I don’t deny that it is an upgrade. My concern is that, while saving runs with our fantastic rotation and improved defence is great, we will also need to score some.

Cameron is a CF. The difference between good and bad defence in the outfield is far less noticeable in the OF than the IF. This is why guys like Andruw Jones and Torii Hunter are able to win gold gloves year in year out with seemingly now attention paying to how well they actually perform. Hell, Jacoby Ellsbury had everyone fooled into thinking he was defensively excellent until very recently.

Nevertheless, having Cameron at CF and shifting the web-gem king (and run prevention pauper) Jacoby Ellsbury to LF does represent a significant upgrade on Bay and Ellsbury defensively.

The trouble with Cameron is that he stinks offensively. He hit just .250 last year in Milwaukee (this is around his career average) and struck out A TON! Cameron is in the ten 10 ALL-TIME in career strikeouts. Has Theo Epstein completely abandoned his sabremetric creed?

Anyway, those are my views on the new acquisitions. I shall cheer them roundly when they step out onto the field at Fenway, but still I cannot help but think we could have, should have done better.

P.S. What has happened to Joey Gathright? He impressed me for the Sox last season.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Big Mac for the Hall of Fame...No, really

So Mark McGwire has finally owned up to his long-alledged, long-suspected steroid (ab)use during his storied career. The timing of this seems bizarre; yes McGwire came clean shortly after receiving less that 25% of the Hall of Fame vote for a third consecutive year, a percentage low enough for any “i’ll just keep quiet until I get into the Hall’ plans to disappear, yet he’s also come clean a matter of weeks before he is due to assuming his most high profile position in the best part of a decade, as hitting coach of the Cardinals.

At the time of writing it does seem that Big Mac has come away largely unscathed from his recent revelations. He is still adored in St Louis, has not (and cannot, given his famous taking of the 5th) been subject to any legal consequences, has not (and cannot, due to not breaking any MLB policy) been subject to any action from Bud Selig and Major League Baseball. What’s more Big Mac still has a job come April.

The purpose of this post is not to bash the Cardinals and cast aspersions about how that organisation is run. Nevertheless, from a point of view of the Cardinals front office and Tony LaRussa knowing about McGwire’s steroid use at least prior to his employment with them as a hitting coach, if not during his playing career, it is hugely suspicious.

No, the purpose of this post is to re-evaluate McGwire and his career in light of this revelation.

I’ve long thought of McGwire as a steroid user. I suspected and I, like 99% of baseball fans, was proved right. While I suspected McGwire, just as I suspected Canseco, Palmeiro, Manny and A-Rod, I still did not care whether it was true or not.

The sad fact is that we are going to have to accept that a sizeable portion of players who played during the 1988-2004 era were using steroids. We have seen that steroid use is suspected both of the era’s stars (Clemens, Bonds etc) and of its also-rans (Segui, Anderson). Steroid use occurred amongst ‘good guys’ (Pettitte) and amongst those players we loved to hate (Canseco). Simply put, it affected the whole game.

While I would never suggest that all players that played during the 90’s were juicing it will nevertheless be forever known as the ‘steroid era’ for very good reason; they were everywhere!

That being said, I do not believe that this is wholly damning for baseball. Was baseball any less competitive during the steroid era than in days gone by? Did the Yankees win all those World Series because of steroid use? No, of course not.

By extension, is the 1998 home run race between McGwire and Sammy Sosa now less exciting, less a part of baseball lore now that we suspect both of its participants of cheating?

I don’t think so. I accept the protestations of purists who complain that McGwire and Sosa have soiled the legacy of Roger Maris in their roid-fuelled quests for immortality, but I question how true these objections are. Surely Maris’ reputation was besmirched back in 1961 when the infamous * was added to his achievement. Maris’ career was never the same, he fell off dramatically in the years to come and subsequently is not enshrined at Cooperstown.

The 1998 home run race saved baseball. Yes, its a point that’s been made over and again but it is true. It returned public interest to a sport which many felt could not recover from the collusion scandals of the late 1980’s and the lost of the 1994 season.

The Hall of Fame makes provision for players who, through the course of their career, fundamentally affected the game. Branch Rickey makes the Hall for this reason. Jackie Robinson is in the Hall for this reason. Marvin Miller and Curt Flood should be in the Hall for this reason.

It was exactly this ‘change the baseball landscape’ concept that Paul Molitor pointed to when he was denigrating Ichiro’s Hall changes on the eve of the Japanese phenom’s accumulation of 3000 overall hits last year. Molitor’s point seemed to be that; being a hall of famer was more that statistical accumulation. I thought that this was a bit rich at the time as, without his 3000 hits Molitor would be paying his ticket just like Goose Gossage should. Ichiro fundamentally changed baseball in the United States (as, arguably, did Hideo Nomo) and therefore should be a Hall of Famer, first ballot even if he retired tomorrow.

I believe you can make a very strong case for McGwire, and certainly for Sosa, on the basis of having profoundly effected MLB. While how they achieved the unachievable may not pass the smell test of the baseball writers who feel the need to year in year out hold baseball players to a moral standard normally reserved for sainthood, the results speak for themselves.

I for one would be a lot happier seeing Big Mac and Slamming Sammy rewarded for breathing new life into baseball than I would seeing Barry Bonds enshrined for his cynical pursuit of the home run record.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Hall of Fame Thoughts

After all the speculation and campaigning the Hall of Fame votes are finally in, and I must say that this year's voting is a nice suprise with common sense and an honest appreciation of players' contribution to the game taking priority over big-market-centrism and an over-valuation of 'big characters' (i.e. Goose Gossage).

Andre 'Hawk' Dawson is 2010's sole inductee and my view on this, once I'd gotten over the initial shock of 'What? Just one new Hall of Famer?' is: well, fair enough.

There are very few who will seriously dispute Dawson's Hall of Fame credentials. He's got the Home Runs, the Hits, The MVP award. No problems there. The guy had to sit by and watch inferior player, such as Jim Rice enshrined and thoroughly deserves his moment in the spotlight.

I'm a little suprised that Blyleven has gotten so close, just 5 votes shy of finally getting enshrined. Blyleven is an interesting case in terms of his Hall-worthiness. The argument against Bert is that he is little more than a 'compiler', slowly accumilating his stellar K and Win totals through 20 plus years of above average performance rather than the dizzying brief spells of Koufax and Martinez. I accept and agree with that argument in part, however in an environment where baseball players retain their place in the lineup only as long as there is no young stud waiting in the wings to replace them (see Tom Glavine) the fact that Blyleven was able to be considered worthy of taking the ball every 5th day for so long is certainly highly complementary of his abilities as a player.

I for one would certainly prefer a dependable if not astounding pitcher like Bert who played well into his 40s than elite pitchers such as Roy Oswalt and Carlos Zambrano who seem content to dangle threat of retirement in their early-to mid 30s in front of their team's fans.

Roberto Alomar narrowly missing the cut is perhaps more suprising. Certainly Robbie has the stats and the reputation to be a Hall of Famers and I doubt many eyelids would have been raised had he made it to Cooperstown in his first year of eligability. I know that many Hall of Fame voters seems to have a perculiar aversion to 1st time ballottees and can only assume this has hurt Alomar, a player who is not as 'open and shut' Hall-worthy as the likes of Cal Ripkin and Tony Gwynn. I certainly hope that the Hirschbeck incident and the recent rumours about his health have not hurt Alomar's Hall-chances. While ugly, the incident with Hirschbeck has now been long resolved and apologised, if not atoned for and ought not negatively impact Robbie's chances.

It seems likely that both Blyleven and Alomar will be admitted next year and in all honesty I have very little problem with that.

Further down the ballott i'm a little peeved that Lee Smith has once again missed the cut, although he had a slightly higher voting percentage than last year. Hopefully this trend will continue and Smith may well sneak into the Hall in years to come. Admittedly Smith has to be inducted before the likes of Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman become eligable for his stats to still stand out as memorable. Frankly, if Sutter and Gossage are Hall of Famers (and to my mind neither of them are) then Smith deserves to get in.

I was dissapointed to see that Harold Baines still languishes at the foot of the voting table, accumilating far less votes that Edgar Martinez and Mark McGwire. Baines, while primarily a DH has 2,886 career hits, WAY more than Martinez and Big Mac, both players who one could argue were far more one dimensional than Baines. I think we can now write the 6-time All-Star and White Sox legend off as a potential Hall of Famer, which is a crying shame as far as i'm concerned.

As for next year I expect to see Blyleven and Alomar inducted. Barry Larkin is an outside bet for enshrinement, although I believe Larkin to be a borderline Hall of Famer at best. His offensive numbers are perhaps negatively comparable to Ozzie Smith's and, given that Smith is in the Hall largely due to his defensive prowess, this does not do Larkin any favours. Jack Morris should also have a fighting chance, and to be honest, I would not object as Morris has always been one of those 'he's not in the hall?' type players for me (this, admittedly is born more out of reputation than exceptional statistics).

I expect the big, new numbers of next year's ballot to be done by Larry Walker, Juan Gonzalez and Jeff Bagwell. None of these guys are hall of famers but I'd imagine 1st year voting percentages in the high 30s-early 40s are in order. This should clear away the likes of Blyleven and Morris from the ballot in preparation for the bumper crops of 1st time inductees that will begin to appear in 2012 and 2013, including (gasp)....Barry Bonds