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.