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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Open Letter To The Rangers

Dear Nolan & Ron -

Congrats. I love what you've done with the place. You're threatening to post a team ERA under 4.60 for the first time since 2004, which was, coincidently, the last time the Rangers had a winning record. You've still got no shortage of power, but also improved speed and infield defense with the promotion of Elvis Andrus and the conversion of Micheal Young. As of today, you've got the best damn record in the American League. I'm proud of you guys. We all are.

That said, there's a few issues I'd like to address. Don't get me wrong, I admire your skills and trust your judgment. Kudos on the Josh Hamilton trade and the Mark Texeira deal (which netted Andrus [.289, 21 R, leading MLB shortstops in Range Factor, leading AL shortstops in Ultimate Zone Rating], Matt Harrison [3-2, 3.82 ERA, 5.00 K/BB in May], Jarrod Saltalamacchia [respectable platoon catcher], and Neftali Feliz [2-2, 3.93 ERA, 36 K, 34 IP in AAA at age 21]). Letting Milton Bradley walk, it was a tough decision, but the right decision. Ian Kinsler (17th Round, 2003) was a stellar draft pick and getting Nelson Cruz thrown into the Carlos Lee rental was pure genius. Omar Vizquel and Andruw Jones have been outstanding inexpensive veteran free agent acquisition.

There's a lot to hang your hats on, but it's only June and there's a lot of baseball left. The Angels managed to stay above .500 even without Lackey, Guerrero, and Santana. They're only five games back. It's time to plug the holes.

First, you're getting a 687 OPS from your first basemen, primarily Chris Davis. That's 200 points below the AL average and 27th in baseball. He's got a lot of pop and a lot of potential, clearly another great draft pick (5th round, 2006), but he needs to re-build his confidence and you can't afford to carry that kind of OPS at a premier position. You've got other options.

Secondly, you need to find a way to keep Josh Hamilton in the lineup. I know, I know, you're off to this great start even though he's missed 15 games and been mediocre when he's been available, but in the long run, he carries the big stick that opposing pitchers fear. Down the stretch, you're going to want visions of Home Run Derby in Yankee Stadium dancing in their heads. Josh is a monstrous talent, but obviously he's a little injury prone. That's what happens when you abuse your body the way he has. Help him out. Don't allow him opportunities to pull his groin diving into the wall in center field. Put him in right. Or at DH. Sure, Blalock is injury-prone too, but he plays a less active position (1B) and is infinitely more replaceable (with Chris Davis, Max Ramirez, and Justin Smoak waiting in the wings).

Tangentially, when did Andruw Jones become a DH? As I recall this is a man who for a long time was spoken of as potentially the greatest center-fielder of all time. I know he's more portly than he used to be, but as recently as 2007 he trailed only Coco Crisp in Ultimate Zone Rating at 22.4. Last season Hamilton was at -17.7. I have a hard time believing that Andruw's decline has been that steep. With a ballpark like Arlington, where every flyball gives your pitcher a coronary, it seems like the graceful glide of Andruw Jones would be a welcome sight, especially if it also helps to protect one of the best hitters in the AL.

Finally, teams do not win pennants with Kevin Millwood as their Ace. Just ask the Braves. As a #2, sure, but not as an Ace. You've got the prospects. You're going to need to be aggressive...but wise!!! Jake Peavy is a flyball pitcher, not right for you. The same goes for Dan Haren. Guys who do make sense for you, who may (or may not) be available include Roy Halladay (53.7 GB% in '08), Aaron Cook (55.9%), Roy Oswalt (50.3%), and Cliff Lee (45.9%). Go get one of them. It'll take the pressure of Millwood and the kids (McCarthy, Harrison, Holland, and Feliz).

Anyway, keep up the good work.

Best of luck,


The Stream (Week Nine)

[Each Sunday Hippeaux provides suggestions for spot starters for the coming week. The suggestions are based on players available for 2 Legit 2 Not Acquit, in a 10-team, H2H 5 X 5 mixed league hosted by ESPN. If these players are available there, there's a decent chance they're available in your league as well. Keep in mind that the strategy of "streaming," introducing a waiver wire starter every day of the week, is designed to help you in categories like Wins and Strikeouts, but can be disastrous for your ERA and WHIP. It is best used in H2H leagues, where a few bad choices won't haunt you all year long, and should be abandoned in weeks when your top starters make enough appearances to carry the counting categories.]

MON: Joe Blanton (PHI) @ San Diego Padres (Kevin Correia)

Blanton is coming of his finest outing of the season, an eleven strikeout, seven shutout inning performance at home against the Marlins. He'll get another struggling, strikeout-prone offense, this time on the road, but in a ballpark that minimizes Blanton's most glaring weakness, his propensity for giving up the long ball.

TUE: Manny Parra (MIL) @ Florida Marlins (Burke Badenhop)

I'm tempted to recommend Randy Wolf again, since he hasn't failed me yet, but he's facing off with Dan Haren, so his likelihood of earning a W decreases significantly, even if he pitches well. Much the same may be said for Zack Duke, who's facing Johan Santana. Which leads me to Manny Parra. His overall numbers (3-6, 5.57 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 46 K, 53 IP) are skewed by a particularly bad outing (3 IP, 8 ER) against an extraordinarily hot Minnesota lineup. Discounting that start, his May numbers are quite solid (3-1, 3.23 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 30 K, 31 IP). That includes a solid 6 IP, 3 ER, 8 K win over the Marlins on May 12. Milwaukee's offense gives Parra a chance to win, even it he's not perfect.

WED: Randy Johnson (SFG) @ Washington Nationals (Jordan Zimmerman)

There is the added sentimental bonus of perhaps having the Big Unit on your roster for his 300th victory, but Johnson has pitched legitimately well in his last two outings, striking out twelve in twelve innings of work and allowing only two runs. The Nationals are, believe it or not, the third most productive offense in the NL right now (trailing on Los Angeles and Philadelphia). However, their pitching staff still gives up more than the lineup produces and their team OPS is 30 points lower at home. (Special Note: Adam Dunn v. Big Unit, 1-for-12 with 0 XBH)

THU: Gil Meche (KCR) @ Tampa Bay Rays (James Shields)

Not a lot to choose from on Thursday, but if you need somebody, you might take a gamble on Meche. Tampa has a potent offense, but last year Meche managed a 1.46 ERA in two starts against primarily the same players. Shields has been struggling, so he may have a chance to win even if he can't maintain that pace.

FRI: Doug Davis (ARI) @ San Diego Padres (Josh Geer)

I wouldn't fault you for going with Paul Maholm (@ Houston), Nick Blackburn (@ Seattle), or Barry Zito (@ Florida). But, you should beware of Maholm's history at Minute Maid. Blackburn gets a tough matchup against King Felix. And Zito, though he continues to pitch well, has been the victim of terrible run support. Davis has also. He has quietly pitched well (3.65 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 51 K, 69 IP). Like Blanton, his main weakness is the home run, so PETCO Park suits him well. He is 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA there in his career.

SAT: Anthony Swarzak (MIN) @ Seattle Mariners (Garrett Olson)

Swarzak may be the newest addition to the long line of middle-tier pitching prospect turned quality starters by the Twins organization. He's only 23, but went 8-4 with a 2.03 ERA in 90 IP at AAA. He's not overpowering (only 58 K at AAA), but he's looked solid in his first two major league outings (13 IP, 3 ER) and he gets a mediocre offense at a pitcher's park against an opponent, Garrett Olson, who's pretty much proven he has no business pitching in the majors (6.53 ERA in 185 IP). Mauer, Morneau, and Cuddyer are all red hot. It's a good time to be pitching for the Twins.

SUN: Zack Duke (PIT) @ Houston Astros (Felipe Paulino)

Duke has been downright golden so far this season (5-4, 2.75 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 42 K, 72 IP). The only reason he isn't owned across the board is that his team stinks. Thankfully so do the Astros, including their rookie pitcher, Felipe Paulino (1-4, 6.75 ERA, 1.83 WHIP, 26 K, 36 IP). This makes Duke slightly more favorable than Randy Wolf (v. Phillies), Rich Hill (@ Athletics), and Manny Parra (@ Braves).

Swimming Upstream [How did I do last week?]

MON: Brett Anderson (W, 6 IP, 1.50/1.33, 4 K)
TUE: Kevin Correia (L, 5 2/3 IP, 9.53/1.76, 5 K)
WED: Kensin Kawakami (L, 5 2/3 IP, 4.76/2.29, 2 K)
THU: Randy Wolf (W, 7 IP, 1.29/1.00, 7 K)
FRI: Dontrelle Willis (L, 5 IP, 12.60/2.40, 1 K)
SAT: Barry Zito (L, 6 2/3 IP, 4.02/1.80, 6 K)
SUN: Jorge De La Rosa (L, 5 IP, 7.20/1.80, 5 K)

Week 8 Totals: 2-5, 39 IP, 5.77 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 30 K

Season Totals: 8-8, 120 IP, 4.05 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 96 K

Not a lot to hang my hat on from last week, except perhaps Brett Anderson's unheralded performance on Monday. Hopefully many of you, like me, didn't have to take chance on D-Train and De La Rosa over the weekend. This is a good time to point out that, despite an atrocious record, Baltimore sports a pretty potent offense and should probably be avoided against spot starters. I had hoped that Dontrelle would follow up on a couple of stellar outing. It was not to be.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Stream (Week Eight)

[Each Sunday Hippeaux provides suggestions for spot starters for the coming week. The suggestions are based on players available for 2 Legit 2 Not Acquit, in a 10-team, H2H 5 X 5 mixed league hosted by ESPN. If these players are available there, there's a decent chance they're available in your league as well. Keep in mind that the strategy of "streaming," introducing a waiver wire starter every day of the week, is designed to help you in categories like Wins and Strikeouts, but can be disastrous for your ERA and WHIP. It is best used in H2H leagues, where a few bad choices won't haunt you all year long, and should be abandoned in weeks when your top starters make enough appearances to carry the counting categories.]

MON: Brett Anderson (OAK) v. Seattle Mariners (Jakubauskas)

It's hard to argue with Brian Tallet right now (2.78 ERA in last four starts) and Jonthan Sanchez has been quite good at home (2.08 ERA in three starts), but both are sizable risks as well. The Blue Jays are going through their first offensive drought (and I can't quite forget that five starts ago Tallet surrendered ten earned runs). Sanchez gets a weak offense (Atlanta), but not as weak as his own, and faces off against an imposing Ace (Javier Vazquez). Therefore, I'm going to roll the dice on young Brett Anderson, coming off the best start of his young career (6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 0 B, 5 K) on the road against a strong offense (Tampa Bay). This time he'll be in friendlier confines and gets a struggling lineup and a converted long reliever (6.10 ERA). Could this be his coming out party?

TUE: Kevin Correia (SDP) @ Arizona Diamondbacks (Scherzer)

There's not a lot of good choices. You could go with Ricky Romero making his first start off the D.L. Nick Blackburn and Aaron Cook are coming off strong outing, but match up with tough lineups (Red Sox and Dodgers). I'll take Correia against the D-Backs, who have about half-a-dozen regulars hitting below the Mendoza line. Correia has a 2.79 ERA in his last three starts. Maybe it's a sign that he's starting to stretch it out.

WED: Kensin Kawakami (ATL) @ San Francisco Giants (Johnson)

Wish somebody from the group of Brett Myers, Trevor Cahill, and Manny Parra was throwing on Tuesday (cross fingers). Kawakami is coming off of four straight quality starts (1.88 ERA), including an eight inning shutout masterpiece his last time out. Good way to build momentum for facing the league's worst offense.

THU: Randy Wolf (LAD) @ Chicago Cubs (Wells)

As I said of Wandy Rodriguez last week, it won't be too much longer that Randy Wolf is available on the waiver wire, what with his great overall numbers (2-1, 2.72 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 46 K) and even better in his last five starts (1-0, 1.45 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 23 K).

FRI: Dontrelle Willis (DET) @ Baltimore Orioles (Bergeson)

The D-Train appears to be back on track. He's allowed only three earned in his last thirteen innings. His last two starts have been at home, so leaving the friendly confines is justifiably cause for concern. However, the Orioles have a measly 620 team OPS against left-handers this season (only Oakland is worse) and are not the most patient group, which bodes well. If you aren't comfortable boarding this train again just yet, you might check out Sean West, the new addition to the Marlins rotation.

SAT: Barry Zito (SFG) v. St. Louis Cardinals (Pineiro)

It's hard to recommend a mediocre lefty against any lineup featuring Albert Pujols. But, aside from "The Machine," the Cardinals lineup is pretty meager right now, with Ludwick, Ankiel, and Glaus still sidelined. Zito has posted a 2.36 ERA at home thusfar.

SUN: Jorge De La Rosa (COL) v. San Diego Padres (Gaudin)

It was a a tough call between De La Rosa and Gil Meche (v. White Sox), so I'm going with the guy who faces the weaker offense (even if it is at Coors Field). If you need Ks, Jorge's your man, with 46 K in 46 IP so far this season.

Swimming Upstream [How did I do last week?]

MON: Randy Wolf (7 2/3 IP, ND, 2.35/1.04, 2 K)
TUE: Barry Zito (8 IP, L, 2.25/1.13, 3 K)
WED: Paul Maholm (6 IP, ND, 1.50/1.17, 7 K)
THU: Bartolo Colon (2 IP, L, 4.50/4.50, 1 K)
FRI: Rich Hill (5 2/3 IP, ND, 3.18/1.24, 6 K)
SAT: Kyle Lohse (8 IP, W, 0.00/0.50, 6 K)
SUN: Wandy Rodriguez (DNP)

Week 7 Totals: 1-2, 37 1/3 IP, 1.93 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 25 K

This week I'll hang my hat on terrific ratios and some bad run support, and thank my lucky stars that seven of the eight runs Big Fat Bartolo Colon allowed on Wednesday were unearned.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"He's done-er than done." - Matthew Berry

I'll admit it, I'm unfairly picking on Matthew Berry because he's somebody I read and listen to consistently. So, clearly, I often agree with or benefit from his analysis. But in this instance he joins a whole chorus of journalists who have been so eager to declare Big Papi's six week slump evidence of a steep, inevitable decline, impossible for him to bounce back from. This declaration troubles and offends me, frankly.

Also, let me be clear, a 2-for-5 night with a homer doesn't necessarily mean that the slump is ended. Ortiz fans will need a couple more of these before they can show genuine relief. But it's a start.

What bothers me most about Ortiz's situation is the so-called "scarlet letter" of steroids, discussed here by Bill Reynolds, which is now being affixed to a player for whom there isn't really even circumstantial evidence. People will say that I'm in denial about the prevalence of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. That's not true. I'm willing to concede their ubiquity. Which is part of why (and this is what really bothers people) I really don't care. I don't believe that steroids/PEDs are especially dangerous when taken by grown men of their own accord (for starters, check out the documentary "Bigger, Stronger, Faster"). I don't think baseball should be held to a different standard than say the NFL or any other forum for professional athletics. I don't think that any substance diminishes or explains the exceptional talents of a Barry Bonds or a Manny Ramirez. I don't think baseball history is in any way tarnished, that is, any more tarnished, than it's been from any number of ball-playing assholes from Cap Anson to John Rocker. This is just another (very entertaining) episode in the sport's history, which, like American history, is filled with glorious imperfections.

But, back to Ortiz.

What bothers me about the treatment of Big Papi is that it is the most publicized instance of the trend towards explaining any drastic drop in production by insinuations about steroids. This is deeply ironic (or tragic, if you're a player) because now you can be presumed guilty if either a.) you are too productive in your mid to late thirties or b.) you are suddenly unproductive in your mid to late thirties. Basically, if you don't follow the loosely-defined "normal" career path, than you are fair game for "juicing" speculation.

Another issue here is Ortiz's physique. It used to be that steroid speculation was fueled by extraordinary physical changes. Either an eruption of muscles on a formerly slim(mer) player (Brady Anderson, Sammy Sosa, McGwire, etc.) or a sudden atrophy in the wake of more stringent testing (Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, etc.). As somebody who has experienced his share of drug-unrelated weight fluctuations, I have real problems with this hypothesis. Regardless, in Ortiz's case, no transformation is evident. In fact, he has exactly the build (insert favorite euphemism here) which we would expect for both a.) the kind of player who accumulates sizable home-run totals in the prime of their career (i.e. Cecil Fielder, Danny Tartabull, Dmitri Young, Matt Stairs, etc.) then drops off drastically as their immensity catches up with them (i.e. Cecil Fielder, Danny Tartabull, Dmitri Young, Matt Stairs, etc.).

Meanwhile, it has somehow become "naive" to blame some of Ortiz's struggles on his wrist injury. We should note, however, that the torn tendon sheath which sidelined Ortiz relatively briefly in 2008 has ended seasons for players like Nick Johnson, Billy Wagner, and, most recently, Rickie Weeks. Wrist injuries are notoriously difficult to recover from. Derrek Lee, for instance, has yet to display the power he showed prior to his disastrous injury in 2006. A wrist injury in 2003 limited Adrian Gonzalez to only 5 HR (in the minor leagues) that season and only 12 at AAA in 2004. Those are hardly the kind of power numbers you would expect for a player of his caliber at that level, which may be why he was traded twice (from the Marlins to the Rangers to the Padres) before he became the consistent 30+ HR threat he is today.

Might Ortiz have reached, at age 33, a point in his career where age and unfortunate injuries make him better suited to hit fifth or sixth, rather than third or fourth? Possibly. May he be prone to more slumps and perhaps even need to be benched against tough left-handers? Possibly. But then, the same can be said of Jim Thome and Ken Griffey Jr. Is there also the possibility that he might, like Carlos Delgado or Jason Giambi, make the purveyors of his "doneness" eat their words by stringing together several more prime (or, at least, semi-prime) seasons? Quite possibly.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Stream (Week Seven)

[Each Sunday Hippeaux provides suggestions for spot starters for the coming week. The suggestions are based on players available for 2 Legit 2 Not Acquit, in a 10-team, H2H 5 X 5 mixed league hosted by ESPN. If these players are available there, there's a decent chance they're available in your league as well. Keep in mind that the strategy of "streaming," introducing a waiver wire starter every day of the week, is designed to help you in categories like Wins and Strikeouts, but can be disastrous for your ERA and WHIP. It is best used in H2H leagues, where a few bad choices won't haunt you all year long, and should be abandoned in weeks when your top starters make enough appearances to carry the counting categories.]

All the rainouts this past week could effect the projected rotations in the days to come, but here's how I'm forecasting:

MON: Randy Wolf (LAD) v. New York Mets (Tim Redding)

One of the Nats top prospects, Ross Detwiler, is coming up to make a spot start against the lowly Pirates, but I've definitely got more faith in Randy Wolf, even though he faces a pretty hot offense. Wolf hasn't allowed more than one earned run in each of his last four starts and he's got a 2.60 ERA at Dodger Stadium this season. Plus, while Detwiler faces somebody who's been pitching well so far this season (though I don't trust him), Ross Ohlendorf, Wolf squares off with Tim Redding in his first start coming off injury. Unless he's had a total arm transfusion, I don't think we can expect very much from Redding.

TUE: Barry Zito (SFG) @ San Diego Padres (Chris Young)

I may live to regret this, but I'm going to jump back on the bandwagon now that Zito has made five straight quality starts. It helps that San Diego's home OPS is 683, easily the worst in the NL, so even if Young outpitches Zito, I doubt he'll disastrously effect my WHIP and ERA. Shairon Martis pitches at home against Pittsburgh. That would be my #2 option.

WED: Paul Maholm (PIT) @ Washington Nationals (John Lannan)

There are several good pitchers on Wednesday, but not a lot of good matchups. Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Cecil, and Matt Harrison are all pitching well, but Way-Rod is matched up with Yovani Gallardo, Harrison gets super-hot Justin Verlander in Detroit, and Cecil is a rookie lefthander pitching at Fenway for the first time. Therefore, I'm going with Mr. Maholm against the Nats. I should point out that the Nats have a pretty good offense, comparable to the Brewers, Cubs, Rockies, and Cardinals thusfar, and John Lannan has a respectable 4.00 ERA, so this is not exactly a slam dunk pick. (If he is available in your league, you might note that Chris Carpenter is coming off the D.L. against Ryan Dempster and the Cubs. It's risky, obviously, because he might be rusty and the Cubs are very hot right now, but worth noting.)

THU: Bartolo Colon (CWS) v. Minnesota Twins (Nick Blackburn)

Big Fat Bartolo Colon is having himself a respectable season so far, especially in Chicago. He's 2-1 with a 2.55 ERA at Cellular Field. He blanked the Twins for six innings the first time he faced them, though their offense has improved since then with the return of Joe Mauer and hot streaks from Kubel, Cuddyer, and Crede.

FRI: Rich Hill (BAL) @ Washington Nationals (Jordan Zimmerman)

In intraleague matchups it's usually preferable to have the AL player pitching in NL park. Although I don't know that this qualifies, since Rich Hill has made exactly one start in the AL. He looked pretty good in it, beating Kansas City, so I'm willing to take a flyer on him. (Neither is available in my league [partly because I own one of them full-time], but Rick Porcello faces off with Ubaldo Jimenez tonight. Both are young studs in the midst of hot streaks. Porcello has allowed only two earned runs in his last three starts, while Ubaldo has allowed only six earned over his last four starts. These guys are still available in many shallow leagues.)

SAT: Kyle Lohse (STL) v. Kansas City Royals (Luke Hochevar)

This is another tough one. Armando Galarraga is at home against the Rockies, but although he started the year very well, he's pitched in four straight disasters and may be in danger of losing he spot in the rotation when Jeremy Bonderman returns. I'm moderately fond of both Koji Uehara and Shairon Martis, but they match up against each other, which probably favors Uehara, but only slightly. Instead, I'm going to roll the dice on Kyle Lohse, who's had two straight disasters against strong offenses on the road, but is a solid 3-1, with a 3.20 ERA at home.

SUN: Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) v. Texas Rangers (Brandon McCarthy)

I'm tempted to go with Joel Pineiro, who, like Lohse, has been very good at home (2.46 ERA). There are arguments for both Randy Wolf, agains, and Matt Palmer (4-0, 3.38), who square off against each other in L.A., as well as for Dave Bush (2-0, 3.83) in Minnesota. But I'm going to gamble again on Wandy Rodriguez (4-2, 1.90), who probably shouldn't even be available (and may not be by Sunday). I'm hoping that his 0.67 ERA at home outweighs the fact that he will be facing one of the league's hottest teams. However, if I have a relatively safe lead on Saturday night, I don't make this start.

Swimming Upstream [How did last week's choice's fare?]

MON: Bronson Arroyo (7 IP, W, 6.43/1.43, 5 K)
TUE: Manny Parra (6 IP, W, 4.50/1.33, 8 K)
WED: Brian Bannister (5.2 IP, L, 3.18/1.06, 3 K)
THU: Wandy Rodriguez (7 IP, W, 2.57/0.71, 11 K)
FRI: Brett Cecil (6 IP, W, 4.50/1.33, 3 K)
SAT: Brett Myers (7 IP, W, 2.57/0.71, 8 K)
SUN: Koji Uehara (5 IP, ND, 7.20/1.60, 3 K)

Week 6 Totals: 5-1, 43 2/3 IP, 4.33 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 41 K

This is about as good as you get via streaming. If you were in a good position and refrained from using Uehara on Sunday, it's even better. Something tells me that Way-Rod, Cecil, Parra, and Myers may not be a part of the free agent player pool for a whole lot longer.

The New Yankee Stadium (Ad Nauseum?)

The good news (for seamheads at least) is that the prevalence of homers at the new Yankee Stadium has promoted the discussion of "park factors" in the mainstream sports media and even, in some cases, outside of sports.  NPR's Talk of the Nation: Science Friday hosted a roundtable discussion this past week (check it out).  While we must continue to temper our discussion until more data has been accumulated, as Jonah Keri wisely points out, what is not being properly discussed (at least in the numerous reports I've read) is why a home-run friendly ballpark is not a good thing for the Bronx Bombers.  I've heard consistent speculation that perhaps the Steinbrenners slightly altered the dimensions and constructed the park in order to promote offense and sell tickets.  But, of course, as we've all heard way, way too many times, what sells tickets in New York is winning.  And home-run hitting parks are not particularly conducive.

Since Oriole Park at Camden Yards (generally considered the first of the "retro parks" which not predominate) was opened in 1992, baseball has introduced 20 new ballparks (18 brand-new stadiums, and 2 expansion sites) which are currently in use.  From that group, I looked at the teams that played at the most friendly hitter's park and pitcher's parks.  I left out the preponderance of parks which were either more or less neutral or haven't been open long enough to show a consistent advantage.


Baltimore Orioles (Camden Yards) - 16 seasons,  4 winning seasons, 1 Div., 1 Wild Card, 0 Pennant, 0 World Series 
Cincinnati Reds (Great America Ball Park) - 6, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0
Colorado Rockies (Coors Field) - 14, 5, 0, 2, 1, 0
Detroit Tigers (Comerica Park) - 9, 2, 0, 1, 1, 0
Houston Astros (Minute Maid Park) - 9, 7, 1, 2, 1, 0
Philadelphia Phillies (Citizen's Bank Park) - 5, 5, 2, 0, 1, 1
Texas Rangers (Ballpark at Arlington) - 14, 5, 3, 0, 0, 0

73 seasons, 28 winning (38.4%), 7 Division Titles (9.6%), 6 Wild Cards (8.2%), 13 Playoff Appearances (17.8%), 4 Pennants (5.5%), 1 Championship (1.4%)


Cleveland Indians (Progressive Field) - 14, 9, 7, 0, 2, 0
Florida Marlins (Dolphin Stadium) - 15, 5, 0, 2, 2, 2
Los Angeles Angels (Angel Stadium) - 12, 9, 4, 1, 1, 1
San Diego Padres (Petco Park) - 5, 4, 2, 0, 0, 0
San Francisco Giants (AT&T Park) - 12, 8, 3, 1, 1, 0
Seattle Mariners (Safeco Field) - 9, 5, 1, 1, 0, 0

67 seasons, 40 winning (59.7%), 17 Division Titles (25.4%), 5 Wild Cards (7.5%), 22 Playoff Appearances (32.9%), 6 Pennants (9.0%), 3 Championships (4.5%)

Obviously, many other things factor into a team's success, but when you look at this relatively large cross-section of data you can see why the Yankees and their fans would prefer that their stadium not be "Coors Field east" as some have been calling it.  Teams that play in pitcher's parks are 20% more likely to have winning records, almost twice as likely to make the playoffs, and three times as likely to win World Series.  

There may be several reasons for this.  There is the cliche, "good pitching beats good hitting," a motto emphasized by teams like the Giants and Padres who have stayed competitive in many recent seasons despite have very mediocre offenses.  

There is also the pragmatic conclusions voiced general managers in Texas and Colorado, that the top free agent pitchers don't like to go places which are inherently dangerous to their ERAs.  So, teams with hitter's parks end up overpaying for guys like Mike Hampton, Kevin Millwood, and Eric Milton.  Meanwhile, teams with pitcher's park get deals on pitchers trying prolong or rebuild their careers, guys like Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Carl Pavano, and Randy Wolf.  And young pitchers can have their confidence ruined by fly balls turning into tape-measure blasts.  Just ask David Nied, Jeremy Bonderman, or Brandon McCarthy.

Chicks dig the long ball, right?  Inflated offensive numbers also means inflated salaries for hitters.  Not only does a team like Colorado have to overpay to lure pitchers, but they have to hand out obscene contracts to keep players like Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, or Larry Walker.  Great hitters all, don't get me wrong, but playing in say, San Francisco, for the bulk of their careers would've cost each of these guys millions of dollars.

While the general managers in pitcher-friendly environments can compensate to some extent by building around speed, defense, and gap-hitters and have consistent success, a similar formula has not yet been found for the hitter's park.  Perhaps last year's Phillies will be the model.  However, the struggles of Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Brad Lidge to begin this season may be another sign of how difficult it is to win consistently in a launching pad.  If Yankee Stadium maintains its current homer-happy pace, I expect their will be serious renovations in the offseason.  That may be the easiest and more inexpensive way to prevent themselves from becoming a power-laden .500 team.  

Friday, May 15, 2009

Perpetual Underdog Syndrome

It happens at least once in every game they play.  A relatively plain-looking Caucasian player who's less than six feet tall and weighs less than two-hundred pounds approaches the plate and a broadcaster loses his cool, he begins to gush.  "This guy really knows how to play the game," he says.  "What a scrappy player," he says.  "Check this out, kids.  Anybody can be a big-league ballplayer...if you work hard enough.  It's just amazing, isn't it, Chuck?"  

Is it.  Is it so amazing?  Is Craig Counsell's career really evidence that flat-out tenacity is all you need to make it to the major leagues.  Don't listen to these patronizing asses.  Craig Counsell and David Eckstein may have the physical stature of muppets, but that doesn't mean they aren't superlative athletes.  They merely suffer from the social stigmatization of Perpetual Underdog Syndrome, or P.U.S.  

Counsell is playing in his fourteenth major-league season.  He has two World Series rings.  Eckstein was a World Series MVP, has been to a pair of All-Star games, and also has a pair of rings.  Dustin Pedroia, perhaps the most tragic P.U.S. sufferer, was an All-Star, won the Rookie of the Year, an MVP, a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, and a World Series ring, all in his first two years in the league.  Yet, Tim McCarver never ceases to be amazed that a 5' 9" leprechaun can hit the ball over the monster.  Tim, I've got news for you, two of your favorite players, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, were only 5' 11".  Does that two inches make all the difference?  It's time to stop treating small, white players like they're medal-winners at the Special Olympics.  These guys are legit.  Give them their due.

Current P.U.S. Sufferers:

Craig Counsell, David Eckstein, Mark Ellis, Mike Fontenot, Ryan Freel, Aaron Hill, Brandon Inge, Aaron Miles, Dustin Pedroia, Marco Scutaro, Ryan Theriot   

Three Zeros

As of the start of play on Friday, 74 pitchers had thrown 40+ major-league innings so far this season. Of them, only three had yet to allow a home run. The first probably won't surprise you. Zack Greinke has surrendered only a dozen extra-base hits (eleven doubles and one triple) in 53 innings so far. The other two have been getting far less press.

Wandy Rodriguez - Houston Astros

Way-Rod has been a popular streaming option for a couple of seasons, mainly because of his home/road splits.

H: 6-3, 2.94
R: 3-10, 6.37

H: 5-5, 2.99
R: 4-2, 4.34

H: 2-1, 0.67
R: 2-1, 3.24

As you can see, while Wandy continues to dominate at home, his numbers on the road have also been getting progressively better. He strikes out close to a batter an inning and has improved his ground-ball ratios in each of the last three years, no doubt assisting his limitation of the long ball. Here's the bad news. Houston has a mediocre offense (last in the NL Central in run production) and a bad bullpen (5.03 ERA) and Wandy has only pitched one shutout in his career, so he's not a safe bet to win 15 games, even if he continues to pitch excellently. Wandy is also, already, 30-years-old, so for him to improve dramatically upon his 3.54 ERA from last season would be highly unusual. On the other hand...

Ubaldo Jimenez - Colorado Rockies

With the exception of his HR Allowed, Ubaldo's stats for 2009 don't look that great. However, in his last three starts he is 2-1 with a 2.14 ERA and 5.00 K/BB rate. The latter number is important because that has always been Jimenez's Achilles heel. Since he came up during Colorado's amazing stretch drive in 2007, Jimenez is 4-10 with a 5.24 ERA in games in which he walks four or more. In his other 37 starts he is 15-10 with a 3.65 ERA. That's an especially good ERA when you consider that Ubaldo has to make half his starts at Coors Field.

More importantly, Ubaldo is still only 25, has dynamic stuff, including a fastball that touches triple digits and a classic Darryl Kile curveball. If this is evidence, as I believe it is, that Ubaldo moving towards consistent control of his arsenal, he has a much, much higher ceiling than Rodriguez, and possibly as high as Greinke.

In the end my point is this: THESE GUYS ARE STILL AVAILABLE IN MOST LEAGUES. Pick them up pronto. They have the kind of high-reward potential that is necessary to win championships.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Haliburton 1863

While I am certainly not one to downplay the extent to which corporate greed has influenced the political landscape of the last decade, I am consistently irritated by the implication that this is somehow a new development, that G.W. Bush was "the worst President ever" and "corporate oversight" is at an all-time high/low (depends on how you interpret the phrase). American history is, in fact, filled with shysters, hucksters, and innovative megalomaniacs wearing collars of every color. The most recent example I've come upon, thanks to a brilliant piece of popular journalism circa 1954 by Stewart H. Holbrook, is the origin of the adjective shoddy. Before it meant "a person or thing having the delusive appearance of superior quality," it referred specifically to "a material made of reclaimed wool," generally an inexpensive way of making rags. During the Civil War, however, government contractors for the Union recognized they could turn a higher profit by using shoddy to make blankets. Similarly, they discovered the lucrative aspects of boots made largely of paper, rations made of diseased livestock, and firearms made of solvent metals. Sound familiar? When such practices were uncovered in the wake of the conflict, journalists co-opted the term as a way of describing the politicians and industrialists who allowed these practices to proliferate, as in "Bush's shoddy diplomacy"(NY Times 8/1/08) or "the Pinnacle group's shoody underwriting"(NY Times 4/15/09).

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Delgado Factor

I've already written about the inevitability of Big Papi's resurgence, but I'd like to offer a recent analogy. Last season, coming off a serious injury, Carlos Delgado was declared "done" at 36. Scouts said his bat speed was gone, that he couldn't pull the ball, and New York sportswriters drilled Willie Randolph for keeping him in the middle of the lineup. On May 6 he was batting .216 with a 670 OPS and only 4 HR (Ortiz is currently at .222, 653, and, famously, 0). From that point on, Delgado hit .284 with a 919 OPS, 34 HR, and 99 RBI, finishing 9th in the NL MVP voting. No doubt he would have finished higher if the Mets hadn't collapsed and missed the playoffs. Don't allow a prolonged slump after an injury convince you, as it has many of the pundits of Baseball Tonight, that Ortiz's skills are in dramatic decline. In his last 16 games he is already showing signs of life, with a modest 782 OPS, 9 extra-base hits, and a nine-game hitting streak. Last night against the Yankees he hit a pair of doubles and walked twice. Ortiz may never again be a 40-50 HR guys, as he was in his late twenties, but he can still be an RBI machine, peppering balls off the Green Monster and hitting in the center of a potent lineup.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Why the Jays are this year's Rays...

This can't be for real, right? It is just a matter of time until they fall back to fourth place, where they belong, right? Maybe the best fourth place team in baseball, but fourth place nonetheless. Nobody predicted this, right? Wrong.

If you check my column from March, "The Raging Jays," you'll find that I've been on the Blue Jays bandwagon for quite some time. In fact, last year I predicted that they would finish ahead of the Yankees (although I didn't figure that would still mean third place, behind the Rays). And I see no reason to second-guess myself now. In fact, it is quite possible that there is nowhere to go but up. After all, Toronto's AL-best record has been achieved without a single win from Jesse Litsch or David Purcey (the #2 and #3 starters going into the season). It was managed despite the fact that B. J. Ryan blew a pair of saves and couldn't find 90 MPH on the radar gun before he went to the D.L. and despite the fact that the team's best hitter, Alex Rios, has started the year hitting .248 with a 670 OPS.

Sure it may be fair to suggest that it is unlikely that Aaron Hill (.376, 5 HR, 989) and Adam Lind (.320, 5 HR, 957) will maintain their current paces. And 29-year-old rookie Scott Richmond (3-0, 2.70) isn't going to go undefeated. The Jays will suffer some cold streaks and they will be battling for a playoff spot down to the very end. But that's my point, they aren't going away. Yesterday they brought up Robert Ray and Brett Cecil to replace Purcey and Brian Burres, who had combined to go 0-4 with an 8.44 ERA in seven starts. Cecil hasn't exactly been gangbusters so far this season, but last year he went 8-5 with a 2.88 ERA and 129 K in 118 IP at three minor-league levels. He's only 22 and undoubtedly one of the top pitching prospects around. Ray is a little older (25) and not as dominant (132 K in 167 IP in 2008), but still a legitimate candidate for the back-end of a big-league rotation. It is reasonable to expect that they will be improvements on the pitchers they replace. Later this month Litsch, Ryan, and Ricky Romero will return from the D.L., further bolstering the pitching corps. Around the same time Shaun Marcum will begin a minor-league rehab assignment, putting him on course to rejoin the team in the second half. Marcum may not immediately be the pitcher he was before Tommy John (9-7, 3.39, 1.16 WHIP in '08), but he gives the Jays an additional option at the back-end of the rotation or in the middle innings. Similarly, Dustin McGowan, another major contributor in the staff that was best in baseball last season, could be ready to pitch sometime late in the year. It looked like a rag-tag bunch going into the year, now there appears to be some depth, although more injuries and/or setbacks could still be prohibitive.

Depth is of course essential to any team attempting to survive in the toughest division in baseball. Boston and Tampa Bay would not have made it to the postseason last year if it hadn't been for contribution by guys like Jed Lowrie, Willy Aybar, Justin Masterson, and Eric Hinske, all of whom stepped up and played well when major contributors missed time. The Jays bench will need to do the same and early indications are that they can. Kevin Millar has hit .350 in limited ABs. Jose Bautista is a hot prospect who never lived up to his billing in Pittsburgh, but could play 2B, 3B, or OF and hits for decent power. Right now he is hitting .310. John McDonald is, of course, one of the flashiest defenders around, more that an adequate replacement for Aaron Hill or Marco Scutaro defensively, which is critical.

Remember, the Rays were among the top defensive teams in baseball last year, led by great gloves up the middle. The Jays, currently leading the AL in Fielding Percentage, are similarly constructed. Rios (#2), Hill (#7), McDonald (#10), Rod Barajas (#4), and Scott Rolen (#5) are all rated as top ten fielders at their position according to John Dewan's FIELDING BIBLE, and Scutaro, Vernon Wells, and Lyle Overbay are just shy of being premier defenders as well. Only Travis Snider, well hidden in left field, can truly be considered a butcher.

Besides Cecil and Snider, their are a couple prospects to look out for later in the season. J. P. Arencibia is currently catching at AAA. In two stops last year the 23-year-old first-rounder out of Tennessee hit 27 HR with an 850 OPS. He could see time if Barajas struggles, or even at DH if Lind or Snider were to go down. Toronto's first-round pick from last year, David Cooper, also showed considerably skills in his half-season debut, hitting .333 with a 901 OPS. If he can continue at close to that clip at AA, he could make his debut in the second half.

Perhaps most importantly, after years of suffering under the ineptitude of John Gibbons, who was blessed with arguably better teams, the Jays have turned the reigns over to Cito Gaston, who has quite clearly improved the hitting approach throughout the lineup and has shown belief in his talented young players. First place is a familiar position for Gaston, who guided the Jays to their back-to-back championships in the early 90s. Like Joe Maddon of the Rays, he has captivated the entire clubhouse and has the Jays focusing on factors they can control and not thinking about the Yankees and Red Sox. That said, a major test comes in the middle of May when Toronto plays nine straight against the Yanks, Red Sox, and White Sox, arguably the three best clubs in the AL.

(Look, an entire column about the Jays and I didn't even mention Doc Halladay, who, in case you haven't heard, is the best pitcher in baseball.)