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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Notes on the Noughties

During the last few weeks the baseball media has been dominated by discussions of All-Decade rankings for players and teams. These discussions are, of course, founded upon an arbitrary window, which means they can lead to some odd conclusions. For instance, it has been generally accepted that Player of the Decade consideration comes down to A-Rod and Pujols, both of whom are certainly legitimate choices. However, imagine if we were including Barry Bonds' final two campaigns in the late '90s, or even had he been allowed to continue playing for two more seasons in his mid-forties (seasons which Bud Selig robbed from fans, a sin for which the commissioner should never be forgiven).

Bonds would, of course, lead Pujols and A-Rod in the vast majority of ratios and advanced metrics (OBP, SLG, OPS, WAR, Win Shares, etc.) and would be near the top in several counting categories as well (HR, BB, R, etc.). At the very least, it would have to be considered a three-horse race. A similar assumption can be made about Greg Maddux, who, despite retiring prior to the 2009 season, is still among the top ten starting pitchers of the decade in wins, starts, and innings, among other things.

However, despite the fact that All-Decade debates are purely academic, they operate as a mode for appreciating the recent history of the sport we love and, as such, are an enjoyable aspect of this Hot Stove season. As my contribution, I would like to levy praise upon a few people who have been under-represented in the All-Decade articles I've read so far. Most of these guys aren't worthy of being considered in the greatest players of the decade discussions at any position. In some cases, far from it. But their contributions nonetheless made an impact on the game and its fans, and in many cases, helped to define the way baseball was evolving in the decade of the 2000s.

Innings-Eater of the Decade: Livan Hernandez

The defining rotations of the 1990s were composed of three- and four-headed monsters: Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz in Atlanta; Nagy, Hershiser, & Martinez in Cleveland; and the revolving door of free agent Aces who joined with Andy Pettitte in the Bronx (Clemens, Cone, Wells, Gooden, Rogers, & El Duque). I'm not sure that the "innings-eating" #3 starter was purely an invention of the Noughties, but teams certainly valued such pitchers more than ever before. Jeff Suppan and Carlos Silva netted nearly $50 Million apiece on the promise of fulfilling that role. Jamie Moyer appears prepared to pitch into his fifties in that capacity. But for me, the quintessential innings-eater is Livan Hernandez.

Too often this decade, organizations like the Giants and Expos asked him to be their Ace and that was not his calling, but Livan Hernandez gobbles up innings at a rate unprecedented in the contemporary era. From 2000 until 2006, he never pitched less than 216 innings in a season, topping out at 255 in 2004. Three times he led the league in innings, twice in complete games, and four times in hits allowed. This decade he threw a total of 2201 innings, 38 more than his closest competitor (Javier Vazquez). In the process he went 129-124 and maintained essentially a league-average ERA (4.46). Only Roy Halladay accumulated more complete games.

Best Season: Expos 2003 (15-10, 3.20 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 178 K, 233 IP, 8 CG, 3.12 K/BB)

LOOGY of the Decade: Steve Kline & Ray King

The "left-handed one-out guy" got a fair amount of play in Michael Lewis's Moneyball and can safely be counted among the major innovations of the contemporary era, the credit going usually to Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan. And whether they discovered the LOOGY or not, they certainly possessed the most effective implementation of it, when, in 2004, on their way to 105 wins and the NL Championship with the Cardinals, they employed two LOOGYs, Steve Kline and Ray King, who combined for 153 appearances and 112 innings. King and Kline completely shut down opposing left-handed sluggers, allowing one lonely homer during the entire season and an opponent's OPS under 450.

Both King and Kline had relatively prolonged careers in this capacity. From 2001 to 2007 King made at least 67 appearances every year and maintained a 3.52 ERA. From 2000 to 2007 Kline made at least 66 appearances every year and maintained a 3.32 ERA. They rank #9 and #11 in relief appearances over the course of the decade, combining for 1173 appearances and 889 innings. But 2004 was the best for each.

Best Season: 2004 Cardinals (Kline: 1.79 ERA, King: 2.61 ERA)

TTO of the Decade: Adam Dunn

The "Three True Outcomes" hitter was another topic of discussion in Moneyball, referring to players who ended the vast majority of their at-bats with either a strikeout, a walk, or a home run. In the "Juiced Ball" era, such players were valuable, despite the high number of "unproductive outs" they were prone to make.

49.1% of all of Adam Dunn's plate appearances ended in one of those outcomes. Compare that to a more traditional RBI man like Mark Texeira, whose TTO rate is 33.9% or a more extreme opposing example like Albert Pujols, whose TTO is just 28.7%, despite the fact that he has similar homer and walk rates.

Dunn led the league in strikeouts on three occasions in the Noughties. He led in walks once. Most importantly, he had a truly impressive run of five straight 40 HR seasons, which ended last year, when he hit "merely" 38.

Best Season: 2004 Reds (46 HR, 108 BB, 195 K, 102 RBI, 105 R, 956 OPS, 51.2% TTO)

WAR-rior of the Decade: Franklin Gutierrez

The Wins Above Replacement statistic has become a favored metric of sabermetricians in recent years. It, like Bill James' Win Shares, attempts to balance offensive production with defensive efficiency and positional scarcity. The names at the top of the list usually aren't too surprising - Pujols, Mauer, Utley, etc. - but the performance of Franklin Gutierrez has continued to defy projections.

Over the last three seasons, the performance of the Mariners 26-year-old centerfielder went from 1.8 wins above replacement t0 5.9, ranking him twelfth among all hitters in 2009. Base on FanGraphs tabulations, that means Gutierrez is worth somewhere in the vicinity of $20 Million a year, even though in 2009, he made the league minimum.

Obviously, Gutierrez's performance is based largely on his off-the-charts defensive ratings. His only comparable is Andruw Jones in his prime. This coming arbitration season will be interesting on many accounts (Tim Lincecum, anybody?), not the least of which is whether Gutierrez's agent can make a case for a large award based on the new evolutions in defensive analytics.

Best Season: 2009 Mariners (.283 AVG, 18 HR, 85 RBI, 764 OPS, 27.1 UZR, 5.9 WAR)

Most Underrated Pitcher: Mark Buehrle

I was listening to a Baseball Today podcast earlier this week as they discussed their All-Decade selections and Eric Karabell and Peter Pascarelli scoffed when a listener suggested that Mark Buehrle might be part of the All-Decade rotation. I will admit, he's probably borderline, but if you don't think he's in the running, you haven't been paying attention. Only Livan Hernandez and Javier Vazquez threw more innings during the 2000s, despite the fact that Buehrle was just 20 when the decade began. Among pitcher who pitched in every season of the 2000s, he ranks eighth in ERA at 3.80. He's won 135 games during that span, also good for eighth. And has been the picture of consistency.

From 2001 to 2009 Mark Buehrle never made less than 30 starts. He has five seasons of 15+ wins and has netted double-digit wins in every year. He ERA has risen above the league average only once, in his rough 2006 campaign (12-13, 4.99), and on many occasions he has been among the league leaders (as low as 3.12 in 2005). He has a World Series ring, a Gold Glove, four All-Star nods, and, of course, a no-hitter and a perfect game.

Best Season: 2005 White Sox (16-8, 3.12 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 149 K, 237 IP, 3.73 K/BB)

Most Underrated Hitter: Bobby Abreu

His performance in this year's ALDS went a long way towards raising people's awareness, but Abreu's extraordinary performance this decade was often overshadowed by his teammates in Philadelphia and the Bronx. Abreu got to the plate more times than anybody in baseball during the 2000s and he finished in the top ten in hits (#8), runs (#5), RBI (#10), stolen bases (#6), walks (#2), and OBP (#8). He was a 30/30 man twice and a 20/20 man in every season except '06 (15/30), '07 (16/25), and '09 (15/30).

Best Season: 2004 Phillies (.301 AVG, 118 R, 30 HR, 105 RBI, 40 SB, 971 OPS)

Most Underrated Fielder: Pedro Feliz

I'm certainly open to debating whether a man who has never posted an OPS of 800+ is worthy of being a major-league starter at the hot corner, as Feliz has been for most of the decade. I will strongly contend, however, that Feliz is one of the smoothest and most impressive glovemen to ever play that position. He fields the barehanded dribbler better than anybody I've ever seen, ranges well in all directions, and has a canon for an arm. Thankfully, the stats back me up. Over the course of the decade he compiled a UZR of 76.4 and a UZR/150 of 15.5. Here's how that compares to other third basemen from the top ten in games played during this decade.


Pedro Feliz 15.5
Scott Rolen 15.5
Adrian Beltre 13.9
Brandon Inge 6.9
Mike Lowell -0.2
Aramis Ramirez -1.5
Alex Rodriguez -2.2
Melvin Mora -2.8
Chipper Jones -3.3
Troy Glaus -5.4

As you can see, Feliz deserves to be ranked on equal footing with Rolen and Beltre as the best defenders of the decade at their position, leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the field. That Feliz did not win a Gold Glove, while David Wright and Mike Lowell did, is among this decade's significant injustices.

Best Season: 2007 Giants (20 HR, 72 RBI, 708 OPS, 22.3 UZR, 2.8 WAR)

The Sporting Hippeaux's All-Decade Team:

C - Joe Mauer
1B - Albert Pujols
2B - Chase Utley
3B - Alex Rodriguez
SS - Miguel Tejada (This isn't just because I hate Jeter, stats back me up.)
LF - Barry Bonds
CF - Carlos Beltran
RF - Ichiro Suzuki
DH - David Ortiz

SP - Roy Halladay
SP - Randy Johnson
SP - Johan Santana
SP - Pedro Martinez
SP - C. C. Sabathia

RP - Mariano Rivera
RP - Billy Wagner
RP - Trevor Hoffman
RP - Francisco Rodriguez
RP - Joe Nathan

Honorable Mentions:

C - Victor Martinez
1B/3B - Carlos Delgado
2B/SS - Derek Jeter
OF - Vladimir Guerrero
OF - Andruw Jones

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