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Saturday, November 28, 2009

What are you up to, Kenny Williams?

The Hot Stove seasons has barely gotten off the ground for the vast majority of teams, but White Sox GM, Kenny Williams, has quietly renovated his franchise this November, with a trade and three veteran free agent signings. Based on the content of these acquisitions, however, White Sox fans have to be wondering: what is he up to?

This past week, in the span of 48 hours, Williams signed two players who have combined for 21 Gold Gloves, easily the most of any active duo. However, both Andruw Jones and Omar Vizquel are in the twilight of their careers, as demonstrated by the fact that both spent to majority of 2009 on the Rangers bench. They weren't exactly massively productive in their limited capacity, either. Vizquel managed just a 660 OPS in his 195 plate appearances. Jones had a strong showing during the season's first four months (891 OPS, 17 HR), but he really struggled down the stretch (488 OPS, 0 HR in August and September).

The fact which should not be ignored it that the Rangers had a resurgent season in 2009. Vizquel and Jones were a major part of an improved culture in Texas as apparently popular clubhouse presences. Like Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, and Ken Griffey Jr., they proved that future Hall of Famers (or borderline Hall of Famers, depending on your perspective) bring more to a franchise than just what they do on the field. Omar not only contributed over 400 innings of errorless defense at shortstop, second, and third base, but served as mentor for Elvis Andrus and, to a lesser extent, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler, helping to solidify a previously porous infield. The White Sox, in Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham, have a pair of middle infielders who, like Andrus and Kinsler, have incredible defensive tools, but are still a little rough around the edges. Vizquel will be asked to pass along his considerable wisdom.

Similarly, although Jones acted primarily as a DH in '09, and will probably spend much of his time in that role again in '10, he is one of the greatest defensive outfielders of all time. The White Sox outfield defense has been atrocious the past couple years. Any influence he exerts on Carlos Quentin, Alex Rios, and whomever the White Sox bring in complete their outfield, could only bring improvement.

It would have appeared, based on the decision to part ways with Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, Dewayne Wise, and Jose Contreras, that Williams was committed to making the White Sox younger in 2010. The acquisition of Vizquel (43) and Jones (33), along with the retention of Mark Kotsay (34) and the trading of Chris Getz (26) and Josh Fields (27), pushes defiantly in the other direction. So, what is the upside?

First of all, cost. Even if Jones reaches all the incentives in his contract, he, Kotsay, and Vizquel will not cost Chicago any more than $4.5 Million in 2010. According to FanGraphs, the trio posted about $6.6 Million worth of production in 2009, so this is likely a pretty safe investment. Even safer when you consider that none is signed past next season.

The White Sox have every incentive to go for it in 2010. They have an aging core and 2011 will bring with it a series of free agent decisions which will likely lead to a complete and total overhaul of the club. After next season Paul Konerko, A. J. Pierzynski, Freddy Garcia, and Mark Teahen will become free agents. The following year they will be joined on the open market by Mark Buehrle, Bobby Jenks, and Alexei Ramirez. While in 2009, Chicago still retained eight players who had won rings with them in 2005, by 2012, the White Sox may bear zero resemblance to that hyper-popular team.

By solidifying his bench early in the offseason, Williams allows himself to concentrate exclusively on the White Sox major needs for the remainder of the winter, namely outfield and designated hitter. He knows exactly what kind of flexibility he has on the remainder of the roster and the payroll and won't have to do any desperate maneuvering late in the spring.

By the time the arbitration period ends, the White Sox will probably have about $85 Million committed to 21 or 22 players on their major-league roster. Over the last four seasons they have maintained a payroll of $100-110 Million. They have plenty of options moving up through the system to provide depth on the pitching staff, so if the White Sox ownership, led by Jerry Reinsdorf, is willing to back him, Williams may be able to commit as much as $25 Million to improving the lineup. If that's the case, then the White Sox could still make a serious run at the cream of the free agent crop (Jason Bay makes some sense for them, as would Chone Figgins) or could continue to covet other team's albatrosses, as they did with Jake Peavy and Alex Rios. Williams has plenty of flexibility, because Konerko, Teahen, or Quentin could easily be moved to DH if the White Sox added a better defensive option at first, third, or in left. Williams also has the luxury of considering whether to go after one BIG fish (Bay, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Holliday, etc.) or two smaller ones, as Jones and Kotsay could act as a decent DH/1B/OF platoon if they were hitting low in the lineup.

Although Willaims approach thusfar certainly betrays a considerably amount of risk, it also suggests that he has a concerted plan and aims to put a very competitive team on the field in the AL Central. Minnesota is struggling to re-sign Joe Mauer and patchwork its decimated rotation. The Tigers are considering blowing up the expensive, underperforming squad which has broken Detroit's heart in each of the past two seasons. The Indians are probably at least a year away from seeing the fruits of the rebuilding campaign which shipped away C. C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Victor Martinez. And, Kansas City, well...the Royals are acting like the most mismanaged franchise in baseball, as usual. Which means the White Sox look to me like the team with the best laid plans for taking their division in 2010.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Offseason Prospectus #6: The Chicago Cubs

When the 2009 season began, it seemed like almost a forgone conclusion that the Cubs were going to win another NL Central crown. They had retained every significant player, other than Mark DeRosa and Kerry Wood, from their 2008 squad, which paced the NL. They had added Milton Bradley and Kevin Gregg, which seemed like more than enough to maintain the status quo. Moreover, the 2008 runner-up, Milwaukee, had lost their top two starting pitchers and the Cubs other top rivals, the Cardinals and Astros, hadn't made a peep all offseason, much to the dismay of their fans. It looked, during last winter, like the NL Central GMs, via inactivity and apathy, had conspired to hand another title to the Cubs. Maybe they recognized, as every Cubs fan should've recognized, that put in the position of overwhelming favorites, the Cubs would do what they have always done in such situations: choke.

In 2008, three Cubs starters - Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, and Ryan Dempster - won fourteen or more games. In 2009, none of them got more than 12 wins. In 2008, the Cubs had five hitters with 20+ HR and 75+ RBI. Only Derrek Lee reached those numbers in 2009. Milton Bradley's OPS dropped by over 200 points. Alfonso Soriano had a batting average (.241) which was the worst in the NL among qualifying hitters, 25 points lower than his previous worst season. Over the previous two seasons, Kevin Gregg had posted a 3.48 ERA for the Marlins. For the Cubs, his ERA climbed all the way to 4.72. Aramis Ramirez played quite well, but missed half the season. Geovany Soto, Rich Harden, and Carlos Zambrano also missed significant time. Only Ryan Dempster made 30+ starts.

Nonetheless, despite disappointments and misfortune, somehow, at the trade deadline, the Cubs were half a game up on the Cardinals. But, while the Cardinals GM, John Mozeliak, acquired Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, Julio Lugo, and John Smoltz, to bolster his team for the stretch run, the Cubs GM, Jim Hendry, decided (or was instructed) to stand pat, perhaps assuming that the ship was about to right itself. Quite the opposite turned out to be the case, as August was Chicago's worst month (and St. Louis's best), and by the end of it, the Cubs were 10 games back.

Over the course of this summer, what had been perhaps somewhat unfounded optimism this spring turned into profound, even excessive cynicism. Several Cubs fans and commentators called for the complete explosion of the current team. Fire Jim Hendry. Fire Lou Pinella. Release Bradley. Trade Zambrano. Bench Soriano. Play Jake Fox at second base. We heard it all. Nobody seemed to notice, however, that despite falling painfully short of their third consecutive division title, the Cubs still had a winning season. It was the first time the Cubs put together three straight winning seasons since 1972. So, it's not like we're talking about the Royals here.

Assuming most of the team comes back healthy in 2010 and returns at least to their career norms, the Cubs will once again have one of the more loaded teams in the NL. There is work to be done, certainly, but with the sale of the team finally nearing completion and Pinella entering the last year of his contract (and perhaps the last year of his managing career) the front office has extra incentive to make waves. If the Cubs don't make the 2010 playoffs, Hendry will undoubtedly fall on the axe.

Free Agents:

Kevin Gregg (32) RHRP
Rich Harden (28) RHSP
Reed Johnson (33) OF

Arbitration Eligible:

Jeff Baker (29) 2B/3B
Neal Cotts (30) LHRP
Mike Fontenot (30) 2B
Tom Gorzelanny (27) LHSP
Angel Guzman (28) RHRP
Koyie Hill (31) C
Carlos Marmol (27) RHRP
Sean Marshall (27) LHRP
Ryan Theriot (30) 2B

ETA 2010?:

Esmailin Caridad (26) RHSP
Andrew Cashner (23) RHSP
Tyler Colvin (24) OF
Scott Maine (25) LHRP

The Cubs have begun the Hot Stove season with a little housecleaning. Hendry fired their hitting coach and hired Rudy Jaramillo, who is rumored to have had a big part in invigorating many careers in Texas, including Milton Bradley's in 2008. He also quickly resigned left-handed reliever, John Grabow, and dealt right-handed reliever, Aaron Heilman, to Arizona for a couple of middling prospects. At least one of the pieces in the Heilman deal, Scott Maine, is likely to spend a little time in the Cubs bullpen next season.

Next up for Hendry are decisions about Bradley and Rich Harden. Bradley was not only unproductive this past season, but also became something of a sideshow at Wrigley and in the clubhouse, resulting in his suspension for the season's final weeks. Many believe he will be traded for next to nothing this offseason, with the Cubs eating a big portion of his salary. However, the signing of Jaramillo suggests the Cubs might be resistant to the idea of dealing a high-upside player at the absolute nadir of his rocky career. There is nothing about Bradley's history that suggests he can't bounce back and be a valuable commodity in 2010. As a Cubs fan, I'm also sick of Hendry paying big money to corner outfielders who underperform for one season and are then given up on (i.e. Jeremy Burnitz, Jacque Jones, & Kosuke Fukudome). Better to have Bradley fail again in '10 than to pay him to play for another team while the Cubs make an additional $30,000,000 mistake (i. e. Johnny Damon).

Harden is, likewise, a high-risk/high-reward commodity. There isn't a single pitcher on the free agent market this winter (John Lackey included) with the potential for dominance of the type that Harden displayed in the latter stages of 2008 (5-1 with a 1.77 ERA and 89 K in 71 IP after joining the Cubs for a dozen starts) and the middle portion of 2009 (3-1 with a 1.80 ERA and 60 K in 50 IP during an eight start stretch in July and August). At only 28, it is still very likely that he will put together a healthy campaign at some point which earns him serious Cy Young consideration. His high-end potential drives up his price, but his injury history (only once has he made 30+ starts) means that few teams will be willing to offer him a long-term deal. The Cubs may simply have to outbid everybody else for a one or two year extension.

I am hoping that Hendry chooses to keep both Harden and Bradley, if for no other reason than it will then be easier for him to address the remaining holes on the Cubs roster. If he has to spend time and money looking for another starter and corner outfielder, than the best-case scenario for the offseason is merely piecing together a team which looks as good as the one that managed just 83 wins this season. However, if Hendry retains Harden and Bradley, he should still have opportunity and funds to address at least one of the following positions: centerfield, second base, bullpen.

My personal preference would be for the Cubs to pursue a top-flight defensive centerfielder, either Mike Cameron or Coco Crisp. This would give Chicago a four-man outfield rotation. Kosuke Fukudome would become primarily a platoon player, given his 667 OPS against lefties over the last two seasons, and defensive replacement. Soriano could get days off against especially tough right-handers. Bradley would get frequent opportunities to fight off his nagging leg injuries. Most importantly, Crisp or Cameron would help close the outfield gaps considerably (particularly when Fukodome was also in right), providing a great deal more comfort for the Cubs pitchers.

Mike Fontenot struggled mightily as an everyday player in 2009, so Hendry may be tempted to pursue a free agent second-baseman like Orlando Hudson or Placido Polanco, perhaps even Chone Figgins. Personally, I would be willing to give the Fontenot/Jeff Baker platoon another chance, if it meant applying that free agent money to more pressing needs (i.e. Harden, Crisp). Both Fontenot and Baker are scrappy players, who have shown the capability for giving good at-bats and playing solid, though not spectacular, defense. Perhaps one could step up and take the job permanently. Bounce-back performances from the rest of the lineup would do a great deal to take the pressure off them and I think we could expect at least a 725 OPS out of the #8 spot. That would be acceptable.

Many will argue that the bullpen needs work. It was conspicuously bad for key stretches of the '09 season, especially during Gregg's meltdown right around the All-Star Break, but their overall ERA (4.11) was almost exactly what it was in '08 (4.10) and things stabilized considerably after Marmol took over closing and Angel Guzman, Sean Marshall, and John Grabow assumed the primary set-up roles. Relievers are, by nature, risky. I would rather take my chances with the relatively inexpensive ones the Cubs have in the system than attempt to bring in somebody like Brandon Lyon, who would cost around $5 Million and could easily turn into the second-coming Kevin Gregg (as recently as 2008, Lyon posted a 4.70 ERA as the closer for Arizona).

Finally, as I said, Hendry has every reason to play for this season and this season only. Pinella in entering his swan song. New ownership will be breathing down everybody's neck. Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez (player option), and Ted Lilly could all be free agents a year from now. I expect Chicago to be aggressive this offseason, both on free agency and trades. Hendry has some expendable pieces from which to construct a major deal. In Jake Fox and Micah Hoffpauir, he possesses players with major-league power, but they are 1B/DH types, for whom there is no room in the Cubs lineup. There are also a number of pitchers and position players in the minor leagues which other teams would covet (Starlin Castro is the only one who's off-limits, I'm guessing). The Cubs probably don't have enough to acquire Roy Halladay or Adrian Gonzalez, but that's not what they need either. They could go after somebody like Curtis Granderson or Dan Uggla. Hendry has never been reluctant to barter for big-name players. His trades for Kenny Lofton, Ramirez, and Harden keyed pennant runs. But, he also gambled less successfully on Nomar Garciaparra and Juan Pierre. The worst thing Hendry could do, for himself and for the franchise, is become trigger-shy now. The Cubs remain positioned to make that long-awaited run deep into the playoffs. The same probably won't be true a year from now. Roll the dice. Mortgage the farm. (Insert your favorite non risk-adverse cliche here)

Projected 2010 Opening Day Roster (Revised 1/31):

SS Ryan Theriot (R)
RF Kosuke Fukudome (L)
1B Derrek Lee (R)
3B Aramis Ramirez (R)
LF Alfonso Soriano (R)
CF Marlon Byrd (R)
C Geovany Soto (R)
2B Mike Fontenot (L)

SP Carlos Zambrano (R)
SP Ted Lilly (L)
SP Ryan Dempster (R)
SP Randy Wells (R)
SP Tom Gorzelanny (L)

CL Carlos Marmol (R)
SU Angel Guzman (R)
SU Sean Marshall (L)
LOOGY John Grabow (L)
MR Jeff Samardzija (R)
MR Jeff Gray (R)
MOP Neal Cotts (L)

C Koyie Hill (S)
1B/3B Chad Tracy (L)
IF/OF Jeff Baker (R)
1B/OF Micah Hoffpauir (L)
OF Xavier Nady (R)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Offseason Prospectus #5: The Oakland Athletics

Last season, Billy Beane, Moneyball icon and godfather of the modern GM, uncharacteristically chased a straight. He attempted to make a run at the postseason by virtue of a strategy completely contrary to that which made him famous. He traded a blue-chip prospect (Carlos Gonzalez) for one season from an impending free agent slugger (Matt Holliday). He signed a quartet of aging injury-prone veterans - Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera, Nomar Garciaparra, and Adam Kennedy. He planted his top four pitching prospects - Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Vin Mazzaro, and Gio Gonzalez - in the starting rotation, even though it meant jump-starting their progress towards arbitration. He handed outfield spots to two players with low on-base percentages - Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney. Basically, he was the exact opposite of what Michael Lewis advertised way back in 2003.

Except, really he wasn't. This was Moneyball at it's core. The approach was different, but the strategy's essence was the same. Beane was playing against the market. With the economy plummeting, most GMs were reluctant to be aggressive, especially with veterans, so Cabrera, Giambi, and Garciaparra were available for relatively cheap, one-year deals. There was significant statistical evidence that the "Juiced Ball Era" was over, so speed and defense were reaching a new premium. Enter Davis, Kennedy, and Sweeney.

Other teams were becoming more and more reluctant to rush big-ticket prospects to the majors, especially pitchers, because of the cost of arbitration, but that also meant they didn't always field a team of the best possible players, and left them susceptible to AA and AAA injuries. (Nothing is worse than sending a bonus baby to have Tommy John before he's ever pitched an inning for the big-league club.) In the wake of the "Joba rules," the "Liriano rules," the Zumaya project, and the arrival of Tim Lincecum, dominant from the moment he stepped on the mound right across the Bay, Beane had to be wondering if maybe a bunch of 21 and 22-year-olds could own the AL West, especially pitching in a spacious park like the Coliseum.

He decided, while his competitors (except for the Yankees), were acting cautiously, he would go for the gold. The rationale was sound. The results were abominable. Holliday had the worst start of his career. Same for Cabrera. Giambi was even worse, to the point of being released around midseason. Garciaparra, predictably, spent most of the season on the DL, as did Oakland's two best incumbent players, Eric Chavez and Justin Duchscherer. The A's scuffled to their third consecutive losing season with the second worst winning percentage of the Beane era, despite having the second highest payroll of any team he's ever fielded.

As I said, although the chips didn't fall the way he would've liked, it's hard to fault him for trying, but I think it's safe to say, he won't play his hand that way again in 2010.

Free Agents:

Bobby Crosby (30) SS/3B
Justin Duchscherer (32) RHSP
Nomar Garciaparra (36) DL
Adam Kennedy (34) 2B

Arbitration Eligible:

Santiago Casilla (30) RHRP
Jack Cust (31) OF/DH
Rajai Davis (29) CF
Joey Devine (26) RHRP
Scott Hairston (30) OF
Michael Wuertz (31) RHRP

ETA 2010?:

Chris Carter (23) 1B
Adrian Cardenas (22) 2B/SS
Tommy Everidge (27) 1B/3B
Clayton Mortensoen (25) RHSP
Eric Patterson (27) 2B/OF
Landon Powell (28) C
Brett Wallace (23) 3B

The good news is that last winter's spending spree certainly wasn't a complete waste. Beane dealt Holliday at the deadline and got back at least two quality prospects from the Cardinals, Brett Wallace and Clayton Mortenson, both of whom are likely to join the big-league club at some point next season. He sent Cabrera to the Twins for their 2nd round pick from 2008, Tyler Ladendorf, who's probably at least a couple years away from contributing.

The silver lining for the A's was that seven pitchers made nine or more starts for them in '09, none of them older than 25, and they still finished third in the league in ERA (helped a great deal by their bullpen, which finished #1). Brett Anderson made a serious case for Rookie of the Year (which was won by his teammate, closer Andrew Bailey) when he went 6-4 with a 3.48 ERA in the season's second half. Trevor Cahill threw 179 innings and finished with ten wins and a league-average ERA (4.63), despite being only 21-years-old. Gio Gonzalez struggled with control, but struck out 109 batters in 99 innings. Josh Outman, who was part of the Joe Blanton trade in '08, joined the rotation late in the year and went 4-1 with a 3.58 ERA in a dozen starts. Dallas Braden was solid (8-9, 3.89) and Vin Mazzaro showed flashes of brilliance (2.95 ERA in six June starts). It is not unreasonable to expect all of these pitchers to improve in 2010 and Beane still has Mortensen, Dana Eveland, and Edgar Gonzalez waiting for opportunities. I don't think I'm being hyperbolic when I predict that two or three years from now Anderson, Cahill, and Gio Gonzalez will have made Oakland fans forget about Hudson, Mulder, and Zito.

The real question for the Athletics is offense. Beane has had a lot of success in the past filling out his roster with useful role players. Guys who possessed one particular excellent skill set. He's still doing that. Rajai Davis is a solid center-field, leadoff type, who could easily lead the league in steals with a full season. Jack Cust is the classic low-average, high-strikeout slugger, who will belt 30 bombs and draw a ton of walks. Kurt Suzuki is a very good defensive backstop, who isn't an automatic out on offense. However, all of the really successful A's teams had at least one or two superlative hitters in the middle of the lineup, guys like Chavez, Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Jermaine Dye, and Frank Thomas. The current A's do not possess such a player, and haven't since they let Thomas walk after his last great season in 2006. Carlos Gonzalez had the tools to become such a player, but was traded to Colorado for Holliday.

Perhaps Beane is convinced that Chris Carter and Brett Wallace have that kind of high-end potential. If so, they will probably get a chance to show flickers of it this coming year. The clock is now ticking on Beane's young arms. If he wants to have a run with them like the one he put together early in this decade with the first "Big Three," he will need to bring all the pieces together in time for 2011. Even though Oakland has very little money committed going into 2010, I expect Beane will be inactive this offseason. He will give many at-bats next year to Wallace, Carter, Daric Barton, Eric Patterson, Landon Powell, and whoever else he believes could develop into an everyday player. It wouldn't surprise me if he uses valuable pieces like Cust and Mark Ellis to increase his stockpile of young talent at midseason, so that next year he will have both the money and tradable resources to acquire whatever he still needs to become a competitor for the next three or four seasons.

Projected 2010 Opening Day Roster (Revised 1/1):

RF Rajai Davis (R)
2B Mark Ellis (R)
3B Eric Chavez (L)
DH Jake Fox (R)
1B Daric Barton (L)
C Kurt Suzuki (R)
LF Eric Patterson (L)
CF Coco Crisp (S)
SS Cliff Pennington (S)

SP Justin Duchscherer (R)
SP Brett Anderson (L)
SP Trevor Cahill (R)
SP Dallas Braden (L)
SP Vin Mazzaro (R)

CL Andrew Bailey (R)
SU Brad Ziegler (R)
SU Michael Wuertz (R)
LOOGY Dana Eveland (L)
MR Joey Devine (R)
SWING Gio Gonzalez (L)
SWING Josh Outman (L)

C Landon Powell (S)
1B Chris Carter (R)
IF Aaron Miles (S)
OF Ryan Sweeney (L)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Problems with Baseball Writers

Jerry Crasnick 11/18/09

"This year the Mets' Daniel Murphy, a converted outfielder, tied for first among big league first basemen with a "plus-minus" ranking of +14. The Yankees' Mark Teixeira, who appears to set the standard for the position, ranked 17th in the same system."

Right in the middle of a column on the comparable advantages of statistics and scouting when it comes to defensive evaluations, Crasnick betrays a seeming ignorance of both sides of the argument. The metric he's referring to is John Dewan's "Fielding Bible" rankings, from Baseball Info Solutions. Crasnick misunderstands something which Dewan never fails to acknowledge in his own writing (as do other sabermetricians like James, Neyer, etc.), that there are always going to be outliers in any quantitative system, but in the interest of objective analysis, you have to report them. Those who utilize the date have to be capable to recognizing the outliers and choose either to ignore them or give them credence.

In the case of Murphy, there is of course the problem which most commonly creates statistical outliers; that is, small sample size. Murphy played only 849 innings of first base in '09, approximately 500 innings less than a full-time first-baseman like Texeira. Even the most obstinate statistician, like Dewan, would be the first to admit that anything less than a full season's worth of stats is likely to be unreliable. Which is why most of Dewan's qualitative analysis relies on three seasons worth of data. I would expect those who are comparing Jason Bay and Matt Holliday as defenders, a comparison which Crasnick features in his article, are also relying on several seasons worth of statistics, thus alleviating to some extent things like park factors, the centerfielder's range, etc.

Crasnick's statement makes the assumption that a player moving to a new position must therefore be bad at that position, at least at first. That's a generality, but not a universality. Moreover, he ignores completely the fact that although Murphy has played mostly outfield with the Mets, he was drafted as a third baseman and played several infield positions in the minor leagues. In light of that fact, he's probably more comfortable on the infield than in the outfield, which he didn't play with any regularity until he got to the big leagues. I will be the first to admit I didn't watch a lot of Mets games this season, but based on his history and the fact that he's younger and quicker than a fair number of full-time first baseman, I'm not surprised that he was above average at least at some aspects of the position.

On several occasions I've dealt with the fact that despite the euphoric laudations of many observers, who somehow had managed to miss Texeira's excellent glovework for the Angels, Braves, and Rangers, Texeira had an off-year defensively in 2009. In particular, he range declined, as did the quality of his throwing. This can be explained in a few ways. Perhaps it was sample size; maybe fewer balls were hit his way, or hit his way in throwing situations, than would be normal over the course of a season. More likely it seems to me, based on my observations, he was playing closer to the line and was more reluctant to throw than he had been in the past. This could be a result of the Yankees defensive strategy or it could be because Texeira had a minor physical problem which effected him more on defense than on offense. Regardless, he continued to be quite good at footwork around the bag, reaching for errant throws, and consistently turned the balls he did field into outs.

The problem I have with the Texeira portion of Crasnick's quote is the phrase "appears to set the standard for the position." In the midst of a column which is supposedly about various forms of evidence, Crasnick makes a declaration of superiority completely unfounded by evidence: statistical, scouting, anecdotal, or otherwise. There is a great deal of multi-year evidence to support the fact that Texeira is a very good fielder, but not a lot which would support his being head and shoulders above the rest of the field.

While I am willing to believe that many (not all, but many) organizations are finding a balance between statistics and scouting, usually probably by getting the two measures to correlate, that does not lead me to give any more credence to the unsubstantiated opinions of sportswriters (nor does it give any more distinction to the Gold Gloves, voted on by managers and coaches). Though I happen to agree with his conclusion, that evidence gained exclusively be stats or exclusively by scouting is more error-prone than the combination of the two, Crasnick's article is fraught with presumptions, logical fallacies, and evasions which do a disservice to his argument.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Offseason Prospectus #4: The Milwaukee Brewers

Not too long ago I posted about the "I-94 swap" of J. J. Hardy for Carlos Gomez. At the time I presumed that Gomez would have another year prior to arbitration, but as it turned out, he squeaked into that magical "super two" class by the hair on his chinny-chin-chin. Of the 210 players up for arbitration this winter, only Mike Fontenot and Dustin Nippert have less service time than Gomez. The center-fielder won't get a massive award, but his salary will at least double, to somewhere in the vicinity of a million dollars, which makes him slightly less of a steal. Hardy, of course, will likely make at least five or six times that, so Milwaukee is still getting the "payroll flexibility" they claim to be coveting.

Free Agents:

Mike Cameron (37) CF
Craig Counsell (39) INF
Jason Kendall (36) C
Braden Looper (35) RHSP
Felipe Lopez (30) 2B
Claudio Vargas (32) RHRP

Arbitration Eligible:

Dave Bush (30) RHSP
Todd Coffey (29) RHRP
Jody Gerut (32) OF
Carlos Gomez (24) CF
Corey Hart (28) RF
Seth McClung (29) RHRP
Mike Rivera (33) C
Carlos Villanueva (26) RHSP
Rickie Weeks (27) 2B

ETA 2010?:

Chris Cody (26) LHSP
Tim Dillard (26) RHP
Alcides Escobar (23) SS
Matt Gamel (24) 3B
Jonathan Lucroy (23) C
Chris Narveson (28) LHSP
Angel Salome (23) C

In the last five years, Milwaukee has become quite possibly the finest small-market franchise in the country. So far, they only have one playoff appearance to show for it, in 2008, largely because they face stiff divisional competition from the Cubs (#3 payroll in '09), Cardinals (#13), and Astros (#9), but the Brewers continually draft well, develop well, and make wise, low-risk acquisitions (Jeff Suppan aside). They have exactly one player signed beyond 2010 and his name is Ryan Braun, one of the safest long term investments in all of baseball, who they've wrapped up all the way to 2015.

GM Doug Melvin made a point of resigning legendary closer Trevor Hoffman before he had a chance to test the free agent market. $8 Million is a significant investment for Milwaukee (who had a total payroll of about $80 Million in '09), but Hoffman was excellent at the back-end of games in his first season with the Brewers and provides veteran leadership in the very young clubhouse (which is likely to lose other popular veterans Jason Kendall and Mike Cameron) and a stabilizing presence in the volatile bullpen.

The Brewers lineup is loaded. The Brewers pitching staff is not. Yovani Gallardo proved himself ready to be an Ace after the departure of C. C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets, but absolutely nobody stepped up to fill out the rest of the rotation. Manny Parra, Dave Bush, and Carlos Villanueva still possess promising arms, but none of them posted an ERA below 6.00 as starters in '09. Not an encouraging sign. Suppan continued his precipitous early 30s decline. In each of his three years since joining the Brewers, his ERA, WHIP, and BB have gone up, while his wins, innings, and strikeouts have gone down. I defy even the most obstinate sabermetrician to find a positive indicator among his peripherals.

While the Brewers remain stocked with talented hitters in the high levels of the minor leagues, they are not replete with quality arms. Jeremy Jeffress is at least a year or two away. Tim Dillard and Chris Cody regressed at AAA, although there is still time for them to develop into fair back-end starters. Chris Capuano is still recovering from his Tommy John and, Chris Narveson, who pitched very well both at AAA and in a big-league cup of coffee in 2009 is nonetheless a 28-year-old rookie with a minor-league record of 52-66.

If the Brewers could find one top-flight starter to pair with Gallardo, they might be able to cobble together at least an average rotation, which would make them very dangerous, considering their loaded offense. John Lackey is not a good fit. He is too risky and too expensive for a club with significant financial constraints, although he might display Sabathia/Cliff Lee type dominance over the short term with a move to the National League. The Brewers might explore a Ben Sheets renaissance, if he were willing to take an incentive-laden one-year deal to re-establish his value after missing all of '09. It could be a good thing for both parties. Sheets gets to pitch in a stadium, division, and league that he is familiar with while he tries to shake off the rust, and he has a lethal Brewers lineup to take a little pressure off.

In a perfect world, the Brewers would make a run on Roy Halladay. They are among the few teams who have enough prospects to tempt the Blue Jays without completely decimating their team for many years to come. Certainly, it is nice to have a wave of fresh talent every season, as Milwaukee has had in each of the last half dozen years, but at some point they are going to have to be willing to mortgage a bit of the future in order to go for a World Series. That is, unfortunately, a fact of life for teams in the middle and lower payroll tiers. Halladay, paired with Gallardo, Braun, and Fielder, would make the Brewers one of the most feared teams in all of baseball, but he would probably cost Milwaukee at least three of their top five prospects.

Few teams have the excess of talent which makes relatively inexpensive and quality hitters like Hardy, Cameron, and Felipe Lopez expendable, but Milwaukee does. Even after a minor house-cleaning, Ken Macha will be challenged to find regular big-league at-bats for Rickie Weeks, Casey McGehee, and Mat Gamel. The Brewers will also have to decide whether they can afford to hand over full-time catching chores to Angel Salome and Jonathan Lucroy, both rookies. They may decided it is necessary to bring back Kendall in a more limited role. Or, they may look for a cheaper option, somebody who has more experience as a back-up, like Jose Molina, Gregg Zaun, or Ramon Castro.

Braun and Fielder have replaced Manny and Papi as the most consistent and dangerous tandem in baseball, but if the Brewers are going to make a run, the rest of the lineup will need step up. Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks both have tons of talent, but were limited by injuries in '09. They need to step up and become the Brewer's versions of Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth. Escobar and Gomez will give Milwaukee superior defense up the middle, with the potential to become solid bottom-of-the-lineup producers. Escobar hit over .300 in his 38 game audition in '09, but with no power (.368 SLG). He's still just 23, so there is lots of room for development. The real depth of the Brewers attack may ride on the question of whether Casey McGehee can duplicate his rookie performance. His '09 OPS was significantly higher than any he posted in the minors. If he regresses, then Mat Gamel will need to live up to his hype. His 2008 production was one of the reasons Milwaukee was comfortable parting ways with Matt LaPorta. He took a small step back at AAA, but still showed excellent power and fair plate discipline. If he becomes a legitimate five or six hole slugger, the Brewers lineup may supplant Philadelphia as the best in the NL.

Projected 2010 Opening Day Roster (Revised 1/1):

2B Rickie Weeks (R)
3B Casey McGehee (R)
LF Ryan Braun (R)
1B Prince Fielder (L)
RF Corey Hart (R)
SS Alcides Escobar (R)
CF Carlos Gomez (R)
C Angel Salome (R)
SP Yovani Gallardo (R)

SP Randy Wolf (L)
SP Manny Parra (L)
SP Dave Bush (R)
SP Jeff Suppan (R)

CL Trevor Hoffman (R)
SU LaTroy Hawkins (R)
SU Todd Coffey (R)
LOOGY Mitch Stetter (L)
MR David Riske (R)
SWING Carlos Villanueva (R)
MOP Claudio Vargas (R)
MOP Chris Narveson (L)

C Gregg Zaun (S)
IF Mat Gamel (L)
IF Craig Counsell (L)
OF Jody Gerut (L)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Offseason Prospectus #3: The Chicago White Sox

Kenny Williams, as usual, wasted no time getting his offseason started. Within a week of the end of the World Series he had already made a trade (netting Mark Teahen from Kansas City for Josh Fields and Chris Getz), resigned a veteran (Mark Kotsay), and declined the team option on another (Jermaine Dye). The trade, which surprised a few people, since it included a guy (Fields) who hit 23 HR for the White Sox at the age of 24 in 2007, seems designed to give the White Sox flexibility (Teahen can play 3B, 1B, OF, and even a little 2B) and unload a couple fading prospects who will be promised many more "developmental" at-bats with the Royals than they would've gotten with the Sox. Getz and Fields proved in '09 that they weren't really ready to be everyday players, at least not on a contending team, and the White Sox are, most definitely, one of the dozen or so franchises who enters every season with the intention to win it all.

Free Agents:

Ramon Castro (34) C
Bartolo Colon (37) RHSP
Octavio Dotel (36) RHRP
Jermaine Dye (36) RF
Scott Podsednik (34) OF


D. J. Carrasco (33) RHRP
John Danks (25) RHSP
Bobby Jenks (29) RHRP
Tony Pena (28) RHRP
Carlos Quentin (27) LF/DH
Mark Teahen (28) 3B/UT

ETA 2010?:

Tyler Flowers (24) C
Lucas Harrell (25) RHSP
Dan Hudson (23) RHSP
Brent Lillibridge (26) INF
Jhonny Nunez (24) RHRP
Clevelan Santeliz (23) RHRP
Dayan Viciedo (21) 3B

In 2009 the White Sox finished below .500 (just barely, .488) for only the second time in the last decade. Thanks mostly to their long-awaited World Series victory in 2005, the popular tandem of manager, Ozzie Guillen, and GM, Kenny Williams, will likely be steering the Pale Stockings for the foreseeable future. And, despite Ozzie's quirky, occasionally offensive personality, there is a lot to like about this South Side administration. Williams is not risk-adverse. He is willing to gamble. Sometimes those gambles pay off, as in his acquisition of Carlos Quentin prior to the 2008 season. Other times, as in the waiver claim on Sixty Million Dollar Man, Alex Rios, and the trade for Jake Peavy this fall, they don' least not immediately.

What Williams and Guillen clearly recognized this past season, however, was that the core which won the '05 championship and took them back to the playoffs in '08, has aged considerably, past the point of viability in many cases. The 2010 team will be considerably younger. Gone are Jim Thome (39), Jermaine Dye (36), Jose Contreras (38), and, probably, free agents Octavio Dotel (36) and Scott Podsednik (34). The new White Sox will be built around Gordon Beckham (23), Alexei Ramirez (28), Quentin (27), Rios (29), Peavy (29), John Danks (25), and Gavin Floyd (27); and led, of course, by the longtime "faces of the franchise," Mark Buehrle (31) and Paul Konerko (34). Clearly, this is a team which can easily compete in the tightly-packed AL Central. With rebounds from Peavy, Quentin, and Rios, and a couple smart moves this winter, they could match-up pretty well with the big boys of the American League.

Williams still has a few questions to answer. Center-field has been a black hole since Aaron Rowand was traded prior to the 2006 season. The good defenders (Brian Anderson, Dewayne Wise, etc.) were automatic outs, and the decent hitters (Scott Podsednik, Nick Swisher, etc.) left serious gaps in the alleys, which is a major problem when your top three starting pitchers (Buehrle, Danks, and Floyd) are all in the top 25 in the AL in fly-ball rate.

Alex Rios was brought in to help solidify the defense, while, hopefully, providing significantly better than the 530 OPS he posted after joining the team in '09. The departures of Thome and Dye give Williams flexibility. He could move the oft-injured and defensively mediocre Quentin to DH or continue to play him in left. He could go after a true centerfielder like Mike Cameron or Coco Crisp, who combined with Rios in right would dramatically help Chicago's rotation. If the brass are willing to spend, the White Sox could even make an offer on Jason Bay or Matt Holliday. Or, they could go back to a relatively inexpensive Thome-esque veteran, somebody like Carlos Delgado, Vladimir Guerrero, or Gary Sheffield. Chicago definitely needs two OF/DH additions before the season begins, because with Fields in KC, they have no potential replacements within the system. That shouldn't necessarily be poor reflection on the White Sox system. OF/DH types are the most readily available players on the free agent market most years.

The Sox have used prospects as trade bait in recent years to an extent most teams in this era are reluctant to do, which is how they've been able to acquire major-league talent like Peavy, Thome, and Tony Pena. Somewhat surprisingly, there are still some very useful players coming up the pipeline. Teahen will hold down the third base job only until Dayan Viciedo proves himself ready. Even at the outset of 2010, he could get some competition from Brent Lillibridge and Jayson Nix. Williams likely sees Teahen as Mark DeRosa-lite, a guy who is a fair starter at several positions, but most useful as insurance against injuries and fatigue, a guy who's best served getting three or four starts a week.

The White Sox catcher of the future is Tyler Flowers. He could start sharing time with A. J. Pierzynski this coming season, depending largely on how the volatile Pierzynski responds. A. J. probably knows his memorable tenure in Chicago will be over when his contract expires next winter. A. J., know affectionately on the South Side as "Ass, Jack" could respond in one of two ways, either by treating Flowers as promising protege or potential saboteur. Want to make a bet?
The White Sox best youngsters are pitchers. They can safely part ways with Dotel and perhaps even consider trading Bobby Jenks (who is getting a bit expensive) knowing that D. J. Carrasco, Matt Thorton, and Tony Pena all have closer potential, and prospects Jhonny Nunez, Clevelan Santeliz, and Jon Link are ready to step into the middle innings. The White Sox Opening Day rotation is set, barring injury - Buehrle, Peavy, Danks, Floyd, and Freddy Garcia - a very formidable staff, but if somebody struggles or falls ill, as almost inevitably happens, they have not only Clayton Richard, who posted a very admirable 9-5 record and 4.42 ERA as a starter in '09, but also Lucas Harrell and Dan Hudson. The Old Dominion alum, Hudson, drafted in '08, surged through the minors, seemingly getting better as he went, then made two decent starts (11 IP, 3 ER) with the big club in September. He will probably get the first crack at a rotation spot.

Finally, Williams and Guillen will have to figure out what to do at the top of the order. Assuming Quentin and Rios return to form, they will offer a lot of pop, alongside Konerko and Ramirez, in the middle of the lineup, but Chicago will need to put people on base in front of them. Gordon Beckham will likely hit second. He sees a fair number of pitches and doesn't strike out a lot, but he doesn't offer incredible speed or OBP. As such, the White Sox could help shape the market for this year's premier leadoff men, namely Chone Figgins and Johnny Damon, or they may got the cheap route and take a chance by trading for Juan Pierre or Wily Taveras.

Despite a somewhat disappointing finish in '09, it's not a bad time to be a White Sox fan.

Projected 2010 Opening Day Roster (Revised 1/1):

CF Juan Pierre (L)
2B Gordon Beckham (R)
LF Carlos Quentin (R)
1B Paul Konerko (R)
DH Vladimir Guerrero (R) FA
RF Alex Rios (R)
C A. J. Pierzynski (L)
3B Mark Teahen (L)
SS Alexei Ramirez (R)

SP Mark Buehrle (L)
SP Jake Peavy (R)
SP John Danks (L)
SP Gavin Floyd (R)
SP Freddy Garcia (R)

CL Bobby Jenks (R)
SU J. J. Putz (R)
SU Tony Pena Jr. (R)
SU Scott Linebrink (R)
LOOGY Matt Thorton (L)
SWING Dan Hudson (R)
MOP Jhonny Nunez (R)

C Tyler Flowers (R)
IF Omar Vizquel (S)
IF/OF Mark Kotsay (L)
OF Andruw Jones (R)

Top 2010 Free Agents, by Position

I've bolded half a dozen players who will probably dictate the market. Until they've signed, most of the rest will have to wait. There will be many teams hoping to learn from the what happened in '08-'09, as players like Bobby Abreu, Orlando Hudson, Orlando Cabrera, and Adam Dunn signed short, small contracts and then produced well above their pay-grade. The owners may have a more difficult time selling the "economic downturn" argument this time around.


1. Bengie Molina (A) 35 yrs.-old
2. Rod Barajas (B) 34
3. Ramon Hernandez (B) 34
4. Brian Schneider 33
5. Jason Kendall (B) 36

There is a strong possibility that none of the five men listed above will be resigned by their current franchises, because each team (Giants, Blue Jays, Reds, Mets, & Brewers) has a young (and inexpensive) prospect on the verge of promotion. It is possible that Kendall, considering his age and the fact that he's already pulled down over $70 Million in his career, might be willing to resign with Milwaukee at a discount and share time with Angel Salome, but I think it is unlikely that Molina or Barajas would be open to similar situations with Buster Posey and J. P. Arencibia. They will hope to be wooed by teams without either a stable veteran or a particularly promising youngster; San Diego, Houston, and Kansas City fit the bill. As do the Mets, who in all likelihood are done with the Brian Schneider experiment (680 OPS in 169 games over the last two seasons), but may not be convinced that Omir Santos (688 OPS in 96 games in '09) is the answer either. Ramon Hernandez had his worst season since 2002, suppressing his value, but at 34 he could still prove to be a cheap source of power for a team willing to use him in a utility role.

First Base:

1. Nick Johnson (B) 31
2. Adam LaRoche (B) 30
3. Aubrey Huff (B) 33
4. Hank Blalock 29
5. Russell Branyan 34

There isn't a true slugger on the market at first base this offseason, which might lead teams to make desperate bids for guys like Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder, who names have circulated on the rumor mill on and off for the past couple seasons. There are several franchises in desperate need of output from first base - Mets, Giants, Mariners, and Orioles, for starters - who may be seduced into paying too much for one of these thoroughly mediocre options. For value, I would probably suggest the high-risk/high-reward options: Nick Johnson and Hank Blalock. Both are young-ish and have shown flickers of brilliance at times, but have been dogged by injuries. Some good luck and the right environment could catch lightening in a bottle. However, it would be downright asinine to sign any of these guys to more than a one or two-year contract.

Second Base:

1. Orlando Hudson (A) 32
2. Placido Polanco (A) 34
3. Felipe Lopez (B) 30
4. Adam Kennedy 34
5. Jerry Hairston Jr. (B) 34

Joe Torre's somewhat flabbergasting decision to go with Ron Belliard over Orlando Hudson in the playoffs may suppress O-Dog's price, again, after what was a pretty strong season overall. Hudson got off to a blistering start (he was hitting .332 on June 1) and made his second All-Star team. The general impression will be that he fell off drastically in the second-half, but that's simply not true. His power (which he has never exactly been known for) did decline, but he still hit .284 after the All-Star Break and actually raised his OBP (.363). Add in the fact that he plays a position where offensive production is scarce and remains a solid, if not spectacular, defender (he does own four Gold Gloves), and I can't see how this guy isn't valued just below the top tier of free agents this winter.

Much the same is true of Polanco, who also flashes serious leather and is still a solid contact hitter. Teams should be wary, however, that his splits have declined consistently since 2007, when he hit .341. If he suffers an equivalent decline next year, we'll suddenly be looking at a replacement-level player. In both cases, their status as A-level free agents, meaning that the team that signs them would have to give up a high draft pick, makes them more risky investments and, in Polanco's case especially, suggests that re-upping for another year with the current franchise may be the smart play for both sides.

Third Base:

1. Chone Figgins (B) 32
2. Adrian Beltre (B) 31
3. Mark DeRosa (B) 35
4. Melvin Mora (B) 38 [Assuming Orioles Buyout His Option]
5. Troy Glaus (B) 33/Joe Crede 32

Somebody really needs to explain to me how Latroy Hawkins and Marco Scutaro get A designations, while Chone Figgins, a guy who was an All-Star and has garnered MVP consideration in four different seasons (including this one, I can safely speculate), is given a B. For Figgins, it is certainly an incredible boon. As an excellent, versatile defender and one of the sport's top leadoff hitters, he was going to be one of the premier targets this offseason regardless. But the B designation could exacerbate the bidding war, as teams will be willing to pay more with the knowledge they won't have to sacrifice a top pick, as they would for anybody on their list of alternative acquisitions, like, potentially, Hudson, DeRosa, Polanco, Cabrera, Tejada, or Scutaro, all inferior players at this stage in their careers.

DeRosa and Beltre will also be pretty hot commodities. Beltre can't hope to duplicate the $64 Million contract he signed in 2005, but inserted in a quality lineup in a better hitter's park, his production would almost certainly improve and he is a premier defensive cornermen. He could easily be worth $25 Million over the next three seasons. DeRosa was a productive, popular player on both the Cardinals and the Cubs. He could fit in at second, third, or as a utilityman, versatility which is worth something. He is, on the other hand, a 35-year-old with a history of back and leg ailments who has never played 150 games in a season.


1. Orlando Cabrera (A) 35
2. Miguel Tejada (A) 36
3. Marco Scutaro (A) 34
4. Alex Gonzalez 32
5. Adam Everett 33

As mentioned above, the A designation isn't doing anything to help the top three shortstops on this list, even though each is coming off of a highly productive campaign. Cabrera, who was a real spark for the Twins after coming over in a deadline deal, was a good bet to resign, until Minnesota traded for J. J. Hardy. Scutaro, who had a career year, which few people would be willing to bet on him duplicating, may be a good candidate to re-up with the Jays. Houston, on the other hand, is probably done with Miguel Tejada. His defense was atrocious in 2009 and he no longer hits for enough power to make up for it, and, of course, there were some distracting matters this past spring that the Astros probably want to put behind them. Tejada's negotiating position with other teams may be predicated on his willingness to consider a position change. Even if he doesn't, however, he's still productive enough with the bat to find employment somewhere, perhaps with the Pirates or the Royals. The latter two guys on this list, Gonzalez and Everett, may be among the few free agents whose negotiating position has improved in the last couple years. The increasing emphasis on defense from front offices will certainly help them (as it did Everett last offseason), as will the fact that they will still be cheaper (and younger) than any of the top trio of options and won't require compensation picks.

Left Field:

1. Matt Holliday (A) 30
2. Jason Bay (A) 31
3. Johnny Damon (A) 36
4. Rocco Baldelli 28
5. Garret Anderson (B) 38

The top two free agents this offseason are both power-hitting left-fielders. Both are relatively young, both have postseason experience, both have reputations as good clubhouse presences, and neither is a complete butcher on defense, driving up demand for them even further. Teams should be wary, however, since neither Jason Bay nor Matt Holliday have demonstrated the consistency of a Mark Texeira or a Miguel Cabrera, although both will be attempting to lobby for similar contracts. There is a strong chance that some franchise desperate to prove something to its fans - perhaps the Mets, Cubs, or Giants - will dramatically overpay for the cream of this watered-down crop. Indeed, some may not have a choice. Holliday and Bay look all the better because their are few good second-tier options among free agent outfielders. Johnny Damon proved himself still a very productive top-of-the-order hitter, but his defense is atrocious and he is edging toward 40.

Center Field:

1. Mike Cameron (B) 37
2. Marlon Byrd (B) 32
3. Coco Crisp 30
4. Rick Ankiel 30
5. Endy Chavez 32

As the league trends toward defense, teams are more and more likely to recognize center-fielders who aren't 30 HR threats. Franklin Gutierrez and Carlos Gomez were both targeted despite their apparent offensive limitations. That's great news for Mike Cameron, Coco Crisp, Rick Ankiel, and Endy Chavez. Expect both Chicago teams to covet these rangy glovemen. Byrd, on the other hand, hit well enough last season to be a corner outfielder, at least in the friendly confines of Arlington. Teams looking at his progressing power over the last couple seasons should be very wary of his home/road splits.

Right Field:

1. Vladimir Guerrero (A) 34
2. Hideki Matsui (B) 36
3. Jermaine Dye (A) 36
4. Xavier Nady (B) 31
5. Randy Winn (B) 36

Designated Hitter:

1. Carlos Delgado (B) 38
2. Jim Thome 39
3. Andruw Jones 33
4. Jason Giambi 39
5. Gary Sheffield 41

I'm lumping the right-fielders and designated hitters together, because with the exception of Randy Winn, it would probably be in the best interest of all these fellows never to pick up a glove in 2010, either because they are prone to injury themselves or they've got the range of a tugboat. The fact that Guerrero, Dye, Nady, Jones, and Delgado could occasionally play the field with increase their value, but they still aren't reasonable options for National League teams, as they will need regular opportunities to rest at the DH. All of these guys are capable of giving their teams good at-bats and most of them will be excellent dugout presences as well, but I expect all, with the possible exceptions of Guerrero and Matsui, all will have to wait until spring for suitors to present themselves.

Right-Handed Starting Pitchers:

1. John Lackey (A) 31
2. Rich Harden (B) 28
3. Ben Sheets 31
4. Joel Pineiro (B) 31

5. Brett Myers 29
6. Vicente Padilla (B) 32
7. Jon Garland (B) 30
8. Jason Marquis (B) 31
9. Kelvim Escobar 33
10. Carl Pavano (B) 34
11. Brad Penny 32
12. John Smoltz 43

Left-Handed Starting Pitchers:

1. Aroldis Chapman 22
2. Erik Bedard (B) 31
3. Randy Wolf (A) 33

4. Jarrod Washburn 35
5. Andy Pettitte (B) 38
6. Randy Johnson (B) 46

What was already a shallow group of starting pitchers has been made even moreso by the quick resigning of Tim Hudson in Atlanta and the D-Back's decision to pick up Brandon Webb's option. Aroldis Chapman and John Lackey are going to get very big deals, despite the fact that Chapman is a complete enigma and Lackey has won more than fourteen games only once. Starting pitching is alway in demand, so the super injury-prone (Rich Harden, Ben Sheets, and Erik Bedard), the headcases (Brett Myers, Vicente Padilla, and Jason Marquis), and the geezers (Andy Pettitte, John Smoltz, and Randy Johnson) will probably all get paid. There aren't many bargains, but Kelvim Escobar, Brad Penny, and Carl Pavano probably offer the best combination of low risk and potentially high reward.


1. Jose Valverde (A) 32
2. Rafael Soriano (A) 30
3. J. J. Putz 33
4. Fernando Rodney (B) 33
5. Billy Wagner (A) 38

Right-Handed Relievers:

1. Tony Pena Jr. 29
2. Brandon Lyon (B) 30
3. Kiko Calero (B) 35
4. Rafael Betancourt (A) 35 [Assuming Rockies Don't Pickup His Option]

5. Takashi Saito 40
6. Octavio Dotel (A) 36
7. Latroy Hawkins (A) 37
8. Bobby Howry (B) 36
9. Brendan Donnelly 38

Left-Handed Relievers:

1. John Grabow (A) 31
2. Joe Beimel (B) 32
3. Scott Eyre (B) 38
4. Darren Oliver (A) 39
5. Ron Mahay 39
6. Eddie Guardado 39

The A designation is going to crush the value of free agent relievers like Billy Wagner, Rafael Soriano, John Grabow, and Octavio Dotel. It also makes it a near certainty that veterans like Darren Oliver, Latroy Hawkins, and Rafael Betancourt will resign with their current teams. J. J. Putz is coming off two straight injury-plagued seasons, but not that long ago he was considered among the premier closers in all of baseball. He could be the best bullpen value on the market. Jose Valverde will come at a high price, but few people have noticed that he has been among the best closers in baseball over the last three seasons and currently sits at #9 in total saves among active players (167).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Gold Gloves are Meaningless, Laughable (Part 2)

As I discussed yesterday, it is often very difficult to distinguish between the top tier of defenders. That's why I'm not going to bicker with a choice like Jimmy Rollins or Michael Bourn, because while I might prefer Mike Cameron or Rafael Furcal, there is no denying that Bourn and Rollins are in the upper echelon of NL defenders at their respective positions. In other cases, unfortunately, bickering is not only possible, but relatively easy. Here are the five most unfortunate aspects of this week's Gold Glove announcements:

5. The Gold Gloves are not without material consequences.

Yesterday I argued that the Gold Glove voters are uniquely unqualified to make the evaluations the award asks of them. Sad as this may be, one could easily argue that the individual awards presented every November should be regarded generally as meaningless, as players should be focused on team achievements anyway. Before making that argument, however, consider that many of the veterans who routinely win Gold Gloves, despite mediocre production, cost their teams money in the process. Torii Hunter will make an extra $100,000 for each Gold Glove he earns as an Angel. If he brings one home in every year of his contract, and the voters seem prone to making his award routine, than the Angels will pay out half a million dollars, more than the league minimum for rookie players, to subsidize Hunter's trophy case, despite the fact that one could easily argue that they are actually paying for the defense the Hunter played during his years in Minnesota (Hunter hasn't posted a positive UZR since 2005 and hasn't been among the league leaders at his position since 2003).

4. Do we really need to exaggerate the quality of Derek Jeter?

For years, Derek Jeter has been at the center of controversies regarding fielding statistics. Baseball Prospectus led the way in demonstrating that not only was Jeter not worthy of his Gold Gloves, but was, in fact, from 2004 until 2007 (during which time he won three Gold Gloves), the worst everyday shortstop in all of baseball. Eventually, this incredible discovery made its way into the mainstream media and even to the proud ears of Jeter himself. Many started speculating that a position change would be demanded, and soon. Even the Gold Glove voters denied him the award in '07 and '08, although at least one of their choices, Michael Young in '08, was arguably even worse.

The Yankee captain should be commended, however, because instead of becoming angry and belittling the evidence, as players are prone to do, he set about making himself better. He hired personal trainers and dedicated his offseason to improving his agility, quickness, and range. In 2008 he was an average AL shortstop defensively, which, of course, combined with his superior offensive talents, made him a very valuable commodity. And in 2009, he was even better. His 6.6 UZR* was the best of his career, as was his .986 fielding percentage. We should all note this as persuasive evidence that Derek Jeter is, in fact, deserving of his "Captain Intangibles" legacy. What it doesn't make him, however, is the best defensive shortstop in the AL. As the answer to that question, I would have accepted Elvis Andrus (10.7 UZR, .968 F%), Cesar Izturis (10.8 UZR, .985 F%), Adam Everett (8.9 UZR, .969 F%), or Erick Aybar (7.8 UZR, .983 F%). Unlike Jeter, each of these guys gets paid primarily for his glovework. It would be nice to see their dedication to that facet of the game get acknowledgement. After all, Derek Jeter takes home plenty of other hardware (see, in 2009 alone, Roberto Clemente Award, Hank Aaron Award, World Series ring, and probable Silver Slugger).

3. If you thought Mark Texeira was good this year, wait until you see what he's actually capable of.

Remember when Rafael Palmeiro won a Gold Glove at first base even though he'd spent the entire season at Designated Hitter. It wasn't quite that egregious, but it was a little odd that Texeira's fielding reputation grew to new proportions in the spotlight of New York, even though it appeared to anybody that had been paying attention to his career throughout his tenure with Texas, Atlanta, and Anaheim that Texeira was struggling (I guess this is what happens when you follow Jason Giambi). He posted career lows in assists, range factor, and UZR. Perhaps nursing some nagging injuries, he was reluctant to throw the ball or move away from the bag. His numbers actually and embarrassingly resembled those of well-known stick-in-the-muds and DH-types, Billy Butler and Russell Branyan. He recorded less assists as a first baseman (49) than Kevin Youkilis (52), despite the fact that Youk played less than half as many innings at the position. Albert Pujols played a similar number of innings and recorded 185 assists.

Texeira will probably get better and likely will earn some Gold Gloves over the course of his career. Too bad he stole one this season from Miguel Cabrera, Kendry Morales, or Lyle Overbay.

2. Why do NL managers hate Albert Pujols and Chase Utley?

One of the grand ironies of this year's Gold Gloves is that while Jeter, Texeira, Joe Mauer, and Shane Victorino earned Gold Gloves largely based on their offensive contributions, two MVP-caliber sluggers who were actually dominant on both sides of the ball missed out, yet again. Chase Utley has now led NL 2B in UZR (by a significant margin) for five consecutive seasons. Here are his stats compared with 2009 winner Orlando Hudson and 2008 winner Brandon Phillips (who also has a case for being gypped this season):

Utley - 1357 INN, .985 F%, 408 A, 86 DP, 10.8 UZR
Phillips - 1332 INN, .988 F%, 409 A, 95 DP, 6.9 UZR
Hudson - 1272 INN, .988 F%, 359 A, 68 DP, -3.3 UZR

Hudson, certainly not a bad defender, was probably at best the fifth or sixth best second-baseman in the NL this season. Utley was the best and Phillips has been his only near competition for a long time now. For anybody else to win is frankly atrocious.

The Pujols case isn't quite as bad. Adrian Gonzalez is a very solid defender, but Pujols has in some ways changed how first base is played. He has led the league in range by a long shot in each of the last two seasons, mainly because he continues to play deeper and further from the bag than anybody else, without giving up a greater number of hits down the line. He changes the whole infield dynamic by giving converted outfielder Skip Schumaker some leeway to protect up the middle. He also gives himself the opportunity to range deep into foul territory to catch pop-ups, thus allowing Ryan Ludwick to play deeper and further off the line. Pujols dominance shows up in range factor (10.4 when the next best guy is at 9.7), assists (185 when the next best guy is at 136), double plays (140 when the next best guy is at 135), and putouts (1473 when the next best guy is 1387), as well as the more substantial and complicated metrics. It's a wonder the NL voters haven't noticed.

1. There was no acknowledgement for the single most valuable defender in all of baseball, Franklin Gutierrez.

This is a true tragedy. My qualm is not some much with the fact the AL voters recognized Torii Hunter, Ichiro, and Adam Jones, all of whom are fine defenders, but that they failed to noticed Gutierrez is an absolute travesty. In his first year as a full-time centerfielder, Gutierrez posted a ridiculous 29.1 UZR, the best by any player since Andruw Jones posted a 30.0 in 2005. Like Jones, Gutierrez has deceptive speed, gliding effortlessly to balls which many, seemingly faster players have to dive for, and via extraordinary route choices expands his range to cover almost two thirds of the outfield. Unlike Jones, he will never hit 50 HR, and therefore may never catch the eye of Gold Glove voters.

Here are my Gold Glove choices:


C - Yadier Molina
1B - Albert Pujols
2B - Chase Utley
3B - Ryan Zimmerman
SS - Rafael Furcal
LF - Matt Kemp
CF - Mike Cameron
RF - Randy Winn
P - Adam Wainwright


C - Gerald Laird
1B - Miguel Cabrera
2B - Placido Polanco
3B - Evan Longoria
SS - Elvis Andrus
LF - Carl Crawford
CF - Franklin Gutierrez
RF - David DeJesus
P - Mark Buehrle

*Ultimate Zone Rating is a defensive metric from FanGraphs which combines for infielders analytical metrics for range, double play efficiency, and general efficiency (errors, etc.) and for outfielders arm strength, range, and general efficiency.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gold Gloves are Meaningless, Laughable (Part 1)

It isn't the managers' fault. In order to make a truly informed decisions regarding the defensive awards, one would need to watch many, many games. And one would have to watch every team with equal interest and enthusiasm. Even then, one would still have to rely on a wide variety of statistical metrics to clarify and support one's observations. And, at the end of hundreds of hours of game tape and many more studying charts and graphs, it still might be impossible to substantially differentiate between the defensive acumen of Torii Hunter and Curtis Granderson.

At many positions there are distinct tiers, but distinguishing between players in those tiers is largely impossible. A perusal of the Dewan Fielding Bible gives us a few reasons why. Some infielders (like Derek Jeter) may be very good at getting to ball to their right, but very poor at getting to balls on their left. Some outfielders (like B. J. Upton) may be great at tracking down deep fly balls, but merely adequate on balls hit in front of them. Some first-baseman (like Mark Texeira) are great at footwork around the bag and corralling errant throws, but aren't great at throwing themselves or ranging away from the line.

Frankly, evaluating players on other teams (which is essentially what the Gold Glove ballot demands) isn't a manager's job. He worries about his team and, to a limited degree, his current opponent. The range of the guy playing third base for Kansas City should not be among his considerations (unless he manages Kansas City). As a result, at the end of the season, when he is called upon to vote on the Gold Gloves, the manager's choices are going to be skewed heavily by two factors: 1.) reputations and 2.) the small sample size of games played against his team. If Torii Hunter made a game-saving catch against his team in July, you can be damn sure that's going to weigh heavily on a manager's mind when he's filling out his ballot in October. But, let's face it, almost every centerfielder in baseball is going to make a few spectacular plays over the course of a season. These are all great athletes after all. The highlight reels aren't necessarily an accurate reflection of exceptional defense. There are balls that Franklin Gutierrez catches with ease that land Jacoby Ellsbury on Baseball Tonight. When Jeter makes that patented jump throw deep in the hole, Rafael Furcal has his feet planted and is uncorking his rifle.

Managers are, undoubtedly, going to be prejudiced towards players who they've seen a lot of, either because they play in their division or because they are veteran stars who have been around for a long time. In the last nine seasons Ichiro has made an impression on everybody with his consistency, speed, and powerful, accurate throwing. One could easily surmise that the manager for, say, the White Sox, who only see Seattle six times a year, might just assume that Ichiro did this season what he's been known to do in each of his previous years (remember when Rafael Palmeiro won a Gold Glove at first base even though he'd spend the entire season at DH). Rob Neyer argues, similarly, that Gold Gloves are impacted as much by a player's offensive contribution as their defensive one. Again, it is human nature to exaggerate the perfection of those that we admire. Derek Jeter and Joe Mauer are great hitters and (in many opinions, at least) likable men also, so it follows that they must be exemplary glovemen as well, right?

When I take umbrage with the Gold Gloves, it isn't so much with the voters as with the voting system. In a perfect world, who should determine the Gold Gloves? The BBWAA? The sabermetricians? Me? No, I think it would be in the best interest of the award if it was voted on by the General Managers. Think about it. In the contemporary era, front offices are increasingly concerned with a wide variety of player evaluations. They are expected to identify and objectively evaluate players from the whole league, so as to be prepared for trades and free agency, and so that they have a sense of the changing "market" of baseball (for instance, if the league is full of slick-fielding second-basemen, one doesn't want to overpay for one). If a GM were to spend several hours (or even several days) filling out his Gold Glove ballot; if he demanded some opinions from his staff of scouts and statisticians; if he watched a few reels of film, etc., etc., he could say with great confidence that knowing who the best defenders in baseball were was a significant and productive piece of his offseason preparations.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Broadcasting Bumbles (2009)

A few weeks ago I ranked my top broadcasting teams for the '09 season. Here is the opposite end of the spectrum, featuring, sadly, three teams with national syndication:

3. WGN/CSN Chicago - Len Kasper & Bob Brenly

Would somebody please, pretty, pretty please, hire Bob Brenly as your manager? Look at his record. It's pretty good. He's never had a losing season (he was fired before he got to the end of his worst year, in '04). In only four seasons in Arizona he brought home a pair of division titles and a championship. Players loved him. Fans loved him. He's affable, good-natured, and unflinchingly optimistic. He's got that "good ol' boy" charm.

Whatever you do, don't watch him broadcast a game! You're liable to get the impression he hasn't got the strategic capability to play Connect Four, let alone manage a ballclub. But I'm sure that's misleading. He's probably just playing possum.

2. ESPN - Jon Miller, Joe Morgan, & Steve Phillips

I have a lot of fond memories of watching Sunday Night Baseball over the last two decades. My dad and I made a habit of it all summer long through most of the nineties. He loved Joe Morgan, both as a player and a broadcaster, and thus, so did I. For several years I've been trying to figure out whether my affection for him was merely nostalgic, or whether it had been based on some element of charisma or perceptiveness which Joe has since lost. Whatever the case, Jon and Joe have not been on top of their game for several years now, something which ESPN clearly recognizes, which is why they introduced Steve Phillips to that sanctified space this season.

It did not go over well.

Every time Joe peaked at him out of the corner of his eye, Steve must have understood a little what it felt like to be Aaron Rodgers in '07. Joe clearly saw Phillips only as a whippersnapper with eyes on his job. And he's not ready to retire. Morgan was already prone to the occasional inscrutable rant, in '09 it became a weekly staple, brought on usually by a relatively obsequious comment from Phillips which Joe felt the need to virulently discredit, no matter the cost. Sometimes this dynamic was good for a laugh. Usually, it wasn't.

Well, thanks to Phillips undiscriminating libido and a young ESPN intern who spells sports with a capital CRAZY, Morgan got his wish. Will ESPN send somebody knew into the lion's den in 2010?

1. TBS - Chip Caray, Buck Martinez, Ron Darling, & Craig Sager

Chip Caray is no Skip Carary, and he damn sure ain't no Harry Caray. I never thought I'd say this, but after two seasons of TBS Postseason coverage, I'm longing for Joe Buck and Tim McCarver by the time the ALCS rolls around. Yes, there is the incessant advertising; this year George Lopez scooted across the screen every fifteen minutes, which isn't half as bad as Frank Caliendo (I hated his show before it even came on the air). Caray hawks the wares of TBS advertisers even during play-by-play: "There's a deep fly ball to center. Victorino tracked that ball down just as quickly as a Sprint 3G phone, now with GPS."

And, yes, there is an egregious East Coast bias amongst the commentators and a fair amount of preachiness. Guess what? Chip, Buck, and Ron all agree that Derek Jeter is not just good....he's grrrreat. He's got so much moral fiber, he's got to take Imodium before every game just to keep from crapping all over the diamond. But Manny Ramirez? Well, they aren't so sure about him.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Offseason Prospectus #2: The Los Angeles Angels

Angels fanatic, True Grich, made some early predictions regarding Anaheim's free agents. Well, so far he's one-for-one. Within 24 hours of the official end of the season, the Angels resigned Bobby Abreu for two years and $19 Million. Not quite the bargain basement price they got last spring ($5 Mil.) before Abreu drove in over a hundred runs for his seventh consecutive season and became a clubhouse leader and de facto batting instructor, helping several of his teammates in the pursuit of career highs.

During the ALDS against the Red Sox, Torii Hunter described Bobby Abreu as "my favorite player." Over the course of a single season, Abreu became so popular among fans and teammates that the Angels appear to have prioritized his contract over those of long time Halos like John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero, and Chone Figgins. And, it's hard to fault them.

According to FanGraphs, Abreu was worth over $11 Million in 2009, for just his on-the-field production during the regular season, and has been worth at least that much in ten of his last eleven seasons, so when you factor in potential playoff production and intangibles like leadership, Abreu will likely well exceed the approximately $9 Million he'll get in each of the next two seasons (Abreu's contract also includes a $9 Mil. option for 2012, with a $1 Mil. buyout). The bad news for the Angels is that they still have a lot of work to do this offseason.

Free Agents:

Kelvim Escobar (33) RHSP
Chone Figgins (31) 3B
Vladimir Guerrero (35) DH/RF
John Lackey (31) RHSP
Darren Oliver (38) LHRP
Robb Quinlan (32) 3B/1B

Arbitration Eligible:

Erick Aybar (25) SS
Maicer Izturis (28) 2B/SS
Howie Kendrick (25) 2B
Jeff Mathis (26) C
Mike Napoli (27) C
Joe Saunders (28) LHSP
Jered Weaver (26) RHSP
Reggie Willits (28) OF

ETA 2010?:

Trevor Bell (23) RHSP
Hank Conger (22) C
Freddy Sandoval (27) 3B
Brandon Wood (24) 3B/SS

Unfortunately for the Angels, because it is a rather thin free agent class in 2010, Lackey and Figgins will both be among the five most-coveted players on the market, driving up the price of their services. And, as you can see, the Angels not only face potentially expensive free agent decisions, but also have a number of very good young players who are due for sizable raises in arbitration. It may be the winter for them to consider multi-year deals for guys like Weaver, Saunders, and Aybar.

The Angels are not a team that is reluctant to spend money, but they usually budget for one or two major free agents, not three or four. To make matters worse, for the first time in years they face some serious competition in their own division. Both the Rangers and Mariners were among 2009's most pleasant surprises, finishing with 87 and 85 wins respectively, and there is no reason to expect either will be any worse in 2010. There is no room for stepping backward if the Angels want to return to the postseason for the fourth consecutive year and the sixth time in seven seasons.

The good news for Angels fans is that they won't have to wait long to get a sense of their team's intentions. The Abreu signing is one in a long line of Angels moves made very early in the "hot stove" season. In the next couple weeks, I expect the Angels will also make reasonable offers to Lackey and Figgins, maybe others as well, and if those are rejected, will start looking elsewhere very quickly.

Vladimir Guerrero is one of the most popular (and best) players in Angels history, but his marked decline over the last two seasons, due in part to injuries, combined with the bevy of corner-outfield and DH-type players in the Angels system, may signal the end of Vladdy era. If he wants to stay in southern California, it will almost certainly require a dramatic paycut, perhaps as part of an incentive and option laden contract. Guerrero is a very proud player and he may, instead, choose to auction his services to the highest bidder, and their will be interested parties. The Angels worst nightmare is seeing the 35-year-old have a resurgent season as the DH for the Mariners (1089 career OPS @ Safeco) or Rangers (1175 career OPS @ Arlington).

Figgins is also a popular player, a career Angel with ties to the community. He is also among the best leadoff hitters in the game, in a year that several big-market teams (Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, Astros, etc.) could be looking for a top-of-the-order hitter. Figgins has settled at third base over his last couple seasons in Anaheim, but if he were willing to consider the super-utility role he excelled at earlier in his career, his flexibility would probably be worth millions of dollars to some franchises.

The likelihood of a Figgins exodus is increased by the fact that the Angels have several potential replacements already in-house. Brandon Wood has been waiting awhile for the chance at an everyday job. He has slugged 20+ HR in the minors for five straight seasons (homering approximately once in every eighteen plate appearances), so it's clear there's not much left for him to prove at AAA. The Angels also have Freddy Sandoval, who was injured for much of '09, but hit .335 at Salt Lake in '08. And, they could probably work Maicer Izturis into the third base rotation, if they decide to give Howie Kendrick more at-bats against right-handed pitching.

John Lackey represents the most difficult quandary for the Angels brass. He is their undeniable Ace, yet he hasn't made thirty starts since '07 and (surprisingly) he's won more than fourteen games only once in his career. He's only 31-years-old, so his best years could still be in front of him (ala Jon Lieber), although his struggles with "fitness" could make him more like Bartolo Colon, who had his last good season at the age of 32. Because he is clearly the best free agent pitcher on the market, somebody is going to give Lackey a long-term, big-money deal, regardless of the risk. If it isn't the Angels, they will probably choose to sign a back-end innings-eater (perhaps a Jarrod Washburn renaissance?) and hope that an true Ace emerges from the trio of Weaver, Ervin Santana, and Scott Kazmir, each of whom have the talent to rise to the occasion.

Rumors that the Angels have been exploring a Milton Bradley for Gary Matthews Jr. swap, though probably unfounded (remember how well Mike Scioscia got along with Jose Guillen?), do suggest that the Angels front office will be willing to explore creative solutions this winter. They have always valued their prospects very highly, and have been rewarded for their patience with players like Santana, Juan Rivera, and Kendry Morales, but the Abreu signing and the Kazmir trade, combined with the fact that they don't have a single player signed beyond 2012, may suggest that Los Angeles is embracing a "win now" mentality.

Projected 2010 Opening Day Roster (Revised 1/1):

SS Erick Aybar (S)
RF Bobby Abreu (L)
CF Torii Hunter (R)
1B Kendry Morales (S)
DH Hideki Matsui (L)
RF Juan Rivera (R)
2B Howie Kendrick (R)
C Mike Napoli (R)
3B Maicer Izturis (S)

SP Scott Kazmir (L)
SP Jared Weaver (R)
SP Joe Saunders (L)
SP Ervin Santana (R)
SP Trevor Bell (R)

CL Brian Fuentes (L)
SU Kevin Jepsen (R)
SU Fernando Rodney (R)
MR Scot Shields (R)
MR Jason Bulger (R)
LOOGY Brian Shouse (L) FA
SWING Matt Palmer (R)

C Jeff Mathis (R)
IF Brandon Wood (R)
IF Freddy Sandoval (S)
OF Gary Matthews Jr. (S)