Saturday, April 29, 2006
The reason is simple - no one is reading it. I get the grand total of two hits per day on this site, particularly since I moved to the new format. Prior to that, I'd get a few random daily hits on individual pages, if they happened to align with someone's Google search, but even then it was a rare day when as many as fifteen people stopped by to see the site. Sorry, but that's just not enough to justify the effort required to write new content and post it. My life is just as busy as yours, maybe more so in many cases, whether I write that day or not. On days I write, the time I can spend on my family suffers too much, particularly if no one is bothering to read it.
I've never made one penny off this website, and never intended to. It was always a labor of love. Well, I love my family and the rest of my life more.
When the writing itch hits me in the future, as I'm certain it will, I'll still try to find some outlets to get the work published. Sadly there seem to be fewer and fewer sites on the Internet that accept free content, so I'm afraid I can't make any promises, other than to say that I'll do my best.
Thank you to the few of you who visited regularly (especially since you're probably related to me), and thanks to all who stopped by to take a look or drop a note. It has always been greatly appreciated.
Monday, April 17, 2006
If this was an election where there simply wasn’t anyone worthy of the Hall of Fame on the ballot, I’d be okay with that. I’d even be okay with it if Ballou or the others evaluated the candidates and honestly felt they did not meet the standards at their position set by previous elections to the Hall. That would be fine. After all, that’s their job as voters.
But that’s not what Ballou did. No, instead he justified his empty ballot by saying that none of the players met his personal standards for the Hall of Fame, explaining that, in his view, the Hall should only be comprised of the super elite of past ballplayers, and they have already admitted far too many players he would have left on the outside.
That view is something I have a big problem with.
Hall of Fame voters who think like this are the bane of my existence. Look, I understand that writers are tasked with exercising their individual judgment about whether a player is worthy of being elected to Cooperstown, and I completely agree with that. But I fundamentally disagree with the notion that the writer should apply that judgment against their own set of Hall of Fame standards. In my view, the writer's job as a voter is to compare the players to the standards already established by the Hall of Fame through years of sanctioning prior BBWAA and Veteran's Committee elections. Since it is the Hall that sets the election rules and exercises the power to set the standards for exclusion (like a minimum of 10 years of playing time, not on the banned list, etc.), it follows that they have the power to set the standards for inclusion as well. They have done so by accepting the results of every prior election, even the ones that look like they didn't make much sense. (Rabbit Maranville? Catfish Hunter? Chick Hafey?) And since it is the Hall that grants the writers the power to vote in the first place, I don't think it is the writers’ luxury to ignore those standards and apply their own. It's fair to pass on Jim Rice, for example, on the grounds that, in the writer’s judgment, he doesn't match that collective level of the eighteen left fielders already in the Hall. But if they’re excluding him because he can't compare to Ted Williams and Stan Musial only, that seems like an abuse of the power the Hall has granted the voters.
Ballou went on the claim that he sees no point in maintaining the Veteran’s Committee anymore, since all of the worthy candidates have long since been elected and it’s the Veterans, not the BBWAA, that makes the lion’s share of the mistakes in admitting unworthy players to Cooperstown. While I agree with him that the majority of the poor selections to the Hall of Fame have come from the Veteran's Committee, I'm afraid I can't agree that they no longer have a purpose. The reason is that the BBWAA regularly makes an egregious omission that would have no means of being corrected without the Veteran’s Committee. In it's current state, I sincerely doubt the Veterans will ever elect anyone, but since they revamp their rules about once per decade, I'm pretty confident that they'll be loosening their rules in the near future. And that's necessary because I can name a number of players who the BBWAA have failed to elect despite the fact that each has matched or exceed the standards the BBWAA has already set.
To illustrate, ignore all of the shortstops elected by the Veteran's Committee, since that seems to be Ballou’s preference, and concentrate just on the nine that the BBWAA has elected (Aparicio, Appling, Banks, Boudreau, Cronin, Maranville, Smith, Wagner and Yount). Combined, these nine average a .285 batting average, .353 on-base percentage, and .408 slugging percentage. Their average OPS (on-base plus slugging) was .761, or 10% better than the average of the leagues in which they played. They averaged 143 homers and 1063 RBI.
Now look at Alan Trammell: .285 AVG, .352 OBP, .415 SLG, .767 OPS (10% better than HIS leagues' average), 185 homers, 1003 RBI.
So what's the difference? What keeps his BBWAA vote totals so low every year? Is it defense? It shouldn't be - Trammell won four Gold Gloves, which fits him neatly in the middle of the four current Hall of Famers who played in the Gold Glove era, above Yount and Banks (1 each) and below Aparicio and Smith (9 and 13 respectively). Was it durability? Nope. These nine averaged 2468 games played, just one season's worth of games more than Trammell accumulated in his 20 years. It can't be post-season performance either since Trammell was the World Series MVP in 1984. He never chased trick-or-treaters in his car, never screamed at reporters, never had a drug or sex scandal, and wasn't a clubhouse cancer that bounced from team to team.
And Trammell isn't an isolated case. I could do the same thing for Rich Gossage, for instance. Not only wasn't he elected, but he was passed over for a contemporary, Bruce Sutter, who is demonstrably worse. Here's the averages of the three true relievers elected to the Hall (Dennis Eckersley excluded due to his numbers as a starter): 108 wins, 104 losses, 892 games, 289 saves, 1666 innings, 1257 strikeouts, 2.72 ERA. Then there's Gossage: 124 wins, 107 losses, 1002 games, 310 saves, 1809 innings, 1502 strikeouts, 3.01 ERA.
Or how about Ron Santo? The six third basemen elected by the writers averaged 304 homers; Santo had 342. They averaged 1381 RBI; Santo had 1331. They walked 1132 times; Santo walked 1108. They got on base at a .370 clip; Santo's was .362. They slugged .465 to Santo's .464. They averaged 6 Gold Gloves to Santo's 5. Their collective OPS was 28% better than their leagues, while Santo's was 25% better. Yes, he played only 2243 games compared to an average of 2463, but he played every one of them with diabetes that later forced him to have both legs amputated, so I think it's fair to cut him some slack when it comes to longevity.
Or how about Joe Torre? Eight catchers have been elected by the writers to the Hall of Fame, posting averages of 1944 games, 1004 runs, 1918 hits, 281 homers, 670 extra-base hits, 1180 RBI, .284 average, .358 OBP, .473 slugging and an OPS that was 24% better than their leagues. Torre played in more games (2209), scored just about the same number of runs (996), had far more hits (2342), nearly as many homers (252) and extra-base hits (655), the same number of RBI (1185), a better average (.297), better OBP (.365), and better OPS compared to his leagues (29% better). And yes, I recognize that he played more games at third and first combined than he played at catcher, but he still was a catcher more than he was anything else, and not a bad one either, winning a Gold Glove in 1965.
The really egregious one is Bert Blyleven. I don't think the collective BBWAA has any awareness that the average of the 30 Hall of Fame starting pitchers who they have already elected looks like this: 286 wins, 284 complete games, 51 shutouts, 2573 strikeouts, 1.20 walks-plus-hits per inning, 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings, 2.1 strikeouts per walk and an ERA 22% better than the league average. That's everyone - Cy Young, Lefty Grove, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Warren Spahn, and the other 25 starters selected by the writers. See, if the writer's were really aware of those numbers, they would have already elected Blyleven, because he approaches or exceeds every single one of them - 287 wins, 242 complete games, 60 shutouts, 3701 strikeouts, 1.20 walks-plus-hits per inning, 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings. 2.8 strikeouts per walk and an ERA 18% better than league average (the same as Warren Spahn and Ted Lyons, and better than eleven of the other twenty-eight). Bert Blyleven essentially is the average starting pitcher elected by the writers over the years, but mystically can't get any support unless the BBWAA members are inundated with email from obscure stat heads like me or famous ones like Bill James. I have zero explanation for that.
Omissions of this kind are particularly confusing when the BBWAA has demonstrated in the past that they will occasionally let in a stinker as well. Bruce Sutter is this year's example, but Tony Perez and Pie Traynor and Catfish Hunter and Red Ruffing and Early Wynn and Don Sutton and Ralph Kiner and Kirby Puckett and several others were all elected by the BBWAA despite being nowhere near the standards already set, and despite being no better, and in some cases worse, than other players the writers had already passed over.
So explain it to me, please, Mr. Ballou. And I'm not just talking about your vote, I'm talking about the collective vote of the BBWAA. Why do players like Trammell and Gossage and Blyleven and Santo get passed over when they either match or exceed the Hall of Fame standards at their position that have been set by your own organization? Until that question can be answered well, the Veteran's Committee, or preferably some better organization for correcting these kinds of mistakes, has to be retained.
Why do the Sutter's, Perez's and Puckett's get elected? Until that question is answered well, and as long as the BBWAA requires the Veteran's Committee as a safety net, I'm going to doubt the writers’ collective competence as voters.
Sunday, April 02, 2006
Do you know how many National League teams projected to 90 wins given last year's results? Just three. The most predictable of these, in some respects, was the Braves, in that they win 90 or more games every year. Don't expect much to change this season. Atlanta is still the class of their division, no matter how many moves the Mets made in the off-season. Atlanta lost a great player in Rafael Furcal, but Edgar Renteria is a decent replacement, especially in the NL and in a city like Atlanta, where half the population doesn't even know they have a baseball team. Boston-like pressure in long in his rearview mirror, and he's still young enough to bounce back to the form he displayed in St. Louis. With all the youngsters now a year older, look for Atlanta to repeat. Again.
The Mets will win the Wild Card by default, after buying so much talent the last couple of years that Omar Minaya should be fired if this team doesn't make the playoffs. Honestly, his spending sprees these past two winters made me think that he simply has no impulse control now that he has a fat checkbook. It's as if he's living out every fantasy he had as the GM in Montreal, when he would fall asleep at night thinking, "If only I had New York money to play with".
The Phillies will be decent, in a way sure to torture their fans. Honestly, they'll hit the ball like crazy, with their bandbox home field playing a huge role, but their pitching staff will look the east coast version of the Rockies.
The Nationals are a bad baseball team (77-85 Pythagorean record last year) that got worse by trading away perhaps their best offensive player, Brad Wilkerson, and losing perhaps their best pitcher, Esteban Loaiza, through free agency. All they got in return is a wildly overrated Alfonso Soriano, a man who is less suited to play 81 games in RFK Stadium than perhaps any other everyday player in the major leagues. This will end badly.
The Marlins will be spending the summer auditioning for the good people of San Antonio.
Let's be clear from the beginning; The Cardinals will win the NL Central again. They are still the class of this division, and really shouldn't have much trouble in defending their title. But the Cardinals are not a great baseball team anymore. Their lineup is strewn with guys who have never been reliable regulars in the big leagues (So Taguchi), are still learning (Yadier Molina), are streaky at best (Juan Encarnacion, Junior Spivey), or have serious injury histories (Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds). Their rotation is topped by two guys with histories of injuries (Scott Carpenter and Mark Mulder) and rounded out with three guys who define "shaky" (Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan, Sir Sidney Ponson). Braden Looper, who was run out of New York after single-handedly torching the Mets bullpen last season, is now a key setup man. And there is little or no help in the high minors that can contribute this season.
In short, the Cards are one Albert Pujols injury away from being a .500 team. I don't expect that to happen, but the only reason I'm picking them to win this division is because none of the other five teams in it stepped up during the off-season. The Brewers' will be frisky, but their best pitcher is a health concern and their youngsters probably need another year. The Cubs seem incapable of investing money wisely or keeping pitchers healthy. The Astros lost their best pitcher, their all-time franchise player is likely to retire, and they made no moves to help a bad offense. And the Pirates and Reds are the Pirates and Reds.
NL WESTDo they still play baseball in the NL West? They sure didn't last year, when every single team in the division was outscored. The best of this hideous lot, the Padres, projected to just 77 wins, but lucked into enough that they finished 82-80, thus saving baseball the embarrassment of having a sub-.500 team in the playoffs.
Honestly, none of these team is worthy of much ink, but I'm going with the Dodgers on the theory that they did the most in the off-season to blow up their old, mediocre selves. Now, those moves were questionable in many cases (Grady Little? Nomar to play first base?), but I'm going to reward the effort.
NLDS: Braves over Dodgers, Cardinals over Mets
NLCS: Braves over Cardinals
The American league is simply the better league, so I expect that any team that comes out of the AL will triumph over any team from the NL. I also think the AL will win the All-Star Game and the overall season series in interleague play. The AL has won 15 of the last 22 World Series', and has had ten different franchises win it all in that span. Since I picked the Red Sox to emerge from the American League, they're my pick to win the whole show as well.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
All you have is the data available and some gut instinct. Plus, it helps immeasurably to know which data to look at. For instance, last year's actual win totals are pretty much meaningless when it comes to predicting the upcoming season. If I mention them at all in the upcoming paragraphs, it won't be frequent and it won't be because I feel they are a hallmark of future performance.
Here are the 2005 Pythagorean records of each team:
These totals are based upon the runs scored and allowed by each team, respectively, and they are generally considered a much better indicator of a team's true quality. Note that both the Sox and Yankees dropped five wins. Had the four AL playoff spots been based upon Pythagorean winning percentage only, both clubs would have missed the post-season last year. Also note how close the Blue Jays were. These teams are not quite the dynamic duo they have been in past years. In reality, Toronto was a closer team than anyone thought, and the AL East as a whole wasn't that good last year. Now that we know the off-season changes made by each team, we can use last year's projections as a base and start to project ahead.
I think the Yankees got a bit better offensively with the addition of Johnny Damon, but they treaded water on their pitching staff and collectively got a year older. They got essentially healthy years from Jeter, Matsui, A-Rod, Sheffield, Giambi and Posada, a bunch of aging regulars who simply can't be expected to repeat that performance. I suspect they'll score a bit more than last year, but not by nearly the amount some people are expecting.
At the same time, my guess is that their pitching will regress. Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina are each a year older and fragile, while Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano and Chien-Ming Wang each missed time through injury last year. To Wang may become a good, reliable pitcher, but to expect Wright or Pavano to return to form, or to expect Johnson and Mussina to replicate their combined.400+ innings, 30 wins and 4.06 ERA, would be foolish. It would be similarly foolish to expect Kyle Farnsworth to post the kind of number Tom Gordon regularly provided, and one of these days, 36-year old Mariano Rivera's single pitch will lose one or two miles an hour and he'll become pretty ordinary.
Now, many, perhaps even most, of these things won't happen this year. But some will, and the Yankees system-wide lack of major league-ready depth is going to take its toll eventually. I'm guessing that will happen this year. They'll still be good, probably in the area of 90 wins, as they projected last year, but that total makes them more likely to miss the playoffs than make them.
Meanwhile, the rival Red Sox are in a slightly different boat. They are aging in in many areas just as badly as the Yankees, with the key difference that Boston's front office has stockpiled a lot of talent in the high minors that could contribute this year, either directly or through trades that bring in reliable veterans. Plus, they have built in flexible, young depth at the key questionable roster spots. Mike Lowell coming off a poor year? No problem, we've got Kevin Youkilis to slide over to third base if needed. J.T. Snow showing his age this spring? That's okay, Hee-Seop Choi is sitting in Pawtucket waiting for some playing time. Trot Nixon's knees giving out? There stands Wily Mo Pena or Adam Stern. A starter finally feeling his age? Enter Jonathan Papelbon or Jon Lester. On top of that, the club got younger in center field, and third base, and shortstop and first base, as well as a key rotation slot with the addition of Josh Beckett, a proven Yankee-killer. Their entire bench got younger except for Snow, and while the pitching staff collectively got older, that is also the area where the club has the most talent in the minors ready to contribute.
Toronto's case is a hard one. The numbers tells me they were a better team than their record showed last year, and I know they added some nice pieces in the off-season. But their top two starters are injury prone, and they gave up their vacuum cleaner second baseman who was so key to that staff's success. I don't think they'll regress at all, but I don't see them passing either of the two traditional powers.
Baltimore will be better simply by virtue of having their luck change. After the Rafael Palmeiro debacle last year, the parts started falling off the Oriole bandwagon faster than they fell of Apollo 13. Then Brian Roberts suffered his ugly elbow injury and the team dropped like a rock. They should be better this year, and their young arms look pretty promising, but I doubt they'll reach .500.
Tampa? They still play baseball there? No, to be serious, the Devil Rays will hit this year, but their pitching is a joke and their new front office didn't make any serious moves with their wealth of outfielders to acquire help for the rotation or bullpen. I guess I'm just don't know what direction this team is going, but I know it won;t be up in the standings.
2005 Pythagorean Standings:
It shouldn't shock anyone that the White Sox were playing way over their heads last year. Their offense was subpar, as they posted the lowest percentage in the entire league of team plate appearances by players with above-average on-base percentages. Almost 60% of the team's plate appearances wee by someone who doesn't reach base at least at a league-average level. The team OBP was just .322, 12th in the AL. That's bad, because OBP is one of the primary building blocks of offense, along with power. Thankfully for the Sox, they had plenty of that, muscling up for 200 team homers. They'll need to do that again, because no one besides Jim Thome was brought in to help the situation, and he's got a chronically bad back. Couple that with a regression to normal performance levels for some of their pitchers, especially in the bullpen, plus a normal leveling out of luck on the injury front, and I think Chicago is due for a fall.
The Indians, as last season's projections indicate, were the class of the division. They're a bit weaker offensively, but can still expect some development from their stars because none of them are terribly old. Plus, they have several solid hitters in Triple A, just waiting for someone to falter. The solid bullpen should return and backstop a rotation that will be no worse for the losses of Kevin Millwood and Scott Elarton.
Detroit will be much better, with young arms coming out of their ears and a new manager who knows which buttons to push. Plus, they don't really have a lineup weakness, though no one stands out as a star either. I think Leyland will push this club to the .500 level or better.
Minnesota, on the other hand, continues to do nothing in the off-season to impress me. Knowing they have glaring offensive weaknesses, the Twins decided to do nothing but sign Luis Castillo to play second base and Rondell White to DH, while praying that Torii Hunter is healthy and Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer finally cash in on their promise. That's a shaky plan at best. I think they'll pitch their way to contention, meaning they'll linger at .500 or a few games above, but I just don't think they've got the sticks.
Which brings me to my Royals. Only Chicago was worse at sending good on-base men to the plate last year, and the Royals tried to address that with three guys who traditionally reach base at a decent rate, Mark Grudzielanek, Reggie Sanders, and Doug Mientkiewicz. That will help, as will healthy season from David DeJesus and Mike Sweeney, and continued development from John Buck and Mark Teahen. I won't be shocked at all if the Royals approach league average levels of offense. I don't expect it, but it wouldn't be a shock.
The pitching, on the other hand, is still highly questionable. And I mean that literally. Can Scott Elarton be league-average again? Can Joe Mays return to his pre-injury form? Is Jeremy Affeldt really a starter? Can Denny Bautista cash in on his talent? Will Zack Greinke find his way? Will Runelvys Hernandez find a lock for his refrigerator? Will Scott Redman's knees hold up? Or Mike MacDougal's shoulder? It's a really sad state of affairs when the least question marks on the entire staff are in regard to the long man out of your bullpen, Mike Wood, who is pretty much a known quantity at this point, and a mediocre one at that.
All in all, I think the Royals will be better. But since they're now in a division where all four other teams will likely be at or above .500, "better" means it will still be a struggle to avoid triple digits in the loss column.
2005 Pythagorean Standings:
Last season, the only thing keeping the A's from being just as good as the Angels was luck and inexperience. Statistically, the two clubs were of equal quality. The difference was that the Angels played a touch over their heads, due in large part to a solid bullpen that always helps win a one-run game or two that they otherwise shouldn't have won. At the same time, Oakland had some terrible luck, losing their best pitcher, Rich Harden, and player, Bobby Crosby, for extended periods. Plus, they were just very, very young, and experience counts to a degree when you're in crunch time.
This year, things have changed. The A's are now a year older, and picked up two solid veteran bats, Milton Bradley and Frank Thomas, plus a solid 200-inning fifth starter in Esteban Loaiza. They have their star player, Crosby, back healthy, as is Harden. At the same time, the Angels did little to improve other than clear space for some youngsters. I'm all in favor of that, particularly in the Angels' case because the people they let go really were blocking better young players, but it does have the effect of putting some inexperience on the field, the same situation the A's faced last year. In essence, it's a blend I don't like, since too many of the veterans who were kept are well overrated (Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad, Orlando Cabrera, Bartolo Colon), and generally have health questions, while the younger guys just don't have much time under their belts.
I like what the Rangers did this off-season in dumping Alfonso Soriano, not only because he was nearly useless when he wasn't hitting for power, but because they got the better everyday player, Brad Wilkerson, in return. Just watch as Wilkerson blossoms in Texas, assuming he can stay on the field. They also added some pitching, which was desperately needed. I just don't think they added enough given the two solid teams ahead of them.
Do I have to talk about the Mariners? Well, I guess they're still in the league, but the reality is that I don't see them making much noise. They're not bad, and have some fine players in Richie Sexson, Ichiro Suzuki (who I refuse to call by just one name), Adrian Beltre and pitching phenom Felix Hernandez. But they're going to be buried by the unbalanced schedule, having to play the other three clubs in their division so much. Plus, the American League is just so loaded with quality teams that the ones who struggle will probably struggle mightily. The Mariners qualify.
ALDS: Oakland over Chicago; Boston over Cleveland
ALCS: Boston over Oakland in a classic
The two final teams are both playoff savvy to a large degree, and are balanced teams with good pitching and a solid offense. Plus, they don't really like each other from previous years of playoff showdowns. It has all the makings of a classic series, and it could go either way, but given the playoff experience of the Boston rotation and most of their lineup, I think they'll take the ALCS in seven games.
Yes, I'm speaking with my heart a bit on his one. But it's not like I'm picking the Royals.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Thanks for your patience, and enjoy!
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Um, no. And, sadly in the end, he wasn’t even close. But there was an opportunity in the Soriano case that was missed. An opportunity to make a statement about a cold business. About fairness. It was an opportunity to do the right thing. And, unfortunately, Soriano chose to pass it up.
Let me refresh your memory about Curt Flood. After the 1969 season, when he was still just 31-years old and coming off a Gold-Glove winning, .285-hitting season as the Cardinals center fielder, Flood and three other players were unceremoniously traded to the Phillies in exchange for Dick Allen and two others. Flood refused to report to the Phillies, citing the racism displayed by their fans, the poor performance of the club, and the awful condition of their stadium as reasons why he didn’t want to play in Philadelphia. And, in his view, not wanting to play there meant that he shouldn’t be forced to play there. This was America, after all, where a man could choose to work wherever he saw fit.
Unfortunately for him, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn didn’t see things the same way. Citing the ages-old reserve clause that bound a player to one team for his entire career unless released (or traded, which transferred that right to his new team), Kuhn refused to approve a request by Flood that he be declared a free agent. Flood sued, claiming that the reserve clause had the effect of treating him and other players like property rather than people, an inherently un-American principle.
The case reached the Supreme Court, which upheld lower court rulings in favor of Major League Baseball. The impact on Flood’s career was extreme. Having sat out the entire 1970 season, he signed with the Washington Senators for the 1971 season, but faced with widespread criticism for his actions, he performed poorly, and retired after playing only thirteen more games. He was just 33-years old, and for all intents and purposes, had sacrificed five or six years at the end of his career, at six-figure salaries each year, to make the point that baseball players should have the same rights as other workers in this country. Thankfully, in Flood’s case, his sacrifice wasn’t fruitless, because the reserve clause he fought against was finally struck down just five years later.
All of which brings us to Alfonso Soriano. In a modern repeat of Flood’s situation, Soriano was traded against his will to a team he had no interest in, that plays in a league in which he has never played, in a stadium that doesn’t suit his skills, and with the expectation that he would switch to a position, left field, that would likely decrease his free agent value a year later.
From his perspective, it was a crappy deal, and he rightly was upset about it. Now, keep in mind that this isn’t a troublemaker. Soriano is a kid from the Dominican Republic who went to Japan for a couple of years as a teenager to establish himself as a professional ballplayer, and took it upon himself to learn to speak Japanese in order to fit in. He eagerly moved from his naturally position, shortstop, to left field when the Yankees acquired him. He did it without complaint and actually played the position well in Spring Training of 2001. Then, when the Yankees finally decided that Chuck Knoblauch’s throwing problems weren’t going away, Soriano agreed to change positions again, to second base. He flourished there, becoming one of the most dangerous power hitters in the history of the position and nearly winning the 2001 World Series by hitting an 8th-inning homer in Game Seven that gave the Yankees the lead. Only Mariano Rivera’s famous blown save kept Soriano from being the hero.
After doing all of this for New York, they dealt him to the Rangers before the 2004 season in exchange for Alex Rodriguez, essentially because the Yankees had a unique opportunity to acquire a great player and because they considered Soriano expendable after he had a terrible 2003 post-season.
So here we have a guy who has done nothing but work hard and travel far and wide to become a big league ballplayer, who has selflessly changed positions not once but twice for the good of his team, only to have that team trade him away when it suited their interests, and now he was faced with being dealt again and asked to change positions again, because the team that acquired him already had a second baseman.
How much more “good of the team” behavior should really be expected of this guy? He had already proven, time and again, that he’s a team player. And what did that get him? It got him the reputation of being a guy who could be moved around to suit the team’s needs, leading the Nationals to make the deal without ever asking him in advance if he would be willing to move to left field. Of course he would move, they must have thought. He’s done it before, twice.
Well, this time was different. Soriano had all the leverage in this case, since he was slated to make a ton of money and the Nationals desperately need him in their lineup, plus the fact that he’s going to be a free agent after this season, meaning the Nationals could lose him and get nothing in return if they make him unhappy.
Plus, he had every right to make a stink about how he was treated. The Nationals and Rangers, like the Cardinals and Phillies years ago with Flood, treated Soriano like property. They didn’t care about where he wanted to play, or which team he wanted to play for, or how much money a move to left field would cost him. They acted like all big businesses do these days, they treated the employee like an expendable asset instead of like a human being. This was a case of Corporate America at its finest.
“You’ve got Little League practice for one of your kids? Tough, I need this PowerPoint pitch done tonight.”
“You just bought a house here in town? Oh well, I need you to move to Detroit. You can commute back home on the weekends if you don’t want your kids yanked out of school mid-year.”
“I know you’re eighteen months away from retirement, but the company is restructuring after the recent merger, and your former job is no longer necessary, so we’re letting you go.”
Workers in Corporate America aren’t people anymore. They’re not even “personnel”. They’re “headcount”, all subject to some quaint euphemism for being forced out of a job they perform perfectly well. Reduction in Force. Laid Off. Downsized. Subject to Synergy. That last one is my favorite.
And yet, in Soriano’s situation, he has been widely criticized for standing up like a man and saying “Enough.” He didn’t take one for the team, and that makes him the bad guy.
Well, my question is this; when is the team going to take one for Alfonso Soriano? Sure, they pay Soriano a ton of money, and that makes his case even less sympathetic, but with that kind of money at stake, isn't is just good business for the Nats to make sure Soriano would be happy with the move? When did the Nationals become exempt from caring about their players’ well-being? Haven’t they just revealed themselves as an organization that has no interest in doing what’s right for their players? How hard do you think it’s going to be to attract quality people to play for them now?
I won’t criticize Soriano for the stand he started to take. I think it was noble, or at least qualifies for that description under today's standards. What I criticize him for is giving up. He caved in yesterday when he trotted out to left field, despite having all of the leverage on his side. Soriano passed up the opportunity to be this generation’s Curt Flood, a man who would sacrifice his own interests to make the point that ballplayers, and other workers in America, aren’t just inanimate assets for companies to spend as they see fit. They’re people, and you shouldn’t treat people, especially good people like Alfonso Soriano, the way the Nationals treated him. It would have been a great statement for Soriano to make.
Unfortunately, I guess we’ll have wait for someone else to make it.
Sunday, March 05, 2006
This new league will exist for exactly one season, during which many of its teams will cease to exist or re-locate in mid-season. Replacement teams in replacement cities will be hastily formed, some playing as few as nine games, but those games will be included in the standings nonetheless.
Administration of the league will be shoddy, at best. No statistics will be kept for RBI, or strikeouts, or double plays, or stolen bases. Of the twenty-two men who will come to bat for the league champion, it will be unclear from league records which side of the plate eight of them bat from, including the starting catcher and left fielder. Three men from the eleven-man pitching staff also won’t be identifiable as lefty or righty.
The players will be comprised of journeymen, some of them with brief, undistinguished major league experience, but over two-thirds with no big league experience of any kind. For instance, the starting shortstop on the league champion will be a 22-year old whose sole year of professional baseball experience will be this one season in this new league.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that the level of talent is such that almost two-thirds of the players will never be given another chance at the big leagues. The league’s MVP, upon returning to the National League, will manage to hold a job as a regular for just three more seasons, and won’t post an OPS higher than the league average after age 29. Someone like Ryan Freel, currently the primary bench player for the Cincinnati Reds, can be one of the league’s stars. He will be the league’s best third baseman, starting at that spot for the league champion, and he will finish in the top-five in the league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, doubles, home runs, and walks. His batting average will be nearly 50 points higher and his OPS 140-points higher than his career marks in the National League, in large part because the new league’s teams average nearly six runs per game. After the league disbands, Freel will return to the National League, but will last parts of just two more seasons, hit .186, and retire.
Now imagine that, forever more, baseball historians would consider Freel’s season in this rogue league to be the functional equivalent of Albert Pujols’ rookie season.
All together now…“Huh?”
Before you call me crazy, let me assure you that I’m not making any of this up. This exact scenario has already happened.Way back in the 19th Century, back before the major leagues were as organized as they are today, there was a one-year blip just like the one described above. Its was called the Union Association, and, incredibly, it is considered to be a “major league” to this day.
In perhaps the first instance of players feeling crapped on by ownership, the Union Association formed in late 1883 with the intent of raiding disgruntled players from the National League and American Association, the two recognized “major” leagues, both of which exercised reserve clauses in their player contracts. Such a clause tied players to a team until that team didn’t want them anymore, a situation that would be so for almost 100 more years, and it never sat well with players. Many of them hated it enough to give the new league a look.
The problem for the Union Association was that few of those established players took them up on their offer. Of the 238 different positional players who played at least one game in the Union Association, over 68% had never played major league baseball. Of the group that did have big league experience, few had played much. They averaged just 105 big-league games upon joining the Union Association. When the players with no previous experience were counted, all of the hitters in the league averaged just 33 games of major league experience.
The talent level was such that one of the league’s few players with real major league experience, Fred Dunlap of the St. Louis Maroons, had little problem establishing himself as the league’s best player. With four years as the regular second baseman for the National League’s Cleveland Blues under his belt, he easily led his new league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, runs, hits, total bases, doubles, home runs, adjusted OPS, runs created, extra-base hits, and time on base. A solid player in Cleveland, Dunlap suddenly was Babe Ruth in the Union Association. His .412 batting average was 86 points higher than his previous career best. His OPS+ mark of 250 was higher than all but one of the seasons in Ruth’s career. Upon returning to the National League the next year, Dunlap’s OPS+ was halved, to 122, a mark he never matched again.
And that was the league’s best player. Lesser lights were much less distinguished. Orator Shaffer finished second in most of the league’s hitting categories, despite being a 32-year old journeyman outfielder who had already played for eight big league teams. His OPS+ the previous year was 103, barely above league average and just fifth-best on his 1883 Buffalo Bisons team, yet he managed to bat .360 in the Union Association, 85 points higher than his career mark, and his OPS+ of 196 was a mark never glimpsed by the likes of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays or Joe DiMaggio. Upon returning to the big leagues, Shaffer batted .249 and had an OPS+ of 100, both league-average marks.
The career record of Harry Moore, the starting left fielder for the Washington Nationals, reads pretty quickly:
Debut – April 17,1884
Final Game – October 19, 1884
Bats – Unknown
Throws – Unknown
Birth – Unknown
Death – Unknown
Major league games before joining the Union Association – zero.
Major league games after leaving the Union Association – zero.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the Union Association’s third-best hitter, with a batting average of .336.
It should be abundantly clear that the talent level in the Union Association was nowhere near that of the major leagues. It was essentially Triple A. And yet, there are the stats from the Union Association in “Total Baseball”, next to the numbers players posted in the National League, American League, and every other league that could reasonably be called “major”.
Some may not consider that to be a big deal. I do, and not because the numbers in question affect any records or corrupt any career marks. They don’t. But as long as the UA is considered a major league, historians and statisticians are going to have to account for it. They have to measure its players and compare them to players from real major leagues. The results are often ridiculous.
For instance, remember the Ryan Freel example? The player in question was Jack Gleason of the UA’s St. Louis Maroons. Prior to jumping leagues, Gleason was a mid-level starter in the American Association, at the time a major league. After a one-game debut in the National League at age 22, Gleason failed to make a big league roster again for five years. He resurfaced as the third baseman for the American Association’s St. Louis Brown Stockings in 1882, batting .254 and posting an OPS that was about 5% better than the league average. After a slow start the next season, he was dealt to the Louisville Eclipse and had a solid year, batting .299. His OPS was 31% higher than the league average, a very respectable mark, but apparently he wasn’t kept very happy by his new club because he bolted for the UA when the opportunity presented itself.
Gleason was easily the UA’s best third baseman. He batted .324, fourth-best in the league, and posted an OPS+ mark of 164. The Maroons were easily the best team in the league, so when the UA folded after its only season, the National League absorbed the Maroons as a new addition. Gleason went with them, but could never replicate his success. He played just two games for the Maroons in 1885. The next year proved to be his last in the majors, when he batted a terrible .187 as the regular third baseman for the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association.
That’s it, the entire career of Jack Gleason summarized in two paragraphs. It was an unremarkable career in every respect, but for his one season of glory in the UA. A good comparison for Gleason would be Keith Miller or Dirty Al Gallagher. Solid utility players who aren’t memorable in any way, unless you count Gallagher’s classic nickname.
But since Gleason’s great year happened in a minor league that is improperly called major, he gets analyzed by all the new-fangled sabermetric measurements. According to Bill James’ Win Shares measurement, Gleason’s 1884 season accounted for 20 win shares. Since win shares are a counting statistic, it matters that Gleason compiled his total in just a 113-game season for his club, because those twenty win shares would interpolate out to 29 in a modern 162-game season. To give you some perspective on that number, it’s the same total Albert Pujols managed in 2001. To refresh your memory, that was Pujols’ first season, one in which he hit 37 homers, drove in 130 runs, batted .329, slugged .610, finished in the top-10 in the league in average, slugging, hits, total bases, doubles, RBI, runs created, extra base hits, time on base, OPS, and adjusted OPS, made the All-Star team, won the Rookie of the Year Award and the Silver Slugger, and finished fourth in the MVP voting. And, according to Win Shares, it was the functional equivalent of Jack Gleason’s nifty season in a high minor league called the Union Association more than a hundred years earlier.
Fred Dunlap, clearly the UA’s best player, had 38 win shares in the Maroons’ 113 games, which equates to 54 in a full 162-game season. That’s the same number Barry Bonds posted in 2001, the year he hit 73 home runs. Yes, according to the measurement system currently considered to be the most advanced in the history of baseball analysis, Fred Dunlap’s best year and Barry Bonds’ are equals.
Congratulations. You have just read the first sentence ever that included both Fred Dunlap’s and Barry Bonds’ names.
I, for one, am tired of this kind of silly game. It’s foolish to say that the best player in a league full of minor leaguers is the equal to the season that gave us the all-time home run record. It is both asinine and easily fixed.
Hit the Delete key, all of you guys over at “Total Baseball”. Remand the Union Association to history’s dustbin, where it belongs.
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
This year, the wrinkle is that none of the new guys on the ballot are really expected to get much support. I mean, you can make a nice case for Will Clark, and he’s much better than Don Mattingly or Steve Garvey, two returning candidates who regularly get more votes than they deserve, but I have no expectation that Clark will actually get elected. And neither should Clark. If he’s lucky, he’ll get Mattingly-level support and build from there, but that’s probably the best any of the new guys can hope for. I’d vote for a couple of them, as you’ll see shortly, but none of these guys are going to be elected anytime soon.
That leaves the returning candidates as the only hope for induction this year. Since the voters can’t stand letting a year go by without electing someone, I think one or more of these guys will get in. Specifically, I think Bruce Sutter will be elected, though he shouldn’t, and Rich Gossage will also go in, which he should. Sutter is the closest to election based on last year’s vote totals, so simple math will get him there, while Gossage will probably garner extra votes from Sutter supporters who will suddenly realize how moronic it is to elect Sutter while Gossage, a considerably better pitcher, wastes away on the same ballot. The next-closest guy will be Jim Rice, followed closely by Andre Dawson. More on them in a moment.
For now, let me make it perfectly clear why Bruce Sutter doesn’t deserve induction. I have said repeatedly in the past that Sutter was nearly interchangeable with Dan Quisenberry in terms of results. In fact, Quiz was arguably better in some respects. For instance, Sutter lost 25 more games than Quiz even though he pitched in 13 fewer career games. Sutter’s career winning percentage was just .489, while Quiz’s was .549. Sutter had a career ERA of 2.83, slightly higher than Quisenberry’s mark of 2.76 even though he pitched in leagues that averaged a 3.85 ERA while Quiz pitched in leagues that averaged 4.04. In short, once adjusted for their home ballparks, Quiz’s ERA was 46% better than his leagues while Sutter’s was just 36% better.
They threw the same number of innings, they allowed the same number of baserunners per inning, they led their leagues in saves the same number of times, and so on, and so on. Other than Sutter’s style being more conducive to strikeouts, they were essentially the same pitcher, only Quiz had some distinct advantages as noted above. So, since the voters decided that Quiz should only get 18 Hall of Fame votes, why in the world does Sutter get 300? It makes no sense to me. I’d vote for Quiz over Sutter any day if he was still on the ballot, but truthfully I wouldn’t vote for him either because his career was just too short. So Sutter, who may be the only guy elected this year, doesn’t get my vote.
Here’s who would:
- Alan Trammell
- Bert Blyleven
- Rich Gossage
- Jim Rice
- Dale Murphy
- Will Clark
- Albert Belle
- Andre Dawson
Probably in that order. Here’s why.
Alan Trammell. I've made his case before in more detail. With almost no fanfare of any kind, Alan Trammell compiled a career that puts him easily in the top-10 shortstops of all time.
Bert Blyleven. I waffled back and forth on this guy for a long time, and now I have no idea why. This guy is clearly one of the top 20 to 30 pitchers in the history of baseball.
Rich Gossage. This one is easy, being another subject I've covered in more depth in the past.. He’s the best relief pitcher. Ever.
Jim Rice. I don’t know what more to say about this guy. The Red Sox published a lengthy analysis of Rice’s career this year and distributed it to the voters, and after reading it I’ve come to the conclusion that I had written every word of it in various online articles over the past five years.
Dale Murphy. I changed my mind on this guy based on the peak value of his career. Clay Davenport of The Baseball Prospectus published a series of articles late last year that presented a system for determining an objective Hall of Fame built upon Baseball Prospectus’ WARP3 stat. The system is a bit flawed (it had Wade Boggs as the top-rated third baseman ever), but it did open my eyes about the peak values of some players. Murphy was one of those. His peak was essentially in the top-10 of all time among center fielders. That was enough for me.
Will Clark. Much like Trammell, Clark is vastly underrated. His career numbers were terribly suppressed by his ballpark and the fact that he began his career during one of the lowest run-scoring periods since the end of World War II. For instance, Clark’s 1989 season was a thing of beauty, He hit .333, had a .407 on-base percentage, and slugged .546, and he did all of this despite playing in a league where each team averaged less than four runs per game and played in a park that suppressed runs by almost 8%. And that was an improvement over Clark’s first three seasons, when Candlestick Park suppressed scoring by 11%, 11% and 13% respectively. Consequently, Clark’s OPS+, which adjusts OPS for his park and the league’s overall scoring, was 175 in 1989, meaning it was 75% above the league average. To put that in perspective, Eddie Murray’s best season was 1990, when he posted an OPS+ of 159. Murray posted seven seasons with an OPS+ of 140 or greater. Clark also had seven seasons at that level, despite playing six fewer years than Murray. Clark’s career mark was 138 to Murray’s 129. Clark’s mark was also higher than Orlando Cepeda (133), and Tony Perez (122), and George Sisler (124), and Frank Chance (135), and Billy Terry (136), and Jake Beckley (125), and George Kelly (110), and Jim Bottomley (125), all Hall of Fame first basemen, not to mention other iron-clad Hall of Famers like Yogi Berra (125), Johnny Bench (126), Charlie Gehringer (124), Jackie Robinson (132), Joe Morgan (132), Rod Carew (132), George Brett (135), Wade Boggs (130), Ernie Banks (122), Robin Yount (115), Al Simmons (132), Roberto Clemente (130), Al Kaline (134), Billy Williams (132), and Carl Yastrzemski (130).
Albert Belle. A world-class jerk. A cheater (long live corked bats). A fragile hip condition resulting in a short career. But one of the most destructive hitters in recent memory. Remember Clark’s career OPS+ mark of 139? Well, Belle’s was 143. That number is too big to ignore.
Andre Dawson. A close call for me again, but ultimately I still support him because there are so many crappy right fielders in the Hall of Fame. Take the bottom eight or ten guys out of the Hall, and I probably wouldn’t support Dawson. But they’re in there, and he’s clearly better than they are, so it just doesn’t seem fair to keep him out.
That's who I would vote for. I reality, I think Sutter and Gossage will get in. I think Rice is a pick 'em for induction, receiving a boost from a weak ballot, the Red Sox public relations machine, and from the anti-steroids argument that makes his era of players look better to the voters. Here’s hoping all of that is enough.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Isn’t it interesting that after I wrote the paragraph above, I realized it could be used for either of the two season wrap-ups I’m writing, one for the Royals and one for the Red Sox? I ultimately decided to do just that, use it to open both articles, because, despite the obvious differences between the two clubs, they are both currently in the same boat. They each need to evaluate the 2005 season, determine which parts need to be kept, which need to be replaced, which youngsters are future regulars, and which are expendable. They then must go forth and spend or trade to fill their many holes.
The only difference is the level of expectations and the resources available to each GM. There are currently 29 other teams who are in the exact same position.
But this is about the Red Sox, so let me start being specific. Having started writing this late, I’ll try to avoid making obvious predictions like, “the Red Sox should dump Theo Epstein and trade for Josh Beckett”. Here are the clearly recognizable failures and successes from 2005:
The Bullpen. A complete disaster, from Keith Foulke’s refusal to get his gimpy knees fixed before the season, to Alan Embree’s implosion, to the hideous Mike Remlinger Era. The Sox bullpen had the worst ERA (5.15) in the American League and allowed the highest opponents’ OPS (.805). That means that the Sox’s pen turned the average hitter they faced for the entire season into Johnny Damon. They struck out fewer hitters per nine innings (6.25) than every other AL team except the Devil Rays. Only Mike Timlin distinguished himself over the entire season, though Mike Myers filled his limited role well. Help is on the way (Jonathan Papelbon, Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen), but it was too late to keep the ’05 pen from being a collective train wreck.
Second Base. In 2004, the second basemen for the Red Sox, primarily Mark Bellhorn, combined for a .794 OPS, the best mark in the league and sixth in all of baseball. That included power (.434 SLG, 3rd in AL) and plate discipline (.360 OBP, 1st in AL). All of that went to hell in 2005. Bellhorn was so bad he was released outright at the All-Star Break. The acquisition of Tony Graffanino helped, but there was still a massive overall drop in production. The OPS from that position dropped almost 70 points, to .725. That mark was very middle-of-the-road (8th in the AL, 17th in baseball), and ordinarily that would be acceptable production from second base. But one of the strengths of the Boston offense in’04 was that there wasn’t a hole in the lineup. That couldn’t be said for much of 2005, and second base was a major reason for it.
Shortstop. Production from shortstop was essentially flat from ’04 to ’05 – OPS of .716 in 2004, 9th in the AL, down to .708 in ’05, 7th in the AL), but once Edgar Renteria’s defensive struggles and mammoth contract are factored in, the position has to be notched as a disappointment.
First Base. Despite all of the well-publicized struggles of Kevin Millar to find his power stroke, it’s only fair to note that the Red Sox’s first basemen didn’t really drop all that much in combined OPS. They posted a mark of .813 in 2004, 6th in the AL, and fell to .795 in 2005, 7th in the league. The problem was that the drop came entirely in power (their collective OBP actually rose from .346 to .358), and that power loss was damaging on a team that already lost power at catcher, second base, shortstop, center field and right field. First base is supposed to be one of the few spots that should reliably produce power. A team can get by without it if they find it somewhere else, but when the defense-first positions fail to come through with some pop, first base power becomes crucial. The Sox’s first basemen didn’t have that in 2005 (.436 combined SLG, 9th in the AL, 20th in baseball), a failure that proved costly in the end, when the offense unraveled in September and the playoffs.
Right Field. If first base is going to be thrown under the bus, then right field, particularly Trot Nixon, must be called a failure, too. In fact, the production drop from right was even more pronounced than the first base drop. In ’04, Nixon, Gabe Kapler and a bit of Dave Roberts combined for a .823 OPS, 5th at that position in baseball. In ’04, with yet another Nixon injury to cope with, no Roberts, no Kapler for most of the year, and a disgruntled Jay Payton, the right fielders dropped to an OPS of .772, just 8th in the AL and 21st in baseball. I love Trot, but either he or the Sox need to do better.
Team Defense. The Red Sox’s defense, a point of such emphasis in 2004 that it prompted the trade of Nomar Garciaparra, reverted back to the franchise norm of mediocrity in 2005. Actually, that would be overstating the club’s defense. In reality, they were below mediocre, 11th in the AL and 23rd in baseball in defensive efficiency, according to the Baseball Prospectus guys. Jason Varitek’s Gold Glove and Edgar Renteria’s reputation notwithstanding, there really wasn’t an above average defender at any position until John Olerud arrived to platoon at first. Perhaps, with the acquisition of Mike Lowell, the team is now moving in that direction.
The Front Office. The defection of both Theo Epstein and Josh Byrnes at the very outset of the off-season, followed by Peter Woodfork joining Burns in Arizona, leaves the Sox with egg on their face and holes on their staff. The contributions of these guys cannot be overstated, and now they are gone. There seems to be a competent group working in their absence, evidenced by the Beckett trade, but that may not last long, as many of them may also ask to leave for greener pastures. And the manner in which all of this has been handled has prompted many viable, desirable GM candidates to withdraw themselves from consideration, most before even interviewing, leaving the Sox with a pair of undistinguished retreads, Jim Bowden and Jim Beattie, as the most likely candidates. Ugly, ugly, ugly.
The Bash Brothers. Even with reduced contributions from five lineup spots - center field, right field, first base, second base and catcher – the lineup of recent years was so deep that it still managed to lead the AL in runs, tallying over 900 for the third consecutive year. David Ortiz became a force, and Manny Ramirez remained his potent self, a tandem that intimidated every pitching staff in the league. And, even though their production actually dropped off from 2004 levels, Jason Varitek and Johnny Damon remained at the top of the league at their respective positions. In fact, only at second base (8th) and right field (also 8th) did the Sox fail to finish in the top half of the league in positional OPS. That’s quite a feat, and indicates exactly how much the Sox have figured out how to put a deep offense together.
The Rotation. Believe it or not, the Sox should be fairly satisfied with the production they got from four-fifths of their rotation. As a group, the rotation certainly dropped off from 2004 levels, but they remained in the top half of the league in ERA, WHIP, K/9IP, K/BB ratio and OPS allowed. Put a healthy ’04 version of Schilling in his rotation slot and the group would have come close to replicating their overall ’04 numbers, when they were in the top-3 in the league in each of those categories. Add in Josh Beckett and a (hopefully) healthy Schilling, plus the possibility of a full-time starting role for Jonathan Papelbon, and the 2006 rotation appears flush with options.
The Draft. Anytime your first round draft pick reaches the majors in the same year you drafted him, things are looking up. With five first-round or sandwich picks, the Sox grabbed a lot of guys who look to be the real deal. Craig Hansen was so impressive that he cracked the big league bullpen in September, and showed pretty well there with the exception of one poor outing. And he didn’t even have his good slider at the time. Impressive. Fellow first-rounder Clay Buchholz posted remarkable numbers at Rookie League Lowell, including a 2.61 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 5.00 K/BB ratio and 9.80 K/9IP. Jed Lowrie, a switch-hitting shortstop/second baseman from Stanford, tore Lowell up, to the tune of .328/.429/.448/.877. Fellow Pac-10 standout Jacob Ellsbury, who has been billed as a future replacement for Johnny Damon, posted similar numbers in the same Lowell lineup (.317/.418/.432/.850). Other successes included 6th-round center fielder Jeffrey Corsaletti, who lit up A-Ball at Greenville to the tune of .357/.429/.490/.919, and 10th-round pitcher Kevin Guyette, who posted a combined 2.30 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 5.43 K/BB ratio and 7.95 K/9IP at Lowell and Single-A Greenville. There were pleasant finds in the 11th round (Ismael Casillas, 11.25 K/9IP) and all the way down in rounds 32 (Trinity College second baseman Jeff Natale, .368/.474/.557/1.031) and 39 (center fielder Bubba Bell, .317/.363/.457/.820). Overall, it was an impressive haul, and the front office staff should be commended for yet another year of solid work in rebuilding the farm system.
The Farm System. An absolute, unqualified success. The Red Sox farm system has evolved into a prototype for how a team can build at the big league level by leveraging good, young, cheap, homegrown talent. Bullpen in disarray? No problem, we have a few stellar young arms that can help immediately (Hansen, Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen, Lenny DiNardo). Third baseman injured and aging? That’s okay, we have another waiting in the wings (Kevin Youkilis). In need of a second baseman at the trading deadline? Well, we just happen to have an extra outfielder at Triple A (Chip Ambres) that the Royals can use, and we can afford to give him away with an anonymous Single-A arm for a rental on Tony Graffanino. Need some veterans in the off-season to plug holes? Fine,we’ve got enough farm depth to trade away four prospects without giving up a single guy who figures in the club’s near- or long-term future.
The Sox have so much depth in the minors that five of their six affiliates had winning records. Once a team filled with acquisitions from other teams, the Sox might go into 2006 with a dozen or more players from their own farm system ready to play major roles or at least contribute with the big club. They will come from a group that includes Hansen, Delcarmen, Papelbon, DiNardo, Youkilis, Ellsbury, Lowrie, Jon Lester, Edgar Martinez, Dustin Pedroia, Abe Alvarez, David Pauley, Chris Durbin, Kelly Shoppach, David Murphy, Brandon Moss, Randy Beam, Matt Van Der Bosch, and Cla Meredith. Almost all of these guys would already be major league regulars on lesser teams like Kansas City or Pittsburgh.
Okay, so where does all of this leave the team?
Well, in the short term, it leaves them without a clear direction until a new GM is brought in. I want someone who isn’t going to come in with the idea that, as the new guy, he needs to put his stamp on the organization, even if it means ritually violating the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” dictum. That is a common failing among new managers in all forms of American business, and baseball is no exception. There seems to be a prevailing “look at me” attitude with these guys that prevents them from rationally saying, “You know what? None of the stuff I inherited is broken. Let’s stay the course.”
Neither of the Jim B. retreads excites me. In fact, each scares me more than a little because I think they will be exactly the kind of crappy manager described above. That’s why I’m rooting for Jed Hoyer, Craig Shipley, or Ben Cherington to get the job full-time. Coming from within the organization, each of them will be more likely to appreciate the good strides already made, continue the philosophy that built the farm system and resist the urge to do something flashy but stupid.
Once the GM issue is settled, there are some obvious steps that need to be taken:
- Find a center fielder and lead-off hitter. These are linked because Johnny Damon has filled both of those roles for the last four years. He is now a free agent and his agent, the hateful Scott Boras, has already set the contract demands so high that Damon is almost certain to be wildly overpaid. The thin free agent market makes that even more likely. The Sox don’t have many options here. There is no one on the team who is a likely lead-off replacement unless Dustin Pedroia is ready to take over at second base. If he is, the course of action I recommend is to let Damon go. I don’t think Damon is going to be anything like his current self in year four (or, God forbid, year five) of his next contract, and by year three he will be blocking Jacob Ellsbury from taking over. I simply love building from within, so if Pedroia is ready, I’m okay with giving him the lead-off role and trading for a temporary center field alternative to Damon (Torii Hunter anyone?). The problem is that I’m getting the vibe that the Sox don’t think Pedroia is ready yet. That narrows their options even more. They could still let Damon walk away, trade for Hunter or someone else to play center, and also deal for a temporary second baseman who can bat lead-off (Ray Durham? Luis Castillo would have been a perfect fit also). Or they can deal for Juan Pierre. Or they can re-sign Damon. Frankly, re-signing Damon, for the dollars and years he’s going to command, is the least appealing of those options.
- Find an everyday second baseman. I’m hoping it will be Pedroia, but if he’s not ready to go, a reliable veteran like Graffanino or Mark Grudzielanek should do nicely for now.
- Find an everyday right fielder. Like I said, I love Trot Nixon. But he’s finally proven to me that he can’t hit lefties, he’s regularly injured, he’s aging (32 next year), and his production has dropped off steadily. His last three years, his OPS has dropped from .974 to .887 to .803. Since the farm system doesn’t really have anyone ready to assume that large a role in the outfield, they’re going to have to make a deal or sign someone.
- Find an everyday first baseman. Kevin Millar, mercifully, is gone, and as much as I like Olerud, I don’t think he can be replied upon given his age and recent health. Lyle Overbay’s name keeps coming up, as does Adrian Gonzalez. Either is fine with me.
- Assign bullpen roles. I have no idea how healthy or effective Keith Foulke will be next season. I have no idea if either Delcarmen or Hansen is ready to be a major league closer. I have no idea if Guillermo Mota can rebound from a bad year and fill that role. But I do know that someone from that group has to step forward and close, or else the club is going to have to go get someone (Trevor Hoffman? Todd Jones?). For whatever reason, bullpen guys seem to perform better when they know their role, so determining them quickly is key fixing last year’s problems.
Those are the gaps I see. The team has a variety of chips to play in filling them, from prospects, to veterans who can be trade bait, to large amounts of cash, to even larger amounts of cash if Damon is let go and someone from the Well-Clement-Manny group is traded away. I won’t insult the front office by offering my own thoughts on which combination of moves should be made to fill those gaps. Unlike the Royals, where even my meager observations are probably startlingly revealing to the fools running that team, the Red Sox have earned a pass, even with Theo and his minions now gone. I have no doubt that these gaps will be filled, to some degree of satisfaction, long before Spring Training.
I will offer this one piece of feedback to Sox leadership, from a fan who pays attention – stop embarrassing us. I don’t mean on the field, those results are wonderful. I mean in the media, where flaps like Theo’s departure, and the lawsuit over the Mientkiewicz ball, and “Evil Empire” potshots at the Yankees, and the declaration that you can’t be a real member of Red Sox Nation unless you pay $9.95 for a plastic card, are all humiliating. You’re better than that, or at least you should be.
Start acting like professionals and maybe your GM options will suddenly be greater.