Archive for the ‘Spring’ Category

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My Favorite Players for 2010

March 10, 2010

Am I the only person who finds themselves randomly attached to players and teams that have nothing to do with your own fan base? I don’t mean rooting for guys who have moved on from your own team, like Chien-Ming Wang and Jason Giambi. Just players who seem genuinely likable for one reason or the other; they’re exciting players, they seem underrated, or they just plain seem like nice guys. Every year there’s a couple of players and teams I find it hard to root against, even if the Yankees are involved. Last year for me was the Upton brothers. This year there are a bunch more, but the three in particular that I plan on watching religiously are Brett Anderson, Troy Tulowitzki and Matt Kemp.

As you may or may not be aware of depending on your level of reading comprehension and attention to my blog, I have been spending the better part of my time in northern California. Between that and my fiance being a A’s fan the team has begun to grow on me (the same could be said for the Giants, and who could resist Tim Lincecum and his luscious hair). I watched a lot of Brett Anderson last year. I heard a lot about him in the minors, both before and after he was traded for Dan Haren from Arizona. I’m sure a lot of you know him, but you really need to watch him pitch. Just look at his stat line, it is a thing of beauty: A 4.06 ERA, a 3.69 FIP, 7.70 k/9 against 2.31 bb/9, all as a TWENTY-ONE YEAR OLD ROOKIE. Absurd. Oh yeah, and he’s a lefty. Bold Prediction: Brett Anderson will start the all star game this year.

Troy Tulowitzki is a bit more seasoned than Brett Anderson, and probably much more widely recognized. Appearing in a World Series as a rookie will do that for you. I have liked Tulo’s game since he came up, and even my A’s loving lady has had an obsession with him since his rookie year, one matched only by Tulowitzki’s own obsession with Derek Jeter (by the way, since I have mentioned her twice, her list of favorite non players would probably be topped by Tulowitzki and Nick Swisher). Jeter and Tulowitzki make for a fun comparison. Discounting Tulo’s injury plagued off-year of 2008, the two match spot on in wOBA, and the small difference in OBP is made up for by an inverse difference in slugging and speed.

Tulowitzki’s defense was vastly superior to Jeter’s early career, but Jeter’s immense improvement has closed that gap and each can now be considered a good defender.

My explanation for Matt Kemp is a lot simpler. He has a cool twitter page. He is dating Rihanna. And this picture is awesome:

I'd wear my jersey EVERYWHERE if I were in the big leagues.

For an almost creepy amount of Matt Kemp photos check this out.

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The Mark Buehrle Rule

March 8, 2010

Do you ever read one of Ken Rosenthal‘s foxsports articles just to get a glimpse into the mind of a madman? Insane? Maybe. But fun? Definitely. Don’t you enjoy concocting crackpot scenarios in which the Yankees end up with Bonds and Griffey, and we wouldn’t have to give up that much? Do you pop in MLB The Show or Baseball Mogul and take pride in the ability to swindle the Giants out of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain with a package of 5 star low A relievers?

Now, the differences are obvious. Ken Rosenthal works for a national sports company. He is on TV. He writes for a major website. So maybe it is strange when he suggests realigning baseball with little logic or reason (the last one is my favorite, move the A’s into the Yankees and Red Sox division in a format that groups teams by payroll, then plunk them in New Jersey). These are the kind of ideas I expect to hear from my friends after a fine afternoon spent huffing paint and watching PTI. This is not what I expect from a national sports writer. But maybe that is a good thing. If Ken Rosenthal can do it, so can I! So I hereby grant myself license to both make up news and write about inane ideas. The best part is that unlike Mr. Rosenthal I can’t have my articles pulled by the big bosses, as so frequently happens to him.

Here is what I propose as my grand change to baseball: speed up the games!

Groundbreaking, eh? I guess perhaps I am not as creative as my fellow writer, but I really don’t see the need or benefits of realignment, of eliminating or standardizing the DH, of changing the mound height, or of putting a salary cap in place. Baseball is great because of the oddities and differences between the leagues and between teams.

Every team operates with a different strategy. Depending on your league, your home field, your budget and your personnel your team will develop an independent persona. The cap seems unnecessary because in spite of the issues of “unfairness” any team can be competitive with competent management. I’ll save any further arguing against a cap for another day, because it will inevitably come up as a national topic at some point during the summer and I will turn to this screen to rage against the man on TV.

But back to my wholly unoriginal but entirely important idea. I see no issues with the mechanics of the game, so the efforts should be turned to streamlining it. Faster games would mean several things: You can watch more of them (hooray for mlb.tv), the playoffs won’t end so late on the east coast, and casual fans will be more inclined to watch something with a less boring pace.

The Hardball Times has a list (from 2008, mind you) of the fastest and slowest paced pitchers in baseball, and if you’ve seen him pitch (especially during his perfect game) you’ll probably see just the man you expect to be at the top of the list: Mark Buehrle. Another article from the same site mentions baseball’s rulebook, which states that the ball must be delivered within 12 seconds, with timing beginning when the pitcher has the ball and the batter is in the box ready to bat, and ending when the ball is released. Not only is that not the norm, but it is pretty rare to see the ball delivered that quickly.

So it seems to cure for this issue isn’t to change a rule, but to simply enforce a rule that is already in place. Even extending the rule to 15 seconds would work, and would allow for pitcher to move briskly without being rushed. Small fines (such as the fines handed out to Jonathan Papelbon last year) won’t cut it. On field penalties are the only way to make sure the rule is followed, and the rulebook itself calls for a ball to be added to the count whenever there is a violation. It would be simple for the umpire to enforce, it can be counted off the same way several violations are counted off in basketball, or they could use a watch/scoreboard clock.

Barring putting the Mark Buehrle rule in place I suggest something a little more… extensive.

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Yankees Will Miss Wang (in 2011, Anyway)

February 28, 2010

On February 19th the Nationals made one of the more underrated moves of the off-season when they signed Chien-Ming Wang to a one year, $2 million deal (potentially worth $5 million with incentive bonuses). The Yankees reasoning for cutting ties with Wang seemed to be that they hit their monetary threshold for this off-season, and their other needs were more pressing than a guy who would likely be 7th on the starting rotation’s depth chart. The latter can’t be argued, it was definitely more beneficial to the team to bring in Curtis Granderson and to add depth with Randy Winn. This does support an argument that, as ludicrous as the Yankees payroll is, even they have limits. But what was even stranger than the fact that the Yankees couldn’t go slightly over their payroll to bring Wang back is that he received (at least publicly) so little attention and pursuit.

Wang had one of the worst 40 inning stretches in baseball history last year. 2009 was a mix of awful results and injuries. I wrote last April about what I thought was wrong with Wang, and I still think that the foot injury he suffered in ’08 was the cause of his issues last year and ultimately his shoulder injury. I will never approve of Dave Eiland after everything that went on with Wang last year. He was clearly favoring the foot on the mound, whether because it was still injured or because he was afraid of re-injuring it. Either way that is something that should have been addressed and corrected.

My point with that is that I don’t think Wang simply fell apart because he lost the ability to pitch. He just needs to get back into pitching shape and re-establish the mechanics and ground ball ability he had shown since the Yankees called him up to the majors. $2 million dollars is a paltry investment when the potential is there to receive 3-4 months and possibly 100+ innings of above average pitching. Wang is throwing off of flat ground, and should be moving on to a mound rather soon with the hope that he will be back in the majors by sometime in May.

Someone like Wang would have been a perfect investment for a team like the Mets, who lack quality pitching and have the money to spend. As bad as they were last year, most of their issues are injury related and with good health they could make a serious wild card run. Half a season of league average pitching, a reasonable expectation, could potentially put them over the other wild card contenders. However, my gripe with the Yankees not signing Wang has more to do with the fact that Andy Pettitte will (probably) retire after this season. There is of course plenty of time and resources to be acquired between now and the 2011 season, but bringing Wang back on a test run for 2010 could have been a perfect set up to round out the rotation next season.

Wang is only 29 years old (he’ll be 30 March 31st), so his age as of next season is no concern. Bringing him back and finding him to be healthy could have left the Yankees with a guarantee of at least five quality starters:

1. C.C. Sabathia

2. A.J. Burnett

3. Phil Hughes

4. Joba Chamberlain

5. Wang

2010′s ballclub of course has the newly acquired Javier Vazquez, but he is a free agent after the season and it remains to be seen if he will want to stay a Yankee past that time (and if the Yankees will want him back). Retaining both Wang and Vazquez also could have made Hughes or Chamberlain expendable in a  trade. That’s not to say that I favor trading either of them, but the more options the better.

DNE wishes Chien-Ming Wang success and good health in Washington. The Nats are definitely on their way up and have made a ton of great moves the past two off-seasons (just look at how their outfield was put together with the steal of a signing in Adam Dunn and the steal of a trade for Elijah Dukes). Losing Wang most likely won’t result in any major set backs for the Yankees but any time you can retain talent (especially homegrown, popular talent) for a minimal price it probably should be done.

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Late Spring Yankee News

April 2, 2009

A quick rundown of what went on the last day or two:

Not exactly Earth shattering news but Jeter did have 24 GIDP last year, 4th in the A.L. and 7th most in baseball, so this should cut down on those a bit as long as Damon doesn’t turn into a groundout machine, too. Being lefthanded and faster doesn’t hurt in those situations, either. Jeter has a better bat, and the better hitter should ideally hit second, but I’m fine with this move.

Gardner demonstrated a much better eye and more patience in the minors than Melky Cabrera ever did. Both are superior defenders, though Gardners excellent range is offset by a Damon-esque throwing arm while Melky’s is on par with any centerfielder in baseball. Neither exhibits a lot of power (Gardner did finally show improved drive this spring with a new batting stance). Gardner is actually a year older than Cabrera, but for the time being he has more potential, and his base running alone will make him a better option if he can get on base at even an average clip.

Jonathan Albaladejo nabbed the final spot. He was swapped for Tyler Clippard at the end of 2007, so if he turns out to even be an average arm in the pen it’s a win for the Yankees. Brett Tomko was (thankfully) cut, in spite of a very good spring which had me suspecting he would make the team. The final roster is essentially set; the only move left is deciding who will have the last bench spot for the duration of A-rod’s time on the DL. That will be one of Angel Berroa and Ramiro Pena, a pretty inconsequential decision unless you own one of these and are still hoping for a return to his rookie of the year form.

One last note looking over that roster: the Yankees bullpen is going to be outrageous this season. Phil Coke is very good; his debut last year (while only 14 innings) was as good as Joba Chamberlain‘s, only with out all of the fan fare.

Coke, Brian Bruney, and Edwar Ramirez were a 26th round draft pick, waiver pickup, and independant league free agent signing, repsectively.That is the reason big money is better spent on offense and starting pitching, my friends. And, they all make a very fine pen, especially combined with Mariano and Damaso Marte. As a bonus, if the bullpen shines then perhaps the immortal pining for Joba to return to the pen will come to an end.

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A.L. East Third Basemen 2009

March 25, 2009

Opening day approacheth! And all the while, the timer for my previews ticks down. You have no idea of the kind of pressure I am under over here. So, quick everyone! To the preview-mobile.

Third base in the A.L. East: where hip labrums go to die. Mike Lowell and Alex Rodriguez have each suffered a torn hip labrums in the past 8 months, both in their right hip. The hip is a huge joint, and unlike the shoulder labrum supports the weight of the entire body on it. The sensitvity of these types of injuries is compounded by the fact that both men are right handed hitters, and their push off legs have been compromised.

Lowell appears to be back in business, and A-rod (at least, according to his doctor) should show no ill effects and minimal risk of re-injury once he is ready to go. That will, hopefully, be in early-to-mid May. A-rod’s line from PECOTA is projected at .287/.379/.541, in 624 at bats. This projection was out well before it was known Alex would need an operation. This line, even coming off of injury, does not seem out of reach for A-rod; it is a very slight drop from 2008 (and a massive drop from his incredible 2007). What needs to be adjusted is the time he will miss. Estimating an early May return, lets say he misses 35 games, approximately 140 plate appearances, or about 22% of his projected 624 PA’s. Combining 78% of A-rod’s time with 22% of a replacement level bat (let’s use Jose Castillo, a third baseman with a VORP right near zero last season). Cody Ransom will probably fill the role, and I would expect a mediocre-to-average bat from him (and below average defense) but for the purpose of providing a modest estimate, Lopez’ line of .281/.314/.313 will do. That gives the Yankees an assumed averaged line of .286/.364/.491. and a .300 EqA Overall, the Yankees still sport a well above average third base year, but this is only if A-rod returns on time and is healthy and productive right away.

Lowell checks in with a projected .264/.327/.446 and .267 EqA. He has limited range but he’s at the right position for that, because he still has a superb glove. If I weren’t feeling so spry I would copy and paste those last two sentences and place Scott Rolen‘s name right where Lowell’s is. They’re within a year of age, they’re an injury liability, they’re good defenders and they’re projected for nearly the same OPS and EqA. Rolen’s PECOTA line in this case is .261/.336/.430 with an EqA of .268. Neither player is spectacular, but both are very solid veterans, if still unreliable health-wise.

In the same veign of aging third baseman is Baltimore’s Melvin Mora. Mora is older than either Lowell or Rolen, but he has also averaged 600 at bats over the last three seasons. He had an incredibly torrid second half, which was tempered by his ice cold first half, but finishing the year with 23 homers and an .825 OPS certainly isn’t bad for a 36 year old father of quintuplets. A more even keeled season should be expected, and the PECOTA line of .269/.332/.443 and .268 EqA seems accurate.

Rounding out the division is the player who could, if A-rod proves to be something other than his usual self, be the best third baseman in the division. Evan Longoria has a very good glove, arm, and bat, all at 23 years old. Longoria is only going to improve; his on-base skills are even better than the .343 OB% he put up last year. PECOTA forecasts a season similar to last years, with a slight drop in slugging (which makes sense; his slugging spiked last year from the numbers he had been putting up in the minors). His line of .270/.346/.507 and .289 EqA are all-star worthy, particularly if he keeps up his stellar defensive play. And whether it actually counts for anything or not, Longoria is one of the most confident players in baseball. It doesn’t take something as complex as PECOTA to see that great things are emerging for Longoria.

Next time around: Shortstops!

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Why You Should Care about the World Baseball Classic

March 21, 2009

The semi-finals of the World Baseball Classic begin today, with a game between Venezuela and Korea at 9 PM Eastern. In the second go round for the tournament, the reviews and commentary have been, at best, very mixed. The typical opinion of the games seem to be that they’re sub par baseball, mainly because the United States team is not putting out it’s best roster. Unfortunately for anyone not watching, the games have been filled with wonderful baseball, players who care about what they’re participating in, and even a March Madness style Cinderella story, courtesy of the Netherlands (long live honkbal!).

The U.S. team is obviously devoid of many of their stars, but those who did show up are still some of the best in the world. The roster of team U.S.A. features seventeen former all stars and several players with all star potential in the future (like Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta). Better yet, the roster is filled with people who really want to be there. They’re playing to win, and playing with an edge after what happened in the first baseball classic (Chipper Jones described their elimination by Canada as embarassing). If you don’t think that the United States team cares as much as the other countries, check out what happened to David Wright, who injured his toe in an essentially meaningless game this past week. After fouling a ball off of his big toe, cracking the nail in half, he remained in the game because the team had no other infielders to put out there.

Aside from the supposed lack of passion, that also points to another reason there is such a large amount of hate towards the tournament: injuries. While it is true that injuries can pile up at the games (Wright, Chipper Jones, Kevin Youkilis and a few others), there’s no assurance that players won’t be injured anyway. Guys have been known to get hurt in spring training games, too. It is a part of baseball and any physical activity, injuries and accidents occur. Better it be in an all around entertaining tournament for national pride than in an untelevised and meaningless Spring Training workout.

Team U.S.A. faces defending champion Japan Sunday at 8 PM Eastern. The other nations may have more at stake in these tournaments than the United States because this country has already established it’s athletic dominance, but the best players from around the world deserve our attention; the gap has closed, and the games are better than you think.

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A.L. East Second Baseman 2009

March 12, 2009

As it turns out, it is a lot of work writing and maintaining a blog. I have been spending many hours slouched with poor posture over my computer, snacking on bulk-purchased leftover Halloween candy, trying to project starting lineups and time-shares. And why do I do it, the love of baseball or the growing need to put my seemingly useless college degree to use (even if it is via a profitless internet site visited by a single-digit number of people each day)? You decide.

Self-loathing aside, second base is a pretty deep position in the east. The discussion must, of course, start with 2008 A.L. MVP Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia had a supreme season in which he started well and finished even better. The award is debatable, but Pedroia’s production is not. He put up an OPS of .869, hit 54 doubles, and just to top it off stole 20 bases while being caught only once. He also played exceptional defense, rating as the fifth best second baseman in baseball by the Bill James fielding bible plus/minus system. Oh, and he has a sweet commercial as well.

Pedroia bats far better at home, even though he is a well above average hitter for his position on the road. PECOTA sees a slight drop in his numbers, down t just about what his 2007 production was (when he won Rookie of theYear), with a projected line of .294/.358/.451 with an EqA of .283. I think he’ll split the difference of his first two seasons, which quite honestly are not that far apart. And remember, that superb bat is coupled with a very good glove, making Pedroia easily the best second baseman in the A.L.

Talent wise, Pedroia should have a lot more competition for that title from Robinson Cano. Cano is three inches taller, twenty-five pounds heavier, has one of those cliche sweet lefty swings, and is incredibly athletic in the field. All of that makes him probably the most frustrating Yankee to watch on a daily basis.

Cano has two major flaws with his game (or perhaps his on-field personality): he is a free swinger and he is prone to mental lapses. The former is something that he improved from 2006 to 2007, though that improvement stagnated last season. The latter is something that Larry Bowa, former third base coach for the Yankees, was almost personally responsible for preventing. However, Bowa left with Joe Torre after 2007 and coincidence or not, Cano’s defense and offense both suffered.

While his offense, which is predicated on the ability to hit for a high average, is likely to fluctuate throughout his career because of his low walk rate and moderate power, his defensive dropoff is astounding and befuddling. Once again diving into fielding bible, Cano was a +17 in 2007, good for the fifth best rating amongst second baseman. In 2008 Cano dropped to sisxth worst with a -16.

Cano’s terrible season at least capped off on a positive note, as he closed the year with 19 hits in his last 42 at bats, and his overall OPS in the second half was .815. It should also be noted that this is not an instance of a lefty in need of a platoon partner, as he hit far better against left-handers last season, and is even slightly better against lefties for his career. Cano is heading into his fourth season and is still only 26, so a bounceback after two good years should be expected. PECOTA projects him with a line of .289/.328/.446 with a .265 EqA. I think that is underestimating Mr. Cano, and I think that with proper focus (a crapshoot with that) his defense will be above average once again this season.

The Rays turnaround last year was the most talked about story in baseball, and equally famed was the turnaround for their defense. The middle-infield was their biggest upgrade over 2007, as Akinori Iwamura brought his range and glove-work to a new position by moving from third base (with Jason Bartlett coming over to play short). The previous years version of the Rays featured a combination of B.J. Upton, Brendan Harris and  Ty Wiggington, a trio that (at least in Upton and Wiggington’s case) inspires significantly more fear with their bat than their glove.

Iwamura took second, while Upton moved to center, where his speed and range are not countered by his inability to make basic plays on groundballs. Iwamura is only an average (at best) offensive player, even as a second baseman, but his defense gives him value. PECOTA has him at .263/.340/.400 and a .261 EqA in 2009. This is a slight dropoff as Iwamura enters his age 30 season, but if his defense is consistent once again then he shouldn’t have trouble getting his 2010 option picked up, or finding a starting role elsewhere.

Speaking of contracts, Brian Roberts signed a new deal with the Orioles three weeks ago, ensuring for the first time in about two years that the persistent trade rumors, mostly of Roberts going to the Cubs, are dead. Roberts received a four year deal worth $10 million each season, and when you look at what you are getting production wise the deal is a great one. Roberts is also very durable, his only major injury coming late in 2005 on a freak accident, as he collided with former Yankee Bubba Crosby and dislocated his elbow.

Roberts draws a good share of walks, has very good speed, and is capable of double digit homeruns. The forecast from PECOTA for him is  272/.356/.434, to go with a .282 EqA. A very solid season, though perhaps underestimating his on-base abilities which have improved with his age.

The final stop on this tour is in Toronto, where the Blue Jays have one of their better position players stationed. Former first round pick Aaron Hill never played a game at second in the minors, and his debut season in the majors had him primarily at third base. In 2006 he finally settled in at second, where he has played since, and played it well. In 2007 he led all second baseman in plus/minus, and has a career 98.6 fielding percentage there as well. Last year was a lost season due to a concussion he suffered in a collision with David Eckstein (perhaps the first and only time in history that someone else came out on the wrong side of a collision with Eckstein).

Hill has a huge breakout in homerun power in 2007, hitting only three less than he did in his 876 career minor league at bats. As one of the best defenders in the league at his position, Hill has positive value even if mediocre with the bat. A line of .261/.318/.394 with an EqA of .250 is what PECOTA expects (to go with a drop to his career norm in power, with 8 homeruns). If he can put up even an average on base percentage and hit double digit homeruns then Hill is an extremely valuable player under team control throgh (potentially) 2014, though his contract is heavily backloaded with three expensive option years. If Hill’s bat doesn’t recover from post-concussion effects then he can kiss those options goodbye.

These always end up longer than planned, but hopefully it is worth it for anyone reading through them. The most amusing part of this for me, aside from poring through varying statistics and box scores, is getting feedback and comments, so don’t be shy with those.

Next preview: third base!

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