General

Royal Flush?

MLB announced the latest All-Star vote totals today and if you are not a Kansas City Royal, you should demand a trade to them if you want to play in this game. Eight of the nine starting spots for the AL are now held by Royals. Only Mike Trout breaks up a clean sweep for KC.

I have complained about the All-Star Game before and this vote reinforces my gripes. You can’t keep telling me that the game “counts” but allow the lineups to be selected by biased fan bases. (Please note, I would make this same complaint if 8 Yankees were leading the voting.) I get it, the Royals fans want to reward their players for last season and are voting for them like crazy. The only fix I would ask for is that baseball drop the preposterous plan that home field advantage in the World Series goes to the league that wins the All-Star Game. Switch it back to rotating every other year or, and here’s a novel idea for a league that prides itself on a 162-game season, award it to the team with the best record!

But that won’t happen because FOX has convinced MLB that this helps them get more viewers and that allows them to pay MLB more money. MLB has always been willing to sell its soul for another buck, but this is getting silly. They have neutered the concept of AL and NL through the years by eliminating the separate league offices, standardizing the umpires to call both leagues’ games, and finally forcing interleague play on us year-round. My National League friends don’t want to hear it, but I will bet anybody the DH will be the standard in both leagues very soon. (Pitcher salaries are reaching the point where owners won’t want to pay them to take any unnecessary risks) How about you throw the fans a bone and let us enjoy the EXHIBITION game that the All-Star game was created to be? Then I won’t care who gets put in the starting lineup. Well, unless some of my favorite Yankees don’t make it!

 

Signature Significance

If there is a theme to my April baseball watching and writing it is this- beware small sample sizes. We have seen time and again players who get out of the gate quickly only to fall apart after the calendar turns to May. Joel Sherman provided  a good example the other day with Vernon Wells. Another good example from that 2013 Yankee team is Travis Hafner. Hafner had 6 HR’s and a line of .318/.438/.667 when April ended and he finished with 12 HR’s and a line of .202/.301/.378 for the season. Those two examples are why we should be very, very, careful to avoid making any conclusions about the rest of the season from the results so far, and why the following should be looked at with a skeptical eye.

In an Economist blog post the other day the author took a look at Alex Rodriguez’s 477-foot home run on Friday and what it means for the rest of the season. I encourage you to read the article, but the key takeaway is the concept of signature significance- an idea named by Bill James that says that certain rare results have much higher predictive power than one game or even one swing normally should. Hitting a 477-foot home run is that type of result. The key quote:

The fact that Mr Rodríguez propelled a single baseball 477 feet means there is a very strong chance he is not the player we thought he was. Guys who are washed up just don’t hit 477-foot homers. Not even once.

I’m still wrestling with this idea and its predictive powers, but I find it a fascinating concept.

Happy Birthday to a Classic

30-years ago today, Sports Illustrated published “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch” If you have never read it, enjoy it now. If you have, re-read it.  George Plimpton was one of the greats and this ranks right up there with “Paper Lion”.

Enjoy!

The End of an Era

While I freely admit to not caring about the All-Star Game for years, and hating the home field advantage component of it, the news that MLB is getting rid of paper All-Star ballots makes me nostalgic.

I get it, we don’t need them. We can vote online and save trees. (Though no one ever seems to account for the electricity we use to get online in that statement.) It’s less messy, etc.. But there was something remarkably simple and satisfying about walking into a ballpark in May or June and in-between innings punching some holes next to your favorite players’ names. Even better, if you were at the game with a buddy, you could have an informal debate right there about why player x was a much better choice than player y.

I will adjust, but there are limits to how much technology I am willing to accept in baseball.

The Value of Prospects

Rob Neyer nailed something I have been struggling with for awhile- the value of prospects. Neyer makes two really great points.

1- It’s not that prospects in general are overrated, it’s that it is very hard to identify the ones that will succeed. His example of the 2011 evaluation of the Royals’ system by Baseball America is perfect.

2- There is no real system for checking or evaluating the ratings. Nobody goes back and grades the prospect reports. (Take a look back at NFL draft evaluations from year’s past sometime if you want a good laugh. They are generally terrible.)

Again, I am not arguing that prospects are overrated as a group. But teams are increasingly treating prospect development as a scientific fact when it is much more like a lottery. More prospects will end up as fringe guys, get hurt, or wash out, than truly develop into stars. For another example, take a look at the 2009 top-10 prospects for Tampa.

David Price is the top guy. No shock as he was coming off a great postseason and he certainly is one of the best pitchers in the game so I can’t really credit a lot of insight in this ranking, but then work down the list.

Tim Beckham is still young, but he hasn’t hit in years and he looks like a fringe guy at best.

Wade Davis became a very good bullpen arm in KC, but he was projected to be a top starter.

Reid Brignac is a fringe player at best.

Demond Jennings looks to be an average ML-er. Nothing more, but probably nothing less. Certainly not the replacement for Carl Crawford they thought he was.

Matt Moore was very good, but got hurt and had TJ surgery.

Nick Barense never made the majors and was in independent ball last year.

Hellickson started really well in the bigs, but he has regressed the past two years to below-average.

McGee was a very good closer for the Rays this past year.

Niemann’s career was derailed by injuries.

So we have one bonafide All-Star,  three fringe All-Stars (Davis, Moore and McGee) two possibly useful ML’er in Jennings and Hellickson, two guys who are fringy at best, and two guys essentially out of the game. That’s not bad, but remember this was essentially the best system in the game when this was published.

If you had gone to Tampa as Cleveland in 2008 and asked for the #2,#3,#4 and #7 guys in the system for CC Sabathia, you would have been laughed out of the room. Yet, that trade might have won the World Series for Tampa at almost zero future cost. In fact, if you look back at the Sabathia trade that was made, Cleveland came very close to missing out entirely without the benefit of some luck.

What this underlines to me is that prospects are fun to dream about, but you have to be very smart in how you use them. If your team is a clear contender, trading prospects for surer things is a smart move. If you are in sell mode, by all means trade for prospects, but remember that there is a lottery aspect to this. Teams seem to be hoarding them more than ever before, the smart GM’s will use that to their advantage.

 

Your All-Time Line-Up

We haven’t yet arrived at Spring Training but baseball is around the corner.  That got me to thinking about the Red Sox line-up and that got me to think about the best line-up ever.

Let us know your best line-up ever.  Price is not an issue.  The players in your line-up need not be living.  And in a nod to baseball purists, perhaps things like personality, effort and other intangibles can be included.  After all, a team of Ty Cobbs might all be murdered by season’s end, a team of Pete Roses in trouble with a bookie and a team of  Barry Bonds unable to fit their heads through a door.

We are looking for the line-up order too.

Hers is my first crack at it and I’m using a DH:

1.) Rickey Henderson – DH – The best lead-off hitter of all time.  A blend perfect blend of on-base skill and speed.

2.) Rogers Hornsby – 2B – Hit .400 or more 3 times with a career 1.010 OPS.

3.) Ted Willams – LF – Not much of a fielder but you can hide that in left field at Fenway, but his hitting was otherworldly.

4.) Babe Ruth – RF – Best baseball player of all-time.

5.) Willie Mays – CF – Tough choice between Mays and Mantle, but I think the defense here is too much to ignore.

6.) Lou Gehrig – 1B – Impossible to get out and I realize it is insulting to him to have him bat 6th, but so be it.

7.) Mike Schmidt – 3B – A brilliant combo of power and fielding.

8.) Johny Bench – C – Not quite the hitter Mike Piazza was but 10 times the fielder, the only person to consider at catcher.

9.) Honus Wagner – SS – Ozzie Smith was considered here as his defense was better but offensively, no comparison.  I had to hit someone 9th.

Some interesting notes, it is very difficult to gauge defensive value with old-timey players as they used far different equipment and as a result their fielding percentages were almost always lower  when compared to modern players using modern equipment.  And the ability for defense to be evaluated using visual evidence is something not afforded older players, so reputation is playing a part here for me.

But getting past the fine print, how great would this line-up be?  Putting 2 lefties in Williams and Ruth back to back isn’t ideal, but hey, it’s Williams and Ruth and I think they’ll be just fine.  There are some defensive liabilities in this group, but the offense just cannot be overlooked.

What does your line-up look like?

 

 

Meet The New Boss…

Rob Manfred has made some committee decisions and he is not off to a strong start.

First, he has removed any owner who voted against him from the executive council. Hal Steinbrenner and others are on, John Henry and others are off. That seems like pretty blatant favoritism to me.

Second, he has appointed Fred Wilpon as head of the MLB Finance Committee. This one is even better because Wilpon was a pretty famous victim of Bernie Madoff. In that respect, he certainly had company. But Wilpon was sued by the trustee of Madoff”s victims for showing “willful blindness” to Madoff’s schemes. Wilpon eventually settled that claim for $162-million.

And the Mets also have reduced their payroll from $140-million to a projected $82-million this year. Considering they play in New York and reap the revenue benefits of that, should they really have the 22nd-biggest payroll in MLB?

But the guy who presided over the collapse of the payroll from $140-million to $82-million and was accused of being complacent in the Madoff scheme is now running MLB’s finance committee. Perhaps I celebrated the demise of Bud Selig too soon.

Pitch Clocks?

Apparently, the “wise” owners have decided to try pitch clocks this upcoming season at the AA and AAA levels.

I am not against the idea of a faster game. I wouldn’t mind it one bit, but one of the great things about baseball is the lack of a clock. Adding a clock to MLB is like putting a TV up in church to me.

If the owners really want to speed up the game, here are a few ways they can do it without adding an artificial clock.

1- Start calling strikes on balls above the waist. This would lead to fewer pitches in a game and shorter AB’s.

2- Cut down on the time between innings. This will never happen because it would reduce TV commercials, but if you took 45 seconds out of the break between each inning that would eliminate at least 12 minutes from the length of a game.

3- Call a strike if a batter steps out of the box after a pitch. This is a personal peeve of mine. Why do hitters need to readjust everything after every pitch even when they haven’t taken a swing?

4- Make replay an automatic process. Have someone in charge of reviewing calls who decides if a replay challenge is needed or not. Stop the stupid system of a manager stalling for time while he waits to see if the dugout tells him to make a challenge. The point of replay is to get the calls right, so why not make it automatic?

How about trying some of these ideas before bringing a clock to baseball?

 

An Interesting Question

Rob Neyer asks when we will put another starting pitcher in the Hall of Fame?

It’s hard to make a case for Clemens ever getting there based on his vote totals. Maybe Schilling has a chance, but Mussina doesn’t seem to.

And if those guys don’t make it, who will make it? Jamie Moyer has lots of wins (269) but he had to pitch into his late 40’s to get them. Andy Pettitte has lots of wins, but PED issues. Roy Halliday doesn’t have a lot of wins (203) but he was brilliant for most of his career. Maybe he breaks the streak in 2019.

Beyond that, here is the list of active win leaders. Looking at it, we probably won’t see a 300-game winner again. Take any of these pitchers and give them 15 wins a season until they turn 40 and the only three who would be projected to make it are Sabathia, Felix and Kershaw. Sabathia isn’t going to get there, and as great as Felix and Kersahaw are, that is an enormous projection.

 

So it really is a great question with no apparent answer.

My Hall of Fame Ballot

If I were a Hall of Fame voter, these would be my choices for the upcoming ballot. I am going to rank them alphabetically first and then explain.

Bagwell

Biggio

Bonds

Clemens

Johnson

Martinez

Mussina

Piazza

Schilling

Trammell

 

Jeff Bagwell was one of the best hitters in the NL during his career. He was an on base machine and won the Rookie of the Year, Gold Glove, and MVP.

Craig Biggio was one of the best second basemen in the game and an offensive force.

I will bunch the next two guys together- Bonds and Clemens. They used PED’s, but it is silly to pretend that they were the only ones. I have long advocated that we put the whole 1990’s to present era in a separate wing of the Hall, or put PED admission and suspicion on the plaque itself. I also can’t get too worked up about their PED use, while the Hall has racists like Cap Anson and Ty Cobb among its membership. Clemens and Bonds were the best pitcher and hitter in the game for a large part of their careers and they deserve to be in the Hall.

I will bunch the next two guys together as well. From the late 90’s to the mid-2000’s if you had to win one game, who would you want to start? Pick RJ, pick Pedro, I can’t argue with either choice. They were the two best in the game. While RJ has the better stats, and 300 wins, Pedro has a 154 ERA+ which is simply amazing. They are both no-brainers for me.

Mike Mussina will set off protests, but here’s an interesting exercise adopted from this really good article:

Which pitcher is the best?

Pitcher A: 270-153, 3.68 ERA, 3,562.2 IP, 2,813 SO
Pitcher B: 216-146, 3.46 ERA, 3,261 IP, 3,116 SO
Pitcher C: 194-126, 3.46 ERA, 2,898.2 IP, 2,668 SO
Pitcher D: 213-155, 3.33 ERA, 3,473 IP, 3,084 SO
Pitcher E: 211-144, 3.28 ERA, 3,256.1 IP, 2,397 SO

The guy with the most wins, Pitcher A,  is Mike Mussina. The guy with the lowest ERA, Pitcher E, is Kevin Brown. The remaining three pitchers are (B,C,D) Schilling, David Cone and Smoltz. Using WAR, Mussina is 5th on this year’s ballot behind Bonds, Clemens, Johnson and Pedro. Using JAWS, he 7th behind the same four plus Bagwell and Schilling. Yet, Schilling and Mussina are stuck in the 20% range of the vote while Smoltz has a very good chance of getting into the Hall in his first year.

Piazza may have been the best offensive catcher in baseball history. He deserves to be in the Hall.

Schilling is in the Jackass Hall of Fame already, so why not baseball’s? I kid, I kid, but the guy was one of the best pitchers in the game and amazing in the postseason, he deserves it.

Trammell gets my vote here because of Hall of Fame rules. He is about to come off the ballot and I believe he deserves to be in. I could easily have voted for some other guys, but to me it will be awful if he falls off the ballot like Jack Morris did. Trammell’s numbers are not overly impressive until you remember that he was a shortstop and other than Ripken, shortstops didn’t put up hitting numbers like that.

There are plenty of other guys I could make a case for, but rules allow only 10, so those are mine. How about yours?