An old school logo would have been nice.
2016 MLB thread. THE CUBS HAVE BROKEN THE CURSE! Chicago Cubs are your 2016 World Series champions. - Page 313
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1. Atlanta Braves
In order to have a shutdown bullpen, you have to have a dominant closer, and the Braves' Craig Kimbrel is coming off one of the greatest seasons ever for a reliever: Opposing hitters had 231 plate appearances against him, and he struck out 116 -- almost exactly half -- in 62 2/3 innings, with just 14 walks and 27 hits. When he threw strike 1 on the first pitch of the at-bat (147 of those 231 plate appearances), hitters went 16-for-143, with 97 strikeouts and one extra-base hit. Here's one more: After hitters got ahead in the count, they went 5-for-32, with 10 strikeouts. Just one more: With two outs and runners in scoring position, opposing hitters were 1-for-18 with 10 strikeouts.
In other words, Kimbrel's the best closer in the game, and at the outset of his career, he has established an unprecedented trajectory: Nobody has been this good so soon.
The Braves have outstanding relievers stacked all around Kimbrel, from the underrated Eric O'Flaherty (1.73 ERA in 64 appearances last season) to Jonny Venters (who seemed to bounce back in a big way after a rough first half) to Cristhian Martinez (65 strikeouts in 73 2/3 innings) to Luis Avilan. And, oh by the way, the Braves swapped for hard-throwing Jordan Walden (average fastball velocity last year: 96.3 mph) during the offseason, with some confidence they can help his command, and if that happens, Atlanta could essentially end games after the fifth and sixth innings.
This is an extraordinary bullpen, and the Braves' staff and front office deserve credit for changing the way the Atlanta relievers were rested in 2012, after the relievers were worn out in 2011. Some teams don't change; the Braves did.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
The names change almost every year, and the performance remains the same. Tampa Bay led the American League in bullpen ERA, after Fernando Rodney became the Rays' latest reclamation project (watching the Tampa Bay bullpen every year is like watching an episode of American Restoration, on which junk is turned into gleaming excellence), and he merely became a Cy Young candidate, with just 43 hits and two homers allowed in 74 2/3 innings. He is surrounded by Jake McGee and Joel Peralta and perhaps Roberto Hernandez -- the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona -- who has always had great stuff but an inconsistent delivery. It would surprise no one in the sport if we checked back in August and find that Hernandez has become a dominant set-up man. Such is the reputation of the Rays for identifying bullpen talent, and the reputation of pitching Jim Hickey for refining that talent.
3. Kansas City Royals
In a September conversation, some of the White Sox hitters and staff talked about the Royals' bullpen with complete awe and respect. No team, Adam Dunn said, had a collection of power arms like the Royals. "It's like every guy comes out of the bullpen throwing 97 [mph]" Dunn said.
The bullpen might be the best piece of hope for Royals' fans to hang onto, because if the Kansas City rotation can be at least mediocre -- just average -- the Royals' bullpen would win a lot of games in the late innings. Aaron Crow had 65 punchouts in 64 2/3 innings; Tim Collins whiffed 93 in 69 2/3 innings; closer Greg Holland had 91 strikeouts in 67 innings. The Royals' bullpen racked up 535 strikeouts in 561 1/3 innings, and finished sixth in the majors' in ERA, at 3.17.
4. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles had a makeshift rotation all season, because of injuries and performance, and yet the Baltimore bullpen held up despite an extraordinary workload. No team that made the playoffs needed more bullpen innings than the Orioles, and yet the Baltimore relievers finished fifth in ERA at 3.00, a tribute to the way Buck Showalter and his coaches use all parts of their pitching staff. Closer Jim Johnson had a major-league best 51 saves, with just 15 walks in 68 2/3 innings, and got a whole lot of help from Pedro Strop, Darren O'Day and Luis Ayala.
One of the interesting decisions the Orioles will face in spring training will be what to do with left-hander Brian Matusz, who has generally struggled as a starter -- but had moments to total dominance out of the bullpen down the stretch. It may be that Matusz is a modern version of Arthur Rhodes, and is just more comfortable pitching out of the bullpen; he told me during the playoffs he really loved throwing in relief.
5. San Francisco Giants
Arizona GM Kevin Towers is known for being one of the best at piecing together a bullpen, so it should be no surprise that his former manager in San Diego, Bruce Bochy, is known for being among the best handlers of a relief corps. Over the last four seasons, this is how the San Francisco bullpen has ranked in the majors in ERA:
2009 2nd (3.49)
2010 2nd (2.99)
2011 2nd (3.04)
2012 15th (3.56)
Sergio Romo took over from Brian Wilson as closer last season, seamlessly -- especially in the postseason. In the playoffs and World Series, the Giants' bullpen, bolstered by a temporary relief assignment for Tim Lincecum, was difference-making. Jeremy Affeldt didn't allow a run in 10 1/3 innings, and struck out 10. The Giants' bullpen has nice righty/lefty balance, swing-and-miss capability, and experience. What's not to like?
6. Oakland Athletics
The Athletics finished fourth in bullpen ERA last season, at 2.94, and they basically return the entire group: All-Star Ryan Cook, Grant Balfour, Jerry Blevins, Pat Neshek, Evan Scribner and others. Cook, who was traded to the Athletics in the Trevor Cahill deal, held opposing hitters to a .166 batting average last season.
7. Los Angeles Dodgers
J.P. Howell agreed to terms with the Dodgers Friday, another good piece to an already deep bullpen; the left-hander saw his velocity increase markedly during the 2012 season, in his first full year back from shoulder surgery, to the point that his highest radar gun reading came in his last appearance of the season. Don Mattingly's weapons include Brandon League (who posted a 2.30 ERA for the Dodgers after being acquired from Seattle), Kenley Jansen (99 strikeouts in 65 innings, despite some heart issues) and Ronald Belisario.
8. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds will give Aroldis Chapman a chance to be a part of their rotation in spring training, and if he transitions into a starting pitcher, Cincinnati will still have a very good bullpen, with Jonathan Broxton, Sean Marshall, Jose Arredondo, Logan Ondrusek and Sam LeCure. But taking Chapman out of their bullpen would be like removing Miguel Cabrera from the Detroit lineup: Chapman was a relief monster last season, whiffing 122 batters and allowing just 35 hits in 71 2/3 innings. Cincinnati was No. 1 in bullpen ERA last season, at 2.65, and Chapman was the biggest reason for that.
9. San Diego Padres
To say that the Padres have a good bullpen is like saying that the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening: We've come to expect it. San Diego finished ninth in bullpen ERA last year at 3.24, getting good closer work out of Huston Street when he was healthy. The Padres benefitted from a lot of help from a lot of different relievers, but incredibly, 10 different San Diego relievers who had 11 or more appearances averaged more than a strikeout per inning, in a season in which the rotation was ravaged by injury. It will be interesting to see how the historically strong performance of the Padres' pitchers -- and those of the Mariners, for that matter -- will be affected by the decisions to reduce the dimensions in the ballparks in San Diego and Seattle.
10. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals had a lot of bullpen adventures in the first half of last year, but by the time the postseason began, St. Louis had developed something pretty special in the quartet of closer Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Edward Mujica and, most notably, in the 22-year-old Trevor Rosenthal. In the playoffs, Rosenthal allowed two hits and no runs in 8 2/3 innings, while racking up 15 strikeouts with an overpowering fastball -- more strikeouts than any St. Louis pitcher in the postseason other than Adam Wainwright.
Look, relievers are notoriously inconsistent, and history shows that today's bullpen hero can quickly disappear tomorrow. But if Rosenthal follows up on that thread of late-season success, St. Louis could have a pretty dynamic group. The Cardinals could really use a bounce-back season from Mark Rzepczynski, to provide some left-handed balance.
10a. Arizona Diamondbacks
Set-up man David Hernandez is the biggest reason why the Diamondbacks could have one of the best bullpens in the majors -- he had 98 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings, after all. But Arizona needs J.J. Putz to remain healthy, to keep Hernandez in the set-up role, and they need a return on their two-year investment in Heath Bell; Towers, who traded for Bell when he was GM of the Padres, traded for him again after noting that his velocity never dipped during his struggles in Miami last year. Brad Ziegler appeared in 77 games and held right-handed hitters to a .201 average, with just one homer in 166 at-bats.
Best of the rest: The Red Sox and Yankees could have top 10 bullpens -- if. That's the key word for them: If. If Daniel Bard and Andrew Bailey bounce back to be what they were in 2011, Boston could have an excellent and deep bullpen.
If the 43-year-old Mariano Rivera comes back from a knee reconstruction and pitches the way he did in his last full season -- in 2011, he posted a 2.16 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP -- then the Yankees' bullpen will be outstanding. Time and again over the last decade, last rites have been performed over Rivera's career at the first sign of a slump -- some of them in this column -- and time and again, Rivera has bounced back from blips to resume his preeminence. At some point, age could overtake the greatest closer of all-time. Will it be in 2012? We'll see.
The Philadelphia Phillies have a chance to have a top-10 bullpen, depending on how Mike Adams recovers from his late-season collapse and how some of the power arms around Jonathan Papelbon develop, like Phillippe Aumont.
Texas has a lot of intriguing parts among its possible set-up group, like Joakim Soria, but some uncertainty over who will be able to fill which role.
• The Dodgers are deciding between massive TV contracts.
• Lance Berkman is sitting on the Texas Rangers' offer to him, writes Jeff Wilson.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Shane Victorino says he wanted to play for the Phillies.
2. The Yankees claimed Russ Canzler on waivers, in their search for right-handed hitting. Canzler is primarily viewed as a 1B-DH type, but has played third base and the outfield, and given the fact that the Yankees probably aren't going to make a lot of additions before spring training, Canzler is going to get a serious look in Tampa. He's 26 years old.
3. The Orioles appear unwilling to give Joe Saunders the multi-year deal he wants, writes Eduardo Encina.
4. The Red Sox added a couple of minor-league free agents.
5. The Cardinals added a couple of minor-league coaches.
6. Dayton Moore talked about the Royals' offseason moves.
7. Brett Myers passed his physical with the Indians.
8. The Cubs signed Dontrelle Willis.
9. The Jays claimed a pitcher on waivers.
10. The Rockies have interest in Brandon Webb and Jeff Karstens, writes Troy Renck.
11. Eli Whiteside cleared waivers and accepted an outright assignment to the Class AAA roster of the Rangers. He effectively becomes the No. 3 catcher in the Texas organization, behind Geovany Soto and A.J. Pierzynski.
12. Geoff Baker writes about the value of Robert Andino to the Mariners.
Top 10 teams with critique from scouts.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
To repeat: The top 10 rankings are mine; the commentary is from folks who work within the sport, from GMs to assistant GMs to scouts.
The ranking of one American League team, in particular, drew a lot of scrutiny, and my team at the top was also questioned.
1. San Francisco Giants
Longtime evaluator: "To me, the Giants are the best example of what a crapshoot the postseason is. I don't think they're a great team, but they've played well in a couple of Octobers; they were lucky. I don't think they're the best team."
NL evaluator: "They won World Series, but just about everything went right; I'm not sure if that will happen again."
2. Washington Nationals
NL evaluator: "A really good rotation, but there are some questions about bullpen and their left-handed power."
3. Detroit Tigers
NL evaluator: "A really good team gets better with full seasons from Anibal Sanchez and Victor Martinez, plus the addition of Torii Hunter."
4. Cincinnati Reds
NL evaluator: "I consider them at No. 1; they have it all with Shin-Soo Choo, a brilliant addition."
AL evaluator: "I don't necessarily drink the Reds Kool-Aid. They are losing the Astros from their schedule." He notes that although the Reds won 97 games, there were seven teams with a better run differential than the Reds last year.
5. Oakland Athletics
NL evaluator: "I could be wrong, but I think the A's will regress this year. They haven't done much in the offseason and I think that other clubs will be more ready for them in 2013. It's tough facing young pitchers with little track record, and that was more or less their entire rotation in the second half of the season. They should get all the credit in the world for what they did, but I just don't expect that level of success this year again."
Longtime AL evaluator: "I don't see Oakland that high. Anaheim and Texas will be ahead of them and both should be in the top 10. For me, Oakland doesn't have a No. 1 starter or a true middle-of-the-order bat. I'd have Detroit at No. 1."
AL official: "The one that stands out are the A's. I don't love the Rangers and Angels, but I like them as much as Oakland -- and having to play 38 games against those two teams is going to be a major factor for Oakland. A lot went right for the A's in 2012 -- to their credit of course, but [it's difficult to] expect that to continue on that level. The Rangers were considered the best team in the AL last year and they return a lot of the same [players], and the Angels are better as well.
"I just think we are discounting how good the Rangers and Angels are. That is going to hurt the A's."
6. Los Angeles Dodgers
NL evaluator: "A tremendous rotation and outfield (if their health keeps), Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, a good bullpen -- and tons of money."
7. St. Louis Cardinals
NL scout: "I'm not sure what they can expect to get out of [Chris] Carpenter, and they are going to miss Kyle Lohse a lot."
8. Toronto Blue Jays
NL evaluator: "I have questions about the league transition for R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle (at this stage in his career) and Josh Johnson, but it's a deep team, and much improved."
9. Atlanta Braves
NL evaluator: "This is a deep team, and look for a big walk year from Brian McCann."
10. New York Yankees
NL evaluator: "They still have Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson will be in their walk years, so they'll figure it out."
NL official: "It is pretty amazing to see the Yankees at No. 10 and no Boston, Angels, Philadelphia or Texas. Obviously, many teams outside the top 10 could conceivably win the World Series."
Best of the rest
Some of the evaluators believe the Rangers and Angels should be in the top 10. The NL evaluator on the Rangers: "They still have really good pitching, and they're really only one left-handed bat short of a potent offense."
Wrote a longtime NL evaluator: "I personally struggled with [you] excluding Texas, the Angels and Arizona from the top 10. Texas still has a very deep pitching and the addition of Joakim Soria should at some point make a very good bullpen even better. Both Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar could really impact that lineup.
"The Angels' offense is explosive 1 through 8 in their lineup, and their bullpen has gotten better, on paper, from a year ago; both starters they lost didn't really perform well at all and they still won 86 games. To me, Arizona is an overlooked club assuming they don't trade [Justin] Upton. With the addition of Brandon McCarthy for the innings and Heath Bell in a true setup role, this is a very dangerous team with the young starters they have coming. In fact the NL West will have three of the better teams in the league this year."
We'll close the series of top 10 rankings Saturday, with a listing of the top 10 bullpens.
• After the initial power rankings column was posted, with the Giants at No. 1, I got a lot of feedback from readers wondering why I had San Francisco at No. 1, rather than Washington or Detroit or the Dodgers or Reds. Some readers felt that given the questions about Tim Lincecum and other parts of the team, San Francisco doesn't appear to be as good on paper as some other teams.
In my opinion: After winning two titles in the past three years, they've earned the credit we should give them -- and it's evident that the Giants have become very adept at playing in close games, from the depth of their bullpen to the ability of manager Bruce Bochy to maneuver. They may not be as dynamic as the 1976 Reds or the 1927 Yankees, but they've been the best team in the National League playing in close games, and this cannot be dismissed as just luck; it's a trait.
Justin Havens of ESPN Stats & Information dug out these numbers:
In one-run postseason games over the past three years, the Giants are 8-1, which is in keeping with their regular-season success in close games. The Giants are 91-66 in one-run games over the past three regular seasons, which is the second-best mark by win percentage over that span (to Baltimore). It is first, however, in total wins.
Most Wins in One-Run Games (2010-12)
In total, the Giants have a .580 win percentage in one-run games over the past three seasons, while the other 29 teams cumulatively have a .497 win percentage.
At the time the Arizona Diamondbacks signed Cody Ross, the addition created an outfield surplus for Arizona and there was a sense among some rival evaluators that Jason Kubel was the most likely guy to be traded. But Arizona has made it clear to other teams that Justin Upton is available for the right offer, and the Diamondbacks' demands have become more open-ended, sources say.
At the start of the offseason, they had insisted on a shortstop in return for a deal, but now that they have Didi Gregorius as their long-term solution at that position -- he's the shortstop they landed in the Trevor Bauer deal with Cleveland and Cincinnati -- they're more in the mindset of looking for the best possible value for Upton. The Diamondbacks view Seattle as a possible partner for Upton, although the Mariners are on Upton's list of teams to which he could veto a trade (at a time when a lot of veterans have preferred to not play in Seattle).
It may turn out that Arizona's best Upton deal could come from the Rangers, who earlier in the offseason refused to part with either Jurickson Profar or Elvis Andrus for Upton. Other teams say the Rangers are willing to trade Derek Holland in the right deal.
Upton has been dangled on the market for two straight offseasons now, and it may be best for both sides now if Arizona just makes its best deal and moves on. If that doesn't happen, Upton's relationship with the organization is going to be the dominant story of the Diamondbacks' spring training, which wouldn't be good for the player or the team.
Free agents waiting
Kyle Lohse and Lance Berkman are still looking for fits in the market, writes Derrick Goold. From Derrick's story:
"It's not exactly the situation I envisioned, not at all," Lohse said in a telephone interview Thursday. "It hasn't been exactly a free market because I'm tied to a draft pick and other guys in my class aren't. That comes at a price. You can't compare this to anything in the past because it hasn't been like this."
Free of the draft-pick snag because Washington didn't give him a qualifying offer, Edwin Jackson finalized a four-year, $52-million deal with the Cubs on Wednesday. Other free-agent pitchers like Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez, both of whom have signed, were not eligible for qualifying offers because they were traded during the season.
Lohse doesn't doubt a fair contract will arrive, it just may take an inventive solution to make a fit and the compensation rule already has limited his suitors.
Lohse did an extensive radio interview on KNFS in St. Louis to talk about his situation, and you can listen to that here.
One way that free agents such as Lohse, Rafael Soriano and Michael Bourn could theoretically veer around the whole draft-pick compensation system would be to sign a non-roster, minor league deal. But a move like that would draw enormous scrutiny from MLB, which would strongly frown upon any effort to paint outside the lines of the newly negotiated labor deal.
Speaking of free agents, Nick Swisher was introduced in Cleveland and he was all smiles, as Paul Hoynes writes. His dad is happy that he's with the Indians, writes Terry Pluto. The Indians tugged at Swisher's Ohio State history, writes Marla Ridenour.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Buck Showalter is close to an agreement on a contract extension, writes Roch Kubatko.
2. The Blue Jays have hired Tim Raines.
3. A date has not been set for Alex Rodriguez's surgery.
4. The Mets signed an infielder.
5. With Johan Santana on the way out, the Mets are hoping he can enhance his trade value.
6. The Red Sox will be scouting Javier Vazquez today, writes Rob Bradford.
7. The Reds would like to work out long-term deals with Homer Bailey and Mat Latos.
8. You can imagine Garrison Keillor nodding his head at this news: The good folks of Minnesota are on track to pay off Target Field early.
9. The Brewers signed an outfielder.
10. All sides politely addressed the question of a long-term deal for David Price. The bottom line: It's not happening. The Rays really aren't in a position to devote 25 to 33 percent of their payroll to one player -- no team should do this, because of the risk involved -- and Price has set himself up for a monster, Sabathia-like contract sometime in the next couple of years. Price knows it's a business.
11. The Rangers signed Jason Frasor.
Angels haven't really improved.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Angels' lineup is going to be very good, and people have even begun to whisper about the team potentially scoring 1,000 runs, a feat that hasn't been accomplished since the Cleveland Indians did it back in 1999. But here's the dirty little secret about the Angels' offense: The 2013 version may very well be worse than the 2012 version.
How does a team add Josh Hamilton and get worse offensively? Well, it's not as far fetched as it might sound on the surface. There are essentially three big factors that could cause the Angels to score fewer runs than they did last year.
1. Hamilton is not going to be a big upgrade over what Torii Hunter did in 2012.
If you just focus on home runs -- Hamilton hit 43, Hunter hit 16 -- this might seem ridiculous. But there's more to life than home runs, and what Hunter lacked in power, he made up for in singles. Despite having 52 fewer plate appearances, Hunter out-singled Hamilton 126 to 84, and while singles might not be as flashy as home runs, they are useful run-scoring tools in their own right. Because of all those base hits, Hunter posted a higher OBP than Hamilton -- .365 to .354 -- and he did it while playing half his games in Anaheim, not Texas.
This is one of the scenarios in which park factors actually are a really big deal. During his time with the Rangers, Hamilton had a .965 OPS at home and just a .867 on the road. The Ballpark in Arlington is one of the very best places in all of baseball to hit, especially in the summer when the temperature and the humidity rise. While we can't just expect Hamilton to turn into what he has been on the road now that he's leaving the friendly confines of Texas, his overall offensive numbers will come down. That's why we look at park adjusted numbers such as wRC+, which account for different offensive environments and put everyone on a level playing field.
Last year, Hunter posted a 130 wRC+, meaning that he hit 30 percent better than a league average hitter would be expected to while playing half his games in Anaheim. Josh Hamilton's career wRC+ is 135. Last year, he posted a 140 wRC+, but he's also getting older and age-related decline could easily push Hamilton's overall performance down to a similar level to what Hunter produced for the Angels last year.
2. The 2012 Angels were remarkably healthy and a little lucky.
The Angels didn't have to deal with too many injuries last year, and the ones that did arise generally came on the mound. Among the regular position players, only Chris Iannetta and Erick Aybar hit the DL in 2012, and Aybar was disabled only from July 22 to Aug. 8. Torii Hunter spent two weeks away from the team dealing with a personal issue, but even counting that, the rest of the hitters stayed active the entire season. The Angels had eight players garner at least 500 plate appearances last year, which is something that simply isn't likely to be repeated again in 2013.
They also had some good fortune when it comes to how often their balls in play went for base hits. They led the AL with a .311 team BABIP, nearly 20 points higher than the league average last year. Some of that is due to having a lineup of speedy players, but even adjusting for the team's speed, the Angels can't count on getting the same amount of hits in 2012 as they did in 2013. The main regression candidate -- now that Hunter has been replaced, at least -- is Mike Trout, who posted a .383 BABIP last season. Even with Trout's speed and skill, that number is unlikely to be sustained.
Over the past three years, 46 AL hitters have received 1,500 or more plate appearances; 45 of them have posted a BABIP below .350, with Austin Jackson (.370) as the lone exception. Even if you look at elite speed guys, you see they can't sustain BABIPs much more than .350 for any length of time. Ichiro, for his career, has a .347 BABIP. Michael Bourn is at .343. Carl Crawford is at .328. Trout's BABIP is going to come down. The only question is how far.
3. They're also replacing Kendrys Morales with Peter Bourjos.
I like Bourjos more than most, and I think he's a much better hitter than he showed in limited duty in 2012. But, no matter how bullish you might be on his overall value, there's no question that replacing Morales' bat with Bourjos' is a massive downgrade. Morales posted a 118 wRC+ last year, while Bourjos' career mark is just 95, making him a slightly-below-average hitter during his time in the big leagues. Given his high strikeout rate and low power output, being an average hitter is probably his ceiling, as the Angels are essentially hoping he can turn into the West Coast version of Michael Bourn, making up for the decent bat with elite defense in the outfield.
Swapping out Morales for Bourjos is probably a bigger offensive downgrade than swapping Hunter for Hamilton is an upgrade. While most of the focus is understandably on the addition of Hamilton, we must remember that the Angels made room for Hamilton by jettisoning Morales. When projecting their offense in 2013, we can't simply pretend that they're going to have all their good hitters back and simply added another great hitter to the mix. That's not a reflection of what has actually happened this winter.
When you add up all the expected gains -- likely some improvement from Albert Pujols, perhaps better health from Chris Iannetta, the addition of Josh Hamilton -- there are enough positives to expect the Angels to still a have a very good offense in 2013, even with the issues listed above. But they had a very good offense last year -- their team wRC+ of 112 was second best in baseball -- and improving significantly on that performance is going to be a tall order. Adding Hamilton should allow them to remain one of the best offensive clubs in baseball, but don't get too carried away with what putting him in right field will do to their offense. If the Angels match their offensive performance from 2012, they'll be doing well. Expecting them to take a huge step forward is probably unrealistic.
Players whose jobs are in jeopardy.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Michael Morse, 1B/LF | Washington Nationals
His first opportunity to be an every-day player at the major league level came in 2011, and he responded by hitting .303/.360/.550 with 31 homers. Despite injuries in 2012, the 30-year-old proved that it was not fluke by belting out 18 bombs in 102 games while batting .291.
However, the Nationals needed a plus defensive center fielder, so when they had the opportunity to trade for Denard Span, they did, thus forcing them to move Bryce Harper to left field and Morse to first. However, the Nats are still trying to sign free-agent first baseman Adam LaRoche, and if he finally agrees to take their two-year offer then Morse will be completely out of a starting job.
When that happens, AL clubs will be lining up to trade for Morse. It doesn’t seem fair for this to happen to a player with as much class and character as Morse, but it’s part of the game.
Jason Kubel, LF | Arizona Diamondbacks
Kubel, 30, signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Diamondbacks last winter and produced just as GM Kevin Towers had hoped, with 30 homers and doubles along with adequate defense in left field. But when the D-backs signed Cody Ross to a three-year deal worth $26 million, it became obvious that either Justin Upton or Kubel will eventually get traded.
There are some who will argue that the D-backs could open with an outfield of Kubel in left, Ross in center and Upton in right, and they could be right, but eventually Ross will end up in a corner where he best fits and Adam Eaton will the center fielder. And although Arizona keeps listening to offers on Justin Upton, it’s questionable if it’ll get offered a package worth enough for Arizona to ship out a 25-year old who’s already hit 30 home runs and finished fourth in MVP voting.
Therefore, it’s Kubel who could end up losing his job in Arizona and being traded to a team like the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees or Seattle Mariners, who could all use the 30 home run power from the left side that Kubel can supply.
Andy Dirks, OF | Detroit Tigers
Manager Jim Leyland told me this week that Dirks is his every-day left fielder and that he earned the spot last year. The 26-year-old ended up hitting .322/.370/.487 in 88 games last year, and against right-handed pitching he hit an impressive .336.
Although he’s projected to be the Tigers' opening day left fielder, he’ll have to be watching over his shoulder in spring training for Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos, the Tigers' two top position player prospects. The Tigers' front office is split on who is the better prospect between the two, with some liking Garcia and his five tools while others point to Castellanos' special hit tool as the separator. Either way, they both possess an upside that Dirks lacks, and he could lose his job before he really makes it his.
Jonny Gomes, LF | Boston Red Sox
He's coming off of an impressive offensive year with the A’s when he hit .262/.377/.491, and his high energy, enthusiasm and leadership will work well in the Boston clubhouse.
The question will come down to the same thing it always has for Gomes in Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Washington and Oakland, and that’s how his defense plays. Left field in Boston is particularly tricky because of the Green Monster, and the Red Sox won't hesitate to play Daniel Nava or Ryan Kalish there if Gomes' defense suffers.
The good news for Gomes is that he's a pull hitter, so Fenway suits him well, and he should get reps whenever a lefty starts.
Coco Crisp, CF | Oakland Athletics
He signed a two-year, $14 million deal prior to last season, and eventually won the every-day center-field job when Yoenis Cespedes was moved to left field. After a slow start, Crisp hit .259/.325/.418 with 39 steals in helping the A’s win 94 games and the American League West title.
However, an offseason deal with the Diamondbacks that netted Chris Young could mean that Crisp could be moved to a reserve role. Young, 29, was injured most of 2012 but has hit 20 or more home runs four different times in his career and is considered a better defensive outfielder than Crisp. GM Billy Beane keeps saying there will be enough playing time for all four outfielders, but it’s hard to imagine that Josh Reddick and Cespedes won’t be starting most games on the corner and Bob Melvin won’t prefer to start the better defender in Young in center. That would leave Crisp to the DH role, something he’s not exactly enthused about and doesn't play to his strength. A trade is likely.
Luis Cruz, 3B | Los Angeles Dodgers
Cruz, 28, finally got his first real opportunity at the major league level playing in 78 games at third base and contributing with solid defense and a slash line of .297/.322/.431 with six homers in 296 plate appearances. Hanley Ramirez prefers to play shortstop, but the Dodgers are concerned about his defense so much that they have him working on his positioning and angles in winter ball.
NL teams have studied Cruz and will have a better idea how to pitch to him this year, and if Ramirez doesn’t improve his defense a switch back to third base is a real possibility. That would allow the Dodgers to give the inconsistent but flashy Dee Gordon another chance to play shortstop and would give their defense an upgrade. With a new potent lineup, Gordon could hit seventh or eighth and his speed and range will more than make up for his lack of offense. Keep an eye on how Ramirez handles shortstop in spring training, as that will be the key.
Curt Schilling is a Hall of Famer.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The candidacy of Morris, who has dangled on the precipice of induction in recent years, comes with a strong case: durable pitcher for a long time, ace of his pitching staff, good win-loss record, postseason legend, thought highly of by contemporaries. Only problem is, that's not actually the case for Jack Morris, but for another prominent pitcher on this year's ballot, Curt Schilling.
Running down the Jack Morris case, Curt Schilling's better at being the mythical Jack Morris than the actual Jack Morris ever was. And if any non-Clemens pitcher should get in this year, it's Schilling. Check out this point-by-point breakdown.
Jack Morris, staff ace
Yes, Jack Morris started a lot of Opening Day games (14) over the course of his career. During his run with the Tigers, there just wasn't a whole lot of star power in the rotation, so it's unsurprising that Morris would receive a lot of the Opening Day starts. Pitchers like Dan Petry, Walt Terrell, and a Frank Tanana in the junkballing stage of his career all had their moments, but Morris was generally the most dependable member of the rotation.
But it sounds more impressive than it is. Think about the aces in baseball right now and most people will come up with a similar list of names, including some combination of Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and so on. I'd be willing to bet that almost nobody, when narrowing down the best pitchers in baseball to name the best, considers -- or even knows -- how many Opening Day starts each of the best pitchers in baseball have made. Because it's a crazy method of evaluation that's rarely been used, outside of making Morris look like a credible Hall of Fame candidate.
A better definition of an ace pitcher, a non-controversial one widely used whether you're a stathead or have old-school tendencies, is a durable starting pitcher who keeps the other team from scoring. After all, that's the primary contribution of a pitcher to teams winning baseball games.
Here, Morris fares poorly and Schilling fares extremely well. In the parks and leagues Morris played in over his career, a 4.10 ERA would have been a league-average pitcher. Morris' 3.90 ERA leaves him with an ERA+ of 105. That's a good pitcher, but not a great one. Schilling, on the other hand, had a 3.46 ERA in an era with more offense, when a 4.39 ERA was league average, resulting in an ERA+ of 127. The 563 extra innings Morris threw don't make up the difference, as Schilling would have to throw 563 innings of an 8.36 ERA to come down to Morris' career ERA+. Would anyone suggest pitching like that would enhance his ace status?
Jack Morris, proven winner
As the argument goes, Jack Morris was able to pitch to the score, enabling him to win more games for the Tigers than you would expect from his ERA.
When the record is actually looked at, there's no such evidence that Morris successfully pitched to the score. While he may have attempted to do so, the facts tell a different story. Based on the offenses of his teams and his runs allowed, you would expect to see 251 wins. Instead, he won 254, an extra win that came around less often than presidential elections. In tie games during his career, Morris allowed a .692 OPS, compared to his .693 OPS allowed overall. Morris did win more games than you would expect from his ERA in itself, but that was as a result of the offense. If you want to reward the Tigers' offense, it would make more sense to honor Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, two players who should've been in the Hall a long time ago.
At 254-186, Morris' .577 career winning percentage ranks 192nd all time. Schilling had fewer wins (216), but also fewer losses (146) and would have go a little below .500 for roughly two more seasons (38-40) to catch Morris in wins and losses.
Jack Morris, postseason legend
Morris, without a doubt, threw one of the most thrilling postseason games of my lifetime, his legendary Game 7 duel against John Smoltz in the 1991 World Series. The problem for Morris' postseason résumé is that taken as a whole, the rest of his playoff performances were considerably less impressive. In 13 career playoff starts, Morris' 3.80 ERA in 92⅓ innings isn't the stuff of legend. He allowed more than two runs in about half his playoff starts (six) and while he should get credit for that Game 7, you can't ignore the other 82⅓ innings of a 4.26 ERA.
Schilling's record, on the other hand, is one of the best in baseball history. An 11-2, 2.23 line in 19 starts is nearly unmatched in postseason history -- only Mariano Rivera has a higher WPA (win probability added) among pitchers. Schilling allowed two or fewer runs in 15 of 18 playoff starts and, as narrative goes, the Bloody Sock game is a ripping good yarn in its own right.
Jack Morris "felt" like a great
One of the common arguments made for Jack Morris is that everybody at the time knew they were looking at a great pitcher, and 25 years later we can't properly understand Morris' contributions. Accepting for the sake of argument that we should look at memories of actual performance over, well, actual performance, there are plenty of objective ways to see what contemporaries thought. Every offseason, the writers at the time, those who supposedly saw his greatness, had the opportunity to vote for the best pitchers that they saw in the previous year. And those writers who allegedly knew him best, generally ranked other pitchers above Morris.
Over his career, tallying up Cy Young votes, Morris accumulated .73 award shares, ranking 76th in the Cy Young era and putting him just ahead of Dontrelle Willis (.70) and Mike Hampton (.68) and well behind contemporaries who never won a Cy Young, such as Dave Stewart (1.22, 43rd) and Jimmy Key (1.25, 41st). Morris never finished higher than third in the Cy Young vote (he did it twice), and while he started three All-Star Games, a total of five All-Star appearances is a weak number for a player whose Hall of Fame case relies on reputation.
Schilling made only six All-Star appearances, but when the contemporaries who saw Schilling pitch were asked to name the greatest pitchers every October, Schilling's name came up a lot more often. He never won the Cy Young award outright, but finished second on three occasions and his 1.85 award shares rank him 18th overall.
The freak stat
In the end, practically every argument for Jack Morris will mention that he had the most pitching wins in a conveniently named decade (the 1980s). This sounds sexier than it actually is, and while it's a testament to his durability, it's also a testament to the coincidence that the best part of Morris' career conveniently fit between a year ending in zero and a year ending in nine. Once you actually look at winningest pitchers over decades that aren't tidily described, pitchers like Paul Derringer and Bucky Walters start to trickle in, making the stat less exciting.
Schilling's freak stat doesn't need any parlor tricks. Since walks became the statistic we know today in 1889, Schilling has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio ever. No contrived qualifications needed. Ever.
Jack Morris played a role in baseball history, but it was a supporting one. Induction into the Hall should represent true greatness. If 2013 ends and Curt Schilling didn't give a speech in a certain small town in upstate New York, it will have been the voting that fell short, not his qualifications.
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Free-agent designated hitter Lance Berkman, whom sources said Saturday agreed to terms on a one-year deal pending a physical, wants Texas Rangers fans to know that he was wrong about his assessment of the club a few years ago and plans to win them over with his play.
Berkman said before the 2011 season began that he thought the Rangers were going to be an average team despite making the World Series the previous season and he questioned whether the team's long-term deal with Adrian Beltre was "a reach."
He said prior to that World Series that he was wrong and reiterated that on Sunday.
"I'm prepared to let bygones be bygones, but I understand the fans remembering those comments."
damn, we're really hurting. dude publicly gives us the business and we give him 10 mil.
If he's healthy, he's a huge upgrade over anything we've run out regularly at DH since Vlad left...
If you can get Upton, roll Kinsler to first and that's not but either... They're still gonna score a lot of runs and they'll strike out a ton less with Nap and Hamilton gone.
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If I'm the Rangers, if I can't work out a deal for Upton, I roll Kinsler out to LF, Put Profar and Olt on the right side and run with it. Good chance that's pretty decent, I think...
If you can get Upton, roll Kinsler to first and that's not but either... They're still gonna score a lot of runs and they'll strike out a ton less with Nap and Hamilton gone.
If Andrus goes in the trade, who plays 2nd? I would think they'd keep Kinsler at 2nd and swing Olt to first or stick with Moreland.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
With run scoring off 1990s/2000s levels for the third straight year, it's time for them to change again. So forget 500 homers, 3,000 hits and 300 wins; let's take a look at what the new Hall of Fame thresholds should be for those three catergories and project which current players will reach them.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Jeter cruised past 3,000 hits but also peaked during a hitter-friendly era.
What's generally forgotten about the decline in offense is that the changes in batting average have been greater than the decline in home runs. Baseball has hit .256 over the previous three years, 15 points fewer than the .270 mark baseball hit several times in the mid-'90s.
There are 20 active players with a .300 career batting average (minimum 3,000 plate appearances), but if you translate their pre-2010 numbers to 2010 to 2012 offense, you lose 14 of the 20. Over an entire career for a young player like Bryce Harper or Mike Trout, that's enough to knock off 100-150 hits. It's hard enough to clear 3,000 as it is, and you lose one-third of the 3,000-hit club (nine of 28) if you eliminate a 150-hit cushion.
Of midcareer players, the decline in league batting average is enough to reduce the estimated odds of Jose Reyes' getting 3,000 hits from 40 percent to 25. For Jimmy Rollins, from 22 percent to 8 percent. For David Wright, from 20 percent to 12 percent. For the younger set, the climb to 3,000 or .300 will be even more difficult if they play their entire careers in which a league-average batting average is in the .250s. Thanks to being a full-timer at age 20 and a skill set very conducive to racking up hit totals, Starlin Castro is best positioned to make a run at 3,000 hits, as he's 20th all time in hits through age 22 season. Still, ZiPS projects he'll do it as a sub-.300 hitter (.289).
The new hits standard should be: 2,800
Best bets under 30 years old to reach it (percent chance): Miguel Cabrera (76), Jose Reyes (57), Ryan Braun (47), Adam Jones (45), Starlin Castro (45), Nick Markakis (37), Mike Trout (34), Freddie Freeman (30), Billy Butler (29).
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Verlander might be the best pitcher of his era, but reaching 300 wins is unlikely.
While the change in offense levels don't directly impact win totals significantly, the historical changes in pitcher usage that have resulted in starting pitchers receiving fewer decisions have continued.
It's still likely that someone will win 300 games, but no one likely right now, with the highest mean projections for wins for active pitchers by ZiPS being CC Sabathia (274), Roy Halladay (261), Justin Verlander (258), Tim Hudson (241) and Mark Buehrle (239). The prevalence of the 300-game winner was always overrated -- there were only 11 300-game winners between the end of the dead ball era and the recent ones who debuted in the 1980s.
Instead of adjusting downward, the voters have been even stingier at admitting starting pitchers, with Bert Blyleven (1970 debut) the only pitcher used mainly a starter to be inducted since Nolan Ryan in 1999. A recent troubling example of this parsimony of the BBWAA is that Kevin Brown, with an innings total and ERA+ just a hair below Carl Hubbell's, not only didn't get elected but didn't even tally enough votes to make a second ballot.
In today's game, 250 wins should be the new 300, with pitchers with terrific ERAs and 200-250 wins no longer generally getting the quick boot by voters.
The new wins standard should be: 250
Best bets under 30 years old to reach it (percent chance): Justin Verlander (58), Felix Hernandez (44), Clayton Kershaw (40), Madison Bumgarner (35), Cole Hamels (32), David Price (31), Trevor Cahill (30), Matt Cain (27).
Marc Serota/Getty Images
Stanton might be the only active player with a legit chance at 500 homers.
Because the best home run hitters today are generally hitting fewer than they were 15 years ago, the best young players are going to have a harder climb to hit 400, 500 or 600 home runs. For batters in the middle of their careers, the drop-off has been significant enough to still put a dent in their final totals.
Asking the ZiPS projection system to project the final career totals of active major leaguers, only five players among the under-30 set are estimated to have a 50 percent or greater shot at 400 homers: Giancarlo Stanton, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp and Bryce Harper. A 10-15 percent drop in home run rate from the 1990s might not sound like an alarming decline, but that's enough for a 450-homer slugger to lose 40-75 home runs, assuming league offense remains depressed.
While the drop in offense is hardly a secret, it remains an open question just how much voters will take these changes into account. Baseball had another down period for offense 25 years ago, with 1988-1993 representing a forgotten pitchers era. A disproportionate number of hitters who had large chunks of their peaks during that time frame have received shockingly low Hall of Fame support, most notably Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Will Clark and Fred McGriff.
For the more borderline cases that writers are likely to see 10 to 15 years from now, some of the borderlines are likely to be more so. Adam Dunn probably needed to hit 600 homers to get serious consideration, and at the average level of offense from 1994 to 2009, ZiPS estimated that he'd make a serious fight. Now, he's likely to fall short of 550. David Ortiz was already 34 years old before the league homer rate dropped, but the changes in offense were still enough to drop his projected career total from 530 to 493. While it sounds easy enough to hang around to get seven homers, ask McGriff, who finished with 493, how hard those last few homers can be.
The new home run standard should be: 450
Best bets under 30 years old to reach it (percent chance): Miguel Cabrera (79), Giancarlo Stanton (68), Prince Fielder (57), Ryan Braun (54), Bryce Harper (48), Mike Trout (41), Matt Kemp (37), Jason Heyward (32), Freddie Freeman (29)
The current Hall of Fame voting patterns may make a hard climb for today's players to get into the Hall even steeper, assuming no reforms. If you go through baseball history on a year-to-year basis and tally the percentage of plate appearances made by future Hall of Famers, that number frequently exceeded 20 percent from the 1930s to 1950s. Extend that today, and that would be 36,000 plate appearances in 2012 made by future Hall of Famers. Under today's ballots, that's not very likely.
Changing standards means that statistical thresholds we use to evaluate careers will also have to change, or we'll end up leaving worthy players without a hint of steroids suspicions out of the Hall. One of baseball's greatest strengths is its history, and if we leave future generations with less of it, our favorite sport will suffer the consequences.
Buster Posey's incredible arbitration case.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Posey has accomplished so much in such a short time in his career that Al Saracevic was moved to ask whether the start of Posey's career is the best start of any career ever.
Whether or not you think that's a debatable point, this is not: Posey has the most unique arbitration case for any player with fewer than three years of service time, and maybe the best case, which is why his contract situation will be a front-burner issue for the San Francisco Giants in the weeks ahead. The Giants have not started negotiations with Posey on a long-term deal -- they have discussed it internally, GM Brian Sabean said recently -- but it would be logical for them to consider a long-term investment in Posey, along the lines of what Troy Tulowitzki and Joey Votto got from the Colorado Rockies and Cincinnati Reds, respectively.
The other day, a longtime talent evaluator talked about the swing of an established All-Star outfielder and mentioned how blocky his movements are. "He doesn't have a swing like Buster Posey where everything looks natural and athletic," the evaluator said.
The Giants can feel really strongly about that with Posey as they discuss the length of any forthcoming offer: Posey is still only 25 years old, and he's built to last. He's a catcher with the acuity to play the position at a championship-caliber level even after coming back from a crushing ankle injury. But if the Giants decided to place a priority on having Posey in the lineup every day rather than having him at catcher, Posey has already demonstrated an ability to play first base. Posey -- who was a shortstop at Florida State before he switched to catcher -- probably could play third base, too.
No matter where he plays, Posey likely will continue to be an elite offensive player. Hensley Meulens, the Giants' hitting coach, spoke over the phone in November about Posey's ability to hit, about how he didn't require a lot of daily maintenance. Giants manager Bruce Bochy talked to Posey about being rested properly, especially in his first full season after his ankle injury, so Posey would limit his daily work on the field to save his body from wear and tear. "He really knows his body pretty well," Bochy said.
Posey would go through a limited series of drills in the cage with Meulens, never a high volume. He didn't take much early batting practice -- in fact, Meulens had to search his memory to think about whether Posey had taken any -- but in that limited number of swings, Posey would be prepared. "That's a real talent, to be able to hit without too much work," one scout said. "It says a lot about his approach but also his understanding of his swing."
If the Giants decide to invest a 10-year deal in Posey, as the Reds did with Votto, they aren't going to worry about whether he'll hit in Year 6 of the deal or what position he might be able to play in Year 8. He's had some extraordinary first steps to his career and may be just as uniquely qualified to finish strongly, too.
Berkman's new deal
Lance Berkman will turn 37 next month, so the $10 million deal that he agreed to with the Rangers on Saturday surprised some rival officials. But the Rangers likely viewed the signing through this prism: In an offseason in which Mike Napoli agreed to a deal that would pay him $13 million annually (although his contract with the Red Sox has not been completed) and David Ortiz got a two-year deal for $26 million, getting Berkman at $10 million seems to be more reasonable to Texas. The Rangers considered a move to get Jason Kubel from the Diamondbacks (with his $7.5 million salary) but would have had to swap a decent prospect to get the veteran. All that Berkman costs Texas is cash.
Other teams have been interested in Berkman, who hit 31 homers and posted a .412 on-base percentage for the Cardinals in 2011, when they won the World Series. But some officials were concerned about the condition of his surgically repaired knees and his conditioning; they wondered about whether Berkman would be driven to be in the kind of shape he was going into 2011.
For the Rangers, this is the assumed risk. If healthy and in condition, Berkman has shown he will hit -- even while hampered in 2012, he posted a .381 on-base percentage in 32 games -- and if he can produce like he did in '11, the Texas lineup looks very different:
2B (or 1B) Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
3B Adrian Beltre
LF David Murphy
RF Nelson Cruz
C A.J. Pierzynski
1B Mitch Moreland (or 2B Jurickson Profar, depending on what happens in spring)
CF Leonys Martin/Craig Gentry
Texas might not be finished with its offseason work. If the Diamondbacks trade Justin Upton before spring training -- and some rival executives believe this will happen, to turn the page on the tension that has built up between the team and the player -- the Rangers are one team that could match up best in a deal. (Atlanta is another.) If the Marlins intend to trade the frustrated Giancarlo Stanton -- and right now they're generating conversation about that -- Texas is in position to put together an offer.
In forgoing retirement for now, Berkman makes more money and gets another run at a championship. But he also could improve his chances of being a serious Hall of Fame candidate: Right now, Berkman is probably a fringe candidate. He rates highly in advanced metrics (his OPS+ of 146 puts him in the Joe Torre/Dale Murphy neighborhood, according to Baseballreference.com), but he has fewer than 2,000 career hits (1,843) to go with his 360 career homers. If he plays a couple of more seasons in the Rangers' hitter-friendly home ballpark, he might help his chances for induction.
Berkman likely will be an important part of Texas' clubhouse makeover. Michael Young, long considered one of the leaders of what was a very strong clubhouse culture, was traded to the Phillies. Among those remaining with the Rangers, Beltre is regarded as a leader because of his very serious daily devotion to being in the lineup -- and Berkman, with his acute sense of humor, could be another. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny loved having him around the team last season, feeling that his personality helped a lot over the long season.
Berkman isn't cheap, but he could be worth the risk, writes Tim Cowlishaw.
" Mariano Rivera is almost good to go, writes Dan Martin. From his piece:
•"I need to do more strengthening," said Rivera, who seemed to be in good health Saturday, when he gave a pitching clinic for 150 children, including many who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School, at Frozen Ropes Training Center in Danbury, Conn. "The hope is the 5 percent comes quick."
He said he doesn't believe the upcoming season will be impacted by his injury.
"Just make sure when I get there, I'm ready," Rivera said. "I'm starting to get more active every day. I have a month or five weeks to start doing things [before pitchers and catchers report to Tampa]."
He remained non-committal about his future during a Q&A session with the participants.
"I have another contract for this year," Rivera said. "You never know what's going to happen next year."
" Jose Bautista says the Blue Jays are going to be good.
" The Marlins called the Padres about Giancarlo Stanton, writes Bill Center.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Pirates made some minor league managerial assignments.
2. Bill Madden thinks that Scott Boras is caught in a pickle.
3. Jose Molina is expected to be the Rays' primary catcher again.
The Cardinals' Achilles heel.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
And while the team may be content to wait for prospect Kolten Wong and pray that the tape and glue holding Rafael Furcal together will hold for a full season, they should be more aggressive in getting middle-infield help in what could be the last year for the Chris Carpenter-Adam Wainwright era.
Looking at each offensive position/position group, the Cardinals received top-10 WAR production from their outfielders (second-best in the majors), catchers (third), first basemen (fifth) and third basemen (eighth), but their middle infield lagged behind -- their shortstops were 18th-best as a unit, and their second basemen placed a lowly 24th overall. Part of the problem at shortstop was that Furcal got hurt, but then again, part of the problem was that Furcal wasn't really any good.
This past season was the second consecutive season and third season in the past four that Furcal has been unable to post even adequate offensive numbers. Yes, shortstop production has been down recently, but of the 35 shortstops who accumulated at least 600 plate appearances over the past two seasons, Furcal's 85 wRC+ ties for a middling 19th place. And his 1.2 WAR last season ranked dead last among the 20 shortstops who posted 500 or more plate appearances. So not only has Furcal been bad overall, he also has been bad for his position.
And while Pete Kozma helped save the team's ranking with strong play down the stretch, his .415 BABIP made it pretty clear that he played over his head. Neither player is a real solution moving forward, though because Furcal is set to collect $7 million next season, he's going to get a shot at being one anyway.
The Cards have similarly not looked externally for a solution at second base either. Instead, they are looking at two players already in the system to help them upgrade the keystone. The first one is prospect Kolten Wong. Drafted in the first round in 2011, Wong turned heads in his 2011 debut, but didn't hit nearly as well in his time in Double-A. With a .287/.342/.405 line that was good for a 111 wRC+, he posted above-average numbers, but they were a far cry from the .335/.401/.510, 158 wRC+ line he posted in Class A in 2011. Reports on his makeup and fielding remain high, but unless he comes out of the gate swinging a very hot bat, he'll probably spend most of his 2013 season in Triple-A.
The other option the Cardinals are examining is the possibility of moving Matt Carpenter to second base. If Carpenter can pull off the transition, this would indeed be great news for St. Louis.
Last season, in about half a year's worth of PAs (360 to be exact), Carpenter posted a tasty 125 wRC+. He did actually start two games at second base last season, but he played mostly on the corners. In fact, the two games he started at second were the first two games he had started there in his career. Cardinals fans have seen this movie before. In 2011, having a total of two minor league games at second base under his belt, St. Louis tried to move the 6-foot-2 Allen Craig to second base. The experiment lasted eight games before it was abandoned. At 6-3 and with no previous experience at second base, Carpenter faces similarly long odds.
Short at second
Second base is just not a position for tall guys.
The defensive spectrum in baseball exists for a reason -- it's easy to move down it, but difficult to move up it, especially as a player ages. It's even more difficult to move up it if you don't have any experience at the position you're trying to move to.
In the past decade, 70 players have started at least 100 games in a season at second base. Only three of them have been listed at 6-3 -- Jorge Cantu, Neil Walker and Ben Zobrist (see table). Each of them had played at least 168 games at second base, shortstop or catcher in the minors (shortstop and catcher being the only two positions higher on the defensive spectrum than second base). Pushing the sample down to the 35 players who were 6-foot or taller, we find similar results. Of the 34 to play in the minors (Alexei Ramirez doesn't count, as he went straight from Cuba to the majors), they averaged 359 games at second, short or catcher in the minors before seeing significant action in the majors.
Only two players saw fewer than 100 games -- Gordon Beckham, who graduated to the majors quickly but was always a middle infielder, and Daniel Murphy. Murphy, in essence, is the one player to whom Carpenter and the Cardinals can hitch their wagon, and his wagon isn't particularly sturdy. Murphy has started 100 or more games at second only once in his four major league seasons, and the results weren't very good -- he posted a -9.0 UZR at second in doing so in 2012, in essence giving back a great deal of his offensive value.
If Carpenter can't buck the considerable odds stacked against him and Wong spends most of his time in Triple-A, then the Cards are left with Daniel Descalso. Descalso has hung around in the majors for the past two seasons, but it certainly hasn't been because of his bat -- he owns a paltry .245/.318/.337 career line. He also isn't a plus fielder, which makes one wonder exactly what his credentials for playing in the majors are.
Is a Descalso-Furcal combo really the best St. Louis can do? Doubtful. Whether it's putting together a monster package to pry away someone like Troy Tulowitzki or Ian Kinsler, or a smaller package for someone like J.J. Hardy or Jed Lowrie, the Cardinals have the prospect bounty to get a deal done. The team tends to take the long view, but their stable of pitching prospects is so deep that they could afford to part with some in an effort to upgrade their middle infield and win in 2013 and still have enough pitching left for future years, so there is less risk of depleting their system than there would be for less well-endowed franchises.
Wong may turn out to be a solid big leaguer, but there's no guarantee, and even if he does, the Cardinals may spend most of 2013 with lackluster second base play waiting for him to arrive, and that could very well cost them games. If the Cards plan on winning a pennant in what could be the final year under the arch for Carpenter and Wainwright, as well as Carlos Beltran, the time to strike is now.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
AM ETFrancisco Liriano | White Sox Recommend0Comments0EmailThe Pittsburgh Pirates have yet to formally announce the two-year deal with free agent Francisco Liriano that was widely reported a few days before Christmas, but that is not a cause for alarm, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Sunday.
Biertempfel says there is no hang-up, only that the process was slowed down by the holidays. The Pirates open a voluntary minicamp Monday in Bradenton, Florida, so an announcement could come soon.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates
Could Profar land in Triple-A?
AM ETTexas Rangers Recommend0Comments0EmailWe know the Texas Rangers currently have an embarrassment of riches at shortstop with Elvis Andrus as the starter and the highly-acclaimed Jurickson Profar just about ready for prime time.
Profar got a taste of the big leagues last September and became just the third teenager to homer in his first career major league at-bat, raising the expectations for 2013 even higher. But if the Rangers don't trade Andrus between now and Opening Day, what do the Rangers do with Profar?
Ian Kinsler cold move over to first base with Profar slotted in at second, but Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com notes the club has a financial incentive to have Profar start the year at Triple-A Round Rock.
If Profar were to stay in the minors until about mid-May, he might not be able to accumulate a full year of service time in 2013, which would slow his clock for free agency down the road. That could mean big dollars in future years.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers
Opportunity for Gimenez
AM ETTampa Bay Rays Recommend0Comments0EmailThe Tampa Bay Rays picked up the $1.8 million option on Jose Molina back in November and will likely give the 37-year-old the bulk of the starts behind the plate in 2013.
As for who backs up Molina, it appears Chris Gimenez will get a legitimate chance to compete with Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos, reports Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times.
Health issues regarding Chirinos and Lobaton gave Gimenez to make the club out of spring training as a non-roster player. The 30-year-old Gimenez started slowly and was sent back to the minors, but hit over .400 as a September call-up, which was even more impressive given the Rays were in the middle of a pennant race. Lobaton, however, is out of minor-league options, so the Rays could be less inclined to send him down, even if Gimenez plays well.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Tampa Bay Rays, Chris Gimenez
Mets discussed Upton, Kubel
AM ETNew York Mets Recommend0Comments3EmailWe are a little more than a month away from the start of spring training and just three teams -- the Milwaukee Brewers, New York Mets and Houston Astros -- have failed to spend a single penny on a free agent, according go ESPN's Free Agent Tracker.
That doesn't mean Mets general manager Sandy Alderson isn't making and taking some calls, either via free agency or the trade route. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets Monday the Mets talked to the Diamondbacks about deals involving outfielders Justin Upton and Jason Kubel, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (on Twitter). Heyman says the price for Upton was too high and Kubel wasn't an attractive fit for the Mets.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Mets
Nolasco as Fish trade bait?
AM ETRicky Nolasco | Marlins Recommend0Comments0EmailWhen the Miami Marlins staged their latest fire sale earlier this offseason, Ricky Nolasco was vocal in his desire to get out of South Beach.
While the Marlins insist publicly they are not looking to deal Nolasco, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe says the 30-year-old is available, especially since the Fish are in a selling mode. After all, if they are taking phone calls on Giancarlo Stanton, they will certainly do the same with Nolasco,
A more plausible scenario could be holding on to Nolasco and allow him to enhance his trade value as the July 31 deadline approaches. Nolasco, who will make $11.5 million this season, will be more attractive if he can cut down his 4.48 ERA posted in 2012.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Ricky Nolasco, Miami Marlins
Fish not looking to deal Stanton
AM ETGiancarlo Stanton | Marlins Recommend0Comments8EmailThere's been a lot of chatter of late about the possibility -- slim though it may be -- that the Miami Marlins could trade Giancarlo Stanton. The idea stemmed from the club's decision to trade away several of its best players, which certainly didn't make Stanton a happy camper.
Since then, reports have varied a bit about the Marlins' stance on Stanton. Miami's brass has stated that no player is untouchble, per club policy to at least listen to all offers. But assistant GM Dan Jennings told ESPN Insider's Jim Bowden that the team is not shopping the right fielder.
The latest rumor had the Padres as one of the teams the Marlins have talked to about Stanton, according to Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
And yet, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports that the Fish are not shopping nor dangling nor even so much as floating Stanton's name in trade talks. Spencer cites a source who claims the Marlins haven't even discussed the idea internally. Spencer's source called Center?s report "completely off base" and "totally ridiculous."
Color us confused as we try to keep track of the various reports and speculation. We're also skeptical that Miami wouldn't have at least brought up Stanton's name internally, in a "Hey, what does everybody think about potentially trading Giancarlo?" kind of way.
The bottom line: It's certainly understandable that Miami would consider Stanton practically impossible to trade, as Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com tweeted last week.
Let's face it, Stanton probably isn't going anywhere this offseason for reasons outlined here, but at some point in the future, the Marlins' stance is likely to change.
- Jason A. Churchill
Tags:Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
Pavano a fit in Queens?
AM ETCarl Pavano | Twins Recommend0Comments0EmailThe New York Mets are looking for a low-cost option to replace some of the innings lost by the trade of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto. In Sunday's New York Post, Ken Davidoff suggested a play for free agent Carl Pavano, who spent last season in Minnesota.
Yes, Pavano's first stop in New York with the Yankees was an injury-plagued disaster, but the 37-year-old throws strikes and gets groundballs and would fit in nicely at Citi Field. Pavano's lone appearance at the Mets' current home was a three-hit shutout in July 2010.
Davidoff says the Mets have about $10 million to spend and could use it on Pavano or Shaum Marcum, who could fit in nicely if his price drops.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:New York Mets, Carl Pavano
Bourn back to Atlanta?
AM ETMichael Bourn | Braves Recommend0Comments26EmailMichael Bourn remains the odd man out in the free agent outfield sweepstakes.
Agent Scott Boras, who is often at his best when the market appears to be eroding, faces another such challenge with Bourn, who was believed to be in line for a deal in the five-year, $75 million range at the start of the offseason. Bourn might still have a chance -- albeit a reduced one -- at a big-money, multi-year contract, or he could look to sign for one season and hit the market again next winter.
Braves GM Frank Wren told ESPN Insider Jim Bowden that he's "never closed the door" on the possibility of bringing back Bourn, who could play either his usual centerfield or shift to left, now that B.J. Upton is around. For what it's worth, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien tweeted that left field would be more likely at this stage, were Bourn actually to return.
It's unlikely the Braves could afford to give Bourn the long-term contract he was seeking at the outset of the offseason, but the club could probably find a way to squeeze him in for one year at, say, $14-16 million. Between Bourn, Upton and Jason Heyward, the Braves would then have one of the most dynamic, productive and defensively-proficient outfields in baseball.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves, as other teams could make a play for Bourn. Like the Texas Rangers, who have lost their own star centerfielder in Josh Hamilton. The club still has money to burn and needs a lefty bat in a right-heavy- lineup, and CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman reported that Texas has looked into Bourn.
- Jason Catania
M's lineup would improve with Bourn at the top
"Bourn would also bring some on-base ability to the top of an order that's sorely in need of anyone who can avoid making outs: Mariners leadoff batters (mostly Dustin Ackley) managed only a .281 OBP last season, by far the lowest of any AL team. The M's have largely been linked to hitters who would have improved their power output, like Josh Hamilton and Nick Swisher, but putting more men on base would go a long way toward curbing their offensive ineptitude. Improving their performance after they reach base wouldn't hurt, either: the Mariners were the AL's second worst baserunning team in 2012, at more than eight runs below average. Bourn, who led the majors with 11.7 baserunning runs last season, could have put them in the black by himself." - Ben Lindbergh
Tags:Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, Michael Bourn, Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers
Rockies consider Webb
AM ETBrandon Webb | Rangers Recommend0Comments0EmailBrandon Webb, the former Cy Young Award winner who last threw a pitch in a major league game on Opening Day 2009, is drawing mild interested from the Colorado Rockies, reports Troy Renck.
Bill Geivett, the Rockies' director of major-league operations, tells Renck the club plans to watch Webb throw this month in Phoenix. The 33-year-old Webb, a three-time All-Star, has been plagued by shoulder problems.
Reclamation projects are nothing new to the Rockies, who gave 10 starts last season to 49-year-old Jamie Moyer.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Brandon Webb, Colorado Rockies
Catching surplus in Baltimore
AM ETBaltimore Orioles Recommend0Comments0EmailThe Baltimore Orioles claimed catcher Luis Martinez last week, a surprising move given the club now has four backstops on the 40-man roster, including Matt Weiters, who has averaged more than 130 games behind the plate the last two seasons.
The Orioles feature Weiters, primary backup Taylor Teagarden, Luis Exposito and Martinez, all of whom have major league experience. Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun suggests Martinez should push Exposito for the organization's No. 3 catcher.
The reason for adding an extra catcher is Teagarden's history of injuries, But if Teagarden is healthy as the spring unfolds, the O's could have an extra trade chip.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Taylor Teagarden, Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles
Floyd as trade bait
AM ETGavin Floyd | White Sox Recommend0Comments0EmailThe list of notable free agent starters has dwindled down to a precious few, with Kyle Lohse headlining the list and Shaun Marcum waiting in the wings. Teams could always go the trade route to bolster the rotation, with Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe suggesting Sunday that Chicago White Sox righthander Gavin Floyd could be available.
The White Sox have said they want to keep Floyd, who has five straight seasons of double-digit wins, but the 29-year-old could be expendable given that Hector Santiago and Nestor Molina will soon make a serious case for major league gigs.
Floyd, whose name was floated as trade bait earlier this winter, will be a free agent after next season and will make a manageable $9.5 million, making him even more attractive.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Gavin Floyd, Chicago White Sox
Rangers not done after Berkman deal
AM ETLance Berkman | Cardinals Recommend0Comments0EmailThe Texas Rangers may not be done dealing after agreeing to a one-year deal with veteran Lance Berkman over the weekend.
The Berkman deal move could pay off nicely for the Rangers, who need help at first base and DH and could certainly use Berkman's switch-hitting ability to deepen a lineup that has lost Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli this offseason.
The addition of Berkman takes the Rangers out of the Adam LaRoche sweepstakes, but Texas still could be in play for Michael Bourn, Justin Upton or Kyle Lohse, among others, tweets Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.
- Doug Mittler
Tags:Justin Upton, Lance Berkman, Texas Rangers
Who could use more Kubel?
AM ETJason Kubel | Diamondbacks Recommend0Comments0EmailAbout 17 seconds after news broke that the Arizona Diamondbacks had agreed to terms with outfielder Cody Ross, speculation began about what that meant for Justin Upton.
About five seconds after that, the same thing applied to fellow D-backs outfielder Jason Kubel.
So where would Kubel fit? And which teams might actually be interested?
Well, the first answer is pretty open-ended: Especially in the state of reduced offensive production in which MLB currently resides, just about any team could use a 30-year-old coming off his first 30-homer season who will earn just $7.5 million in 2013. Kubel would be particularly useful for the Tampa Bay Rays, who need a DH and don't have a big budget; or the Baltimore Orioles, who lack a legitimate DH; or the Seattle Mariners, who are hurting for power from corner outfield positions (and offense in general); and the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies still have a need for a corner outfielder. Kubel also would have worked well for the Texas Rangers, but they just inked Lance Berkman to be their DH and help balance their righty-heavy lineup.
As for Question No. 2, the Orioles are interested, reports CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman. The price, however, appears to be something beyond what Baltimore is willing to surrender, as Arizona is reportedly asking for young pitching. (If only the D-backs had some high-end 21-year-old pitching prospect who was drafted, like, third overall in 2011...)
Given the depth of outfielders in the desert, it still seems more likely than not that one of them will be moved between now and spring training, and ESPN Insider Jim Bowden figures Kubel will be the one to go:
- Jason Catania
Why Kubel is most likely to be moved
"There are some who will argue that the D-backs could open with an outfield of Kubel in left, Ross in center and Upton in right, and they could be right, but eventually Ross will end up in a corner where he best fits and Adam Eaton will the center fielder. And although Arizona keeps listening to offers on Justin Upton, it's questionable if it'll get offered a package worth enough for Arizona to ship out a 25-year old who's already hit 30 home runs and finished fourth in MVP voting. Therefore, it's Kubel who could end up losing his job in Arizona and being traded to a team like the Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees or Seattle Mariners, who could all use the 30 home run power from the left side that Kubel can supply."
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Consider what is likely to happen when the results are announced on Jan. 9. The early betting was on Jack Morris and perhaps one or two other apparently clean players, such as Craig Biggio, earning enshrinement. The current guess is that no one will be inducted from this tremendous class of players, perhaps the best of all time. This would be a travesty.
The (arguably) greatest pitcher and batter in the history of the game won’t be admitted? The (unarguably) greatest-hitting catcher of all time won’t be admitted? What of some of the greatest home run hitters the game has ever seen?
There is now such a divide among current voters that nothing can cross it. There is no basis for consensus, no way through the arguments, no insight to compel anyone to change his minds. BBWAA voters are even dropping out of the process. The result is a rotten mess.
Say it any way you want. The Hall of Fame is dysfunctional. The Hall of Fame is irrelevant. The Hall of Fame is broken and it can’t get up. Regardless of how you say it, it needs to be fixed.
Let me say upfront that I love the Baseball Hall of Fame. Despite the shakiness of its origin myth, it stands as a perfect monument to the game. It is baseball history in form. Its bricks are the foundations of the game. Its halls are time tunnels to the past. Its plaques are windows into greatness.
What’s more, Cooperstown is the perfect setting for the Hall. A picturesque town on a beautiful lake in a faraway locale, with its own mythical history and origin (it is said that William Cooper saw the town like a vision when he first glimpsed the wooded setting at the south end of Otsego Lake), Cooperstown is an out-of-the-way, but deeply rewarding, destination. A trip to the Hall in Cooperstown is an exploration and a pilgrimage.
I grew to love baseball through the Hall of Fame, and I’ll bet there are many others like me. Its success is vitally important to the success of the game itself. But its decision-making roots are broken.
Truth is, there have been issues with the voting process for a long time. The New York Times, Washington Post andBaltimore Sun don’t allow their baseball writers to participate in the process, given the conflict of interest between writers objectively covering a player while also voting on his worthiness of the most prestigious award in the game. There are several other issues with the body electorate; I won’t go into those today. Read the link.
Clearly, the steroids controversy has broken the process altogether. Peter Gammons did a nice job of summing up the current state of affairs, and I don’t want to waste more pixels on the subject. Read the link.
I want to propose some ways to fix this rotten thing, because we must fix it. I’m not going to pretend that these are the best ideas available. I just want to get a serious conversation started here. I’m hoping that, in some small way, we can contribute to a consensus that things need changing right away.
I’ve got three broad approaches to put on the table:
1. Create guidelines for resolving issues that arise from the PEDs era.
2. Make small changes to the process.
3. Make great big changes to the process.
1. Create guidelines for resolving issues that arise from the PEDs era.
The PEDs era has presented an ethical conundrum unlike any other in baseball history. For years, Major League Baseball gave lip service but no teeth to its ban on steroids. And the use of steroids grew out of a culture that was in place long before 1990. Yes, steroid users were cheaters. Yes, what they did was understandable, even defensible in some lights. Yes, they should have known better. Yes, we all looked the other way.
There is no easy way to solve this problem, and asking the Baseball Writers Association of America to resolve it is like asking me to tell you what hip hop music to listen to. They are not equipped to do so, and the voting guidelines for the Hall of Fame—the ineligible list and the “character clause”—are hardly the right mechanism for this particular challenge. The ineligible list is too blunt; the character clause is too vague. We need something just right. But is such a thing possible?
Imagine that we tell voters how to view the players of the PEDs era. I don’t really care what guidelines we give people, but let’s imagine giving them something. The guidelines should be fair, defensible and actionable. The possible solutions could range from putting certain players on the ineligible list to ignoring their PED use altogether. Or we could attempt to find a middle ground in which voters are asked to consider what a player’s record would have been without the use of PEDs.
Some writers and commenters have proposed this approach, but I’m a skeptic. First of all, it’s hard for me to imagine any group of people coming to a consensus about this issue. Secondly, I don’t think we really understand the issues well enough to make concrete guidelines. Public debate around the PEDs issue is still a good thing, however tired we are of it.
Finally, I don’t think guidelines would be enforceable; voters would still follow their emotions, and it would be impossible to prove that someone followed the guidelines or didn’t. Some of you may feel differently, but I think there is no way to avoid changing the process itself.
2. Make small changes to the process.
Tom Tango and Joe Posnanski have already kicked around one idea for changing the voting options, allowing voters to delay their decision for a year without hurting the player’s eligibility period. I like this idea, and I’m sure there are other good ideas out there, too. If you have one or have read one, please list it in the comments below.
At the same time, we need to make changes to the voting body. The BBWAA needs to refine its voting eligibility rules, and the Hall needs to bring other baseball observers into the voting. I think plenty of people agree with this latter point, but the details are difficult. How do you put in place a fair and impartial process for including more voters?
Here’s an idea: create two new voting bodies, each given equal weight with the BBWAA. One is a group of respected baseball observers—the Bill James types—that are selected by the Hall with the advice of SABR. (I’m being cautious here. I’m a SABR member, and I’d hate to see a fun group of hobbyists turn into a political morass). Make these observers pass some sort of test of baseball knowledge. Make sure they’re well-respected. Have them “run” for the privilege, putting themselves up for nomination.
The second group would be comprised of everyday fans. Let’s have fans nominate themselves to serve on an electing body, using the Internet to register votes. People could describe themselves on the web, outline their platforms, readers would vote (one vote per IP address), and the winners would serve one-year terms. The voting would be based on a mix of popularity and platforms (pro-Bonds or anti-Bonds? Big Hall or Small Hall?), and the results would be partially a referendum on the issues of the day.
There are about 500 votes in the BBWAA. Give 300 to the Fan’s Voters and perhaps 100 to the Observer’s Group and weight the votes from each group equally. Give everyone the Tango/Poz voting option, continue with the 75 percent eligibility rule, and require that all votes are made public.
Did I call these small changes?
I know there are many, many pitfalls in what I’ve outlined, but we need to find ways to allow players to stay eligible while we continue to hash out the underlying ethical issues. And we need to relieve the stranglehold that the BBWAA has on the process. I’m all for anything that does those two things.
3. Make great big changes to the process.
Further expand the number of groups that can vote. Fans, players, executives, managers, even the IBWA (Internet Baseball Writers Association). Let each group vote for the Hall, along with the BBWAA, and then send each group’s top three selections for consideration to a Hall of Fame Congress. Include the Tango/Poz option. In a year of strong consensus, perhaps only three or four players will be nominated to the Congress. In more divisive times, as many as ten players might be nominated.
Create a Hall of Fame Congress, consisting of 24 members (or any number divisible by four) to select the winners from the nominated candidates. The members of this Congress can be appointed by other bodies to represent them. We could use some of the ideas in the previous section, such as fans voting for other fans to represent them. Have the members serve on a rotating basis.
Let them meet in Cooperstown in January. Anyone willing to travel to Cooperstown in the dead of winter deserves a vote. Have them hole up in the Otesaga until they have selected at least two, but no more than four, new members to the Hall. Any player receiving at least 75 percent of the Congress’ vote makes it. When the players are selected, have smoke rise from the Otesaga chimney.
Make all voting public. Take minutes and make them public, too. Hold the people and the process accountable.
Okay, in a way this process is more republican than the BBWAA process. Elites will be given a lot of power—perhaps too much power. But I like this idea for a couple of reasons. First, the process would be more open to the public than the current one, and voters would be held more accountable. Membership in the Congress can change if their electors are unhappy with them.
Secondly, a small-group setting is an appropriate place for further discussion and resolution of the issues associated with the steroids era. The BBWAA has no way to come together and reach a consensus about difficult issues. A Congress would.
Over time, the need for a Congress might fade, and the voting could become more directly democratic, depending on how well the underlying representative voting works. Give it time, let it develop.
But change it now. Please.
If you agree that the Hall’s voting process needs changing, please sign our petition at Change.org.
References and Resources
Of course, many other people have the same idea. Here’s a recent article by Ian Casselbery with his own thoughts.
Another good read is T.J. Quinn’s explanation for why he has decided to drop out of the Hall of Fame voting.
The best book on the subject that I know of is Bill James’ Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?
The Sky Is Not Falling In Arlington.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
First, let’s tackle the additions. The braintrust in Arlington has added four players on major league deals this offseason, two catchers and two relievers. The catchers, if they play to their capabilities, should improve the team’s outlook at the position significantly. Signing Geovany Soto only sort of counts as a free-agent move, since they had him under control, non-tendered him and then re-signed him. But signing A.J. Pierzynski – who had spent the entirety of his 15-year career with the White Sox before joining the Rangers – was completely new.
And the two could make for a nifty little platoon. Pierzynski has historically hit righties better than lefties, and Soto just the opposite. Now, manager Ron Washington may muck up that potential arrangement — towards the end of last season, he had Soto serving as Yu Darvish’s personal catcher (because, you know, Darvish wouldn’t have been awesome without him (rolls eyes)) — but it could be quite effective if they stick with it. And while both players are seasoned, they should be better than last year. Soto will be even further removed from his knee surgery, which should help, and it shouldn’t be hard to improve upon the 46 games that Yorvit Torrealba started last season.
The team has also been proactive about fortifying the bullpen. With small outlays for Joakim Soria and Jason Frasor — who has posted a 2.84 FIP or better against right-handed hitters in three of the past four seasons — in free agency, as well as the acquisition of Cory Burns from the Padres, the team should be protected against the departures of Scott Feldman, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara, and the possible defections of Alexi Ogando and Robbie Ross to the rotation (Ogando has already been penciled in to the rotation, but we’ve been down this road before — I’ll believe it when I see it). Plus they should get Neftali Feliz back for the stretch run. Adams departing for Philadelphia may be a tough blow if Soria doesn’t come back in top form, but overall, the team is going to come out well ahead in the “ex-Rangers in Philadelphia” department.
It’s hard to overstate just how bad Michael Young — who also now plies his trade in Philly — was last year. To find a player who racked up at least 600 plate appearances in a season and accumulated a worse WAR than Young’s -1.4 mark from 2012, you have to go back to Marquis Grissom in 2000. In fact, since the World Series era began in 1903, there have been 6,009 position-player seasons that met that same 600 PA threshold, and only 12 of them posted a worse WAR than did Young last season. Young is literally in the running for the worst position-player season of all-time. He was terrible at the plate, in the field and on the bases. Just getting rid of him was worth at least a win for the Rangers. That they’re going to replace him with functional baseball players makes it all the better.
The Rangers will essentially be replacing 1,400 PA of Hamilton, Young and the portion of Mike Napoli that he spent at first base and designated hitter with Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt and Leonys Martin, as well as Craig Gentry — who will likely take the bulk of the PAs that Hamilton got against left-handed pitching. Last season, in 1,420 PA, the departed trio combined to hit .273/.331/.468, but with some horrendous defense — Hamilton, Young and Napoli (at first base only) took 23.3 runs off the board last season. Eye-balling the Rangers’ 2013 ZiPS forecasts for Profar, Olt, Martin and Gentry, it looks like the difference in WAR will mostly come out in the wash. The quartet is not forecasted to hit as well, particularly in the power department, but their defense will close the gap significantly — all four have positive defensive forecasts.
Finally, there is the rotation. True, the team did miss out on Greinke, and it would have been fantastic to add him to the rotation, obviously. But the team is not exactly suffering here. As a unit, the Rangers’ rotation posted the third-best WAR and FIP- last season, as well as the eighth-best K%. They lost Feldman and Ryan Dempster, but if Ogando indeed finds his way back to the rotation, he should be comparable to Feldman (last year, Ogando posted an 84 FIP-, Feldman, 86). And between Martin Perez, Colby Lewis (when he returns) and potentially Ross, the team should be covered for Dempster’s departure. And that’s not even counting the potential improvement from Darvish, who ZiPS loves this season.
The Rangers no longer have Hamilton, and didn’t get to have Greinke. The players that will be coming in are a combination of less heralded and less proven. But that doesn’t mean they won’t collectively play at the same level — the moves the team has completed have been shrewd, even if they are of a peripheral nature. Texas’ marketing department may need to work a bit harder to fill the marquee, but the players on the field will keep Texas in the thick of the pennant race.
Delmon Young’s Free Agency and His Doppleganger.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Let me be clear: I would be pretty surprised if Delmon Young did not receive a major-league deal this off-season. I am not sure he is worth much more than the league minimum, but I think he will probably get more than that (how much more is something I will not touch on here) for the reasons touched on above: his age, past prospect status, and his good hitting in the playoffs the last couple of years. I personally see him as somewhere between replacement level and a one-win player in 2013 if he is given full-time playing, and that is assuming that his hitting is still on the upswing due to his age. His defense is so poor that he should pretty much be considered a DH in terms of value.
This is not to say that there is not potential for something more out of Young in 2013. Far be it from me to deny uncertainty and the subjective impressions of informed and skilled observers who might (but also might not) see something else in Young. However, is that really that much more true of Young than any other player? This is where his doppleganger comes in: hey, remember how everyone thought Jeff Francoeur was toast and he had that nice season in 2011?
The parallel between Francoeur and Young is obviously not perfect. Francoeur has a reputation (perhaps a bit exaggerated) for being a great guy, whereas Delmon Young recently pled guilty to aggravated harassment. More germane to the on-field issues that are the focus in this post, while Francoeur was a good prospect (ranking as high as the top 20s prior to 2005), Delmon Young was a great prospect, ranking as one of the top three prospects in baseball on most lists from 2004 to 2007, and was on the top of many of those lists, including Baseball America‘s 2006 rankings. (This is not intended to play “gotcha!” with prospect writers; pretty much everyone knows prospects are risky and difficult to project and there are always going to be plenty of misses to go along with the hits.)
However, there are plenty of similarities as well. Each reached the majors as very young ages and hit well in brief cameos. Young had a .348 wOBA for Tampa Bay in 131 2006 plate appearances, which was very impressive for a someone in his age 20 season. Francoeur’s Natural 2005, when he was 21, is also impressive for his .372 wOBA, even if it has been somewhat forgotten that 274 plate appearances was not all that many. Both have had their ups and downs since then, with Young not being that great for Tampa Bay in 2007 and getting traded to the Twins prior to 2008, He mostly struggled for Minnesota except for one season, then was traded to the Tigers. Francoeur had his moments with the stick after his opening outburst, but despite the Delta endorsement and being marketed the face of the franchise, his hitting balanced out to mostly “bad.” In 2009, Francoeur was traded to the Mets, where he was again mostly bad. During 2010 he was traded to the Rangers, after which he fulfilled The Prophecy and signed with Kansas City prior to the 2011 season.
Each player has also had a season where “He Finally Got It!” after years of disappointment. For Young, that season was his age-24 2010 with the Twins when he hit .298/.333/.493 (121 wRC+) with 21 home runs, even if his defense and base running still held back his value. After years of poor play after his remarkable start, in 2011 with the Royals, Jeff Francoeur regained enough pop to finish his age-27 season with a .285/.329/.476 (117 wRC+) line while gunning down plenty of base runners.
Despite those comeback seasons at relatively young ages (only somewhat young in Francoeur’s case) that seemed to some to signal “post-hype prospect finally re-breaks out!,” each went on to crash. Young hit so badly in 2011 that he was traded to the Tigers during the season. His memorable playoff performances in both 2011 and 2012 years may have somewhat overshadowed not managing even a 90 wRC+ during those regular seasons. This was particularly galling for the Tigers since he was their primary DH in 2012 (although that is probably a better option than playing him in the field). As for Francoeur, in 2012 he simply returned to being just about the worst everyday player in baseball.
It is not just the roughly similar contours of their careers that make Francoeur and Young an interesting parallel. They are also similar types of players. Both are right-handed corner outfielders. Neither is inclined to take a walk (4.1 percent career walk rate for Young, 5.1 for Francoeur), but neither has the contact skills (17.5 percent career strikeout rate for Young, 18.0 percent for Francoeur) nor the power (.141 ISO for Young, .160 for Francoeur) to make up for it (96 career wRC+ for Young, 91 for Francoeur). While pretty much everyone would agree that Francoeur is the better defensive outfielder, even there they are similar. Young has always seemed to have poor range, but, at least in the early days, threw out a decent number of runners. He is horrible overall, although his time at DH has lessened the impact on his fielding numbers, for what they are worth. Francoeur may have had decent or even good range in his early years, but his speed had definitely gone downhill. At this point he seems to be pulling an invisible trailer, and his arm is simply reducing the harm his poor range does, and probably does not even balance it out any more.
Some will want to point to Young and Francoeur’s numbers versus left-handed pitching as some big bonus. They do have very similar-looking career splits: Young has a .352 career wOBA versus lefties, and a .309 versus righties; Francoeur a .345 versus lefties and a .305 versus righties. Note that neither of those numbers are awesome versus southpaws, as some would have you believe about those players. For an average defensive corner outfielder, those are pretty average-ish overall numbers (even before regressing the platoon split), they would be the lesser half of a platoon, and as mentioned above, neither is likely an average defensive outfielder at this point. Neither is good on the bases. Young and Francoeur are the real platoon players — hitters who are just manage to be around average overall (maybe) if they have the platoon advantage — as opposed to hitters with big splits who are mislabeled as platoon players like Shane Victorino.
Right-handed platoon bats, especially those who are not good defensively, are not that hard to find. This is not to say that Young, like Francoeur, has no uses, but simply that he is not really worth much as a free agent. But again, as noted near the beginning of this post, there may be a tendency to point to upside in Young’s case, as he will only be 27, and at least at one time, his bat was seen as potentially being like that of Albert Belle. I will not pretend to have my own worthwhile scouting opinion. There is uncertainty here, and statistics cannot cover everything. After all, Young had his 2010, and Francoeur had his 2011 when many or even most thought they (especially Francoeur) were done.
However, it is worth re-stating that this sort of uncertainty, at least in statistical terms, applies to pretty much all experienced major-league players. Moreover, it is not as if there is a particularly large shroud of mystery around Young at this point, just as there is not for Francoeur. Young has over 3500 major-league plate appearances and Francoeur has over 4700. Sure, “anything could happen,” but that could be an excuse to sign just about anyone to a contract too large and/or too long. Delmon Young may have a use for some team in some particular context. As Jeff Francoeur proved on his one-year, $2 million contract for 2011, those sorts of little risks might pay off. However, Francoeur’s subsequent two-year, $5 million contract shows just what sort of chance not to take on these sorts of players, no matter how much nebulous “upside” with no basis in past performance one imagines.
But hey, maybe you see something I don’t. Why not enter your 2013 FAN Projections for Delmon and Frenchy?
Justin Upton Is Not a Park Effect Mirage.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Split PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Home 1496 11% 22% 0.241 0.361 0.307 0.389 0.548 0.399 138
Away 1534 9% 24% 0.157 0.310 0.250 0.325 0.406 0.320 96
Over 3,000 plate appearances, Upton’s been one of the game’s best hitters while playing in Arizona, but a slightly below average hitter when playing anywhere else. Chase Field is one of the best hitters parks in all of baseball, and the numbers suggest that Upton has taken full advantage of the hitter’s paradise that he has called home for the last five years. In fact, if you look at the biggest home/road splits since 2008, Upton features prominently on the list.
Name wOBA – Home wOBA – Road wOBADIF
Carlos Gonzalez 0.424 0.317 0.107
Aramis Ramirez 0.417 0.328 0.089
Nelson Cruz 0.407 0.324 0.083
Ian Kinsler 0.395 0.315 0.080
Justin Upton 0.404 0.324 0.079
Paul Konerko 0.416 0.339 0.077
Luke Scott 0.384 0.308 0.076
Jay Bruce 0.385 0.311 0.074
Dexter Fowler 0.384 0.312 0.073
Kevin Youkilis 0.423 0.352 0.071
This all makes sense. A Colorado hitter as at the top, a couple of Texas guys, right-handed doubles machine who played in Fenway, a a couple of power hitters in Chicago, and Upton are all among the 10 who have the biggest splits between their home and road performance. If you scroll to the bottom, you find Buster Posey, Chase Headley, Will Venable, and Adrian Gonzalez all among those who were hurt the most – a Giant and three Padres. Again, nothing surprising here. San Francisco and San Diego are notoriously pitcher friendly. While split data is often unreliable in small samples, over a five year period, you’re going to see things start to make sense. Justin Upton derives a benefit from playing in Arizona. Buster Posey is hurt by playing in San Francisco. None of this is news.
However, there can be a temptation to take split data like this at face value. After all, we’re dealing with over 1,000 plate appearances in both home and road data for most of these guys, so it doesn’t seem like small sample problems should exist. But they do, and while the lists above are interesting, you shouldn’t read too much into the specific numbers for the individual players, and you definitely shouldn’t treat a player’s road numbers as if they represent his park neutral true talent levels.
For starters, home field advantage is a real thing, and most players hit better at home than they do on the road. Last year, non-pitchers posted an aggregate .327 wOBA in their home parks and a .314 wOBA on the road. In 2011, it was .326/.315. In 2010, it was .335/.317. For the 714 players who have garnered at least 100 PA at both home and road over the last five years, the weighted average comes out to a 14 point wOBA advantage at home. Pretty much every player is better than his road performance alone suggests. Home field advantage is not solely an effect of the dimensions and weather, and hitters derive some benefit from playing in their home park even if it is not a hitter friendly park. It is entirely possible for the dimensions and weather to wipe out that effect, and then some, so that hitting at home is a net negative in some parks, but the negatives are smaller than the positives in large part due to the non-park related aspects of home field advantage.
If you’re more of a graphical person, here’s a visual representation of hitters home/road wOBAs over the last five years.
Second, we cannot pretend that “away” is the same thing for every hitter, nor is “away” an even playing time distribution in neutral parks. Upton plays in the NL West. Because of unbalanced schedule, his career road games have skewed heavily towards San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Colorado; 45% of his career “away” plate appearances have come in those four parks. Maybe Colorado and San Diego cancel each other out to some degree, but that still leaves a big chunk of games in cooler weather west coast cities, and not surprisingly, Upton hasn’t hit well in either LA or San Francisco.
In fact, when you look at a hitter who plays in an extreme hitters park at home, and then you only look at his road stats, you’re almost certainly going to be looking at a collection of parks that skew to the pitcher side, because you’ve automatically removed one of the few remaining hitters parks from the sample. Buster Posey’s road numbers include both Colorado and Arizona, but not San Francisco. We should not be surprised that these numbers are better than those published by a guy whose road numbers swap out out a hitter’s paradise for a pitchers haven.
Pretty much any west coast hitter is going to be at a disadvantage in road stats compared to an east coast hitter, due to the unbalanced schedule and the summer climate of the two sides of the U.S. The west coast is much cooler, much less humid, and is home to many of the most extreme pitchers parks in baseball. A guy who plays in the AL or NL West is not going to play half his games in a collection of parks that grade out as average run environments. And, because MLB has put Colorado, Texas, and Arizona — teams that are not actually on the west coast, and play in very different environments than the teams near the water — in the western divisions, the drastic differences in parks within the western divisions helps drive even larger splits. For guys in Texas, Colorado, and Arizona, not only is their home park a great place to hit, but their collection of road parks are heavily slanted towards extreme pitchers parks.
Finally, there’s the simple reality of necessary regression. Even over multiple years, we’re still dealing with noisy data, and noisy data has to heavily regressed if it’s going to be used in a projection. We know the left/right platoon split is real, but we still regress left/right platoon splits more towards league average than a player’s individual split up to the 1,000/2,200 PA levels for left-handers and right-handers. Regression is just a fact of life when it comes to split data, and if you’re not heavily regressing splits, you’re probably using them incorrectly.
If you want to see regression as it relates to home/road splits, Tom Tango did a study on individual player park effects about 10 years ago, but we’ll dig it up here, because it’s still relevant today. He was studying the idea of “reverse platoon splits”, looking for guys who hit well in pitchers parks or pitched well in hitters parks, but the concept of necessary regression for home/road data remains the same. Read the whole thing, but I’ll quote a couple of the more pertinent paragraphs below.
As usual, I am going to hypothesize that a player’s historical splits are not very predictive of his future splits – therefore our best tool for predicting a player’s splits is his average home park factor applied to his home stats. In other words, I am suggesting that the regression rate for a player’s home/road splits is near 100% for a small sample and 80 or 90% (maybe more) for even a large sample. If I am right, then it is correct to simply park adjust a player’s home stats in the traditional way if we want to compare players on a level playing field, without worrying about the fact that any given player might be uniquely affected by his home park in ways that are not captured by that park’s average park factor.
When you do a study like this, the most telling statistics are the aggregate results of each group. If you look at each individual player’s OPS ratio in one year and then the other, you will be tempted to make conclusions one way or another about each individual player. That is what you were trying to avoid in the first place and why you want to look at as many “extreme” players as possible combined in order to get a large sample. Here are the composite results:
In 2002, the players in the hitter’s parks who originally all had a “reverse” OPS ratio of a combined .91, had a combined OPS ratio of 1.02 the following year. The average OPS park factor for these parks was 1.04. The players in the pitchers parks who had a “reverse” combined OPS ratio of 1.14 in 2001, ended up with a combined OPS ratio of .89 in 2002. The average OPS park factor for these parks was .96.
While further (and better) study, especially establishing a larger sample size, is needed to address this issue, my preliminary conclusion is that a player’s sample home/road ratio, at least for one year, is not at all a reliable predictor of his future home/road splits, and that in fact, the best predictor of a player’s home/road splits is the average multi-year park factor of his home park.
He was testing single year data, which is noisier than multi-year data, but the need to understand the fact that home/road data contains noise is still important. If you don’t, you’re forced to draw some really weird conclusions. For instance, did you know that Andre Ethier has a 58 point wOBA gap between his home and road numbers over the last five years? Dodger Stadium isn’t the absurd pitchers park that it used to be, but we still don’t think that Andre Ethier is a product of his fantastic home hitting environment, right? But, here we are, with over 3,000 plate appearances, and he has a .393 wOBA at home and a .335 wOBA on the road. Given what we know about their home parks, Ethier’s gap is actually bigger than Upton’s, as it translates into 47 points of wRC+. That’s the fourth largest wRC+ gap of any hitter over the last five years. For a hitter in Dodger Stadium, who gets to go to both Colorado and Arizona when he’s on the road.
You know who shows up near the bottom of the list when sorting by wRC+? Poor Adam Dunn, who has had to toil in the pitchers parks of Cincinnati, Washington, and Chicago. Oh, wait, none of those are pitchers parks. And yet, he’s posted a .347 wOBA at home and a .371 wOBA on the road over the last five seasons.
This is noise. This is why you regress, even large samples. And this is why you’re better off using something like wRC+, which takes known park factors into account, then you are using a player’s individual home/road splits. Or, better yet, use a projection system that also accounts for aging curves and park adjustments.
Whatever you do, though, don’t just look at a player’s road stats and assume that it’s a window into his real talent level, with the difference between his home and road stats being a mirage of the park he played in. That’s simply not how home/road splits work.
They're not trading Andrus. Or Profar unless it's for Stanton, I don't think.
My thinking was maybe Arizona backed off the "Must have SS" nonsense in return for Upton... The Rangers can still put together far and away the best package for him and the need is there...
You guys need a lefty?