Nationals Arm Race

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Have we seen the last 300-game winner? (updated post 2013 season)

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Sabathia remains the best chance for another 300-game winner .. Photo wiki/flickr chris.ptacek

Sabathia remains the best chance for another 300-game winner .. Photo wiki/flickr chris.ptacek

Welcome to the latest installment of  the “Will we ever see another 300-game winner” post.

(Aside; yes I know the limitations of the “win” statistic.  However, nobody looks at a 20-game winner on the season or a 300-game winner for his career and excuses it as a statistical aberration; the pitcher win will continue to be important to players and in the lexicon of the game for years to come, despite Brian Terry‘s #killthewin campaigns).

Of the 24 pitchers in the game’s history to have reached the 300-game plateau, 4 of them have done it in the last decade (they being Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine).  However, there exists a distinct belief in the game that we may not see another 300-game winner for some time, thanks to pitch count obsessions, innings limits, 5-man rotations, NL small-ball managing, match-up relievers and generally a huge rise in bullpen usage over the last 20 years.

In the past year, I’ve collected some topical reading related to this post:

When we first broached this topic (in April 2009), Sabathia was still the best bet (outside of Randy Johnson, who sat at 296 before the 2009 season began), but it didn’t look that good for anyone else to reach the plateau, and a couple of the names we guessed as having an outside shot (Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir) seem like ridiculous choices now.  When we most recently broached this topic (at the end of the 2012 season), we explained some statistical models we and others were using to try to predict who may have the next best shot at reaching the mark.  We concluded that Sabathia and Hernandez were both pretty good guesses at the time to reach the plateau.

How are things looking now?

I maintain a spreadsheet (uploaded to google and/or available via the links to the right of this page) that ranks candidates using a couple of formulas inspired by Jay Jaffe (see 2012′s post for the full thought process behind them).  Basically Jaffe’s prediction models assume that the pitcher can win X games per year after a set age (in Jaffe’s case, his simple formula assumes pitchers win 15 games/year until their age 42 season, a relatively optimistic projection and hence why he self-titles it using the words “blindingly optimistic”).  I’ve used a couple other methods to rank pitchers (calculating average number of wins past the age of 18 or 23, but since some guys get drafted out of HS and debut at 20 or 21 these projections end up looking ridiculous), in order to find candididates to put into the discussion.  I also don’t really even consider a guy until he gets to 50 career wins, so there’s no wild speculation about someone like Shelby Miller (15 wins in his age 22 season) or Jose Fernandez (12 wins in his age 20 season).

So, without further ado, here’s a list of starters right now who are in the conversation of possibly reaching 300 wins in their career and my % chance opinion of getting there.

pitcher age wins % Chance of making 300 wins
CC Sabathia 32 205 75%
Clayton Kershaw 25 77 50%
Felix Hernandez 27 110 10%
Justin Verlander 30 137 10%
Madison Bumgarner 24 49 5%
Trevor Cahill 25 61 5%
Zack Greinke 29 106 5%
Mark Buehrle 34 186 1%
Rick Porcello 24 61 0%
Yovani Gallardo 27 81 0%
Matt Cain 28 93 0%

Thoughts per starter:

  • CC Sabathia remains the pitcher with the best chance of reaching 300 wins, but i’ve downgraded his probability from last year’s 90% to just 75% right now.  Why?  Well read no further than the link about his 2013 decline, where his FB velocity dropped, his ERA rose and he posted a sub 100 ERA+ value for the first time in his career.  He still won 14 games, but his win totals have declined four years in a row.   On the plus side, he’s a workhorse pitching for a team that historically has a great offense, which enables him to get wins despite an inflated ERA (he had 4 or more runs of support in 20 of his 32 starts in 2013 … Stephen Strasburg just started crying).   It still seems entirely plausible he can average at least 10-12 wins for the next 7 seasons and hit the milestone before hanging them up.
  • Clayton Kershaw improves his probability of hitting the plateau from last year to this year based on two factors: First, he has clearly stepped up and is now the pre-eminent starter in the game and seems set to continue to post 16-20 win seasons for the extended future.  Secondly, the Dodgers now spend money like no other, ensuring a winning team that gets Kershaw victories even if he’s not pitching his best.  He was “only” 16-9 in 2013; I would expect him to put up more wins each season in the next few years, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with 160 career wins before he’s 30.
  • Felix Hernandez‘s chances have plummetted; going from 75% last year to just 10%.  Why such a precipitous drop?  Two factors; first he took a noted step back in FB velocity this year, to the point where pundits were questioning his arm strength.  Secondly, he signed a massive deal to stay in Seattle … and Seattle right now is not a winner.  It has a completely dysfunctional ownership and management group and seemingly has no idea how to put together a baseball team.  They’re competing in a division of teams with better management willing to spend more money, and these factors are going to continue to have Hernandez put up the 13-14 win seasons he has been doing for the last four years.  He’s already 27: if he’s doesn’t have back to back 20 win seasons his chances are kaput.
  • Justin Verlander, like Hernandez and Sabathia, also had a curious drop in performance in 2013, leading me to drop his 300-game chances from one in three to one in ten.  At age 30 he has logged just 137 wins and has gone from 24 to 17 to 13 in the last three seasons.  If he can right the ship and get back to the 18-20 game win plateau, he can get his 300-game mojo back, but at age 30 he’s less than halfway there, so chances are looking pretty slim.
  • Madison Bumgarner appears here mostly because of his advanced win totals at such a young age; he already has 49 career wins before his 24th birthday.  He’s averaging 14 wins a season so far, and with a 14 win average in every season between now and his age 40 year he’d hit his mark.  But I have his chances right now at only 5%; its just too early to really tell if Bumgerner will have the endurance and continued success to get there.  Plus, is Bumgarner an elite starter or more in the mold of a Mark Buehrle (i.e., a durable lefty who grinds out 13-14 win seasons for a decade)?
  • Trevor Cahill is in nearly the same boat as Bumgarner, except that I don’t think he’s quite as good.  In fact, Cahill seems like he’s bound for Mark Buehrle territory (see below); an innings eating guy who is always right around the 13-12 mark each season.  If he does this for the next 15 years, he may get close.  I give him a slight chance.
  • Zack Greinke has gone from not even being considered to having a 5% chance.  Why?  Well he’s signed a huge long term deal with a very good team AND he now pitches in both the NL and in a pitcher’s park.   In 2013 he put up a very quiet 15-4 record and I think with his stuff and his health he could put up multiple 16-18 win seasons.  That’d get him to the mid 200s by the time he’s nearing 40 … maybe enough to have him go for it while pitching into his early 40s.  Or maybe not; by the time he’s 40 he’ll likely have nearly $250M in career earnings and may just buy a ranch somewhere.
  • Mark Buehrle‘s career 162 game average W/L record (14-11) is identical to Bumgarner’s.  In his last 5 season’s he’s won 13 games four times and 12 games once.  I have given him a 1% chance of hitting 300 on the off-chance that he pitches well into his mid 40s, continues to put up 4th starter figures and finishes with a career record of something like 302-285.  He doesn’t miss many starts, so perhaps he’s that durable.
  • The last three guys mentioned (Rick PorcelloYovani Gallardo and Matt Cain) are all given 0% chances at this point but are listed thanks to their advanced win totals by their mid 20s.  Cain’s sudden drop off in 2013 (a common theme in this list) has seemingly cost him any shot at reaching 300 wins despite his normal sturdiness.  Gallardo had a 10% chance last year and drops to zero thanks to my having almost no confidence that he is a good enough pitcher to accumulate enough wins going forward.  And Porcello remains essentially a 5th starter who just happened to matriculate to the majors at the tender age of 20.  I can see him having a career similar to Buehrle’s; long tenures of near .500 record. In fact, ironically Porcello’s 162-game average W/L record is identical (14-11) to Buehrle’s … which is also identical to Bumgarner and very close to Cahill’s.  I think there’s something clearly “accumulator” in nature to all these guys.

What has happened to some of the candidates from last year not mentioned yet?

  • Roy Halladay went from a near Cy Young season in 2011 to retirement in just two short seasons.  Shoulder injuries are a killer.  He retires with 203 wins.
  • Chad Billingsly lost nearly the entire 2013 season to injury, scuttling what dim chances he had.  He’s now not even guaranteed a spot in LA’s high powered rotation.
  • A bunch of veterans who already had little chance (but were mentioned anyways) have now retired: Jamie MoyerLivan HernandezAndy Pettitte, and Kevin Millwood.
  • Tim Hudson is an interesting case; he sits at 205 wins, lost a chunk of last season to injury but signed on in a pitcher’s park in SF.   He’s gotten 17,16 and 16 wins the last three seasons in his mid 30s; can he just continue to get 16-17 win seasons and suddenly be looking at 300 wins by the time he’s 42?  Maybe, but he’s going to have to be good these next two seasons.

Thoughts?  Do you care about 300 winners like I do, or is it just an anachronism of baseball history that will go the way of 300 strikeouts, 30-wins and hitting .400?

 

 

 

 

 

Lincecum’s deal seems like a massive overpay

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Lincecum cashes in for 2 more years.  Photo via SD Dirk flickr via wikipedia

Lincecum cashes in for 2 more years. Photo via SD Dirk flickr via wikipedia

One of the more intriguing FA situations for the coming off-season was resolved incredibly early, with Tim Lincecum signing 2yr/$35M deal to stay with the San Francisco Giants for two more years.  Lincecum also gets a full no-trade thrown in.

$17.5M a year for a guy whose last two seasons looked like this:

- 2012: 10-15, 5.18 ERA, 1.468 Whip and a 68 ERA+.  -1.7 bWAR

- 2013: 10-14, 4.37 ERA, 1.315 Whip and a 76 ERA+. -0.6 bWAR

His fastball velocity, once a strength, rank him 62nd out of 81 qualified starters in 2013.  He was averaging 93-94 with a peak of 99 earlier in his career; now he’s averaging 90.2 and peaking 94.3.  That’s a huge, significant velocity loss that hasn’t been accompanied by any D/L stint or time off.   He’s 29, he’s got incredibly weird (lets call them “unique” to be nice) mechanics and he’s coming off of two seasons where he’s pitched like a 4-A pitcher, well below replacement value.  I’m sorry, but why would anyone believe at this point that he’s got any shot of returning to his Cy Young glory?

Now, you can argue that his more advanced numbers (Fip, xFIP, Siera) aren’t as damning as the traditional numbers I posted above (this is exactly what Dave Cameron does in one of the reaction links located at the bottom of this post).   And you’d be right to a certain extent.   By xFIP for 2013 he’s ranked 29th of 81 qualified starters.   By FIP he’d be ranked 45th, and by SIERA 35th.   None of those are elite placements for the year.  It still don’t make Lincecum a $17.5M/year arm.  And, that’s putting an awful lot of faith in the xFIP, if that’s your argument.  Because we’ve seen plenty of pitchers whose xFIPs always trail their FIPs (and Lincecum pitches in SF, where homers go to die).  And we’ve seen pitchers whose FIP is improved because they get more K’s than ground ball outs (and Lincecum is still a high strikeout pitcher, so his FIP will always look better).   And one final rebuttal; xFIP is an estimator of future performace, not a guaranteer of it.  Look at Lincecum’s career and his xFIP-next year’s ERA link is all over the place.  To blindly look at his 2013 xFIP and predict that he’s returning to form is, well, foolish.  And none of these arguments apologizes for his negative WAR values the last two years; hey Sabre-nerds; you can’t pick and choose stats to approve this and leave out your favorite one.

I wouldn’t have given him half the guaranteed money the Giants just did.  I wouldn’t have even given him a Q.O., because its hard for me to believe someone out there would have given him even $14M guaranteed for 2014.

Here’s another stat line to consider:

- 2013: 10-14, 4.67 ERA, 1.238 WHIP, 81 ERA+, -0.1 bWAR.

Comparing this stat line straight up with Lincecum’s 2013, you’d clearly think this pitcher would be more in line to get paid than Lincecum, right?  This stat line belongs to none other than Dan Haren.  Who thinks Haren is scoring a 2 year/$35M deal this off-season?  Who here thinks Haren even gets a 1 year/$8M deal?  Certainly Haren’s not going to get a Qualifying Offer out of the Nats this fall.

Other opinions on the deal: Hardballtalk advised not to “freak out” about the contract, that there’s so much money in the game and blah-blah.  Sorry, this isn’t about salary escalation (if you wanted to talk about that, lets talk about the Hunter Pence deal … a clear example to me of salary escalation for a good but not great player).   Dan Symborski at ESPN hates the deal with pretty good points about the timing, the lack of a Q.O., the lack of a market for him, etc.  Keith Law points out that the contract seems like a “thanks for the memories” contract, not one that will actually help the Giants win.  Gwen Knapp on SportsonEarth points out the sentimentality of the deal.  Dave Cameron points out that Lincecum’s xFIP makes him actaully more valuable than his traditional numbers appear.  Maybe we’re the dumb ones and the Giants are the smart ones.  Rob Neyer tries really hard not to be harsh about the contract.  And lastly unabashed SF homer Grant Brisbee chimes in.

Giants GM Brian Sabean has long had a bad rap in the blogosphere as being one of the poorest GMs in the game.  And then his team went and won the World Series two years out of three.  But moves like this bring back questioning of his competence.  Unless he throws his owner under the bus and washes his hands of the deal, if that’s indeed the case.

Written by Todd Boss

October 25th, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Matt Harvey; just unlucky

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Harvey gets a really unfortunate diagnosis.  Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Harvey gets a really unfortunate diagnosis. Photo: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

What happened to Matt Harvey?
One of my friends speculated that his overuse at UNC may have contributed to his very unfortunate torn UCL/possible need for Tommy John surgery and drew a parallel to our own Stephen Strasburg in terms of young phenoms going down.  I don’t recall any accusations of overuse of Strasburg at SD State; in fact Tony Gwynn seemed to be hyper aware of the media outcry if there would have been overuse and handled him very carefully.   His workload in college was carefully monitored, the Nats brought him along very carefully and were hyper sensitive to any slight issues in his first pro years.  And Strasburg got hurt anyway.
UNC has a somewhat dim reputation among scouts for destroying pitcher arms (as does Texas, Rice, and a couple other programs), and you saw some evidence of that in this past CWS (where UNC’s “closer” suddenly was starting games and throwing 100s of pitches during the tournament after being a one-inning guy most of the year).  But Harvey left UNC in 2010.  A long time ago.
UCL tears are often point-source injuries; think about Strasburg’s torn UCL: he did it on one pitch.  Yes he probably “strained” the UCL before then (strain is medical term for “small tear” apparently, as we learned during the Lucas Giolito drafting), but it was very clear the exact moment Strasburg blew it out.  Meanwhile, shoulders seem to be more degenerative over time from overuse.  There doesn’t seem to be any video of a single pitch that blew out Harvey’s UCL, and I’m sure there’s arguments and counter-examples against this, but my observations seem to support this.  One day pitchers are healthy, the next day they have a blown elbow ligament.
What else could have caused Harvey’s injury?
Pitch counts?  Harvey’s game logs this year aren’t egregious: a couple of 120 pitch games (studies have shown that 120 pitches is about the threshold for pitches in the majors before workload effects are demonstratble in subsequent starts).  Lots of games in the 100-110 range.  But that’s to be expected; he’s a big guy, a workhorse, always has been.
Innings thrown?  Here’s a concern area.  96 college innings in 2010, 135.2 in 2011, 169.1 in 2012 and 178.1 in 2013 before this injury.  You generally don’t want guys to increase workloads more than 20% per year (the “Verducci effect,” so to speak)  He increased his workload 28% from college to his first pro year and another 20% from his first pro year to his second.  He was well on his way this year to another 20% increase and was set to be shut down before this injury.  He was definitely a risk for ramping up his innings too fast.
Mechanics: no evidence of any trouble spots; his mechanics have always been clean.  He threw hard but he wasn’t considered a “max effort” guy.  Too bad for the “inverted W” conspiracy crowd; they can’t have another poster child for their internet meme which is usually ignored by scouts and baseball professionals.  (as you can tell, I don’t believe in the inverted W b.s. as being anything other than coincidental.  For every pitcher with an arm injury and inverted W mechanics you can 1) find a pitcher with inverted-W who has NO injury history or 2) find a pitcher with impeccable mechanics who suffers the same type of injuries that the inverted W supposedly caused).
Is it the  Travel-league/year round baseball that prospects these days have grown up in?   If anything, you’d think that year-round baseball would help these kids, not hurt them, by building up arm strength and building up the muscles surrounding the critical points in a throwing arm (ucl, rotator cuff, labrum, etc).  This goes counter to recent advice from Dr. James Andrews, who advised that kids need an off-season from baseball to allow their arm muscles to rest and regenerate from the abuse that pitching causes.  Of course, you could also counter argue it and say that “the arm only has so many bullets in it” and each pitch is one pitch closer to an injury.
The “right” answer is probably some combination of all of the above, as well as genetic bad luck.  Some guys have absolutely perfect mechanics and get injured (Harvey), some guys have perfect mechanics and throw 10,000 innings (say, Nolan Ryan), some guys have crummy mechanics and get away with it for a long time (think Don Sutton or someone like that).
On the bright side; Tommy John surgery is now somewhere between 85-90% success rate.  And these TJ surgeries actually improve the arm action.  An amazing stat was tweeted by Rob Neyer in the wake of the Harvey injury; of the 360 pitchers who have started games this year, 124 have had Tommy John surgery.  124 of 360!  That’s one out of every three major league starters in the game.  Our own Nats experience exactly matches this: of the 9 guys we’ve had start a game this year 3 have TJ surgeries in their history (Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Taylor Jordan).  The surgery doesn’t just repair, it improves the arm stability and strength.  TJ pitchers often come back with more break on their curve because the elbow has been improved.  They don’t just staple the tendon in place; they drill holes in the bones to attach the tendon so its got a stronger bond than what was naturally there.
In any case, it really is unfortunate to see such a great young guy suffer an arm injury so soon.  Hopeful for a full recovery.  The baseball world is a better, more fun place with young aces like Harvey out there every 5 days.

Two months in; Stuck in Neutral

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So my dad calls me the other day and immediately exclaims, “What’s wrong with this team?!?

Today, the season is 57 games old.  Two months old.  Almost exactly 1/3 old.  And the Nationals, the supposed power houses, next-coming-of the 1927 Yankees, the possible 110 win Nationals, are a .500 team.  Actually, a game under .500 with the weekend series loss to Atlanta.

We’ve talked about the Nats early schedule (as has Tom Boswell recently), chock full of 2012 playoff contenders.   But 2013 is a new season and in reality the Nats as of two months in have played the 14th ranked schedule of 30 teams (3 days ago it was 19th ranked … so these rankings move fast).   We’ve talked about the injuries, the offense in general, defense, the bench, Drew StorenDanny Espinosa, and Dan Haren all as contributing factors. A couple of prominent national baseball writers pipped in on 5/31/13 on this topic: Jay Jaffe on si.com and then Rob Neyer on BaseballNation.com, offering some suggestions, possible trades (Ian Kinsler?) and possible call-ups (the obvious Anthony Rendon).

But here’s my scary thought, as proposed to my dad.  What if .500 is exactly what this team is?

The 2011 Nationals finished .500.  The 2012 Nationals surprised us all and won 98 games.  Now the team is back to its 2011 levels.  Is it possible that this was always a .500 team for whom everything went perfectly right in 2012?  All the stars were in alignment in 2012 in terms of hitting, bench play and coming out parties for guys like Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper and Gio Gonzalez.   Now in 2013 are we just seeing all these guys revert to their normal production levels?

Were we just spoiled by the amazing bench production we got last year?  Here’s a quick table (stats as of 5/31/13):

player 2012 OPS+ 2013 OPS+ Career OPS+
Bernadina 113 34 85
Moore 125 27 90
Lombardozzi 83 55 74
Tracy 112 19 97

In other words, all four primary bench guys outperformed their career OPS+ values (mostly by a 25-30% factor) in 2012, and now all four guys are hitting so far below replacement level as to be drastically hurting the club.

I think the answer to the above questions goes along the following, topic by topic:

  • No, this is better than a .500 team.  The 2013 team is absolutely better than the 2011 team that rallied in September to finish 80-81.  The rotation now is leaps and bounds better than the 2011 rotation.  The offense (on potential anyway) is better.
  • This team is by-and-large the exact same team as the 2012 98 win team.  You can quibble about the loss of Michael Morse‘s charisma and power versus the fire-starting abilities of Denard Span at the top of the order, but then you also have to acknowledge the runs-saved so far this season by having an additional plus-plus defender in the outfield.  Haren versus Edwin Jackson?  At least a wash.  Bullpen additions and subtractions?  Perhaps replacing Burnett, Gorzelanny and Gonzalez with just Zach Duke and Rafael Soriano has weakened the bullpen.  Perhaps not, considering Soriano’s pedigree as a closer and its cascading effect on the rest of the bullpen.
  • The bench over produced in 2012 and is underproducing thus far in 2013, per career averages.  A bit of expected regression to the mean should indicate rising bench offensive production from here on out.  It almost has to; there’s just no way that these four guys are going to hit THIS badly the rest of the season.

But, the early season damage as been done.  At this point, just for the team to match its 2012 win total they’d have to finish the season 70-35.  That’s a .667 winning percentage.  That’s a 110-win pace for a season.  The NL Central right now has three teams with better records than either Atlanta or Washington, the two pre-season NL favorites, meaning there may not even be a NL Wild-Card to fall back on.  This team needs to focus on winning the division or there may not be an October.

This sounds like something Yogi Berra would say, but here goes: you have to score to win.  For me, if they start scoring runs and out-hitting teams, the issues we have with defense, the bullpen and injured starters will become secondary concerns.  As we speak, these Nationals are hitting .229 AS A TEAM.  That’s unbelievable.   Almost amazingly bad.  They’re 28th in batting average.  They’re dead last in team OBP (on a pace for a modern seasonal low OBP in fact), 27th in team slugging, 29th in wOBA and 28th in wRC+.

They need Werth back in the middle of the order.  They need a healthy Harper, who hasn’t been the same since the LA wall crash but really hasn’t been the same since hitting the wall in Atlanta in late April (from a tweet by Mark Zuckerman: Bryce Harper’s stats before April 29 collision in ATL: .356/.437/.744. His stats since: .183/.315/.350).  They’re finally getting LaRoche back on track, and Zimmerman is hitting well.  They need to stop giving at bats to Espinosa, and they need Ramos back to help spell Suzuki (he’s catching nearly every game and his offense has bottomed out in the last month).

I’m going under the assumption, by the way, that Strasburg misses at most one start and that Detwiler returns straight away.  I don’t think Nathan Karns is ready for the big time and the team needs to find another spot starter in the short term (Stammen?).

June is here; a weak schedule and an opportunity to get some wins.  If we’re still .500 on July 1st, then we’ll probably have run out of excuses and decided that we are who we are.

A forkball after my own heart

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Robert Coello throws a very “old school” pitch. Photo wiki/flickr via james_in_to account.

Thanks to Rob Neyer for this article, posted 5/16/13 (and subsequently Jeff Passan in this 5/28/13 article and this Ted Berg USAToday article on 5/29/13) about Robert Coello, a journeyman hurler currently with the Los Angeles Angels who throws what one executive calls a “Knuckle-Forkball” but what in reality is an “Original Forkball.”  Not a “Split Fingered Fastball” mind you, but a true-on Forkball.  Neyer then goes into some research he did with Bill James on the pitch and has a pretty interesting history on this very rare pitch.

Neyer’s post has video of the pitch as it comes out of his hand (as does the Usatoday article) and indeed the ball knuckles and dives like a knuckler.  He only threw one forkball in his 5/15/13 outing but has thrown more than a few since and is getting some national media notice.

Here’s Pitch F/X data for Coello’s 5/15/13 outing.  They classified this pitch as a “FS,” pitch f/x lingo for “Fastball-Split” or a splitter.  He threw it at 79.5mph.  Since then, he’s thrown (I guess) 11 more Forkballs (now classified in Pitch F/X as a “FO”) at an average of 79.2mph.  By way of comparison, R.A. Dickey‘s average knuckleball velocity in 2013 has been 75.3mph.  And Dickey’s knuckleball is considered so effective because he throws it with such pace (Tim Wakefield only threw his 65-66mph for the last few years of his career).  Imagine if Coello can command this pitch and throw it consistently and frequently; he’d have a chance of combining a Dickey-esque fast knuckleball with his 91mph fastball.  That could be quite a combination.

So, why is this guy so interesting to me?  Because in my own abbreviated amateur baseball pitching career, I threw the same pitch!  Somehow over the years screwing around while warming up as a middle infielder I discovered this pitch; you jam the baseball between your index and middle fingers and then throw the ball such that it “pops” out of your hand (it will even make a popping noise, not unlike a soft snapping fingers noise) and begins knuckling towards its target.  It definitely is not a diving/sinking split fingered fastball motion; it knuckles in.  You can throw it with some pace; you throw it with the same motion and intensity as a fastball, except that it gets hung up in the webbing of your fingers and knuckles out.  It is relatively easy to control, especially if you throw over the top and just “aim” the ball at the middle of the plate.  I used it as a 3rd pitch but one outing in particular it was moving so much that my catcher called nothing but forkballs.

I always called it a forkball, but figured it knuckled instead of diving down like a typical split-fingered fastball because I wasn’t throwing it at the pace of a professional pitcher.  Now as it turns out, it looks like I was just throwing a “throw back” pitch rarely seen in the professional ranks.  Cool.

This world needs more Forkball pitchers!

Post-post update: Fangraphs Eno Sarris had a great article on him 9/23/13, showing multiple gifs of the pitch, as well as noting that Coello now has a top-30 wFB pitch thanks to the uniqueness of the forkball.

Written by Todd Boss

May 31st, 2013 at 7:01 am

The better the pitcher … the smaller the strike zone?

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I'm surprised Chapman has ever had a strike called... Photo via wiki/flickr SD Dirk

Thanks to Rob Neyer, who pointed out this interesting study done at BaseballAnalytics.org by writer David Golebiewski, which showed how the faster the fastball, the LESS likely it was to be called a strike for “in-zone” pitches.  And its a significant margin (see the link for the percentages): a guy who throws 86-88mph gets nearly 10% more called strikes within the zone than a guy who throws 98mph.

That’s amazing.

The called-strike rate is also larger for out-of-zone strikes for softer-tossing pitchers, by about a 5% margin.  And to further add insult to injury, the missed strikes are more prevalent to left-handed hitters than to righies.

Both Neyer and Golebiewski imply that the reason for this phenomena is physical limitations in the Umpire, who struggles to “see” a 98mph fastball and thus misses it.  This leads (in comments sections) to inevitable calls for automated strike zones and the use of pitch f/x instead of humans.

I have a possible different theory; one that any of us that play amateur baseball can readily attest to; I believe that in the amateur game (whether it be little league or adult amateurs) a guy who throws harder is naturally given a smaller zone, while a softer-tossing guy generally gets a larger zone.  Not because the umps can’t see the ball, but because umps make the assumption that velocity equates with talent, and thus give the softer-tossing guy more benefit of the doubt when it comes to the strike zone.

Thoughts?  Maybe Mike Rizzo shouldn’t be spending as much time filling his rotation with power arms, if they have smaller strike zones as a result.  Or, more to the point, maybe this is all the argument we need to give Henry Rodriguez his walking papers.

Written by Todd Boss

February 28th, 2013 at 11:37 am

Jack Morris, Statistics and the meaning of the Hall of Fame

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Its Hall of Fame ballot time. Let the Jack Morris arguments start-up again. Photo John Iacono via si.com

(coincidentally, this is the exact same picture and exact same caption as I used last year.  Nothing w/r/t Morris has changed).

Every year about this time comes the inevitable Jack Morris battles when it comes to deciding whether or not he’s a Hall-of-Famer.  Those who argue against him (and argue they do, rather loudly, as exemplified by writers such as David Schoenfield, Rob Neyer, and Joe Posnanski and easily found at nearly any baseball blog, almost all of which are extremely anti-Morris) typically point at Morris’ career ERA, his ERA+, his career WAR and then argue that he was actually a mediocre pitcher.  They have all sorts of arguments against “pitching to score” and even make arguments that middling starters from the 90s are actually “better” than Morris.

My one overriding opinion on the whole “Hall of Fame” worthiness argument is that the stat-inclined seem to be missing the whole point of the “Hall of Fame.”  It isn’t defined as the “Hall of the Best  Statistically Significant players above some arbitrary benchmark.”  If it were, then arguments comparing Morris to Rick Reushel or Brad Radke (both of whom have higher career WARs than Morris) would be important.  (side note: Ironically, this is the same distinction that these people generally also miss when talking about the “Most Valuable Player” award; it isn’t the “Best Player” its the “Most Valuable,” and therefore you can’t just give me a gazillion stats that tell me why Mike Trout had a better season than Miguel Cabrera and call me an idiot for saying that Cabrera was the MVP this year.  How can you be the MVP of a 3rd place team that would have still been a 3rd place team with or without you?  How can you be the “most valuable” player in the league but have zero impact on your team’s standings or the playoffs?  But I digress).

No; its the Hall of FAME (emphasis mine).  It should be the Hall of the most FAMOUS people in the game’s history.  And inarguably Jack Morris is more famous than either Reushel or Radke (since these two pitchers are often used in comparison).  And since its baseball writers themselves that a) remember Morris as being better and more famous than he was according to specific career-measuring stats like WAR, and b) do the voting themselves, its likely that Morris may very well get into Cooperstown despite other people feeling that he’s a lesser pitcher.  Its why a pitcher like Catfish Hunter has been elected already, despite his having even worse career numbers (in the sabre-slanted statistical categories that the new-wave know-it-all bloggers constantly refer to) than Morris.  I can’t recall ever reading one single article talking about how bad it is that Hunter is in the hall of fame, but it seems that EVERY single baseball blogger and columnist out there under the age of 30 has written multiple times about how its the death of the legitimacy of the Hall of Fame if Morris makes it in.  I just don’t get it.

A lot of these arguments seem to be driven by one stat: Career WAR.  People look at that one overriding stat and make their arguments.  My biggest problem with career WAR is its “accumulator nature.”  It rewards a healthy, mediocre pitcher who makes a ton of starts and accumulates a ton of strikeouts and wins and innings pitched. Meanwhile a better pitcher with a higher peak who ends his career earlier won’t “score” as high in career WAR.

The two pitchers in particular i’m looking at in the above paragraph are Bert Blyleven (career bWAR of 89.3) and Pedro Martinez (career bWAR of 80.5).  There is not one person in their right mind that would say with a straight face that Blyleven was a “better” pitcher than Martinez.  But, if you look at the WAR without context you’d argue that was the case.

Blyleven during his career, for those of us actually old enough to have seen him play, was a mediocre pitcher.  Plain and simple.  In 22 seasons he made 3 All Star teams and received Cy Young votes only 4 times, never coming close to sniffing the award.  Morris on the other hand, received Cy Young votes in 7 of his 18 seasons and started the All Star game 3 times.  Morris STARTED more all-star games than Blyleven ever made.  Blyleven was traded for relative nobodies a number of times in his career, and the prevailing press of the day referred to him as a middling pitcher.  Only after he’s retired, when we “discovered” statistics like ERA+ and FIP and realized he was better than his numbers at the time indicated did we make the push for him into the HoF.

Why do I point out All Star appearances and Cy Young voting?  Because in the context of the Hall of Fame discussion, they’re important.  You can quibble about the meaning of all star appearances (certainly they’ve been diluted in the last 20 years) and cy young votes all you want, but the fact is this: if you REALLY want to know who the writers felt were the best players of their day, then all star appearances and Cy Young/MVP voting is vitally important.

But here’s my main point: why can’t the Hall recognize BOTH the likes of Blyleven (better than people realized at the time) AND also recognize Morris (overrated statistically but still historically significant and thus “famous” enough for enshrinement)?  Why do people devote so much time towards disparaging the case for Morris?  Yes, Morris gets undue credit for his fantastic 1991 World Series Start, for leading the 1984 Tigers, for leading the 1980s in Wins.   If you ask any player or manager in the game at the time, they’d likely tell you Morris was one of the best.   But these are all the same aspects that make him “Famous” and thus a likely candidate for the Hall of FAME.  These are the same reasons why a fine pitcher like Curt Schilling, who also was part of some iconic moments in the game’s history, also should be in Cooperstown (in my opinion).

I just feel like the nature of sports writing has come to the point where people use statistical measures as the be-all, end-all proof of everything in baseball.  And then they forget that the game is played by humans, that there are ALWAYS some things that cannot be measured, and just because some statistic has been cheapened in today’s game (I’m thinking of the pitcher Win) does not mean it was always cheapened.  I know there’s people out there who wrote doctoral thesises about how Morris never “pitched to score.”  But how do you measure a pitcher who knows he’s gotta go 9 innings, who knows he’s not getting pulled in the 6th inning for a lefty-on-lefty matchup, who knows he’s more likely to throw 160 pitches than 95?  I absolutely think there’s something in the “pitching to score” arguments, if only because I have played with pitchers who absolutely would coast through games when they got a lead, or who would “take innings off” against in order to preserve their arm to go 9 full innings.  Unless you had a biometric measure on every single pitch Jack Morris ever threw, correlated to the weather, the score, his team’s bullpen status and his manager’s whims, you can NOT tell me that Morris did or did not pitch to score, let up with a big lead, or cruise through innings knowing he may have to go 9 on a 100 degree day.  Just because you can’t prove something mathematically doesn’t mean it still doesn’t exist.  Tom Verducci did an excellent piece recently on Morris and his innings pitched and complete games in context, somewhat related to this topic.

Morris comes from a transitionary time in baseball, before specialized relief pitchers, before the power of the 90s and before PEDs.  He comes from a time severely under-represented in the Hall (think of players like Dale Murphy, Alan Trammell, Denny MartinezOrel Hershiser and Bret Saberhagen: these were the stars of the 80s and some of them barely got 2% of the HoF vote), a side-effect of the ridiculously talented players we saw in the 90s and thus victims of the inevitable comparisons, falling wanting.  He holds an important place in the history of the game, in the narrative of the 1980s, and of the fantastic 1991 World Series.  Cooperstown is a museum, not a spreadsheet.

Call me ignorant, call me old school.  Whatever.  Maybe I’m just tired of the negative rhetoric.  I say “Elect Jack Morris.”

Span for Meyer; Understand it but don’t entirely like it

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The team gets the lead-off hitter it has needed for years in Denard Span. Photo Bruce Kluckhohn/Minnesota Twins via twitter

At least Nats fans can start understanding the team’s off-season plans a little more clearly now.  The first domino has fallen.  The Nats acquired Denard Span from Minnesota for Alex Meyer yesterday.

I’ve argued against a center field acquisition for a while now.  Here’s three primary reasons why:

1. I don’t feel the Nats needed a center fielder.  Bryce Harper put up a 17.6 UZR/150 in 715+ innings while showing a plus-plus arm (both statistically and for any casual observers).   He’s just turning 20.  There is no reason to think he cannot ably patrol center for at least the next few years.  I’ve used this analogy before, but I feel like its the Yankees approaching Mickey Mantle after his first season in center and saying, “Hey Mick, we like you in center but we have this barely above league average guy At least until point #2 possibly comes to play:

2. Brian Goodwin, along with Destin Hood, Eury Perez, Michael Taylor and any other marginal OF prospect the team has is now effectively blocked for at least the next 3 years and possibly longer.  Span is signed through 2014 (with a very affordable 2015 option), Jayson Werth signed through 2017, and Harper is under team control through at least 2017.   There’s your outfield for the next 3 years guaranteed, 2/3rds of which is locked up for the next 5.  I just feel that the better path would have been to let Harper play CF until Goodwin or Perez seems ready (clearly Godwin is an upper-end prospect who has impressed ever since he was drafted, and the team didn’t add Perez to their 40-man roster just to give him the extra salary) and just make do with a slugger in left field.

3. The loss of Alex Meyer represents the best healthy starter arm in the entire system, a system which is becoming thinner and thinner (with this trade on the backs of the Gio trade I’d guess the Nats are now going to be in the bottom 5 farm systems when rankings start coming out).  You can argue whether or not Meyer was going to stick as a starter (see the “bright side” points below), but inarguably this weakens the farm system in general and further weakens a specific problem that may pop up sooner than later; starting pitcher depth.  If one of our big 4 suffers a spring training injury, it is difficult to see who may step up and be counted on for starts.

This move clearly forces the Nationals hand on Michael Morse, and now the team may end up negotiating from a point of weakness if they need to move him.  The decision path for the team now is clearly “Morse or LaRoche” at first base.  If the team does bring back Adam LaRoche suddenly Morse is without a lineup spot and his trade value diminishes quickly.  If the rumors are true that LaRoche is “only” seeking a 3 year deal, the Nats should stumble over themselves to offer him a 3 year deal (3yrs $40M seems more than fair based on what LaRoche did for us last year) and lock up the plus-defender/middle of the order bat.

This move also cannot be a happy day for Tyler Moore; he’s clearly set on being a backup now in 2013 no matter what happens with Morse/LaRoche, despite promising numbers in 2012.   Well, unless the team fails to re-sign LaRoche AND moves Morse (which I suppose is still possible but would make little sense), which would then install Moore as the every day first baseman.  Between Moore, Morse possibly being out of a position and Goodwin being blocked for years to come, you have to think we’re going to see some more moves involving these players (hopefully to acquire a starter, or some starter depth in the minors).


Now, on the bright side (since I’ve been accused of being too negative in my analysis), I will say the following:

1. We did not give up a ton for Span.  I like Meyer, but I’m afraid he may not stick as a starter.  The scouting knock on him has always related to his tall frame and repeatability of his delivery.  He has a funky leg kick and slightly weird mechanics, further muddying the waters.  Lastly he’s a huge guy and he (at first glance in videos) seems to really throw standing up and doesn’t use a ton of his lower body.  All of this spells “reliever” in his future.  If Meyer tops out as a fireballing reliever, this trade looks even better.

2. Span inarguably fills a need; a high OBP leadoff hitter.  He’s a .357 career OBP guy with speed and who hits lefty, a nearly perfect fit for what this lineup needs at the top.  Leadoff hitters generally come from one of three positions: CF, SS and 2B.  If the team decided it NEEDED a leadoff guy, and with Desmond and Espinosa locked into the SS and 2B slots for the time being, clearly the only place the team could go was a center-fielder.  The USAToday article linked at the top said it best (paraphrasing): this move is as if you bought a new chair for your living room, which forced you to have to move around your furniture.  You didn’t necessarily need the new chair, but it certainly makes your living room look better.  This move enables Werth to move further down in the lineup and return to his power stroke.

3. We didn’t spend good money after bad on BJ Upton or Michael Bourn, who’s 5yr/$75M demands would have been a real waste of money.  Span’s contract is great: 5yrs for $16.5M guaranteed plus a $9M option in 2015.   The Nats acquired a desired resource without appreciably increasing payroll, allowing them to focus (perhaps) on a FA starter.

Initial reaction to the trade in the Baseball World seems mixed, which is great since it probably indicates that this is a pretty fair trade all in all.  Keith Law doesn’t like it of  course, but that’s because Law believes every low-minors big arm is turning into Justin Verlander (Law also thought the Gio Gonzalez trade was a “huge win” for Oakland because they got AJ Cole, the same AJ Cole who put up a 7.82 ERA in high-A this year and was forced to repeat Low-A).  Meanwhile Dave Cameron calls this a “huge win” for Washington, focusing on Span’s numbers and mentioning the same concerns about Meyer that I do.  Rob Neyer pays a complement to Mike Rizzo and the Nats and says the team is well-positioned for several years.  Ken Rosenthal talks about the about-face the franchise has done in the last 3 years in the eyes of potential Free Agents, specifically Zack Greinke, who declined the Nats trade offer 2 years ago but now could be the final piece in building a juggernaut.


Coincidentally, those who think this moves Harper to LEFT field may be mistaken.  Werth’s defense in right has inarguably slipped (he posted a -14.2 UZR/150 in right this year, a significant drop from his previous decent-to-good seasons there).  I think Harper should play right field, with his gun for an arm protecting against 1st-to-3rd runners while Werth should immediately put up great UZR numbers in left.  Possible lineup in 2013 (assuming for now that LaRoche is leaving):

  1. Span (L) – CF
  2. Werth (R) -LF
  3. Zimmerman (R) – 3B
  4. Harper (L) – RF
  5. Morse (R) – 1B
  6. Desmond (R) – SS
  7. Espinosa (S) – 2B
  8. Suzuki (R) – C
  9. Pitcher.

L-R-R-L-R-R-S-R for good balance.  I could also see Desmond and Werth switching spots in the lineup.  Harper to cleanup may be a bit early, but without adding another lefty bat the lineup could have too many right-handed hitters in a row.

Now, what if LaRoche re-signs?  Then suddenly this lineup has pretty good balance.  With LaRoche in the fold i’d probably go like this:

  1. Span (L) – CF
  2. Werth (R) -LF
  3. Harper (L) – RF
  4. Zimmerman (R) – 3B
  5. LaRoche (L) – 1B
  6. Desmond (R) – SS
  7. Espinosa (S) – 2B
  8. Suzuki (R) – C
  9. Pitcher.

That’d be a slight modification over where these guys hit last year, but would give nearly perfect lefty-righty balance.


In the end, you have to give up something you value to get something you value.  The Nats made a good trade, despite my thinking they didn’t need to make the trade in the first place.  They’re an improved team on the field for 2013.

My 2012 End-of-Season award Predictions

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Mike Trout is a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year. Will he add AL MVP as well? Photo Gary Vasquez/US Presswire via espn.com

I’ve had a good string of predicting MLB’s major Post season awards in this space.  In 2010 I went 8 for 8.  In 2011 I again went 8-8 in predicting MLB’s awards, though I missed on predicting the unofficial Sporting News Executive and Comeback Player of the year.   I don’t have much confidence in going 8-for-8 this year though; the AL MVP seems way too close to predict, and I have no idea how the Cy Young awards will go.

[Editor Note: I write this in phases over the course of the season, and finalized it in early October.  After I wrote this piece some of the awards have already been announced; Sporting News announced Comeback Players of the Year last week.  I’ll put up another post talking about my guesses and which awards I got right and wrong in another article once all awards are announced in November.]

Here’s a sampling of major baseball writers’ and their predictions that I could find ahead of my publishing this article: Tom Verducci, Ken Rosenthal, Bob Nightengale, Jonah Keri, and Jayson Stark.  Here’s the Fangraphs.com staff picks, heavily statistically weighted as you’d expect.  As you will see, even the national writers are all over the road with their predictions.  Here’s HardballTalk’s Matthew Pouliot‘s theoreticall ballot, with some contrarian picks.  Seamheads’ Andrew Martin has the typical sabre-slanted ballot.

Before reading on to my predictions on 2012′s winners, a statement to prevent arguments in the comments section.  These are my guesses as to who will WIN the awards, not necessarily who DESERVES them.  Invariably there’s a player who plays on a non-playoff or losing team but puts up fantastic numbers (Matt Kemp for the 2011 Dodgers, perhaps Mike Trout this year) who a number of loud pundits say “should” win the MVP.  Well, the fact of the matter is that the current voter base absolutely takes into account the circumstances behind a player’s production, and places more value on batters who are in a pennant race.  As do I.  The MVP isn’t the “Best Overall Batter Award,” which would end a lot of these arguments (since, the Cy Young essentially is exactly the “Best Overall Pitcher Award” and thus is easier to predict); its the “Most Valuable Player” award, and I agree with many who believe that a guy hitting .370 for a last place team isn’t nearly as “valuable” as the guy who hits .320 and leads a team deep into a playoff race.  It is what it is; if we want to change it perhaps the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA, whose awards these are) needs to add a category or clarify their requirements.

Secondly, when considering the Cy Young, invariably there’s one pitcher who puts up comparable numbers to another, but one plays in a weaker division so the same Sabr-focused pundits make their holier-than-thou proclamations about how the voter base failed in their picks.  And their points are valid.  But this is a prediction piece, not an opinion piece, and the fact of the matter is that current voters are still mostly old-school and put value on things like “Wins” and “ERA,” stats that most Sabr-nerds think are useless in evaluating a pitcher.

So keeping those two points in mind, Here’s my predictions for 2012:

  • AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera.  Despite the massive amount of internet baseball material devoted to talking about how great a season Mike Trout has had (mostly looking at his WAR values historically), I still see the voter base placing emphasis on three major points:
    • Cabrera plays for a playoff team, Trout does not.   The fact that the Angels will finish with a better record than the Tigers, or that the Angels clearly played in a harder division?  Immaterial to the old-school voter base.
    • Cabrara won the Triple Crown.  And most Triple Crown winners throughout history also won the MVP.  The fact that the triple crown is based on 3 relatively flawed statistics?  Irrelevant to the narrative of the achievement itself.  It remains an incredibly difficult achievement to accomplish in modern baseball’s era of specialized hitters (Ichiro for batting, Adam Dunn for homers) to hit for both average and power in the way that Cabrera consistently does.  (Rob Neyer posted thoughts about this topic, quoting random people on the internet with various takes).
    • Cabrera had a monster finish, Trout did not.  Cabrera’s OPS in the run-in months was over 1.000 each of July, August and September.  Trout peaked in July but was merely above average in the closing months.   Your finish matters (as we’ll see in the NL Rookie of the Year race discussed later on).

    Opinions like USA Today’s Bob Nightengale‘s exemplify the bulk of the voter base right now.  A few years ago the writers were smart enough to award Felix Hernandez a Cy Young with nearly a .500 record by recognizing more of the advanced metrics in play, but the Cy Young’s definition is a lot more specific than that of the MVP.

    This is nothing against Trout; the Angels were 6-14 when he got called up and finished 89-73.  That’s an 83-59 record with him, a .584 winning percentage that equates to 95 wins, which would have won the AL West.  Trout was the undeniable MVP for me nearly all season.  You hate to say it, but when the Angels faltered so did Trout’s MVP candidacy.

    The rest of the ballot?  Adrian Beltre and Robinson Cano get some typical “best player on best teams” votes.  I’d give Josh Reddick some top-5 votes too.

  • AL Cy Young: David Price, by virtue of his 20 wins and league leading ERA, will squeak out the win over last year’s winner Justin Verlander. The statistical crowd will point out that Verlander was just as dominant in 2012 as he was in 2011 (when he unanimously won), and that his significantly higher innings total and lead in Pitcher WAR should get him the award.   However, as with the AL MVP you have to take into account the voter base.   Price won 20 games, that he pitches in a tougher division, that he beat out Verlander for the ERA title.  Plus, and I hate to say it, but Price is the “sexy pick,” the guy who hasn’t won before.  Verlander is the known guy and sometimes you see voters being excited to vote for the new guy.  Its kind of like the Oscars; sometimes an actor wins for a performance that wasn’t the best as a way to “give it to the new guy.”  Certainly this contributed to Clayton Kershaw‘s victory in 2011 and we may see similar behaviors again.  There might even be an east coast voter bias in play.  Jered Weaver, Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, and Felix Hernandez all get some top-5 votes, possibly finishing in that order behind Price and Verlander.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout, in what should be an unanimous vote. He could (if the MVP vote goes the way many thinks it should) become only the 3rd player ever to win both the MVP and the RoY in the same year (Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki being the others).  In the conversation: Yu Darvish (who certainly did not have a BAD year, but drifted mid-season), Yoenis Cespedes (who would win it in most years), Matt Moore (my preseason guess; I’m still shocked he displayed virtually none of the dominance of the 2011 post-season during his 2012 season), Will Middlebrooks (who made Kevin Youklis expendible within just a couple of months of arrival), and amazingly Tommy Milone (who was nearly unhittable in his home stadium and continued his performance from the Nats in the end of 2011).  A couple other names in the conversation: Scott Diamond and Jarrod Parker.
  • AL Mgr: Buck Showalter should get this this award for taking a team that should be a .500 ballclub based on pythagorean record and put them in the playoffs for the first time in a decade.  I also think he wins because of east coast bias, since certainly what Bob Melvin and the Oakland A’s pulled off is nothing short of fantastic.  Robin Ventura may have gotten some votes had the White Sox held on, but may be the 3rd place finisher.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL GM: I almost hate to say it, but Billy Beane. The A’s were supposed to be awful this year, having traded away most of their starting rotation (as explained further in this Aug 2012 post here) and let most of their hitters walk.  Instead they acquire a couple of good pieces from Washington, sign the exciting Cespedes to go with a few bottom-barrel FAs, and overcame a 13-game deficit to win the powerhouse AL West.  A great story.
  • (Unofficial “award”): AL Comeback Player of the Year: It has to be Adam Dunn, right?  How do you go from the lowest qualifying average in history to career highs in homers and not get votes.  Jake Peavy may get some votes after two injury plagued seasons, but he was pretty decent last year and isn’t exactly coming out of nowhere like Ryan Vogelsong did last year.

Now for the National League:

  • NL MVP: Buster Posey‘s strong finish, combined with his team’s playoff run and his playing catcher gives him the nod over his competition here.  For much of the season I thought this award was Andrew McCutchen‘s to lose, but his fade and Pittsburg’s relative collapse from their division-leading mid-season costs him the MVP.  The rest of the ballot? Ryan Braun may be putting up MVP-esque numbers but the fall out from his off-season testing snafu will cost him votes (both in this race and for the rest of his career unfortunately). Johnny Molina getting some press too, for many of the same reasons as Posey.  Joey Votto probably lost too much time to be really considered, but remains arguably the best hitter in the league.
  • NL Cy Young:  R.A. Dickey was the mid-season choice, was challenged late but his 20th win combined with his fantastic ERA for a knuckleballer makes him the winner.  Amazingly, Dickey has pitched most of the season with a torn abdominal muscle, making his season accomplishments even more impressive.   Johnny Cueto makes a great case, leading the playoff-contending Reds, but he slightly sputtered down the stretch.  Clayton Kershaw quietly had a fantastic year, leading the league in ERA, but as we saw with David Price above, I think the voters like to vote for the new guy.  Kershaw got his Cy Young last year; this year is Dickey’s time.  Other names in the top-5 mix: Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Gio Gonzalez and perhaps even Jordan Zimmermann (who got some mid-season attention by virtue of his excellent July).  I have a hard time giving the award to a reliever, but the numbers Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel are putting in as the closers of Cincinnati and Atlanta respectively may be enough to at least appear in the top-5.  Lastly, the odd case of Kris Medlen; his WAR puts him in the top 10 despite only having 12 starts.  Is this enough to give him some votes?  Maybe some 5th place votes here and there.  But look out in 2013.
  • NL Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper, who won his 2nd rookie of the month in September, finished incredibly strong and took advantage of late-season fades from his two biggest competitors to win this award.  The National media buzz on Harper/Trout was never greater than during the season’s last month, and while games in April count the same as in September, the lasting impression is made by he who finishes strongest.   Wade Miley has a great case but I think falls short.  Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier has had a great season and was beating Harper’s numbers across the board, but he sat once Scott Rolen came back and faded down the stretch.   Milwaukee’s Norichika Aoki has had a nice season at age 30, coming over from Japan.  I don’t think guys like this (or Darvish, or Ichiro Suzuki for that matter) should qualify as “rookies” but rules are rules.  Anthony Rizzo, Wilin Rosario, Matt Carpenter, and Mike Fiers also put up good rookie numbers and may get some 5th place votes.
  • NL Mgr: Davey Johnson.  Nobody had the Nats winning nearly 100 games.  Had the Pirates not collapsed perhaps we’d be talking about Clint Hurdle. Don Mattingly had somewhat of a transitionary team playing great early, but the mid-season influx of high-priced talent, and their subsequent collapse costs him any support.
  • (unofficial award) NL GM: Mike Rizzo, pulling off the Gio Gonzalez trade, signing Jackson in a deal immediately lauded as a great move and quickly putting together a team that looks to be 15-20 games improved over 2011.  We thought they’d be in the mid-80s in wins; who thought they could be pressing for 100??
  • (Unofficial “award”): NL Comeback Player of the Year: Buster Posey.  He went from a season-ending injury to an MVP season.  In other years Adam LaRoche may get some looks here, but not in the face of what Posey has been doing for San Francisco.  Lastly I had Johan Santana on a short list for this award until he was lost for the season in the aftermath of his 134 pitch no-hitter on June 1st.  At at point he was 3-2 but with a 2.38 ERA.  He finished the season 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA and was shut down on August 17th.  Are we sure that no-hitter was worth it?

Johnny Damon: Hall of Famer? Not for me

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Johnny Damon during his Boston reign. Photo unknown via metsmerized.com

With recent news that Johnny Damon has convinced another team (for 2012 its the Cleveland Indians) to give him more at-bats so that he can continue his march towards the magic 3,000 hit plateau, and with today’s Rob Neyer column that already assumes Damon is a hall of famer and asks, “Which cap will be on his Cooperstown plaque,” I have this to say:

How is it possible that Johnny Damon is a hall of fame player?

Here’s a few metrics for you:

  • All Star Apperances: TWO!  Two times he’s been considered amongst the best 60 or so active players.
  • Top 5 MVP votes: Zero
  • Top 10 MVP votes: ZERO
  • Top 20 MVP votes (as in, one of the 32 writers involved threw him a 10th place vote here and there): 4 times.
  • Career OPS+: 105.  As in, compared to his fellow players he’s only about 5% better at the plate.
  • Career OPS: .789, below the .800 line of respectability for modern day hitters.
  • Defensive awards: Golden Gloves and Silver Sluggers: Zero.

I’m sorry, but in what world is this a hall of fame career?  Damon is the epitome of an accumulator, averaging nearly 700 plate appearances and 188 hits per year over his career and staying relatively healthy (never playing less than 140 games per year since his debut in 1996).  105 OPS+!  If he was a gold-glove calibre middle infielder maybe that’d be acceptable, but he’s a sub-par defensive outfielder who has never sniffed a defensive award.

I also go back to my tried-and-true argument related to All Star appearances and MVP voting; how can a player possibly be considered one of the greatest players of all time if he rarely, if ever, was considered one of the best players of his own time, on a year to year basis?  Great players earn all star appearances even in down years, while middling players never earn them.

For everyone who has vehemently argued against Jack Morris, essentially on the strength (weakness) of his career ERA (and by implication, ERA+) … I wonder who hypocritically is arguing FOR Damon.  Oh wait; Rob Neyer is.

Am I crazy?  Who out there thinks that Damon is worthy of a copper plaque in Cooperstown?

(caveat: after reading the comments in the Neyer article, it occurred to me it was possibly a spoof.  As in, an entire tongue-in-cheek article.  If so, my reading comprehension skills are at fault and I rescind this criticism.)

Written by Todd Boss

April 17th, 2012 at 6:58 pm