Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

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Arizona management: Get off my Lawn!

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Miley must be happy to get out of Arizona. Photo via soxprospects.com

Miley must be happy to get out of Arizona. Photo via soxprospects.com

A couple of years ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks curiously traded their #1 draft pick from the previous year (Trevor Bauer) for a package of players that centered on the underwhelming Didi GregoriusI posted about the Bauer trade when it happened (Dec 2012) and, frankly, laid the blame at the kid’s feet for working his way out of town.

But since then, we’ve had other incidents involving Arizona players on their way out the door.  To wit:

  • In Jan 2013, the team moved its star Justin Upton for (again) a questionable return (centered on Martin Prado), and the litany of history between the player and the team was documented in the trade recap here via azfamily.com.  This Deadspin link also references Ken Rosenthal‘s reporting, which detailed the team’s issues with Upton: he didn’t play with enough “intensity.”
  • This past July, the team traded starter Brandon McCarthy to the Yankees for a middling Vidal Nuno.  McCarthy’s splits before/after the trade?   He was 3-10 with a 5.01 ERA before the move, 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA after.  And that’s moving to the AL East.  The apparent reason?  Arizona was actively discouraging him from using his effective cut-fastball.

Why do I bring this up?  Because, in the wake of the off-season Wade Miley trade to Boston … guess what?  Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reported that Miley and the Arizona training staff clashed in the past, and he thinks it led to his out-ster from the team.

And then there’s stuff like this: Arizona management forced some fans sitting behind home plate to change their clothes in April of 2013 … and apparently just did it again.

Arizona finished 64-98 last season, worst in the majors.  Its no wonder they’re so bad right now, given the rate at which they’ve traded young, good, controllable assets for mediocre and expensive ones.  They canned their entire coaching staff last off-season (aka, the “King of Grit” Kirk Gibson) and their GM (Kevin Towers) as a result, hiring Tony La Russa as their senior-most baseball executive and then Dave Stewart as their rookie GM.  Perhaps the hope is that this new regime will stop openly clashing with its players and will value production on the field versus compliance in the clubhouse.

Of course, Stewart didn’t help his case by plainly stating ignorance of analytics to the press this past off-season.  And the new regime’s moves this past off-season didn’t exactly inspire confidence: their major move being the $68.5M signing of Cuban Yasmany Tomas, who apparently can’t actually play 3B and may start in the minors.  And its hard to look at any of the slew of trades they made and say “wow, that was a winner move.”  You almost have to wonder how they’re going to screw up the #1 pick in the 2015 draft this coming June.

All the better for the rest of the NL West, which features two teams with very clear playoff intentions (LA and SD) along with a third (SF) who has only won three World Series in the last five years.

post-posting update: Arizona has defended its forced uniform changing.  Actually they provided an explanation .. it was just someone playing around.  Sure.

another post-posting update: Stewart essentially “sold” two players to Atlanta, including their 2014 1st rounder Touki Toussaint so as to rid themselves of Bronson Arroyo‘s deal.  When questioned about the deal, Stewart was quoted as doubting Toussant’s velocity readings, saying that “Toussant didn’t throw 96.”  And, as noted here, Stewart is right: Tousannt doesn’t throw 96; he throws 98.  Toussant was well known to be mid-90s as a 16 year old two years prior to his drafting out of high school.  And now Toussant is doing things like this: throwing 6 no-hit innings in low-A for his new team Atlanta.  Thanks Dave!

Yet another post-posting update: the organization left $1.7M on the table in the 2015 draft process, a ridiculously large amount of money, enough to buy at least 4 separate 3rd-4th round talents later in the draft.  Just an amazing example of incompetence.

And there’s more!  Arizona was the sole team in baseball that didn’t make move at the Trade deadline in 2015, despite clearly being out of the NL West and despite having several players approaching free agency who would have made perfect sense to trade.  Their main rumored interest was in Aroldis Chapman (a high-priced closer on a rebuilding team?)  And, he threw the SD GM under the bus for his trade request … which was apparently mentioned in gest.

8/18/16 posting update: Keith Law absolutely kills the Arizona management with this take-down of the GM and President.  And nothing in his article is really debatable.  Both the GM and President have pending expiration dates on their contracts … and Law wonders if they’ll renew or start over.

Wild Card Pitching Strategy

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Kris Medlen is as close to an automatic win as there exists now. Should the Braves use him? Photo unknown via totalprosports.com

I was listening to the excellent Fangraphs.com podcast last week, hosted by Carson Cistulli and featuring excellent writer Dave Cameron, and Cameron (who writes the blog USS Mariner in addition to his Fangraphs work) proposed an interesting theory for handling a pitching staff in the wild card game.

Conventional wisdom states that the Atlanta Braves (who I’m using as an example here because I think they’re the best bet to advance in a wild card game right now) would throw their unbeatable ace Kris Medlen in the play-in game.  Reasoning: you can’t leave your best starter on the bench in a do-or-die game; you have to try to win it.  So you throw your best guy to win that game and then deal with the consequences the next round.

(Tangent: I’m pretty sure MLB assumed that a side effect of adding a second pitcher would result in a weakened wild card winner, which benefits the #1 seeded divisional winner and gives them an advantage going forward.  I certainly talked about this as a benefit when I lauded the 2nd wild card in this space earlier this summer.   But the roster loopholes in the wild card game that can be exploited as explained below and the first two home games on the road for the higher seeded team are both major issues that need to be addressed asap).

But what if the Braves decided to try something unconventional instead of just throwing Medlen??  Because of the scheduling of the playoffs, the wild card game winner will get a day off between Friday 10/5/12 and Sunday 10/7/12, meaning they could empty their bullpen and have every single guy down there throw his typical limit of innings and still have everyone available on Sunday for the first game of the Divisional Series.  So Cameron’s theory is; don’t start your ace; start your bullpen guys, who (especially in Atlanta’s case) are more efficient at getting guys out on a short-term basis.  Then, after a few innings of relievers throwing, you take a look at the game and decide then if your starter needs to go in.

What if Atlanta were to start some bullpen guys instead of Medlen in a play-in game, then suddenly Atlanta jumps out to a 4-0 lead.  You could then put in a different starter (say, the #3 starter, who could throw on 10/5/12 then be ready on normal rest for game 3 of the NLDS on Wednesday 10/10/12) to finish out the game.   You could keep some bullpen guys in reserve to stamp out any fires, but in theory you could manage a game in this fashion and preserve your best starter.  Plus, a major loop-hole in the playoff roster specification rules means that Atlanta could field a far different roster for just this wild card game than for the rest of the playoffs.  They could leave off basically their entire rotation and add in 4 more bullpen arms and continue parading out fresh arms all night like it was a spring training game.

Here’s a look at Atlanta’s top 7 relievers right now (stast as of 9/24/12):

Name W L W-L% ERA G IP H R ER BB SO ERA+ WHIP
Craig Kimbrel 2 1 0.667 1.08 58 58.1 25 7 7 14 106 374 0.669
Cristhian Martinez 5 4 0.556 4.04 51 71.1 79 33 32 17 64 100 1.346
Chad Durbin 4 1 0.8 3.19 73 59.1 51 25 21 28 46 127 1.331
Jonny Venters* 5 4 0.556 3.46 63 54.2 57 23 21 28 65 117 1.555
Eric O’Flaherty* 3 0 1 1.82 61 54.1 46 14 11 19 45 222 1.196
Luis Avilan* 0 0 2.25 27 32 26 9 8 10 28 181 1.125
Cory Gearrin 0 1 0 1.62 19 16.2 15 3 3 4 19 254 1.14

There’s some serious arms in that bullpen.  Kimbrel is obviously a known quantity and his 106 K’s in 58 1/3 innings are ridiculous.  But it also means he’s almost guaranteed to shut down whoever he may be pitching against (heard a great stat about Kimbrel recently; he has not pitched an inning all year where he gave up more than one hit.  That’s as shutdown as it gets).   Venters has had a slightly “off” season after being unhittable last year, but still greater than a K an inning.   O’Flaherty has been fantastic and could give you an inning.  Younger guys like Avilan and Gearrin don’t have a ton of experience but have performed excellently for the Braves.

Why wouldn’t you start off a game with (say) Venters going against the top of St. Louis’ order, then bringing in someone like Avilan for the 2nd and 3rd (he’s a 2-inning guy).  Bring in O’Flaherty when the big hitters roll around again in the 4th inning, then go with someone like Durbin for the next two innings.  You bring in Gearrin for the 7th and 8th, and then you’ve saved Kimbrel for perhaps 4 or 5 out save in the 8th and 9th.   And by virtue of the one-game roster setting loophole, this is just the first 7 guys out of the bullpen; one could add in 4-5 more arms as need be.

Honestly, I think this is a winning strategy.  Will the Braves (or the Cardinals for that matter) consider employing it?  No way;  Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is well known in the baseball press for being “uber traditional” in the way he handles his pitching staff (lots of complaints about his leaving his best arm out there til it is a “save” situation instead of using him in higher leverage situations).  And the Braves have already manipulated their rotation to put Medlen in line for a wild card start.  Meanwhile St. Louis’ Mike Matheny is a rookie manager and such a strategy as laid out here is basically putting your job on the line for a coin-flip; if it doesn’t work out you’re fired.  Tony LaRussa could have pulled this off; he had enough respect and enough history to be given a pass if he tried something radical and it didn’t work out.  In fact, if LaRussa was still the manager I’d bet this is exactly what he’d do; we are talking afterall about the guy who essentially invented the modern bullpen.

In the end, it’ll be in the #1 seed’s favor if the Braves burned Medlen.  But it’d be great talking fodder if they tried the strategy above.

Thoughts about the Peralta Pine Tar incident

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Joel Peralta tips his cap in mock respect after getting tossed for having "an excess of pine tar" in his glove. Photo Patrick McDermott/Getty Images via bleacherreport

While watching the Nats game tonight, the broadcast team of Bob Carpenter and JP Santangelo posted the following quote (as referenced in several of the beat reporters columns earlier today):

“Just looking down the road, if I’m a major league player that may happen to want to come to play for the Nationals in the future, I might think twice about it, under the circumstances,” Maddon said before Wednesday’s game. “Because this is a guy, this is one of their former children here that had really performed well and all of sudden he’s going to come back to this town and they’re going to rat on him based on some insider information.”

The MASN broadcast team also relayed a follow-up to this quote, mentioning that a beat reporter that they had not “seen before” asked Joe Maddon a very probing, intelligent question.  As transcribed from the MASN broadcast:

“Well, your guy was the one who was caught.  A lot of people are talking about the fact that you’re trying to deflect the blame to the to the other team across the diamond.”

Maddon apparently blew off the question, didn’t ask it and challenged the questioner whether or not he covered baseball on a regular basis.  These quotes somewhat disappointed me; I have a lot of respect for Maddon by virtue of stories about him in Jonah Keri‘s excellent book “The Extra 2%,” about the rise of Tampa Bay.  Perhaps he’s indeed trying to deflect blame and control the story.  But I think Maddon does the exact same thing, if he’s in the same situation.

Last night’s gamesmanship was probably unnecessary, but a move that you have to make in the right situation.  Yes the Nats probably were aware of the fact that Peralta had a tendency to overdo the pine tar, by virtue of his playing for our team a couple years ago.  Was last night an odd time to cash in that particular chip?  The team was losing, but the game was close, and Peralta is clearly a great asset out of the Rays bullpen.  In fact, it surprised me to see the team not pursue signing Peralta after his excellent 2010 season for us.

Perhaps the message was meant more for Peralta; who knows what type of departure he had from the team.  But you would have to think that if the team still respected him as a player, instead of trying to get him ejected perhaps Davey Johnson would have taken the same route that Tony LaRussa did in the 2006 world series, when hurler Kenny Rogers clearly had pine tar all over his throwing hand, a fact that became clear when the high definition cameras caught him throwing in the first inning.

The fact is, when its hot out and you’re sweating, getting a grip on the baseball can be very difficult.  I certainly use pine tar heavily when I play to get an extra grip on the bat.  I have certainly played with pitchers who had a secret stash of pine tar “hidden” within their glove in order to get an extra snap on the curve.  Is this a violation of baseball’s rules?  Of course it’s against the stated rules.  The question is whether it is as egregious a transgression as (say) stealing signs or sneaking a peak at the catcher’s signs.

Much like a football player moving teams and taking along insider information on formations and trade secrets, inside information either brought to or left with teams can put managers in a tough situation.  Billy Martin was well aware of George Brett‘s proclivity to over-tar his bat, and he waited until a key game situation (i.e., a go-ahead homer) to cash in that particular chip.  Clearly Johnson made the decision to use the information he had on hand, last night in a key late-inning situation.

What do you guys think?  Bush league move?  Good use of information?

Nats Off-season News Items Wrap-up 12/31/11 edition

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

This is your semi-weekly/periodic wrap-up of Nats and other baseball news that caught my eye.  With the approaching Hall of Fame nonsense, er I mean news cycle approaching, I’ll throw in a HoFame section.

Nationals In General

  • Transcribed from a radio interview by Tim Dierkes, here’s Mike Rizzo on CF and 1B.  This is the first time I’ve seen Rizzo mention NEXT year’s FA class in terms of looking for talent and it makes you wonder if we don’t already have our entire primary starting 15 set (8 out-field players, 5 starters and setup/closer) for 2012.   I can live with Jayson Werth in CF, since it opens up lots of FA possibilities in RF.  In fact, I smell a separate post coming…
  • Former Nat Lastings Milledge is going to Japan to try to resurrect his baseball career.
  • Scouting-specific SeedlingsToStars.com site looks at Anthony Rendon.
  • The USA Today does an in-depth, position-by-position overview of the team and where it stands.
  • Another Tom Boswell article that I disagree with; he thinks Prince Fielder isn’t “right” for the Nats.   I’m sorry; but Fielder is a run creating machine (he created 35 more runs last year than Michael Morse, by way of comparison, which roughly equates with his 5.2 Wins Above replacement value).  Yes we have LaRoche who is plus defense, but is he going to come back to 2010’s form or is he going to be a lost cause again?  Meanwhile, Fielder looks set to take a shorter term deal and re-try his hand at the FA market when he hits 30.  Wouldn’t you sign him for 3yrs $70M?  You put Fielder at 1B, keep Morse in Left, groom Bryce Harper to play center and keep Werth in right.   For the next 3 years.  How difficult is that?  Boswell talks about where to put Rendon; well; you put him wherever you have a need.  Put him at 2nd and move Espinosa to short.  Or you trade someone to free up room.  This team’s problem isn’t the need for a lead-off slap hitter; we need a big run producer in the middle of the order.  Someone to replace what Adam Dunn gave us for two years.
  • Ryan Tatusko posts his 2011 recap of his minor league season plus his time in the Venezuelan Winter League.  I wish more players were as blogger-friendly as Tatusko.

Hall of Fame Specific

  • A pro Edgar Martinez take with the important quote, “There is a position called DH…”  I have changed my own stance on this issue in recent years, especially when considering relief pitchers as hall of fame worthy.  If you argue that a closer and his 60-70 innings is somehow more valuable to a team than a designated hitter’s 650 at bats, then I’d have to disagree.  On my hypothetical ballot, Martinez is in.
  • Excellent review of active MLB players under HoFame consideration by Fangraph’s Dave Cameron.   Also, the comments discussion brings up a number of other players.  He uses primarily career WAR to determine the player’s value, which I’m somewhat hesitant about (in most cases WAR is an accumulator stat, as a mediocre player who stayed very healthy will have a higher WAR than an excellent but shorter-lived career).
  • This article really got to me, to the point where I commented on both the original post by Jay Jaffe at Baseball Prospectus and the discussion at TangoTiger‘s InsideTheBook.com blog.  Jaffe’s hall of fame measuring system (called JAWS) somehow has determined that Brad Radke, the middling pitcher for the Twins who had basically one standout season in his career, was a BETTER player career-wise than Jack Morris.  How would any sane baseball observer possibly come to this conclusion?  This is where the modern blogger’s over-reliance on statistics really gets to me.  I have not read into why this system ranks Radke so high while ranking Morris so low but suspect it is due to a reliance on the same calculations that go into the ERA+ statistic (of which Radke’s career ERA+ of113  is better than Nolan Ryan‘s career era of 112).

Free Agents/Player Transaction News

  • Oakland continues to dismantle itself: Boston trades OF prospect Josh Reddick and two other players to Oakland for closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney.  This is after Boston acquired Mark Melancon earlier in the off-season; they now have completely remade the back side of their rotation.  Clearly the team is moving Daniel Bard to the rotation, having just traded for his replacement.   Reddick was clearly seen as surplus to requirements, despite putting together a decent 2011 season, but you have to wonder if the team is going to be satisfied with Sweeney starting in RF.
  • Keith Law makes a good point during his analysis of the Bailey move, saying that adding Bailey is a far better move than paying Jonathan Papelbon $50M.  I agree completely and think that anyone who pays $10M+ per year for a guy who throws 70 innings and who only really has about 50% “high leverage” plate appearances (see last year’s splits for Mariano Rivera and Papelbon to see that 57% of Rivera’s plate appearances were in “high” leverage situations as a high, while Papelbon was at 47%) is just wasting money.  Find a hard thrower in your organization (say, like Drew Storen for the Nats), install him as the closer as a rookie, then ride him til free agency and then cut him loose and start over.  Relievers are fungible talents, they come and go, mostly are failed starters since they don’t need the full repertoire of pitches to be successful, and are cheaper to come by.
  • (hat tip to ck of the Nats Enquirer): The Baltimore Sun reports that Scott Boras and Prince Fielder were in the Baltimore/DC area to meet with an owner not named Peter Angelos.  More links on the topic from Federal Baseball.  Gee, I wonder who it could be?  Why would those two fly HERE and not directly to the city of the owner in question, unless the owner of the team in question was either a) the Nationals, or b) an owner of a MLB team who lives in this area but owns a team based elsewhere, or c) an owner of another team just happened to be in DC for some odd reason (odd because Congress is out of session, which would seem to eliminate most any possibly lobbying reason).  Don’t get me wrong; I think Adam LaRoche can contribute in 2012 and it seems ludicrous to think he can’t at least get close to his 2010 numbers, but Fielder is a 5+ WAR player who probably makes us the favorite for the NL wild card if we sign him, right now.

General Baseball News

  • Wow, two LOOGY articles in the same day.  Bill James answered a question about the evolution of the LOOGY and posted this link describing its birth (apparently by Tony LaRussa in the 1991 season).  I also never knew that the term “LOOGY” was coined by none other than Rob Neyer.  And TangoTiger points to some of the same research.  Mid 30s lefties everywhere have LaRussa to thank for their extended careers.
  • Could you imagine this happening in today’s game?  The first intentional pitch would have resulted in ejections.  Certainly modern umpires would not let a pitcher throw pitch after pitch at an opposing batter.  Clearly these umpires let this game get out of hand.
  • Will MLB step in?  USAToday’s Seth Livingston thinks that the Oakland payroll dumping trades this off-season may get the attention of the front office.  Hard to see why; according to Cot’s the Athletics are only signed up for around $17M of guaranteed contracts in 2012 right now, before a slew of arbitration cases.  They non-tendered 3 of their 10 arbitration cases but kept a couple of their more expensive guys (Cot’s thinks they had 14 arbitration-eligible players; I havn’t cross-referenced outrights and DFAs but know they had 10 arb tender decisions).  Of those they did tender, they have since traded away Sweeney, Gonzalez, Bailey, Breslow and Cahill.  Geeze.  Baseball-Reference thinks they’ll get to $50M in payroll; I wonder if they’ll get to $35m frankly.  And, its looking more and more like this could be something like a 50-win team.  Things could get ugly in the Bay area in 2012.
  • This would be a loss for us prospect hounds: Keith Law is reportedly interviewing for a front-office position with the Houston Astros.  Law takes a very specific, opinionated viewpoint towards player development, drawing from his experiences in the Toronto organization (which itself during his time took a rather college-heavy approach to the draft which ultimately wasn’t as successful as the team wanted, ultimately contributing to the end of JP Ricciardi‘s reign.
  • An interesting exercise; USA Today builds an unbeatable MLB team for the median MLB payroll.  Honestly though, I’m not sure just how challenging this exercise is.  If you gave me $86M (the median payroll they used) you should be able to put together TWO such teams.  There’s enough pre-arbitration and arbitration-controlled talent in the league to be able to do the same task for something approaching a $20M payroll.  A future blog post?  :-)
  • Follow-up on Alex Rodriguez‘s experimental Germany treatment; this op-ed piece from Jeff Passan on the blurry line between PEDs and legitimate surgical procedures.  The article has a very in-depth description of the A-Rod procedure and raises the question as to what defines a Performance Enhancing Drug?  I have had similar discussions; why are Steroids “bad” but Cortisone “good” in terms of usage?  What do Cortisone shots do?  They enable a player to play through pain that otherwise may keep him out.  Uh … isn’t that the definition of a “performance enhancing” substance??  Steroid’s aren’t illegal; they’re just controlled.  But so is cortisone; you can’t just inject yourself with the stuff without a doctor’s order.  Passan takes things one step further, comparing the healing effects of HGH with these new treatments that A-Rod and Bartolo Colon got and makes a very good point; the WADA uses 3 categories to define a doping drug and everything we’ve described here can be argued to fit those criteria (except that only HGH and Steroids have been determined to be “bad” by the powers that be).  There’s something inconsistent here.

Collegiate/Prospect News

  • Seedling to the Star’s scouting report on Braves phenom prospect Julio Teheran.  Teheran’s stock has slipped somewhat in the past two years, especially given the inevitable comparisons to fellow pitching prospect phenom Matt Moore.  While Moore’s 2011 MLB debut was nothing short of amazing (including his 7 innings of shutout ball in the playoffs), Teheran posted a 5.03 ERA in about 20 MLB innings throughout 2011.  It was bad enough to probably rule Teheran out of the 2012 rotation plans and send him back to repeat AAA.  But if he can put things together, he’ll join an arsenal of young arms in Atlanta that seems set to be their next wave of starters in the ilk of John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.


General News; other

  • Baseball meets modern America: Joe Maddon and the rising Latino population in his home town of Hazelton, PA, as written by Joe Posnanski.
  • 67-56?  I’ve never seen a football game with such a ridiculous scoring line.


Ask Boswell 11/28/11 edition

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Are the 2012 Nats going to be an Earl Weaver-esque team? Photo unknown via cnnsi.com

Happy belated Thanksgiving.  The Redskin’s win and Capital’s coach firing probably will dominate the chat, but here’s Tom Boswellweekly Monday chat on 11/28/11.  Of the baseball questions he took, here’s how I’d have answered them.

As always, questions are edited for clarity and I write my own answer prior to reading his.

Q: Boz, I think the 2012 Nats are going to make Earl Weaver proud. Pitching, defense and 3 run homers. Once Riz lands either Oswalt or Buehrle AND gets his centerfielder/leadoff guy, this team will be lethal. Davey played for Earl and understands the concept. Whare am I wrong?

A: Where are all the 3-run homers coming from?  The Nats were respectable in terms of team Homers last year (7th in the NL) but were below average in most other offensive categories (runs, rbi, BA, OBP, slugging, ops+).  Perhaps if we signed on one of the big mashers (Fielder or Pujols) we’d be guaranteed 30 more homers, but all I see are a bunch of question marks on the offense.  We still have no lead-off hitter, we still have lots of Ks in the lineup.  Is Morse really a 30-homer guy?  Can LaRoche come back and get to his career averages (roughly 24-26 homers per full season)?  Will Werth bounce back to have a 130 OPS+ season?  Boswell says it may happen, but warns against sudden drop-off of pitchers like Buehrle later in their careers.

Q: Tom, So why the hate from MLB for the draft? Was it all a detest of Scott Boras? Some way for the big market teams to slap down the small market teams again? These are really harsh penalties for going “over slot”. There’s got to be something else behind this, right?

A: Because one of the most activist owners (Chicago’s Jerry Reinsdorf) and Selig himself are both small-market, cheapskate mindsets and they wanted to remove the one area of baseball where costs often-times end up being sunken dollars; bonus money for amateur players.  When the big clubs saw that this deal was to their advantage, they piled on and suddenly you had enough owners to push it through.  Boswell says there’s not enough information yet to properly comment.

Q: Will writers take into account Tony LaRussa’s connection to steroids when his name comes up for consideration for the Hall of Fame?

A: I doubt it.  That’s on the players and on the commissioner.  The manager just takes what he gets and tries to win games.  Boswell says that after the 2011 WS win, he doubts anyone will NOT vote for the man.

Q: Can a player’s manager change his behavior and become a disciplinarian with the same group of players?  (In the context of Terry Franconia losing the Red Sox clubhouse).

A:  I don’t believe so.  The best example of some who did though may be Tom Coughlin, who seemingly softened from his hard-liner stance with the Giants years ago and kept his job during one rough patch.  Boswell says not really with the same team, but lots of guys learn from their mistakes and become better coaches later on.

End of Season 2011 Award Review

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Here’s a wrap up of the end of season awards.  I posted my predictions here (albeit without MLB comeback player of the year predictions, since those came out very early in the off-season).

Final results: For the 2nd year running, I went 8-for-8 in predicting the BBWAA awards.   But I will say this; predicting these awards going forward will be more difficult, as more modern baseball writers will depend more and more on advanced stats to decided these awards.  Meanwhile, I was only 1-for-4 in predicting the Sporting News “unofficial” award add-ons for GM and Comeback player (and I pretty much disagree with all I was wrong about :-).

  • AL MVP:  Prediction: Justin Verlander.  Winner: Verlander.  Ellsbury 2nd, Bautista 3rd.
  • AL Cy Young: Prediction: Justin Verlander. Winner: Verlander, unanimously.  Weaver 2nd, Shields 3rd.
  • AL Rookie of the Year: Prediction: Jeremy Hellickson. Winner: Hellickson rather easily.  Trumbo 2nd, Hosmer 3rd.
  • AL Mgr: Prediction: Joe MaddonWinner: Maddon.  Leyland 2nd, Washington 3rd.
  • Sporting News AL GM: Prediction: Andrew FriedmanWinner: Dave Dombrowski.
  • Sporting News AL Comeback player of the Year.  Prediction: Bartolo Colon.  Winner: Jacoby Ellsbury.
  • NL MVP: Prediction: Ryan Braun. Winner: Braun.  Kemp 2nd, Fielder 3rd.
  • NL Cy Young: Prediction: Clayton Kershaw.  Winner: Kershaw handily.  Halladay 2nd, Lee 3rd.
  • NL Rookie: Prediction: Craig Kimbrel.  Winner: Kimbrel unanimously.  Freeman 2nd, Worley 3rd.
  • NL Mgr: Prediction: Kirk GibsonWinner: Gibson. Roenicke 2nd, LaRussa 3rd.
  • Sporting News NL GM:Prediction: Doug MelvinWinner: Melvin.
  • Sporting News NL Comeback player of the year.  Prediction: Ryan Vogelsong.  Winner: Lance Berkman

Discussion (here’s a link to all the 2011 post-season voting with totals from Baseball-Reference.com).

  • AL MVP: Verlander as predicted.  Not because I think he’s the MVP (see my rant about Pitchers winning the MVP here), but because he won the voting.  I think this kind of winner will gradually fade as more modern, stats-aware voters pour into the BBWAA and start “improving” the vote.  The same goes for Cy Youngs as well; see commentary for the NL Cy Young award.  That being said, this voter’s explanation perfectly sums up what I would have guessed would have happened.  And this guy, who voted Michael Young first, Verlander 2nd, Ellsbury 5th and Bautista 7th should really have his voting credentials questioned.
  • AL Cy Young: no surprise on the winner, or 2nd or 3rd place really.  I was surprised that Josh Beckett didn’t fare better.  Perhaps it was because of his injury later in the season.  His WAR should have put him in the top 5.
  • AL Rookie: Again, no surprise winner here.  Hellickson proved his value with a sparkling 2010 late season call-up, just as Matt Moore did this year for Tampa.  This award looked to be Michael Pineda‘s at the all-star break.  He finishes 5th.
  • AL Manager: Maddon won pretty handily; no surprise here.
  • AL Comeback Player of the Year: when you put Ellsbury’s season into context, he certainly out-performed any reasonable expectation of his abilities.  He wasn’t exactly a slouch in 2009, but he certainly wasn’t a 30-home run talent either.  I guessed Colon just based on the fact that he was basically out of baseball before the Yankees signed him.
  • AL Executive: Perhaps the voters have tired of the tight-rope act going on in Tampa.  Dombrowski’s FA signings were sublime, but his mid-season trade for Doug Fister probably won over the voters, who watched the Tigers improve 14 games and win the AL Central.  I question the award though; Detroit already had a massive payroll and established players in most positions.  Tampa made the playoffs in a year they slashed payroll by 40% in the AL east.
  • NL MVP: another award that will be roundly criticized by Sabre-nerds, since Kemp had a slightly better statistical season.  However I agree 100% with Mark Zuckerman‘s reasoning.  The MVP is the best player on a playoff team, unless a player on a non-playoff team has an other-worldly season.
  • NL Cy Young: Even I was surprised at the overwhelming win; 27 of 32 first place votes.  Halladay the easy 2nd place winner, though we’re bound to hear stat-heads whining that Halladay had the more impactful season.  Interesting that Ian Kennedy garnered one first place vote; thankfully it didn’t factor into any of the eventual results, because anyone who thought Kennedy’s season was better than the first three pitchers was crazy.  I think the Kershaw vote was predictable if only because Halladay already has a Cy Young to his credit, and voters wanted to give the award to someone new.  Predictably, Keith Law voted against the majority in a major award category, as he’s done the past few years.  I say predictably because Law represents the stat-heavy minded voter that, while probably correct in their voting way, does not represent the majority of current voters and thus made the predictability of this award relatively straight forward.  Here’s Amanda Comak‘s vote and explanation.
  • NL Rookie: Again, no surprise that Kimbrel won unanimously, as most older voters notoriously over-rate closers.  But there wasn’t a better choice than Kimbrel after his dominant season.  Atlanta shows how good a franchise they have been in developing talent lately with 1st and 2nd place in this competition, to go with the excellent Brandon Beachy.  Watch out next year for Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino to be early ROY candidates.
  • NL Comeback Player:  No offense to Berkman’s incredible offensive season, but its not as if he was exactly chopped liver prior to 2011. Vogelsong hadn’t appeared in the majors since 2006!  Vogelsong was one of this year’s great feel-good stories, stuck in the minors for years and then putting up a fantastic season covering for the injured Barry Zito at the age of 33.  The players showed why they can’t be trusted to vote properly; Vogelsong is the definition of a comeback player.
  • NL Executive: Melvin’s all-in approach for 2011 worked, and he was rewarded for it.
http://www.freep.com/article/20111116/SPORTS02/111116004/Dave-Dombrowski-co-winner-Sporting-News-Executive-Year-award?odyssey=mod%7Cnewswell%7Ctext%7CSports%7Cs:

Boswell Chat 10/31/11: My answers to his Baseball questions

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Lots of World Series questions from Boswell this time around. Photo unknown via usasportsbettinglines.com

Tom Boswell did his monday morning chat on 10/31 in the wake of the end of an epic World Series and a brutal 23-0 loss by the town’s #1 draw Redskins.  Lets see how many baseball questions he takes…

Questions are edited for clarity and space, and I write my answer before reading Boswell’s.  We’ll only address baseball-related questions.

Q: What do you make of the decision to post-pone game 6 of the World Series so early?

A: The implication being, it never really rained.  Baseball was very quick to do cancellations this year, as we saw when a day game here was cancelled despite it being perfectly sunny outside.  The extra day of rest enabled St. Louis to put Carpenter on the mound for game 7 on a relatively acceptable amount of rest (3 days), a key factor that helped turn the tide.  Meanwhile Texas didn’t take advantage and kept the same rotation they announced at the beginning of the series (a point I made in this space, asking why Holland wasn’t recalled after his game 4 gem).  I understand what MLB was worried about (starting, stopping, rain-delays and losing TV viewership), but the delay ended up affecting the world series in a way that the Rangers can’t be happy about.  Boswell notes that he was in St. Louis, it was barely raining but he supported the decision at the time.

Q: Is St. Louis the “team of the decade,” since they went to three world series to the Yankees and Red Sox’ two?

A: Eh; both St. Louis WS victories were as weaker teams that ran the table in the playoffs.  For me the Yankees are probably the “team of the decade,” with their winning percentage and 90% playoff rate being paramount.  Boswell notes that St. Louis’s A-players are far better than the Nats comparable players, and that we have a long way to go.

Q: Are baseball players overpaid?  (Citing Pujols’ contract demands, Sabathia’s opt-out and Jeter’s $12M/year)?

A: In a game where you can have MVPs on rookie contracts making $450k (Dustin Pedroia) and a large percentage of your team also on league minimums, its hard to say that a player is “overpaid.”  Pujols IS the St. Louis Cardinals; if I were them i’d offer him ownership in the team, since he’s a legacy ball player that will always be as associated with St. Louis as Stan MusialSabathia is just taking advantage of the market; he knows that he can get a few more guaranteed years and more guaranteed money, so why not do it?  Blame the Yankees for giving him that ridiculous opt-out clause in the first place.  Lastly the Jeter contract was NOT about equating pay with performance; it was about the Yankees paying to save-face for their own vast overpayment of Alex Rodriguez when Jeter’s the captain and the clear face of the franchise.  Boswell notes that most FAs show solidarity towards the efforts of their yesteryear colleagues who fought so hard for free agency, and try to push the envelope.

Q: Was Nelson Cruz’s miss on the David Freese triple a Bill Buckner-level gaffe?

A: Not at all; Freese‘s ball hit the fence and was nearly a walk-off homer.  Cruz may not be the best fielder but that was no gimme ground ball (like the one that Buckner missed).  Boswell puts it well; Cruz failed to make an excellent play while Buckner missed an easy one.  No better way to put it.

Q: Was St. Louis’ victory about Karma (and then a long winded, conspiracy theory level email involving the Deckinger blown call)?

A: St. Louis’ victory showed what happens when you put together a very strong 3-4-5, have a couple guys on complete hot streaks, and add a dominant shut-down Ace starter to a good lineup with a deep bullpen.  No matter what the record of the team or how they got into the playoffs, its a crap shoot as to who comes out.  St. Louis went from being out of the playoffs to beating the Phillies within a span of a week.  I hate it when wild card teams win the World Series, because it just validates more and more how the best teams are not being rewarded with post season success.  Boswell notes just how good LaRussa’s teams have been.

Q: Was Lance Berkman’s comment about his batting thought process eye opening in the context of clutch hitting?

A: Not really; Berkman said that he (paraphrased) tries not to think about anything at the plate.  And that’s the key to hitting in general; focus on the pitcher, not the situation or the pressure.  Otherwise you’re distracted at the plate and will be an easy out.  I think the questioner was trying to bat Boswell into a conversation about “clutch hitting,” which can’t really be proven by stat-nerds (so therefore they don’t believe it exists, despite 100 years of experience to the contrary.  Grr).  Boswell didn’t really address the question.

Q: Did Texas “deserve” the world series?

A: Not after blowing leads THREE times in game 6.  The Rangers got everything the deserved there.  Boswell notes, in response to the phrasing of the question, that Dallas has only recently (within the past few years) even had a legitimate “fan base” for baseball.  It is good to see though the area starting to embrace its team.

Q: Thoughts on the way home field advantage is decided for the World Series?

A: Ridiculous.  An exhibition that pulls all its stars after 3-5 innings and lets all-star “scrubs” (which are usually the one-per-team required guys from weaker franchises) decide home field advantage in the World Series.  It was ridiculous that a divisional winning 96-win team didn’t have home field advantage over the barely-eked-into -the playoffs Cardinals.  Either rotate back and forth year to year or give it to the team with the best record each year.  It really shouldn’t be that much more complicated.  Boswell says that he prefers the system stay the way it is except to say that a wild card team can never have home field.

Q: Will the Nationals go after the recently opted out CC Sabathia?

A: I doubt it; I think Sabathia is doing this purely as a procedural move to re-up with the Yankees for a ton more money.  Nobody has reported his having any desire to leave New York.  10/31/11 update; this is confirmed by Sabathia re-upping with the Yankees for 5 years.  Boswell seems to intimate that Sabathia makes sense on a team like the Nats.  Hmm.  Nothing about whether we’d actually go after him.  Then some comments on just how much money Wilson cost himself in the post season.  Agreed.

Q: Was this a better WS since it didn’t have the “best teams money can buy” like in Boston/NY/Philly?

A: I’m not so sure.  Personally I like to see teams be rewarded for superiority over 162 games … but understand the desire of the league to have multiple playoff rounds for TV ratings and excitement.  Boswell says it was a great world series.  In arguable, but not the question.

Q: What do you think of LaRussa’s retirement?  How does Davey Johnson rate compared to TLR?

A: Surprising; we don’t live in the St. Louis market so we don’t get the regular questioning of LaRussa to ascertain whether this was a surprising retirement or not.  I’d rate Johnson relatively close to LaRussa; if Tony is one of the better managers ever, Johnson is still in the upper-calibre grouping.  Boswell says this was a surprise announcement, but not really a surprise since LaRussa has had medical issues of late.  He also notes that this does NOT help the Cards resign Pujols.

Q: Did Boswell save all his “alternative ending” stories and columns that he had to re-write because of some late game heroics or misfourtunes?

A: Boswell says it happens more than you think; he’s had 10-12 blown just in the past few months.  Wow.  He doesn’t save them though.  I agree that they would make for very interesting reading.

Boswell Chat 10/24/11: My answers to his Baseball questions

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Hall of Famer? Yes. Best hitter ever? Almost. Photo: unknown via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Tom Boswell did his monday morning chat on 10/24 after a week off; in-between taking questions about the death of the Redskins, he managed to fit in some baseball and Nats questions.  Here’s how i’d have answered them…

Questions are edited for clarity and space, and I write my answer before reading Boswell’s.  We’ll only address baseball-related questions.

Q: Is there any question at this point that Pujols has joined Ted Williams and Babe as the three best hitters ever?

A: (side note; this is just AFTER Pujols‘ 3-homer performance in game 3 of the World Series, just the third time that’s ever been done).  If Pujols retired tomorrow here’s what his career lines would look like: 455 homers, .328 career hitter, 170 career OPS+, 3 MVPs and another six times in the top 5 candidates (four times coming in 2nd place).  That by itself is Hall of Fame worthy, no doubt.

By the time he retires?  I think clearly he’ll be mentioned as either the best or 2nd best right-handed hitter of all time (Willie Mays) and in a small grouping with Mays, Ruth and Williams as the best all-around hitters to ever play the game.  Absolutely.  I don’t think Pujols needed a 3-homer World Series game to cement that status either.    Boswell agrees, saying that Pujols joins the list just behind Ruth.

Q: Thanks for pointing out he did all his damage after the Cards were ahead in Game 3. We’re so quick to pronounce “best ever…” these days that it was good to get some context.

A:Very fair comment.  Pujols may have a 3-homer game, but it doesn’t nearly have the significance of Reggie Jackson‘s 3-homer game.  Also fair about pronouncing current stars “the best ever” without much context to those that came before.  Ruth’s domination of baseball and the country at large is so difficult to understate that we’ll never really be able to draw a modern comparison.  Boswell agrees, at least with the first part.

Q: Game 5 prediction (on the night of this chat)?

A: I’d pick Carpenter and the Cardinals.  I don’t trust CJ Wilson and don’t think he’s nearly the pitcher that Carpenter is.  I stick with my St Louis in 6 predictionBoswell goes against logic and says that Wilson will outpitch Carpenter.

Q: Do Lefties with high-heat give a significant advantage over right-handers with comparable velocities?

A: Absolutely.  Lefties are already rare enough and effective enough that any left hander with velocity in the upper 80s can usually find work in this league.  There’s a reason for that.  Add a few more mph and the cache of left-handers who can reach the mid 90s in this league can be counted on one hand.  They are special, and they are valuable.  Boswell doesn’t have a good explanation.

Q: With all the issues in Boston, should the Nats be calling the Red Sox to see who they might get in trade?

A: Sure.  But the Red Sox are prospect hounds and will want our farm system depth in return.  The guys they’re probably willing to trade are probably not going to be the guys we want anyway.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question but mentioned that Ellsbury will be a FA after 2013 … gee, only 3 years too late for the leadoff/CF that we need!

Q: Boswell had previously described baseball Managers as one of four types: Little Napoleon, the Peerless Leader, the Tall Tactician, and the Uncle Robbie.  Who are the best four examples of each type now in the modern game?

A: Interesting question.  Here’s a list of 2011’s baseball managers to choose from.  I’ll guess that Ozzie Guillen is the Napoleon manager, Tony LaRussa is the peerless leader, Ron Roenicke is the Tall Tactician, and Joe Madden is little Robbie.  Boswell’s answers werent’ close to mine; perhaps because its his manager classifications to begin with.

Q: Was the strike zone in game 4 inconsistent?

A: I thought it was; in the bottom of the first a strike 3 was called on Elvus Andrus that had been a ball earlier in the count.  And that wide zone continued throughout.  Its no wonder Holland looked so unhittable.  Boswell blames the TV strike tracker as being misleading.

Q: Could Albert Pujols go to the Rangers?

A: I guess he could … but that doesn’t seem to be the way he’s going.  He seems set to stay in the NL and stay in the mid-west.  I think he’s either staying in St Louis or going to save the Cubs.  Texas might as well light Michael Young on fire if they got Pujols and, for the 3rd or 4th season in a row, asked their franchise leader to move positions for incoming talent.  Boswell predicts Pujols stays in StLouis.

Q: Should Texas have pulled Holland after the 7th to retain him for the 7th game?

A: Nope.  Texas’ bullpen was shredded and its much more important to have a fresh Feliz than a starter on 2 days rest.  Of course, Washington USED Felix in a non-save situation to finish off the game.  Waste.  At least the rest of the bullpen got a night off.  Boswell disagrees with me, saying the team should have pulled him in the 7th to have him in game 7.

Q: What are the odds of the following players returning next season: Livan Hernandez, Ivan Rodriguez, Chien-Ming Wang, Jonny Gomes, Laynce Nix and Rick Ankiel?

A: Livan: 10%.  Ivan 1%.  Wang 80%.  Gomes: 25%.  Nix: 40%.  Ankiel 40%.  Boswell didn’t offer percentages, just saying that he thinks Wang will be back and that Johnson loves guys like Gomes and Nix on the bench.

Q: How long does it take Theo Epstein to turn around the Cubs?

A: I’ll say most of the 5 years he’s signed up for right now.  His starting pitching is a MESS, he’s got an aging, expensive team with big contracts and little wiggle room, and he’s got very little in terms of young players.  He needs all his bad contracts to age off, he needs to scout and draft better, and he needs time.  Boswell punted.

Starting versus Closing

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Should we try Clippard as a starter? Absolutely! Photo: NationalsDailyNews/Meaghan Gay/DCist.com

Baseball writer extraordinaire Tom Verducci posted a fantastic article today talking about Neftali Feliz‘s proposed move from the Rangers closer to the starting rotation.  The article touches on a topic that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while; Starting versus Closing.  It also is literally the best summation I’ve seen yet describing why the save is over-rated, closers are overpaid and why you’d rather have starters versus relievers.

Lets face it; for the most part relievers are failed starters.  A few get drafted or signed as relievers (Washington’s Drew Storen being one local example), but most starters are drafted as starters and work their way through the minors as starters.  Some starters discover that they can’t develop secondary pitches, but their primary pitches are so fantastic that the club (rightly) turns them into relievers.  This especially allows hard-throwers (think someone like Joel Zumaya) to have a career despite the fact that they only really have one pitch and throw with such effort that they could not possibly last 6+ innings.

Minor league relievers definitely make the majors, but most often as either LOOGYs or rubber-armed replaceable right-handers (think Miguel Batista) out of the bullpen.  In recent  years the desire to have more and faster throwing arms out of the bullpen has led to more pitchers opting to become relievers sooner, but they still are converted out of starting roles for either performance or fragility.

Two items from his story that I’d like to comment on:

1. Managers don’t use Closers in the most high-leverage situations. I could not agree more.  When is the best spot to use your best, most reliable reliever?  In a one-run game in the 6th when your starter runs out of gas and loads the bases with one out?  Or at the beginning of the 9th inning of a 5-3 lead?  Verducci is right; managers in the modern game are slaves to the save statistic and will not bring in their closer unless its a “save situation.”   But he also notes what is common knowledge; that you could be putting out the 12th man in your bullpen and probably have only a slightly worse chance of getting 3 outs without losing the game for your team.  Per the article, 94% of 2-run leads in the 9th inning are won irrespective of who you put out there, and that percentage has not changed significantly over the past 50 years of baseball.  Joe Posnanski also wrote about this same topic in November with similar results, finding that teams in the 50s closed out games with the same regularity as teams now, but without high-priced one-inning closers.

Luckily for the Nats, we look to have 3-4 different guys who are of sufficient quality who we CAN bring in to a game in the 6th and get a high-leverage situation.  Storen, Clippard, Burnett or newly acquired Henry Rodriguez all seem to fit the bill.  But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a manager in Riggleman who is in the “slave to the save” category.  Matt Capps was brought in to be the closer and he closed games.  That’s it.  It is safe to say that if Riggleman decides on a closer, that’s going to be his role and that’s that.

The save stat is ridiculous and most people know it.  You can get a save in a game where you give up 2 runs and 5 hits in a 1/3 of an inning.  You can get a save when you perform mop up duty but let the score get too close while you rubber-arm your way through a meaningless blowout.  The save takes nothing about the pitcher’s performance into account; only whether or not the game ended while he was on the mound and the win was preserved.

But the save stat, and its monster creation the specialized one-inning closer, are here to stay.  Prospects come up through the ranks specifically to be closers, free agent players will only play for certain teams if given “the chance to close.”  Closers are well paid, and their pay is directly tied to this flawed save statistic.  Statisticians have tried to create a better set of metrics for middle relievers (“Holds” mostly) but the reality is that closers have high leverage in salary situations while middle relievers are lucky to get paid a bit more than the veteran’s minimum.  Verducci touches on this ridiculousness, pointing out that Papelbon‘s higher salary in 2011 than Cole Hamels despite the relative levels of production for their teams.

Ironically, some Major League managers *know* this fact, but continue to trot out their best reliever for a 3-out save at the beginning of the 9th inning in a 3-run game.  They do the same as the other 29 managers because the radical idea that backfires directly leads to termination.  No manager is willing to risk their job to try to do something the right way.  To say nothing of the reaction of a highly-paid FA closer who is suddenly told he’s going to be primarily used in the middle of the 7th to clean up the starter’s mess.

It makes you wonder if there’s a better way.  Here’s two radical suggestions:

1. Comprise a bullpen with no named closer role, and tell the entire 7-man bullpen they’re doing closer-by-committee.  It may infuriate fantasy baseball players and the union (since saves translate to salary for their FAs), but it probably placates an entire roster of wanna-be closers.  Imagine if 5 of the 7 guys in your bullpen (leaving out the LOOGY and long-man) know they may be brought in to rescue a game in the 6th or close it out in the 9th, and their roles change on a daily basis based on use.  That to me is a far better situation than pre-naming a closer (which invariably is the best guy out there) and then never using him until the 9th.

2. Comprise an ENTIRE pitching staff of long-men relievers.  Imagine if you didn’t have starters at all, but an entire bullpen of guys who were geared to pitch 2-3 innings every other night.  You would never have a need for specialized closers or even high-priced starters.  You’d rotate through who got the start, the starter would go 2-3 innings, then the next guy would go, and you’d repeat this until the game was over.  It’s kinda like spring training but all year.  Since these guys are only throwing 2-3 innings, they should be able to repeat this task multiple times in a week.

There’s 54 regular innings to be had per week mid-season (6 games at 9 innings per).  54 innings divided out by 12 guys in the pen means about 4.5 innings per WEEK per pitcher.  If you split those 4.5 innings up across three games you’d be pitching (say) 2 innings on monday, 1 on thursday then 1.5 on saturday.  That’s pretty manageable.  Plus if everyone else is doing the same, you can rotate through the guys and slightly adjust based on how they’re pitching that day.

Plus, think about how CHEAP this pitching staff would be.  12 middle relievers could not possibly cost your team more than about $15-20M annually in salary, even if they were mostly on veteran contracts.  Roy Halladay makes more than that in 2011 just by himself.

Coincidentally, this is exactly what Tony LaRussa tried at one point in the early 90s with the Athletics.  Unfortunately his experiment ended quickly, failing less because of execution and more because of lack of support from his players and management.  Its just a matter of time before someone tries it again.


Here’s the second item i’d like to comment on:

2. Starters are FAR more valuable than Relievers or Closers.  Last year in the midst of Clippard’s fantastic middle-relief run I asked myself, “Why isn’t Clippard in the rotation?”  He pitched 91 innings spread out over 78 appearances and only gave up 69 hits.  He maintained an 11.1 K/9 ratio, which is better than any starter in 2010.  91 innings was good for 4th on the entire staff in 2010.

The leading argument i’ve read for Clippard staying in the bullpen relates to the nature of his stuff.  He’s got a sneaky good fastball, a decent curve but his bread and butter pitch is the change-up.  Apparently the knock on him is that hitters adjust to him more quickly and thus he makes more sense in a relief role.  In a starting role hitters would be getting their third crack at him in the 5th or 6th inning, right when he’s tiring and right when he’s vulnerable.  In relief, he can “show” all his pitches in one at bat and work each batter individually, then leave the game before his “stuff” is exposed.

Clippard was a starter his entire minor league career, and his minor league numbers were pretty good.  He always maintained a small hits-to-IP ratio, a good k/9 ratio.  It wasn’t until he reached the majors that suddenly he couldn’t start.  I think perhaps he’s either gotten pigeonholed or he’s psychologically set in the reliever mind-frame now.

A quality starter gives your team 6+ innings, works through the opposing team’s batting order nearly 3 full times and keeps your team in the game.  6-7 innings at a 3.00 era is invaluable for your team’s psyche as it tries to win game after game.  Leaving just 2-3 innings a night for a bullpen staff of 7 means that there’s fewer days when your staff is over worked and you have to give up games for lack of bullpen arms.

How about using career WAR as a bench mark?  I don’t really like the career WAR analysis (since it is an accumulator stat and a mediocre guy with 22 years of experience appears to be better than the best pitcher of his day who only had a 15 year career).  But it is telling in this situation.  Here’s a link to career WAR for pitchers at baseball-reference.com.  And here’s the rank of the 5 best relief pitchers of all time (the 5 relievers currently in the hall of fame), along with the rankings of some of their active contemporaries who seem likely for the hall.

Lname Fname Career WAR Rank
Smoltz John 38
Eckersley Dennis 46
Rivera Mariano 69
Wilhelm Hoyt 121
Gossage Goose 133
Hoffman Trevor 215
Wagner Billy 238
Sutter Bruce 315
Fingers Rollie 325

Smoltz and Eckersly both started for large portions of their career, hence the high rank.  Mariano Rivera is clearly (in my mind) the greatest reliever who has ever played and his career WAR shows.  But notice how low closer-only guys like Sutter and Fingers are on this list.  Both are currently below modern day starters Ted Lilly and Kevin Millwood, again guys who are hardly listed as being among the game’s elite.

By means of comparison, Trevor Hoffman, who is ranked 215th all time is ranked just ahead of one Freddie Garcia in all time WAR.  Now, is Freddie Garcia a serious hall of fame candidate?  Not likely; he’s currently on a minor league contract offer with the Yankees after nearly washing out of the game two years ago.


Oh, coincidentally, I absolutely think Felix should be in the rotation.  As should Aroldis Chapman in Cincinnati.  Because they’ll be able to help your team win on a much more frequent basis.  You always want the chance of 180 innings of quality versus 60.  Its that simple.

Wainright’s injury a blow to the Cards…

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Not that I necessarily believe in the “Inverted W” theory of pitching mechanics … but Adam Wainwright certainly shows it. Photo: talksportsphilly.com

2/24/11 update: Wainwright is officially getting Tommy John surgery.  As other leading baseball columnists have mentioned, this could have some serious repercussions on the Cardinals both this season and in the future.

You hate to hear injury reports a week into spring training, but they’re starting to roll in.  Vincent Padilla is going to be out for an unspecified amount of time for elbow surgery (though this doesn’t hurt the Dodgers as much as an injury to someone like Kershaw or Billingsly would have), and now it looks as if St. Louis’ starter Adam Wainwright may have blown an elbow tendon.   I had not read previously the “slightly torn elbow ligament in 2010” item with regard to Wainwright.  Either way, the loss of Wainwright for the season adds to a growing list of concerns for the St. Louis franchise.

Just off the top of my head:

  • LaRussa‘s anti-union comments irritating his vets
  • LaRussa refusing to play Colby Rasmus for large stretches last year.
  • The team in general inexplicably not winning the NL Central last year despite having 3 of the best pitchers in the NL and a pretty good offense (6th in runs scored).
  • The team blatantly lowballs Pujols in FA talks.  By all accounts he was offered a contract that would have only made him about the 5th or 6th highest paid player.  Why in the world would your talks with Pujols not START with A-rod’s per-season figure?  Ok, perhaps 10yrs $300M is ridiculous but would you sign on for something like 7yrs $210M with 2 options based on performance year to year at the end of the deal?
  • Wainright’s injury: I havn’t seen confirmation yet of Tommy John, just seen news that says “significant elbow injury.”  There’s just no pitchers out there to be had as a replacement (just ask the Yankees) either.
  • St. Louis’ farm system has been down recently.  Most scouting establishments ranked it 29th or 30th in 2010 but in the 18-20 range for 2011.  So there’s not a lot of hope coming up.

The Cardinals under achieved as a team in 2010 (winning 86 but having a Pythagorean win total of 91) WITH Wainwright pitching at a Cy Young level.  Without him, the Cards could be sinking back to the middle of the pack, leaving the division for Cincinnati and Milwaukee to battle it out.

Rough waters ahead for the Cardinals.

Written by Todd Boss

February 23rd, 2011 at 2:03 pm