Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Friday, February 29, 2008

Texas Rangers 2008 Preview: Another Long, Hot, Losing Summer

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

There's not a lot of good that one can say about a 75-87 team, so I won't waste much time here trying. The Rangers offense was mediocre, their best hitter was traded at the deadline, and the rotation was a complete disaster. Over the winter the Rangers traded a pitching prospect for a high upside/high risk center fielder, signed a talented but fragile and troublesome rightfielder, and a high upside/high risk starter. Well, it beats signing a high risk/low upside problem like Sammy Sosa again.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Usually the AL version of Coors Field, the Ballpark in Urban Sprawl played as a pitchers park in 2007. However, the Rangers still scored more runs at home than on the road. They actually were sixth in the AL both at home and on the road. After trading Mark Teixeira to Atlanta the Rangers lacked a power core in the lineup, with only Sosa (21), Brad Wilkerson (20) and Ian Kinsler (20) reaching 20 homers. Niether Sosa nor Wilkerson is returning in 2008. Michael Young racked up his customary 200 hits and Hank Blalock had his best season since 2004, albeit one that was limited to 58 games by injuries.

LF Marlon Byrd/Frank Catalanotto
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Michael Young
CF Josh Hamilton
3B Hank Blalock
RF Milton Bradley
1B Ben Broussard/Chris Shelton
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Gerald Laird
DH Jason Botts

If your DH is batting ninth, you either have an awesome lineup or don't understand the concept of the DH. You make the call here. To be fair, the DH spot will probably be a group effort and probably will move around the order. A DH named Bonds, on the other hand, could just stay in the third spot all year, but the Rangers don't seem interested in that. It is a bit scary to think of what a healthy Hamilton might do if the Ballpark returns to its usually Coors Lite ways. It's also scary to realize that Hamilton will be battling serious addiction problems for the rest of his life.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Rangers pitchers took full advantage of the suddenly helpful Ballpark in 2007, allowing half a run fewer at home than on the road. That didn't make them good, just slightly less lousy. No one who started more than two games for the Rangers last year had an ERA under 4.50; seven of them were over 5.00. The bullpen was much better; how could it be worse?

SP Kevin Millwood
SP Vincente Padilla
SP Jason Jennings
SP Brandon McCarthy
SP Kason Gabbard

CL C.J. Wilson
RP Eddie Guardado
RP Joaquin Benoit

This isn't a championship quality rotation. No one in this group has the ability to step forward and pitch at the level of a Beckett, a Lackey, a Sabbathia, or a Verlander. It's hard to see any of these guys as even a number two on the better AL teams. Wilson does not project as anything other than a temporary closer. Guardado is 37 and coming back from two years of injuries. Benoit is the best pitcher in the bullpen and could be closing by mid season, although he doesn't project as a new Mariano Rivera, either.

Witnesses for the defense

The Rangers made the most errors of any AL club in 2007 and were middle of the road in defensive efficiency. Hamilton brings a great arm to centerfield. Bradley and Byrd in the corners are defensive improvements over what Texas fans have been watching there lately. Young is a Jeter-esque shortstop, and by that I don't mean a guy who should be mistakenly given Gold Glove awards.

Farm aid

The Rangers have been upgrading their farm system. The bad news is that most of the better prospects are not anywhere near major league ready. Righthander Eric Hurley and lefthander Matt Harrison are likely to join the rotation sometime later this year. Neither looks like a number one starter but both would be upgrades over the likes of Kason Gabbard.

Watch out for that tree!

Millwood, 33 this year, allowed a boatload of hits in 2007. If the Rangers aren't contending by July (which seems likely) they should try to find a taker for him before his declining strikeout rate sinks further. Of more concern is a 27 year old outfielder. Josh Hamilton, as you all probably know, missed several years of his career due to drug addiction problems about as serious as you can have. While we'd all love to believe that he showed in 2007 that his problems are behind him, problems like that never are. Every day of the rest of his life will be a struggle, and if he misses a step, his career could end just like that.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

With some luck this could be a .500 team, but the odds are against it. The starting pitching is just not good enough, and the offense, while potentially good, isn't strong enough to carry the pitching. GM Jon Daniels needs to remain focussed on the farm system and should explore any offers for Michael Young, his most valuable veteran trade chit. Daniels didn't hesitate to send Teixeira, a better player than Young, to Atlanta a year ago for a good package of prospects. It would be best for the franchise to do the same with Young.

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Oakland Athletics 2008 Preview: Planting a Field of Beane Sprouts

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

When a team has been a pennant contender for eight straight years, is expected to be one again, and collapses so badly that the GM decides to tear the team apart and completely rebuild, you have a pretty good definition of a year that sucked. Injuries to Rich Harden (surprise!) Eric Chavez, Huston Street, Justin Duchscherer, Bobby Crosby (double surprise!) , Mark Kotsay (triple surprise!) and many, many more kept the Capital Corridor route busy all season long. On the bright side, the members of the next good A's team broke in impressively (Travis Buck, Daric Barton, Kurt Suzuki). Over the winter GM Billy (Author of Moneyball) Billy Beane traded away his best hitter and his best starter for a truckload of excellent prospects.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Antivirus Company Field crushed offense in 2007, making the A's offense look much worse than it actually was. The Athletics finished fourth in the league in runs scored on the road, but overall finished eleventh in runs as they scored only 4.09 runs at home. Jack Cust responded to his first real opportunity by hitting 25 homers and drawing 105 walks, then was named in the Mitchell report (for those who care about that). Rookie Travis Buck missed half the season with an injury but hit .288-.377-.474 as a 23 year old who skipped AAA.

CF Chris Denorfia
1B Daric Barton
RF Travis Buck
DH Jack Cust
3B Eric Chavez
2B Mark Ellis
LF Carlos Gonzalez
SS Bobby Crosby
C Kurt Suzuki

Oakland fan is despairing over the rebuilding A's lineup, but this actually isn't all that bad. Buck has breakout potential written all over him (not literally) . Barton's power potential has been a subject of debate but at worst he's a hitter in the Mark Grace mold. Gonzalez may start the season at Sacramento (a good thing for me) but probably won't take long to displace Emil Brown. He's another potential star.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

While the park made the offense look worse than it actually was, the inverse was true of the pitchers. The A's allowed 4.32 runs per home game but that jumped to 5.04 on the road. Dan Haren had a fine year and made himself worth a bundle of prospects, but Rich Harden broke down immediately and left a huge void in the rotation. The bullpen lost closer Huston Street and backup closer Justin Duchscherer leaving the likes of Jay Marshall (6.43 ERA), Kiko Calero (5.75) and Colby Lewis (6.45) to take their lumps.

SP Joe Blanton
SP Rich Harden (in their dreams)
SP Chad Guadin
SP Justin Duchscherer
SP Lenny DiNardo

CL Huston Street
RP Alan Embree
RP Santiago Casilla

The most interesting questions on this staff are (1) how long before Blanton, Street, and Embree are traded and (2) how many good prospects will Beane get back for them? If Harden shows that he can actually pitch more than four games a year he may go too while he might actually have some value. Look for Gio Gonzalez, James Simmons, Greg Smith, and Andrew Bailey in the rotation by August, and Fautino De Los Santos and Jerry Blevins to quickly reach the bullpen.

Witnesses for the defense

Despite all the juggling caused by the injuries, the 2007 Athletics were above average in both fielding percentage and defensive efficiency. Ellis is a Gold Glove candidate at second; Chavez still has the skills to be one at third, if healthy. The rest of defense is solid, unless Emil Brown, whose defensive style could be described as rodeo clown, wins the job in left. Under the Beane administration, the A's have gone from thinking that defense is a distant second to offense (the Jeremy Giambi in centerfield years) to realizing that defense is critical to success.

Farm aid

The story of 2008 for the Athletics will be the development of a huge group of talented young players. Besides all of the young players already mentioned, the A's will be watching the development of pitchers Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Dan Meyer, and Henry Rodriguez, first basemen Chris Carter and Sean Doolittle, and outfielders Aaron Cunningham, Corty Brown, Jermaine Mitchell, and Javier Herrera. This group is 2-3 years away but is very talented. The A's won't be out of contention for long.

Watch out for that tree!

Eric Chavez is only 30, but players with back trouble get old fast. He could also be moved if he looks healthy and Beane can find a team willing to take his contract.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

This team isn't as bad as a lot of people are making it out to be. That's not to say that they are contenders, far from it. However, there is a lot of talent here already and more is coming up fast. The AL West is currently fairly weak; only the Angels can be mentioned with the elite AL teams. It's not likely but the Athletics could break .500 this year and could even finish ahead of the Mariners with some luck.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

It's His Yard -- He Can Call It Whatever the Sprock He Wants

Current Tribune Co. overlord (and minority shareholder in the Chicago White Sox) Sam Zell recently stirred up a poopstorm when he suggested that he'd sell the naming rights to Wrigley Field if some sucker...errrr...marketing partner were to step up with the cash.

As the resident Cub Fan here, I guess it falls to me to offer my mostly-useless opinion on the matter.

The short version: Don't care.

The slightly longer version: If the new cash flow is put towards developing a championship team (i.e., invested in the farm system, used to retain home-grown talent, or spent on needed free agents), then I don't care.

I know there is a certain segment of Cub Fan who will whine and moan and have a hissy fit over this. There will also be a certain segment of the media who will whine and moan and have a hissy fit over this, but for different reasons. For these folks, I offer these two nuggets of wisdom:

1. Zell owns the Tribune Co. Tribune Co. owns Wrigley Field. Therefore, Zell owns Wrigley Field. The practical upshot of that is Zell can call Wrigley Field whatever he wants. Kinda like when you buy a house from someone, you're not obligated to keep the same color scheme or bathroom fixtures the previous owners had.

2. Even if Zell sells the naming rights, who is going to refer to the place as anything but Wrigley Field? I certainly won't, but it won't be for warm, fuzzy nostalgic reasons (I've been calling it Wrigley for nearly forty years, and I'm too damned old to learn to call it something else). Other fans might have their own reasons, but the results will be the same: it will be forever Wrigley.

That's all I got on the matter. Can we pay attention to something important now?


This Is Wrong on So Many Levels...

...but I have to admit that I'm enough of a jerk to have laughed a little. OK, a lot...

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Seattle Mariners 2008 Preview: Making Their Bedard and Sleeping In It

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

The 2007 Mariners won 88 games in 2007 and chased the Angels Of Several Southern California Towns throughout the summer, eventually falling six games short. That seems fairly groovy. However, the bilges were carrying more water than the captains think. Opponents outscored the Mariners last year 813-794, and while the Mariners deserve credit for posting a record better than the sum of the parts, the shiny won-lost record disguised the fact that the roster was not really that of a contending team. Emboldened by the idea that they are playoff contenders, management made a major trade this winter, sending four excellent prospects and a run in the mill reliever to Baltimore for Eric Bedard.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

The Mariners finished exactly at league average in runs scored in 2007. Their home park, Safeco Field, depressed scoring by about 3%, but while the Mariners did score more runs on the road, they didn't score enough to be a real offensive power. Ichiro Suzuki continued to be Ichiro!, rapping out 238 hits and scoring 111 runs. But the Mariners were playing a DH who hit six homers, a first baseman who batted .205, and a middle infield combo that contributed next to nothing to the offense. Nothing was done over the winter to improve any of those areas.

CF Ichiro!
DH Jose Vidro
3B Adrian Beltre
LF Raul Ibanez
RF Brad Wilkerson
1B Richie Sexson
C Kenji Johjima
2B Jose Lopez
SS Yuniesky Betancourt

Not to be rude, but that looks about as much like a championship lineup as this looks like a real woman. OK, you got me, that was pretty rude. Putting Ichiro! on the top of this lineup is like putting a cherry on top of a bowl of manure and calling it ice cream. Vidro is 33 and comes with a well stocked injury cabinet; the minute his average falls below .300 he's worthless as a hitter. Beltre has a little power and a little speed and a .327 career on base percentage. Betancourt drew 15 walks in 155 games last year; Lopez 20 in 149. The wheels came completely off of Sexson's wagon last year; at 33 don't be expecting them to ever fit back on properly again.

Of course, the Mariners could add a huge upgrade to this shabby lineup with the stroke of a pen, by signing this obscure free agent. Team management appears to have little to no interest in such a move, apparently feeling that signing Bonds would upset Ken Rosenthal.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Playing in a pitcher's park, the 2007 Mariners allowed more runs than the league average. Felix Hernandez remains more the Dauphin than the King, although he remained healthy didn't step backwards. Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista were solid innings eaters in the rotation. Closer J.J. Putz put up numbers that are usually found in high school, allowing the ridiculous totals of 37 hits and 13 walks in 71 2/3 innings. Twelve guys who pitched for the 2007 Mariners posted ERAs above 5.00. I guess that could be classified as belly itching.

SP Eric Bedard
SP Dauphin Felix Hernandez
SP Jarrod Washburn
SP Miguel Batista
SP Carlos Silva

CL J.J. Putz
RP Brandon Morrow
RP Ryan Rowland-Smith

Bedard is an outstanding talent who improves the rotation considerably over Jeff Weaver, Horacio Ramirez, and Jason Davis. He also takes over the number one spot in the rotation, relieving some of the pressure on Hernandez. Hernandez retains all of his enormous talent and could certainly break through in 2008. The remaining three starters won't be confused with Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz, but are all capable of 200 innings of league average work, which is valuable. Putz is one of the top two or three closers in the AL. Morrow has a great fastball but absolutely no control. He does have a lot of upside as either a starter or a reliever if he does begin to throw strikes. Rowland-Smith is not the guy who fought Fu Manchu but a decent lefty specialist.

Witnesses for the defense

Besides not being much of a scoring machine, the Mariners lineup isn't much into the fielding thing either. They didn't make a lot of errors; that'll happen when you don't get to a lot of balls in the first place. The Mariners were the second least efficient team in the AL in turning batted balls into outs last year. Ichiro!, Lopez, and Beltre are above average fielders at their positions, everyone else is less so. Replacing Guillen in right with Wilkerson isn't going to do anything to turn that around. If the Mariners aren't going to play guys who can hit, they should at least find some more who can field and help out the pitching staff that way.

Farm aid

The Bedard trade cost the Mariners one of the game's very best prospects (Adam Jones), an outstanding pitching prospect (Chris Tillman) and two other decent young arms. Catcher Jeff Clement is a lefthanded power bat who is ready to be a regular major league catcher now, but is blocked by one of the Mariners' better players in Johjima. The Mariners will try to find a spot for his bat somehow; they need it. Rightfielder Wladimir Balentien is a slugger with 40 homer potential who could snag the rightfield job out from under Wilkerson with a hot spring. Warning: use of this young player may lead to excessive strikeouts. Robert Rohrbaugh is a lefthanded starter who will likely get the first call if the rotation needs a bailout; he can fill a major league rotation spot but has no star potential. There are some very fine prospects at the lower levels of the system as well.

Watch out for that tree!

The warning comes a bit late for Richie Sexson, whose career as an effective hitter pretty much came to a crashing halt last year. Sexson starting dismally and actually got worse, putting up a .205-.288-.371 line over the second half. The Mariners owe him $14 million this year, the last year of a four-year contract, so they're probably stuck with him. Ibanez is 36 and isn't exactly Ted Williams at the plate; once he slips he'll slip badly. Batista is 37 and while he's been a league average pitcher over the last four years, he hasn't been anything more than that, either.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

Although they obtained an outstanding power arm, the Bedard trade was a mistake. The Mariners simply were not as good in 2007 as management thought, and do not have the talent to overcome the Angels for the AL West title or any of the better teams in the East or Central for a wild card berth. At best, this is an 85 win team, and they may not even reach that unless they pull some offense out of a hat, or their sleeve, or somewhere. This will be a disappointing season in Seattle.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Perhaps I Was a Bit Hasty

Maybe I was wrong...I think this is my new favorite daft headline of the spring...

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The Silly Season

The Chicago Cubs don't open their exhibition season until tomorrow afternoon, but the stalwarts at the Tower are already in mid-season form!

I think this might rank as the daftest headline ever. In the history of sports journamalism, that is:

Fukudome's bat yet to show some power

Jeebus help me -- it's the last week of February and already there's wailing and gnashing of teeth over Fukudome's alleged lack of power.

Here's an idea -- let's wait until there's actually some games played before we throw our new friend Kosuke under the bus. Give him a week of Cactus League games, at the very least!

I don't know too much about Fukudome yet. But most of what gets typed in the Chicago rags frets that he won't be hitting thirty home runs in the Show like he did back in Japan. I'm OK with that, as long as he keeps up his on-base skills. The black hole in right field we had last year wasn't because Jones and Floyd had too little power; it's because they made too damned many outs.

More than a few scouting reports have likened Fukudome as a Mark Grace-type hitter -- line drives, doubles power. And since more than one person has said to me with a straight face that Grace should be in the Hall of Fame, that's gotta be good, right?


Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim near Chino About 10 Miles From Yorba Linda Angels 2008 Preview: With A Name Like That, They Have To Be Good

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy

The 2007 Angels scored more runs and allowed fewer than any other team in their division. Needless to say, they were fairly easy winners in an AL West that has become the weakest division in the league. In the postseason they were no match for the Red Sox, but then, who was? The Angels made a couple of major moves over the winter, signing center fielder Torii Hunter as a free agent and trading shortstop Orlando Cabrera to the White Sox for starting pitcher Jon Garland.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

They did in 2007, yes. However, that comes with some caveats. Their home park, historically fairly neutral, played as a hitters park in 2007, inflating offense by about 5%. The Angels averages over a full run per game more at home than on the road, finishing sixth in the AL in road scoring. Only two teams (see if you can guess which ones*) hit fewer homers than the Angels total of 123. As always, most of the lineup concentrated on hitting for average at the expense of waiting out a walk. That's a good strategy when you hit .284 as a team, and the Angels are very good at challenging opposing defenses by putting a lot of balls into play and running aggressively on the bases. But batting averages tend to fluctuate a lot, and if you have neither excessive power nor the patience to draw a lot of walks, your offense suddenly becomes very empty if the average falls off. In the postseason, the Angels batted only .192, drew seven walks in three games and hit no homers.

3B Chone Figgins
2B Howie Kendrick
RF Vladimir Guerrero
DH Garrett Anderson
CF Torii Hunter
1B Casey Kotchman
LF Gary Matthews Jr.
C Mike Napoli
SS Erick Aybar/Macir Izturis

Manager Mike Scoscia will rotate his outfielders and his DH, partly to relieve wear and tear on the knees of Vlad Guerrero and partly to help cover the colossal waste of money that was the signing of Gary Mathews Jr. Matthews was a terrible disappointment only to anyone who looked at his entire career record as a whole and not his record in one season in the best hitters park in the league. Hunter adds power (only Guerrero hit more than 20 homers for the 2007 Angels) and pushes Matthews into the role of very expensive fourth outfielder. GM Tony Reagins needs to find a way to push him even further, like to the Pirates or the Giants, and give his playing time to Reggie Willits, who put up a .391 on base percentage in 2007. Guerrero, Figgins, Anderson, and Kendrick all can and have hit over .300 in the major leagues, and Kotchman came within two hits of joining them last year.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Despite playing in a hitters park, the Angels actually allowed more runs on the road than they did at home. I have no idea how to explain that. John Lackey was one of the top five starters in the AL, Kelvin Escobar had a very fine season, Jered Weaver was good if not as awesome as many had expected, and the bullpen remained one of the league's strongest. Angels pitchers struck out more batters than any other AL team and walked a below average number.

SP John Lackey
SP Jered Weaver
SP Jon Garland
SP Kelvin Escobar
SP Ervin Santana

CL Francisco Rodriguez
RP Scot Shields
RP Darren Oliver

Lackey has everything needed to remain among the game's best starters. Weaver has everything it takes to join him, even if it doesn't happen this year. Garland is a solid innings eater. Escobar will miss at least the first month and very likely more with shoulder inflamation. Joe Saunders is very capable of supplying league average pitching in his stead. Santana was mentioned as a trade chit over the winter but likely will stay put with Escobar out. Rodriguez struck out 90 batters in 67 1/3 innings last year. Shields had a career high ERA but most of his component numbers remained pretty stable; I would expect him to again be a fine setup man.

Witnesses for the defense

The success of the pitching staff came despite the defense, which was mediocre at best. Figgins is a poor defensive third baseman, and Kendrick will never win a gold glove at second. Anderson was once a fine left fielder but that's no longer the case. Hunter in center and Matthews in left is a defensive upgrade. Willits would also be better in left than Anderson, by a considerable amount. Both shortstop candidates have good glove scouting reports but must show that they can live up to them.

Farm aid

Brandon Wood has been a top prospect for several years now, but the Angels seem to doubt his ability to win a job at the major league level. He will compete this spring for time at both short and third. Although not at the same time. That wouldn't work out very well. He offers plenty of untapped power for a team that could use it. Righthander Nick Adenhart will start the season at triple A but could be ready to take over a rotation spot, if needed, by later this summer. Australian reliever Rich Thompson is ready to add his name to the bullpen mix. Catcher Hank Conger is a fine prospect with strong offensive potential; he's two or three years away from a major league job unless his political talent steers him towards a presidential run.

Watch out for that tree

Anderson, 36 years old this season, is the most likely Angel to fall off quickly. He's not a plus defender and hasn't reached the 20 homer level since 2003. Figgins bases his entire game around speed and singles; at 30 both are going to start becoming shorter in supply.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

A few short years ago the AL West was the strongest division in baseball. It's now arguably the weakest. The Angels are far and away the best team in it; the Mariners are not as strong as their record of 2007 would indicate, the Athletics are rebuilding from the ground up, and the Rangers seem to move in circles. Although the Angels have made a few questionable decisions and show some weaknesses, they also have depth both in the lineup and on the pitching staff. Willits, Wood, and Saunders would be playing regularly this year for the majority of teams in MLB, and the bullpen seems bottomless. Having two or three of the best players in the league at their positions (Guerrero, Lackey, Rodriguez) doesn't hurt either. The Angels should have no trouble in disposing of their divisional rivals, but tougher times face them in any postseason series against serious opposition.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Florida Marlins 2008 Preview: Oh Give Me a Home

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

The 2007 Marlins pulled off the amazing feat of having two of the top five players in their league in the lineup all year long and still being a terrible team. Outstanding years by Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez and support from Jeremy Hermida, Josh Willingham, and Dan Uggla gave the team a formidable offense, but the pitching staff was easily the worst in the league. No one who started as much as a single game for the Fish posted an ERA of under 4.65. Over the winter management traded away the Marlins best player and best known pitcher for one super prospect and one good one and signed a fossil to crowd the outfield picture. Of more interest to team ownership, they appear to have finally won their heroic struggle for public funding from the taxpayers of Miami and Dade County for a new cash cow ballpark.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

They certainly did it well in 2007, finishing sixth in the NL in runs scored while playing in park that was basically neutral. The trade of Cabrera pretty much eliminates any chance that the 2008 team will do the same.

CF Cody Ross
2B Dan Uggla
SS Hanley Ramirez
RF Jeremy Hermida
LF Josh Willingham
1B Mike Jacobs
3B Dallas McPherson
C Mike Rabelo/Matt Treanor

This still isn't a bad lineup without Cabrera, just not a great one and not one that will be outscoring the Phillies or Mets or Braves. Ramirez pretty much does it all at the plate, compiling both 83 extra base hits and 51 stolen bases. Hermida came on strong in the second half and slugged .501 for the season. Uggla has good power for a second baseman but doesn't really have the OBP to bat second. Ross will get a chance to play center and lead off based on his .411 OBP in 66 games last year, but nothing in his previous major or minor league record indicates that he can repeat this. Alejandro De Aza is younger and a better prospect but was overmatched at the big league level last year and needs more minor league time.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Marlins starters were about as bad as can be last year. The effects of Joltless Joe Girardi's scorched earth run to 78 wins in 2006 left the young staff burned out, injured, and ineffective for 2007. Of course, that wasn't Girardi's problem. Woe unto you, Phillip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy! A comparison of 2006/2007 ERAs:

Dontrell Willis: 3.87/5.17
Scott Olsen: 4.04/5.81
Josh Johnson: 3.10/7.47 and hurt
Ricky Nolasco: 4.82/5.48 and hurt
Anibal Sanchez: 2.83/4.80 and hurt

The bullpen for the Marlins was outstanding; it had to be, or they'd have given up eight runs a game.

SP Scott Olsen
SP Sergio Mitre
SP Andrew Miller
SP Mark Hendrickson
SP Ricky Nolasco/Rick VandenHurk

CL Kevin Gregg
RP Matt Lindstrom
RP Taylor Tankersley

No one among the starters took a step forward in 2007 and it's not easy to pick out one who seems likely to do so this year. Miller has the best breakthrough potential of the lot but was clearly not ready in his 2007 callup with Detroit. Olsen, Mitre, and Nolasco have good arms but will need to gain consistency and better command, which takes time. The bullpen should remain a little known plus.

Witnesses for the defense

I don't think that these guys were witnesses, I think that they were the defendants. The 2007 Marlins were the worst fielding team in the NL, finishing last in both defensive efficiency and fielding percentage, and by fairly substantial margins. Ramirez and Uggla are as bad a keystone pair as you can imagine, and Jacobs isn't exactly Keith Hernandez at first. Willingham is a converted catcher playing the outfield. The Marlins didn't really have a center fielder; ironically, the best of the guys they did use defensively was converted infielder Alfredo Amezega, who can't hit. There aren't any substantial changes to the lineup, so this year's defense should be about as bad. That doesn't help the struggling pitching staff any.

Farm aid

The Cabrera trade yielded a potential superstar in center fielder Cameron Maybin. As Homer Simpson once asked of donuts, scouts wonder, "Cameron Maybin, is there nothing you can't do?" He has power, should hit for a high average, runs like a deer, and has a great arm. However, he really should start this season at triple A; he jumped from double A to the Tigers last year but did not play well at the major league level. Pitcher Gaby Hernandez could help the rotation at some point this year. The rest of the better prospects are all at the AA level or lower and there is no reason to rush them.

Watch out for that tree!

I have no idea why management wanted Luis Gonzalez. Yeah, he's a great guy and all, but he's slugged under .450 in each of the last two years and at age 40 is more likely to free fall than to rebound.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

...but I can't make any kind of a case for the 2008 Marlins being a .500 baseball team. There is certainly plenty of talent here, but much of it is damaged (the starting pitchers), not ready (Maybin), or flawed (Willingham, Uggla, even Ramirez as a shortstop). Even if the young starters do begin to improve, which they certainly might, the defense will not be doing them any favors. These fish will swim in the depths of the NL East standings. But at least we can all be happy that Jeffrey the Destroyer Loira will get a public handout.

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Is There a Doctor in the House?

Move over, Dr. Phil Rogers. The BBRAA has another practicing physician in its midst. That would be Dr. Ken Rosenthal, who turns his diagnostic talents to finding the cancer on the game.

For the benefit of Dr. Rosenthal and his readers, here are further diagnosis of the ills of the game:

Roger Clemens: clogged arteries
Lenny Dykstra: alcohol impairment
Jason Giambi: Posterior Rami Syndrome
Todd Hundley: testicular torsion
Jose Guillen: hemorrhoids
Ryan Franklin: impacted wisdom tooth
Matt Franco: scabies
Manny Alexander: dandruff

Monday, February 25, 2008

Washington Nationals 2008 Preview: Better Things Coming in the Nation's Capital

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy

It's hard to be much excited about anything that the 2007 Nationals offered. Ryan Zimmerman continued to develop into one of the NL's best players, and Dmitri Young had a thoroughly unexpected and remarkable season. They also continued to stockpile good younger outfielders. Apart from that, their two best starters missed part or most of the season, the rest of the rotation was expansion team bad, the shortstop wasn't good either offensively or defensively, and Nook Logan was the centerfielder. The Nationals brought another end to baseball at RFK Stadium with a 73-89 season. Over the winter the team added to its collection of talented but questionable outfielders and hoped for good news on the injury front.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Only Petco Field in San Diego diminished offense in 2007 worse than RFK. That certainly hurts the Nationals batting stats, but doesn't justify them; the Nats were near the bottom in runs scored in road games as well. The Nats hit about a league average total of doubles, were below average in triples, and were last in home runs. You can't say that they had a running team either, as they stole only 69 bases. Young, Zimmerman, and Ryan Church were the only hitters who could be said to be above average. Austin Kearns and Ronnie Belliard were ok, and Logan, Felipe Lopez, and Brian Schneider were bad. Wily Mo Pena hit well in 37 games after being acquired from Boston and figures to land a starting job in 2008.

CF Lastings Milledge
2B Ronnie Belliard
RF Austin Kearns
1B Dmitri Young
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Wily Mo Pena
C Paul LoDuca
SS Christian Guzman

Here, maybe, are the beginnings of the first good Nationals team. Zimmerman is one of the most valuable properties in the game right now. Kearns could have a huge season if reports that brand new Nationals Park will play well for hitters are correct. Pena, Milledge, and Elijah Dukes all come to Washington with plenty of talent and plenty of baggage. Will they offer Washington new hope, or will they wind up leaving in disgrace?

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

RFK Stadium helped disguise a poor staff in 2007. The Nationals allowed just 4.38 runs per game at home, one of the best records in the league, but 5.28 per game on the road, one of the worst. Losing top starter John Patterson after just seven very poor starts punched a big hole in the rotation (and through my fantasy teams, too). Shawn Hill was impressive in 16 starts but also missed time. No other starter pitched well. The bullpen tandem of Chad Cordero and Jon Rauch pitched well most of the season but wore down late.

SP Shawn Hill
SP John Patterson (or so they hope)
SP Matt Chico
SP Jason Bergman
SP John Lannan

CL Chad Cordero
RP Jon Rauch
RP Luis Ayala

Hill probably doesn't have real number one potential but could develop into a solid number two, which isn't at all bad. Patterson has number one stuff but injuries have kept his career as much a captive as Number Six. Chico, Bergman, and Lannan also have possibilities of becoming useful pitchers at the back end of a good rotation. Cordero is a good closer who should be dealt this year while he can still bring in more young talent. Rauch is also valued by good clubs and could fetch parts of a developing contender.

Witnesses for the defense

The Nationals fielded a pretty decent defensive team in 2007. Although they made a higher than average number of errors, they were efficient at turning batted balls into outs. Zimmerman is a sensational fielder at third and Kearns is a fine rightfielder. Milledge has the tools to be a fine centerfielder.

Farm aid

After years of neglect as the former Expos franchise was left to rot, the farm system is beginning to produce a lot of talent. They've also done a good job recently of picking talented prospects who have fallen out of favor with other teams, such as Milledge, Dukes, and Tyler Clippard. Zimmerman and Hill are the first of the really good ones. The best prospects are a little ways away and the Nationals would be wise not to rush them. Outfielders Justin Maxwell, Chris Marrero, and Michael Burgess will be competing with the talented outfielders already here within a year or so. Pitchers Clippard, Ross Detwiler, Jordan Zimmerman (can't have too many Zimmermans), Jack Mcgeary, and Adam Carr will be pushing for jobs on the staff by 2009. There is a lot more; this is a very deep system.

Watch out for that tree!

Dmitri Young's comeback season was a nice story, but it should have been taken with more skepticism by Washington management than they did. Young has always been able to hit, but he's not exactly known for his physical conditioning. Paul Lo Duca is not aging gracefully; he comes into camp recovering from knee surgery, not what you want in a 36 year old catcher who doesn't really contribute much besides singles. Rauch is not old but has been worked hard for the last two years.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

Almost unnoticed, this franchise is making progress. I've never been a Jim Bowden fan, but as Nationals GM he has been presiding over a very solid accumulation of talent. The Nationals will be an improved team in 2008 even though they will likely not move up in the standings.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

This Bonds Idea Didn't Fly

The Super Genius had a pretty good idea, but Cardinals management shot it down like they were Dick Cheney and the idea was an 80 year old lawyer.

My favorite part was this:

This time around, a philosophical stance by the organization stopped the idea before it got very far. The Cardinals have a slew of talented young outfielders, and general manager John Mozeliak wants them to play.

"The whole idea of what we tried to do this offseason was to give some of these younger players a chance to play," he said. "Obviously, when we brought in [Juan] Gonzalez, [he was] highly recommended, but there was no risk on our part. I think that's the one guy we'll give it a shot with, and other than that we want to give these younger players a chance to play."

This raises two questions:

1) Who are these young outfielders you speak of? Other than Colby Rasmus, who I grant you is going to be an outstanding player, I can't find the others. Not on the 40 man roster, and not in the farm system.

2) Why in the hell would any sane person sign Juan Gonzales, and on whose recommendation?

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People with Glass Doors...

Hunter Pence of the Astros messed himself up when he walked through a glass door.

No word on whether Sully had his smirk on when news of the injury came over the wire...


Atlanta Braves 2008 Preview: Don't You Forget About Me

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

Since 1991 the Atlanta Braves have become very accustomed to reaching the postseason. No team has ever had a streak like that of the 1991-2005 Braves: at no time during that span was there a postseason played in which the Braves did not participate. All good things come to an end, and the Braves streak ended in 2006. They came into 2007 hoping to revive it and frequently looked like they were almost to the top of the hill only to go falling back again. Although frustrated, the Braves did finish five games better than the previous season. They also made an in-season trade which will benefit them for some time, but did lose both their centerfielder and shortstop over the winter.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Despite a very disappointing season from Andruw Jones and playing a first baseman with a dismal .652 OPS for two thirds of the season, the 2007 Braves were quite proficient at scoring runs. Chipper Jones led the way with a tremendous season, one of the best of his career. Pretty much everyone in the lineup contributed, including reserves Willie Harris and Yunel Escobar, and Mark Teixeira was everything that the Braves hoped for after his acquisition.

SS Yunel Escobar
CF Mark Kotsay
3B Chipper Jones
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Jeff Francoeur
C Brian McCann
LF Matt Diaz
2B Kelly Johnson

Escobar's performance made Renteria expendable. Johnson and Kotsay should swap places and probably will; back problems have made Kotsay a shadow of his former self and Johnson is by far the better hitter. The three through six hitters are as good as any similar group in the game, although Jones can be expected to miss 20-30 games every year with injuries. I expect that the Braves will continue to be among the better scoring teams in the NL.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

The days of the greatest starting rotation in history are long since over, but the Braves are still fairly effective at run prevention. John Smoltz showed no signs at age 40 of slowing down, going 14-8, 3.11 and striking out 197 batters. Tim Hudson rebounded from a poor 2006 by adding another fine season to his career. Chuck James was league average but the rest of the rotation struggled.

SP John Smoltz
SP Tim Hudson
SP Tom Glavine
SP Chuck James
SP Mike Hampton (yeah, right)

CL Rafael Soriano
RP Peter Moylan
RP Will Ohman

Anyone think that the Braves will really get anything out of Hampton this year? Let's see a show of hands. No, me neither. It's much more likely that rookies Jair Jurrjens or Jo-Jo Reyes will wind up filling the back spot in the rotation. Smoltz and Hudson remain a fine tandem at the top of the rotation. Glavine was effective for the Mets in 2006 until the final two weeks and is still capable of turning in league average work and bitching about Questech. Soriano is often unhittable, but leaves some balls up in the zone, leading to some long game-ending homers.

Witnesses for the defense

The Braves are an above average defensive team. Although Andruw Jones is not the centerfielder he used to be (who is?) he will be missed; Kotsay was once a fine centerfielder himself but isn't any more on most days. Francoeur has a cannon arm and covers ground well in right. Escobar has a fine arm himself but must show better range at short. Johnson was a work in progress as a second baseman but should at least be average. Teixeira is a fine defensive first baseman.

Farm aid

The Braves have an outstanding scouting and development program and have more potential stars in the farm system than almost any other team. Brandon Jones will at the very least platoon with Diaz in left field this year. Jurrjens and Reyes will get chances in the rotation and should at least be league average as rookies. Shortstop Brent Lillibridge will start the season at triple A and is available as either a backup plan if Escobar fails or as a trade chit if Escobar succeeds. Most of the rest of the talent is still at lower levels but keep an eye on centerfielder Jordan Schafer, who has the abilities to be everything Andruw Jones was. He could move up fast.

Watch out for that tree!

Most of the Braves key performers aren't any guys who are in danger of total collapse. Glavine's season ending fade in 2007 is worrisome, especially since his strikeout rate fell way off. He's the Brave most likely to hit the wall. Kotsay is 32 with a bad back. That can't end well. Smoltz and Jones may miss time with injuries but are still very effective when they can play.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

The general consensus in the media and in some opposing clubhouses is the Mets and Phillies will be the teams competing for the NL East pennant. That may well be true, but the Braves can't be counted out. This is a good ballclub with a solid lineup and a deep pitching staff with a number of options. I can't see any reason why the Braves can't finish ahead of either or both of the other contenders over the long haul of the season.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Full Deck?

This is pretty funny. And I don't think that the one that Upper Deck pulled is all that offensive, actually. Although casting Hillary as Dottie Hinson would have been funnier. And where is Huckabee?

New York Mets 2008 Preview: Santana Claus Is Coming To Town

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

The 2007 Mets pulled off an amazing feat in 2007. They spent 140 days in first place, and yet the team and its fans agree: the season sucked. Leading the pack by eleven games on September 12, the Mets folded like beach furniture, losing 12 of their final 17 games. They could have made the postseason despite that by winning their final game, but Tom Glavine got wiped out in a seven run first inning and the dismal Marlins sent the Mets packing for the winter. I'd heard tell that Proven Veterans (tm) like Glavine were magically delicious in those situations, but I guess I was misinformed. Management decided to bring in someone else to pitch games like that, and found that the Twins were anxious to unload this Santana fella for some guys who vaguely resemble prospects. Bold predictions aside, the Mets and Phillies should battle it out down to the wire again.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Shea Stadium is usually a pitchers park, and it was again in 2007, but it took an unusually heavy toll on the Mets' offense. The Mets finished second in the league in runs scored on the road, but 11th at home. Guys named Carlos didn't fare well there at all. Carlos Beltran slugged 100 points less at home. Carlos Delgado didn't even reach replacement level wearing the home whites, putting up a .225-.313-.368 mark compared to .288-.351-.519 while wearing gray. David Wright had about as great a season as you can ask no matter what park he was appearing in.

SS Jose Reyes
2B Luis Castillo
3B David Wright
CF Carlos Beltran
1B Carlos Delgado
LF Moises Alou
RF Ryan Church
C Brian Schneider

A formidable group, but the Mets should be spending the spring looking for depth. Alou really can't be counted on for more than about 90 games a year. Delgado has a huge platoon split; finding someone to timeshare with him at first would help a lot. Hey, here's a guy like that right here, and he's in camp! I admit to being almost as wrong about Reyes as I was about Bobby Jenks; he's turned into a fine leadoff man. Wright and Beltran are two of the best players in the game.

Pitchers or belly itchers?

Overall the Mets were slightly above average on the hill in 2007. Glavine was slightly below average, but John Maine and Oliver Perez pitched very well and Orlando Hernandez was his usual self; effective when he was healthy enough to pitch. Pedro Martinez came back in September and showed that he can still be effective. Of course, as you may have heard, the Mets took a step to improve the rotation for 2008.

SP Johan Santana
SP John Maine
SP Oliver Perez
SP Pedro Martinez
SP Orlando Hernandez

CL Billy Wagner
RP Aaron Heilman
RP Pedro Feliciano

For quick reference, the Mets' head trainer is Ray Ramirez. Pedro, Orlando, I'm sure you know where to find him. Snark aside, that's a pretty good rotation, with some depth. Jorge Sosa gave the Mets more or less league average work as a fill in last year and is back in case he's needed again (he will be). Mike Pelfrey, the Mets' 2005 first round pick is also available. Maine (Orioles) and Perez (Pirates) are excellent illustrations of how bad organizations misjudge and fail to instruct talent and how good organizations make them useful.

Witnesses for the defense

If a team has to go deep into the pitching reserves, it helps to have a good defense to back them up. The Mets have one. Wright, Beltran, and Reyes are outstanding. Church is a good defender in right. The right side of the infield isn't getting younger and lacks range, though, and a 41 year old leftfielder isn't usually any kind of Gold Glove candidate, either.

Farm aid

Other than Pelfrey, the Mets have no good prospects close enough to the majors to be of any real help in 2008 except as trade bait. While the Santana trade stripped four prospects from the system, none of them would have been terribly useful to the major league roster this year either. Outfielder Fernando Martinez hit .271 at double A at the age of 18, which is very impressive. Many scouts project him as a middle of the order star, but he's a couple of years away.

Watch out for that tree!

Delgado is 36 and his offense has declined the past three years. However, his road performance last year leads me to think that he still has a bit of gas in the tank, even if he's not the hitter he was a few years ago. Castillo is 32 and has had leg problems; not what you want in a guy whose main asset was his speed. Alou breaks down every year; any time now will be the last time, although if he can play, he can hit. Hernandez is the pitching version of Moises Alou. Martinez pitched well in September but must be closely monitored. With the farm system not ready with replacements, injuries or sudden declines by these guys could be devastating.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

The Mets and the Phillies are loaded with talent and are expected to be two of, if not the two best, teams in the NL in 2008. But neither is foolproof. The Mets don't have a lot of depth and are counting on a number of rapidly aging players: Delgado, Alou, Castillo, Pedro Martinez, Hernandez, and Billy Wagner. On the other hand, they have Wright, Beltran, Reyes, and Santana, which is enough to carry a team a long ways. The Mets offense may be a very small step behind the Phillies, but the Phils don't have the rotation or depth in relievers that the Mets do. I think that this will be enough to push the Mets back ahead this year.

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Reporters Are From Pluto

Let's face it -- there's nothing a Major League beat reporter won't do to gin up some fake, phony "controversy." Because if there's no "controversy," it gets too darned hard to find enough stuff to write about to fill those pesky column inches!

And that's why we find ourselves here, barely a week into spring training, with the Tribune's estimable Paul Sullivan already typing up three articles about the "controversy" surrounding the Cubs' closer situation.

For those of you who don't follow the team closely, former closer Ryan Dempster is slated to be the fifth or sixth starter. The three front-runners for the 2008 closer gig are Bobby Howry, Kerry Wood, and Carlos(y?) Marmol. Sully is verrrrry concerned that Lou Piniella doesn't know which of these guys will be protecting those three-run leads in the ninth inning. After all -- it's 23 February already!

Here's how Sully started his latest piece on the alleged "controversy:"

Kerry Wood stuck his head into a group interview with Bob Howry on Thursday at Fitch Park, pretending he was a reporter seeking answers about the competition for the Cubs' closer's job.

Wood, Howry and Carlos Marmol had just thrown their first live batting-practice sessions of the spring, the first small step in the six-week process to anoint the new closer.

"As I was preparing myself, I was watching you," Howry told Wood. "I thought I had a little bit more on the fastball, but you might have had a better slider."

After Wood left, Howry was asked how competitive he felt toward his two rivals."I had a little golf tournament, and Kerry asked me why I didn't invite him," Howry said. "I was like, 'Yeah, it would've looked bad if I had invited you out and then I hit you with a golf ball or ran you over with a cart.' "

Oh, for fun! Who knew that Howry was such a card? Certainly not I!

No sentient being born on planet Earth would read Howry's (allegedly) humorous comments and not understand the tongue-in-cheekiness of it all. And then there's Sully.

Sully, being a lazy sort, often uses his print pieces to fill space on his blog entries. Here's how he describes the exchange with Howry on the Trib's "Hardball" blog:
Wood was asked first if it was a media-driven story.

“Absolutely,” he said.

Well, it’s a long spring, as Wood knows well.

“The competition is good,” Wood said. “We’ve got plenty of guys that can do it. Lou and the upper management will make the best decision to help this team win and put the best guy out there. So regardless of who it is, whoever we’re getting the ball to or whoever is getting the ball to him, that’s just as important.”

Carlos Marmol was next up, and like Wood he said he’s ready to pitch in whatever role they give him, though he’d prefer to close.

“Sure, why not?” he said. “That’s a role that helps the team, that’s what I’m looking for.”

By the time we got to Bob Howry, he was anxiously awaiting us. Wood came by Howry’s locker and pretended he was a reporter, which, as we all know, is quite ironic.

“As I was preparing myself I was watching you,” Howry told Wood. “I thought I had a little bit more on the fastball, but you might have had a better slider.”

After Wood left, I asked Howry if he ever felt like taking a swing at the other two guys.

“I had a little golf tournament and Kerry asked me why I didn’t invite him,” Howry said. “I was like, “Yeah, it would’ve looked bad though if I had invited you out and then I hit you with a golf ball or ran you over with a cart.”

So there you have it- just another instance of the media trying to create tension between the players.

Mea culpa.

WTF? Jeebus only know what point Sully was trying to make here. Was he thinking that Howry was actually serious when he made the crack about running Wood over with a golf cart? Was he miffed because Wood played at being a baseball journamalist -- a gig that only true professionals like Sully shoud play at?

Or was he being a whiny-ass baby because Wood said the any closer "controversy" was merely the invention of the media?

I'm no mind reader, so I can't pretend to know what thoughts flow through the river of Sully's mind. But reading Sully's blog, there are only two conclusions I can reach. Sully is either deeply disturbed. Or he's not from this planet. Because there's no way that any sane, Earth-born person could make a mountain out of the Howry/Wood/Marmol molehill...

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Philadelphia Phillies 2008 Preview: Score and Score Again

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy

The 2007 Phillies held first place for only four days. But the only one that mattered was September 30, when Jamie Moyer beat Washington, 6-1, while the Mets completed a stunning collapse with an 8-1 loss at home to last place Florida. The Phillies had been seven games back on September 12 and thought that they had a chance only at the wild card. The magic didn't last as they ran into the buzz saw from Colorado and went out 0-3 in the NLDS. Management shuffled a few of the chairs over the winter, losing Aaron Rowand as a free agent, trading for Brad Lidge, and signing Pedro Feliz and Geoff Jenkins.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Playing in a bandbox helped the Phillies' bats a bit in 2007, but not as much as you'd think. They led the NL in runs with 892, and scored the most runs on the road of any NL team. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are just flat out great hitters, and "MVP" Jimmy Rollins, Rowand, and the much maligned Pat Burrell had terrific years.

SS Jimmy Rollins
CF Shane Victorino
2B Chase Utley
1B Ryan Howard
LF Pat Burrell
RF Geoff Jenkins/Jayson Werth
3B Pedro Feliz
C Carlos Ruiz

That's a lineup that should continue to score runs a-plenty. Rollins isn't the great leadoff hitter many in the media make him out to be; his .344 OBP is good, but five others in the Phillies lineup had better ones. Utley and Howard are the true stars in the lineup, tying each other for seventh in the league in OPS. Burrell is booed mercilessly in Philly, but he slugged .502 with a .400 OBP last year. Sorry he's not Stan Musial or something. The number eight hitter, Ruiz, had a .340 OBP.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Phillies pitchers weren't all that great in 2007. Injuries and a hitter's park hurt to some degree, but some of it was just plain ineffectiveness. Cole Hamels broke through with an outstanding season, 15-5, 3.39. Brett Myers, expected to be the staff ace, switched to the bullpen to cover an injury to Tom Gordon, leaving a hole in the lineup. The loss of both Freddie Garcia and Jon Leiber in June opened two more. Rookie Kyle Kendrick stepped in and filled one, Kyle Lohse gave the Phils league average innings in August and September to close the other. The bullpen was a struggle all year long.

SP Cole Hamels
SP Brett Myers
SP Kyle Kendrick
SP Jamie Moyer
SP Adam Eaton

CL Brad Lidge
RP Tom Gordon
RP J.C. Romero

With good health, Hamels and Myers can be as good a frontline tandem as any in the league. Kendrick isn't going to Japan after all, but unless he increased his strikeout rate his ERA may head south. Moyer is still capable of holding down a rotation spot, his strikeout rate is still above average. Eaton was all kinds of awful and needs a replacement. Lidge was vilified in Houston but was actually pretty effective in 2007. The rest of the bullpen remains unsettled.

Witnesses for the defense

The defense was average in 2007; the Phillies didn't make a lot of errors, but didn't cover a lot of ground, either. I'm probably in the minority here, but I don't think that the Feliz signing is a bad one for the Phillies. He's a much better glove at third than anyone the Phillies had been playing there, and batting seventh his lack of OBP is less of a liability, while his power is a plus. Burrell is a really bad outfielder, there's no denying that. Utley is a terrific glove at second, while Rollins is average or a little above at short.

Farm aid

There is no one at the upper levels of the farm system who can be expected to be of much help in 2007. The two who are closest are pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Josh Outman (what an awesome name for a pitcher) but both will be in double A to start the season and shouldn't be moved to the majors before September, if then. There is s a pretty deep group of good prospects deeper in the organization; some may be moved in trades if the Phillies have a shot at winning this year.

Watch out for that tree!

Any time you have a 45 year old pitcher whose fastball can't dent bread, you have to be a bit nervous. Jamie Moyer gives up a lot of hits and homers, but he still struck out 6.01 batters per nine innings. I think he can continue his game of cat and also cat with NL hitters for another year. I'd honestly be more concerned about Kendrick, who fanned only 3.64 per nine. Jenkins' OBP fell way off last year, which is a bit surprising. If it happens again he can't hold his job.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

Right now the Phillies are engaged in a war of words with the Mets over who is the team to beat in the NL East. Of course, we're only a week into spring training, and talk is cheap. These two teams are clearly the top two in the division. I don't see either breaking away from the other and making the race into a runaway unless one has a run of either really bad or incredibly good luck. One thing that the Phillies don't have is a lot of depth. One or two untimely injuries could derail the entire season.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Still Fighting the Moneyball Wars

It's five years on, and some people still don't get it. Today's clueless member of MLB's Ladies' Auxiliary is Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal:

Pedroia would be the ideal protagonist if author Michael Lewis wrote a sequel to Moneyball, a best-selling book that mocked old-school scouting while hailing the A's for their use of statistical analysis. Teams are more accepting of such analysis than they were when the book was published in 2003, but tensions between the two sides remain.

Forgive me if I'm being shrill, but Moneyball was not all about how swell the A's were because they used statistical analysis. It was about how a small-market team had to find inefficiencies in the talent marketplace because it didn't have the dough to out-spend the Yankees and Red Sox.

Oh, and if you can find anywhere in the book where Lewis mocked scouts, let me know. Granted, it's been a while since I read the book, but I don't recall any mockery...

For good measure, Rosenthal gets this boot in:

The scouts who derided Brown for being pudgy take satisfaction knowing that only two of the A's seven first-rounders have developed into quality major leaguers — the two who were the most highly regarded, Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton. Yet, the game is too humbling for scouts to be rigid with their judgments and analysts to be smug with their projections.

Cardinals first baseman Josh Phelps, once a darling of the statistical community, is with his sixth organization since appearing on the cover of the 2003 "Baseball Prospectus" annual; his career OPS is .820, but scouts say he lacks the bat speed to hit good fastballs consistently. Even some established players — Bobby Abreu, J.D. Drew, even Carlos Beltran — are viewed as less valuable than their stats might indicate.

Parsing these paragraphs a certain way, once could get the impression that Rosenthal is making fun of those dumb stat geeks who thought that fat-assed Jeremy Brown was a good prospect, or who thought so much of a bum like Josh Phelps that they put him on the cover of a book.

The lesson for today: mocking scouts is bad, mocking the stat geeks is OK. And they said irony died all those years ago...

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Narrative Dies Hard

A few days ago, I examined how the scripts explaining why the Giants have been genetically incapable of developing young talent swiftly moved from Dusty Baker hates young players to Brian Sabean knew the team had to Win Now™ while Barry Bonds was still around.

In that bit, I marvelled at the fact that the new script served to (at least partially) absolve Sabean, current Dodger GM (and former Giant assistant GM) Ned Coletti, and the rest of the front office crew from any culpability in the team's player development shortfalls. Even more puzzling to me was that, even while admitting that the Giants front office was intentionally pursuing a strategy of frittering away draft picks and signing Proven Veterans™, no one cut Baker any slack. He was still the ogre in this fairy tale, no matter what Sabean's strategy was.

As if in answer the my unspoken prayers, Yahoo's Jeff Passan offers up this observation on Baker, as Reds camp opens:

“I know what I’ve got to do,” Baker said Thursday, and while his .527 career winning percentage inspires confidence, his track record with young players is spotty enough to cause concern.

In his 10 seasons with the Giants, Baker did not develop a single everyday player. The closest was Rich Aurilia. Three starting pitchers from the Giants’ organization stuck: Kirk Rueter, Russ Ortiz and Shawn Estes.

With the Cubs, Baker oversaw the destruction of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood’s careers. He trotted them out for 130-pitch starts. Baker isn’t big into statistics, so he probably wasn’t aware that comprehensive studies on pitch counts show 130 is a young pitcher’s equivalent to a national threat level of red.

Still, Baker met the suggestion that he might give Bruce or Cueto or even Votto more time at Triple-A with some derision.

“Who says they need to be eased in?” Baker said. “I wasn’t eased in. Junior wasn’t eased in. A whole bunch of guys weren’t eased in. A lot of it has to do with need.”

Funny how Passan disappeared that Win Now™ script. And bonus points for his unabashed two-fer: trotting out the Dusty hates using young players and the Dusty abuses young players scripts in back-to-back grafs.

But so it goes with your baseball media today. They have their favored scripts and narratives. And if they are hard to reconcile with logic and history, then logic and history must be wrong.

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2008 Kansas City Royals Preview: The Humble Beginning of a New Monarchy?

2007...the season that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

The Kansas City Royals fielded another losing team in 2007, going 69-93. Once an annual contender, the Royals have now had 12 losing seasons in 13 years. However, the season did not totally suck. A number of young players began to make an impact and team management seems to no longer be the running joke that it had been for years. While the franchise certainly has a long way to go, things are looking up for the first time in many years.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Scoring runs was a struggle for the 2007 Royals. No member of the regular lineup except possibly Mark Grudzielanek had a season as good as or better than expected. Highly touted rookie Alex Gordon struggled through a poor first half, first baseman Ryan Sheely was hurt and slugged a pitiful .308, leftfielder Emil Brown slugged just .347, and neither right fielder Mark Teahen nor catcher John Buck hit as well as was hoped.

CF David Dejesus
2B Mark Grudzielanek
RF Mark Teahen
LF Jose Guillen
DH Billy Butler
1B Ross Gload
3B Alex Gordon
C John Buck
SS Tony Pena Jr.

I've seen worse lineups. From this franchise. Recently. Dejesus is never going to be the star that the Royals had hoped for, but he can get on base reliably. Butler has a chance to develop into a devastating hitter; he put up a .292-.347-.447 line as a 21 year old. I still think that Gordon will become on of the best in the AL at his position. Guillen is a jerk, but he's a jerk that can hit. The Royals will probably score at least 50 runs more in 2008. That's not enough to be a contender, but it's real improvement.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Pitching and defense were the big stories for the 2007 Royals. They cut almost 200 runs allowed off of their abysmal 2006 total. New GM Dayton Moore didn't hesitate to swing the broom and clean out non performers, like Scott Elarton, Odalis Perez, and Todd Wellemeyer, guys of the type that the previous adminstration collected and held onto. Gil Meche, widely criticized by almost everyone as one of the worst free agent signings ever, gave the Royals 216 fine innings and was a rotation anchor. Octavio Dotel, another free agent signing, saved 11 games and then was wisely flipped to the Braves for Kyle Davies. Zach Grienke pitched well over the middle of the season in relief and then as a starter towards the end.

SP Gil Meche
SP Brian Bannister
SP Zach Grienke
SP Kyle Davies
SP Jorge de la Rosa

CL Joakim Soria
RP Yashuhiko Yabuta
RP Jimmy Gobble

Having been wrong already on Meche, I now see no reason why he can't give the Royals more of the same in 2008. I think that Grienke is one of this year's breakout candidates. The rest of the rotation doesn't have a lot of upside, but that's ok; this team isn't going anywhere this year. All they need to do is to hold the fort until reinforcements from the minor league system show up. Mike Maroth and Hideo Nomo are nonroster invites hoping to earn a shot at the back of the rotation, and Brett Tomko, who is actually on the roster for some reason, also will take a shot. Soria was terrific as a 23 year old who made trading Dotel a no-brainer.

Witnesses for the defense

The defense was not a huge part of the dramatic cut the Royals made in allowing runs. They were below average in both defensive efficiency and in fielding percentage. Teahen in right and Gordon at third are the bright spots. Teahen would have won a Gold Glove if the rules specified a right fielder rather than allowing three centerfielders. Gordon has a Gold Glove or two in his future, unless Evan Longoria monopolizes them for the next ten years. Pena was an improvement at short over the ridiculous Angel Berroa. Dejesus is steady in center and Guillen will be an upgrade over Emil Brown.

Farm aid

Luke Hochevar, the number one pick in the 2006 draft, should take over a rotation spot by midseason. Hochevar has the potential to be a number one starter, but there are questions about his makeup and he needs more time to harness his talent. Outfielder Chris Lubanski was a first round pick in 2003 who has been something of a disappointment so far, but is still only 23 and could take a step forward. Pitcher Carlos Rosa has a chance to move into the rotation by later this season; he's no ace in the making but could become a reliable starter in the middle of the rotation. The best prospect in the system is shortstop Mike Moustakas, who will be entering A ball this year and is about 2 1/2 years and a position change away.

Watch out for that tree!

A team like the Royals shouldn't have guys in this category, and for the most part they don't. Meche has had an injury filled past, although he was healthy all of 2007. Grudzielanek is the most likely falloff, being a 38 year old second baseman who loses range every year. By the end of this season Alberto Callaspo may take his job.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

This is the first time in many years that my preseason writeup isn't just a beginning to end mocking of this franchise. With Butler, Gordon, Greinke, and Soria already in the lineup and a new GM who is more interested in developing good young players than bringing in the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, and the wretched refuse, the Royals are moving ahead. They are a long way away from where the Brewers are, or the Rays, but it's a promising start. This team could break .500 this year, although it's a longshot. But it's been quite a while since one could make even that modest a statement.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Chicago White Sox 2008 Preview: It can't be as bad as last year, can it?

2007...the season that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

For the Chicago White Sox, 2007 was a complete disaster. Two years off a World Series championship, the Sox fell to 72-90 and looking even worse. Only an 11-6 finish spared the Sox the embarrassment of finishing below the Kansas City Royals. The White Sox scored the fewest runs in the AL, allowed the fourth fewest, and were a poor defensive team. The infield was unsettled, the outfield was a mess, and the bullpen was as effective at fire prevention as Mrs. O'Leary's dairy barn. GM Kenny Williams was very active over the winter, replacing most of the mess with better options for 2008.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

No team in the AL put it on the board fewer times in 2007 than the White Sox. Despite playing in a park that increased offense by 6-7% the Sox crossed the plate only 693 times. Twenty two position player played for the Sox in 2007; 17 of them had on base percentages lower than the league average of .338. Twelve were under .300. That should completely explain the mystery of how a team that finished second in the league in home runs (190) could finish last in runs scored.

CF Nick Swisher
SS Orlando Cabrera
DH Jim Thome
1B Paul Konerko
RF Jermaine Dye
C A.J. Pierzynski
3B Joe Crede/Josh Fields
LF Carlos Quentin
2B Alexi Ramirez/Danny Richar

The alternate idea is to lead off with Jerry Owens, move Swisher to fifth, and slide Dye and everyone else down a slot. I'd rather see Quentin get the first shot at an outfield spot, because he has much more upside. Swisher doesn't look like a leadoff man, but his on base percentages the last two years have been .372 and .381. Thome is still a great hitter even missing 30 games a year. Konerko probably has another good year or two left. Dye hit 28 homers in 2007 but his OBP was a lackluster .317. This lineup should be much more effective than the miserable 2007 crew, probably at least 50 runs better. That's still probably not enough.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

The great pitching of the 2005 postseason was a faded memory in 2007. Mark Buehrle pitched well, Jon Garland was above average, and Javier Vazquez had a season that almost made me forget that the Sox traded Chris Young to get him. Almost. Bobby Jenks had a season I would never have believed he had in him. The rest of the rotation was horrible, and the bullpen (apart from Jenks) was an unspeakable horror.

SP Mark Buehrle
SP Javier Vazquez
SP Jose Contreras
SP John Danks
SP Gavin Floyd

CL Bobby Jenks
RP Octavio Dotel
RP Scott Linebrink

Buehrle and Vazquez should be good again. Danks showed some promise but an avalanche of home runs allowed (28 in 139 innings) jacked up his ERA and hurt his confidence. He has work to do. So does Floyd, who got taken deep more often than Jacques Cousteau (17 homers allowed in 70 innings). Contreras is just finished; the Sox would probably like to dump him on someone else, but have no better options. I have to give Jenks a lot of credit; I've never been more wrong about a player. As a minor leaguer he was wilder than Amy Winehouse on a two week bender; as a major league closer in 2007 he walked one batter after the all star break. Dotel and Linebrink come with built-in problems, but can hardly be as bad as last year's cast of relievers.

Witnesses for the defense

The 2005 world champions were a stunning display of what great defense could do for a team. The 2007 version of the Sox displayed little of that quality. The Sox were below average in defensive efficiency and third in the league in errors committed. Injuries and the unsettled nature of the lineup didn't help. Swisher's ability to play center and the outcome of the Richar/Ramirez/Jose Uribe battle for second base will decide if the defense improves in 2008.

Farm aid

I got nothing here. The White Sox traded their best two prospects to the A's for Swisher. Jack Egbert and Lance Broadway could take over a couple of the rotation slots, but neither is ever going to be more than a back of the rotation guy. The best prospect left in the system is 2007 first round pick Aaron Poreda, a lefthander who will be reaching A ball this year.

Watch out for that tree!

Where should I begin? Thome is still a terrifying hitter for 130 games a year, but I've written a number of times about the fast, steep decline of other power hitters in the Boog Powell mold; Thome fits that profile too. Konerko is 32 and runs like a cement block. Dye is 34 and while he could certainly have a better season this year than last, he's also capable of falling off even more. Buerhle is only 29, but relies on his defense a lot. Another decline in his strikeout rate would be hard to sustain.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

The White Sox are in a difficult position. They are clearly not as good as either Detroit or Cleveland, but not so far behind them that a few breaks couldn't put the Sox into a pennant race. Their 2007 season was so bad that it might be tempting to rebuild, but the farm system has been in a severe drought and their is little to build with. I see this team going one of two ways this season. By July team management will know if they have a contender or not, and either go for the win or move into complete teardown mode. I suspect that the latter will be the most appropriate.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Minnesota Twins 2008 Preview: Life Without Johan

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

It was a very disappointing season for the Minnesota Twins. After six straight winning seasons and a 96 win campaign in 2006, the Twins fell all the way off to 79-83. The Twins weren't particularly good either at the plate or on the mound. Young starters like Boof Bonser, Scott Baker, and Kevin Slowey did not succeed the way the Twins had hoped, while the offense featured way, WAY too much of Nick Punto, Jason Tyner, Jeff Cirillo, and Alexi Casilla. Over the winter the Twins traded away the best pitcher in the game for a rather unimpressive group of prospects, and traded a very solid young pitcher and their shortstop to acquire one of the games' best hitting prospects.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

The Twins finished third to last in the AL in runs scored in 2007. Part of that is park illusion; the Metrodome actually played as an extreme pitchers park, and the Twins were last in the league in runs scored at home. Although they scored better on the road (4.83 runs per game as opposed to 4.04), the road average isn't all that great either; the league average runs per game was 4.90.

CF Carlos Gomez
C Joe Mauer
LF Delmon Young
1B Justin Morneau
RF Michael Cuddyer
DH Jason Kubel
2B Brendan Harris
3B Mike Lamb
SS Adam Everett

I hope that this is just some silly winter idea and not the lineup that the Twins actually plan on using this year. What's wrong, you ask? Let's start at the top. Gomez, acquired in the Santana trade, is not ready for a major league job, much less one as a leadoff hitter. He needs a year in triple A to polish a lot of skills, not the least being his ability to reach base. Young should hit lower in the order, allowing him to learn more about being a major league hitter with less pressure. Lamb and Harris aren't shiny, sexy, young, and cool, but they both are much more proficient at reaching base than Gomez and Young, at least right now. I'd try something like this:

2B Brendan Harris
3B Mike Lamb
C Joe Mauer
1B Justin Morneau
RF Michael Cuddyer
DH Jason Kubel
LF Delmon Young
CF cannon fodder/placeholder like Jason Priddy or Dennard Span. Or Corey Patterson
SS Adam Everett

That's actually not a bad lineup, although the last two spots would amount to little. It would put the best OBP guys at the top, followed by guys hitting 4-7 who could all drive them around the bases. Mauer just needs to add some power to be one of the best hitters in the game. Morneau should never have been an MVP, but he is a solid run producer.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Following the general trend, the Twins were second in the AL in home ERA, but below average on the road. Any team with Johan Santana in the starting rotation is going to finish above average in ERA no matter who the other starters are . Joe Nathan remained one of the best closers in the game.

SP Livan Hernandez
SP Scott Baker
SP Boof Bonser
SP Francisco Liriano
SP Kevin Slowey

CL Joe Nathan
RP Pat Neshek
RP Juan Rincon

Hernandez was signed as spring training opened essentially to eat up innings and allow Baker and Bonser to not have to be a staff ace at young ages. A lot was expected from Bonser last year, but he finished with a 5.10 ERA and seemed to get worse as the season went on. Nutty the Athletic Cup and his friend Scott Baker started badly but had a 3.44 ERA and 64/17 K/BB ratio after the All-Star break. A lot of attention will be focused on Liriano, who had a 2006 season that almost rivaled Santana's before needing Tommy John surgery. The Twins should be satisfied with a good 150 innings from him this year. Nathan has posted ERAs below 2.00 three years out of the past four. Neshek a terrific setup man, and the Twins have a lot of depth in the bullpen.

Witnesses for the defense

The Twins were slightly above average defensively in 2007. Their best defender, center fielder Torii Hunter, left as a free agent over the winter. If Gomez does take over in center, the Twins won't miss Hunter defensively; Gomez is fast, covers center very well, and has a very strong arm. Everett, obtained from the Astros, is a terrible hitter but an outstanding shortstop. Cuddyer is an underrated right fielder who had 19 baserunner kills (isn't that a way cooler name than assists?) last year.

Farm aid

The Twins don't have any star level talent in the system at this time. Gomez has a lot of potential but really needs more development time. Ben Revere is another speedy centerfielder who could develop, but he's years away. Pitcher Phillip Humber, picked up in the Santana trade, was a top prospect before having Tommy John surgery in 2006. He did not pitch as well last year as he had before the surgery and will have to take a big step forward to show that he has any future as more than a back of the rotation guy. Deolis Guerra also came from the Mets; he showed promise as an 18 year old in A ball in 2006 but has a long way to go before being able to contribute in the majors.

Watch out for that tree!

There really isn't anyone here that I see as having a real good chance of the wheels coming off of any time very soon. Nathan is the only regular over 30 and there is nothing in his record or his style of pitching that suggests that he won't continue to be very effective. There is always some chance that Mauer, a very large catcher, might come up with an injury that curtails his future, but I'd be willing to take my chances with him. The Twins wisely have him take a decent amount of his at bats as the designated hitter, saving wear and tear. I should have mentioned Hernandez as being a regular over 30 but (a) he's not anything more than a placeholder in the rotation for this team and (b) he's already defied the odds on being effective as long as he has, so who knows, he could keep doing this for ten more years.

I could make a hat, or a broach...

I actually like this team more than a lot of baseball writers do. Yes, they lost Santana and Hunter. But they still have a very good core lineup, a group of decent young pitchers, and a solid bullpen. Bonser and Baker could both step forward as two of the better pitchers in the division. Liriano is a wild card; if he gets back even close to where he was in 2006 the Twins could have a very tough rotation. Mauer and Morneau are already two of the division's best hitters; rapid improvement from Young and Kubel and a batting order that makes sense would make this team a threat.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

I Loves Me Some Baseball, and I Loves Me Some House Oversight Committee

A Palatial "Thank You" to the writers at The Daily Show for nailing the Clemens hearings last week...

Laugh-out-loud line: "Either this man is dehydrated...or incredibly delicious."

Oh, and be sure to stick around to 6:50 in the video, when Jon Stewart explains why the GOP was so adamant in its defense of Clemens...

[Hey, look -- I'm figuring out how to use the internet tube thingies!]

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When I Get a Hankering for Action...

...I get a hankering for Action Hank! Hank Steinbrenner, that is...

"I don't like baseball being singled out," the New York Yankees senior vice president said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Monday night.

"Everybody that knows sports knows football is tailor-made for performance-enhancing drugs. I don't know how they managed to skate by. It irritates me. Don't tell me it's not more prevalent. The number in football is at least twice as many. Look at the speed and size of those players." ...

"A lot of baseball people thought that baseball would be the last sport that it would be a problem in and probably just ignored it too long," Steinbrenner said. "But the fact is it's been in football a long time and it's been in basketball, I'm sure. Why baseball is being singled out, I don't know. I don't know. I know all the excuses -- `Well, it's America's game and it's the statistics.'

"That's not an excuse. If a sport is riddled with it, it's riddled with it. Why aren't they looking at the NFL?" he said.


Surely He Can't Be Serious

ESPN's Jayson Stark celebrated the arrival of spring with his traditional "best of" column last week.

Pretty standard stuff. At least until I reached this point, under "Best free agents $2 million and under:"

The Cardinals shelled out just $1.5 million to roll the dice on Matt Clement, a pitcher whose career strikeout ratio (7.75 per 9 IP) and opponent batting average (.248) are actually better than Roy Oswalt's (7.45 and .256). Who knew?

Good points. Here are some more: Oswalt has a better opponents' OPS (.682 to .721) and K/BB ratio (3.62 to 1.87) And he's three years younger than Clement.

Hey, a flier on Clement for $1.5 mil is a reasonable gamble. As long as the Cardinals aren't expecting Clement to pitch like an ace (someone like, say, Roy Oswalt), that is.

Then there was this nugget of joy, under "Best free agents signed to minor league contracts:"

Mike Sweeney, A's: Granted, you have to go back six years to find the last time Sweeney played more than 126 games in a season. But we're still talking about a fellow with a higher career OPS (.861) than Carlos Beltran, Carlos Lee, Andruw Jones or Aramis Ramirez. Let's just say none of those guys is working on minor league contracts.

Stark fails to add that we're talking about a thirty-four year old first baseman who slugged .404 last year. Andruw Jones is slowing down, but he's still an acceptable defender at a slightly more demanding position. Carlos Lee isn't any great shakes as a fielder, but his OPS is about 100 points higher than Sweeney's over the last two years. And he's played 485 games over the last three years, so he's just a bit more durable. Aramis Ramirez hasn't been as healthy as Lee, but he's five years younger than Sweeney and his lowest OPS over the last four years is .912.

And Carlos Beltran? Are you serious, Jayson? Do you really want to compare Mike Sweeney to Carlos Beltran?

Finally, capping off this triumverate of Starkian goodness, is this:

Morgan Ensberg, Yankees: Bet you didn't know Ensberg has hit more home runs over the past three years (71) than Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield or Bobby Abreu.

Let's play a game...if you can get guess which one of those four guys has home run totals over the last three years of 36, 23, and 12, you can have a cookie.


Dusty-ing Off an Old Script

Jim's recent preview of the San Francisco Giants' season jogged some long-dormant brain cells into life with this comment:

Giants management pursued a scorched earth policy in the farm system for the past decade, trading prospects for veterans trying to win a World Series championship while Barry Bonds was the greatest player on earth.

That's a perfectly valid critique of the Giants' wheeling and dealing over the years. But it's a very recent development in the pundits' assessment of Brian Sabean's efforts. Up until about...oh, let's say 2005, the scripts used to explain the dearth of useful prospects turning up in the City by the Bay was quite different.

Readers of a certain age may remember it: Dusty Baker hates young players.

I first noticed the trend in the late 1990's, when the youngest guy in the Giants' lineup was Bill Mueller and people were wondering why Baker didn't give that nice Marcus Jensen a chance to play. One fantasy guide I read flat-out said that it was because Dusty done hates him some young players, rejecting the distinct possibility that maybe perhaps Mr. Jensen wasn't really all that good to begin with.

After Baker was fired/quit/allowed to file for free agency after the 2002 season, there was some gab in the baseball press about how Giants Fan could look forward to a new era of youngsters getting a fair shake under Felipe Alou. Except that didn't happen. The youngest guys to get close to landing everyday jobs during the Alou years were Jason Ellison in 2005 and Eliezer Alfonzo in 2006. Would it be rude to say that these guys weren't all that good, either?

Meanwhile, Sabean was trading marginally-useful guyw in his system -- guys like Jeremy Accardo, David Aardsma, Jerome Williams, Jesse Foppert -- for flotsam and jetsam like Randy Winn and LaTroy Hawkins. And the less said about the Saint A.J. trade the better (for Giants Fans, if not Twins Fans).

It was around this time, when Sabean was bringing in Ray Durham and Omar Vizquel and Moises Alou and Marquis Grissom, that the "Giants need to bring in Proven Veterans™ because they need to Win Now™" became the new standard. And it was around this time that some people grudgingly allowed that perhaps both sides have had their aversions to young players.

And while the media ran to cover Sabean's butt with this minty-fresh Win Now™ script, no one cut Baker any such slack.

Almost from the moment he landed in Chicago, Baker was under attack for "hating" those young players. In 2003, there was worry that he'd bury Corey Patterson and Hee Seop Choi. In 2006, people wailed and gnashed their teeth at the thought that someone other than Ronnie Cedeno would man shortstop for my heroes. And why won't Dusty give Matt Murton a break?

In between, of course, there was the Wood/Prior drama. Oh, the irony -- Dusty Baker, hater of young players, using his young pitchers way too much. But I digress...

The idiocy following Baker's youngster-hating reached a fever pitch in '04 with this bit of crackpot analysis from Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan. This is from May 2004, and the link has long since been lost in the internet tubes. My apologies...

[Hee Seop] Choi, by the way, is at .277/.405/.692 so far. Derrek Lee is a good player, but the Cubs could have had Ivan Rodriguez and Choi for what they're paying Lee and Michael Barrett. That they don't is a cost of employing Dusty Baker.

I commented on this bizarre statement in real time at our old site. The years have not added any new insight.

At the time, I tried to parse what Sheehan meant. The Choi/Pudge combo made slightly less cash in 2004 than the D-Lee/Barrett duo. But Rodriguez had just signed a four-year, $40 million contract, which was a helluva lot more than Lee's $22.5 mil deal (over three years).

The only other possibility I could tease out was the Dusty hates young players argument (hinted at as a "cost of employing" Baker). At the time, Lee was three years older than Choi -- a decrepit 28-year-old man on his last legs. Rodriguez was 32, while Barrett checked in at 27.

So there you go -- the Cubs picked up a twenty-eight year old and a twenty-seven year old. When they could have had the twenty-five year old and the over-thirty catcher. Damn Dusty's young-player-hating ways!

Why did Sabean get a pass, while Baker took heat for his GM's acquisition of a twenty-seven year old catcher? I'm not a mind reader, or a psychiatrist, so I can't say for sure. Let's just chalk it up to the lasting power of scripts...

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