Monday, December 30, 2013

Questionable Cy Youngs: 1980-1989

A lot of questionable votes in the 80s, which saw relievers win the award on four separate occasions (three of which are listed below, with Willie Hernandez in 1984 being the exception).

1980 AL Steve Stone over Mike Norris
In one of the closer votes in Cy Young history, Stone edged out Norris even though both received the same number of first place votes (13). Stone's 25 wins and .781 winning percentage were the best in baseball, but he failed to lead the league in anything else and was a four-win pitcher despite amassing 250 innings. Norris, who threw 34 more innings with a 2.53 ERA (to Stone's 3.23), was a six-win pitcher for Oakland. The 25 year-old breakout also posted the league's lowest H/9 rate and ranked second in strikeouts, WHIP, wins, and innings pitched.

1981 AL Rollie Fingers over Steve McCatty
Fingers threw 78 near-perfect innings, with a 1.04 ERA and 0.87 WHIP as Milwaukee's closer. As far as relievers winning the award this is one of the more defensible cases, especially since '81 was a strike-shortened season. That said, I still think McCatty was more deserving. The runner-up won two legs of the pitching Triple Crown with his 2.33 ERA and ML-best 14 wins. He also topped the league in shutouts and placed second in H/9, complete games (16 of his 22 starts) and pitching WAR. McCatty wasn't quite as good as Fingers but still elite, so his large advantage in innings pitched should have been enough to put him over the top.

1982 AL Pete Vuckovich over everyone else
Pete who? My thoughts exactly. He had the AL's best record in '82, but that's where any discussion of him being the league's best pitcher ends. His 1.50 WHIP is unacceptably high and he walked nearly as many batters (102) as he struck out (105). Put it all together and he wasn't even a three-win pitcher. Second-place Jim Palmer would have been a better choice, but the most deserving candidate was fourth place Dave Stieb. His 17-14 record did him no favors, even though he completed more games (19) and innings (288 and 1/3) than any other American League hurler. As such, he was the Junior Circuit's most valuable pitcher per bWAR with 7.7,

1984 NL Rick Sutcliffe over Dwight Gooden
Sutcliffe was a monster after being traded to Chicago midway through the season, going 16-1 in his 20 starts as the Cubs made the playoffs for the first time since World War II. However, he was not as good as Gooden, the New York Mets' 19 year-old rookie. Gooden paced both leagues with 276 strikeouts which, compiled over 218 innings, translated to an ML-best 11.4 K/9 ratio. He also had baseball's best WHIP (1.07) and H/9 rate (6.6), as well as the league's lowest home run rate (0.3/9). Sutcliffe had the more compelling narrative, but on numbers alone Doc deserved the trophy.

1987 NL Steve Bedrosian over everyone else
The Phillies closer led all of baseball with 40 saves and won a tightly contested Cy Young race in which he beat out runner-up Rick Sutcliffe by two points and third place Rick Reuschel by three. Both would have been better choices, as would Orel Hersisher (fourth). NL ERA champion Nolan Ryan was most deserving in spite of his 8-16 record for a middling Astros squad. The Ryan Express ranked first among all pitchers in strikeouts (with 270 of them), H/9, K/9, and K/BB ratio. He also had the league's best ERA+ and threw more than 200 innings, all at the ripe old age of 40. Ryan never won a Cy Young award in his 27 seasons, but he definitely deserved one here.

1989 NL Mark Davis over everyone else
Davis saved 44 games--most in the majors--and had a 1.85 ERA, which is worthy of downballot consideration but doesn't merit the award. Runner-up Mike Scott and third-place Greg Maddux were more deserving, with ERAs close to three in well over 200 innings of work (Davis threw less than 100). The best choice would have been Orel Hersisher, who placed fourth after winning the year before. Though his record was an even 15-15, he led the league in ERA+ and innings, a marriage of quality and quantity that made him the league's most valuable pitcher by WAR.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Hall of Fame Ballot

If I had a vote for the Hall of Fame, which I don't, here are the ten names I would put on my ballot. With so many players deserving of a spot in Cooperstown, I chose the ten who I thought had the best cases.

1. Greg Maddux--The Sandy Koufax of the 1990s, but with longevity
2. Barry Bonds--Probably the greatest player of all-time, or just a hair below Babe Ruth
3. Roger Clemens--Best pitcher of all-time. Better than Cy Young and Walter Johnson
4. Craig Biggio--Did so many things well and has over 3,000 hits
5. Frank Thomas--In the conversation for best righthanded hitter to ever play the game
6. Mike Piazza--Best hitting-catcher of all-time
7. Tom Glavine--300 game winner, which we may never see again
8. Jeff Bagwell--Best first baseman since WWII (until Albert Pujols came along)
9. Mark McGwire--Best AB/HR ratio of all-time and 583 career dingers
10. Curt Schilling--Best K/BB ratio of all-time and probably the best postseason pitcher ever

The following players are Hall-worthy in my eyes, but because of the arbitrary ten player maximum I had to leave them off my imaginary ballot:

Tim Raines--Best percentage basestealer in the history of the game (Rickey Henderson clone)
Mike Mussina--Like Glavine, was very good for a long time
Larry Walker--Superb all-around player who was great away from Coors Field
Edgar Martinez--Best DH ever (sorry David Ortiz) and one of the best hitters period
Rafael Palmeiro--One of four players with 500+ homers and 3,000+ hits
Sammy Sosa--609 career bombs, only player with three 60 homer seasons
Fred McGriff--As many home runs as Lou Gehrig
Jeff Kent--Most home runs for a second baseman
Alan Trammell--Basically Barry Larkin

Let's hope the BBWAA actually votes someone in this year...

Questionable Cy Youngs: 1990-1999

1990 AL Bob Welch over Roger Clemens
Welch won 27 games--most in the majors--and had the best record in baseball. He also logged 238 innings of sub-three ERA ball. But his peripherals were rather pedestrian, and he was worth just three wins above replacement. Clemens was valued at more than ten. His ML-best 1.93 ERA was more than a full run lower than Welch's 2.95, which gave Rocket the best adjusted ERA (211) in baseball. Rocket also led the bigs in shutouts, HR/9 and K/BB ratio. Clemens would win again the next year, but he should have taken the trophy in 1990 as well.

1992 AL Dennis Eckersley over everyone else
Eck saved 51 games and was voted American League MVP as well as its Cy Young, but didn't deserve either award. He shouldn't have won MVP because nobody who pitches 80 innings is an MVP, even if he throws 80 perfect innings (which Eckersley did not). As for the Cy, well, there were several more deserving candidates. Runner-up Jack McDowell tossed more than 260 innings and won 20 games, but I would have gone with third-place Roger Clemens, who was worth close to nine wins. Rocket won the AL ERA crown (2.41) and posted the league's best WHIP and K/BB ratio. He also had the best ERA+ and most shutouts in baseball. Mike Mussina (8.2 bWAR, 2.54 ERA in 241 innings) was almost as good, but Clemens was clearly the league's best pitcher that year.

1993 AL Jack McDowell over everyone else
McDowell may have had the most wins (22) and shutouts (4) of any pitcher in baseball that year (on top of his 256-plus innings), but like Jack Morris he was more quantity than quality. Runner-up Randy Johnson rung up 308 strikeouts, almost twice as many as McDowell, and had a better ERA in just as many innings. An even better choice would have been Kevin Appier, who finished third despite accumulating 9.2 bWAR and winning the ERA title.

1998 NL Tom Glavine over everyone else
Glavine had one of the best seasons of his Hall of Fame caliber career, winning 20 games (most in baseball) with a 2.47 ERA in 229.1 innings, which was worth 6.1 bWAR. But he didn't lead the league in anything else, and generally speaking if a pitcher's only black ink falls in the wins department then he probably wasn't the league's best. Third-place Kevin Brown, with 100 more strikeouts and a better ERA in more innings, was clearly better. So too was Glavine's rotation-mate Greg Maddux, owner of baseball's best ERA (2.22), ERA+ and WHIP.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Questionable Cy Youngs: 2000-2009

Two winters ago I broke down all the MVP votes I had major issues with. Now it's time to look back at where the writers fell short in Cy Young voting.

2001 AL Roger Clemens over everyone else
With two-time defending champ Pedro Martinez making just 18 starts due to injury, the American League Cy Young award was up for grabs. Without a standout candidate, voters were forced to choose from a crowded field and ultimately selected Clemens, who at 38 turned in the best season of his Yankees career. Rocket received his sixth career trophy largely on the strength of his 20-3 record (the best in baseball, though he did not have the most wins) and 213 strikeouts (third most in the AL). Besides winning percentage, Clemens wasn't the league's best pitcher by any metric. Runner-up Mark Mulder was just as good if not better, but I would have gone with Clemens' teammate Mike Mussina, who finished fifth. On top of his 7.1 bWAR, more than any other AL hurler, Moose posted the league's second best ERA, WHIP, and walk rate. He also ranked second in strikeouts, shutouts, ERA+ and K/BB ratio. Those who leave Mussina off their Hall of Fame ballot will likely do so because he never won a Cy Young award, but if he didn't deserve to win in 2001 then he should have at least been a close second.

2002 AL Barry Zito over Pedro Martinez
Zito won 23 games for the Moneyball Oakland A's, most in the American League, but the rest of his numbers can't match Martinez's. Pedro, a 20-game winner himself, took two-thirds of the pitching Triple Crown with 239 strikeouts and a 2.26 ERA. His ERA led all of baseball along with his 202 ERA+, 0.92 WHIP, 6.5 H/9 and .833 winning percentage. Zito did have a 30-inning edge over Martinez that made him slightly more valuable according to bWAR, but Pedro was so much more dominant that the workload discrepancy should have been overlooked. Voters were probably tired of giving the award to Martinez, who won a trio of Cy Youngs in four years from 1997 through 2000, but he deserved a fourth in '02.

2003 NL Eric Gagne over everyone else
Gagne had a tremendous year for a closer, equaling John Smolt's NL saves record of 55 and becoming the first pitcher to record at least 50 saves in multiple seasons. However, one can only have so much of an impact in 82 innings, which barely amounts to nine full games of baseball (less than six percent of the season). Jason Schmidt, the runner-up and ERA champion, was worth three more wins than Gagne.  Schmidt wasn't as good as Mark Prior, though, who placed third but should have finished firt. Prior's 7.4 bWAR was twice that of Gagne's 3.7 and led all National League pitchers. Chicago's young flamethrower also ranked second in strikeouts, K/9, K/BB ratio, ERA+. and wins. Voters love to commemorate record-breaking performances with awards (see Roger Maris beating out Mickey Mantle in 1961, Maury Wills topping Willie Mays the year after, or Miguel Cabrera routing Mike Trout in 2012), and it seems that's what happened in '03. Interestingly enough, Prior, Schmidt and Gagne all broke down shortly after their impressive 2003 campaigns.

2004 NL Roger Clemens over Randy Johnson
After an injury plagued 2003 limited Johnson to just 18 starts of 4.26 ERA ball, the towering southpaw re-established himself as the National League's most dominant pitcher in 2004. Rediscovering the form that helped him win four straight Cy Youngs from 1999 through 2002, the Big Unit topped the big leagues in strikeouts (290) and WHIP (0.90) in addition to leading the NL in ERA+, H/9 and pitching WAR. Granted, Johnson was not quite as good as he was during his four straight Cy campaigns, but he was still easily the league's top pitcher and deserved his fifth Cy Young award in six seasons. But since the Diamondbacks were a terrible team that year (111 losses), Johnson's record was an unimpressive 16-14. Clemens, who went 18-4 for the playoff-bound Astros, had baseball's best winning percentage but lagged behind Johnson in most other meaningful categories, and therefore did not deserve his seventh and final Cy Young. Had they switched teams then Johnson, backed by the Killer Bee's of Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran (plus Jeff Kent) would have cleared 20 wins easily and walked away with the award.

2005 AL Bartolo Colon over Johan Santana
Colon  won a league-best 21 games, threw a good amount of innings and had a nice strikeout to walk ratio (3.65), but the rest of his numbers were merely very good. Santana, who finished third behind Colon and Mariano Rivera, led the majors with 238 strikeouts. He also posted the league's best ERA+, WHIP, H/9 and K/9, a dominant performance that made him the Junior Circuit's most valuable pitcher per bWAR. Seeing as how Santana was superior to Colon in virtually every category except wins, it's clear the voters got this one wrong.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

All-Best HOF Team

Here are the top-ranked Hall of Famers (per JAWS) at each position:

C Johnny Bench
1B Lou Gehrig
2B Rogers Hornsby
3B Mike Schmidt
SS Honus Wagner
LF Ted Williams
CF Willie Mays
RF Babe Ruth
SP Walter Johnson
RP Dennis Eckersley

Probably the greatest team of all-time. Barry Bonds outranks Teddy Ballgame and would replace him if/when Bonds gets elected. Likewise, a lot of Eckersley's value was accumulated during his days as a starting pitcher, so Mariano Rivera (who won't be eligible for induction until the end of the decade) is technically the best "true" reliever.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

All-Average HOF Team

After putting together the worst team of Hall of Famers yesterday, I decided to see what an "average" Hall of Fame team would look like. Listed below are the Cooperstown member closest to each position's average JAWS score:

C Gabby Hartnett
1B Eddie Murray
2B Ryne Sandberg
3B Home Run Baker
SS Joe Cronin
LF Billy Williams
CF Duke Snider
RF Paul Waner
SP Nolan Ryan
RP Rich Gossage

Needless to say, this is a much stronger squad than the all-worst team. The lineup is light on speed but has plenty of power, as well as arguably the greatest power pitcher of all-time in Nolan Ryan. I can't say I love the defense but this team should be able to hit more than enough to compensate for any shortcomings in the field.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

All-Worst HOF Team

What's the worst team that could be assembled of Hall of Famers, you ask? Well, here are the least-deserving Hall of Famers at each position, per JAWS (with position rankings in parentheses):

C Ray Schalk (38)
1B High Pockets Kelly (85)
2B Bill Mazeroski (50)
3B Freddie Lindstrom (70)
SS Rabbit Maranville (36)
LF Chick Hafey (56)
CF Lloyd Waner (108)
RF Ross Youngs (66)
SP Jesse Haines (296)
RP Rollie Fingers (26)

Not many surprises here, since many of these guys often come up in discussions about Cooperstown's weakest links. All except Maranville and Fingers were voted in by the Veteran's Committee, which has much lower standards than the BBWAA when it comes to selecting Hall of Famers. As such, Fingers and Mazeroski are the only players here who played the bulk of their career after World War II.

Still, not a terrible team by any means--just woefully short on power.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Manning Sets TD Record

Manning torched the Texans for 4 TDs and 400 passing yards 
With a 25-yard touchdown pass to Julius Thomas yesterday, Peyton Manning notched his 51st TD pass of the year to set a new single season record. Fittingly enough, the guy Manning passed is arguably his biggest rival as well as the quarterback he is most often compared to: Tom Brady, who notched 50 during New England's undefeated 2007 regular season.

The record-setting TD was Manning's fourth of the day against Houston's defense. It came with about four and a half minutes remaining in the fourth and made the score 37-13 in Denver's favor. An absent-minded Thomas dropped the history-making ball as he went to celebrate, but thankfully Eric Decker (who hauled in a pair of Manning touchdowns earlier in the quarter) retrieved it and stuffed it in his jersey for safe-keeping.

Manning will try to add to his record on Sunday in Oakland as the Broncos, who clinched the AFC west with their win over Houston, look to clinch the top seed in the AFC (and thus secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs). He'll also attempt to topple Drew Brees's record for most passing yards in a single season, set in 2011 (Manning needs 265 to tie). He has a great chance to do both against a soft Raiders defense.

Whatever happens in Week 17, Denver's 37 year-old signal-caller is a sure bet to take home the MVP award, which will be the fifth of his distinguished career and provide more ammunition for those who believe he is the greatest quarterback of his generation, if not all-time.

14 Baseball Players to Watch in 2014

Can Pujols bounce back from a forgettable 2013? (SportingNews)
1. Albert Pujols
The Machine broke down in 2013, appearing in just 99 games and none after July 26th. He wasn't very productive when he did suit up, batting .258/.330/.437 (all career worsts) and looking slow in the field and on the bases. Various lower body injuries hampered his power--his .179 ISO was the lowest mark of his career and the fourth straight season in which it declined--and robbed him of the agility that helped him win two Gold Gloves and steal as many as 16 bases in a season (twice). All of his peripheral stats are trending in the wrong direction, which means he could be even worse in 2014.

Then again, writing him off as washed up may prove to be immature. The Angels are hoping that with extra rest, their $240 million first baseman can come back strong next year--the third of their ten-year pact. Pujols will be 34, young enough that a rebound is well within the realm of possibility considering what David Ortiz, Lance Berkman, Derek Jeter and Carlos Beltran have done at similar ages in the recent past. It's not hard to imagine given that Pujols hit better in June and July and was still on pace to approach 30 home runs and 100 RBI. His best days are behind him, but if he can stay healthy next year he figures to be one of the game's better hitters.

2. Robinson Cano
Speaking of ten-year, $240 million contracts...How will Cano fare in his new diggs on the West Coast, away from Yankee Stadium's short right field porch?

3. Dan Haren
Once a borderline Cy Young candidate as well as a model of consistency, Haren has endured back-to-back down years. However, there are plenty of indications that he's far from done, such as his 4.25 K/BB ratio and 1.27 WHIP over that span. He also pitched markedly better in the second half last year, posting a 3.29 ERA from the end of June onward. Moving to Dodger Stadium and the huge parks of the NL West can only help the 33 year-old as he looks to return to form with Los Angeles.

4. B. J. Upton
Justin Upton's older brother was a massive bust in the first year of his five-year, $75 million deal with the Braves, batting .184/.268/.289 and striking out in more than one-third of his plate appearances. All told, he was worth roughly two wins below replacement. He's always been a free-swinger, but in 2013 mechanical issues prevented him from making contact with any sort of regularity. Atlanta hopes that he can re-tool his swing over the winter and at least be a serviceable center fielder from this point forward, if not the player who averaged 19 home runs and 36 steals per year from 2007 through 2012. At 29, his odds of bouncing back are pretty good.

5. Matt Adams
Displayed plenty of promise filling in for Allen Craig, swatting 17 home runs in just 296 official at-bats. With Craig slated to replace Carlos Beltran in right field, Adams will have the first base job all to himself. The 25 year-old slugger seems poised for a breakout.

6. CC Sabathia
Coming off the worst season of his career, Sabathia must adjust to his age (33) and the diminishing velocity that comes with it. New York's postseason hopes depend on it.

7. Wil Myers
The 2012 Minor League Player of the Year took home 2013 AL Rookie of the Year honors despite playing just 88 games, becoming the first American League position player to win the award while playing in fewer than 100 games (Bob Horner and Willie McCovey did so in the NL). An instant star, the 23 year-old should get even better in his first full big league campaign.

8. Ryan Braun
Busted for ties to Biogenesis in 2013, Braun served the suspension many felt he deserved after testing positive for elevated testosterone levels in October 2011. All eyes will be on Braun, now 30, as he tries to legitimize what was shaping up to be a Cooperstown-caliber career.

9. Matt Kemp
An All-Star as recently as 2012, Kemp has seen his stock plummet in the wake of two injury-marred seasons. 2013 was particularly frustrating for the Dodger center fielder, who made three separate trips to the Disabled List and was shut down for the playoffs to undergo ankle surgery. Still, he's only 29 and not far removed from his MVP-caliber 2011. Like Jacoby Ellsbury coming off his down 2012, Kemp is a very good center fielder with health concerns, a giant contract and one monster season on his resume. I see him bouncing back, but probably not to his previous level of excellence.

10. Yasiel Puig
Apologies to Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, but Puig is hands-down the most exciting player in baseball.

11. Prince Fielder
Can moving to Texas put a stop to two years of decline? We'll find out.

12. John Lackey
Coming off Tommy John surgery, Lackey reinvented himself and had his best season in years. 2014 is a contract year for him, so the 35 year-old is going to have to do it again if he wants one more big payday.

13. Derek Jeter
Jeter's future has never been more uncertain. Injuries prevented him from playing all but 17 games last year and figures to miss additional time in 2014, his 20th big league season. The Yankees would be wise to move the defensively-challenged Jeter to third base during A-Rod's suspension, especially since only two men in baseball history (Honus Wagner and Luke Appling) have ever accumulated more than 400 plate appearances while playing shortstop at 40, which is how old Jeter's going to be on June 26th. Still, Jeter is one of the greatest to ever play the position, so perhaps he can return from injury and hold off Father Time for one more year, as Mariano Rivera did.

14. Miguel Cabrera
He won the Triple Crown in 2012 and would have done so again in 2013 if not for Chris Davis's power outburst. Cabrera compensated by winning the sabermetric Triple Crown. So which one will he win in 2014? Don't be surprised if he takes both.

13 Best Baseball Players of 2013

Trout was once again the best player in baseball (ESPN)
Here's my list for the 13 best baseball players in 2013. Their 2012 ranking is in parentheses.

1. Mike Trout (1)
There was no sophomore slump for Trout, who was once again the best all-around player in baseball as well as its most valuable per WAR.

2. Miguel Cabrera (2)
Cabrera cruised to his second straight AL MVP trophy, topping his Triple Crown season of 2012. He won the "sabermetric Triple Crown," leading the majors with his .348 batting average, .442 OBP and .636 slugging. His 44 home runs and 137 RBI were eclipsed by only Chris Davis.

3. Chris Davis (UR)
Crush was baseball's best slugger in 2013, pacing the majors with 53 home runs, 138 RBI, 96 extra base hits, 370 total bases and 11.0 AB/HR ratio. The Orioles first baseman also clubbed 42 doubles and slugged .634.

4. Andrew McCutchen (5)
The National League MVP batted .317/.404/.508 with 21 home runs and 27 steals. Coupled with his strong defense in center field, McCutchen's performance was worth 8.2 bWAR and helped Pittsburgh to its first winning season since 1992.

5. Robinson Cano (6)
Delivered another monster season in his walk year, compiling 7.6 bWAR and keeping New York in the playoff hunt until mid-September. The Seattle Mariners rewarded him with a ten-year, $240 million contract that ties Albert Pujols for the third richest deal in baseball history, behind only the two signed by Cano's former teammate Alex Rodriguez.

6. Paul Goldschmidt (UR)
In just his second full season, Goldschmidt topped the Senior Circuit with 36 home runs, 125 RBI, 332 total bases and a .951 OPS. That, combined with Gold Glove defense at first base, amounted to 7.1 bWAR and made him MVP runner-up.

7. Matt Carpenter (UR)
Carpenter, a second baseman with terrific batting stats, had a legitimate case as the National League's most valuable player. The Cardinals' leadoff man led the majors with 126 runs, 199 hits and 55 doubles in addition to batting .318/.392/.481.

8. Clayton Kershaw (HM)
Kershaw continued to earn comparisons with Sandy Koufax by winning his third straight ERA crown and receiving his second Cy Young award. He also posted the lowest WHIP in the majors, led the NL in strikeouts and was the most valuable pitcher in baseball according to bWAR.

9. Joey Votto (11)
Votto took a lot of heat for totaling just 73 RBI, but the rest of his offensive numbers leapt off the page. His 135 walks were most in the bigs, and his .435 OBP led the National League. More impressively, he played every game after a torn meniscus limited him to 111 games in 2012.

10. Josh Donaldson (UR)
The Oakland third baseman came out of nowhere to post an eight-win season that saw him bat .301/.384/.499 with 24 home runs and 93 RBI.

11. Carlos Gomez (UR)
Gomez had the kind of season B.J. Upton was always supposed to have: 24 home runs and 40 steals in 47 attempts. B-R estimates his defensive prowess in center field, which netted him his first Gold Glove, was worth more than four and a half wins by itself.

12. Yadier Molina (12)
Molina enjoyed another tremendous season behind the plate for St. Louis, winning his sixth straight Gold Glove and setting career highs in batting average, runs, hits, doubles, RBI, and extra base hits

Tie 13. Adrian Beltre (8)
Added another Hall of Fame caliber season to his resume by batting .315, belting 30 home runs and leading the major league with 199 base knocks. His usual stellar defense dropped off, but his bat remains elite.

Tie 13. Evan Longoria (UR)
The Rays returned to the postseason largely because Longoria rebounded from an injury-marred 2012 to play 160 games--a career high--and crack 32 home runs while playing a terrific third base.

Honorable Mentions: Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee, Buster Posey, Yasiel Puig, Troy Tulowitzki, Adam Jones, Shin-Soo Choo, Jayson Werth

Off the List: Ryan Braun (3), Josh Hamilton (7), Justin Verlander (9), Prince Fielder (10)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Choo Deserved Ellsbury Money

Boras and Choo weren't wrong to ask for Ellsbury money
Shin-Soo Choo could have been a Yankee, had they been willing to shell out $13 million more to secure his services. New York made him a seven-year, $140 million offer, which Choo rejected because he wanted a contract to match Jacoby Ellsbury's. Rather than up the ante, the Yankees didn't budge, just like they didn't budge for Robinson Cano.  As a consolation prize they went out and got Carlos Beltran for about $100 million less. Choo over played his hand, settling for $130 million from the Texas Rangers instead.

But should Choo have settled for anything less than what Ellsbury got? I don't think so, but can see why he did. Ellsbury is more than a year younger than Choo, who turns 32 next summer. Ellsbury also plays center field and plays it well. Choo has never had a year like the one Ellsbury had in 2011, and while he too was a center fielder in 2013 he was absolutely abysmal there. It goes without saying that he will hold down a corner in 2014, wherever he lands, and the only corner outfielder to outearn Ellsbury was Manny Ramirez. Choo is a great ballplayer, but he is not Manny Ramirez.

You could certainly make the argument that he's better than Ellsbury, though. Look how their numbers compare since 2007, the year Ellsbury debuted:

Choo (2,947 AB): .290/.392/.468 (137 OPS+), 101 HR, 100 SB, 24.5 bWAR
Ellsbury (2,912 AB): .297/.350/.439 (108 OPS+), 65 HR, 241 SB, 21 bWAR

Even taking into account Ellsbury's superiority on the basepaths and in the fields, Choo does more than enough with the stick to compensate. Choo's an on-base machine and has much more power than Ellsbury, who has never topped double digit home runs in any season outside of his monster 2011. Choo strikes out more, a lot more, but his batting average is still comparable to Ellsbury's, which is more than a little inflated by Fenway Park (he's a .288 hitter everywhere else).

Another way in which Choo comes out on top is durability. Choo's played at least 144 games in four of the past five years. Ellsbury has done so just twice, and played 92 games in 2010 and 2012 combined. As Joe Posnanski likes to say. one of the most underrated talents in life is simply showing up.

So rather than bat at the top of New York's lineup, Choo will be setting the table for Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre. Given how old and decrepit the Yankees are looking these days, he'll probably have a much better chance to win his first World Series ring with Texas, even if he did have to settle for $10 million less.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Baseball Brothers: The Alous

Jesus, Matty and Felipe played in the same outfield in 1963
Two decades after Joe DiMaggio, Dom DiMaggio, and Vince DiMaggio became baseball's first trio of great sibling ballplayers, the Alou brothers came over from the Dominican Republic and left their own footprint on the game. All debuted with San Francisco (where the DiMaggios played minor league ball) and were teammates of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal, spending six seasons with the Giants before switching teams; Felipe and Matty via trade and Jesus in the 1968 expansion draft.

They were teammates in 1963, and batted in the same inning on September 10th--Jesus's first game (they were retired in order). Five days later, they were the first set of three siblings to play in the same outfield with Matty in left, Felipe in center, and Jesus in right. Matty and Jesus remained teammates the next two years, and Felipe and Matty were reunited on the 1973 Yankees.

All were primarily outfielders who put together long, distinguished careers. Here's a look at their accomplishments:

Felipe Alou (1958-1974)
The oldest Alou brother was also the most accomplished. He played the longest (17 years), made the most All-Star teams (3) and compiled the most impressive statistics. He was also the only one who could hit for any power. Jesus and Matty never reached double digit home runs in a season, totaling just 63 between them. Felipe smashed more than 200, including a career high of 31 in 1966. He finished fifth in the NL MVP voting that year, leading the major leagues with 122 runs, 218 hits, and batting .327/.361/.533 while batting leadoff for the Braves, setting the table for Hank Aaron, Joe Torre and Rico Carty. Felipe was the only brother not to win a World Series ring as a player (Matty earned one and Jesus got two, all with the Oakland A's 70's dynasty).

After retiring in 1974 he worked for the Expos organization. In 1992 he was promoted from bench coach to field manager, becoming the first Dominican-born manager in MLB history. He managed the club into 2001, overseeing the development of several stars such as Larry Walker, Delino DeShields, Marquis Grissom, Pedro Martinez, and Vladimir Guerrero (and his son, Moises Alou, who went on to become an even better player than his father and two uncles). Alou was named Manager of the Year in 1994 but was unable to do much in later years when Montreal's front office traded away most of his top talent. He was the Detroit Tigers' bench coach in 2002, then managed Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants for four years before retiring from the dugout.

Matty Alou (1960-1974)
Matt was the smallest and thus never hit for power, though he did pace the majors with 41 doubles in 1969. His 231 hits that year were tops in the majors as well, and he made his second straight All-Star team. Unlike Jesus, he compensated for his lack of pop with solid speed, swiping 156 bases in his career and reaching double digits every year from 1965 through 1972. More of a fourth outfielder with San Francisco, he didn't become a star until he was traded to Pittsburgh following the 1965 season, where he was flanked by Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell in the Pirates outfield.

Under the tutelage of Harry Walker, Alou became one of the league's better hitters. His .342 batting average led the majors in 1966 and he finished ninth in the MVP voting. He batted .338 the following year, .332 in the Year of the Pitcher and .331 in 1969, placing third, second, and fourth in the batting race. He fell off to .297 in 1970 and was promptly traded to St. Louis, where he rebounded to bat .315 in '71. After hitting .307 and .295 in 1972 and '73, Alou dropped off to .198 in 1974 and played just 48 games.  He retired after that, preserving his .307 career batting average. Alou was inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007 alongside Omar Vizquel. He passed away in 2011 at the age of 72.

Jesus Alou (1963-1979)
Jesus was the youngest and and the worst of the trio, even though he was considered to be the better prospect. His career bWAR total is 0.9, and yet somehow this replacement level player managed more than 4,500 big league plate appearances. He didn't provide nearly enough power (32 career home runs) or speed (31 stolen bases) for a corner outfielder, and just once played more than 130 games in a season. He was so walk-averse at the plate that he made his two brothers--a couple of free swingers themselves--look like Ted Williams. Jesus worked 106 unintentional walks in his career, or one every 43 plate appearances.

He did have a few seasons where he hit for some nice (empty) averages, but on the whole his career can be considered a disappointment. He never made an All-Star team and was a part-timers once he reached 30. After his playing days were over he went on to become a scout for the Expos, his former team, and has served as the director of Dominican Operations for both the Marlins and Red Sox. He received the Pioneer Award from the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008 and still works for Boston.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What's in a Name?

On paper, the New York Yankees have assembled a ridiculous amount of (former) talent. If the Yankees had this team five years ago, they probably would have been the greatest team of all-time.

C Brian McCann
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Brian Roberts
3B Alex Rodriguez
SS Derek Jeter
LF Alfonso Soriano
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
RF Ichiro Suzuki
DH Carlos Beltran
BE Brett Gardner
BE Kelly Johnson
BE Vernon Wells
BE Brendan Ryan

Age and injuries have reduced this roster to what figures to be a .500 ish team. Everyone listed above is on the wrong side of 30, with several coming off major injuries. Minus McCann, the projected starting infield got into 153 games last year combined. Except for Ellsbury and McCann, none of these guys are the players they once were, though Soriano and Beltran were productive last year and Gardner somehow manages to be wildly underrated despite playing for the most famous baseball team in the world.  

SP CC Sabathia
SP Hiroki Kuroda
SP Ivan Nova
SP Michael Pineda

Pineda hasn't thrown a major league pitch since 2011, Sabathia is coming off the worst season of his career, and Kuroda is going to be 39. Nova made just 20 starts last year, and the year before that his ERA was over 5. David Phelps, the projected fifth starter (unless New York signs Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez) has only 23 big league starts under his belt and had an ERA close to five last year. The bullpen should be better, but Dave Robertson is never going to be Mariano Rivera.

It's no wonder everyone's predicting gloom and doom for the Yankees in 2014.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hodges Hall-Worthy

Taking all of his accomplishments into consideration, Hodges is a Hall of Famer
I've been thinking about the Hall of Fame a lot lately, mainly about how it's such a mess (watch Greg Maddux make it in, but nobody else) and how the entire voting procedure needs to be overhauled. First and foremost, the arbitrary ten-player limit on ballots must be removed. It serves absolutely no purpose. Second, the standard for induction must be lowered from 75 percent, a barrier that doesn't make the Hall any more exclusive than a simple majority and serves only to prolong the wait players must endure before they finally get the call.

Scaling down the 50 percent sounds like a big drop-off, but it isn't when you consider that every player, except for one, who crossed that threshold was ultimately inducted into Cooperstown. That one player is Gil Hodges, of course, and he should be in, too. He spent 15 years on the ballot and exceeded 60 percent three times, topping out at 63.4 percent in his last try.

Now, a lot of people don't think Hodges is Hall-worthy because he wasn't dominant when he played. It is true that he never led the league in any significant offensive statistic of the day. That is reflected in his poor MVP showings--he never finished higher than seventh, and he was often overshadowed by his Hall of Fame teammates Roy Campanella (a three-time winner), Duke Snider and Jackie Robinson. His 120 career OPS+ is good but nothing special, tying him for 356th all-time with the likes of Willie Horton, Shawn Green, Paul O'Neill, and Richie Sexson, none of whom are getting into the Hall without a ticket.

But if Hodges wasn't dominant, he didn't miss by much. He had a terrific nine-year run starting in 1949. He batted .284/.372/.515, good for  130 OPS+, while averaging 32 home runs, 108 RBI and 95 runs per year. He drove in more than 100 runs in the first seven of those seasons, made the All-Star team every year but one, and twice topped 40 homers. He ranked as the league's seventh most valuable player, compiling 40.9 of his 45 bWAR during this span.  In the 1950s he was exceeded only by Duke Snider in home runs (310) and RBI (1,001). Hodges also had a great defensive reputation, known for his exceptional hands which helped him win the first three Gold Gloves awarded to National League first basemen.

But great defense at first base isn't nearly as valuable as great defense at premium positions,and  looking strictly at Hodges' numbers, he doesn't quite measure up with his fellow first basemen. JAWS rates him 33rd all-time at the position, in the same neighborhood as Don Mattingly, Carlos Delgado, and Mark Grace. The only two Hall of Famers below him are Jim Bottomley and High Pockets Kelly, both of whom are considered to be among the weakest players in the Hall. There's not a single Hall of Famer among his ten most similar batters, a list that includes good-not-great players such as Norm Cash, George Foster, Jack Clark, Rocky Colavito, and Lee May. As a player, Hodges was very good but falls just short of the Hall.

But Hodges should get extra credit for his other accomplishments. He was one of the fabled "Boys of Summer" who brought Brooklyn its first and only World Series title in 1955. It was Hodges who plated both Dodger runs in Brooklyn's 2-0 victory in Game 7, giving Johnny Podres the run support he needed to beat the Yankees. One of the most popular players in Brooklyn history, Hodges returned to New York as one of the original members of the horrid '62 Mets, later managing them to their first World Series championship in 1969. He famously finished his career with more grand slams than anyone except for Lou Gehrig. When he retired his 370 home runs ranked tenth all-time and second only to another great first baseman--Jimmie Foxx--among righthanded hitters.

More importantly, Hodges was an outstanding teammate and human being, a class act who, like Stan Musial, played the game the right way and never caused trouble with anyone. When he died suddenly in 1972 at the age of 47, more than 10,000 people came to his wake. If the character clause can be used to keep Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out, why can't it work the other way?

So yeah, I'll readily admit that on numbers alone, Hodges isn't a Hall of Famer. But throw his managerial skills and status as a Brooklyn legend, and I think that's just enough to put him over the top. Lord knows the Hall of Fame would be a better place with Hodges than without him.

Thankful for Tucker

Tucker has made 33 consecutive field goals
Like millions of Americans, I play fantasy football. "Play" is the wrong word, I think, because it implies that there's actually some degree of fun involved. Personally, I find fantasy to be much more frustrating and agonizing than it should be. Drafting is fun, trades are fun, and winning is fun, but that accounts for 10, maybe 15 percent of the fantasy season  I've wasted way too much time scouring the waiver wire, pouring over projections and tinkering with my roster.

Then Sunday rolls around and it becomes a full-blown obsession. I compulsively check my phone from one o'clock onward, watching the points pile up (or not), rooting for my players to score and hoping the other guys' don't. Fantasy consumes my entire day. When I win, it's more of a relief than anything, especially when ESPN pegs me as a 25 point favorite. When I lose, I go back to the drawing board and try to determine where I went wrong.

For much of the season, my most glaring weakness was my kicker, which is strange considering there are plenty of good kickers to be had on the waiver wire since nobody carries more than one. Well, after whiffing on multiple kickers, I've finally found my guy, and just in time for the playoffs.

I've heard fantasy football teams compared to dreams in that they're only interesting to the person talking about them. You snagged Philip Rivers off waivers? Great. Took Aaron Rodgers with your first pick? That blows.

So if that's the case, then you probably don't want to hear my ramble about my kicker issues and how I solved them at the season's 11th hour. That's fine. Feel free to stop reading and check out some of my other content (hint hint: it's mostly baseball), or click off my blog altogether.

But maybe you've had your own kicker-induced headaches/nightmares/frustrations this season. Perhaps you're still looking for a solution. I probably would be, too, except that I've found the answer to my kicker woes. His name is Justin Tucker.

Quick backstory: last year I was undone by Mason Crosby, who converted just 21 of his 33 field goal attempts (63.6 percent). By the time I realized the error of my ways and swapped him out for Dan Bailey, it was already too late. I finished 8-7, narrowly missing the playoffs because I lost or tied several games that would have been victories with a merely capable kicker.

This year I was determined to avoid making the same mistake. Let Crosby be someone else's problem, I told myself. I would avoid outdoor kickers (who must contend with rain, snow, and gale-force winds) like the plague. Not surprisingly, Matt Bryant was my draft day selection. At the time, I was pretty happy about that. Bryant led the league in field goal percentage a few years back and has been one of the NFL's most consistent kickers over the past decade. I figured Atlanta's Matt Ryan-helmed passing attack would give him plenty of scoring opportunities.

Before long, my master plan had been reduced to ashes. Ryan's top two receivers--Roddy White and Julio Jones--both got hurt, and Tony Gonzalez, as great as he still is, can only do so much at this stage in his career. Atlanta's offense sputtered and Bryant's role was greatly diminished. As a result, in ESPN leagues he ranks 20th among kickers in points scored, meaning he's not worthy of a starting spot in my ten-team league. Before long I was looking to the waiver wire for help.

I settled on Garrett Hartley of the New Orleans Saints. Unlike Atlanta, the Saints have one of the league's most explosive offenses. On top of that I already had Drew Brees, so I figured it made sense to get Hartley's extra point every time he threw a touchdown and would settle for field goals when Brees's drives fell just short. While my logic was sound, Hartley's been far from automatic, missing eight of his 30 attempts thus far and ranking 19th at the position, exactly one spot higher than Bryant. That wasn't going to cut it, and when New Orleans' Week 7 bye came around I found myself in need of a new kicker.

I scooped up Nick Novak, San Diego's kicker, and he's been pretty good (eighth). Unfortunately, he was on my team for all of two minutes before I cut him in favor of Detroit's David Akers, who paced the NFL in field goal attempts four out of the past five years.  The opportunities just haven't been there for him this year (only 20 attempts), and as a result he ranks 30th among kickers. I rode him out for three weeks, then cut bait just before Thanksgiving.

By this point I was extremely fed up with myself. Nothing was working. I was in the playoff hunt and couldn't afford to let a kicker sink my season. Desperate for a stable solution, I decided to go out and grab the best kicker on the waiver wire, regardless of team, reputation, or schedule, and settled on Baltimore's Justin Tucker, who was coming off a 15 point game against the Jets. Nicknamed "Mr. Automatic," Tucker hasn't missed a field goal attempt since Week 2. That he had several favorable matchups in front of him (Pittsburgh, Minnesota) made him even more attractive. I was instantly rewarded with a 19 point performance against the Steelers. Tucker won me over. He had me at hello. I committed to him for the rest of the season, even as he was held without a field goal versus Minnesota in Week 14.

Now, thanks to his incredible performance against Detroit last night (six-for-six, connecting from 49, 53, and 61 yards out), Tucker has leapfrogged Stephen Gostkowski and Matt Prater to become fantasy's top-scoring kicker. I have to say, after putting up with subpar kickers all season long, it feels good to have the best. One less thing to worry about as I prepare for my postseason. Now if I could only find a halfway decent wide receiver...