March 2009

Fire Brand

New Fire Brand post. 

Read it if you wish, comment if you wish, and respond to the response…if you wish.

Quick thoughts…

  • Why I think Curt Schilling is a Hall of Famer.  The stuff within the article doesn’t stray too much from what I have expressed here in the past.  But what better time to write another one when Schilling retires.  And what better place to post it then a Red Sox platform.  Of course, when Schilling is actually eligible for induction in five years, it may an even better time to write it.  But that is a long time…
  • Great article on why managers shouldn’t speak.  Ok, they should speak.  But there is a reason there are General Managers, and there are reasons there are projection systems such as PECOTA. 
  • Rob Neyer got me reading USS Mariner a while back.  And Cameron posts an interesting article on what to do with Jeff Clement, a promising young player who cannot catch well-yet.  But can swing the stick. 
  • If you have ESPN Insider, then watch the video, and most of all read the words that are with it.  Keith Law is the scout, ESPN the site.  And it is in regards to Stephen Strasburg.  I guess “SS” could pitch in the majors right now, but it may not be a great idea.  
  • Both Keith Law and Rob Neyer have linked to this Bonds article.  I haven’t actually read it…yet.  But will read it shortly.

Link, not Zelda.

  • For all the bitching and complaining we all do about the WBC…it is actually a pretty cool thing.  It, of course, does a lot for the game internationally, and I personally enjoy watching the televised WBC games much more than televised Spring Training games.  I happened to catch the final few innings of the championship game last night, as Yu Darvish blew the lead.  Japan quickly regained it in the following half-inning, and Darvish ended up closing it out, luckily (and “stuff-ily” referring to his actual ability to pitch well).  The tournament may not be entirely “fair” as the US is still trying to get in “baseball shape,” while other countries are already in that “baseball shape.”  So the timing of the event may need adjusting, but the concept is pretty cool.  I believe someone already suggested this, but having it every four years might be better, and having it after the MLB season should be better too.  Every two years would be fun, but I don’t know how many players will want to play more baseball when November rolls around.  If it is every four years, then more players will probably want to play, knowing they don’t have to do it every other year, just once every four.  Since it is still kind of new, they could do it two years from now, in November, and then wait four years for the following one (2015). 
  • Bert Blyleven was speaking on ESPN about Curt Schilling’s Hall of Fame candidacy, and he was “pro-Schilling.”  I agree with Bert about Schilling being worthy, and I have no problem with Blyleven himself getting in, or for Blyleven himself being an advocate–publicly–for his own enhrinement.  But Blyleven’s best chance is to have the Sabermetrics followers boost his candidacy, something that has been done a lot up until now.  But Blyleven said that he thinks Morris should get in too, something that the stat-heads are not going to like.  I personally don’t believe an ERA+ of 105 deserves to be enshrined, but that is just my opinion.  And Bly thinking that Morris is worthy probably won’t hurt his own chances, but he should get on board and start spurting out some “Sabermetric” stats if he really wants to get in–which seems to be the case.  And of course thos stats only hurt Morris’ chances. 
  • Bill Simmons wrote a decent article about stats, but mostly stats in basketball.  But he does refer to some baseball stuff within.  But Bill, I don’t think Pecota is a “stat.”  It’s a projection system, buddy.  :) 

NL East Preview.

Flawed.

Of course the bottom teams in the division are extremely flawed. 

But the top teams all have things that make you say they just aren’t good enough to make it to the postseason, too.

The AL East has three teams that may have flaws when compared to each other.  But their flaws really aren’t much compared to the other quality teams in the game. 

Let us get on to the predictions…projected win total included.

New York Mets: 89-73:  Because of these aforementioned “flaws,” I choose not to project anyone to win 90 games in this division.  The Mets of course have their four great players returning: Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, and Johan Santana.  And they addressed their bullpen woes with the likes of; JJ Putz, KRod, and Sean Green, giving them what should be at worst, an above average pen. 

There are definite questions about their rotation.  John Maine needs to come around for their rotation to be solid.  They of course have their anchor, who also happens to be the best pitcher in baseball, in the form of Santana.  And they re-signed Oliver Perez, who is really a number 3 starter, penciled in right now as a number two.  Now, Perez could still potentially be better than a 3, and most likely will not be any worse, but I just can’t say he will be any better than that until he proves us otherwise.  The back end of the rotation has some options, none very compelling, but options nonetheless.  So the rotation won’t be terrible, but it probably won’t be at the top either. 

The offense has a few issues.  Will Daniel Murphy be able to field second well enough?  If so, then it will work out very well.  But if he doesn’t end up being good enough on defense, he will have to shift back to the outfield, making him less valuable.  The catcher is an albatross in the lineup, so that is another vulnerable spot for the Mets, another “flaw.” 

But even with a few offensive weaknesses, a percieved lack of “mental toughness” and a questionable back end of the rotation, they do have star players that they can basically pencil in to do great things.  And holding leads once they are gained isn’t such a bad thing either.

Philadelphia Phillies:  88-74:  The reigning champs will stay competitive throughout, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they won the division again.  But they downgraded in left field (although that may not be too significant an issue this season as Ibanez should still be a solid player in 2009).  Cole Hamels has had a few issues, and it isn’t unlikely that his value is less than it was in 2008.  Jaime Moyer should come back down to Earth.  Blanton can serve a decent role, but may get hit around in Philly, something that was less likely to happen in Oakland.  At this point, Brett Myers’ performance is difficult to project.  And as Baseball Prospectus stated, Brad Lidge will blow at least a few saves this year, that is almost a certainty. 

The offense of course consists of Chase Utley, one of the five best players in baseball.  The overrated, but still good Ryan Howard.  Jimmy Rollins.  And a few other solid or above average hitters.  There are a few weak links in the lineup, catcher and first base.  But the team will be above average offensively I would think anyway.

The Phillies are capable of winning this division again.  But I think they fall just short of the Mets.  However, either team could win.

Atlanta Braves:  84-78:  The Braves rotation is solid.  Solid…but far from spectacular.  Javier Vazquez, Derek Lowe, and Jair Jurrjens gives them a solid 1-2-3 punch.  And the somewhat unknown Kawakami may give them a solid 1-2-3-4.  But we don’t know exactly how good Kenshin will be.  Glavine may not have much left, but everything points to an above average rotation if health is on their side. 

For some reason, I think Garrett Anderson has a solid season.  I don’t know if it is just the weaker NL or what.  But I think that he is at least better than he was last season.  Chipper should play 120 games while putting up really good numbers, although probably not as good as last year.  I am not a fan of Casey Kotchman, but it could be worse, and at least he is just entering his prime, which should be a good thing. 

The team definitely has some weaknesses.   No ace.  A powerless first baseman.  But they have some strength in the Minors, and have a couple solid “innings eaters” at the top of their rotation. 

Florida Marlins:  81-81:  Sure there is plenty of room for growth when there are so many young players.  But maybe the pieces don’t come together just yet.  It is difficult to project this team since they seem to surprise so often.  I heard PECOTA didn’t like them, but they seem to be at least a little better than that.  And since they seem to come out of nowhere at times, right now seems like one of those times.  There are too many question marks to put them higher, for me at least, and not enough deficiencies to put them much lower.  But how well will Cameron Maybin perform?  How will Anibel “no-hit” Sanchez come back from surgery?  How good are some of these young pitchers to begin with?  They are an intriguing case no doubt.  But I can’t project them any higher with so many unknowns.  Although, I may be a bit more optimistic on them then some of the other projections.

Washington Nationals:  75-87:  This Nationals offense, as Rob Neyer pointed out, has some potential.  But to project this team any higher would mean that I would have to have faith in hitters such as Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, and Nick Johnson.  And also have faith in a pitching staff that right now does not warrant any faith.  A definite lack of faith in some of this teams integral parts 

Now, I could talk myself into a few of those pitchers doing better than we’d expect; Cabrera, Zimmerman, Olson.  But Cabrera has always had trouble with his control, so expecting him to “get it together” isn’t logical.  And Scotty Olsen has some makeup issues as well.  Zimmerman is very young, and young pitchers are, well, see: Clay Buccholz, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Homer Bailey, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc…etc.

The franchise is heading in a better direction, which was really the only place that they could go, unless Matt Millen took over the daily operations.  But they still are too far away from making any real noise.

  

The ultimate heist?

Hypothetical situation…

The trading deadline is upon us, and the Angels have once again built up a secure lead in the AL West.  The A’s have definitely been stronger than the 2008 team that fell well-short, and the Angels have been weaker than their 100-win club.  But the Angels have a seven game lead over the second-place Athletics, a lead that the objective and intelligent GM Billy Beane understands isn’t likely to made up in only two months.  Not when the A’s are solid but unspectacular.  And not when the odds are against Beane’s squad, something Beane values highly. 

But as we guessed, the Angels offense has struggled this season.  They didn’t address their OBP issues, and they didn’t address their power issues.  They continue to win with pitching, and a little defense here and there.  But the team failed to address the offense as much as they probably should.  And in a fairly weak division, their deficiencies will once again not be exposed until the postseason. 

Over near the bay, The A’s are actively shopping Matt Holliday, a scenario that everyone knew would happen if the A’s did not have a realistic shot at postseason play when the deadline creeped up.  Holliday of course, is a free agent at the end of the year.  And Beane is very unlikely to extend the left fielders contract, since Beane just doesn’t do that very often.  Not for that kind of money anyway.

Holliday struggled, relative to his past performance for the first few months of the season, adjusting to unfamiliar pitching, and a league widely known to have more talent.  But during the months of June and July, Holliday has been tearing the cover off the ball to the tune of .300/.370/.520.  And he seems to be getting even better, as unfamiliar pitchers are now looking like “tee’s”. 

So Billy places a phone call, dialed to none other than Angels General Manager Tony Reagins.  Billy asks for a few young, promising player in exchange for two months of Matt Holliday.  And Reagins cannot let the opportunity pass…

What if?  

What if Beane entertains the idea of compromising a little of the Angels future, at the expense of giving Anaheim a better shot at winning a ring? 

What does Beane care if the Angles win anyway.  At this point, Beane would play the odds, and the odds involved the A’s being a longshot to make the playoffs.  If he can take a few players from a division rival, in making a move he would mak–almost definitely, then the better. 

I know that teams seem skeptical to make blockbuster trades within the division, and it is somewhat understandeable.  But Matt Holliday, if this scenario does in fact occur, would be one of the best available options.  The Angels did not hesitate to trade for Teixeira last season, and really didn’t solve their offensive issues during the past offseason.  Abreu is a solid player, and there is hope for Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick to actually start performing well, consistently.  But they still have a few holes.

Billy Beane has to take the best package, regardless of which division it comes from.  But it would be genius if he grabbed a few good Angels players well doing something that would need to be done anyway.

The Angels may actually keep Holliday, extending him beyond the two months.  And that would of course lessen the blow in Anaheim.  But once Holliday hits free agency, he is really anyone’s game.  So maybe having played with the Angels, and experiencing the postseason makes Matt a little more partial to returning with the organization.   But more likely is that Holliday weighs all his options, and goes to the club who wants him most.   

His name is Link, not Zelda.

  • Fire Brand is the name.  And that is where I post on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  So read a little about the “Oki Doke” if you want to.
  • Great article on defense by Joe Posnanski.  Apparently, John Dewan has come up with a theory that defense is worth fifty percent of what offense is.  Whether it is completely true or not, I do not know.  But it’s interesting. 
  • I watched Maddux win his 300th game last night…on ESPN Classic.  Parts of it anyway.  It took me a while to figure out what the game was.  It was a regular season game between the Cubs and Giants in 2004.  So my first thoughts were some kind of milestone by Bonds or Sosa.  But eventually I heard Maddux’s name and assumed that it was his 300th victory.  At least I got to see Bonds have a great AB against Latroy Hawkins, and eventually double down the right field line. 
  • Went to a Spring Training game between the Nationals and Marlins on Wednesday.  This is the concpet of sample size.  I saw Emilio Bonifacio reach base via the hit four times.  Tripling twice, an infield hit.  He was all over the basepaths it seemed.  He did get thrown at home on a very weakly hit fly ball.  But the ball was dangerously close to the SS, and he was still barely out at home.  And there were two outs, so that decision to go at least was not horrendous.  Josh Johnson pitched well.  Lastings Milledge showed flashes, but also showed lapses.  He ran a poor route on a ball that ended up being an extra base hit.  And he was doubled up off of first on a deep fly ball.  Mental lapses.  But the talent is there. 

Can Travis Hafner earn his contract?

In 2006, Travis Hafner was an awesome hitter.  Underrated at the time, but very comparable to Boston’s own David Ortiz.  Both were immobile and position-less, leaving them both slotted in at DH.  And they were the two best hitters in the AL that season.

But while Ortiz has been banged up a little of late, he managed to put together a truly great season after 2006.  Hafner put up a solid 2007, but it was unimpressive from the DH “position.” 

During a down year, or at least down from Hafner’s previous three seasons, the Indians extended “Pronk” for four seasons (2009-2012), with a club option for 2013. 

Now, Hafner had been great.  So there was a logical reason to believe that he would continue to be great for some of the contract.  Most of the contract anyway.  However, Hafner will turn 32 this season, and is most likely never going to reclaim the numbers he posted from 2004-2006.  And that is a lot of money over the next four seasons for what will probably be a declining hitter who has no position. 

Hafner shouldn’t be written off yet.  He was injured.  And he should still produce some good numbers the next few years.  But extending a one dimensional player, past his prime, seems like it may be a regrettable decision by Shapiro and co. 

I just can’t really talk myself into Hafner being worth an average of $12.5 million over the next four seasons.  And to a team like the Indians, who don’t spend tons of money, this could be very damaging.  Especially since defense is relevant again (not that it wasn’t, but its importance has been stressed lately).

The best bet might be to hope Hafner is great, and possibly move him if someone is interested.  But if Hafner is great, and the Indians are in contention in a very winnable division, they may have to postpone exploring trade options for Hafner in the midst of trying to win a World Series.  However, the trade thingy may make a lot of sense after the season too.  And the better Hafner does this year, the more they will expect to recieve.

But let’s give Hafner some time to redeem himself.   

Does Jake Peavy succumb to the pressure?

Sometimes “Clutch” is way overrated by those who watch sports.  Trust me, it is.  “Clutch” of course in the sense that “Baseball Between the Numbers” suggested it to be, by one actually “elevating his performance” when the game is on the line. 

But sometimes I think that we dismiss it a little too quick at this point, after the statisticians basically dismissed it altogether once they came out with their studies. 

I mean, I definitely lean toward a players performance in Clutch situations pretty much being what their performance is in non-clutch situations.  But I think there are probably exceptions here and there. 

Is Jake Peavy one of those exceptions? 

Peavy’s postseason numbers have been atrocious, period.

Sample size, sample size, sample size.  I know all about the “lost art” of actually letting a player play enough so that there is enough of a sample for it to actually matter. 

But Peavy has started two games in the postseason, both against the Cardinals.  He allowed eight runs in four and a third, and he allowed five runs in five and a third. Peavy combined in those two games, struck out five batters in just an out short of 10 innings, which is definitely below his normal K rate. 

Peavy also started a game in 2007, which happened to be a one-game playoff.  The Rockies “rocked” him.  Six earned in six and a third.

And then in the WBC not too long ago, Peavy sucked again.  Allowing six runs in two innings.

Now, I know, that is only a total of four starts.  And should the WBC game really be included?  Probably not.  But it is a game in which I am sure that Peavy felt like he needed to at least give his team a chance to win.  And yet again, he failed to do so. 

Jake Peavy is a good pitcher, but there is no doubt that his home park of Petco has helped him.  A 2.77 ERA at home over his career, and a 3.80 ERA on the road. 

And of course, failing to pitch well in four games in particular, three which mattered greatly, and one that, how much it matters is up in the air.  All lead to skepticism from this writer about how well he can handle a “Big Game.” 

If Jake the Snake gets a chance in his career to pitch in the postseason, lets say with the Yankees.  Then, maybe he does well, maybe his good pitching leads analysts to say that it was only a matter of sample size.

But maybe they are wrong.  Maybe it would be a matter of Peavy learning how to keep his emotions calm enough to perform well at the biggest stage.  Maybe as he ages, the pressure won’t get to him as much, therefore allowing him to “execute” his pitches.

Or maybe Peavy doesn’t feel the pressure.  It might actually BE a lack of a strong sampling. 

But when a pitcher gets rocked every time he takes the mound in a playoff game, there might just be something more to it, than a lack of “Games Played.”   

Link, not Zelda.

  • I like the Pudge signing.  Rob Neyer makes a good point.  The point was that if JR Towles has enough skill to play every day, then it will probably be put on hold.  But the Astros have put themselves in a position to win now, even though that position may be third or fourth place realistically.  So adding a veteran catcher for one year, wasn’t a bad thing.  Although I would like to see the Astros unload some of their veterans and start over, but that is obviously not going to happen.
  • Did you see Jeter fail to come up with that ball at SS that Rollins would have had?  I saw it on the replay.  :)
  • Is Vernon Wells worth the price?  I doubt it.  A lot of expectations are wrapped in that contract.  Although Wells should be an above average player for a while, that kind of money should be given to great players.  And Wells is not a great player.  If the Jays could find someone to take that contract off of their hands, they would do it in a second. 

A few of the worst contracts in Major League Baseball.

Jose Guillen:  This contract was absurd when it was handed out.  It
wasn’t just because Guillen had recently been named in “The Mitchell
Report.”  It wasn’t just because Guillen was going to be paid $12
million a year.  It wasn’t just because Guillen was a headcase.  It
wasn’t just because Guillen wasn’t all that good for a corner OF.  Or
because the Royals weren’t going to contend, and shouldn’t have been
handing out ridiculous contracts in order to try and do so.  Or…The
contract was plain stupid, and I still don’t see any logic in it.

Dontrelle Willis:  Someone brought this up in a chat…I predicted
Willis, coming off a bad season, to be a fifth starter in the AL.  I
was wrong.  Willis is terrible right now.  And it isn’t as if I am not
wanting him to succeed again, it is just that the Tigers were idiots to
give him a contract after a bad year, before he ever tried to pitch
again.  A perfect example of a team mismanaging their money.  At least
the Yankees give big contracts to good players (although the Burnett
contract COULD end up coming back to haunt them). 

Barry Zito:  I never thought that Zito was going to be this
ineffective.  But he is.  And the money was too much to begin with, not
to mention the years.  But Zito is a 3rd or 4th starter (5th?) in the
NL these days.  Immovable, near-wasted money. 

Luis Castillo:  I didn’t really like this contract at the time.  Teams
shouldn’t lock up players exiting their prime for four years, and a
good amount of money.  This contract wasn’t terrible, but I thought
their resources could have been spent a little better.  However, I
didn’t see the injuries coming around.  But I did see that Castillo
wasn’t exactly a great players.  And great players are probably the way
to go when one is offering a “beyond-the-prime” long-term contract.

Michael Young:  When a player is immovable, even though he is a quality
player, then it most likely means that the contract is bad.  Now, at least he is a productive player.  And at least
he is good in the clubhouse, a “fan-favorite,” etc.  But through 2014
is really a ridiculous contract for a player that was on the decline. 
Although, I guess, the Rangers can find solace in the fact that he can
at least warrant an everyday job, and after all, is a likeable guy.

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