Thursday, July 28, 2011

The (Possible) End of the Matt Stairs Era Leads to Reflections on the Dan Duquette Era

I was originally going to include Matt Stairs release as a line in the previous post, but starting to discuss Stairs brought back a whole rush of thoughts of Stairs' place in history as baseball changed around him, and then his position, in some ways, as a defining player of all the things Dan Duquette did both right and wrong as a GM. It's just as well - Stairs deserves his own post, rather than a paragraph. (Ok, you're right. Matt Stairs probably doesn't care if he gets a post on a blog devoted to him. Just go along with me, will you?)

First, the dirty mechanics. The 43-year old Stairs was released by the Nationals to make room for newly acquired Jonny Gomes on the 25 man roster and Friday's starter Chien-Ming Wang (yep, really) on the 40 man roster. This may represent the end of the road for Stairs, hitting .154/.257/.169 with no home runs in 74 plate appearances (though that batting line probably qualifies him to be the Seattle Mariner cleanup hitter). Stairs is still willing to take a walk, sure. But, since he can't play the field much anymore, if he's not hitting for power, he's just not a sensible use of a roster spot. Stairs has 265 career homers, despite not getting his first until age 27, and not being a regular until age 29. If Stairs had been born 10 years later, after the statistical revolution, there's no way he would have languished in the minor leagues for so long. He mashed in the Expos and Red Sox systems in his early to mid 20's, but he was chubby and couldn't play defense. What would he have done if he'd gotten his start 4 years earlier. 100 more career home runs seems likely, doesn't it? Taking it a step further, Bill James and Joe Posnanski, who are both a lot smarter than I am, think Stairs could have been a Hall of Famer if he'd been given an earlier shot. I'll link to Posnanski's fun 2007 column on could've-been-HOFers as a primer, but there's more online about it if you're interested.

The idea that Stairs could've been a Hall of Famer seems a little bit crazy, since he was a one-dimensional power hitter. He was also a one-dimensional power hitter who has a better career home run rate than Jim Rice, despite the fact his career lasted to (at least) his age-43 season, while Rice was done at 36. So who knows.

Signed to both the Expos and Red Sox by the much-maligned former GM Dan Duquette, Stairs represents both the best and worst about what Duquette was as a GM. He was often willing to give chances to castoffs and oddballs, and it worked out when players like Troy O'Leary, Jeff Shaw and Butch Henry helped his teams. He also traded for Pedro Martinez twice, which he deserves a LOT more credit for than he's ever gotten. However, he was a terrible communicator with his field managers, often demanding playing time for his projects rather than working with them, resulting in situations like the famous Izzy Alcantara rift between Duquette and Jimy Williams.

More harmfully, Duquette was often victim of small sample size mistakes. He was willing to sign an oddball like Stairs, but if he struggled in his first 25 at bats he'd immediately be back in the minors. In the strike-shortened 1995 season, the Red Sox cycled through 53 players - check out this roster. A lot of guys were cycled out because they weren't good enough. Matt Murray, Brian Loney, Brian Bark and a few others never played in the majors again. That, it seems, was part of the problem. Duquette would find something positive in too many players, but was unable to differentiate the ones would could be real contributors with the ones who should have been organizational filler.

From 1995 to 1997, Duquette signed and released Stairs, Tuffy Rhodes, Dwayne Hosey and Rudy Pemberton. Considering the outfield problems the Sox had in the late 90's which gave lots of at bats to Darren Lewis (who was, in fairness, a very good defensive CF), Damon Buford, Darren Bragg, and necessitated the disastrous acquisition of Carl Everett, not giving these guys an extended chance was a mistake.

First, the Matt Stairs story. He was signed as a SECOND BASEMAN (I can't stress how insane that seems - I couldn't even picture Stairs as a 2B on an over-40 softball team) as an amateur free agent in 1989, and had his breakout season with AA Harrisburg in 1991, going .333/.411/.509, walking 66 times and only striking out 47. Usually a 23 year old having a season like that at AA will get midseason, but Stairs spent the entire year in Harrisburg. The next year, in AAA, he was slightly less impressive at .267/.351/.426. That line might give some players a chance, but not unathletic poor fielders, and certainly not when the major league outfield for Montreal at the time consisted of Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom and Larry Walker. Stairs got a couple cups of coffee in 1992 and 1993, going homerless in 46 plate appearances before being sold to the Chunichi Dragons.

In February 1994, Dan Duquette was the new Red Sox GM. Upon seeing an OF with slightly less talent than the one he left in Montreal (a still-effective Mike Greenwell flanked by Billy Hatcher, Bob Zupcic, Carlos Quintana... you get the idea), he made Matt Stairs one of his first signings (Yay, Dan!), and... assigned him to AA New Britain (Dan... really??). Stairs, fortunately, had not forgotten how to abuse AA pitching, going .309/.407/.486, which, in cavernous Beehive Field, is nothing to sneeze at. Mo Vaughn went .278/.350/.437 as a BritSock, Jeff Bagwell .333/.422/.457 before the Larry Anderson trade. The silliness of allowed a 26 year old to hang out in AA with that production shows what the baseball world was like before the statistical revolution. Duquette was considered one one of the first proponents of statistical analysis. For that, of course, he was roundly mocked in the Boston Sports Pages. Remember the Mike Gimbel controversy?

Anyway, I digress. In 1995, Stairs was promoted to Pawtucket, and got the call to the Bigs in late June. He was given 95 plate appearances, mostly as a pinch hitter, over 39 games for the rest of the season, hitting .261/.298/.398 with only 1 home run and 7 doubles. It's hard to fault Kevin Kennedy for not giving Stairs more of a chance. The Red Sox were in a pennant race, and corner outfielders Greenwell and O'Leary were having good years, as was DH Jose Canseco.

That December, Stairs was signed by Sandy Alderson, and it was in 1996 his career started to take off. In 158 plate appearances, Stairs hit .277/.367/.547, including 10 home runs, a performance that earned him additional playing time. From 1997 to 2000, Stairs raked to the tune of .268/.362/.506, with 112 home runs in 2188 plate appearances. The A's traded Stairs to the Cubs after the 2000 season, and Stairs never reached 500 plate appearances again, despite a .267/.359/.478 line from 2001 to 2007.

In 2008 though, the hitter-for-hire finally got his moment in the sun. In the 8th of the NLCS, Stairs homered off of the Dodgers' Jonathan Broxton to give the Phillies a 7-5 lead. The Phillies went on to win the game to take a commanding three games to one lead in the series, and, of course, won the World Series.

Stairs was only one of the players that Duquette cycled through who would have made the final years of the previous ownership group more successul.

Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes is a Japanese baseball legend. Rhodes has 474 career home runs in NPB, including a league record 55 in 2001 (if I recall, another home run record was broken that year as well). He is one of the four non-Japanese players in their history to reach Free Agency status. It is possible that he wouldn't have achieved that success in the US, and that Japan was the best place for him. The Red Sox, who signed him in 1995, probably owed themselves more than 25 plate appearances to find out. Rhodes, who was originally drafted in 1986 by the Astros, compiled a .288/.368 /.463 batting line in 2039 AAA plate appearance, but never really put it together in the major leagues. Boston was his last stop in American pro baseball, and his career .224/.310/.349 line in 675 plate appearances (roughly a full season worth) might have been what he'd done continued to do here.

Less defensible was the short shrift given to Dwayne Hosey. Hosey, a minor league journeyman, went .338/.408/.618 and a perfect 6 for 6 in stolen base attempts, earning him the starting center fielder job in the ALDS and for the 1996. In 1996, it took 87 plate appearances of .218/.282/.333 to convince Duquette that 1995 had been an aberration. Was it though? His Red Sox career line was now at a very respectable.274/.342/.466, and was consistent with his .290/.373/.516 in over 1600 AAA plate appearances. He was replaced in 1996 by Lee Tinlsey (.245/.298/.333 in '96 for Boston, failed to get above a .270 OBP in stops in Philly and Seattle afterwards) and then traded Jamie Moyer to acquire Darren Bragg (.252/.357/.365 in '96, .256/.336/.380 from 1997 onward).

Most egregious, and most memorable to Red Sox fans, was Rudy Pemberton. In 1996, the Red Sox acquired Pemberton as the player to be named later for a pitcher named Bryan Eversgerd. Calling up Pemberton in September, he had one of the best month's in Red Sox history, compiling a .512/.556/.780 in 45 plate appearances. This gave Pemberton the starting RF job in 1997 (Troy O'Leary moved to LF that year). In 70 1997 plate appearances, he went .238/.314/.365, was demoted in May and released in June, never to be seen in the majors again.

Was there any reason to believe that the 1997 Pemberton was the real thing, and the 1996 one was the fluke? His career major league line ended after 147 plate appearances with a .336/.395/.515 line. This was supplemented by over 1600 AAA plate appearances, where he went .303/.359/.516 (Pemberton later starred in the Mexican League). Can you imagine a guy compliling a stat line like that, but being judged on 70 plate appearances and never getting another chance? He probably wasn't really a .336 hitter, but .285/.340/.500 seems completely reasonable. In his 1997 stint, two more singles. would have given him a .312 BABIP, in line with his minor league numbers and still well below his previous major league numbers. Those two singles would have given Pemberton a .270/.343/.397 line that year . Would they have sent that player to the minors? Are TWO SINGLES IN 1997 the difference between Pemberton being a Mexican League all star and a long time major league regular? I can't see that happening in today's game. General Managers are simply smarter than that today. In 2007, Dustin Pedroia was allowed to go .172/.294/.224 in his first 21 games (though maybe that's not true everywhere - there were certainly calls in the Boston media to bench Pedroia in favor of Alex Cora).

So, while we celebrate Matt Stairs' career and some mourn what he might have been given a greater chance, we at least acknowledge that Stairs got his time in the sun. That's something Rudy Pemberton, Russ Morman, Jeff Manto, Roberto Petagine and dozens of others who preceded him did not.

Statistics, as always, provided by Baseball-Reference.

Michael Restovich and Wily Mo Pena have New Homes

Yesterday was a big day around baseball - major trades, a no-hitter, a Mariner win - so I won't blame anyone who didn't notice that Dunne Deal fan favorite Michael Restovich was dealt yesterday from the Chicago White Sox to the Arizona Diamondbacks for cash considerations. The release of Wily Mo Pena and call up of Collin Cowgill left the Triple A Reno Aces a little short on outfield depth. This led to the acquisition of Restovich, who was a BA top 100 prospect four times from 1999 to 2003, peaking at #26 in 2000.

Restovich, now 32, hasn't played in the majors since 2007. After very good minor league seasons in 2009 and 2010, he was hitting only .229/.282/.365 in 103 plate appearances this year. A consistent power source in the minors (211 career homers in the US minor leagues), his propensity to strike out and his poor defense have limited his chances in the majors: in 297 plate appearances, he has a .239/.313/.377 line with 68 strikeouts. In short, he's a less extreme version of Wily Mo Pena, with less prodigious power, less frequent strikeouts, less abysmal defense. He's probably been a better player than a few of the guys who have gotten shots in the last 10 years. He makes sensible depth on the Diamondbacks who don't value pure athleticism quite as much as the White Sox and a few other teams, and who are willing to give chances to failed top prospects from last decade who they think can help them (Pena, Sean Burroughs, Yhency Brazoban).

Speaking of Wily Mo Pena, he signed a minor league contract with the Seattle Mariners this week. Mariner DH's have a .216/.328/.312, led by Jack Cust's take n' rake approach. Unfortunately, that approach only works when you both take AND rake, and Cust has rarely done the second, with three homers in 269 plate appearances. Rather than take n' rake, Pena has spent his career firmly planted in the "swing hard in case you hit it" category. He hits the ball about as hard as anyone I've ever seen, in the category with Gary Sheffield and Vlad Guerrero in their primes. His career line of .251/.304/.449 would represent Pena's true ability, and it would be an upgrade for the Mariners. His 46 plate appearances with the Diamondbacks represent extreme-Wily Mo: .196/.196/.522, with five home runs, 0 walks, and 19 strikeouts.

Pena is still only 29 (supposedly), and hit .363/.439/.726 in hitter-friendly Reno. To call him an "upgrade" over Jack Cust might be a misnomer, since they're such different types of hitters. Pena has exactly one skill, but it is a useful skill, especially in the DH league. I certainly wouldn't want to depend on him in a pennant race, but in two months of trying to bring excitement and play spoiler? Pena's the perfect choice, an exciting hitter who won't be taking plate appearances away from anyone who will be part of the next Mariner contender.

Aside: A note to both of my readers - it's been a busy couple days in baseball, as I mentioned above, and I haven't had a chance to write quite as much this week. As such, I have quite a bit to write about. I'm going to write in smaller, more concentrated posts, since they're about some pretty variant topics. This isn't an attempt to increase my "hit count" or what have you, but for ease of reading. People can simply skip over topics they are uninterested in. Is this something you prefer? Or is it easier for you if a single column is posted? Comment below or e-mail at to let me know.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Desmond Jennings Likely in the Majors to Stay

While I was away this weekend, the Rays recalled outfielder Desmond Jennings from Durham. It only seems like Jennings has been on prospect lists for a century - this was actually only his fourth year on Baseball America's preseason Top 100, ranking #22 this season.

Jennings was having a very nice season at Durham, batting .275/.374/.456, with good CF defense and 17 steals in 18 tries. This is about in line with his .283/.375/.431 numbers since he was promoted to AAA in mid-2009, since when he has accumulated nearly 1000 plate appearances - a massive number for someone so highly regarded. His improved all-around game this year, showing more power and defensive skill, was making it difficult for the Rays to keep him in the minors. Indeed, if it hadn't been for a fractured finger sustained earlier in the month, it is likely that Jennings would have been recalled around the All-Star Break.

After getting the call on Saturday morning, Jennings started both weekend games for the Rays in Kansas City, in left field on Saturday and center on Sunday. Through the two games, he is 4 for 6 with 2 runs, 2 doubles, a triple, an RBI, 2 steals, 2 walks (one intentionally) and 2 HBP. According to Baseball-Reference, that gives him .4 WAR, only .1 behind the season total of regular LF Sam Fuld.

While Jennings would be a clear improvement over Fuld, it's not clear that's who he'll be replacing. The BJ Upton trade rumors have been running rampant over the past week, and I would be surprised if he is still a Ray by the end of the trade deadline this coming Sunday. Don't be surprised if Jennings immediately outplays Upton. As I posted here, Upton has value as an excellent baserunner and a very good center fielder, he simply isn't much of a hitter. For a third straight season, he has a sub-.750 OPS. Among 78 AL qualifiers, he is 64th in OBP and 47th in SLG.

As with any prospect, we can't guarantee what kind of player Jennings will be. However, his combination of speed, defense and patience is a great set of tools to build on. This season, Jennings has been more effective not only waiting for a good pitch, but driving that pitch with authority. More importantly, has been Jennings attitude during his prolonged stay at AAA. It could be very well argued that Jennings has been ready for the bigs since early last season, at least. Often, when a highly touted prospect is stuck in AAA for longer than he should be, he'll begin to sulk, and his numbers will suffer. Not so with Jennings, who has improved in nearly every facet of his game this year. If there's one point of caution, it's that his strikeout rate is a tick higher this year. That would be a concern if he were making more outs overall, but he isn't - the increased strikeouts appear to be an offshoot of his increased commitment to drive the ball, certainly a tradeoff the Rays will take. While the Rays are likely too far out of contention in 2011 (Baseball Prospectus has their odds at 3.2%), it is easy to imagine that Jennings will be a key contributor to competitive Rays teams in the coming years.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Justin Masterson Continues His Excellence

At the end of April, Justin Masterson sat at 5-0 with a 2.18 ERA. At quick glance, if one sees that he is now 8-6, and remember that he failed to make the American League All-Star team despite the fact that it seemed like every single player on the original team got the plague, and necessitating a B Team of Allmost-Stars to be called upon, one might then conclude that Masterson has struggled since April. That conclusion would be quite incorrect.

Through April 205533.01342688112212.1812.1826.091134.000
Since May 11615103.3424973732297932.7914.6215.367141.333

Since the beginning of May, Masterson has struck out batters more frequently, walked batters less frequently, and, most impressively, has been slightly more stingy with the long ball. So, why the worse result? Well, for one thing, a 2.18 ERA was unsustainable for how he was pitching (after four starts, I noted here that his pitching line was more in line with someone in the mid 3's). So, pitching better than that and ending up with a 2.79 ERA sounds about right.

The biggest difference has been the support the rest of his team has given him. In April, opponents batted .258 on balls in play - since then, they've been hitting .306. That evens out to .295 over the season, right around what would be expected. More notably, the offense has failed him. In Masterson's six losses, the Indians have scored 6 runs. In 7 no decisions, they've scored a more reasonable 14 runs - unfortunately, most of those have come after Masterson had left the game. In those no decisions, Masterson sports a 1.87 ERA - better than in his 8 wins.

Last night might have been his toughest. Masterson was pitching (pardon the bad pun) masterfully. Through 7.2 innings, he had allowed 4 hits, struck out 6, and walked nobody. Unfortunately, when he left the game, he had only a 1-0 lead. In the ninth innings, closer Chris Perez (who made the All-Star team over Masterson) got the first out, and then walk, double, intentional walk, two run single, and the game was over, with the Indians 2-1 losers.

A couple better bounces, and Masterson could easily have a better won-loss record. There are 10 AL pitchers with sub-3.00 ERA's, and they have an average record of 10-5, a number held down by the equally unlucky James Shields, and the confusing Matt Harrison, whose peripherals don't portend a sub-3.00 ERA in any way. With his improving strikout and walk rates, and his always strong ground ball percentage, Masterson is a great bet to win games down the stretch and in the future. It's ok to stay on the bandwagon.

Congratulations Professor Westbrook

Non-baseball post alert.

I just wanted to take a moment to congratulate Robert Westbrook, one of the best teachers I've had, on being installed as the inaugural Joseph F. Cunningham Professor of History at my alma mater, the University of Rochester. Professor Westbrook profoundly shaped my thinking about political theory, American history, American intellectualism, and the way they are all intertwined.

You can read the announcement here on the UR website, and this follow-up article in the Rochester Review.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Red Sox Dominating Despite Little Value from Starting Pitchers

You may have noticed that the Red Sox are 12-2 so far in July. In doing so, they've passed the Yankees for the best record in the American League, and are only a half game worse than the Phillies for the best record in baseball. They now sit at 58-36, erasing all memories of a team that was 0-6, 2-10, and didn't go over .500 until the 41st game of the season.

What you may not have noticed is that their run this month has come with very little help from their starting pitching:

Josh Beckett 201.7121.013412200.7140.40.98.6
Tim Wakefield 105.8217.0291123101.8821.11.65.3
John Lackey 216.1414.7221022161.6361.21.29.8
Andrew Miller 217.9013.7181221132.1221.37.22.0
Jon Lester 000.004.0000150.250.02.311.3
Kyle Weiland 0013.504.0861222.

Josh Beckett has continued to be outstanding, and Jon Lester has pitched only 4 innings this month because of a lat injury. After those two, the Red Sox starting pitchers have a 7.11 ERA in 10 games - AND THEY'RE 8-2 IN THOSE GAMES! That's partial luck, of course. On Sunday, the Red Sox scored only 1 run, and won. On Monday, they gave up 10. It's hard to imagine them having a better record if they'd received more resonable starting pitching, but they might. In their two losses this month, they've scored 13 runs.

Fortunately for the Red Sox, it will get better. Josh Beckett showed no ill effects of the hyperextended knee that made him unable to appear in the All-Star game, pitching 8 shutout innings on Sunday. Jon Lester will return on Friday, and Clay Buchholz should return in August.

Other than that though? It's tough to get a read on John Lackey - those peripherals don't line up to a 6.14 ERA at all, but he's been hit hard all season. Every time he appears to be getting back on track, he takes a step backwards. The Red Sox have Kyle Weiland on the mound tonight, in what will likely be his last start before Lester takes his roster spot. Tim Wakefield turns 45 two weeks from today. After three very solid starts, Andrew Miller has been terrible in his last two, walking 9 and striking out nobody. At least 40% of their starts in August and September are going to come from this group.

Still, it's hard to be negative about a team that's winning just about every day. First of all, the bullpen has been excellent recently:

Alfredo Aceves 201.3213.7720380.7320.02.05.3
Dan Wheeler 203.009.0431170.5561.01.07.0
Matt Albers 100.008.35004111.080.04.311.9
Jonathan Papelbon 004.508.09412121.3751.12.313.5
Daniel Bard 000.007.7400290.7830.02.310.6
Franklin Morales 000.005.0100140.
Bobby Jenks 000.002.0100010.
Randy Williams 0013.502.03301220.04.59.0
Scott Atchison 004.502.0210111.

Bard hasn't given up a run since May 23, and is continuing to establish himself as one of the better relief pitchers in the game. The real story in the bullpen, though, is Alfredo Aceves. He's been the guy to pick up the slack when the starting picher gets knocked out early, or the game ends up going 16 innings. Because of the starters' struggles, Aceves has needed to be a workhorse this month, and he has delivered in a big way. It's tough to imagine why the Yankees let Aceves go. Sure, maybe he's a bit of a headcase, and he has an injury history, but he wasn't even a free agent - he was still under team control, and the Yankees simply decided not to offer him arbitration. On a $650,000 salary, Aceves is arguably the difference between the Red Sox being ahead of the Yankees and behind them.

Enough about the pitching though:

Dustin Pedroia 706125606950.4100.4860.803
Jacoby Ellsbury 655823424690.3970.4460.741
Kevin Youkilis 6152195025120.3650.4590.577
Darnell McDonald 28236202460.2610.3930.609
Josh Reddick 4539102135110.2560.3330.590
David Ortiz 504194029110.2200.3600.463
Carl Crawford 552000000.4000.4000.400
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 38327012590.2190.3160.469
Adrian Gonzalez 6555154019130.2730.3850.400
Marco Scutaro 5750110037100.2200.3160.400
Yamaico Navarro 21194101240.2110.2860.421
Jason Varitek 23204400260.2000.2730.400
Drew Sutton 751000210.2000.4290.200
J.D. Drew 45386200690.1580.2670.211
Andrew Miller 220000020.0000.0000.000
Tim Wakefield 220000020.0000.0000.000
Josh Beckett 330000010.0000.0000.000
Team Total 58750514234426711110.2810.3740.519

Led by Dustin Pedroia, the Sox have scored 98 runs in their 14 games this month, four times scoring double digits. The Red Sox team OPS of .893 this month would put them 9th best *player* in the American League this season. What makes it so incredible is their depth - despite an "average: month so far from Adrian Gonzalez, they have enough other big bats to pick up the slack. Even the oft-maligned catching due of Saltalamachhia and Varitek has produced some pop in spite of low batting averages. Hitting like that will cover a LOT of flaws in the run prevention department.

Tables made with TABLEIZER.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fausto Carmona will Return to the Indians Monday

Unfortunately, the move doesn't make the Indians any better.

This is Carmona's sixth season with 70 or more innings. Do you know how many of those seasons he's compiled an ERA+ above 85? Two of them. In 2007, Carmona had his one excellent season, with a 148 ERA+. It is also, not coincidentally, the only season in which he has struck out more than twice as many batters as he's walked. Since the start of 2008, he is 30-43, with a 5.07 ERA and a 1.32 K/BB ratio. In 2011, he has the worst WAR of any starting pitcher in the majors, only two years after having the third worst. In these three and a half years, he has a -2.1 WAR - a number that looks even worse when you consider that it was +2.0 in 2010.

Let's compare his performance, since the start of 2008, to some other more maligned pitchers:


Barry Zito gets talked about as the biggest bust of all time. Kyle Kendrick is the bane of Phillies' fans existence. Bruce Chen is on his 10th organization, didn't pitch in the majors in 2009. The only thing these three pitchers have in common is that they are all better than Fausto Carmona.

The Indians, in the midst of rebuilding, failed to trade Carmona after last season. I'm not sure whether they feared the PR hit of trading one of their veterans, or believed his good season last year was more indicative of the pitcher he actually is. Maybe they thought that he'd be able to get them more value in-season, a desperate team at the trading deadline.

Now they're stuck. They have a bad pitcher deeply ensconced in their rotation based on one excellent season, and one slightly above average one. He becomes a free agent in three months, and has been awful this year, so they're not going to get any value for him. They're unlikely to demote him to the bullpen, though they should. It's worth keeping an eye on - if the Indians end up missing the playoffs by something less than Carmona's negative WAR, it will take some of the shine of the the otherwise excellent season Manny Acta has had as Indians manager.

Moanaroa Brothers

Really great article in the Boston Globe today about brothers Boss and Moko Moanaroa, who are Maori:

The two are teammates on the Lowell Spinners, the Red Sox Single A affiliate. Definitely a must-read.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Second Half Begins - A Few Random Thoughts

-Oakland pitcher and Dunne Deal favorite Brett Anderson has apparently undergone Tommy John surgery, ending his season. Anderson has one of the highest percentages of sliders thrown in baseball, so the Francisco Liriano comparisons are inevitable. Provided he can make a full recovery, it will be interesting to see if he lowers his sliders to closer to 20-25% of the time, and, if so, if he can continue to be successful.

-I was posed this question on another site - with money not a concern, who would you prefer: Mark Teixeira or Kevin Youkilis?

YoukilisBOS 1381.301.409.54414923.47.55.3
TeixeiraNYY 1802.268.370.52213318.68.16.2

Youkilis has been a much better hitter since the start of 2009 (when Teixeira joined the Yankees), but Teixeira has been the much more durable player. It's not just the last two months of last season, Youkilis always seems to have some sort of injury bothering him. Even so, Youkilis has a much better WAR (14.9 to 11.7), which is a cumulative stat, and can play 3B acceptably.

-Albert Pujols, since May 30th (106 PA): .333/.425/.744. Right now he is 10th in the NL with a .500 slugging percentage, only 9 points out of the top 10. Anyone want to bet that he won't be in the top 10 a week from now?

-Too much ink is being spilled on how to improve the Home Run Derby. It's a Home Run Derby! The only idea I've liked is a bracketing system, but that certainly won't make the thing any shorter.

-The Matt Moore hype train is picking up. Keith Law has him at #2 on his mid-season prospect list. (Insider access only) It's depth like this that allowed the Rays to trade Matt Garza. Mike Trout (who was his preseason #1) is not included on the list by virtue of his promotion to the majors last week.

-Manny Delcarmen was released yesterday. After an excellent 2007 season, his performance has declined every year. His next stop may be the independents.

-Quick second half predictions. I think the Red Sox win the East, provided two of the Lester/Buchholz/Beckett trio are healthy. The Rangers take the west, based on their depth. Detroit holds off the Indians. The Yankees take the wild card, as they try to rest their stars enough in the second half to make sure they are 100% for October. In the NL, the Phillies make a run at 100 wins and win the East. The Rockies make a run, but the Giants hold them off to repeat in the West. The Brewers are in first place with awful performances from the left side of the infield. They'll adjust there and win based on talent. Like the AL, the Eastern division produces the wild card, in this case, the Braves.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Brewers Acqure Francisco Rodriguez

Big night for the Brew Crew. Not long after 1B Prince Fielder was announced as World Series MVP, the team announced they had acquired reliever Francisco Rodriguez from the New York Mets. Rodriguez, in the final year of a three year, $39M contract, had been the object of rumors in recent weeks connected him with just about every contender. The move the Brewers comes as a bit of a surprise, though, as it was expected Milwaukee may look to upgrade the left side of their infield. Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt have combined for -2.0 WAR so far in 2011, and the Brewers already traded much of their minor league talent in their offseason deal for Zack Greinke.

The Brewers were actually able to acquire Rodriguez for only "players to be named later." I'm sure the Mets have their eyes on someone, but for now, the Brewers are free to continue their search with the same available talent - they've upgraded their team at little cost. No matter what one thinks of Rodriguez being overrated, and his off the field issues, he improves the Brewers on paper - his 3.16 ERA is the second worst of his career. In nine seasons, he has posted an ERA above 3.00 only three times. The always-maligned Brewers bullpen leads the NL with 20 bullpen losses. They rank 10th in bullpen ERA with a 3.92, and only two pitchers with an ERA under 4.00: closer John Axford (2.83) and ancient LaTroy Hawkins (1.08). Hawkins had an 8.31 ERA last year, and a 2.13 ERA in 2009, and I believe he was a teammate of Satchel Paige back in the '50's. So, needless to say, he might not be someone to depend on. Rodriguez is pitching for his next contract, so, even if used in a setup role, one has to believe the effort will be there. I would have already considered the Brewers the slight favorites in the NL Central, so this certainly doesn't hurt that.

The Brewers do need to get serious about better production from the left side of their infield. McGehee was a quality player in 2009 and 2010, so waiting for him to come around seems sensible. Betancourt, though? He's been one of the worst players in the league for years. In this space I asked six months ago whether he was the best the Brewers could do. (Through blogger, I'm able to see what posts get the most hits - that entry is the only one not posted in the past two months that is in my top 10 for the past 30 days). The question still stands, but only because he continues to get playing time - he is arguably having his worst season. While trying to work out a deal to upgrade, they might be better off going with minor league veteran Edwin Maysonet, currently .276/.325/.350 at AAA Nashville, with a nice looking 5.23 range factor. I don't even particularly care for range factor, but goodness - at least see if he can do something positive.

As far as the Mets' side of the move, I was a little surprised at first to see Rodriguez moved for so little (we think- maybe the PTBNL is better than the usual variety). The more I thought about it though, his standing as a Type A free agent is negated by the fact that there was zero chance New York offered him arbitration. Also, while the Mets are a game over .500, I doubt Sandy Alderson will be fooled into thinking they are legitimate contenders. If this was the best offer he could get, it was time to make the move.

For the rest of 2011, Bobby Parnell or Jason Isringhausen will likely be moved into the "closer" role - my guess is that it will be Isringhausen, since letting Parnell get saves will push the salary he can gain in arbitration skyward. Since he can do just as much to help them win games in the 7th and 8th innings, it makes sense to keep him in that role.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Excellence of the Pittsburgh Defense

Well when you start with James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, excellence really should come as no surpr....

Wait, what? This is a baseball blog? And we're talking about the defense of the Pittsburgh Pirates??

At the All-Star break, the Pirates find themselves one game out of first place in the National League Central. This is a major surprise, since the last time the Pirates had even a winning record was 1992. The Pirates have been better in every facet of the game this year than last, but their most notable improvement has been in the run prevention category. The previous four seasons, the Pirates had finished in the bottom 3 in the league in runs allowed - in 2011, they rank 4th. Usually extreme leaps in run prevention are directly related to improved pitching, but in this case, the usual pitching numbers don't show much difference in quality:

-In 2007, the Pirates ranked 14th in runs allowed, 11th in the NL in K/BB ratio, and allowed 1.2 HR/9 - slightly worse than the league average of 1.0.
-In 2008, they ranked 16th in runs allowed, 16th in K/BB, and allowed 1.1 HR/9 (league average 1.0).
-In 2009, they ranked 14th in runs allowed, 15th in K/BB, and allowed 1.0 HR/9 (same as league average)
-Last year, 16th in runs allowed, 16th in K/BB, and allowed 1.1 HR/9 (league average was .9)
-This year, they are 4th in runs allowed, 15th in K/BB, .9 HR/9 (same as league average).

So, compared to last year, part of their improvement comes from allowing home runs at closer to the league average rate, but more of it comes from turning balls into play into outs:

2007: .685 Defensive Efficiency/ 15th in NL
2008: .689 DE/ 15th
2009: .700 DE/ 15th
20101' 689 DE/ 16th
2011: .716 DE/5th

That improvement can't be understated. Behind a pitching staff that strikes out fewer batters than any other NL team, the Pirates are turning 4% more balls into outs. Striking out only 6.2 per nine, to get those other 21 outs, Pirates pitchers face 29.2 batters rather than 30.4. Over the course of the season, this means they would pitch to 192 fewer batters.

Check out the effect this has had on some of the Pirates' starting pitchers:

Charlie Morton:
2010: 2-12, 7.57 ERA, 6.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1.8 HR/9, .357 BABIP
2011: 7-5. 3.80 ERA, 5.3 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 0.3 HR/9. .316 BABIP

Morton's improvement has much to do with the extreme drop in home run rate - an improvement many attribute directly to pitching coach Ray Searange, who noticed that Morton was more effective with a lower release point. This emphasized the natural sink on his 95 mile per hour fastball, and has produced a ton of ground balls, and that's where the improvement in Pittsburgh's defense has made Morton's statistical improvement even more striking.

Paul Maholm
2010: 9-15. 5.10 ERA, 5.0 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9, .327 BABIP
2011: 6-9, 2.98 ERA, 5.6 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9, .252 BABIP

Maholm has only one previous season (2008) in his career with a BABIP under .300. Not coincidentally, it was the only season in his career with an ERA under 4.00.

Jeff Karstens
2010: 3-10, 4.92 ERA, 5.3 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 1.5 HR/9. .309 BABIP
2011: 7-4, 2.55 ERA, 5.3 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, 1.6 HR/9, .240 BABIP

Karstens is the most striking example of the assistance the Pittsburgh defense is providing to its mediocre pitchers. Last year Karstens allowed too many homers and struck out not enough batters. This year, he's doing the same thing and has cut his ERA in half. Karstens is having one of those years which, if the Pirates were in their normal position 20 games under .500, they'd probably trade him to a contender - this might be the best half-season Karstens ever has, his value will never be higher. A .240 BABIP isn't sustainable, and other than a slightly better walk rate, Karstens is the pitcher he's always been. I'd expect his ERA to be in the 3.85-4.15 range in the second half.

There are several reasons for the improved Pirate defense. The first is the wonderfully fantastic Andrew McCutchen, leading National League CF with an 8.3 UZR. This was a huge improvement over his performance in the second half last year, and an even bigger improvement over Jose Tabata, a more natural corner outfielder who was overmatched in center. Another big improvement has been at SS, where Ronny Cedeno has a 4.2 UZR, following his -3.6 last year. Cedeno isn't much of a hitter, so his defense needs to carry his bat for him to be worth his playing time. This year it has done so. At 3B, it's been addition by subtraction. Pedro Alvarez (-6.2 in 2010, -2.3 so far in 2011) was injured, and replaced by a combination of Brandon Wood and Josh Harrison (4.2 UZR combined). Wood and Harrison can't hit though - Alvarez can (at least he did last year, and in the minors). The defensive disadvantage with Alvarez in the lineup is more than made up for by his superior bat.

Is the defensive improvement sustainable, or just a fluke? Mostly sustainable I think. The outfield defense with McCutchen and Tabata can cover a lot of ground. The infield defense may take a small step back (Alvarez returning, Cedeno regressing), but should still be above average.

Some credit is due to Clint Hurdle, as well. He's unafraid to use defensive replacements, and his Rockies teams usually had above average defenses despite playing in spacious Coors Field. It seems possible he and his staff are doing a good job positioning their fielders. If he keeps the Pirates in the race all year, he should run away with the Manager of the Year award.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Mike Trout to Join Angels Tonight

The California Angels have announced that Mike Trout has been called up from AA Arkansas. This comes after starting CF Peter Borjous left last night's game with a right hamstring injury. Depending on who you ask, Trout is either the #1 prospect in baseball (Jonathan Mayo, me), or #2 behind Bryce Harper (Baseball America, just about everyone else).

The #25 pick in the 2009 draft out of Millville High School in Millville, NJ, Trout has hit .338/.423/.503 with 97 over 1148 plate appearances across four levels. This year, he has a .324/.415/.534 line in AA, with 12 doubles, 11 triples, 9 home runs and 28 steals - so I think it is fair to call his game "well rounded." Trout appears to be the rare type of dynamic player who combines patience, power AND speed. In addition to that, he plays fantastic defense, and has a great arm as well - he threw 90 as a high school pitcher.

So, what is the upside with Trout? Without exaggeration, it's elite, Hall of Fame level. Anything less than a multiple All-Star teams would be a disappointment. Trout is still only 19, yet there would be no one surprised if he is ready to contribute in a big way right now. With the Angels only a game behind the Rangers in the AL West, even a slight improvement in their outfield situation could make a major difference. Another story that bears watching - if Trout is ready, it may make Peter Bourjos expendable. Bourjos has matched quality defense with an offensive performance that's right about league average. Or, Trout could be moved to left field and start ahead of Vernon Wells. The thought of Bourjos and Trout together in the same outfield likely makes flyball pitchers Dan Haren and Jered Weaver positively giddy.

It's possible that we're getting ahead of ourselves here, of course. Trout doesn't turn 20 until August, and has never played in AAA. After Blake Beaven tonight, the Angels will see Michael Pineda tomorrow and Felix Hernandez tomorrow - not the type of pitchers one routinely faces in AA. (Wait, what was that? Michael Pineda WAS in AA most of last year? Anyway, my point still stands.) It's possible that Trout needs more seasoning and will return to the minors. That would likely be in AAA though, he has little left to prove in AA.

This isn't time to be pessimistic though, or even rational. Angels fans are encouraged to dream of Trout carrying them to the playoffs this year and being the superstar centerpiece to their franchise for the next two decades.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Zack Greinke: A Cornucopia of Statistical Anomalies

Some observations:

1. Zack Greinke has a 7-3 record, but only a 5.66 ERA. This ERA is the second worst among National Leaguers with 50 Innings Pitched. This suggest that he has been very lucky, and pitched much worse than his record.

2. Zack Greinke has a 5.66 ERA, but a 2.94 FIP and a 2.15 xFIP (which is FIP, but with Home Runs calculated to 10.5% of fly balls). For comparison's sake, Roy Halladay has an xFIP of 2.40. For further comparison, when Greinke won the Cy Young Award in 2009, his xFIP was 3.09. This suggests that Zack Greinke has been very unlucky, allowing far more runs than his peripherals suggest.

3. Among NL pitchers with 30 IP, only Roy Halladay has a better strikeout to walk ratio. This suggests Greinke has been excellent.

4. Among NL pitchers with 30 IP, nobody has allowed a higher percentage of baserunners to score. This suggests Greinke has been abysmal.

What the heck is going on?

First off, the simple answers. Milwaukee has the 5th best offense in the NL, so it makes sense that any pitcher would have a W/L record that would exceed his ERA. Also, they have the fourth worst defensive efficiency in the league, so it also makes sense that a pitcher would underperform a FIP that is adjusted to the league, rather than team. Finally, the 15.5% of home runs on fly balls is almost 50% higher than league average. Given that his fly ball rates are actually lower than his career average, it seems like that portion is largely luck. Going against my tendency to speak in absolutes, I can state with certainty that Greinke's home run to fly ball rate WILL go down.

There's more going on here than a few extra home runs though. FIP analyzes a pitcher with his current (rather than expected) home run rate, and Greinke's is about half of what it should be. So why the disconnect?

The first assumption may be that Greinke has largely pitched either very well or terrible, with less middle ground, and a quick glance might lead one to stop there. In 12 starts, he has 5 with a game score of 60 or higher (topping out at 75), 4 with a game score of 39 or lower (bottoming at 15, yuck), and only three in between. In his four worst starts, he's given up more than half his runs. So he's pitched mediocre or better on a good hitting team 8 of 12 times, and has a 7-3 record? So when he stinks, he REALLY stinks - the nights where he doesn't have a feel for it, he gets shelled.

Let's dig deeper though. In those 4 worst starts, he's gone 16.3 innings, with four home runs, 7 walks and 21 strikeouts. That's too many home runs, but it doesn't seem like he's been 12.21 ERA bad according to those peripherals. In those bad starts, his striking out one of every 4.04 batters. That's lower than his season 3.30 rate, but still quite good, right along side Anibal Sanchez, better than Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Josh Johnson. His walk rate in those losses, is (somewhat freakishly) exactly the league average of one every 12.142857 batters. That's far below his full season rate of one every 21 batters. Just "average." His home run rate of one every 21.25 batters is awful in those four starts, which explains some of the badness, but not all of it. That's Brett Myers home run rate for the season. Brett Myers walks on of every 14.9 batters, and strikes out one of every 6.1, and he, in front of one of the few defenses worse than Milwaukee, has a 4.67 ERA. Hmmm.

Now let's look at Greinke's eight non-terrible starts. In 52 innings pitched, he has a 3.63 ERA, a tick above the NL average of 3.81. In those starts, he has 68 strikeouts, 7 walks and 6 home runs. Doesn't it seem like that pitcher with those numbers would be a quite a bit better than league average? First off, he's striking out one of every 3.07 batters, which is awesome. How awesome? Well, there are no NL starting pitchers anywhere near that number. The only two guys with 30 innings who have struck guys out more frequently are Craig Kimbrel (2.45 ERA), and Tyler Clippard (1.86 ERA). For another comparison, check out a couple Hall of Famers in their best seasons: Sandy Koufax struck out one of every 3.39 in 1965; Nolan Ryan in 1987 struck out one of every 3.22. Of course, they played in eras where batters made contract more consistently, so let's check a couple contemporaries as well: Pedro Martinez struck out better than 1 in 3.07 batters three times (1999, 2000, and the injury shortened 2001); Randy Johnson did it five times (1995, 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2001). Pretty impressive company. He's walked one of every 29.9 batters, a pace surpassed by only Roy Halladay (31.7) and Edward Mujica (31.0) to this point this season. His rate of a homer every 34.8 batters in these starts is worse than the league average, but far from terrible - it's a better rate than Wandy Rodriguez and Brandon Beachy, among others having an acceptable to good ERA.

So at his worst, Greinke is like a better version of Brett Myers. At his worst, he's like much better version of Wandy Rodriguez. So how in the world does he have a 5.66 ERA?

Refer to point #4: "Among NL pitchers with 30 IP, nobody has allowed a higher percentage of baserunners to score." 54% of the guys who get on base against Greinke end up scoring. The league average is 34%. Only seven other pitchers in the NL have allowed as many as 45%:

Zack GreinkeMIL874754.02%29.40021.0003.303
Aneury RodriguezHOU814251.85%23.36413.5266.119
Armando GalarragaARI703651.43%15.2319.0007.071
Pedro BeatoNYM412151.22%77.00012.8336.417
Randy WellsCHC693246.38%31.8339.0957.074
James Russell*CHC632946.03%21.88919.7006.793
Javier VazquezFLA1396345.32%28.64311.7946.468
Aaron HeilmanARI532445.28%20.85714.6004.710
League Average 34.44%42.50012.1435.313

Of the seven other pitchers on this list, six of them have ranged from mediocre to terrible. Only Pedro Beato has an ERA of under 4.50, but then you realize that he's given up 6 unearned runs, bringing his RAA to 4.81. Of the rest of the group, many walk too many batters - only James Russell walks fewer than one in fifteen. Aaron Heilman is the only who strikes out more than 1/6 of the batters he faces. Greinke does give up home runs more frequently than Beato and Randy Wells, but the pattern here is pretty clear - the other guys on this list have such a high rate of turning baserunners into runs is because they have simply pitched quite poorly. With Greinke, it's more than that.

If Greinke is allowing an abnormal number of baserunners to score, perhaps he's simply pitched much worse with runners on base, skewing his results. Here, I think, we are on to something.

GreinkeBAOBPSLG Average NL PitcherBAOBPSLG
Bases Empty0.2470.2870.430 Bases Empty0.2490.3110.392
Men On0.2740.3150.538 Men On0.2570.3310.389
RISP0.3430.3970.701 RISP0.2490.3390.379

Yikes. So, in general, it seems when the average pitcher has nobody on base, they will pitch more aggressively, leading to a higher SLG and a lower OBP. When a runner gets on base, the pitcher becomes more conservative, more willing to walk the batter in lieu of the big hit - particularly when those runners are in scoring position. Greinke? He's giving up an slugging percentage 60% higher with runners in scoring position than he is with the bases empty.

Some of this is certainly bad timing. With only 74 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, a couple home runs really jack up the numbers. It seems impossible to think that, over a full season, this wouldn't begin to even itself out. However, the issue may be one of pitching mechanics rather than anamalous statistics. In the fifth inning of his last start, Greinke was so uncomfortable pitching out of the stretch that manager Ron Roenicke visited the mound in the fifth inning and instructed Greinke to pitch from the windup, even with runners on base. Visually, his leg kick looks much smaller from the stretch. This is usual, but if it's interfering with his ability to get out the batter, they need to scrap it. A stolen base, on average, gives a player an 18-20% chance of scoring a run he wouldn't have otherwise scored. That's significant, sure, but not as significant as retiring the batter who, when hitting a home run, has a 100% chance of scoring himself and everyone on base ahead of him.

Greinke has had mechanical problems before. These problems, coupled with social anxiety disorder, resulted in Greinke almost quitting baseball back in 2006. According to all involved, the social anxiety portion is still completely under control, which is good news. Baseball men can be very good at putting players together again, but not necessarily people.

As far as Greinke's future, I think he will pitch better in the second half, if only by accident. Even acknowledging serious, serious issues pitching from the stretch, Greinke does enough things right in those situations that the home run/fly ball rate won't say so extremely high. Even if he doesn't solve the problems from the stretch, I think we'd see an ERA of 4.00-4.50 in the second half, which would be a serious improvement. If he manages to fix the problem from the stretch and be a bit luckier though? He would profile as a guy who could put up a sub-3.00 ERA and be the much needed complement to Yovanni Gallardo in the Brewers starting rotation in order to make a run at a championship. If that does happen, the Brewers rank just below the Phillies as the best bet to win the National League pennant. As always, "if."

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Two Prospects have Dominated in Nationals' System

You know about Bryce Harper. You may not know about Tom Milone.

We'll start with Harper. After spending the first three months of the season dominating in Single A Hagerstown to the tune of .318/.423/.554, Harper was promoted to Double A Harrisburg, skipping High A Potomac. In his double A debut, he went two for three with a walk and a run scored. Remember, Harper doesn't turn 19 until October. For a reference part, an 18 year old hasn't appeared in a major league game was in 1994. His name was Alex Rodriguez.

At this point, unless he completely flunks AA ball, I'd be shocked if Harper doesn't debut in September. He's likely to begin next season in the minors, though if he dominates in AA and hits either in his call up or next year in spring training, that could change.

You probably know all of that already, though. Who's this Milone guy?

Tom Milone (statistics)was just named the International League pitcher of the week. In his two starts, he pitched 14.1 innings, allowing 1 run, 8 hits, striking out 12 and walking nobody, extending a pattern of dominance that could fly under the radar because of some bad luck. Through 15 starts this season, Milone has what may seem like a pedestrian 6-5 record and 3.38 ERA. It doesn't take much digging though to find some truly mind boggling numbers:


Check that again. 101 strikeouts. FIVE walks. His strikout to walk ratio is 20.2. For a point of reference, the career record for K/BB ratio was in the strike shortened 1994 (is this a theme today?) when Bret Saberhagen had 143 strikeouts to 13 walks. Since he surpassed the full-season 162 IP standard, I'm willing to accept this as the record even though the strike shortened the year. If you're not, last season Cliff Lee had 185 strikeouts and 18 walks. The active career leader (min 1000 IP) is Mariano Rivera, at a tick under 4 strikeouts for every guy he walks.

Milone's stuff is considered middling, which is why we don't see him on prospect lists. His fastball is in the mid 80's, reaching 89 on rare occasion. His changeup seems to be regarded as his best pitch, and he also throws a cutter and curveball. He doesn't generate a ton of ground balls, so, considering the rest of his arsenal, I would guess it is likely that his home run rate in the major leagues would approach 1 per every 9 innings.

Still, while the walk number is impressive, it is the International League leading strikeout number that stands out to me. Walking too many hitters is bad, but simply avoiding walks isn't, on it's own, good. The active leader for lowest career walk rate is Carlos Silva, who has an ERA+ of 93, because he doesn't strike anybody out and gives up too many home runs. Combining such a low walk rate with such a high strikeout total though? It's almost impossible not to succeed while doing that. Zack Greinke has been hit hard this year doing it, but he's also a former Cy Young winner. There are 12 active pitchers with 1000 career innings and a K/BB ratio of over 3 to 1 (courtesy of baseball-reference):

Player (age) K/BBERA+
Mariano Rivera (41)3.9669205
Dan Haren (30)3.9444120
James Shields (29)3.7611105
Cole Hamels (27)3.7435126
Roy Halladay (34)3.6753137
Roy Oswalt (33)3.5216134
Zack Greinke (27)3.4694112
Javier Vazquez (34)3.261104
Cliff Lee (32)3.2175113
Jered Weaver (28)3.1667128
Jake Peavy (30)3.0888116
Josh Beckett (31)3.0618115

Nobody on the list lower than a 104 ERA+, ten of the twelve over 112.

So why is Milone's performance so outpacing his stuff? One theory is that minor league hitters do not deal with pitchers, particularly left handed ones, who can locate and mix their pitches well, but major league hitters do. While there is some evidence to this, I'm having trouble finding an example of someone with such an extreme K/BB ratio in AAA. Milone performance is such an outlier that I'm not sure what we can extrapolate from other data sets.

My guess is that Milone will get a chance with the Nationals at some point this season. His performance has been too good to ignore, despite what the radar gun says. If the Nationals aren't interested in giving him a chance, somebody else certainly will. Once in the majors, it's anybody's guess what kind of success he'll have. I'm rooting for him though. One of the things I love about baseball is the fact there are many, many ways one can succeed at it. Maybe Milone can't - maybe he gets hit hard and falls out of the major leagues, and I find this post 10 years from now and laugh. Who knows? Even it's rare for someone with stuff like Tom Milone to excel, perhaps it's simply because there's never been another like Tom Milone.

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Friday, July 01, 2011

Happy Independence Day

I will be gone until late Monday night.

While celebrating our independence this weekend, I hope everyone takes a moment to appreciate their freedom and consider those around the world who are unable to do the same. Celebrate safely, and I will see you all next week!

Photo Credit:

Good Luck, Mike Cameron

The Red Sox designated backup outfielder Mike Cameron for assignment yesterday, bringing to an end a year and a half tenure with the team that has to be considered a disappointment. Cameron was signed to a two year, $15M contract in December 2009, with the intention that he would be the starting CF, shifting Jacoby Ellsbury to LF. The Red Sox believed that Cameroon would be an improvement defensively over Ellsbury, and could supplement his defense with some power and stolen bases. Despite the fact that Cameron would be 37 on opening day 2010, Epstein saw a two year line of .247/.337/.464
which barely differed from his career .250/.340/.448 line and determined that the athletic outfielder was not yet in his decline phase.

It didn't work out. Ellsbury seemed uncomfortable in left field, and collided with 3B Adrian Beltre on a pop up in April 2010, cracking one of Ellsbury's ribs. Meanwhile, Cameron had a multitude of injuries in his first season, tearing his oblique and having groin trouble that ended his season on July 30, and ultimately needing surgery to remove two sports hernias. Going into 2011, Ellsbury was moved back to CF, and Cameron was placed into a de facto right field platoon to face most lefthanders.

Unfortunatly, Cameron never seemed to get comfortable in his platoon role and didn't hit lefties at all, his .143/.214/.302 in 70 plate appearances that was inflated by a two home run game off of Seattle's Jason Vargas. Removing that game, Cameron hit only .119/.197/.167 off left handers. Since May 30th, Cameron hit .077/.122/.103 with 13 strikeouts in 41 PA, losing playing time to Josh Reddick and Darnell McDonald. With Reddick proving that he belonged in the majors, and the Red Sox in need of an extra infielder due to Kevin Youkilis's ankle injury, the decision came down to Cameron and McDonald. Cameron ended up the odd man out, and was designated, meaning the Red Sox have 10 days to work out a trade, after which point they can either release him or see if he will accept a minor league assignment.

If this is the end for Cameron, he's had an impressive run. Since coming up with the White Sox back in 1995, he has compiled 272 home runs, four of them famously coming in one game. He also added 296 stolen bases. Something short of a Hall of Famer, he still compiled an impressive 46.6 career WAR, higher than Omar Vizquel, Miguel Tejada and Jorge Posada. Compared to the more decorated Torii Hunter, Cameron shows to be the superior player. Check out the stats below (all from baseball-reference, except for UZR, which dates only back to 2002):


Despite having similar statistics, these show two very different hitters. Hunter got more of his value from batting average, while Cameron has shown a much higher propensity to both walk and strike out. Cameron's overall value advantage comes from being a much better base stealer and, apparently a much better defensive player. While both have spectacular reputations, Hunter's defense started to decline significantly after 2005, while Cameron was better during their peaks and maintained his defensive value for a longer time.

In the end, Cameron's frustratingly high strikeout percentage is probably the difference between his having a good career and a great one. Cameron struck out once every 3.59 at bats for his career, a rate that usually only the greatest power hitters reside in. Some theorized that Cameron's four homer game early in his career led to him taking a more power-heavy approach, but the statistics don't really agree - he struck out a ton before then, too. Striking out once every 4.5 at bats would have subtracted 379 from his career total. Given his .305 career BABIP, that would have given him an extra 115 hits in his career. Even if those had all been singles, that would have raised his overall line from .249/.338/.444 to .266/.353/.461.

When Cameron does hang up the spikes, he'll have a career as a coach or analyst in front of him. He's extremely well spoken, knows the game very well, and is always described as a fantastic teammate. His role in the clubhouse and relationship with Terry Francona is likely one of the reasons he was brought back this season as a backup rather than traded. If a team is looking for a positional/baserunning coach, there are few that can match Cameron's combination of subject knowledge and communication skills. As a Red Sox fan disappointed he didn't contribute more, I wish the best for the guy and hope he continues to contribute to the baseball community in one way or another.

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