Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Couple Links to Tide you Over

There were a couple links the last couple days that piqued my interest, that I wanted to share.

Link #1:The Platoon Advantage has spent the last few days taking on a hugely entertaining hypothetical expansion draft. When talking about realignment, expansion seems to me to be a much more sensible way than moving a team to a different league, having constant interleague play, and teams dealing with having to play with different rules in random parts of the schedule (it's bad enough they have to play with different rules in a concentrated part).

The idea of expansion drafts, and how different teams would approach them, has always fascinated me (my friend Tim and I actually created a couple expansion teams around 1993 - go San Jose Scorpions!). Plus, they seem to agree with my idea for putting a team in Brooklyn - something I feel strongly about, whether it is the Rays (or another moving franchise) or an expansion team. I would prefer to see Brooklyn get an expansion team and the Rays to get a shot in the actual city of Tampa, I just don't know if that's possible. I digress though.

There are a few quibbles I have (there's no way the Yankees would protect AJ Burnett, or the Diamondbacks would expose Paul Goldschmidt, for example), but overall they came to a very sensible conclusion. Most interestingly, by having a different person choose both teams, each seems to have a specific style/personality - Brooklyn going with a more veteran team, perhaps with the intention of trading players for value, with the Portland team going for a more traditional expansion-style set of choices for young players with upside. I enjoyed the whole exercise thoroughly.

Link #2: Jonah Lehrer has a column on the failings of Sabermetrics at the ESPN spinoff site Grantland. Sadly, instead of addressing some of the more legitimate concerns, he takes a dismissive tone and relies on anectdotal evidence that doesn't really make any sense. The example of the Dallas Mavericks is especially odd, since they are (along with Houston and, to an extent, Portland) the premier franchise that uses statistical analysis. Instead of pointing out how Rick Carlisle was able to use his knowledge of matchups and advanced metrics to his advantage and enable to him to defeat a more talented team, he basically ignored them entirely.

Fangraphs and Beyond the Boxscore had a better deconstructing of this than I could possibly do (Fangraphs has some especially interesting points in the comments section).

One point though. The anti-stat crowd always loves to point out that "statistics can't measure heart!" But really, when evaluating a player, wouldn't statistics do a better job of encouraging a team to draft a physically unimposing player who excels because he has an uncommon drive? My favorite example of this is Dustin Pedroia. In 1990, he would have been a 15th round draft pick, and spent a half-dozen years in the minors, no matter how well he hit, before eventually making it to the majors as a backup. Why? Because he's about 5'5" with an uppercut swing and a mediocre arm. So why did he make it so quickly in the statistical age? Because his results are so excellent, that's why. The Red Sox didn't care that he's short, and has funny swing mechanics and has a chip on his shoulder that might put some scouts off in an interview. They saw him produce at a very high level Arizona State and waited for him to fall into their laps with the 65th pick in the 2004 draft. They watched him tear his way through the minor leagues, straight through to the 2007 Rookie of the Year Award and 2008 MVP. That stats were picking up what some scouts would not - that Pedroia was significantly outplaying what his physical tools said he should. You can argue any reason you'd like for that, be it "heart" or "grit" or "hitting a baseball is a skill, not an exhibition of athleticism" or whatever you want. The fact is, statistical analysis by the Red Sox alerted them to his excellence, and they are now reaping the benefits.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How good is BJ Upton? A Comparison.

Let's get this out of the way - I apologize that three out of my last four posts have been about the Rays, despite the fact that one of those posts was arguing that almost nobody cares about the Rays and that maybe they should move. So if you're annoyed and would prefer it if I wrote about your favorite team/player, feel free to send me a dollar.

Moving on, let's take a quick look at two center fielders who were born 10 days apart in 1984, debuted at age 19, and were once considered building blocks of the futures of their respective teams. Here are their performances since the beginning of the 2009 season (ages 24-26, statistics lifted from our friends at Baseball-Reference):

Player A37714041273160342727261532751051700.2690.3250.3970.7229350628512916
Player B3731545136820832383840158104271583940.2360.3160.3960.71295542266493

So let's take a look. The first thing that jumps out is that Player B steals a lot more bases. Stolen bases are becoming a more important part of the game in recent years, and the stolen base percentage is quite efficient, so that's a plus. Player B also exhibits a bit more power, hitting home runs once every 38.6 plate appearances, while Player A goes deep once every 54. Player B walks a little bit more often, but strikes out more than twice as frequently -once every 3.9 PA, while Player A strikes out only once every 8.4. Strikeouts on their own aren't inherently worse than other outs, but an extremely high strikeout rate like this will keep the batting average down, particularly if it isn't being supplemented with plus power. That's what appears to be happening here, Player B strikes out so much that it drives his batting average down to the point where his OBP and SLG are lower than a guy who walks and homers less often.

The fact that Player B has a slightly higher OPS+ than Player A despite a lower actual OPS shows that he's probably been playing in a slightly harder hitting environment, but neither guy is even an average hitter.

So, can you guess who the two players are? Yes, of course BJ Upton is one, his name is in the title. I'll give you a moment to try to figure out who the other one is. Take your time. Remember, he's a starting center fielder in the major leagues right now.

Figure it out yet?

It's Melky Cabrera. Seriously. BJ Upton is Melky Cabrera with more stolen bases.

Melky Cabrera, if you recall, was such an integral part of the Yankees 2009 World Series that he was a throw in as part of a trade that brought them Javier Vazquez after that season. He was then so bad for the Braves that he was released, and signed as a free agent by Royals GM Dayton Moore, a move that was roundly mocked. Meanwhile, BJ Upton is consistently brought up as a possible valuable trading commodity for the Rays, with the hot rumors having him going to the Nationals. One has to wonder why the Nationals, or any team, would consider giving up prospects to pick up a guy who, over a significant amount of at bats, doesn't hit any better than a guy who was released and picked up by a rebuilding team as space-filler until the real prospects are ready.

Now, Upton IS a better player than Cabrera. Cabrera's power numbers were "inflated" by hitting 9 of his 13 homers in 2009 in the new Yankee Stadium, which is why Upton still has the higher OPS+. Meanwhile, Upton's defense has generally been very good over the same time period, while Cabrera's has not. All things being equal, I would rather have BJ Upton on my team than Melky Cabrera. All things aren't equal though. Upton is probably going to cost some team a lot in terms of prospects, and someone will probably give him a long-term contract in free agency. Meanwhile, Melky Cabrera was released and makes a third of the major league average salary. The stolen bases and superior defense don't do enough to justify the gap in perception between the two.

Part of it is visual - Upton is lanky and athletic, looking every bit the part of a star prospect, and he still has that baby face. Meanwhile, Melky looks dumpy, and his conditioning was a big reason he fell out of favor in both New York and Atlanta. Another is our initial recognition. Upton was a top prospect and had an excellent year in 2007, when he was 22 for most of the season. He then was one of the dominant players of the 2008 postseason, hitting seven home runs in the first two rounds. Cabrera was considered a potential starter but never really a future star, and 2006, his best season, was only impressive in the context of his young age. In reality, they've been remarkably similar hitters since 2009, neither impressive.

Sidenote - I hesitate to use the term "overrated," because it speaks more to our perceptions of players than the players themselves. It's far more instructive to try and simply consider players based on their performance. Getting into a discussion about overrated/underrated can only lead to the inevitable "who is doing the rating" dead end question. There are always players we see in "most overrated" polls, but when everyone agrees they are overrated, they aren't overrated anymore. Calling BJ Upton overrated is meaningless.

Maybe Upton simply needs a change of scenery. As I discussed the other day, Tampa can be a pretty "blah" place to play, and maybe he's just not properly motivated playing there. I just wouldn't be willing to part with a top prospect in order to find out.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Moving Jose Bautista to 3B Makes Sense

Let us start with the obvious. Jose Bautista is the best hitter on the Blue Jays. Is he really the best hitter in the American League, as he has been so far this year? That's open for debate - it was only a couple years ago that Bautista wasn't yet good, and Miguel Cabrera still exists. However, in 2011, Bautista leads the AL in walks and home runs, enabling an amazing .325/.468/.655 stat line. In exactly 999 plate appearances since the beginning of last year, his stat line of .280/.406/.628 places him among the elite players in the game. Over the same time frame, Josh Hamilton has a similar .343/.397/.604 stat line, in 250 fewer plate appearances.

While Bautista has spent the year coldly annihilating American League pitching, Toronto 3B have been completely anemic:

Jayson Nix 13740.1790.2550.3330.589
Edwin Encarnacion 8710.2070.2410.3410.583
John McDonald 5610.1800.2260.2800.506
Mike McCoy 2300.1500.2610.1500.411
Chris Woodward 400.0000.0000.0000.000
Team Total 30760.1830.2430.3080.552

None of the people who played 3B this year for Toronto have an OPS even as high as Bautista's slugging percentage. If it weren't for the Seattle Mariners, the Blue Jays would have the least production at the position in the league.

So let's answer some questions you might have:

Will moving Bautista hurt his offensive production?
That's hard to imagine - great hitters don't stop being great just because they play a different defensive position. Also, he's not moving to a more physically demanding position, like shortstop or catcher, just a harder one. Looking at his 2009 stats, he did hit for less power while playing 3B, so it is worth keeping an eye on. My worry, though, is that he's playing over his head. If Bautista hits something like .290/.415/.575 in the second half, it may be interpreted as a decline in production and met with calls to move him to his more "comfortable" position, rather being accepted as a more accurate representation of his actual skills.

Also, remember that 3B in general has fewer great hitters than right field - so even if his offense does regress a tad at the position, the difference between Bautista and the average-hitting 3B will be greater than between him and the average-hitting RF.

Isn't Bautista a pretty terrible defensive 3B?
It seems that way, yes - he was never good in Pittsburgh, and it's doubtful he's gotten better. Two things about that though. First, Bautista is a bad defensive right fielder. Second, while Nix and McDonald are acceptable (ok - McDonald is pretty good), Encarnacion is probably even worse than Bautista is. So let's get him out of the picture entirely. The question is really whether Bautista is so much worse defensively than Nix and McDonald that it would cancel out the amazing increase in production. Let's pretend that Nix and McDonald are at replacement level when we combine their offense and defense. Bautista's offense has been over 11 wins more than a replacement level right fielder since the start of 2010, a higher standard than a replacement level third baseman. Since that's about a year and a half, call it 7.5 per year. In the last four years, zero 3B have been more than 2 wins below replacement for the course of the season. Chipper Jones, a pretty notorious 3B, was -1.3 dWAR in his worst season. That means Bautista would have to be almost four times as bad at 3B than the next worst - even if that were possible, if he were anything close to that, they'd pull the plug on the experiment long before we got to that point. So even if he's the worst defensive 3B in baseball, his total production makes him a huge upgrade anyway.

Isn't moving Bautista just moving the problem around rather than fixing it?
The average 3B in the AL hits only .239/.310/.378 while the average RF hits .264/.340/.425. The reason for this is that there are more people out there who can play RF acceptably than can play 3B. The Jays think they have RF who are at least capable of outproducing they guys they've used at 3B, which means rather than moving the problem, they'd be creating an opportunity.

At first glance, it looks like they have more than enough talent on hand to meet that unambitious goal. The candidates:
-Juan Rivera is hitting .253/.317/.378 this year - slightly below his career numbers, particularly in the power department, but not far from what would be expected of a 32 year old given Rivera's production at his peak.
-Travis Snider, a constant source of frustration among Jay fans, hit a paltry .184/.276/.264 to start the year, earning him a trip to AAA Las Vegas. However, he is still only 23, and has a career .246/.313/.423 line in the majors, as well as .324/.396/.468 since returning to the minors. Even considering how good a place Vegas is to hit (no double meaning intended), it's hard to imagine that's a complete fluke. Snider would be a significant upgrade over Nix/McDonald/Encarnacion offensively.
-Adam Loewen - yes, the former pitching prospect for the Orioles what seems like forever ago. Loewen has hit .314/.376/.564 in AAA in his attempt to become the new Rick Ankiel. 43 extra base hits in 312 plate appearances can't be ignored, but the 78 strikeouts give pause.
-Eric Thames (no relation to Marcus) is hitting .352/.423/.610 in his first attempt at AAA, after an impressive .288/.370/.526 in the more pitcher-friendly New Hampshire ballpark last year. He's a little old for a prospect at 24, but the production seems real. In 52 PA, mostly coming while Adam Lind was on the DL, he went .298/.365/.426, and he was recalled again on Friday.
-David Cooper, Toronto's first round pick in the 2008 draft, had generally disappointed in the minors up until this year when he arrived in Las Vegas, where he has a line of .371/.435/.576. Accentuating his line is his league-leading 29 doubles. Cooper spent a couple weeks with the major league club earlier this year, hitting .121/.244/.242. The fact that this is the first year Cooper has really hit, and the fact that he didn't produce in a short big league trial, may be two strikes against him. However, Cooper's status as a #1 pick and his impressive 28/20 walk to strikeout ratio may push him to the front.

I wouldn't go out and proclaim any of these players a budding superstar, but I feel confident that each of them could produce above a .600 OPS with acceptable defense, with an upside quite a bit higher than that. With the Blue Jays fading out of the race in the American League, it seems sensible to see both whether Bautista can handle being an everyday 3B while remaining productive and, if so, who among the cast of potential right fielders will move himself to the top of the list.

Photo credit: Keith Allison

Table made with TABLEIZER

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Should the Rays move out of Tampa Bay?

Hah, trick question. They don't even play in Tampa Bay!

That's part of the problem, folks.

Today on ESPN there is a well-done (but misleadingly headlined) article by Steve Berthiaume regarding the Rays' tenuous status in St. Petersburg. The crux of the article is that even with the Rays having been one of baseball's better teams the last three years, their attendance and television figures are declining. Berthiaume cites a bevy of statistics regarding the Rays and the area's other two major sport franchises, the Buccaneers and Lightning. I feel like there are a few thoughts regarding the Rays and MLB in general that I wanted to add for consideration.

One major issue is the location of the stadium and its quality. Tropicana Field is universally regarded as the worst stadium in baseball. What's worse is that it is apparently in a somewhat less-than-top-notch place on the outskirts of town. This isn't a place like Wrigley, Fenway or PacBell, with a downtown park where people will walk up and buy a ticket on a Friday evening after work with their friends. People need to make specific plans to go out there. For my Boston friends, imagine if a second "Boston" team was added, so you had no real reason to care about them. Now imagine if instead of having a Boston park, they actually played in Framingham. Would you go out after work and check them out? You would have to wait in Mass Pike traffic just to get to Route 9 just in time for light cycle bottlenecks. Wouldn't that be a huge pain in the backside?

So, in my humble opinion it is unfair to judge based on their league-worst attendance numbers. What's worse is that the economy in the Tampa area is pretty poor, and has been for the entire time the Rays have been any good. So I hate to make a rash pronouncement like "baseball can't survive in Tampa" since there is no baseball in Tampa. In early 2007, when people seemed to assume that the housing market would continue to increase exponentially towards infinity, the (the Devil) Rays announced an ambitious waterfront stadium project. When the economy was collapsing a year later, the financing dried up. So the Rays are stuck at the Trop. Meanwhile, the St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster is unwilling to let the Rays explore building a part in Tampa "The Rays aren’t going to Tampa or Hillsborough County" is a direct quote from Foster to the St. Petersburg times. Apparently losing the Rays to another part of the country is more palatable to Foster than losing them across the bay.

I don't want to judge how good a market the Tampa area can be based on their attendance numbers. As Berthiaume points out, the Lightning and Bucs had poor attendance numbers last year, which (especially for the Bucs) is not necessarily a terminal issue. Given a downtown ballpark and a better economy, there's a chance the franchise would do pretty well. Damning Tampa while their economy stinks reminds me of the mid-late '90's when the NHL left Winnepeg and Quebec City, and passed over Hamilton for an expansion club because the Canadian dollar stunk. It was a short-term solution for an industry that needs long-term vision for success. 10 years later things evened out and we were left with hot weather cities that didn't care having teams while rabid fanbases who would turn out to their arenas without one.

To me, the bigger issue is the drop in TV revenue. Maybe people in the Tampa area like baseball, but just not heading all the way out to the Trop to spend money to watch them in a crummy stadium. That seems totally rational to me. If that were the case though, wouldn't TV ratings be staying strong? Wouldn't people want to turn in and watch David Price (the most outwardly critical of the Rays players regarding the crummy situation) and Evan Longoria? Well, they're not. In fact, less people are watching than before. It's possible that people don't care.

Anyway, in year 14, I think it's fair to say that MLB pretty well screwed this up. They awarded the Tampa area a franchise without a downtown stadium, and allowed them to get locked into a crippling 30 year lease. That mistake is done though, the question now is how to move a well-run franchise forward.

So, should the Rays move? Yes. If it's not to Tampa Bay, then it should be somewhere else. The problem is what market would support them? Are Indianapolis or Charlotte or Portland any more ready to host a major league franchise than St. Petersburg was in 1998? MLB needs to do their due diligence and make sure a sensible stadium plan is ready in order to sustain a franchise.

MLB needs to let the Rays move where they feel they will be most financially strong long-term. This brings us to the second problem, that being how MLB handles its financials - the old small market vs. big market divide. I should note, I hate the term "market." Houston is a "bigger market" than Boston, but the Red Sox have a better revenue stream. Park of that is built in, part is due to things the organization does well, ranging from marketing to actually winning games.

Teams that do well financially are understandably hesitant to share their revenues. It's important to remember though, that while MLB teams compete against each other on the field, they are financial complements, especially long term. If, say, the Rockies do better at the gate, television ratings and merchandising goes up significantly national contracts are worth more, and the Red Sox earn more money. Meanwhile, if the Red Sox are in town, the Rockies reap those benefits. Unlike Microsoft, the Yankees have no sensible motivation for financially bludgeoning the competition. That said, unlike other industries each individual team exists not only to succeed financially, but to win baseball games.

How to solve this dilemma? Baseball needs to stop pretending it is some sort of free-market cartel. Solution 1: If baseball considers it in their best interests to operate teams in lesser markets, it needs to implement more significant revenue sharing. Not just a payroll tax, but actually sharing of local TV/radio revenue, stadium receipts and merchandising. If YES and NESN and other major team-owned sports media conglomerates continue to underreport the value of their contracts, MLB should be allowed to negotiate the contracts for each team. If you think there's any chance that the Yankees and Red Sox accept these terms, I should also tell you that the word "gullible" is written on the ceiling above you. The simple fact is that real revenue sharing just isn't possible the way it is in football. And that's ok. The Yankees and Red Sox and Phillies, for all of the complaints about them (some real, others imagined) make so much money because they are well run business. Criticize the Yankees for their inability to develop their own players if you wish, but that's a *baseball* complaint, not a business one. The Yankees turn a huge advantage into huge revenues.

Solution 2: If large market teams are unwilling to share their revenues, they should have no right to market exclusivity. The situation with San Francisco right now is ridiculous. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Oakland Athletics would like to move to San Jose, a larger market in better financial condition. However, San Jose is considered within the San Francisco Giants' market sphere, and they won't allow the move. Even though Oakland is closer to San Francisco than San Jose is. So we have a situation where large market teams not only don't have to share any meaningful part of their revenue, they can make it so other teams can't earn their own revenue. That's less ok. Large market teams are having it both ways, to the detriment of baseball in general.

Which brings us back the Rays. I'm not convinced that, even with revenue sharing, Tampa is a great market for baseball. You know what IS a great market for baseball though? Some hints. It has 2.6 million people over less than 100 square miles. It had a beloved MLB franchise at one time, and many locas still haven't forgiven them for leaving. It will be getting an NBA franchise in 2012. It has a multicultural base that MLB management craves. To say that the local population "proud" of where they live would be a tremendous understatement. Indeed, it's almost impossible to imagine a fanbase not buying about a million hats the moment a franchise was announced. What's even better is that they'd have an obvious geographic rivalry with two teams right in their own division. What more could MLB ask for?

Well, they'd have to ask for the Yankees and Mets to withdraw their territorial rights. I'm talking of course, about Brooklyn - a place the MLB should never have left. A Brooklyn vs. Bronx series would be a marketing dream for baseball. Maybe it's my northeast bias talking, but I don't see how that wouldn't fantastic. (Ok, if I were a Royals fan, Yankees vs. Brooklyn on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball five times a year would get a little tiring, but a rant on how baseball shoots itself in the foot by failing to promote itself nationally deserves an article all its own.) Also, they'd probably need to change their name - Brooklyn Rays sounds like an awesome place to get a greasy thin crust pizza, but a less cool team baseball team name.

As I said above, I'm not ready to hold a funeral for Tampa Bay baseball. There are loyal fans of the Rays who deserve better treatment than they've gotten. I'd hate to make Dick Vitale said. If they do decide to move though, I can think of no better destination than Brooklyn. And the Yankees and Mets shouldn't be allowed to stop them.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Johnny Damon, Milestones, and the Hall of Fame

As you may have heard, last week Johnny Damon collected his 500th double. In doing so, he became just the 11th player all-time to compile 500 doubles, 100 triples, 200 homers, and 2,500 hits, joining George Brett, Lou Gehrig, Goose Goslin, Rogers Hornsby, Willie Mays, Paul Molitor, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Al Simmons and Robin Yount. Those other 10 players are in the Hall of Fame, so there have been quite a few articles about how joining this group enhances Damon's Hall of Fame candidacy. What it really means is that Damon is the worst player all time with 500 doubles, 100 triples, 200 homers, and 2,500 hits. By a pretty good margin.

That shouldn't be taken as an insult, of course. None of the players on that list are of the "borderline" Hall of Fame variety. All of them were fantastic, all are among the greatest of all time. What makes this statistic sort of fluky is the fact that, on their own, none of these milestones are especially impressive. Ok, maybe that's not fair - all of them are extremely impressive in the grand scheme of baseball history. None of them, though, put you into the top 50 of all time in their category.

Furthermore, I feel very comfortable calling Damon the "worst" of these players, since he ranks 11 out of 11 in all four categories.


So, I suppose the analysis is that, while previously, only elite players had passed the determined threshold in all of the categories, Damon is the first player of his type to do so - a good player with a well rounded offensive game that was able to contribute in a variety of ways but was historically dominant in none.

To further illustrate the point, I've ranked each 11 player by what percentage they surpassed each mil

H% overHR% over2B% over3B% overTOTAL

This is, of course, a very crude way of calculating greatness. First of all it favors the home run hitters - four players on here more than doubled the 200 HR milestone, while nobody comes close to doubling Damon's total in another category. In general, taking a random milestone and finding out how much a player surpassed it by is going to favor the players who surpassed said milestone by a very significant margin. My counterargument to that is it's fairly crude analysis to consider Damon among these greats because he passed the same milestones. Damon is only more than 6% beyond one of these milestones. Every other players is at least 30% above in one of the categories with the exception of Robin Yount - who is 15% above in all four, and more than 25% higher in three of the four.

Yount, it seems, is the closest thing to a comparable player to Damon, in that he also didn't dominate any one way. He did, however, remain very productive well into his 30's, surpassing all of them significantly, getting to 3142 hits, 251 HR, 583 2B and 126 3B. So I think it's fair to consider Damon a poor man's Robin Yount, which is pretty darn good.

If Damon gets to 3000 hits, my guess is that he'll get to the Hall of Fame. He's never been one of the dominant players in the game, but he has been a very good player for a long time, and, at 350 hits away from 3000 with zero defensive value left, he's going to have to continue to be a useful hitter through 2013 to have a shot. While there are better players not in the Hall - Tim Raines specifically comes to mind - Damon would be far from the worst player to gain enshrinement.

As it is, even if he finishes short of 3000 hits and the Hall, being remembered as a lesser-value Robin Yount who played a crucial role on two World Series champions is a legacy I think most players would be happy with.

Credit: Table made using TABLEIZER as always.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Madison Bumgarner is Really Good (or, Reason #4638491 why Win-Loss Record is a Terrible Way to Evaluate Pitchers)

It's always interesting when a player is hyped up and then, when he lives up to the hype, is never discussed again. Such is the case with the Giants' Madison Bumgarner.

Bumgarner is the highly rated prospect who was called up by the Giants to stay last August, and capped a strong rookie year with a masterful performance in Game 4 of the World Series, shutting out the Rangers for 8 innings while striking out 6. This performance pretty much guaranteed Bumgarner a spot in the 2011 rotation. Now, two and a half months into the season, Bumgarner is 18th in the NL with a 3.21 ERA (an ERA+ of 115). It doesn't seem to be a fluke, as his peripheral stats seem to back up that quality - through 84 innings, he has 64 strikeouts, 24 walks, and only 4 homeruns allowed. The HR/IP rate is the fourth best in the league. Furthermore, after a 7.79 through his first four starts, Bumgarner has been spectacular. In his last 10 starts, he has quality starts in exactly 10 of them, with an average Game Score of 61. In those 10 starts, he has allowed only 15 earned runs in 66.2 innings, good for a 2.03 ERA. He has 56 strikeouts to only 14 walks, and only 2 home runs allowed.

So why aren't we hearing more about Bumgarner's all-star level performance? Maybe it's because of his slow start. Or maybe he's been overshadowed by the emergency of Ryan Vogelsong and the spectacle that accompanies every Tim Lincecum start. Maybe his emergence has coincided too closely with the Buster Posey collision story.

What's more likely though, is that nobody is talking about Bumgarner because he's 3-8.

In Bumgarner's 10 game stretch, he has not won consecutive starts. In the five losses he's had during that time, the Giants have scored 5 runs - a stat that is misleading, since 4 of them came in one start against the Cubs in which the Giants' bullpen gave up 8 runs after Bumgarner exited. In the other four losses, the Giants scored one run. Not "one run per game," but one run, total, in four games. Sure, pitching for the second lowest scoring team in the league will bring its share of tough luck losses, but the Giants have only been shut out a total of three other times. The run support average of 3.96 (per 9 IP, not per start) Bumgarner has received is second worst in the NL, ahead of only Paul Maholm (another tough luck pitcher, as he's another pitcher having otherwise having his best season). So Bumgarner has had more than his fair share of bad luck.

Maybe this is sort of the Giants initiation process though. In 2007 and 2008, Matt Cain went 15-30, despite an ERA+ of 120. In 2009-2010 Jonathan Sanchez fared slightly better, at 21-21 with his ERA+ a measly 114. Tim Lincecum was somehow able to avoid this curse, though its easy to imagine a pitcher who leads the league in strikeouts and is second in ERA having better than the 15-7 record Lincecum finished with in 2009. Moral of the story? If you're going to win games for the Giants, pitch really, really well, because they can't really hit.

As for Bumgarner? Let's make sure to give him his due. Or, at the very least, when his luck changes and he runs off a 9-0 streak with minimal change in his numbers, let's not call him "lucky."

Dustin Ackley to Debut Tonight

To follow up on last weeks' post, Dustin Ackley has been called up, and will be starting tonight at second base for the Mariners.

If he stinks, feel free to call me a fool for spending to much time on this topic.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


The Rise and Fall of Scott Kazmir

As you have probably heard, the Angels granted Scott Kazmir waivers today for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release. This cuts ties with a 27 year old who already has 66 career wins and 995 career strikeouts. After a dreadful first start of the season, the Angels had placed Kazmir on the DL with a severe case of "he's 27 and throws his fastball 7 mph less than he did when he was 23 and nobody can figure out why." After five "rehab" starts at AAA Salt Lake, GM Tony Reagins decided there was no place on the major league staff for Kazmir - an easy decision when you look at the fact that, in those five starts, Kazmir gave up 29 runs in 15.1 IP, walking 20 and striking out 14. He also had 5 WP and hit 6 batters. Never a control pitcher, Kazmir was all over the place, which was compounded by the fact his fastball, once one of the best in the league, is no longer even league average.

The story of Kazmir is a strange, often-repeated one. The Mets made him the #15 pick in the 2002 draft out of high school, and he signed quickly enough to make five excellent starts at Low-A Brooklyn, giving up only 1 ER in 18 innings while striking out 34. This debut performance was enough for Baseball America to make Kazmir the 11th best prospect in their 2003 pre-season rankings. In 2003, over two levels as a 19 year old, Kazmir continued to dominate, with a 2.65 ERA and 145 strikeouts in 109.1 innings. The 45 walks he had were enough to drop Kazmir to 12th in the Baseball America rankings. Still, being the #3 pitching prospect in baseball in nothing to sneeze at.

In 2004, Kazmir was excellent again. In 76 IP between high A and AA, he had a 2.84 ERA, 80 K, 31 BB and allowed only 3 HR. However, Mets' major league pitching coach Rick Peterson didn't like Kazmir's delivery - he thought it would be unsustainable over a long period of time, leading to injury and control trouble. A pitcher who Peterson DID like was Tampa Bay Ray starter Victor Zambrano. The 28 year old Zambrano had pitched for four years in Tampa, and was known mostly for his erratic (which might be too kind) control. In 481.2 IP with the Rays, he'd walked 288 batters. In 2003, he's led the AL with 106 walks (against only 132 strikeouts - this wasn't Nolan Ryan), and, at midseason 2004 already had 92 walks. Peterson liked Zambrano's stuff and general delivery and thought the control was the result of a correctable mechanical flaw.

So, what happened? The Mets traded the #12 prospect in baseball for the 28-year-old American League leader in walks at the trading deadline.

It seemed as dumb at the time as it does now. It would be like waking up tomorrow morning and finding out that the Braves had traded Julio Teheran to the Astros for JA Happ, and 28 other teams find out that not only was Teheran available, but all it would have taken to get him was a mediocre starter with serious control issues. This wasn't a contending team trading an unproven prospect for a proven veteran, like losing John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander. It was the Mets giving up on their top prospect because of one person's opinion, and getting nothing close to value in return. People jokingly asked whether Mets GM thought he was getting Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano and accidentally traded for the wrong Zambrano.

I should state that I've always thought Rick Peterson got too much of the blame for this turn of events. He's the pitching coach, not the general manager. The idea that Kazmir's delivery wasn't sustainable clearly has some merit in hindsight, and I'm going to bet that every pitching coach in the league has their eyes on a guy on another team who he things he can "fix." That's why it isn't the job of a pitching coach to make trades. The GM is in place to assess value, see what the best package he can get for a player, and Jim Duquette very obviously did not do that. That's why, personally, I view this as the worst trade in baseball history. If you analyze the long-term effect of a deal, clearly the Atlanta Braves getting John Smoltz or the Houston Astros getting Jeff Bagwell, or the Cardinals getting Lou Brock were enormous, but all of those were defensible. Trading your best prospect for one of the worst starters in the league?

Anyway, Victor Zambrano got hurt after three starts for the Mets. I suppose that Peterson was able to get him to lower his walk totals, as he walked 4.2 per 9 IP for the Mets, after walking 5.4 per 9 in his Rays career, but it had little benefit. Zambrano got hurt again in 2006, then bounced to the Blue Jays and Orioles in 2007 before falling out of the league.

Meanwhile, by 2007 Kazmir was turning into the best young pitchers in baseball. Called up only a month after the deal with the Mets, Kazmir, still only 20 struggled some at first. In 2005, he led the AL with 100 walks, but struck out significantly more batters than Zambrano, keeping his ERA down to 3.77, earning him 9th place in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. It was in 2006 and 2007 that Kazmir turned into the ace of the young (then Devil) Rays. In 351.1 innings pitched those two years, he struck out 402 and walked only 141. In 2007 as a 23 year old, he led the American League with 239 strikeouts. Kazmir for Zambrano was now a punchline.

In 2008, things started to go wrong for Kazmir. He strained his elbow in spring training, and while the issue was not reported to be serious, the Rays were still cautious, and Kazmir did not debut until May 4. Things went well enough from there, and Kazmir was named to his second straight all-star game, sporting a 3.05 ERA and a K/BB ratio of close to 3.0. In the second half, Kazmir appeared to be running out of gas - every indicator of effectiveness had dropped. He was striking out fewer batters, walking more, and giving up more home runs. His batting average against fell, a function of the Rays significantly improved defense behind him, but scouts were worried that his fastball was losing its bite.

In 2009, his velocity continued to drop, and Kazmir was now making serious money, having been signed before 2008 to a 4 year, $38.5M contract, was considered trade bait. Matt Garza, James Shields and David Price had already passed Kazmir, and the farm system was loaded with arms. At the trading deadline, Kazmir had a 5.92 ERA and was striking out barely 7 per 9 IP. Attributing the issues not to a termporary blip but to a loss in stuff, the Rays traded the 25-year-old Kazmir five years after acquiring him. He was sent to the Los Angeles Angels for utilityman Sean Rodriguez, minor league pitcher Alex Torres, and minor league first baseman Matthew Sweeney.

Kazmir improved upon being acquired by the Angels, but this was from a drop in his walk and home run rates rather than his stuff returning to its old level. In six starts, Kazmir had a 1.73 ERA in his first six starts, earning him a spot in their playoff rotation. This turned out to be a mistake, as in three playoff appearances he had a 7.93 ERA.

In 2010, Kazmir posted career worsts in nearly every category, and for the first time in his career, his fastball did not average 90 mph. By the end of the year, he had a 5.94 ERA, and in 150 innings pitched he struck out only 93, walked 79 and allowed 25 home runs - the highest walk and home run rates of any pitcher with 150 innings in the American League. Still hoping they could get something out Kazmir, and with him under contract for the season, the Angels broke camp in 2011 with him in the starting rotation. In his first start, he faced 14 batters - walking two, hitting two, giving up 5 hits including a home run, and allowing 5. He retired only 4 batters, none by strikeout. His fastball averaged 86 miles per hour.

It was at that point where the Angels decided to put Kazmir on the DL, because pitchers aren't supposed to throw 7mph slower at 27 than they did at 22 unless there is something physically wrong. Nothing specific was found, though, and with Kazmir getting lit up in 5 AAA starts, the Angels moved on.

At this point, I'm not sure where Kazmir can go. No team will put him in the majors. I almost think he'd be best off taking the rest of the year off, not pitching again until next spring, just throwing and playing long toss to build his arm strength back up. Still, we're not even sure that the issue is "arm strength." He may have just peaked athletically at a young age, and not have anything left in his 27 year old arm. If this is it though, Rays fans will always be able to remember him as one of the faces of the franchise in the mid-'00s when they actually began to improve.

Meanwhile, Rob Neyer recounts what Mets fans can remember (from his old ESPN blog):

In 2007 the Mets finished one game behind the first-place Phillies. In 2008 they finished three games behind the first-place Phillies. In 2006, their fourth starter in October was Steve Trachsel, who started twice and gave up seven runs in four-plus innings. It's not hard to imagine the Mets generating a great deal more income with Kazmir, because it's not hard to imagine them winning significantly more postseason games in those three years than they actually won.

And they didn't even get the right Zambrano.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mid-week Musings Around the American League

So, there's a lot going on around the league, but I don't have a single topic that lends itself to a full column. So, for your enjoyment, here are stories from each team in the AL.

Boston - Andrew Miller Likely to be Called Up
Multiple sources (including the Boston Globe's Peter Abraham) are reporting that Andrew Miller will be called up from Pawtucket to take a role in the Red Sox starting rotation. Miller had his 4th straight excellent start last night against Charlotte, going 5.1 innings, giving up 5 hits, 1 run, striking out 10, and walking only 1. Four excellent starts doesn't necessarily mean Miller is "fixed," but walking only 3 in his past 25.1 IP is a huge step in the right direction. Convinced that either Miller is ready to help, or that there was a significant chance Miller would choose to opt out of his contract, the Sox appear to be pulling the trigger.

Interestingly, instead of replacing Tim Wakefield, the Sox will go with a six-man rotation for the time being. While this may be the best way to promote Miller while also give Wakefield a useful role, the danger is obviously that Beckett, Lester and Buchholz will be pitching less frequently. History shows that all three have pitched their best on five days (one extra) of rest, but Lester and Buchholz are worse (though with an insignificant sample size) given a sixth day. Therefore, the six man rotation may be sensible when the team is playing every day, but when off days are involved, the Red Sox should be skipping Miller or Wakefield.

New York - Derek Jeter Goes on DL - Yankees Break Out
Talk about the elephant in the room. One game is obviously an insignificant sample size, but if the Yankees offense is sparked by having Brett Gardner - who has a higher OBP, higher SLG, and is significantly faster than Jeter - batting leadoff, the Yankees get to have at least the fifth (sixth? seventh?) really really uncomfortable declining-superstar-who-helped-them-win-championships-but-is-no-longer that-good discussion. Because of his league-high ground ball rate, batting second would be the worst possible spot for Jeter (he'd probably hit into 35 double plays over a full season batting second behind a .340+ OBP guy), so where would they hit him? Sixth? Eighth? Fans who recall the end of Ozzie Smith's career in St. Louis (Smith and Tony LaRussa still will not speak) have a guideline about where this might be going.

Tampa Bay - James Shields Shuts Down Streaking Red Sox
In 2008, Shields appeared to be emerging as one of the best pitchers in the league, even somehow earning the nickname "Big Game James" before the Rays had ever even appeared in a playoff game. The past two years, though, Shields had regressed, with a 4.14 ERA in 2009 and a 5.18 ERA in a 2010 season where he led the AL in hits, home runs and earned runs allowed. His K/BB ratio had stayed excellent, but it's hard to have success allowing a home run once every 6 IP. With his HR rate back down to a sustainable level this year, Shields has a 2.60 ERA and will be hard to leave off of the All-Star Team.

Toronto - Kyle Drabek sent to AAA

The Blue Jays top prospect (and son of the former Cy Young Award Winner), has battled control problems all year. He bottomed out Sunday against the Red Sox, allowing 8 runs, 3 homers and 4 walks in only 4 IP. In three June starts, Drabek lasted only 10 innings, with a 15.30 ERA, .404/.509/.702 line against, with 10 walks and 6 strikeouts. Leading the AL with 52 walks and 10 wild pitches on the season, it's pretty clear what Drabek will be expected to work on.

Doesn't the sound of being sent to Las Vegas to work on control just sound like a bad idea?

Baltimore - Koji Uehara Could be Valuable Trade Bait
Since being converted to a reliever before the 2010 season, Uehara has a 2.69 ERA is 73 IP, with an extremely impressive 92 strikeouts to only 11 walks. With his contract expiring this year, the Orioles will be unlikely to resign him, and he could be a valuable piece for a contender down the stretch.

Buyer beware, though - Uehara has allowed 10 home runs since the start of last season, including 5 in only 29.2 IP this year. This would make me very leery of putting Uehara in a closer role. Still, in a setup role on a team having bullpen problems like Texas or Detroit, Uehara has obvious value.

Detroit - Alex Avila Helping Lead Charge Toward First Place
The Tigers took over sole possession of first place in the AL Central yesterday with a win over the Twins. Justin Verlander was (rightly) the story, bringing a no-hitter into the 7th and finishing with a 2-hit, 12-strikeout complete game shutout. Miguel Cabrera (if Jose Bautista hadn't turned into some sort of superhuman, he'd be the best hitter in the AL) has gotten the bulk of the attention, but 24-year old catcher Alex Avila has been fantastic, with a .296/.355/.545 batting line, including .347/.382/.592 in his last 14 games (in which the Tigers have gone 10-4).

Proving, once again, that the fan voters are often smarter than they receive credit for, Avila is 2nd among AL catchers in All Star voting. With leader Russell Martin potentially going on the disabled list, Avila may have a chance to move up.

Cleveland - Indians fall out of First Place, Possibly Because Everyone on their Team isn't Playing Well
That's only a slight exaggeration - it just seems that way. Asdrubal Cabrera, for example is doing quite well. Chris Perez has been arguably the best closer in the league, non-Rivera division. Justin Masterson, after starting off at 5-0, has failed to win any of his last 9 starts. In those nine starts though, he has a very respectable 3.69 ERA over 61 innings, with 43 K, 21 BB, and only 2 HR allowed.

Others are legitimately slumping though. After putting The Dunne Deal fan favorite Good Grady Sizemore on the DL on May 10, the Indians mistakenly activated arch-nemesis Evil Grady Sizemore, who has gone .200/.294/.333 since May 27th. Over the same time frame, Shin-Soo Choo has gone .183/.258/.217. Orlando Cabrera? .176/.192/.196. In his last three starts, Fausto Carmona has a 10.67 ERA. In Josh Tomlin's last four starts, he has a 8.61 ERA, raising his season from 2.41 to 4.14.

Choo is likely to improve, but Sizemore and Carmona have been enigmatic for years now, Cabrera may be finished, and a low-4's ERA seems to be about Tomlin's skill level until he starts allowing fewer home runs.

Overall, this was a team that was playing way over its head, and the law of averages has made itself felt in a hurry.

Chicago - Juan Pierre Should Not Hit Leadoff Anymore
I'm not going to call for a full out benching of the guy, because he can still play LF well (though his defensive stats show him as worse than last year, when he was excellent), and the White Sox aren't exactly busting at the seams with another LF ready to take his place. Still, the White Sox are 6th in the AL in OBP, 6th in SLG, and 9th in runs scored, largely because their batting order is, to say the least, inefficient. To make matters worse, Pierre leads the league with being caught stealing 9 times, against only 10 successful swipes. Adding those 9 outs on the basepaths to the 220 outs Pierre has at the plate, he's been the most prolific out-maker in baseball. Batting in front of Alexei Ramirez, Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin, the White Sox are doing themselves a disservice not having someone who can consistently get to first base, even if he doesn't stay there. The problem? There is no obvious candidate, unless you believe Brent Lillibridge is for real (I'm skeptical).

If Chicago ever got any consistency from Gordon Beckham, they could have their answer. Based on his career splits so far, he should have a huge second half, but this is the second year in a row Beckham has gotten off to a dreadful start.

Kansas City - Why Not Keep Jeff Francis?
Over at MLBTR, there was an article about what the Royals should do if they become sellers. The obvious response is that a 4th place team with the best farm system in baseball should DEFINITELY be sellers - if they can get sufficient value for veterans who aren't going to be there in 2013, they should definitely do so, even if it lowers their chance of making the playoffs in 2011 from 0.05% down to 0.01%.

One point was about Jeff Francis, who is due to be a free agent after the season and will not meet Type B status to gain the Royals compensation. The thought is that they should trade him, so that they don't lose him for nothing. If the Royals can get anything of value for him, they should probably do it, but there is a value in having an innings-eater type on a young team. He will keep the bullpen from becoming too taxed (he's gone at least 6 IP in all but 3 of 14 starts, which all came consecutively earlier this year), and can probably continue to be a league average pitcher when the team is ready to contend in a couple years. Since their pitching prospects are behind their hitters, and pitching is less projectable than hitting anyway.

Francis is probably good enough to be a 4 or 5 starter on a contender without hurting them too much - putting him in front of a better defense might take half a run off his ERA, since he has so many balls put in play against him. So if a team like St. Louis makes a reasonable offer, the Royals should probably take it. However, if they can't get value there is no harm in letting Francis become Kansas City's version of Bronson Arroyo, delivering acceptable but rarely excellent pitching while the rest of the team develops around him. Better than having Kyle Davies and Sean O'Sullivan start those games, at least.

Justin Morneau Placed on DL
There has been some talk about Morneau recently playing through a shoulder injury, despite the fact that both he, and the Twins have been terrible. Yesterday he was placed on the DL with a strained wright wrist.

I don't know if he hurt his wrist because he was attempting to play through the shoulder injury. I do know that him trying to play, and the Twins LETTING him play while he and the team were both performing so poorly, is really, really, really, really stupid. The Twins gained nothing by allowing to play, and if the the shoulder injury did alter his swing causing him to hurt his wrist (an injury that could have longer-term implications), the Twins have sacrificed long term good, despite having nothing to gain in the short term.

Despite some recent wins, the Twins stink. In order to not stink, they probably need Justin Morneau to be healthy (though they did well in the second half last year without him due to fine performances by Jason Kubel and especially Jim Thome). So why risk having Morneau get more hurt by letting him play through an injury that was clearly hurting his performance, and jeopardize their long term chances? The Twins have done some good things in the Ron Gardenhire era, but this whole situation gets a big fat F-.

Texas - Turning a Useful Setup Man into an Good Starter, Part Deux
My favorite trend in baseball the last two years has been the Rangers willingness to take first CJ Wilson, and now Alexi Ogando, and make them into starting pitchers. It's always disappointing to me when a good young starting pitcher is made into a reliever in order to fill a role, and ends up there for the rest of his career. It happened to Jonathan Papelbon and Jonathan Broxton, and both pitchers seem to be flaming out quickly. There's a pretty in depth study that needs to be done on how and why starting pitchers have longer careers than relievers - is it consistency of work, or the fact they focus more on developing new pitches making their career less likely to be derailed by a loss in velocity, or what, but most guys do not turn into Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman.

So, what will happen with Neftali Feliz? If nothing else, he's in an organization that could be willing to give him a chance to start. Despite getting hit hard last night (a BABIP correction was probably due anyway), Ogando is still in the top 10 in several categories - 7th in ERA (3rd in ERA+, Texas is a tough place to pitch, remember), 7th in BB/9, 9th in K/BB, 3rd in WHIP, 4th in H/9. CJ Wilson, last years conversion project, has made improvements to his strikeout and walk rates, making his chances for sustained success all the more likely. Feliz has better stuff than both those guys. Maybe I'm being selfish here, but I always feel a big gypped as a fan when someone who could potentially be excellent as a starter doesn't get tha chance. I'd hate to be sitting here in five years, talking about Feliz flaming out as a reliever and wondering what might have happened if he'd become a starter when he had the chance.

Seattle - Call up Ackley, Already
Seriously, this is getting silly. In the last two days, he's 5 for 9 with 2 walks and a double. Their top prospect is hitting .300/.418/.487 at AAA while they have the worst offense in the league. They score more than 3 runs about once a week. What's the delay? Even if he's Alfonso Soriano-level awful at 2B, he might be the best hitter on the Mariners, right now. Except for the fact he's not on the Mariners yet, he's in Tacoma. I'm not even a Mariner fan, and this is driving me bonkers.

Weaver and Haren are the best 1-2 Combo in the AL
By calcaulations, the Angels, as a team, have 18.6 WAR. Weaver and Haren have 6.2 of that. Both rank in the top 5 in just about every major category, and both are workhorses - barring some injury, this will be Weaver's third consecutive 200 IP season, and Haren's seventh. Two guys like that will make up for a lot of other holes - if the Angels can find a way to build their offense to even average levels, they'll be a serious contender again. At 3.74 R/G though, they're 12th in the AL in runs scored.

How patient will they be with Mike Trout? They have the worst hitting outfield in baseball, and Trout is raking at a .330/.434/.565 clip at AA Arkansas, with increased power. His speed makes him even more dangerous - he has 23 steals, and has scored in 50 of the 108 times he's been on base. I'd listen to an argument that Trout, not Bryce Harper (who is 14 months younger but two levels lower), is baseball's #1 prospect.

(Note: I just saw the news of Scott Kazmir likely being released. This deserves its own post, and will get one in the next couple of days).

Oakland - What Happens When Your Hitters Can't Hit and Pitchers Can't Stay Healthy
You make me look like an idiot, that's what. I picked the A's to win the division before the season, mostly because I liked their pitching. It turned out that their pitchers were as good as I'd hoped before getting hurt, but it didn't matter - I think 1999 Pedro Martinez would have ended up 12-14 for this team. Their offense is putrid. Abysmal. Deplorable. Pick up a thesaurus, any of these words will do. Unlike the Mariners and Angels, who have had some standout performers brought down by other players having horrendous season, the A's lineup has generally been bad across the board. They have one qualified hitter with an OBP over .330 (Conor Jackson, .335) and one with an SLG over .400 (Josh Willingham, .417).

Unless "guys who aren't good at hitting" is the resource that Billy Beane recognized as being undervalued by the market, something has gone awry with his Moneyball approach. Since 2004, Oakland has now made the playoffs exactly one time, and it's fair to question Beane's status as one of the better GMs in baseball. I don't doubt his intelligence, and I respect his willingness to think outside the box, but the results haven't been there for too long to continue giving him a free pass.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Royals Rebuilding Continues: Mike Moustakas Arrives

The Royals' other top 10 prospect, third baseman Mike Moustakas, was called up on Friday and started the past three games, going 3 for 10 with three walks and the first of what could be many home runs. Moustakas follows Eric Hosmer, who debuted a month ago, along with pitchers Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and Jeremy Jeffress in the Royals youth movement.

Drafted #2 overall in the 2007 draft out of Chatsworth High School, the same school that produced Dwight Evans, Moustakas saw his status jump around over the years due to some fluctuations in batting average. He had a breakout season in 2010, going .322/.369/.630 with 36 home runs and 124 RBI at AA and AAA as a 21 year old, vaulting him to #9 in Baseball America's status. The one concern was his low K/BB rate, consistently striking out at least twice as often as he walked, an issue that some believed would keep his batting average down.

Beginning the 2011 season in AAA, Moustakas continued to show power, with 15 2B and 10 HR in 250 PA. However, 41 strikeouts to only 19 walks had some scouts worried, and it kept his overall production at .287/.347/.498 - good, but not fantastic. Still, the Royals are committed to their rebuilding, and decided that Moustakas, likely past being eligible for the "Super Two" status that's become the bugaboo among GMs recently, should get his chance.

So, Moustakas deserves his status as a top prospect, but he is hardly flawless. The three walks in his first three MLB games are a good sign, but are not really in line with his past performance. If Moustakas continues his free-swinging ways, major league pitchers with better control and more ability to make adjustments than their minor league counterparts, will simply give Moustakas little in the way of hittable pitches. Moustakas replaces Wilson Betemit, who was hitting .289/.348/.411, his second consecutive good season for Kansas City. It seems like forever ago when Betemit was a top-10 prospect himself, but he is only 29 years old and has a career .268/.336/.443 line. His defense leaves something to be desired, and I'm skeptical of the Royals' plan to use him in a utility role that includes being a backup SS and 2B, but I don't expect him to be a Royal much longer. Betemit could be had in trade with a team that needs a starting 3B or switch hitter off the bench who can play the four corners and possibly the middle infield in a real emergency. The Rockies, who have run out of patience with Ian Stewart, or the Mariners if they decide they are contenders and are willing to accept that Chone Figgins isn't getting the job done, are destinations that could make sense.

I'm not sure if Moustakas is an immediate upgrade over Betemit offensively in 2011, but the Royals are not playing for this year. Moustakas has such advanced power that there's little more he can do to improve in AAA - he'll always have that power to fall back on, and he'll be facing a lot of pitchers who are in AAA because they give up too many home runs. That combination will make it hard for him to improve his other skills, such as improving his plate discipline and making more consistent contact. With the Royals likely aiming for a 2013 date for being real contenders, getting Moustakas 1000 or so plate appearances by then will allow him to make those necessary adjustments. I like Hosmer's upside more, because I see him as a more well-rounded hitter, but Moustakas has an upside as a 45 home run type, settling in nicely as a #5 hitter behind Hosmer, Billy Butler, and a finally-producing Alex Gordon.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Progress Report: Andrew Miller

One of the intriguing subplots for the Red Sox organization this season has been their attempt to revitalize the career of former top prospect Andrew Miller. I wrote about this when they originally acquired Miller back in December (The Dunne Deal: Andrew Miller), but to summarize, Miller had never been developed properly. Because of his excellent stuff, he'd pitched only 17.2 career innings in AAA, despite never having anything resembling success in the majors. The biggest problem has been a lack of control - 5.3 walks per nine innings for his major league career, bottoming out in 2010 with 7.2 per 9. The Tigers and Marlins have both had some success developing pitchers, but for whatever reason, they believed they could work out his problems in the major leagues. Neither could, and the Marlins dumped him this offseason for low-upside lefthander Dustin Richardson.

In December, the Red Sox nontendered Miller in order to sign him to a minor league contract. With Miller out of options, they figured this would be the only way to get him the time at AAA he needed. Miller and his agent were on board, and Miller went into the season knowing that he'd be starting with Pawtucket. Included in the minor league deal is an opt-out clause, stating that Miller could leave the Red Sox on June 15th if he isn't called up to the majors.

The timing couldn't be better for him, as Miller's development seems to have recently taken a turn for the better. Through his first nine starts, Miller had only a 2.90 ERA in 40.1 innings, allowing only one home run and striking out 35. The problem, as they had been in the past for Miller, was the walks. 32 in 40.1 innings, a rate of 7.14 per nine innings. This continued high walk rate likely was one reason Miller was passed over when Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey were placed on the disabled list in mid-May. Miller not being on the 40-man roster was a consideration as well - they would have needed to remove someone from the 40 man to call on him. Still, looking at his other excellent numbers, a drop in his walk rate would have at least made the Red Sox seriously consider going to him.

In his last three outings, Miller at least appears to have made notable strides in that department. He's continued to not allow home runs (0 in 20 IP), he's continued to strike people out (16 Ks), and, most importantly, he's walked only two batters.

Take a look, in chart form:

First 9 starts2.9040.3251713132351.4130.27.17.8
Last 3 starts 1.8020.0124402160.7000.00.97.2

Much of the credit for his recent improvement has gone to Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Saveur's suggestion of having him begin warming up earlier, and throwing a full simulated inning out of the bullpen before entering the game. Saveur gave the same suggestion to Clay Buchholz when he was struggling in AAA in 2009, and, despite occassional blips, Buchholz has maintained above average control ever since. Of course, three starts isn't enough is declare real development. Two of the teams Miller faced, Indianapolis and Norfolk, are in the bottom three in the International League in walks, and the third, Durham, recently seems to have taken to swinging at everything. In Sunday's game, Kevin Millwood pitched into the 7th inning with only 64 pitches. Still, it's an important development, considering he's only five days away from being able to exercise his opt-out. Miller is saying all of the right things about not thinking about the situation, but one has to assume that every team in baseball is - it's pretty rare to be able to acquire a pitcher of Miller's talent as a free agent in mid-season. So while the Red Sox would certainly love to keep him in the minors at least another four to six weeks to ensure his continued development, their hand may be forced.

If Miller is called upon, what would his role be? Tim Wakefield is hardly entrenched as the 5th starter, so that is an option. There is a line of thought that says pitchers with high walk rates but good strikeout numbers who keep the ball in the park make excellent relievers, but Miller has terrible career numbers out of the bullpen - the extended time to warm up Miller appears to need to get his control in order is likely one reason, as well as the fact that he shows little platoon split, a rarity for a 6'7" lefthander.

With Wakefield only four wins away from 200 for his career, casting him aside for a project like Miller would be a tough decision for the Red Sox. Also interesting is the juxtaposition of Miller and Wakefield. Miller was the top draft pick with electric stuff, who would throw harder than anyone on the major league staff other than his former UNC rotation-mate Daniel Bard, but has to this point failed to have any success at the major league level because of his lack of control. Wakefield is at the other end of the spectrum, only making it to the major leagues after flaming out as a first baseman an learning the knuckleball, now the softest throwing pitcher in the major leagues, with close to 200 wins despite having only three seasons where he struck out more than 7 batters per nine innings. Throw in one more striking correlation - it was 16 years ago when the Red Sox signed Wakefield to a minor league contract after he'd bottomed out with Pittsburgh, reworked his mechanics, and called him up in late May when injuries struck. Wakefield responded by starting his Red Sox career 14-1, and he's been in Boston ever since, throwing at least 140 innings every year.

The best thing for the Red Sox might be to guarantee Miller's $1.2M major league contract if he is willing to agree to waive his opt-out clause. It's impossible to see the Red Sox NOT needing another starter at some point this year, but calling upon him now would force them to drop someone from the 40 man roster, as well as unseat the popular Wakefield from the rotation before Miller is ready to do so. (Note: I have no idea if such a deal is allowed by the MLBPA - if that's in violation of his contract or other union rules, let me know). I'm not so much worried about the sentimentality of replacing Wakefield as I am the performance - Wakefield has a 4.89 ERA as a starter, and while that's below average for an AL starting pitcher, he's not likely to perform significantly worse than that. Given his durability and the Red Sox offense, that has value. Miller, on the other hand, could turn into a disaster if he isn't ready, and the Red Sox energy trying to develop him the last three months will have been for naught. Another point - Miller's stated goal is to become a starter - it would make little sense for him and his agent to force the Red Sox to call him up as a reliever and again stunt his development.

In the next five days we should have more information - Clay Buchholz's back or John Lackey's arm could flare up again, necessitating a roster move. Miller could walk 8 guys in three innings on Monday against Charlotte. Lots can change in a week, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Mariners Need to Call up Dustin Ackley

I started off today trying to write an entry on the 2011 draft. Specifically, I wanted to write about how the Nationals' choice of Anthony Rendon was the smartest pick. I found that others smarter than I (such as Rob Neyer) had written on the topic. In general, I believed that picking the best college hitter was a lower risk, higher reward proposition. After some research, I still believe that - JD Drew, Todd Helton and Mark Teixeira were the top hitters taken in their classes in the last 15 years, but compiling the data is taking more time than I expected. I will say though, that strategy-wise, the Nationals did the best job in this draft, taking the #1 college hitter and a high risk type in pitcher Alex Meyer of Kentucky with their second 1st rounder.

I'll be attempting to come up with a more substantive follow-up, but one data point I came across doesn't need more time, research or discussion. Dustin Ackley needs to be in the major leagues.

Ackley was taken 2nd overall in the 2009 draft behind Stephen Strasburg. In three years at UNC, Ackley hit .412/.487/.648, with a power surge his junior year vaulting him to "best college hitter" status. The only questions about him were what position he would end up at, and whether his power would translate to the pros.

In his first minor league season, these questions proved legitimate. The Mariners were trying Ackley at 2B, where he received mixed reviews from scouts, and he also hit only 7 home runs in 587 PA. The conventional wisdom was that Ackley's batting average would carry him at 2B, but if he needed to move to a corner position, he would need to add power. This kept him out of many top 10 lists heading into the 2011 season.

Fast forward a couple months. With a .305/.421/.504 300 PA into the 2011 season, Ackley has been rightly getting significant attention. With 16 doubles, 3 triples and 9 home runs, the power concerns have been alleviated some. While granting that the Pacific Coast League is a great place to hit, Tacoma plays pretty neutral, unlike, say, Albuquerque or Colorado Springs.

While Ackley has been raking, the Mariners are 31-30, good for second place in the AL West, only 2.5 games behind the Texas Rangers. This despite being dead last in batting average, OBP and SLG. Mariner 2B are hitting .286/.331/.396 (despite the best efforts of Jack Wilson); LF are hitting .211/.277/.360. So it's pretty fair to assume that Ackley would out-produce their 2B, and hard to picture him NOT being an upgrade in left, while spotting a slumping Ichiro in RF.

The Mariners insist that Ackley is in the minors to work on his defense, but it's hard to believe it's not to protect themselves against his reaching "Super Two" status. As a Super Two player, Ackley would reach arbitration (but not free agency) a year earlier costing them a few million dollars. So instead, they are leaving him in the minor leagues longer than he needs to be, potentially costing them a playoff shot.

This strikes me as short-sighted. First of all, Mariner fans deserve the best team possible on the field the organization can produce, and it's not clear that they're getting that. Furthermore, as I discussed in a previous post on Eric Hosmer, there are pretty significant financial benefits to making the playoffs - bonuses, merchandise, ticket sales, future season ticket packages, and so on. Missing out because you're trying to save a few bucks would be the definition of being penny wise and pound foolish.

A bigger issue here is that the "Super Two" status is not working. Instead of helping players just under the 3-year arbitration point get paid earlier, it just keeps them in the minors longer. This is bad for the players, the fans and the teams. There have been suggested fixes, such as the one posted today by Dave Cameron at FanGraphs, but I'm not sure such a radical restructuring of free agency is a) necessary, or b) conceivable. It's more likely that the Super Two designation will just be dropped entirely.

With a change likely when the CBA expires, it makes even less sense for the Mariners to keep Ackley in the minors. They are missing out on valuable at bats without him, and are endangering their playoff chances by doing so.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Pawtucket vs. Durham 6/6 Live Blog!

Afternoon minor league baseball on the MLB Network? Looks like it's time for a Live Blog!

The Pawtucket Red Sox are in Durham to take on the Bulls, the AAA affiliate of the Rays. I haven't gotten a chance to watch much minor league ball this year, so this will be nice.

12:04: Darnell McDonald and Marco Scutaro, both on rehab assignment, are in the starting lineup for Pawtucket. Scutaro will likely be activated for tomorrows game (with Scott Atchison likely to be demoted), while McDonald will probably stay down for the rest of the week. In addition, Kevin Millwood is pitching for Pawtucket.

12:08: Single to CF by Scutaro off of Bulls starter Edgar Gonzalez. Diamondbacks fans will remember Gonzalez. He pitched in Arizona from 2003 to 2008. While he was considered a prospect and made it to the majors at age 20, he never really developed as Arizona hoped he would. His biggest problem was the long ball, giving up 56 career homers in 323 innings.

12:12: A timeout to work on the mound here in the first game, gives us a chance to know that Durham's ground crew head Scott Strickland was the Minor League Sports Turf manager of the year.

12:20: With the mound back to Gonzalez's liking, Darnell McDonald rips a double down the left field line, scoring Scutaro. McDonald is now 7 for 16 with two doubles and two homers on his rehab stint.

12:23: Lars Anderson follows up with a two run double, scoring McDonald and Josh Reddick. Every time we seem ready to write Anderson off as a prospect he seems to go on a hot streak. Being blocked by Adrian Gonzalez, his future is clearly with another organization, but the Red Sox certainly wouldn't object to his trade value going upward.

12:26: Luis Exposito reaches on catcher's interference by Jose Lobaton. Not a glancing blow, Exposito hit the glove straight off of Lobaton. It looks like he's going to stay in the game. Eventful first inning so far.

12:33 Leadoff single by top prospect Desmond Jennings off the foot of Kevin Millwood. After being bothered with shoulder trouble last year, Jennings has a .275/.379/.474 line so far. If BJ Upton is traded, a real possibility, Jennings is going to get the call.

12:35: Jose Iglesias starting the nice 6-4-3 double play with the glove toss. As good as he is with the glove, it's ok to at least start to be worried about the bat. While Iglesias is one of the younger players in AAA, he has only 1 extra base hit in 150 PA.

12:39: Double to left field by Scutaro on a "changeup." Looked more like the high straight ball to me. Gonzalez and Lobaton are having a discussion about something, but his stuff looks extremely hittable so far.

12:40: Sacrifice fly by Redick, PawSox take the 4-0 lead.

12:41: Another double for McDonald. This one was more of a chopper that took a big bounce over the 3rd baseman's head. Pawtucket leads 5-0. One difference between the majors and minors (and one reason minor league managers shouldn't necessarily be rated based on their W/L record) - in the bigs, someone would be getting ready in the bullpen. Here in Durham, the goal is to get everyone the appropriate amount of work and development.

12:47: A nice piece of hitting by Dan Johnson, driving an opposite field single off the left field wall. I think Johnson has earned "quad-A" deisgnation. In 2000 AAA plate appearances: .304/.417/.554; in 1513 major league PA: .235/.334/.404.

12:51: Speaking of Quadruple-A, Chris Carter strikes out against Millwood. Carter now has over 2500 AAA plate appearances. Finally getting a limited chance with the Mets last year, Carter failed to produce, delivering at a .263/.317/.389 clip. Fair or not, a middling prospect like Carter probably couldn't afford to punt on a chance like that. He's probably a AAA soldier from here on out.

1:04: Ray Olmedo with his second very nice play at SS, with a leap to deny LF Ronald Bermudez. Last inning, he made a glove flip to start a double play on a Jose Iglesias ground ball. Olmedo appeared with the Reds in parts of four seasons (2003-06), and in 2007 with the Blue Jays, but never really hit. The difference between Olmedo and some of the guys who end up having long careers as a defensive replacement is very fine, and often comes down to little more than luck. With Reid Brignac strugging mightily in the majors, Olmedo (.359 OBP so far this year) might get a call. He's not the answer long-term, but if Brignac doesn't turn it around soon, Tampa will start looking for options before falling too far behind New York and Boston.

1:12: Double to left-center by Jennings. That gives him 23 extra base hits so far this year. A little bit farther up, I mentioned that he could get the call in the event of a BJ Upton trade, but he may instead be in line to take Sam Fuld's job. Fuld has been a pretty big story this year, so I was surprised to see that he's hitting only .231/.284/.347. Jennings is better than that right now, and should be in the majors very soon.

1:21: Edgar Gonzalez strikes out Lars Anderson to lead off the 5th, giving Gonzalez three straight K's. He's settled down some, but his stuff doesn't appear all that sharp. Watching on TV, he doesn't look like he does a good job repeating his delivery - when he throws a fastball, he speeds up his delivery and reaches farther back, while he appears to guide his changeup and drop down to a sidearm delivery for his curve.

1:32: Just as Gonzalez looked like was putting it together, a single, two walks, then another single, and it's 7-1. Iglesias drove in the two runs on a grounder between shortstop and the third baseman. The RBIs are nice, but that's the third straight ground ball by Iglesias on a pitch he should've been able to drive.

1:36: In what will apparently be Scutaro's last at bat of the day, he grounds into a 6-4-3 double play. Scutaro finishes up 3 for 4 with two runs scored and a double.

1:45: Cory Wade relieves Gonzalez for Durham. Through 33 innings this year, Wade has a 1.09 ERA, 33 strikeouts and only 6 walks. Wade had an excellent 2008 for the Dodgers, but struggled in 2009, possibly a victim of overuse.

1:48: Easy 9 pitch 1-2-3 inning by Wade against Reddick/McDonald/Anderson. Not a hard thrower but he looks like he locates well.

1:59: Nice sliding catch by Chris Carter. He's not normally known for his defense (to put it kindly), but he showed off pretty solid range before going into the slide here.

2:00: Luis Exposito with an opposite field home run to make it 8-1. Exposito has been on base four times today. he reached on the catcher's interference in the first, had a hard single off the left field wall in the 3rd and walked in the 5th before this homer. Exposito has been slumping greatly this year

2:02: Millwood strikes out Olmedo to lead off the 7th. The Bulls have been free-swinging today, leading to Millwood being at only 58 pitches here in the 7th inning. There isn't much heat left on Millwood's fastball, but he's getting a good downward movement and location on it today. Not sure if his success today is more due to his good pitching or the lack of Bull patience, but the results have been excellent.

2:08: Millwood must be at his pitch limit, as Arnie Beyeler is out there to take him out with two outs in the seventh. So through 6.2 IP, Millwood gave up 5 hits, 1 ER (responsible for Brandon Guyer on third base), 0 BB, 4 K. According to the stadium gun, Millwood was reaching 89 in the 7th, and he threw only 62 pitches - again, possibly more attributable to the Bulls impatience than Millwood's dominance. Still, the Red Sox have to be very happy with this peformance. Clevelan Santeliz will replace Millwood.

2:11: Santeliz strikes out Russ Canzler to strand Guyer, closing the book on Millwood. Canzler and Guyer came to Tampa in the Matt Garza trade, and so far both have been excellent, with Guyer at .322/.390/.544 and Canzler at .297/.413/.500.

2:20: Clevelan Santeliz with the PawSox first walk of the day. Walks have been the problem over the years with Santeliz, with 5.5 per 9 innings over his minor league career.

2:22: Two-run homer to right field by Jose Lobaton. Lobaton had a very short stint on the 2009 Padres, but otherwise has been a career minor leaguer. With 18 walks and 14 extra base hits now in 136 PA, Lobaton may have a chance to crack the Tampa Bay roster.

2:26: More minor-league fun! Starting 2B Omar Luna is now pitching for Durham! And his brother Hector Luna is now playing 2B.

2:27: Che-hsuan Lin, who replaced Darnell McDonald in RF, leads off with a single. Lin has great plate discipline, great range in the outfield and an excellent arm, but has not shown any increased proclivity to hit for power as he's moved up the minor leagues. Until he develops the ability to put the ball into the gap, he can't project as anything more than a fourth outfielder.

2:33 RBI double for 2B Nate Spears. Although Spears had a nice 2010 at Portland, as a 25 year old with AAA experience, that needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Indeed, back into AAA this year, Spears has a .198/.320/.349 line.

2:35: After talking about Ray Olmedo's nice defense, he makes a tough error on a Luis Exposito grounder. Two runs score, making it 11-3.

2:44: Strange play. Hector Luna hit a Pop up to third baseman Brett Dlugach, which he appeared to lose in the sun, then find again. He came in, and appeared to make a basket catch and drop the ball on the transfer, but the umpire called it a dropped pop up. Of course, Ray Olmedo on first base had to hold up, so he was thrown out at second base. Net is the same (man on first base, two outs), just a more difficult way to get there.

2:48: Chris Carter fly ball to shallow left to end it. Pawtucket wins 11-3, and takes three of the four in the series from Durham. Millwood had a very impressive stat line, but as I said above, I'm not sure how much I'd read into. Durham was swinging at everything, and a veteran like Millwood is smart enough to handle that, even with his diminished stuff. Still, his velocity was up about four MPH from his previous Pawtucket start, so it is definitely a positive.

Breakout Performances: Tommy Hottovy

Ok, I'm getting ahead of myself - it's tough to call anyone a breakout performer after facing a grand total of four batters over three appearances. Still, after spending eight years in the minor leagues, Tommy Hottovy has already had an impact in his first weekend, and has positioned himself to take a permanent role in the Red Sox 2011 bullpen.

I'm assuming that most of you who are here know the general background story. If not, Peter Abraham of the Globe will fill you in here. It's a good write-up that I encourage you to read, but if you'd like the condensed version, Hottovy was a 4th round pick of the Red Sox in 2004 as a starting pitcher out of Wichita St, and made it to the AA Portland Sea Dogs by 2006. He stayed in Portland a very, very long time, interrupted by a 2008 Tommy John surgery.

In 2009, unable to distinguish himself as a starter, he began to work his way back through the bullpen. He gradually lowered his arm angle until reaching the sidearm delivery he now employs. Over two minor league stops this year, he pitched 27 innings, allowing only 16 hits and 5 walks, and striking out 28. So when Rich Hill blew out his arm last week, the Red Sox turned to Hottovy not as a reward for his perseverance, but because they needed a good pitcher.

While it's too early to proclaim Hottovy the new Jesse Orosco, the early returns are good.

On Friday, Hottovy came in with the Sox losing 6-5 with two outs in the sixth inning and Coco Crisp on first base to face David DeJesus. After a Crisp stolen base, Hottovy got a routine 4-3 groundout. The Red Sox came back to win 8-6.

On Satruday, Hottovy came in with a 5-3 lead in the 7th, with men on first and second and only one out, again facing David DeJesus. Again, Hottovy induced a ground ball, this time for a 6-4-3 double play to keep the Red Sox in the lead. After some fireworks, the Red Sox won in the 14th inning 9-8.

On Sunday, Hottovy entered again in the 7th, this time with a 6-3 lead and Cliff Pennington on first base. After walking Ryan Sweeney, David DeJesus came up as the tying run. For the third straight day, he got a ground ball out of DeJesus for another 4-3 put out. The Red Sox won 6-3 to complete the sweep.

So, while it will be interesting to see how all of the American League hitters who are not named David DeJesus fare against Hottovy, it's clear that Francona has the confidence to put him into high leverage situations. He should get plenty of chances when Boston travels to Yankee Stadium this week - the Yankees have no shortage of lefties (as well as a couple switch hitters who it would be sensible to turn around - Jorge Posada is 0 for 27 against lefties this year), and Hottovy is the only southpaw in the bullpen. While the lefty-one-out-guy may not be my favorite part of the game, it's nice to see Hottovy succeeding in the role.

The next test may be to use Hottovy against some righties, possibly in some lower leverage situations. Francona, to his credit, has been willing to use his lefthanded relievers as more than one out guys when they prove capable - Hideki Okajima from 2007-09 and Rich Hill earlier this year as prominent examples.

One thing in Hottovy's favor is the lack of obvious internal solutions. Rich Hill is out for the year. Hideki Okajima's stuff has devolved past the point of the Red Sox having any confidence in him. The Red Sox are committed to keeping Andrew Miller in the minors as they try to reconstruct his delivery. Franklin Morales has walked 5.2 per 9IP for his career. Felix Doubront is probably the next best choice, but it's hard to pull the trigger on making a successful minor league starter into a major league reliever when he is only 23 - if his future isn't as a starter with Boston, he may have more value in a trade. In that case, it probably makes sense to continue to have him showcased on regular rotation in Pawtucket.

This all adds up to be what should be a significant opportunity for Hottovy to prove himself. After eight years in the organization, he's earned it.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Sayonara, Daisuke. Is this for the Best?

Short answer? Yes.

The long answer is a little bit more complicated, but it's headed in the same direction.

Those of you who aren't living in a cave have probably heard the news. ESPN and several other sources are reporting that Daisuke Matsuzaka has decided to have the Tommy John surgery to replace the UCL in his elbow. With the recovery for such a surgery usually between 12-18 months, it's likely that Matsuzaka has pitched for the last time in a Red Sox uniform. His contract expires after the 2012 season, and he's slightly more likely to be re-signed by the Red Sox to a contract beyond that point than you or I are, it would be pretty close.

The response of Red Sox fans to this news has ranged from casual resignation to unrestrained glee. That may be a bit unfair, considering Daisuke DID have his positive moments, but he was a source of unending frustration. The half-dozen starts a year where Daisuke would pitch aggressively, use his fastball, get ahead in the count and look like the pitcher that was advertised made it all the more infuriating when he went back to to nibbling, walking the farm, and leaving the game after 104 pitches through five innings. It wasn't just frustrating to watch, it was ugly, boring baseball.

It wasn't just fans who were frustrated by Matsuzaka. He continually rejected Boston's conditioning program, preferring to undertake his own in a way that was characterized either as enigmatically stubborn or downright insubordinate. Might some of that be the Red Sox fault, for spending big money on a guy who wasn't willing or able to adjust to a different management style? Perhaps, though I suppose we'll never know exactly how that relationship devolved.

Over the last three years relationship between Matsuzaka and his team, as well as his team's fanbase, had become frayed to the point of unsustainability. Now his UCL is too. The best thing for everyone is for him to have his surgery, take the full 18 months to rehab, and have everyone start fresh in 2013. No huge signing bonus, no unreasonable expectations, no conflict over conditioning and pitching approach, no more having to go to bed at 11:15 when it's only the sixth inning, even though the score is 2-2. Daisuke could go to a team where the media and fanbase are bit less rabid, or back to Japan, where the scrutiny will be intense, but the support system will be as it was during his successful 1999-2006 run.

It's over in Boston though. Speaking the the past tense, Matsuzaka won 49 games in over 600 innings. He added three postseason wins, including one in the 2007 World Series. For the $51M he'll make over the six years he's under contract, that's disappointing, but not on the level of, say, Carl Pavano. Pavano won 9 games and appeared in the postseason zero times while making $40M over four years from the Yankees. Matsuzaka had a season where he won twice that many (plus a playoff game). Obviously pitching wins aren't a great indicator of results, and there were many underlying problems with Matsuzaka's game that were hidden by the Red Sox offense, but it does illustrate the point--Daisuke didn't live up to expections, but this was hardly the colossal bust some are making it out to be.

It's just time to move on. And it's for the best.

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