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Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.



Posted by Jon on Saturday, January 10, 2004



Will Hitting Flip the Birds in the East?

Can you remember the last time the AL East standings did not read, from top to bottom: Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, and finally the lowly Devil Rays? I wouldn’t be surprised if you have trouble recalling – it's been a while. The last time the standings read differently at season’s end was after the 1997 season, a.k.a. the year the Marlins won their first World Championship. The AL East has not budged in six seasons. Not since the two newest teams were introduced. Six seasons! Carlos Quintana didn’t even last that long in the majors! Forget somebody beating out the Yankees! When will there be any movement within the division?

The hope in my heart is that 2004 will be the year that the Sox finish in first place. But with the Orioles spending money like it’s the year 2000, I thought that the Orioles were positioning themselves to move up in the standings. Yes, in this offseason, they have signed Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez, but even if they also manage to pick up any combination of Rafael Palmeiro, or Pudge Rodriguez (even Vlad), their pitching staff will still be below average. Unfortunately, the Birds are spending their money in all the wrong places.

Last season, the Orioles finished fourth in the division, but this placement is deceptive. In fact, when teams’ run differentials are “adjusted for the quality of their opponent's pitching and hitting”, the Birds should have finished dead last (read: below the Devil Rays). When using these adjusted stats in order to better compare to the rest of the league, the Orioles end up with 745 Adjusted Equivalent Runs Scored and 834 AEQ Runs Allowed. What does this tell us?

Well frankly, it tells us that the 2003 Orioles had many problems that the Orioles of 2004 will have to deal with. Their Adjusted Equivalent Runs Scored was better than only 3 AL teams (Tampa Bay, Cleveland, and Detroit), revealing a 2003 offense deficient in run production. Their Adjusted Equivalent Runs Allowed was higher than all but 4 AL teams (Kansas City, Detroit, and Texas). Sadly, the Birds also have one of the worst pitching staffs in the AL (remember, we can’t blame overexposure to the potent Sox and Yankees lineups in the east because these stats have been adjusted for league-wide comparison). Throw in the fact that their Defensive Efficiency was second to last in the league, and you get a team with many problems…problems not necessarily solvable by acquiring a few top-of the line bats.

With Vladimir Guerrero receiving (and favoring?) a new offer from Florida and the Mets offering more than the Orioles, it appears that Baltimore may be out of the running for the best free agent in some time. Let’s be optimistic and assume that they make a couple more major additions by signing Pudge Rodriguez and Sidney Ponson (which many not be too far fetched). Will they have the players to compete in the East?

Pitching-wise, we must first consider that right now, Baltimore has lost its three best starters from the beginning of last season in Ponson, Jason Johnson, and Pat Hentgen (who joined the division rival Blue Jays). This is not to say that Patty will duplicate last year’s numbers or that Jason Johnson is even as comparable to Jeremi Gonzalez, but where is the Orioles’ dedication to pitching? Yes, they are poised to overpay Ponson and return him to their rotation, but expecting better pitching from the Orioles would be a mistake. They should end up allowing about the same number of runs next season, if not more.

Assuredly, the Orioles will score more runs this year than they did last. But even if they score 150 more runs in 2004, they will end with AEQRS/AEQRA numbers similar to the Blue Jays and not close to the Red Sox and Yankees. They are likely to win more games than they lose, but their lack of pitching will prevent them from competing in a major way. They could have a solid season, but anything better than 80-85 wins would be a major surprise. Adding runs scored and subtracting runs allowed will bring Baltimore closer to the Blue Jays’ numbers (86 wins) than anybody else's:

..................................AEQRS............AEQRA
2003 Blue Jays..............879.................833
2003 Orioles..................745.................834

In fact, with the pitching they’ve lost over the course of last season and this winter, I would not be surprised to see the Orioles become a team like the Rangers – scoring a surplus of runs but allowing even more than in 2003.

The Orioles’ mistake has been spending heavily on hitting and (for the most part) disregarding their substantial pitching problems. It is easier to improve a team’s lineup than pitching staff, but a more well-rounded approach would have put them in a better position to compete in their division in 2004. As it looks, they still may be able to shake up the AL East, but only by competing for a third-place finish.

A dedication to pitching simply has not been present during this off-season. After six fourth-place finishes in a row, I understand that management is desperate for big names and expectations to keep fans filling into Camden Yards. They made some major moves, but they may have made the wrong ones. But there's still time. Prove me wrong, Jim and Mike! Go out there and sign Greg Maddux! It will be tough competing in the East, but let’s shake it up, eh?


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Posted by Dave on Friday, January 09, 2004

A Tribute to Captain Underrated

Alright future magistrates of baseball, which two players finished in the top 10 of all triple crown categories in the American League in 2003? Go ahead, I dare you to guess. The almighty, finally Most Valuable ARod? Nope - his average was only better than, well, average. How about Carlos Delgado? He of the AL-leading 32 Win Shares (along with One Pole)? Nuh-uh - too much power, not enough line-driving (his average fell short). The vaunted Red Sox clean-up hitter, Manuel Ramirez? Well, because Johnny Damon, Todd Walker, and Nomar Garciaparra seemingly had the only sub-400 OBPs on the Red Sox, Manny didn't drive in enough fellows.

So, who are the perpetrators?

You may have guessed Vernon Wells. He plays a fantastic center-field, and does it all at the plate in a pretty stacked lineup (Next post, JP will get a proper ceremony). But who's the other?

Not Magglio, Not Beltran, but...Aubrey Huff? Yep. That's right. Read it and weep. The only reason I know this obscure fact about an increasingly obscure award (Let's be honest, does anyone still believe the truly elite hitters should win the Triple Crown, as it stands today? The sabermetric revolution is amidst us - the Triple Crown winner needs the AVG, OBP, and SLG crowns. Bonds has won a few of those recently, I believe), is because ESPN.com led the signing report with: Aubrey Huff was rewarded Thursday for being one of two AL players to finish among the top 10 in all three triple crown categories when he agreed to a $14.5 million, three-year contract to remain with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. I couldn't believe my eyes. Aubrey Huff. He's got a woman's name for crying out loud (or, at least, it sounds effeminate).

So what? He's underrated. Big deal. Well, it is a big deal. Tampa Bay got a guy entering the prime of his career (he's only 27 years old) to commit to another three years. "He has to play with them anyways!" You say. That may be true, but, Tampa Bay will have him for 3 of his best years and will not be paying him salary arbitration (a far more expensive endeavor). What's better is that his salary balloons each successive year he's with the team. This means that although he still won't be receiving the kind of money he should be getting (in all likelihood - it's hard to see bad things in fair Aubrey's future), it'll feel like more to him. So, one could argue, he won't be experiencing much cognitive dissonance because as he progresses as a hitter and as a player, he'll be receiving more money. This will make him content and, dare I say, encourage him to re-sign with the lowly Devil Rays? Brazelton may have become an ace in three years, and Lou might have them playing truly good ball by then (with the Arms Race between the Sox and Yanks, they might even have a chance to contend).

Okay, I'm being optomistic to the point of nausea. Realistically, Aubrey won't sign with them, but, man, they're potentially getting a really top-notch player very cheaply.

That's it. I'd tell you all about the bet I made one year regarding Jeff Cirillo's batting average (I thought he'd post better than .285 in Safeco his first year (what was I thinking?!)) and how I truly came to appreciate how much he sucks in the years following said idiotic wager - but - I'll spare you. Suffice it to say that I cannot be grouped with Kevin Towers in the exponentially decaying "Jeff Cirillo is a Good Player" club.


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Posted by Mike on Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Forget about the Yankees signing Tony Clark for whatever unjustifiable reason they had in their heads and I can only think of one reason myself, Clark’s goofiness (George will need someone to make a scapegoat of come May), the Yankees made a great pickup when they signed Kenny Lofton to a two year deal worth $6.2 million. Maybe the Yanks paid a little more than market value to get Kenny but they have a history of paying a premium to get the players they want the most. Let’s be honest too, when your payroll can hover near $200 million it just doesn’t really matter if you’re throwing around 3-4 million on free agents to fill so holes in the armor. Spending somewhere between 1-2% of the payroll on a player like Kenny Lofton can more than make up for spending any money whatsoever on a player like Tony Clark. Now, the reason the Yankees wanted Kenny so much is fairly easy to see, Kenny has been dramatically improving/recovering the last three years. Putting aside the stupidity that was sliding into first base, his ugly shoulder injury in the 1999 playoffs seemed to cause some long term damage from which he’s only now bouncing back. At 36-37 years old conventional wisdom is that he should certainly be losing a step from his prime but his numbers speak otherwise. Not as flashy as he used to be, his AVG and OBP have bounced back to the levels they were at before his injury-decline and actually could be even better next year if he decides to try to walk a little more. It may not be that he has the same speed that he possessed in the mid 1990s but he’s close to being as effective on the bases when he does run.

Lofton's last three years:
...............G.......AVG......OBP.......SLG.......OPS.......SB.......CS.......SB%
2001......133......261.......322.......398.......720........16........8.........66%
2002......139......261.......350.......414.......764........29.......11........73%
2003......140......296.......352.......450.......802........30........9.........77%
Career...1645.....298.......373.......426.......799........538.....142.......79%

.................AB.......AVG.......OPS
vs LHP.......362.......246.......647
vs RHP.....1234.......281.......796

Kenny’s greatest weakness was always his durability and is even more of an injury risk now. Age and cumulative injuries have helped him to develope a nasty habit of consistently missing 3 weeks to a month every year (like Pedro). On the flip side, he’s approaching his career averages in most statistical areas. No longer can he steal 50+ bases but he can steal 30 and get on base at a better rate than the average player. With the depth that the Yankees have if they are able to maximize his at bats against RHP and minimize his at bats against LHP he could have a great season. The real problem with Lofton used to lie in his playoff performance. With an extensive playoff resume having been on a playoff team every year since 1995 with the exception of 2000 Lofton has accumulated 322 playoff at-bats across 77 games in 15 postseason series.

.................G.......AVG......OBP.......SLG.......OPS
Career.....1645.....298.......373.......426........799
Playoffs.....77.......248.......319.......348........667

Those numbers are awful compared to the ones he put up in the regular season. It’s not even just one poor year that had hurt his numbers but it was more like six bad Octobers in a row. In fact he was part of the reason Cleveland floundered every year in the postseason. Having a leadoff man who is batting sub-.200 and rarely walking will do wonders for the other team’s chances of winning. They key is that he WAS terrible but has in fact over the last two years shown a dramatic improvement in the postseason:

..............AB.......AVG.......OBP
2002.......72.......292.........361
2003.......52.......308.........365

These numbers are a dramatic improvement over his past performance. If he manages to perform at this level for the Yankees they’re actually going to have something to show for all the money they’re throwing around.

Just for fun...
Alfonso Soriano is a horrible batter in the playoffs.

...............G.......AVG.......OBP.......SLG.......OPS
Career....501......284........322........502.......824
Playoffs...38.......233........287........336.......623

I bring this up because his playoff numbers closely resemble those of younger postseason Kenny Lofton. Now it isn’t quite fair to condemn Soriano for not being able to hit playoff pitching when playoff pitching is consistently better than typical pitching during the regular season. He’s a young player who just finished his third full season in the majors and shouldn't expected to be a dynamo against the best in the league but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to bash him unmercifully. Watching him flail at sliders and curves in the dirt during the 2003 ALCS was about as much fun as I could possibly have watching a player with such a poor eye for the strike zone. His OPS in the playoffs is .200 points worse than it is during the regular season. There is nothing good to say about him, nothing at all.

~MrLomb


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Posted by Jon on Tuesday, January 06, 2004



Stairs Climbing Toward Comeback?

Quick quiz for you: Who has the higher career on-base percentage, Scott Hatteberg or Matt Stairs?

Most of us (or at least Billy Beane) recognize Hatteberg as a guy who consistently reaches base. He has a career OBP of .352, which is not too shabby. But Matt Stairs – known for his ability to…um…let’s see…his ability to switch teams at a rapid rate? – has a career OBP noticeably higher, at .367. It probably sounds strange, but Matt Stairs has reached base more regularly than Scott Hatteberg. Lets look their OBPs for the last three seasons:

........................STAIRS...........HATTEBERG
2001...................358...................332
2002...................349...................374
2003...................389...................342


We read about Hatteberg in Moneyball and recognize him for his skills because oftentimes he hits early in Oakland’s lineup and he was recently resigned (and some might say overpaid). Stairs, though, is no superstar. He receives little notoriety, in part because he has lost plate appearances in recent years as he has been relegated to pinch-hitting and outfield platooning duties. But over his career as a regular in the majors, Stairs had some good, consistent seasons – at least in terms of OBP (back-to-back seasons of .370 and .366 in 1998 and 1999). In addition, his defense in the outfield is no detriment, and his throwing arm is above average.

You’re probably wondering why I care even the slightest about an aging role player on his fifth team in five years. Allow me to explain. I first became acquainted with Matthew Wade Stairs down on the farm, at Pawtucket in 1995 on my annual trip with the family, when he played on a team with such rising stars as “Pork Chop” Pough and Vaughn Eshelman. The promising Red Sox farmhand, a big, stocky, left-handed outfielder, was one of the best on the team, with a team-best OBP and home runs through. When he was called up by Boston, I was thrilled to see him, but he struggled in his second stint in the majors.

Stairs has had an interesting career. He prospered in Oakland for a few years, highlighted by his 38 home runs in 1999. But prior to his 2003 season, his batting average and OBP plummeted almost every year since 1997. Since then he has been a nomad, playing with the Cubs, the Brewers, the Pirates, and soon the Royals. This guy had trouble holding down a job! He could only manage one year contracts with bottom-of-the-barrel teams.

Recently the words “Stairs” and “underrated” have rarely been used in conjunction (I’m sure Rich Garces thinks they’re actually overrated…). But the Royals were on to something when they signed him to a one-year $1 million deal early in spring training. Check out the numbers he put up after an injury in late May:

..................HR............OBP............SLG............OPS............AVG
June............5..............491.............870............1.360..........413
July.............7..............481.............810............1.290..........365
August........3..............361.............519.............880............288
September...4..............403.............524.............926............270

That’s 19 home runs over those four months in only 224 AB (a very respectable 11.8 AB/HR ratio). Although his numbers declined in August and September, his monthly OBP splits were fantastic, leveling off at .403 in the last month of the season. The Royals jumped all over Stairs, signing him to a low-risk one year, small money contract.

While Stairs put up great numbers after his injury in 2003, I credit his success to a limited role in which he rarely saw any lefty pitching. This is no knock on Stairs. He is what he is: an aging (he’ll be 36 next year) hitter, who does a very good job against right-handed pitching. With his history of above-average seasonal OBP numbers and with the current swell of GMs looking at statistics (specifically OPS), I wonder why teams weren’t knocking at the door for what appears to be the perfect pinch-hitter and platooner in the outfield? Where were Theo and the gang? Mr. Beane? Yes, Stairs is from Canada, but that’s really no excuse. After all, Eric Gagne managed baseball success after a Canadian upbringing!

Don’t be surprised if you see Stairs continue to shine in obscurity in Kansas City. Hitting behind Beltran, Sweeney, and Juan Gone shouldn’t hurt. I’ll be checking on his performance – and the value of my Matt Stairs autographed PawSox baseball from 1995 – through the 2004 season.


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Posted by Dave on Monday, January 05, 2004

This is the very first post of this Blog and it certainly won't be the last. I was reading Aaron Gleeman's Blog (http://www.aarongleeman.com), and, it occurred to me: I could do that. So...I did. With a few of my friends, that is. Jon, Ben, Mike and I (Dave) will be posting on this as regularly as possible. We'll probably be taking turns, posting once every four days. Enough informational crap, we're talking baseball here.

Something caught my eye today. Well, two things. First, and less importantly, ESPN is reporting that the Royals are the "front-runner" for Juan Gonzalez. I think this headline borders on hilarious. The headline seems to imply that there are multiple people lining up to sign JUAN GONZALEZ! FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY, YOUR VERY OWN JUAN GONZALEZ! Actually, this is courtesy ESPN.com: Alan Nero, who represents Gonzalez, said from Chicago on Sunday that "about three" teams of "about six" initially interested were still in negotiations. I didn't know that one was "about three" and I didn't know that two was "about six" these days. But Nero's got some crazy gorilla math. That, or he lives on Threearth. Okay, no more crappy jokes, I promise.

So, I had just written something VERY long about JuanGone, but it got erased. I'm going to have to figure out how to be safe with this posting stuff. Suffice it to say that Rob Neyer's latest article will probably cover everything I was saying. Let's see. Well, Rob's a bit excited, but my excitement is muted. He seems to think that Gonzalez will start in right for the Royals. That would be a terrible idea. Juan's defensive ineptitude is well-chronicled and his placement in the OF would increase the likelihood for injury (he's also 34, no toddler). Why Rob would rather have Juan play right than DeJesus, a younger and almost CERTAINLY better fielder is beyond me. The Royals acquisition of JuanGone will be good, but only if the following things are true:
1) Gonzalez is the DH exclusively (he didn't in Texas either).
2) Gonzalez is not signed for anything remotely near 13 million (his salary, unbelievably, for the Rangers last year). I'd sign him for 6-7 million, no more. I think he's overvalued in general.
3) Gonzalez is not signed for longer than 2 years (preferably a one year contract with a club option for the second year).

I really wanted to post about the Yankees, however. Javier Vazquez's signing reminded me a lot of other Yankee contracts. They're all backloaded. That is to say that most make more in the far future than they do in the present and near future. Check it out:
Vazquez gets a $2 million signing bonus, $8.5 million next season, $10.5 million in 2005, $11.5 million in 2006 and $12.5 million in 2007. Sounds a lot like:
Jeter:
2004: $17.0M
2005: $18.0M
2006: $19.0M
2007: $20.0M
2008: $20.0M
2009: $20.0M
2010: $21.0M
Giambi:
2004: $10.0M
2005: $11.0M
2006: $18.0M
2007: $21.0M
2008: $21.0M
Posada:
2004: $6.0M
2005: $8.0M
2006: $9.0M
2007: Team option $12.0M or $4.0M buyout
Contreras:
2004: $7.0M
2005: $7.0M
2006: $8.0M
Mussina:
2004: $14.0M
2005: $17.0M
2006: $17.0M
2007: Team option $17.0M or $1.5M buyout
Williams:
2004: $12.0M
2005: $12.0M
2006: Team option $15.0M or $3.5M buyout

And on, and on. Not only do these guys make a ridiculous amount of money, but their contracts are backloaded. Most notably, Giambi's contract balloons to 18 million in 2006. Don't forget Sheffield, Brown, Karsay, Matsui, Rivera, etc. etc. Last I heard, the Yankees have a 187 million dollar payroll. Given that I don't have a good way to look for aggregate salary information, I would say that with Soriano's arbitration looming and with Tony Clark coming, their payroll will approach 200, million, dollars. That's a little less than the two largest payrolls COMBINED. Incredible stuff. But the point is: It's only getting worse. The nature of the contracts means that the Yankees will continue paying more and more money to their players, and there doesn't seem to be much of an end in sight. Nearly all of these contracts are bad contracts, given today's market value. Both Jeter and Giambi are developing injury problems. Brown is flat-out old. Rivera is also developing injury problems, and is also aging. Karsay, he's got the injury bug. Williams? Grandpa. Matsui? Proven to be overrated. Not even the Yankees can keep up this sort of payroll. Even if they can, the fact that their gigantic payroll is only getting (ahem) giganticker will deter them from improving their aging team.

If the Yankees don't find a way to relieve their books of some of this salary, you may see the Red Sox win some pennants in the late aughts (2006-2009). Or, dare I say, the Blue Jays (Ricciardi has done a fantastic job for them - to think he used to coach high school hoops only 15 minutes away from me only 4 years ago...). That's it. I promise more wittiness will be present in my next post, but I wanted to bang out a nice, long post. Hopefully this'll set the trend for the future of this blog.


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