Monday, January 31, 2005
I kid, of course. Mr. Piazza has nothing to prove or disprove off the baseball field, and I really couldn't care less... but I'm still glad to read a news item which dispels that Sam Champion rumor I heard.
My initial reaction to the Cubs trading Sosa to the Orioles was that, in exchange for a declining and unhappy Sammy, they at least received fair compensation. A useful infielder on the good side of 3o is not such a bad haul.
Rob Neyer makes a good case that the Cubs did a bad, bad thing. In all honesty, I hadn't realized that an outfield of Hollandsworth, Kelton and Jerry Hairston, Jr. was even a remote possibility (should Patterson get hurt). I'm sure Jim Hendry will fill up the RF spot, most likely with Magglio Ordonez or Jeromy Burnitz, but the current OF situation is indeed sufficiently hideous to make the Sosa deal a calculated risk.
With the Orioles paying only $4.5MM of Sosa's $17MM salary in '05, it's hard not to like it from their side.
I prefaced my comments by giving Minaya credit for so drastically improving the squad. The previous caller had questioned the Beltran signing (pronouncing it bell-TRAIN, tellingly) and suggested a trade for Manny Ramirez would have helped more. I said I thought the Mets at the moment looked like an "87 or 88 win team," which given last year's showing is a high compliment to the GM.
BUT, I asked, why did we have to trade a prospect to acquire Doug Mientkiewicz?
Ian Bladergroen is by no means an elite prospect, but was that really the best deal Minaya could get? The number I should have had at my fingertips, but didn't because I was driving, was $3.75 million. That of course is how much the Mets will be paying for the privilege of having a first baseman with a career SLG of 404.
Instead of sticking to this central point (overpaying in dollars for DM's defense), I focused on the loss of Bladergroen, arguing the deal fit a pattern of holding the team's young minor leaguers too cheap. Though I still believe this is true, Bladergroen is not the proof of it.
NOTE: Thank you to SaberMets for a well-reasoned assessment of the Mientkiewicz deal, which I criticized on the FAN yesterday. It's appreciative of the upside (he's definitely better than Travis Lee) and mindful of the downside (he's not THAT much better than Lee, and Bladergroen has some value as a prospect).
It's a relief. I felt like I was taking crazy pills.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
- J. Beckett
- A. Burnett
- D. Willis
- A. Leiter
- I. Valdez
It's nice. Would it be nicer with Brad Penny in there? Sure, but when Al Leiter is your fourth starter it's hard to complain that he's not your fifth.
Beckett recently signed a 1-year extension for $2.4MM, which is a great price for 35 Josh Beckett starts: In his 430.1 career IP since his debut as a 21 year-old callup, he's fanned 441 batters. He's simply overpowering, and his K/BB ratios have improved each year, reaching a robust 2.8 in 2004.
Of serious concern is the recurring blister problem. It is beyond my comprehension how elbows can be reconstructed while blisters can't be prevented or at least quickly treated. Absurd, no? It could be construed as good news that Beckett set a career mark for starts (26) and innings (156.2) last year... but it really shouldn't be.
Speaking of injuries, two of them (both to his pitching elbow) limited A.J. Burnett to 120 innings last year, but in those innings he was at least as good if not better than Beckett.
2004 Burnett 120 IP, 102 H, 38 BB, 113 K, 9 HR, 3.68 ERA
If healthy, the B---etts should compete with Prior and Wood for best starting tandem in the National League.
Dontrelle Willis, whom I will always remember as the guy that stole Brandon Webb's Rookie of the Year award, appeared to take a step back last year. His strikeout numbers slipped considerably, resulting in more hit balls, base hits and runs allowed, and he gave up over 1 HR/9.
On the other hand, his walk rate did improve from his "ROY" campaign, and he pitched noticeably better after the All-Star break. Looking at the whole picture, it's time to drop my foolish grudge (but Webb's '03 was SO good!), and acknowledge that he's an emerging franchise pitcher.
Al Leiter requires no introduction in this space. I will say that while I'm not usually one to consider baseball transactions in terms of "loyalty" or "disloyalty," I was nonetheless disappointed that the front office lowballed Al with a $4MM "offer". I'm not suggesting that Omar should have approached the $10.3MM he got from the Marlins, but an offer lower than Benson's is just insulting, especially to your ace of seven years.
He won't pitch past the 6th very often, but he can still make hitters miss, and he'll turn over his share of leads to the bullpen. As for Ismael Valdez, the forecast calls for terrible.
- J. Pierre
- L. Castillo
- M. Cabrera
- C. Delgado
- M. Lowell
- P. LoDuca
- J. Encarnacion
- A. Gonzalez
It's hard looking at "the Delgado effect" on another team in the division.
I've never been especially impressed by the Florida offense, which ranked towards the bottom of the league in both On Base and Slugging percentages last year. Pierre and Castillo both hit for average and have excellent speed, but only Castillo takes the occasional base and they're both as light-hitting as they come. Of their combined 385 hits last season, 327 (85 percent!) were singles.
The breaking out of Miguel Cabrera has been a sight to behold. The secret is out, so I'll save the hyperbole and stick to the facts: He hit 294/366/512 with 33 homers and 112 RBI at the age of 21.
Third baseman Mike Lowell has been a model of consistency over his career. He has yet to put up an unsightly line over a full season, and he's been named to the last three All-Star teams... but he still falls outside that group of hitters who could be described as "fearsome."
Paul LoDuca is a fine catcher, but his perceived value significantly exceeds his actual production. He is among the top 6 or 7 catchers in the league, but his much vaunted leadership and "intangibles" are just not enough to make that deal a winner for the Fish. As I hinted earlier, I believe Larry Beinfest would have been better off just holding on to both Hee Seop Choi and Brad Penny. No one seems to have noticed how good Choi was for the Marlins last year (his 883 OPS led the team).
The bottom of the order remains a black hole. In 561 ABs last year, Alex Gonzalez posted a downright humiliating .270 OBP. Incredibly, it did not significantly lower his career mark, which, as he enters his age 28 season, stands at 287. Meanwhile, Juan Encarnacion simply should not be starting in any major league outfield.
Finally: Who is Chris Resop?
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good."
Monday, January 24, 2005
Team Motto: "In Leo Veritas"
- T. Hudson
- J. Thomson
- J. Smoltz
- H. Ramirez
- M. Hampton
If Leo Mazzone can get Jaret Wright and John Thomson to keep the ball down and on the corners, what should we expect from Tim Hudson next year? Well if I were Bobby Cox, I would make a point of reminding my infielders when Huddy's starting, because there will be groundballs aplenty. One-hoppers, two-hoppers, little dribblers down the third base line, non-fly balls of every persuasion.
Regardless of the defensive configuration behind them, the rotation is unquestionably improved for addition of Hudson, the most reliable member of the now defunct Big Three. What they lost in Ortiz and Wright were really just two balls of clay which only Leo Mazzone, it seems, could mold into the likeness of quality starters.
Much is riding on the conversion of John Smoltz back to the starting rotation. I get the feeling I'm in the minority, but given his performance as a closer I don't know why it's so hard to picture a season fairly similar to his 1998...
1998 J. Smoltz = 167.2 IP 145H 10HR 44BB 173K 2.90 ERA
Smoltz won 17 decisions that year and lost three, so I don't expect a repeat of the record, but I'm not convinced that his stuff is any less effective now that he's 6 years and 1 elbow surgery older. If he avoids major injury, those innings look about right. This is what his line as a starter would look like if he pitched like he did last year:
2004 J. Smoltz in same innings = 167.2IP 155H 17HR 27BB 176K 2.76 ERA
I'm not calling that latter scenario likely, but nor do I simply recall the likes of Danny Graves and (yes, Mr. DePodesta) Derek Lowe and conclude that a smooth switch to or back to the rotation isn't possible. Yes he turns 38 in May, and hasn't started a game since I was a college freshman, but he's been so dominant in relief! A 6.5 K/BB ratio means that some hitters are literally soiling themselves right there in the batters box, often before his first pitch.
Mazzone and Cox should be disciplined enough to take care of him and pull him from home games over the boos of the crowd. If they just can get 6 innings from him 25 times, they'll probably stop calling John Thomson their number 2 starter.
The bullpen is an undistinguished lot, ostensibly led by Danny Kolb, the world's most dominant batting practice pitcher. I owned Kolb on my rotisserie team last year, and I didn't regret it one bit. Closers' value is tied almost solely to their SV totals, and he got lots of saves. But mercy, he wasn't fooling ANYBODY.
I won't get into the ugly details; let it just be said that at one point he had more saves than strikeouts. His ERA was largely a function of defense and luck, as a mere 25% of the many, many Kolb pitches hit into play were base hits. That's incredibly unlikely to happen again (that number trends towards 30% for all pitchers).
In fairness, he can be counted on to keep the ball in the park, but either he starts missing some bats or the Braves may start missing Juan Cruz (sent to Oakland in the Hudson deal) more than they thought. Grybowski, Reitsma, Gabe White and Will Cunnane fill out the pen.
- R. Furcal
- M. Giles
- C. Jones
- A. Jones
- J. Estrada
- R. Mondesi
- A. Laroche
- B. Jordan/Andy Marte
Offensively, the Braves are noticeably weaker in the heart of the lineup for the loss of J.D. Drew, but needless to say this lineup lost Gary Sheffield the year before, and still managed to cobble together another division title.
- Furcal put together another nice year in 2004, improving his walk rate despite some small declines from '03, and this will be his Age 26 year.
- I consider Giles a frontrunner for the All-Star team and expect him to break out a 25HR-2oSB season, provided he manages to avoid another massive collision in the field.
- Chipper "Laaaaaarrrrryyyyy" Jones should move back to the outfield, but regardless of where he's playing he'll do his hitting. Something on the order of 310/410/510 would be my guess, with 30-35 homers. Last year was an aberration. He's 32, not 36. Reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.
- Andruw Jones is an interesting case: incredibly consistent at a young age, but showing no signs of improvement on his weaknesses. Write him down in pen for 30 HR (ok he hit 29 last year), 100 RBI, and a BA of .270. He first did it at age 21!, but each subsequent season has just been a slight variation on that theme. It's not a bad theme, mind you, but when your record in your early 20s calls to mind Sammy Sosa with more power, the "MVP-type" goods should have been delivered by now. Isn't there a personal trainer who could help poor Andruw? Maybe a trainer with connections in the Bay Area and known for his or her discretion?... What? I was just wondering.
- Johnny Estrada was one of the big stories of 2004. Having been acquired, straight-up I believe, for Kevin Millwood, the word on the street was that Braves GM John Schuerholz had simply thrown up his hands in frustration and said "Fine. Estrada. Now take Millwood's contract and leave me the f--- alone!" His public comments ("this system stinks", etc.) also gave the impression that he felt violated by the trade of a reputable and once valuable starter for the Phil's backup backstop. As the story turns out, however, Millwood was alternately injured and ineffective for Larry Bowa's squad (you can imagine how much fun that was), while Estrada kinda hit the piss out of the ball, posting a 314/378/450 line. That was it, I expect, and by "it" I mean his career year, the highwater mark of his life as a ballplayer. He turns 29 in June, and his year has some of the telltale signs of flukiness. But he still established himself as a very valuable catcher, and bears watching in 2005. I just wanted to make clear that the last of the "Estrada for MVP" rumors has long since floated.
- The Braves will be featuring an outfield of once exciting, high-upside players, but in the case of Brian Jordan the excitement peaked in 1993, when at 26 he showed some power and speed in a longish cup of coffee (223 AB). Since leaving the Braves after a very successful 2001 campaign (295/334/496 in 560 AB), he's been getting his steady decline on, landing with a thud in the year 2005, about to turn 38 and really in no position to help a playoff team.
- Top prospect Andy Marte really should break camp as the team's starting 3B. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA forecasting system likes him enough to project 263/348/479, for an 827 OPS. That would be tremendous. Not really in David Wright's class, but a good bet to stay in the ROY race all season. From the Braves' standpoint, it also has the benefit of moving Chipper in and Jordan out of that outfield, improving their infield (if not outfield) defense in the process.
The Bergen record reports that Omar Minaya, whose willingness to offer a fourth year to Pedro made all the difference in their bidding war with the Red Sox, is standing firm on a three year maximum for Delgado. The Orioles, who briefly had the highest current bid, may or may not have such qualms. Newsday reports they've offered 4 years, the Baltimore Sun reports they haven't. Being a fan of "The Wire", I'm inclined to believe the local Baltimore press has the better information (obtained, I like to think, by bugging Jim Beattie's cell), and that only the Marlins are willing to go "all the way" with Carlos.
Whether the Orioles have or haven't offered a fourth, the Mets will still have to bump the annual salary up considerably if they expect to avoid a Craig Brazell/Andres (not his son or anything)Galarraga platoon at the 3 next year.
How far up do you have to go? I think somewhere in between Pedro money (13M) and Beltran money (17M) would be reasonable. Not having to pay him 8 figures when he's 36 years old is worth a few extra million in the short term. But how do the negotiations stand now?
ESPN reports that the Mets had given Sloane a Sunday night ultimatum ("We want an answer now!... or at some point after the Pats-Steelers game, at the latest!"). It did not have the intended effect of bringing Delgado and rep to their knees, but the dialogue apparently continues.
Here's what I'm hoping for: A 3-year/$42MM contract, which buys 2 vintage Delgado seasons (.290/425/550), and a third one which, suffice it to say, makes Omar's insistence on a three year deal look good. I don't want to see the Age-38 second wind that has redefined the careers of Luis Gonzalez, Steve Finley, and The Bonds.
I just want a slugging first baseman who's going to earn his millions and then, in 2.5 years or so, break down like a Compaq. Is that so much to ask?
Friday, January 21, 2005
They would have us believe that Juan Pierre is the best basestealer in baseball, because he "steals bases when the Marlins need it most." Horsepucky.
Pierre did steal 45 bases last year, no doubt some of them in especially high-leverage situations, and that's nothing to sneeze at. Only two guys had more steals, Podsednik (70) and Crawford (59).
But here's the catch: Juanes was also caught 24 times, 9 more than the aforementioned Carl Crawford, who had the second highest total. That's a slew of outs, folks. The sabermetric rule of thumb is that basestealers must do their thing at a 70% success rate to actually contribute more runs than they cost. Pierre's fearless, alright, but the Marlins aren't any better off for it.
Here's a short list of guys who were far better basestealers last year:
Podsednik 70SB at 84% Success
Crawford 59SB at 80%
Beltran 42SB at 93%
Abreu 40SB at 89%
D. Roberts 38SB at 93%
In fact, as I look down the spreadsheet, no one that stole more that 20 bases did so while getting caught over 30% of the time. It stands to reason, really, and it raises the question of whether Pierre was actually the worst basestealer in the majors last year. No one turned as many potential runs (in the form of his speedy self on first) into outs (in the form of his embarrassed self jogging back to the dugout 24 times).
Pierre was better in 2003, when he stole 65 and was caught "only" 20 times, but it was still no banner year.
I know it's the offseason, but trumpeting Juan Pierre's fearlessness is just plain dumb.
One mystery Assistant GM identified the team's "biggest offseason need" as the bullpen, which of course has gone neglected in the pursuit of the well-covered SP/CF duo. I will readily agree that the pen is far from loaded. I had never been a Braden Looper fan, and was surprised when upon joining the Amazin's he posted a career best 3.75 K/BB ratio. He seems to have quit walking batters cold turkey, and I applaud him for it. What will Willie Randolph have to work with as far as setup men go?
- DeJean (R): 61 IP, 60 K, 33 BB, 2 HR, 4.57 ERA (BAL and NYM)
- Fortunato (R): 26 IP, 25 K, 15 BB, 3 HR, 3.81 ERA (TB and NYM)
- Bell (R): 24 1/3 IP, 27 K, 6 BB, 5 HR, 3.33 ERA
- Feliciano (L): 18 1/3 IP, 14 K, 12 BB, 2 HR, 5.40 ERA
- Heredia (L): 38 2/3 IP, 25 K, 20 BB, 5HR, 6.28 ERA
Heredia was brought in to face a lot of right-handed batters last year, which goes some ways to explaining his truly horrendous line. He's not a good reliever, by any means, but as a left-handed specialist he'll do. Feliciano bounced between Norfolk and the big club last year, but at 28 he should be primed for a career season!
Okay fine, Masked Executive, the bullpen is none too sweet, but it has enough live arms (all of them right handed) to protect its share of leads. What would you have Omar do? Crawl back into the 39 year-old arms of Mark Guthrie for a half million or so? Try to "win" the Troy Percival sweepstakes with a 2yr/$14MM contract offer? It's true that "somebody's got to pitch the seventh and the eighth", but some bodies is exactly what the Mets have, thank you very much. As nice as it is, you don't have to be Angels-deep in the bullpen to compete.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
2 Kazuo Matsui
3 Carlos Beltran
4 Mike Piazza
5 Carlos Delgado
6 David Wright
7 Cliff Floyd
8 Mike Cameron
Frightening, really. Suddenly, the number eight hitter for the New York Mets hit 30 home runs last year. The batting order may change, of course; I would rather see Matsui moved to the 8-spot, but I think Minaya and Randolph will probably stick with the two middle infielders at the top. But however you want to arrange it, adding both Carloses to the offense puts them right up there with the Phillies in the division.
The Mets scored a total of 684 runs last year, more than only four teams (Pittsburgh, Montreal, Milwaukee, and the hapless Diamondbacks). According to Baseball Prospectus's VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), Beltran and Delgado's offensive contributions in 2004 were worth 74.5 runs and 41.4 runs, respectively. The ABs that those two will be taking last year belonged to Ty Wiggington (-1.3), Eric Valent (14.9) and Richard Hidalgo (7.4). Lets call the difference 100 runs, since 95 would create the illusion of exactitude.
Putting aside the David Wright factor, how would the Mets have done if they had scored 100 more runs last year?
Runs Scored: 784
Runs Allowed: 731
Expected Win Percentage (Pythagorean): .535
That's 86 or 87 wins. That's what the Phillies and Padres did last year: not good enough for the Wild Card, but competitive nonetheless.
Just for kicks, let's see whether the addition of Pedro (51.2 VORP, call it 40 runs improvement over Seo/Heilman) would have put them ahead of the Astros last year.
Runs Scored: 784
Runs Allowed: 691
Expected Win Percentage: .562
Astros 2004 Win Percentage: .568
Damn those Astros. But it's still 91 wins, instead of the 71 wins the Mets actually had last year, and we have the player most responsible for their late season run.
Look, it's some dirty math, but the fact remains: Adding Carlos Delgado to a team that's already signed Pedro and Beltran would make the Mets a legitimate playoff contender.
The four-year, $53MM contract is going to hurt, and that's that. 180 innings of last year's Pedro is worth that kind of money, but it's unlikely the Mets will get that even this year, and come 2008 it's almost certainly going to be an albatross. This is why Theo Epstein didn't want to offer three years.
However, it sounds like Carlos Beltran's coming to the Mets was to some degree a consequence of the Pedro signing. If that's true, and it seems reasonable enough, it goes a long ways towards justifying Omar largesse with the Permed One. I say this because I'm a Carlos Beltran fan. I am. I celebrate his entire catalog of outstanding seasons, and I dont see them stopping in the near future.
Even at those dollars ($119MM/7 years) I think it's good money, as he singlehandedly puts the roster at a level where it's not so hard to imagine Pedro starting a playoff game in Shea.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
"You made your decision to [tag up] as soon as the ball was hit?'' Jeter was asked.
"I made my decision to go before the ball was hit,'' Jeter said.
God, that's so eerie!
It continues with further anecdotal evidence of Jeter's intangibles, including some choice quotes from Buck Martinez ("You can hear him running to first base!") and Don Zimmer ("Jeter never freezes"). Now I'm not one of these people who won't be satisfied until the Church of Jeter is condemned as heresy. He's a great offensive shortstop, and as long as broadcasters stop marveling at his poor-to-average defense, it doesn't bother me if people want to tell miracle stories of his cunning and determination. They're just kind of funny, that's all.
Jeter may score a few runs each year on plays where lesser baserunners would have been held at third or even thrown out. I'll even admit that a couple of those were due not to his footspeed but to his Baseball IQ or Veteran Presence or Sixth Sense or whatever. But I think it's safe to say the vast majority of his runs scored are simply the result of his very good hitting and decent speed at the top of a perennially excellent Yankee lineup.