Thursday, February 25, 2010

Little Mac betrays Big Mac, becoming the literal Bash Brother

Mark McGwire’s little brother, Jay McGwire, has written a Jose Canseco-esque book that chronicles the Mac brothers’ steroid use throughout the mid 1990’s. Wow. Jay was a body builder who obviously not only had the means to obtain steroids, but also the word of mouth if not direct education of how to use them. Quite frankly, I’m shocked this information wasn’t brought to light before. Not that Jay was scribing a book, but that Mac’s brother was a serious body builder. While everyone just knew McGwire was an obvious user, I think the knowledge that his little brother was winning body building competitions in California probably would have given some evidence or indication of what McGwire was doing, extremely circumstantial (evidence) of course. I’m sure there’s been other players with body builders for brothers, but probably not players that were shattering homerun records that had stood for over 30 years and whom weighed in at 260 pounds.

Jay apparently details the unique substances (steroids) they used during that time, as well as in what quantities. Jay also corroborates that Mark initially used them for health purposes, but vehemently denies that he didn’t also or at least eventually use them for strength.

LaRussa and McGwire also say they don’t plan to read the book. LaRussa said: “What’s the point? It’s stuff that’s already been gone over a bunch of times. I don’t know what it’s going to change.” I think he’s probably telling the truth. They probably won’t read the book. But, given LaRussa’s access to an advanced copy, that’s not to say he hasn’t already read the book. And it’s my opinion that it’s not stuff that’s “already been gone over a bunch…” What have we gone over? As far as I know, this is the first time intimate knowledge of what McGwire was using has been available.

Apparently, Mark McGwire said the word “sad” about 7 times during the media session where he answered questions. I wholeheartedly agree. This is sad. The whole situation is sad. It’s sad that the athletes don’t understand just how forgiving American people can be. If McGwire told the truth in the first place, the book wouldn’t be so damning. It’s also sad that his brother has betrayed him. Truth or not, I can’t imagine in a million years doing such a thing to a sibling, no matter what fiscal benefit I might claim by doing so. I’m deeply saddened that this is one of the ways that the ‘truth’ is coming out. I certainly wouldn’t have preferred to get confirmation this way, not that I needed confirmation. Anyone with any common sense has to know that McGwire was a heavy user, and the sole purpose was for strength. Weighing 260 pounds when your natural weight is probably about 200 to 220 pounds isn’t particularly healthy.

I doubt that I will be the only one that has similar feelings about this. I actually and finally have found reason to feel sorry for Mark. Not because people will know what he actually did. It’s because his brother has betrayed him. Mark obviously has deep regret and reluctance to speak candidly about the past. He probably has a great deal of shame regarding his use, the Maris family, the 1998 HR chase charade and the fact that he took so long to admit it. He probably also feels a great deal of shame about not coming completely clean, because for some reason he feels he can’t. Or maybe, because Mark has denied it for so long, he to some degree believes that he was using it for health reasons and it really didn’t help him. I can’t say. All that I know is that this is a sad day for the McGwire’s, for baseball and really (not to be too melodramatic) for mankind. Why? Because at this point it appears to me that one brother is betraying another over two things: money and a game. The money, the lies, this is not what baseball should be about. Baseball should be about going out in the beautiful sunshine and throwing a ball around in the grass and dirt. It should be about making diving catches, hitting triples, double-switches, head-first slides, hit streaks, ball caps, bubble gum, seeds, hot dogs, legends…the list goes on, but it most importantly should be about fun. That’s how Willie played it. Spring training, exhibition, it didn’t matter, he always played it with grace and bravado, like it was fun. Why? Mays said, “That’s the onliest way I know.”

I did see one sliver of silver lining in all of this, however. According to reports, Jay will devote a large portion of the book to the personal battles he fought which were a result of his steroid use. He says that he had deep depression, suicidal thoughts and a plethora of health issues deriving from steroid use. This included fatty tumors in his nipples, elevated liver enzymes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. That’s something that absolutely needs to be told to the athletes of tomorrow so they understand the repercussions of steroid use. That part of the book will be a far cry from that of Canseco’s iterations. Canseco rather fervently endorsed the use of steroids, essentially saying that in the right doses and combinations, they were extremely healthy and beneficial to not only the body but the mind for self confidence. I share Jay’s take on steroids, not Jose’s.

The next chapter in all this, in my opinion, actually began not after the Little Mac news hit the press, but yesterday. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that a rugby player had tested positive for the use of HGH (human-growth hormone) via a blood test. MLB released a statement that it was considering testing players in the Minor Leagues for human-growth hormone. The MLB Players Association released the following statement:
Human growth hormone is banned under our Joint Drug Program. Discipline has been imposed against players who have been found to have used HGH. We do not test currently for HGH, because no scientifically validated urine test exists. Our program calls for immediate and automatic implementation of urine testing for HGH once a scientifically validated test is available.

The Joint Program, negotiated several times with the Commissioner's Office, does not call for blood testing of players. Blood testing raises serious issues not associated with urine testing. Nonetheless, the Association has previously said that if a scientifically validated blood test for HGH was available, we would consider it.

This week, a British rugby player was suspended as a result of a reported positive blood test for HGH. This development warrants investigation and scrutiny; we already have conferred with our experts on this matter, and with the Commissioner's Office, and we immediately began gathering additional information. However, a report of a single uncontested positive does not scientifically validate a drug test. As press reports have suggested, there remains substantial debate in the testing community about the scientific validity of blood testing for HGH. And, as we understand it, even those who vouch for the scientific validity of this test acknowledge that it can detect use only 18-36 hours prior to collection.

Putting these important issues aside, inherent in blood testing of athletes are concerns of health, safety, fairness and competition not associated with urine testing. We have conferred initially with the Commissioner's Office about this reported positive test, as we do regarding any development in this area. We look forward to continuing to jointly explore all questions associated with this testing -- its scientific validity, its effectiveness in deterring use, its availability and the significant complications associated with blood testing, among others.

The Association agrees with the Commissioner's Office that HGH use in baseball is not to be tolerated. We intend to act without delay to ascertain whether our Program can be improved as it relates to HGH. In so doing, however, we will not compromise the commitment to fairness on which our Program always has been premised.


Obviously, the Players Association is probably going to do everything it can to protect its players. If they wanted to do what was best for the sport, they’d do everything they can to determine if the test is valid, and implement it as immediately as is possible. Obviously, that won’t happen. This is a wonderful opportunity for both MLB and the Players Association to make amends and prove that they have changed, and they do support a clean game of baseball. But when their statement is riddled with words like “scrutiny,” and that blood testing “raises serious issues,” and “significant complications,” but they “would consider it,” but only after they determine “its effectiveness in deterring use,” and there remains “substantial debate” in the testing community towards an HGH blood test, well I just don’t get that warm fuzzy feeling they are going to go into this without clawing and screaming the entire way. That’s no matter how valid this particular test may prove. Why is that? The players are using them. I (we) don’t know whom is using HGH, but rest assured they are. It’s almost laughable that in the outset of the statement the PA says, “Discipline has been imposed against players who have been found to have used HGH.” And how exactly is anyone to find that a player has used HGH when no testing is being done? Prior to 2003 an unknown (and likely very large) number of ball players were using the other performance enhancers knowing there was no consequence and absolutely no possibility of being caught. That very same thing is happening now with HGH. No test, no problem.

I feel like I’ve been waiting forever to hear that an HGH test was available. It seems to me an integral and imperative step in actually cleaning up the game of baseball. I sincerely hope the test is valid, MLB will immediately implement a test and the PA will abide by it. Until that actually happens though, I’m going to be exceedingly pessimistic.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What they're working with

We (baseball nerds) all know that Lincecum, Greinke and many other pitchers are phenomenal at their craft. That is why they start on opening day and are most often aptly called the ‘Ace.’ The question we answer with this is who. We often also address the why. Why is Lincecum so good? He strikes out a ton of batters, doesn’t give up many home runs, he has ridiculous hair. Wait, that doesn’t belong here. I think a question that we probably don’t ask very often is how. How does Tim Lincecum dominate hitters? Well, I would like to set out to determine how he, Greinke, Halladay and a host of other Ace’s outsmart, over power and decimate opposing hitters. It’s pretty easy for me to explain how Lincecum does it, but that’s because I get to watch him pitch every fifth day. Others (the east coast, for example) don’t get that opportunity. Likewise, I don’t often get to watch Roy Halladay or Zack Greinke pitch and thus don’t have a real understanding of how they use their golden arms to dismantle batting orders. I simply want to see what each of them is working with.

I only looked at data for 2009 so I apologize. It would probably be more useful to look at data over a longer period of time in order to get a larger sample size and capture some players that were either injured in 2009 or had off years. Johan Santana, Brandon Webb and Ben Sheets quickly come to mind. I didn’t, but you’re welcome to go look for yourself at FanGraphs. I also didn’t look at relievers. Strangely enough, what got me started with all this madness was thinking about how often Mariano Rivera throws his cutter (about 90% of the time) and how dominant that pitch (and he) is.

I looked at “Pitch Type Linear Weights” on FanGraphs to determine who had the best of each pitch type in 2009. The information on FanGraphs uses linear weights by count and event and segments the data by pitch type, essentially determining how many runs above or below average each pitch type is for each player. I chose to use the cumulative values rather than the values per 100 pitches. I then made a list of the top 5 for each pitch, and added all of their pitch type values to determine the total cumulative value of their repertoire. Clayton Kershaw had the best fastball at 30 cumulative runs above average. The young Athletic Brett Anderson had the best slider at 22.2 runs above average. The best cutter (reminder, for starting pitchers, sorry Rivera) went to Bay Area local kid Scott Feldman of the Rangers with 25.9. The best curve went to Wandy Rodriguez with 23.9. The best change-up went to the Freak with a staggering 35 runs above average and the best splitter went to Dan Haren with 9 runs above average.

Nearly every single pitcher (Ace) I would have expected to see on such a list showed up. The top 5 pitches by pitch had top starter’s Lincecum, Greinke, Cain, Carpenter, Kershaw, Anderson, Wainwright, Haren, Halladay, Sabathia, King Felix, Hamels, Zambrano and Braden Looper. What the hell? Looper has a pretty decent splitter and everything else he throws up there is garbage. Moving on…there were a few exceptions. A few pitchers didn’t quite make it to the top 5 of each pitch such as Justin Verlander, Josh Johnson, Ubaldo Jimenez, John Lackey, Cliff Lee, Josh Becket and Jon Lester. This information did seem to support the fact that dominating pitchers typically have at least 1 stellar pitch they can consistently go to. In some cases, they have 2 or more outstanding pitches. On top of their bread and butter, they also almost always have a total of at least 3 above average pitches.

Tim Lincecum:* The Freak works with 4 above average pitches. His fastball is well above average, his slider is slightly above average and his curve is above average as well. What sets him apart is his change-up. Lincecum’s change-up was 35 runs above average in 2009 which is virtually unparalleled. It allows him to post a split in which he’s nearly if not as effective versus left handed hitters and strikes them out with even greater frequency than righties.  It is often that change-up that will make or break a right handed pitcher at the major league level to neutralize left handed hitters.  In Lincecum's case, a lack of that pitch wouldn't break him, but I do think it's the pitch that makes him. It’s his bread and butter.

*I'll obviously spend a little more time commenting on his repertoire.  I'm a Giants fan, and he's my guy.

Zack Greinke: Zack Attack works 4 pitches. His curve is slightly above average and his change-up slightly below. What sets him apart is that he while can throw each of those pitches to keep hitters honest, his slider and fastball (ranked 3rd and 4th best) are quite brilliant. While few pitchers are capable of throwing 1 extremely dominant pitch, Greinke has 2.

Chris Carpenter: Carpenter has a very similar repertoire to Greinke. His fastball is excellent and so is his slider (though neither quite as good as Greinke). However, Carpenter also carries a well above average curveball which really gives him 3 excellent pitches. His change-up, while not great, is workable at slightly below average.

Javier Vasquez: Vasquez uses a well above average change and fastball. Additionally, his curveball is top notch and he has an above average slide-piece. Not bad. Four above average pitches and a dominant (top 3) curve.

Dan Haren: Haren is unique in that most of what he throws is hard. His 2009 splitter was tops. In addition to it, though, he also had the second best cutter and a well above average heater. His soft(er) pitch is a curveball that is also slightly above average.

C.C. Sabathia: C.C. uses the second best change-up, a well above average heater and above average slider. Oh, and he’s left handed which never hurts.

Felix Hernandez: The King works with an excellent fastball (4th best), a solid well above average change and above average curve and slider, he’s another 4 pitch pitcher.

Justin Verlander: Verlander has a stupendous fastball (which just misses the top 5 list), above average curve and change as well as a below average slider.

Roy Halladay: Halladay has one of the elite cutters in the league and a well above average curve. His fastball is solidly above average and his change is just about average. He is the artist of the bunch.

Clayton Kershaw: Kershaw is a very rare player in that he has a blazing fastball from the left side. He’s an Ace in the making. His fastball was 30 runs above average, tops in 2009. He also uses his above average curve and slider along with a below average change-up that has room for improvement.

The following is the list of the very best total 2009 repertoires for MLB, the AL and NL, as well as the results of the Cy Young vote:

MLB                              NL                                   AL

1- Lincecum (55.1)        1- Lincecum (55.1)       1- Greinke (45.8)
2- Carpentar (49.6)       2- Carpenter (49.6)      2- Sabathia (37.2)
3- Greinke (45.8)          3- Vasquez (43.6)         3- Hernandez (36.1)
4- Vasquez (43.6)          4- Haren (38.2)            4- Verlander (30.6)
5- Haren (38.2)             5- Kershaw (38)           5- Halladay (29.5)
6- Kershaw (38)
7- Sabathia (37.2)
8- J. Johnson (36.4)
9- Hernandez (36.1)
10- Jimenez (34.9)

Cy Young Vote                NL                            AL

                                         1- Lincecum              1- Greinke
                                         2- Carpenter             2- Hernandez
                                         3- Wainwright           3- Verlander
                                         4- Vasquez                4- Sabathia
                                         5- Haren                   5- Halladay

As you can see, if you wanted to select the top 5 vote getters in the AL and NL for Cy Young, you could have done so by analyzing their repertoire and ranking them top to bottom. 9 of the 10 players ended up on both lists, and the two Cy Young winners were the AL pitcher and NL pitcher with the best repertoires in their respective leagues. Tim Lincecum had the best overall repertoire and best overall pitch in the major leagues in 2009.

The next time you are checking out a game in which one of these dazzling starters is toeing the rubber, perhaps you can reflect back on this and have a slightly better understanding of just how they are working hitters successfully. Although, keep in mind that pitchers often reinvent themselves and often times they will have varying success with a particular pitch year to year. For example, in 2008 Tim Lincecum’s most dominating pitch was his 2-seam fastball. It wasn’t until mid-season that Lincecum truly began to harness his outstanding change-up in 2008. The two pitches essentially flip-flopped; his change-up became his #1 pitch and his heater #2 in 2009.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Parity (or lack there of) and the best and worst of the last 1.5 decade

I long ago began putting together a spreadsheet by which I was determined to prove the disparity that exists within MLB. I’m not exactly sure that’s what the end result was, but none the less what I did find was interesting. Also, it no doubt solidified my previous belief that the Oakland A’s have been one of the greatest run franchises for a while now, and the Orioles one of the worst. My ultimate discovery provides some proof that there does exist a pretty vast chasm between the rich and the poor in Major League Baseball. More so than that though, it pretty conclusively shows that money does buy wins, just not absolutely.

I took all of the standings over the last 15 seasons (1995-2009) and all of the payrolls for each team over the 15 seasons. I was absolutely shocked to see that the Yankees had spent the most. Of course, I am being incredibly facetious. So the Yankees spent the most (~$145 mil per season) and the Florida Marlins spent the least (~$34 mil per season) and there were 28 other teams in between. I then simply added up all the money each team had spent and divided that number by 15 (for number of seasons) to determine each team’s average $ spent per season and ranked them accordingly. After that, I took all of the wins for each team (The Yankees had won the most – big surprise – and the Royals had won the least), divided those by 15 and ranked each team according to wins per season. The Yankees averaged over 96 wins per season over this period of time and the Royals, a measly 68 wins, or just 6 wins more per season than was needed to average 100 losses per season . Phew, that was a close one. That is more or less the extent of the data that I took a look at. But this is where it started to get interesting.

If money meant everything and every team who spent the most always had the most wins, you would expect that every single team would fall in line with their average payroll and average number of wins. Of course, we know that’s simply not true. Some teams have terrible GM’s. The Mariners had Bill Bavasi at the helm for several years, for example, while others have exceptional GM’s. Billy Beane – the obvious choice – of the Oakland A’s is regarded as one of the very best. I’ll also note that Tampa Bay has an exceptional (acting) GM in Andrew Friedman, unfortunately, he’s only been at it for a few years and thus his genius won’t quite be reflected in the results. Any who, once I had ranked each team by their wins and payrolls; I simply subtracted their win rank from their payroll rank to see whether they were positive or negative (+/-). What do I mean by positive or negative? Well, I wanted to see which teams had leap-frogged the ranks. Meaning, which teams had won more games than the field despite having spent less and thus won more games than expected were money the only factor in acquiring wins (ceteris paribus, if you will).

Within the MLB, 17 of 30 teams (57%) fell within 3 teams (10%) plus or minus of where they should have been. 22 of 30 teams (81.25%) fell within just 5 teams (17%) of where they should have been. So there definitely seemed, to me at least, that there was a correlation between money spent and wins. The 8 teams that were essentially outliers and didn’t fall within 5 teams (17%) of where they should have were the 4 best teams and 4 worst teams in MLB, as follows:

Best                                                  Worst

1. Oakland Athletics (+15)               1. Baltimore Orioles (-15)
2. Cleveland Indians (+12)               2. Chicago Cubs (-13)
3. Florida Marlins (+9)                     3. New York Mets (-10)
4. Minnesota Twins (+8)                  4. Detroit Tigers (-9)

As I said, the results of my playing around more or less affirmed what we already know. The A’s were brilliant for a period of time, despite their being extremely poor and the Orioles have been really bad for a really long time despite having a somewhat substantial purse to work from. I will provide some defense for Baltimore. Baltimore has had the unfortunate problem of having to play against the Yankees and Red Sox, year in year out. This could not have helped their ability to win a lot of games when each of their two foes were outspending them and by ever increasing dollars. The same can be said for the Jays who have played relatively well over the last decade and a half, nearly sneaking into the playoffs a few times and rarely laying in the cellar, and yet not once actually making it to the postseason.

I then thought it would make sense to look at each league, especially because over this period of time there’s an apparent talent gap. The AL is widely believed to be the better league by some amount and the results of the All-Star Game have definitely supported this. In the AL, 8 of the 14 teams (57%) were within 2 teams (14%) of where they should be based on payroll. 11 of the 14 teams (79%) were within 3 teams (21%) of where they should be based on payroll. In the NL, 10 of 16 teams (62.5%) were within 2 teams (12.5%) of where they should be based on payroll and 13 (81.25%) were within 3 teams (18.75%) of where they should be based on payroll. This is how they stacked up by league:

NL Best                                          NL Worst

1. Florida Marlins (+5)                   1. New York Mets (-5)
2. St. Louis Cardinals (+3)             2. Chicago Cubs (-5)
3. Houston Astros (+3)                   3. Colorado Rockies (-3)

AL Best                                          AL Worst

1. Oakland A’s (+6)                       1. Baltimore Orioles (-6)
2. Cleveland Indians (+5)              2. Detroit Tigers (-3)
3. Minnesota Twins (+3)               3. Seattle Mariners (-3)

Lastly, I stacked all 30 teams by win rank and then highlighted the 4 teams that improved on their $ expected rank the most, and also the 4 teams that did much poor than their $ expected win rank (i.e. my previous best and worst list). The best teams had an average win rank of 13, which is just slightly better than the middle of the pack. The worst teams had an average win rank of 21, which is just slightly below the bottom third of the all teams. And the rest? They conveniently equaled 15, an exactly average team. Weird.

Sadly, between the best very best of these teams that managed to perform despite their fiscal handicap, on average they were just slightly better than the middle of the pack and they only have two World Series’ between them, the Florida Marlins the proud owners of both. Luckily and on the plus side, the poor teams that aren’t capitalizing on their fiscal advantage have zero titles between them.

My conclusion in all of this is that money absolutely seems to be playing a huge role in determining how many wins a team has. On the other hand, this ‘study’ definitely exposed both the worst franchises in allocating money and the very best. Also, it would probably be nice to hear for some fans (such as those of the Pirates, Royals, Rangers and Blue Jays to name a few) that it’s not all their franchises fault that they can’t get to the promise land. With that, I would like to crown my team of this 1.5 decade. The honor goes to the Oakland A’s for the extraordinary work Billy Beane did in the early 2000’s. And my goat of the last 1.5 decade is the Orioles. At least they can say they had to play the Bronx Bombers and the Sox in the AL East, right?


I want to mention that using my method, the Yankees and Red Sox basically had no shot at being considered the best franchises. The Yankee’s, for example, could only wish to have gotten a neutral (0) plus or minus rating which they did. To this, in the spirit of SNL’s impersonation (Fred Armisen) of Joy Behar on “The View,” I say "So what? Who cares?” The Yankees and the Red Sox play with every advantage each season, knowing full well they have a shot at winning the title. They have the money to sign free agents. They have the money for deadline deals. And, they have the money to cover up their mistakes. It was time, even in this trivial endeavor, to give the smaller guys the advantage.

Finally, why did the Giants do fairly well despite having “kick the tires” Sabean in the front office during the duration of this 1.5 decade? For one, Sabean had Barry Bonds. Perhaps you should read this post on FanGraphs on Bonds’ splits to grasp just how good he was. He was incredible and had no equal. Two, Sabean was using roughly the same information the rest of the franchises were using for a good portion of this 1.5 decade. Prior to the Moneyball revolution, Sabean would have and did fair just fine. He was always good at picking up some useful pitching and flipping, or more accurately dumping, his stud pitching prospects prior to them being exposed as duds. If you were to put a greater weight on the last several years you would see his true talent level start to expose itself. As Bonds aged (as well as the rest of the Giants’ rosters) and teams began using statistical analysis more, the Giants began to lose more and more games. This, because Sabean has been one of the slowest adapters in this era where more information that has ever been available is suddenly readily available, and yet, to date he seems all but content to just ignore it.It’s abundantly clear that doing so is a grievous mistake.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Read this...

As usual, a steady diet of Neyer, Posnanski and FanGraphs:

But first, don't miss my Chase Utley post just prior to this links post.

Neyer: Giants’ Posey ticketed for AAA

Neyer: Santana not conceding to Halladay (yet) - - Halladay is Lincecum’s biggest threat at becoming a 3-peat Cy Young Award winner.

Posnanski: Baseball predictions in February!

Posnanski: Frank Thomas

R.J Anderson (FanGraphs): Giants’ Jigsaw Pieces

Dave Allen (FanGraphs): Joey Votto’s Opposite-Field Power and Amazing Fly-Ball BABIP and the opposite = You Call That a Spray-Chart Split? and Aaron Hill Folllow-Up

Utley still chasing gold glove, among other things

While its seems most of the media has latched onto Ryan Howard and believes it is he who makes the Phillies’ ALesque offense go while he racks up the sexier homeruns and RBI’s, it is actually Utley who is most responsible. We’ve clearly debunked the belief that the RBI is an excellent barometer for offensive production. Even so, Howard has Chase to thank for the obscenely large number of them he’s accumulated hitting behind him. Utley does so many things well that when you put them together he is quite obviously one of the best players in baseball, and has been so for several years. Utley runs well and competently. Not only is he an extremely efficient base stealer (evidenced by his 23 for 23 in 2009), but he’s an excellent base runner in general. He makes good decisions and takes bases when he can and when it’s truly worth it rather than recklessly like many fleet footed players. He hits for average, he hits for power and gets on base often. Since 2005, he’s posted OPS’ over .900 in each season and wOBA’s of .392, .389, .420, .391 and .402. When you couple that with his defense and base running acumen he’s simply a tremendous player and well on his way to becoming one of the greatest second baggers of all-time, joining Sandberg, Alomar, Kent and of course, Joe Morgan. I don’t mean to say that he’s done enough already, far from it. But like I said, he’s “well on his way.” His biggest obstacle will be how long he can sustain his current excellence, and how many (just) good seasons he can have after that. Let’s compare his WAR’s (Wins Above Replacement) since 2005 to that of another player you may have heard of:

Utley: 7.4, 6.8, 8.0, 8.1 and 7.6.
Pujols: 7.8, 7.7, 7.8, 9.0 and 8.5

As you can see, very few players are in his company in terms of providing such tremendous overall value to their team. He actually posted a higher WAR than Pujols in 2007; who is obviously most often regarded as the best player in baseball. If you add their WAR’s, Utley has less than 1 Win fewer than Pujols since 2005. What’s more, Utley also bested the WAR of the 2007 Senior Circuit’s Most Valuable Player award winner, Jimmie Rollins, who posted a 6.7 WAR to Utley’s 8.0 in that season. He is quite honestly an offensive machine. To further emphasize the value gap between Utley and Howard, digest this. Since 2005, Ryan Howard has tallied a total WAR of 21.6 to Utley’s 37.9. So, to put a number on it, Utley has been 175% the player that Howard has. I do believe he is underrated offensively but nowhere near as much so as he is defensively. After all, a good portion of his WAR is derived from his work with the leather.

Let’s get into some UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating). In 2005, Luis Castillo won the Rawlings Gold Glove (GG) with an 8.9 UZR. Utley posted a UZR of 17.8, tops for second basemen in MLB but had a lower overall fielding percentage (FP) than Castillo. In 2006, Orlando Hudson won the GG with a -1.3 UZR. Utley posted a UZR of 9.3, tops in the NL but had a lower overall FP than Hudson. In 2007, Hudson repeated as the GG winner with a 0.5 UZR. Utley posted a UZR of 15.7, tops in MLB but with a lower overall FP than Hudson. In 2008, Brandon Phillips won the GG with an 11.3 UZR. Utley posted a 20.2 (!!) UZR, tops in MLB but with a lower overall FP than Phillips. Seeing a pattern? In 2009, Hudson won yet another GG with a -3.3 UZR. Utley posted a 10.8 UZR, tops in the NL but with a lower overall FP than Hudson. Since 2005, Utley posted a total UZR of +73.8 to Phillips’ admirable 28.9, Hudson’s mediocre (at best) -1.0 and Luis Castillo’s -5.3. Utley has not only been the best second baseman over the duration of the last 5 seasons, but also he’s (very) arguably been the very best in each of them. And yet, he still has not a single golden mitt to show for it.

Getting back to the wood: Knocking him down doesn’t do a pitcher any good, either. I recall last season I went to a game, Phillies at Giants, in which Jonothan Sanchez was pitching. Sanchez wung one of his sneaky fastballs right at Utley’s head. Utley luckily was able to evade the malicious heater, albeit a seeming inadvertently thrown one. Unabashed, the sweet swinging lefty deposited one of the next offerings into the very same right field seats that Barry Bonds famously used to launch balls over, splashing them among the boats in McCovey Cove. While I already had complete and utter respect for the man, and of course wasn’t particularly pleased considering he’d done it against my Giants, he somehow suddenly deserved an ever greater level of reverence and perhaps awe. Just the other day I was reminded of Utley’s blast when John Miller* appeared on Comcast’s Chronicle Live and offered that being knocked down by a pitcher never perturbed Willie Mays. Mays faced some of the fiercest and fantastic flame-throwers in baseball history in Koufax, Gibson, Drysdale, Spahn, Ford and Seaver. Mays was knocked down countless times and while he never enjoyed it and made every attempt possible to get out of the way, he got right back up and kept swinging. Koufax is famously quoted as saying, “Pitching is the art of instilling fear.” Anyone who has pitched or truly understands baseball finds this statement infinitely true, but it seems attempting to do so was wasted on Willie and likely now is wasted on Utley. He stands right on top of the plate and though I can’t say definitively, I suspect that’s precisely where he stood after Sanchez knocked him down.

*John Miller recently had the honor of winning the Ford C. Frick (recognizing sustained excellence in baseball broadcasting) and will join his idols Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons (and Willie for that matter) in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. This came as no surprise to Giants fans who have long taken witness to his brilliance, whether in the most meaningful or meaningless of moments.

Since 2005 Utley has received MVP votes in each season and been in the top 10 in three of them, but never better than 7th. He’s been selected an All-Star in 4 seasons to go along with his four Silver Slugger awards as well. He has zero Gold Gloves to date. I’m not trying to say that he hasn’t received any respect, but it’s fairly apparent he isn’t yet placed in the company he deserves, i.e. the games elite. He’s not just better than players like Howard. Utley is better than virtually all of them, sans Pujols. He’s one player I’d absolutely love to see get his fair shake via the Gold Glove, MVP or both in the next 2-3 seasons. Unfortunately, as 2009 was Utley’s 30 year old season his peak has likely already occurred and he may already have missed his shot which quite saddens me. The days of players miraculously turning into much greater players beyond their mid-thirties is almost definitely isolated to the steroids era. It is also a bit unfortunate that Chase was just a tad of a late bloomer. His first full season of AB’s didn’t come until he was 26 years old. Morgan had his first full season of AB’s at the ripe age of 21, giving him at least about 5 more good seasons to pad his counting stats.

Utley may well one day be up for his shot to enter Cooperstown and his lack of hardware will certainly be a knock against him, but it’s at no fault to him. Given his later bloomer status and lack of hardware, the odds are probably against him, but I’ve always loved rooting for the underdog.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Lincecum, like (most) the rest of us, is risk averse

The following is a text message conversation I had with a buddy:

Tony: Do you know anything about Lincy’s signing that I don’t? I don’t get why he accepted it.

Rory: I think Lincecum wanted the security (at least some) all along. He wanted at least 2 years rather than maximizing his per season salary.

Tony: Why did he decline the 3 year deal then?

Rory: I think he would have won but now he has a guaranteed $23MM rather than guaranteed $13MM (or even $8MM if he’d lost). In year 3 and 4 of arbitration he can more maximize his salary via arbitration because he will have been around longer and the more arbitration years you go through the higher percentage of your free agent value you get. In two years (assuming he still is dominating) he can go year to year with the Giants at like $16-20MM a year. Or…He can sign a 3 or 4 or 5 year deal for a lot of money and buy out one or more free agency years. Or just bank the last two years in arbitration and sign a huge contract as a free agent. I thought the deal was fairly balanced…good for both parties.

Tony: Ok. But if he gets $16MM in year 3, that is the same as if he took that 3 year deal basically. And it would have been guaranteed, and then get wrapped up long term.

Rory: No. The 3 year deal (which was $47MM) would have been $10, $13, and $14MM. He wanted the security, but also to get higher annual values year 3 and 4 of arbitration.

Tony: Oh ok. That makes sense.

Shortly after this conversation I read Rob Neyer’s post about it where he took an excerpt from Tangotiger for the math. Long story short, we all agree. Lincecum took the deal because of the “high-risk unchartered waters” that Tango mentioned. For one, there’s no certainty Lincecum would have won his case. As Neyer said, he likely would have. But if everything that is likely always happened, people wouldn’t get disappointed nearly as often in life. And let’s face it, all of us get disappointed a fair amount in this crazy world. It’s also likely that Lincecum will continue to make 30-33 starts and pitch extremely well. But if he doesn’t because he’s hurt or any other factors we can’t imagine now, he’s considerably fattened his bank account.

It's probably safe to assume all of us believe and are strongly hoping that this young phenomenal Ace is going to continue to defy the critics (who are now very few) and his physical limitations given his stature for years to come. But with the outside chance something unforeseeable happens, he’s still going to be a very rich man compared to the rest of us. And with the way he’s pitched in his first 2.5 seasons, I believe he’s earned that.


Rory: Read that. More or less what I was getting at with you via text.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Good reads and an UPDATE

I posted a small UPDATE on my blog about Lincecum and Zito's fastballs...

Here are a few thing's I read recently and either enjoyed or at least found interesting...

New FanGraphs writer Paul Kawlikowski explains 4 reasons why teams are not jumping to sign Jermaine Dye.  Actually, teams are more or less flat out avoiding him.  Dave Cameron posted a very interesting take on the 5th reason

I guess there is a new bio out on Willie Mays which is getting rave reviews and is more than just worth reading.  It appears that a lot of people are intent on exaggerating Mays' legend, however, Rob Neyer did a comparison on the yards he played in to determine whether or not Candlestick hurt his HR numbers. The historical, word-of-mouth consensus is that it absolutely did. Lon Simmons: “No doubt about it.” Well, Neyer very eloquently provides evidence that Candlestick did no such thing, aside from one season. It’s a must read. He doesn’t try to downplay Mays’ greatness or anything, rather, he just wants to make sure people don't turn his legend into a Paul Bunyanesque tall tale. Neyer's stuff is always enjoyable, or at the very least thought provoking.  And, because he writes so many pieces, you don't have to wait very long for another little nugget of gold to come along. 

Like this.  Keep in mind that Neyer is a huge Royals fan and at least has a sense of humor about their incompetence.  I can relate.

And here's some more Royals stuff (ridicule) from Joe Posnanski.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Zito power pitching, Lincecum finessing?!

Just yesterday, Mattew Carruth of FanGraphs posted on those pitchers that had gained and lost the most inches on their fastball from 2008 to 2009. Most people probably wouldn’t be shocked to hear that two Giants starters found themselves on the two lists: Lincecum for fastball lost and Zito for fastball gained. Lincecum was tied for the 4th largest loss in fastball among qualified pitchers with a minimum of 50 innings in both 2008 and 2009. On average, his fastball was 1.7 MPH slower in 2009 than in 2008. Zito, with an average gain of 1.6 MPH, tied for the 9th largest gain in fastball (50 inning min). This piqued my interest and thus I’d like to examine what likely caused this phenomenon for both players and how it affected their performance.

It was somewhat extensively covered by the media in the case of Lincecum, most notably when he pitched in the heat. Aside from the always insightful Krukow mentioning Zito’s extra zip during broadcasts, the extra velocity he had on his heater went by and large unnoticed. Krukow also frequently described Lincecum’s ability to back off and add speed in 2009, something the maturity he’d developed in his first one and a half seasons in the majors afforded him. Krukow believed that Lincecum had learned that it was unnecessary to throw the ball as hard as he can with each pitch. Rather, he simply could throw the ball at a more controlled level while spotting it much better. I myself grew up listening to Kruk and Kuip’s banter and I’d have to say Krukow was dead on. While it’d seem terribly optimistic to attribute 100% of the loss on his fastball speed to Lincecum’s growth as a “pitcher” from a “thrower,” I believe Krukow was correct and this was a major factor. I’m leaning towards a combination. I do think Timmy has learned to back off on the heater. But I also believe he probably lost at least a little zip on his fastball having thrown over 225 innings in each of his first two full campaigns. Many people have posited that game time temperature (specifically hot and humid weather) is the largest factor causing Lincecum to lose some fastball. I agree with this, there does seem to be strong evidence supporting this theory. But because Lincecum must have pitched in hot weather both in 2008 and 2009 I don’t see any reason why temperature could have contributed to his specific loss in fastball year to year, 2008 to 2009. Something worth noting is the fact that Lincecum most often throws a two seam fastball. While most hard throwing pitchers use the four seam fastball most often, that’s not the case with Lincecum. The two seamer does reduce the speed of the pitch but it also gives the pitch greater movement (or late life). It’s actually quite remarkable that the small statured right hander is such a flame thrower with everything stacked against him. The result of course is the two Cy Young’s on his mantle, wait, I mean in the trunk of his Mercedes.

Krukow mentioned Zito’s extra zip in 2009. Well, what do we know about what Zito did after his 2008 season? Many fans may recall that during the winter after Zito’s abysmal 2008 season (a season in which he began 0-8 followed by a deomotion to the bullpen), he joined workout guru and teammate Brian Wilson on his 6 day a week workout regimen and throwing program. Zito also began throwing long toss over a 200 foot gorge with Wilson. While a member of the Oakland A’s, Zito threw much more often and at longer distances between starts and during the offseason. He abandoned that in his first two seasons with San Francisco. This information probably paints a much clearer picture why Zito was throwing harder than why Lincecum was throwing softer.

At last, it’s time for the results:

The extra zip on Zito’s fastball definitely helped him in 2009. You can see the impact in his ERA as well as his FIP (fielding independent pitching). Also, you can see that he walked fewer batters while striking out more. He pretty much improved across the board, with exception of HR/9. Zito did give up the long ball slightly more often, however, because his WHIP (walks + hits per IP) decreased by a quarter of a base runner per inning the homeruns didn’t hurt him as badly. He posted a 4.31 FIP in 2009 which strangely enough is exactly in line with his career FIP. He posted FIP’s below 4.00 in each of his first 3 seasons (2000-2002), however, he’s posted FIP’s above 4.00 in each season thereafter. So if Zito continues to work as hard as he did last offseason this seems like a reasonable place to start projecting Zito’s performance because FIP is much more indicative of future performance than ERA. I’ve also included Zito’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for each season. You can see that he was worth nearly an extra win with his new (or more likely rediscovered) fastball. Oddly, Zito posted a WAR of 2.1 in 2006, i.e. his walk year and just before singing the $126 mil deal with the Giants. With this in mind, I should ask the question. Would you pay a player $126 mil coming off the season that Zito had in 2009? Well, Sabean (or maybe McGowan) thought it a good idea in the winter of 2006. This was a painful mistake the Giants have been paying for and will continue to pay for until they buy him out at a cost of $7 mil in his final option year.  Another tidbit that is worth noting from Carruth's post is that, despite Zito's improved fastball, he threw it 5% less often in 2009.  Why might that be?  Without much statistical evidence I am going to have to hypothesize that Zito's improved arm speed resurrected his hitter freezing and demoralizing curve ball.  Perhaps, he wasn't throwing the heater less often but instead was just throwing the hammer more often.  It did appear to me that Zito's curve had greatly improved from the previous year in 2009.***

***UPDATE:  I did actually go and look at Zito's pitches by percentage for 2008 and 2009, and the results weren't exactly what I hypothesized.  Zito did throw his curve more often, however, it was only about 2% more often.  Instead, Zito threw his slider much more often in 2009, doubling his percentage from 9% to 18%.  An increase in arm speed would actually improve his slider so this definitely makes sense as well.  The about 18% of the time he threw his curve was roughly the same percentage he used it in 2006 and 2007.  In the old days, Zito threw it upwards of 20% of the time.  The strangest part of his pitch percentages for me was the frequency in which Zito threw the fastball, change-up combination in 2008.  His fastball was getting downright Jamie Moyer like and yet he was throwing it often and off of his change-up.  It's no wonder he was gatting tattooe'd.  The change-up probably didn't have anywhere close the differential between it and the fastball to make it effective, and yet, that's how he was attacking hitters.  Passive aggressive much?

I’ve examined Lincecum’s numbers in a previous post and you can see here that despite his slower fastball he improved across the board.  Lincecum struck batters out at virtually the same clip he had in 2008 while also substantially reducing his walk rate and limiting the home run slightly more.  In fact, in 2009 Lincecum didn't give up a single home run at China Basin which is impressive in itself.  You can see that he improved his WAR by over half a win and lowered his FIP.  Some might think this somewhat strange considering it's believed he lost a little on his fastball.  To me, his outstanding and improved 2009 statistics more lend to Krukow's theory.  Lincecum wasn't throwing slower because he no longer had the arm speed to throw a pitch at the same velocity he had in 2008, but rather he was choosing to reduce the speed on his heater to harness it and place it where he wanted more often.  Lincecum's change-up no doubt developed more and more into an absolutely devestating pitch in 2009.  It's probably one of the nastiest pitches in the game and belongs in the conversation with Rivera's cutter.  Because it is so effective Lincecum doesn't necessarily have to throw the ball 96 with each fastball he lets fly because the movement (fading down and away to lefties) and speed differential is enough that it is still just as effective.  It is his change-up, not his fastball or filthy curve he was known for coming out of UW, that has made him an elite starter.  Lincecum now works with 4 above average pitches (2-seam fastball, change-up, curve and slider), mixes speeds on each of them and uses both sides of the plate.  Because of this, he posts outstandingly equal splits and seems to be nearly if not as effective vs. left handed batters when typically pitchers post greater numbers versus like-handed batters.  He even strikes out lefties more often, which is likely much-assisted by that change-up fading left to right, down and away from lefties.  

The results of this examination are pretty interesting. While Zito improved his fastball speed he had better results.  While Linceum decreased his fastball speed he had better results.  Both pitchers probably couldn't be more dissimilar.  One lefty and one righty.  One a power pitcher and the other now more of a finesse pitcher.  For Zito, from one Giants fan here's to hoping he keeps his strength up and can continue to perform at his 2009 level.  You can wish he starts pitching like his $126 mil contract.  You can also wish in one hand and spit in the other, then see which one fills up faster.  But as far as Lincecum goes, the sky is the limit.  Whether or not he makes $8 mil or $13 mil next season, he's likely to continue dismantling left and right handed swings every fifth day as the ballast of the San Francisco Giants rotation. 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Not so fast

Dear Mr. Neukom, SOS.
-Giants Fans

When you take a look at the Giants’ projected 2010 lineup, something is glaringly obvious: they will be incredibly slow. What little speed they had in 2009 is either likely to get far less playing time in 2010 (Burris and Velez) or left via free agency (specifically I’m speaking about the sneaky fast Randy Winn who led the team in thefts). Other players on their roster have fallen out of favor with management or the manager for unknown reasons and look to either be moved or provide depth as a bench player. Of course I am referring to Fred Lewis. Lewis is one of the few Giants on the roster returning from 2009 that possesses speed, a patient approach with on base skills and the ability to play relatively decent defense (according to UZR despite most Giants fans belief he’s terrible). With that said, when the Giants mentioned players fighting for the final outfield spot for the upcoming season, Velez, Bowker and Schierholtz were mentioned. Schierholtz is the odds on favorite because of his ability to play a very quality RF. Unfortunately, Schierholtz has pretty horrid on base skills and at least at the major league level has never shown the power he displays in batting practice and he used to show in the minors. During the conversation of who’s likely to be fighting for the final outfield spot, Lewis’ name never came up. This has been pretty shocking to me because Lewis seems like the one Giant that could and probably should hit leadoff. I personally would be thrilled if the Giants would grab up Johnny Damon at this point but the likelihood of that is about as probable as the Giants suddenly welcoming Beane’s A’s to San Jose with open arms. While Damon’s weenie arm and average to below average defensive skills are likely to cost the Giants a few runs on defense, he’s also been a ridiculously consistent offensive presence who could add some speed, on base skills, and power at the top of the lineup. Again though, not happening.

And why is there no chance the Giants are signing Damon? Well, I have run through the Giants’ 2010 payroll thus far and by my count it’s near $100 mil or even slightly over depending on Lincecum’s arbitration hearing, despite Bill Neukom recently saying something to the effect of, it’s definitely gone up but he doesn’t believe it will be $100 mil. While I don’t want to pretend that I know the Giants’ finances better than their managing general partner, I do know how to add salaries and that payroll is projected to be about that. Maybe they are more confident than I am that they can actually convince an arbiter that Lincecum is worth $2 mil less than Ryan Howard was worth 2 years ago. I’m very curious to hear their logic as taking those two figures to a hearing certainly seems like a fool’s errand to me.

Allow me to get back to the why. While Sabean promised to let the market develop on players this offseason, I don’t believe he followed through. For starters, Sabean declined Freddie Sanchez’s $8 mil 2010 option only to ink the second baseman for 2 years and $12 mil, i.e. more guaranteed money. Sanchez was coming off knee surgery (and now is coming off the more serious labrum surgery). Sanchez won’t even have to earn that $12 mil with performance incentives because it’s all guaranteed. I did like the DeRosa signing which was essentially the same as Freddie Sanchez’s, 2/ $12. The next 3 singings are what have me concerned. Sabean picked up a utility player for $3.25 mil (bringing back Uribe), a first baseman who belongs as a DH for $3 mil and brought back “that ship has sailed” Bengie Molina for $4.5 mil despite having the far cheaper and conceivably more productive rookie Buster Posey. That’s a total of $10.75 mil guaranteed. Furthermore, calling Huff a DH is probably giving him a lot of credit considering his offensive performance in 2009. Huff certainly fits the part of a DH with his lack of defensive prowess, but there are a plethora of players that were available late that would be far more productive as a DH (Thome and the still available Dye come to mind). While I do think it’s likely Huff will out hit Ishikawa, I also think it’s likely he’ll give the surplus of runs he produces with his stick right back with his glove. So instead of upgrading significantly with an everyday player, Sabean continued with the 2009 blueprint of trying to patch together a lineup with scotch tape. The Giants have a ton of players that could be useful utility players and can play pretty much all over (albeit in many cases not well*), but aren’t necessarily suited to play every day.

*Huff has played all over in his career with little success.

I’ve touched on the fact that they aren’t as good defensively in previous posts. When it also seemed apparent to me they were quite slow, I decided to try and examine that assumption – the mother of all F-ups – because an assumption is just that until it can be proven. I took all of the projected starting lineups for the NL West and averaged their top 8 hitters’ (excluding the pitchers spot) projected OBP and speed factor using Bill James’ projections on FanGraphs. This is what I got:

Spd – 3.31
OBP - .331

Spd – 4.04
OBP – .360

Spd – 4.59
OBP - .350

Spd – 4.50
OBP – .360

Spd – 4.38
OBP - .341

What we can clearly see from this is that the Giants still appear to lack the ability to get on base at a league average rate and are by far the worst in the division. Exacerbating that problem is the fact that when they do manage to sneak their way on base, they are going to have to go station to station to score runs.  While my method for examining their relative speed and OBP for 2010 isn't exactly bullet proof, it does provide some pretty significant evidence that the Giants won't be terribly swift.  After all, Bill James' ( a pretty smart guy) projections are based on past performance. The Dodgers have the second worst average speed factor in the division and still have greater than a 20% advantage in that category. The back breaker of course is the fact that the Giants also have a serious power outage since the departure of Barry Bonds. A team that can’t get on base, runs like a team full of catchers and can’t play for the three run dinger probably isn’t going to score many runs. So if the Giants pitching staff felt they were carrying the load last year, they will probably feel more of the same this year and the defense behind them projects to do them a lot less good, too.

Sabean is out of money for the upcoming season and he’s running out of time. He may have fooled the business man Neukom thus far, but it appears his days are numbered. Frankly, he was very lucky with the timing of Peter McGowan’s departure. Neukom probably didn’t want to make such a big splash, especially coming off of a very successful season with the huge turnaround from ’08 to ’09, but if Sabean’s rosters continue to be less than impressive despite the young infusion of talent provided to him by John Barr and Dick Tidrow, Neukom will show him the door and find a new CEO. If a man who once ran the very successful Microsoft can’t understand the benefit that is the wealth of statistical information currently available to evaluate players and which Sabean ignores, who can?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A rough winter for Willy Taveras

R.J. Anderson of FanGraphs wrote a post today about the DFAing of Willy Taveras in which he "outed" him very much like I had way back when on December 14, 2009 within my "Fantasy Draft: 2008 or 2009 Lincecum?" post. Anderson's big finish*:

     "I guess there's nothing like starting every game by facing Zack Greinke."
There are a few differences in the posts, of course.  R.J. Anderson's overall idea, I think, is that Willy Taveras was unfathomably bad in 2009.  But, R.J. does leave a shred of hope for brighter days (and hopefully seasons) for Taveras.  Taveras does seem to have hit a little bit of bad luck.  He apparently didn't bunt well in 2009, which I'm sure didn't help his BABIP (Batting average on balls in play), a career low .278.  Because Taveras refuses to walk a large part of his game is using his speed and posting a high BABIP and average to get on base and he clearly wasn't able to do that in 2009.

My post was actually about exposing how brilliant Lincecum was in 2009 and how, despite a worse overall record, he was quite a bit better than his younger self in 2008.  It was just a quick post to 1) illustrate how poor of a stat the W is for evaluating pitchers and 2) give everyone a little reminder of how lucky we are to have the freak in the black and orange.

Back to the differences in just how we outed Mr. Taveras.  R.J. used the statistic OBP to show that Taveras posted a poorer OBP in 2009 than the best pitcher in the American Leagues (Zack Greinke) opponents collectively posted against him.  I used OPS to illustrate how brilliant the National Leagues top pitcher (Lincecum) was by choosing the worst player (by OPS) with over 400 AB's, Taveras, and providing that Taveras actually faired slightly better (2 more points in OPS) against the various pitchers he faced in 2009 than the field had faired against Lincecum.  So, different stats, different brilliant pitchers but more or less the same conclusion: Taveras was an atrocious offefnsive player in 2009.

One thing is for sure, Taveras is having a rough winter!  But, if he can turn his luck a bit, get picked up off the scrap heap and boost that BABIP, he may well still find himself at least on a major league roster.  That being said, I doubt any manager is going to be giving him another 400 AB's in a season any time soon.

*Again, borrowing from Rob Neyer.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Reds are alright

Billy Beane, continuing to treat players as inanimate objects by dealing them like a Vegas Blackjack dealer deals cards, moved Aaron Miles plus cash or another spare part (PTBNL, i.e. Player to be named later) to the Cincinnati Reds today for cheap and possibly useful utility infielder Adam Rosales and the speedy CF Willy Taveras. He then promptly discarded (DFA’d) Taveras much like Phil Ivy, Johnny Chan and the like would throw in a pair of 7 and 2 off suit. I won’t get into what I think of this transaction but the reason this particular move piqued my interest was the recent write-up of ESPN’s Rob Neyer on the NL Central for 2010 and more importantly, the Reds.

He quickly thumbed over the projected standings (as devised by CAIRO statistic projections) for the National League Central and offered the following:

Cardinals – 92
Reds – 85
Cubs – 84
Brewers – 81
Pirates – 70
Astros – 69

“Really, just one notheworthy item here, as the Reds look like serious Wild Card contenders.

How? Well, they did win 78 games last year, so it’s not like they’ve got terribly far to go. Joey Votto* is fast becoming a superstar, and young Jay Bruce still figures to someday get on base more than 30 percent of the time. But other than Bruce in right, what will the outfield look like? Will Willy Taveras be allowed to throw away hundres of plate appearances? How will Dusty Baker divvy up the time for speedster Drew Stubbs, Triple-A slugger Wladimir Balentien, on-base machine Chris Dickerson, and Doublt-A star Chris Heisey?”

Neyer’s “big finish,” as he himself would say:

“These projections are just snapshots, based on solid statistical assumptions and questionable assumptions about personnel decisions. I do believe that the Reds have the talent on their roster for a solid season. Whether the luck and the management line up behind the talent...well, that’s your proverbial “known unknown.””

So why would Taveras be thowing at bats away? Well, his wOBA (weighted on-base average) in 2009 was .259 when the league average was around .332. In 2008, he faired better but still well below average at .301. UZR did rate him favorably in the field in 2009, however, no amount of defense will dig you out of the black hole created by a sub .260 wOBA. Not even if that player had Roberto Clemente’s arm, Deion Sanders’ speed, Willie Mays’ grace and Ryan Freel’s fearlessness. It’s obvious the Reds front office has taken that decision out of Bakers hands. The Reds won’t be letting Taveras throw any additional AB’s away for them, unremarkably neither will the A’s.

It’s good to see that the Reds have some pretty exciting players already on their roster as well as some pretty nice pieces being developed on the farm, including the recently signed Cuban phenom with the blazing fastball from the left side, Aroldis Chapman.

(*) Joey Votto is an absoute hitting machine, young, under team control and affordable for the time being. I mentioned to a buddy earlier in the offseason that the Giants should attempt to move Matt Cain for Votto. This particular buddy thought my idea silly. In this case, I find my buddy very silly for thinking me silly.