Monday, January 31, 2011

The end of an era and the end of a beginning

I began reading Rob Neyer’s SweetSpot at some unknown and arbitrary point in 2009, and that’s where this story begins.

Prior to that, I thought wins were a good measure of the worth of a starting pitcher, saves of closer, RBI of a hitter, and Gold Gloves of a fielder. My baseball world was about to rocked, forever and ultimately for the better.

Shortly thereafter, I began emailing each of my brothers constantly about baseball, mostly the Giants, as something inside me was brewing. I also started reading Fangraphs, and spending more time on Baseball-reference. I’d always loved baseball, but the ball of passion that lay in my chest was stagnant in growth and used for the most part only during the season. But as I say, a storm was coming.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Is the Giants' offseason uninspired for a reason?

Over the past three or so months, I’ve come across a lot of Giants fan backlash when one of two things was said: either they were lucky to win the World Series in 2010, or that their likelihood of repeating next season is remote. Why is that?

Bill from The Platoon Advantage recently tweeted that he also finds Giants fans especially touchy these days. I agree. And what we decided, in 140 characters or less, was that this is mostly typical for a fan base that’s just won a championship. I’d also like to add that, just maybe, waiting 52 years for that right may exacerbate or extend this typicality.

I’d like to first say that I’m not going to spend a great deal of time discussing whether or not they were lucky to win in 2010. But what I will say is that they were lucky to win to a degree. That’s always the case. You need to stay healthy. You need to play well at the right time, i.e. to get hot. And it helps, when at certain times during a game, series and season, the ball falls your way. The best team doesn’t always win, though they often do. But you can also say they often don’t. If you don’t agree with that, you unfortunately don’t understand baseball.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Billy Wagner is deserving of Neyer's Wing of Amazing

I'm an avid reader of Rob Neyer's SweetSpot (and his writings in general), if you have not guessed it, and he recently came up with something pretty awesome, if not brilliant. Go figure. He only introduced the notion just over two weeks ago when he pondered that his fellow baseball writers might want to include Omar Vizquel in the Hall of Fame, when neither his statistics support his candidacy nor does he pass the "eyeball test:" the gut feeling factor. Not content to end the discussion at him simply not belonging, he supposed something else might do him justice. And this was all predicated on... well let me allow Rob to explain:

"The dirty little secret is that there's no such thing as "the writers' wing" or "the broadcasters' wing" of the  Hall of Fame. Those places don't exist. If you've been to Cooperstown and weren't paying attention, you would have seen absolutely no proof that the winners of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award (writers) or the Ford C. Frick Award (broadcasters) ever existed, because their names simply don't appear in the Hall of Fame, which is a big room covered with the plaques depicting all the men (and one woman) who are actually, you know, in the Hall of Fame.

There's no wing. There are a couple of plaques, one for each award, hanging on a wall just outside the Hall's research library. The Spink and Frick Award winners are not "enshinees" (i.e. Hall of Famers) but rather "honorees," which is a completely different thing.

The confusion is partly the Hall of Fame's fault, because for some years the Hall of Fame has allowed the honorees to give an acceptance speech the same afternoon as the enshrinees give theirs.

But the confusion is mostly our fault, and by "our" I mean my colleagues in the business and our employers. Obviously, it makes everyone happy to add "Hall of Fame" in front of "writer" or "broadcaster." It's gratifying to the ego, and it's gratifying to whoever's signing the checks.

It's just not true.

The "wings" are largely imaginary places, invented for everyone's convenience.

So why not imagine one more wing, for our convenience?

What I am proposing is a Wing of the Amazing, for players who really don't belong in the Hall of Fame because they weren't good enough, but did some things that do deserve to be celebrated. A few criteria:

  • No one-game wonders. This leaves out Don Larsen.
  • No freak shows. This leaves out Eddie Gaedel and Minnie Minoso (though one can make a pretty decent case for Minoso as an actual Hall of Famer.
  • We're not talking about really good (or great) players who belong in the Hall of Fame, but have been overlooked. Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich were both fantastic players and they belong in the Hall, but when you look at their careers do you think, Amazing? Probably not.
  • These standards are inviolable until someone convinces me they're not.
Now, it seems to me that while Omar Vizquel might not be the best candidate for the Wing of the Amazing, he is a fine candidate."

Already off and running with his submittals, his second nominee was age-defying Jamie Moyer. And most recently, he argued Jim Abbott was the ideal candidate for the Wing of Amazing, of which I wholeheartedly agree.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Revisiting Zito's Contract

When decisions are made during times of desperation, the results are rarely pretty.

In the 2006 offseason, the Giants were determined to sign a big-time free agent bat. They offered deals upwards of $100 million to two players, but couldn’t coax either Carlos Lee or Alfonso Soriano to head to San Francisco. In hindsight, this ended up being a very good thing, in that neither Lee nor Soriano are particularly useful any longer, if at all; except that, having failed in their endeavor to sign them, the Giants pulled the trigger on another ill-advised deal: they signed Barry Zito.

There wasn’t really anything wrong with Zito as a Major League starter at the time, nor really is there now. The problem was this: they gave him the richest contract for a pitcher in baseball history, i.e. 7 years for a total of $126 million, and an option for an eighth season for another $18 million (or otherwise a $7 million buyout).

Zito was never an elite pitcher, despite wining the AL Cy Young award in 2002. His best season actually came in his first full campaign, when he finished with 5.0 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 2001. But that season he struck out 8.61 batters per nine innings. and he would never again approach that. He was always more of a finesse lefty, and one who walked his fair share of batters. As his fastball velocity slowly eroded, so did his value. After his 2002 Cy Young season, he never again posted a FIP (fielding independent pitching) beneath 4.00 (it was 3.87 in ’02). His WAR went from that 5.0 in 2001, to 4.4, to 4.3, to 3.2, to 3.0, and to 2.1 in 2006, his last season with the Athletics.

And then the Giants made him the richest pitcher in history, despite these obvious signs of his steady decline.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jeff Suppan is no Joe Posnanski

Today, the Giants signed Jeff Suppan to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. My first thought was this: oh, the Giants must need a new batting practice pitcher! I guess not.

He’ll be paid $1 million if he ever finds his way onto the Giants. And if he doesn’t make the roster coming out of camp in March, he can opt out. Presumably, this means the 40-man roster. The Giants, assuming some semblance of a replacement starter is observed in him, would simply drop him off in Triple-A Fresno until they need him (and hopefully they never will).

Imagine for a second you were collecting baseball writers. You already have Joe Posnanski, Bill James, Rob Neyer, Joe Sheehan and Jayson Stark. But you want a little just-in-case insurance, you know, just in case. Maybe, along the way, one of them gets writers block, or maybe one breaks both hands and can’t type. You already have Murray Chass lined up in the stable, and a couple others like him. Then, in an effort to beef up your complete and utter lack of depth, you hire on the Bleacher Report. This is essentially what the Giants have done.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cody Ross and the Giants' arbitration eligibles

The Giants settled on contacts for four of the six players they have that are arbitration eligible today, and are optimistic the remaining two won't go to a hearing. I wanted to break them down a bit here, and provide a few thoughts.

Just as a quick primer: the market value for a win* is about $5 million dollars in the current market, which is up quite a bit from 2009 and 2010. Also, it’s worth noting that players who are arbitration eligible – this is for players who have more than three years of MLB service, but fewer than six -- typically get 40 percent of their free agent value in year one, 60 percent in year two and 80 percent in year three. A lucky few players are awarded Super Two status – this is for only those in the top 17 percent of players with at least two but less than three years of MLB service, who also accumulated at least 86 days in the previous season -- which means they go to arbitration one year earlier and thus get to go through four years of arbitration. Giants fans should recall that Tim Lincecum was the benefactor (and the Giants the victim) of this caveat last season.

*Whenever I say a “win” in terms of a player’s value, what I mean is a Win above Replacement, or 1.0 WAR. A replacement player should not be mistaken with a league average player. A replacement player is a four-A type player, one that can easily be plugged in at a position at league minimum cost, usually plucked from the minor league system, waivers, or perhaps via trade for a minimum cost if depth is an issue. An average player is above replacement.

NOTE: Instead of just choosing to go with either Baseball-reference or Fangraphs, I’ve chosen to take each player’s WAR from each site and give each a weight of 50 percent; this is in the hopes to come up with a decent idea of their consensus value.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Profiling Francisco Peguero

Here's another intriguing Giants prospect: Francisco Peguero. He, like Surkamp who I recently profiled, isn't exactly a top MLB prospect. But as far as Giants prospects go, he's one of the position players with the most upside. The Giants signed him in August of 2005 as a non-drafted free agent (international signing), and he's been stewing in their system ever since. They placed him on the 40-man roster prior to this years Rule V draft.

They've brought him along slowly. He played two seasons in the Dominican Summer League before coming to the states. In 2008, he split half his time in A short-season ball (Salem-Keizer) and the full-season Sally League. In 2009, he spent most of the first two months in extended spring training with a sports hernia but played about another half season in the Sally League, before being promoted to A-Advanced for the Cal League playoffs and starring in the championship-clinching game alongside Eric Surkamp, winning playoff MVP honors.

In 2010, he lead the California League (A+) with 16 triples, and finished second in stolen bags with 40; he does, however, need to clean up that skill set as his efficiency (64.5%) leaves something to be desired. Using Fangraphs' speed factor, we find that he was the fourth fastest player in the Cal league. His batting average of .329 was also fourth best, and considering he's a center fielder, his .488 slugging percentage and .159 isolated power were very good.

Surkamp to sink or swim in 2011

First off, as far as prospects go: it’s very important not to get too hung up on where a player is ranked on each list. Usually, the top two or three guys fall into at least a similar order on most lists. For example, every list coming out will have Brandon Belt -- here's a video of him hitting -- atop the heap for the Giants. But beyond that, there’s very little consensus in terms of placing each player in the exact same order.

There’s no doubt that some part of the ebb and flow of prospects lists is due to the biases of the pupils that produce them. A prospect maven that has been burned (completely wrong) on a certain type of prospect over and over again, i.e. multiple players with the same skill set, is likely to be more cautious with their ranking in the future, and certainly more apprehensive in giving them solid projections in the future. It’s very similar to what behavioral economists have observed in the stock market, that financial markets are often inefficient because consumers make biased decisions, often based on their personal experience in the market.

With that, I want to talk about Eric Surkamp. Here’s a guy that’s sure to stir up some debate. Back in early November, I threw a quick list of 10 together, and although I think I struck out by missing a few prospects worth mentioning, I'm pleased I placed Surkamp 10th. He’s cracked most lists at this point, but no one is yet sure where to place him. Baseball America placed him 19th last season in their 2010 Prospect Handbook, and their Top 10 Prospects list for 2011 will be available January 26. Fangraphs had one too few spots for him to rank on their Top 10 list. John Sickel’s placed him 12th on his list of the Top 20 Giants Prospects, calling him an "intriguing finesse lefty." And Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus had this to say about him: Surkamp “…has a plus curve ball and good change…” and “[he’s] not a future All-Star, but [he likely] is a future big leaguer, and likely a back-end rotation starter at that.”

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How Sabean and the Giants go to WAR

Just over a week ago, Chris Quick at Bay City Ball put together a nice post on the Sabean Years. It was pretty interesting, and certainly worth reading through. In a nutshell, Chris was taking a look at how Brian Sabean has constructed his rosters over his tenure, beginning in 1997. The idea was simply to group them in three year intervals -- he used groups of 3 years apiece, starting with 21-23, 24-27, and so forth, going up to 42+ -- and compare each age group by Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

I probably don't have to tell you that it was no great revelation that Sabean's rosters were shaped as such that they were leaning heavily on older players. His best group was those players aged 33-35. If you didn't know the Giants, and you didn't have an idea how Sabean prefers to operate, this maybe would have come as a surprise. But, assuming you're a Giants fan, which many of my readers are, I don't think it's a stretch to say this conclusion was expected. The performances of Stan Javier, Ellis Burks, Ray Durham, Randy Winn, and most recently Aubrey Huff have really paid off for Sabean -- let's hope Andres Torres continues this wonderful trend in 2011, his age 33 season.

To illustrate that this type of roster construction isn't typical, that it is in fact unique to Sabes, I'm going to show you some WAR Grids (created by Joshua Marciel) from Fangraphs. WAR Grids are the latest tool at Fangraphs, officially introduced today by David Appleman.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Giants will be challenged to repeat in 2011

Dan Szymborski has an article -- San Francisco Giants' repeat problems -- for Insider’s on Within it, he explains the difficulty the Giants now stand to face in their pursuit to repeat as World Champions. And he’s absolutely right. Let me explain.

Nowhere in his article does he say they won’t be good, quite the contrary.  Especially not when he says “[the] rotation is elite…” Or when he explains the Giants’ Brandon Belt is “… almost certainly one of the two best 1B prospects in baseball…” Nonetheless, it will be an uphill battle – and here’s why, using his four main reasons to prompt my thoughts.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Barry Bonds, Cooperstown, steroids, amphetamines, and common sense

Barry Bonds is well within the conversation of the greatest players ever, with Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Ty Cobb. Let me explain.

He owns the single-season record for home runs with 73. He also owns the all-time record for home runs with 762. He is also the only player in history with 500 home runs and 500 stolen bases, also obviously the first and only with 600/500 or 700/500 for what it’s worth. His 2,558 walks is most all-time, and so too do the 688 intentional passes he amassed rank first. He is second in runs, despite batting in the middle of the lineup (and not leadoff) throughout the majority of his career. He trails 3,000 hits by a mere sixty-five, and narrowly missed 2,000 RBI by four. Baseball-reference has Bonds worth an astounding 171.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) over his career, behind only Babe Ruth (172). His career adjusted-OPS (OPS+) is 181, or 81% better than his average peer. He owns seven (7) MVP awards, awarded to the best player in each league since 1931, or four more than any other player in history; ten players have won three (3).

All of this, though, is marred by steroids. This is highly unfortunate. It is widely believed that Bonds began using Performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in 1998. And boy did he have some incentive. Baseball was all but handing the players the stuff themselves, and the sport, no the entire country, was rejoicing in Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, and how they’d saved the game of baseball.

Before that, though, before the indictments, the suspicion, the "clear", and the book, Game of Shadows, he was regarded as the greatest player of his generation, and well on his way to being one of the greatest ballplayers of all time.

Through his 1998 season, Bonds already had 1,917 hits, 403 doubles, 63 triples and most notably, a combination of 411 home runs and 445 stolen bases. No player in the history of baseball had ever done that, i.e. the 400/400 club. No player has since. At the time, only Willie Mays, Andre Dawson and his father Bobby Bonds had ever reached even the 300/300 club (only Steve Finley, Reggie Sanders, and Alex Rodriquez have joined since). In 1996, he became only the second player (after Jose Canseco) in history – he is still one of only four players – to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season*. Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano have joined since. His career batting average was .290, his on-base percentage .411, and his slugging percentage .556. His OPS+ was 164, or 64% superior to the average hitter while he played. He had already racked up a career WAR of 103.4.

*Ironically, he may well be the only one among them who did this without the assistance of PEDs.

Allow me to put that into context. If we place him on the position player career WAR list following the 1998 season, and include everyone else through 2010, that would have placed Bonds 19th on the career WAR list for position players, 0.10 wins behind Joe Morgan, regarded in the stats community, despite his own wild ignorance, as maybe the best second baseman all-time. The following players would be the entire list of players ahead of Bonds in career WAR, and keep in mind this is if Bonds had retired after his 1998 season at the age of 33. Also keep in mind, that not only is each of the players listed below a Hall of Famer (aside from Bonds), but each is also regarded as a top three player at their position in the history of the game we love, if not the best of all time.

1. Babe Ruth, 172.00
2. [Bonds today, second all-time], 171.80
3. Ty Cobb, 159.40
4. Willie Mays, 154.70
5. Hank Aaron, 141.60
6. Honus Wagner, 134.50
7. Tris Speaker, 133.00
8. Rogers Hornsby, 127.80
T8. Stan Musial, 127.80
10. Eddie Collins, 126.70
11. Ted Williams, 125.30
12. Mickey Mantle, 120.20
13. Lou Gehrig, 118.40
14. Rickey Henderson, 113.10
15. Mel Ott, 109.30
16. Mike Schmidt, 108.30
17. Frank Robinson, 107.40
18. Nap Lajoie, 104.20
19. Joe Morgan, 103.50
20. [Barry Bonds at end of 1998], 103.40

If you’re into hardware, he had that going for him too. Through just 13 seasons, he had eight (8) Gold Glove awards, three (3) MVP awards (which tied him for the most ever, and yet he also probably deserved at least one more ), and seven (7) Silver Slugger awards. He had already been an All-star eight (8) times.

Bill James easily ranked Bonds as the best player of the 90’s. Even more telling than that, he said that the second–best player of the 1990’s, Craig Biggio, had been closer to the tenth-best player than he had been to Bonds. In essence, at the end of the 1998 season, Bonds was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Had he simply walked away from the game, he would have ranked among the best players ever.

• • •

Fast-forward to today, and the topic at hand:

Last January, I wrote a post entitled Steroids vs. Apmhetamines. Within it, I argued that their effects were not equal, that they are nowhere near equal. I still believe that today. A player using greenies will outperform a non-enhanced version of himself. That seems clear or else why were they using them. But it also seems all but certain a player using steroids will outperform an amphetamine-using version of himself. To what degree, I do not know. I’m not a doctor.

But to use this argument to exclude a player from enshrinement? Again, both were illegal to all society. Both substances were banned for use in the game of baseball. As Posnanski pointed out on Twitter, the “greenies don’t help as much” is not much of a compelling argument. It’s really sort of childish. In terms of using it for an argument, it’s probably on par with a child trying to convince his parents that his sibling is deserving of harsher punishment because “he hit me harder.”

Each player in 2000 was applying the same logic when deciding to use (or not to use) steroids as the player in 1970 was when opting (or opting not to) use amphetamines. The factors to consider were nearly identical: 1) they are banned by MLB 2) they are illegal and 3) they stand to enhance my performance. Each are performance-enhancers (PEDs). If anything, the players of 2000 were more incentivized because of the money involved, the contracts they stood to sign.

And yet, it is now evident that many of the writers across the country are now both ready and willing to deny all those players, though as spectacular as they may have been throughout their career, both while using PEDs and while not using PEDs, and again please reference Bonds’ numbers through 1998, the opportunity to be Hall of Fame players. More disturbing: the president of the Hall of Fame, Jeff Idelson, has handed them the propellant for this witch-hunt, when he says: “There’s a certain integrity when it comes to baseball’s highest honor, which is being inducted into the Hall of Fame.” And when he also says: “The character clause exists as it relates to the game on the field. The character clause isn’t there to evaluate and judge players socially. It’s there to relate to the game on the field.”

For what reason the character clause was created, it’s not entirely clear. But to this point it’s not been used much, if at all, in regards to how players should be evaluated on the field – Hall of Famer Juan Marichal once clubbed Dodgers’ catcher Johnny Roseboro with his bat, more than once, in what is likely the bloodiest brawl in baseball history – or off the field – please see Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and a host of others.

And yet the vast majority of the writers have taken their stance, drawing the line at steroids. And again, the argument isn’t that they were either banned or illegal, as both greenies and steroids were, but literally that “the greenies don’t help as much.” And really, the real problem with them is the records, and more specifically the home run records. If someone would have invented a designer steroid by which eye-sight was improved by 25% and someone broke the single-season and all-time walk record, no one would have given a crap. Bonds did in fact break both those records as well, but the point still stands.

But even before Idelson’s comments, there’s evidence the stance against steroids was becoming more prominent: Feeling good about saying no to McGwire. With this article, Lowell Cohn compared steroid-users to murderers – seriously? – and wrote:

“In years past, I never considered whether a player used performance-enhancing drugs when I voted. I voted merely on performances and career statistics. I felt, with some justification, I am not a court of law and have no right to ban people. I also felt, and this was my key argument, many players who took PEDs, who cheated, never got caught, so it’s unfair to penalize the few who did get caught by denying them entrance to the Hall.

I acted on that position on several ballots but I always felt bad about what I did. It felt like I was condoning cheating, at the very least looking the other way. It never is good to feel bad.

During the last few months, I played a mental game with myself. I imagined how my conscience would feel if I voted “no” on a known PED user. My conscience felt great. I began to walk around conflict-free. It was good to look in the mirror and tell myself I was back to being a sincere, ethical, well-meaning voter as opposed to a moral weakling who would let things slide.

This means I won’t be voting for Mark McGwire this year, although I voted for him previously. I like McGwire and I wish him well in life. I just won’t vote for him. He admitted using PEDs and that disqualifies him on my ballot. I feel good writing that. I feel good not voting for him.”

And Idelson has now only fanned the flames, he’s handed them the justification for their convictions. What a shame. And because most are walking to the beat of this drum, the most recent ballot saw Rafael Palmeiro – he has both 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, one of the rarest combinations in MLB history. The list: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray. That's it – finish with just 11% of the vote. If you think it's isolated to hitters, you're wrong. Kevin Brown, worth at the very least a look at the Hall of Fame, at the very least a few years to stay on the ballot and see what sticks, and that's if you don't believe he flat out deserved enshrinement, as some do, simply fell off the ballot after not receiving even 5%. Mark McGwire slipped to 19.8% after admitting his usage. It sure does pay to tell the truth, kids. And players.

As Keith Law pointedly remarked on Twitter: "I feel like the big message today is that if Bagwell did in fact use PEDs, the worst thing he culd do now is admit it and apologize." Admitting to steroid use, and telling the truth, is about the worst thing a player can do at this point.

Jeff Bagwell only garnered 41.7% of the vote. Regarding his case, Geoff Baker had this to say:

“And I do consider myself somebody who believes in innocence until guilt is proven.”


“Nor do I want to be leading a witch hunt. That’s not what I’m about. Nor what many of my fellow voters, I suspect, are about. Bagwell has not been found to have done anything wrong and put up numbers that appear Hall worthy.

So, here’s what I’ve decided to do. On Bagwell and any other guys from his era I’m not totally comfortable with going forward.


So, with Bagwell, I’m going to take advantage of the voting structure. The structure that allows me to wait if I’m unsure of a candidate and seek out new information.”

So, Jeff Bagwell, the player with clear Hall of Fame worthy credentials, he who, when recently Joe Posnanski posed the question if he was the greatest first baseman in National League history and, even going back to the 1800’s, no one could come up with any player aside from Albert Pujols, Johnny Mize, Willie McCovey and Cap Anson as his competition. And Pujols was really the only one anyone was sure of. And he, of those sterling endorsements, has been tossed into purgatory without a sliver of evidence. With only whispers and suspicion. Funny, that.

Rob Neyer, after reading Jim Caple's request for HOF voters to open their eyes and Joe Posnanski’s recap on the Hall of Fame vote, said this: “[They’re] right about steroids and amphetamines and the Hall of Fame but doesn’t it follow that we have to discount the hitting some? That we can’t put in every hitter with “Hall of Fame numbers”?”

And that’s just it. Thoughtful discounting is needed, but exclusion is not. This, in fact, is almost exactly what I said one year ago. The statistics of each player from this era of error must be scrutinized a bit more carefully. And perhaps even a bit more so for those players who are known PED users. Nothing more.

Otherwise, am I supposed to fly from San Jose, California to Albany, New York, rent a car, drive 60 miles to Cooperstown, check in to a hotel, drive to the museum, walk in, head to the section of the Hall of Fame containing the era of my childhood, and find the plaque of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Tony Gwynn, Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones and a bunch of empty spaces? Wait, what? No Jeff Bagwell? No Mark McGwire? No Rafael Palmeiro? No Alex Rodriguez? No Roger Clemens? And, you’ve got to be joking me, no Barry Bonds? These are the guys I saw play. These are the guys I thought were the very best. And they aren’t even in the Hall of Fame? I guess I’ll buy the iPad 4, instead.

Luckily, Idelson did say something that makes perfect sense, and is as it should be: “When you look at the Hall of Fame...”, “you see that those who are elected are representative of that era. The Hall of Fame election is a continuum. And the standards have upheld the test of time.”

That’s the whole point, Jeff. Let’s stick to that. You aren’t handing out Nobel Peace Prize’s, or even good-guy awards. We want to see players that can steal bags, hit home runs, draw a ton of walks, take over games, and carry a team offensively for weeks. We want to see guys that threw gem after gem, whiffed countless batters… and… have wicked strikeout to walk ratios!

IF Barry Bonds IS NOT REPRESENTATIVE OF HIS ERA, then I just don’t know what. Why I don’t know if Dumb and Dumber is hilarious, if chocolate chip cookies are delicious, if high-heels are flattering on women, if Pixar revolutionized children movies or if Martin Scorsese is one heck of a director.  If that isn't the case, I just don't know what I know anymore.

Friday, January 7, 2011

NL West 2011 ZiPS Projections

I have to admit, there’s almost nothing I can think of that’s interesting enough to write about right now regarding the Giants. I mean, I could talk about their potential sixth starter (few options here, Dan Runzler?) or their middle-infield depth (Ryan Rohlinger and Emmanuel Burriss). But if I did I would probably fall asleep at my laptop.

The Giants don’t appear to have anything interesting in the works, so I’ll just have to get a lot more creative and soon. Until then, I’ll provide a few Giants-related links and my thoughts on them:

Fangraphs’ list of Top 10 Prospects: San Francisco Giants

I did my own list a while back, see here, and Fangraphs and I agreed on 8 of 10 players, though in somewhat different order. I like the list they compiled, and I especially enjoyed their mention of Eric Surkamp who "narrowly missed" the list. I had him at no. 10 as my "sleeper pick."


Dan Szymborski’s 2011 ZiPS Projections for the Giants (Dan: "ZiPS is more bullish on the Giants offense than it has been in years..."

I fooled with the projections a bit and tried to put together a reasonable season of at bats - I basically scaled all of the projections down to a similar number of at bats for 2011 to their 2010 total - and got to 800 runs. Now, projections are just that, projections. But the mere fact that Dan's system likes them this year better than it has in years is excellent news. The 800 runs is obviously wildly optimistic, but the fact that I got to that many runs (using the Runs Created formula) without fussing with it much, is awesome.

Also: the 2011 ZiPS Projections for the Colorado Rockies (Dan: "They can't match the Giants starters, but the Rockies are more prepared for injuries to pitchers than San Francisco is and it should be an exciting divisional race…")

I see the Rockies, with their strong offense anchored by Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez and good pitching depth with Ubaldo Jimenez leading them, as the biggest threat to the Giants.

Los Angeles Dodgers (Dan: "...a good rotation gives LA as good a shot at the division as any of the other teams…"

The Dodgers dropped all the way to below .500 last season after going to back-to-back NLCS'. They still have very good starting pitching, especially if Clayton Kershaw continues to develop into an Ace. And if Matt Kemp gets back to where he was in 2009, they might start rolling again with a little luck, a little health, and a decent mid-season acquisition or two. No one should write them off.

San Diego Padres (Dan: "The way the season ended was extremely disappointing, but the Padres should still come away from the 2010 season pleased with how the team performed.")

They probably won't be as strong of a contender next season, but of course we've heard that before. Their special blend of a solid defense, shut-down bullpen, quality starting pitching -- Mat Latos is a formidable ballast -- and just-enough offense, wins games. It's especially effective in their offense muting ballpark. The question becomes, though, with the departure of Adrian Gonzalez, does their just-enough offense become: just-not-enough?

and Arizona Diamondbacks (Dan: “I'd still put them below .500, but they should at least get the win total back into the 70s.”)

The Diamondbacks have some starpower on their roster, most notably Justin Upton. While I agree with Dan here, that they likely won't contend in 2011, I also think they are probably a year or two away from it. Honestly, if they could have their bullpen improve from atrocious to average and add a decent starter or two,  they'd almost instantly be in the mix.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Adrian Beltre and Contract Years

Next time someone tells you that Adrian Beltre hits well in contract years, tell them it’s up for debate.

Dave Cameron recently wrote a post over a Fangraphs entitled: Adrian Beltre Is Not Motivated by Contract Years. Well, sure he is. In his attempt to peel apart the common belief that Beltre “only hits well in contract years,” he falls into the same hole of the accused: overstating a case.

Now I’m not attempting to discredit his belief, because I think he makes some very legitimate points; I want to make that clear. I just think he’s sort of going all-in with a pair of seven's instead of a full-house. Dave states that Beltre’s contract years in 2004 and 2010 didn’t come in Safeco field, a terrible place for a right-handed pull, power hitter. He’s absolutely correct. And it’s true the park factors understate the effect on a right-handed hitter. That being said, Chavez Ravine isn’t exactly a hitter’s haven either, though I admit it’s not Petco or Safeco. But it did nothing to thwart his production in 2004.

It’s not the Safeco argument I struggle a lot with, though, it’s more the “contract years.” Dave’s right that Beltre was playing for a contract in all of 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010, and that people tend only to focus on 2004 and 2010. But let’s think about this further. Saying that under an expiring contract Beltre has “… more often than not… performed worse, not better.” – is incorrect.

At the start of 2002, Beltre had a career adjusted OPS (OPS+) of 99, or almost exactly average, and was coming off of a 1.2 Wins above replacement (WAR) season. He posted a 97 in 2002 as a 23 year old still trying to figure it all out (4.1 WAR). He performed better, not worse. He’s one for one. At the start of 2003, his career OPS+ was again 99 and he posted an 88, a no-doubt down year at age 24 (3.4 WAR). He was one for two. His 2003 season, however, wasn’t terribly out of step from his true talent level, especially considering that he posted his, to this day, career worst BABiP (.253). In fact, it was about what you could expect from him at the time. Furthermore, while each of these seasons were technically “contract years,” they certainly weren’t the carrot that is free agency.

In his final season prior to free agency in 2004, he turned into Mike Schmidt (10.1 WAR), and earned his payday and a ticket to Seattle. He was two for three.

In his next final season prior to free agency, this time in 2009, he was hurt. He’d played the entire season hurt. Prior to the season, he had bone spurs removed, but it wasn’t exactly successful. He finally submitted to the pain. At the time when asked when he first began to experience pain in ’09, he said “… I never was 100 percent.” He also described the feeling of pain, as it progressed, as if “… someone stabbed you in the shoulder.” After a game on June 28th in Los Angeles against his old team, the Dodgers, he had surgery to have more bone spurs removed which put him on the shelf until August 4th.

He came back and was hitting well over about a week, but then was hit by a hard grounder in the testicle – oh my, what great luck – shelfing him for another three weeks. He never got back on track after returning and hit to a .306 weighted on base average (wOBA) the rest of the way. Despite the injuries and limited at bats (477 PA), he turned in a season worth 2.5 wins. He was two for four.

In his next walk year prior to free agency, this time in 2010 after a one year deal with Boston to re-establish his value, he was healthy again and did just that by putting together another spectacular (7.1 WAR) season. He was three for five.

In conclusion: Beltre, like many other players, is motivated by incentives. In actuality, he’s performed better (and not worse) in three of five contract seasons, or more often than not. And in two of three true free agency seasons, he’s not only performed better but put up monster numbers. While in the other, he was injured. Now I’m not saying Beltre only puts up numbers for a contract, far from it. I’m also not saying he doesn’t. But there seems a bit more to chew on here. Unfortunately, I think we are out of contracts here, and that we’ll have to wait until this Texas contract is up to come to the best answer we can find.

WAR figures compliments of Fangraphs, OPS+ of Baseball-reference

Hall of Fame hopeful: Jeff Kent

MANY GIANTS FANS hate Jeff Kent. Perhaps it was the shoving match between him and Bonds mid-season in 2002. It may have been his proclivity for getting under the media’s (read: everyone’s) skin. Or perhaps it was the fact that he broke his wrist and claimed he’d done it washing his car – I never knew that was such a dangerous chore, but refrain from doing it often anyway – when conflicting media reports indicated he’d done it popping wheelies on his motorcycle. Or maybe it’s because he left San Francisco directly after coming eight outs from winning a World Series, heading instead nearer to his home by way of Houston. There’s a good chance his less than flattering comments about the Bay Area, and the outrageous prices for property therein, were a significant contributing factor. And finally, in what was likely the last straw, Kent signed with the Dodgers in December of 2004, forever cementing him as a former Giant worth detesting. Whatever the reason(s), I don’t.

Once upon a time, I too had acquired certain distaste for the man. There was no player more fun to boo at the park than Jeff Kent as a Dodger, with the possible exception of Milton Bradley. But it has since subsided; he is no longer a Bum.

In his first season as the Giants’ GM, so long ago when his seat wasn’t even yet warm, Brian Sabean traded one of the most beloved Giants in history, Matt Williams, for Julian Tavarez (a setup man), Jose Vizcaino (a utility infielder) and Jeff Kent, otherwise known as a nobody, a failed middle-infield prospect with a frying pan for a glove. Shortly thereafter, Kent exploded as much more. There was reason to believe he would not – he was 29, he had bounced around from the Blue Jays, to the Mets, to the Indians while never taking a full season of at bats, and he’d played first, second and third without the confidence of his skippers – but Dusty Baker, when Kent landed on his plate, played him at second base and hit him behind Barry Bonds, every day.

Why is this relevant? I’m writing this because it’s Hall of Fame voting season, and the Giants don’t have anyone on the ballot worth so much as a look – my condolences to Kirk Reuter. Bonds will get his shot to go in, and when that debate starts raging I’ll argue tooth and nail that he deserves enshrinement, and on the first ballot. His credentials speak for themselves. Statistically, he’s one of the greatest players that ever lived. His peers’ – I’m using this term loosely – statistics and accomplishments during his reign were dwarfed in his shadow. Pitchers cowered at the site of him, issuing intentional walk after intentional walk. The debate is now and always will be: should his obvious steroid use keep him out? It’s an obvious choice for me – he belongs – but for now I’ll place my attention on another Giant whose case is rapidly approaching: the abovementioned Jeff Kent.

Already in the Hall of Fame at the position are: Rod Carew, Eddie Collins, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Evers, Nellie Fox, Frankie Frisch, Charlie Gehringer, Joe Gordon, Frank Grant, Billy Herman, Roger Hornsby, Nap Lajoie, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Mazeroski, Bid McPhee, Joe Morgan, Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, and Red Schoendienst

We also have Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio who will enter shortly, we assume, and justifiably so.

So how does Kent stack up? If we are to put a list of players together, including all of the Hall of Fame second basemen, Alomar and Biggio, and Kent, we have twenty-one players. Ranking them: Kent would be 11th in hits (2,461), 4th in doubles (560), first in home runs (377*), third in RBI (1,518), 11th in batting average (.290), 15th in on base percentage (.356), 2nd in slugging (.500), 4th in OPS or on base plus slugging percentage (.855), 8th in adjusted OPS or OPS+ (123) -- this stat tells us how much better he was than the average hitter during his time, 100 being average, so 23% better – and 12th in career wins above replacement or WAR (59.4).

*No. 2 at second base in home runs is Ryne Sandberg. But here’s the thing: Kent’s home runs might be a bit more impressive. While Sandberg played his career in Chicago, a great place to hit home runs, Kent played the majority of his in Candlestick, Pacific Bell Park (later SBC Park and now AT&T Park) and Dodgers Stadium, parks much more difficult to hit home runs in.

In most of the major categories that Hall of Fame voters, i.e. members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), are going to pay attention to – this is hits, RBI, home runs, and batting average – Kent does extremely well. He is one of the greatest power hitting power hitting second sackers that ever played. When we throw in the fact that he won an MVP, which always plays a factor in HoF voting, I don’t see any possibility of Kent not getting in. And he performed well in the postseason to boot. He hit three home runs in the 2002 World Series, as well as hitting a bottom of the ninth home run in Game 5 of the 2004 NLCS for Houston. And though he played during the steroid era, Kent is a player that avoided suspicion completely despite playing with Bonds and a handful of other Giants at least suspect of use. In fact, he was one of the few players that advocated for HGH testing in the game.

He also had an excellent peak. Between 1998-2002, a duration of five seasons, he averaged 29 home runs and 114 RBI, averaging a line of .307 batting, .378 OBP and .548 SLG, good for a 142 adjusted OPS (OPS+). And during that time, his defense was almost perfectly average, or 0.1 wins above replacement on defense according to Baseball-reference, which is to say he wasn’t giving any of his value back with his glove. Prior to that, he was a slightly above average hitter. And after that, he still managed to average a 120 OPS+ for the remainder of his career.

There are other factors, of course. If you take a more advanced approach at evaluating Kent, his case becomes far more borderline. There’s his defense, for example. He never won a gold glove, and his defensive metrics support the notion he wasn’t great. During his prime, though, he was actually a perfectly average second basemen. But, the majority of his value clearly derived from his bat. Whereas the position historically had fielded athletic players that played great defense and stole bases, Kent’s game was to hit for power.

You can also make a strong case that the position is over-represented in the Hall of Fame, and that at least a few players got in when perhaps they should not have. Bill Mazeroski, for example, hit the all-time most famous home run in the Fall Classic. That, in itself, was enough to get him in, as his statistics clearly don’t support a Hall of Fame career. There are others: Gordon, Evers, Lazzeri, Doerr, Fox, and Schoendienst. All of which whose numbers aren’t spectacular.

And then there are those who pretty clearly should be in (but who are not): Bobby Grich, Willie Randolph, and Lou Whitaker. If you were to replace these worthy men in the place of the previously mentioned: Maz and company. Kent’s now on the fringe.

Bill James created a statistic that is particularly useful in determining the worth of a position player called Win Shares, described in detail within his 2002 book of the same title. In short, it assigns a number for a player’s specific contribution to his teams number of wins each season. Each win share is worth one-third of a win, so a 100 win team has 300 win shares to go around. A player with 400 career win shares is a slam dunk for the Hall of Fame. A player with around 350 has a solid case for the Hall, and often gets in. Kent, for his career, finished with 339 win shares, which again supports a borderline case for Cooperstown.

Here’s the thing though: most Hall of Fame voters don’t give a hoot about WAR, Win Shares, or especially about Jay Jaffe’s JAWS. They care about home runs. They care about RBI. They care about batting average. They care about MVP awards. They care about All-star appearances. And they care about postseason performance pedigree. In terms of Kent: check, check, check, check, check and check. And that’s exactly what they’ll be doing with the box next to Kent’s name on their ballot.

So, it’s time to let bygones be bygones. You can choose to revel in his legend now, or smolder on your high-horse for a while longer before succumbing to the inevitable. Perhaps his call to the Hall will be the catalyst. But why wait? You can choose to hang on to your petty dislike (if not hatred) for the man, an ill advised activity, or not. Because eventually, if you are indeed a Giants fan, you’re going to jump on the bandwagon. For it’s exceedingly difficult and frowned upon to denigrate a Hall of Famer of your favorite franchise, and a Hall of Famer Kent likely will be. He may be a borderline case for some, specifically because of the challenges he had at second in the latter part of his career, but I simply don’t see the BBWAA seeing it that way.

All stats compliments of Baseball-reference