Thursday, June 30, 2005

All-Star Ballot

Time to submit my real All-Star ballot! Here are my picks, with stats and a brief rationale. I'm one of those people who weights first half of the current year performance heavily, if only because the vast majority of other fans don't. VORP = value over replacement player, with replaacement player meaning a player in AAA or on waivers. Rate2, according to Baseball Prospectus, is: "A way to look at the fielder's rate of production, equal to 100 plus the number of runs above or below average this fielder is per 100 games. A player with a rate of 110 is 10 runs above average per 100 games, a player with an 87 is 13 runs below average per 100 games, etc." The "2" means that this number has been adjusted for league difficulty. In other words, if you're over 100, you're an productive defender. Below 100, unproductive defender. Note that "productive" and "skilled" don't necessarily mean the same thing. Defensive metrics are primitive, but they're still a lot better than fielding percentage alone.

American League

C: Jason Varitek, BOS
.310/.380/.556/10 HR/33 RBI/0 SB/29.7 VORP/106 Rate2


Varitek is by far the best catcher in the AL. No controversy here, as he leads in the voting.

1B: Mark Teixeira, TEX
.287/.356/.550/20 HR/58 RBI/1 SB/26.0 VORP/103 Rate2


Teixeira recovered from a slow start, and has is fulfilling his potential as the best first baseman in the AL. Thankfully, he has taken over 1st place in the voting from Tino "One Week Wonder" Martinez.

2B: Brian Roberts, BAL
.365/.435/.612/13 HR/44 RBI/16 SB/50.4 VORP/87 Rate2


Roberts lost some of his power from the first 2 months, but he continues to hit for high average and steal bases. His defense has been poor, but the only AL second baseman who has hit anywhere near as well, Alfonso Soriano, has been even worse in the field. The fans have him at first in the balloting, as they should.

3B: Alex Rodriguez, NYY
.329/.424/.589/20 HR/66 RBI/8 SB/45.2 VORP/84 Rate2


Sometimes I do a double take when I see his career home run total (401) and his age (29). Even a significant drop in his defense this year hasn't prevented him from dominating at his position. If there's justice, Brandon Inge will make it as Detroit's rep. A-Rod is leading the voting...by a lot.

SS: Miguel Tejada, BAL
.319/.365/.603/19 HR/60 RBI/1 SB/44.6 VORP/93 Rate2


Even though Derek Jeter is having his best defensive season yet (101 Rate2), Tejada's hitting is good enough to make up for his below-average defense. Tejada leads in fan voting.

OF: Vladimir Guerrero, LAA
.342/.400/.586/12 HR/46 RBI/6 SB/33.5 VORP/105 Rate2


OF: Gary Sheffield, NYY
.300/.396/.502/13 HR/55 RBI/6 SB/30.6 VORP/100 Rate2


OF: Johnny Damon, BOS
.338/.383/.464/3 HR/41 RBI/8 SB/27.1 VORP/99 Rate2


Vlad was an easy pick--even though he missed a couple weeks with injury, he still led AL outfielders in VORP, which is a cumulative stat. Sheffield was an easy choice, being a clear second place in AL OF VORP. The third choice came down to Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, who have been pretty much equally valuable to their teams. Matsui has a better SLG, Damon has better OBP. I picked Damon because he plays center. VORP does take position into account, but as a general principle of mine, I don't like to see a non-center fielder out there in the All-Star game. So Johnny it is. In terms of fan voting, Manny Ramirez leads, Vlad is in second, and Ichiro is in third. I can't really argue with Manny, given his popularity and dingers...I just think Sheffield has been slightly better. As for Ichiro...no dice here. His OBP is a pedestrian .337. His defense is the only part of his game that's above average, and in the outfield, that doesn't cut it. Damon is a much better choice.

DH: David Ortiz, BOS
.308/.387/.568/19 HR/66 RBI/0 SB/36.7 VORP


Travis Hafner (30.8 VORP) has overcome a slow start and actually gave Papi a run for the money. Papi prevails based on better power numbers and the fact that he played 9 games in the field (only 1 error!) compared with 1 game in the field by Hafner.

National League

C: Mike Piazza, NYM
.267/.326/.453/9 HR/34 RBI/0 SB/16.9 VORP/94 Rate2


Mike Piazza is creaky and old, but those numbers still give him the highest VORP in the NL among catchers. I could have given this to Jason LaRue or Paul Lo Duca (Ramon Hernandez has taken a nosedive this month), but I want to reward Piazza for posting his best Rate2 (so far) since 1998. Since neither LaRue nor Lo Duca are above average either, why not give the nod to the future Hall of Famer?

1B: Derrek Lee, CHC
.387/.464/.723/23 HR/65 RBI/10 SB/67.4 VORP/109 Rate2


That's about as good of a half-season as you can have, especially factoring in the stolen bases and fielding. Pujols is overshadowed yet again, although he's leading in the polls. Lee deserves it, and may overtake him.

2B: Chase Utley, PHI
.312/.380/.526/11 HR/38 RBI/7 SB/24.2 VORP/101 Rate2


Jeff Kent has a higher cumulative VORP, but has accumulated that in 80 more plate appearances than Utley has. I'm not going to hold that against Utley, given that all of his rate stats are better than Kent's. Kent has an overwhelming lead in the polls (Utley is 5th), but Utley should be there. Hopefully he'll get a reserve spot.

3B: Morgan Ensberg, HOU
.277/.378/.554/20 HR/54 RBI/6 SB/25.5 VORP/110 Rate2


Basically, this was a toss-up between Ensberg and Aramis Ramirez (Chipper Jones is hurt; I ain't voting for a hurt guy). I gave the nod to Ensberg despite a slightly lower VORP total, mostly because of Ensberg's superior steals and fielding (Ramirez is at 100 Rate2). Plus, I like the underdog story. The fans are voting in Scott Rolen, who only has 150 plate appearances and is hitting .243. Morons.

SS: Felipe Lopez, CIN
.303/.349/.548/13 HR/45 RBI/5 SB/28.9 VORP/88 Rate2


I was going to write in Bill Hall here, but then realized that Hall has only played about 60% of his games at shortstop, and I don't like the idea of a utility man starting in the All-Star game. He should make the team, but he shouldn't start. At any rate, Lopez has been far and away the best hitting shortstop in the NL. His shaky defense (combined with Hall's 110 Rate2) gave me pause, but I feel good voting for a Red legitimately (no ballot stuffing for me this year). The moron fans have Cesar Izturis as a starter, he of the .336 SLG. Wake up, people.

OF: Bobby Abreu, PHI
.319/.436/.557/17 HR/52 RBI/19 SB/45.5 VORP/104 Rate2


OF: Jason Bay, PIT
.311/.388/.573/15 HR/40 RBI/4 SB/38.8 VORP/106 Rate2


OF: Andruw Jones, ATL
.283/.359/.599/24 HR/55 RBI/2 SB/33.8 VORP/103 Rate2


Abreu is a no-brainer--he is the best 5-tool player in baseball today, especially since A-Rod has lost his fielding and Beltran has lost his legs this year. Bay wasn't a hard pick to make either, especially when taking his defense into account. It took a long time for me to decide between Cabrera and Andruw Jones. I went with Jones due to my centerfield corollary, but it was a damn tough decision to make. It came down to Jones providing better power numbers and playing above average D (his defense has slipped in the past couple years) at a premium position. The fans, to their credit, have Abreu first in the balloting. Cabrera is fourth, which is my position for him as well. Edmonds is second in the voting. He's 5th for me, so can't complain too much there. What ticks me off is that Carlos Beltran is in third place. Beltran has quietly been a bust this season, with only 9 homers and 1 stolen base. Not exactly worth the money yet. Jones is 9th on the ballot, and Bay is not even in the top 15, which is criminal.

So that's my ballot. I'm gonna vote 25 times. I'm not advocating that anyone vote the exact same way I do, but I would like to especially implore you all to vote for Bay, Lopez, and Utley, as these players are below the radar of the casual fan, but deserve to be recognized. Online voting ends at 11:59 PM on Thursday. Happy voting.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Draft-tastic

Sadly, I'm going to be at work tonight, so I'll miss the NBA Draft, which is by far the most entertaining draft. This was especially true when it was on TNT with Charles Barkley and Hubie Brown, but even on ESPN we get to see Jay Bilas and Stephen A. Smith contradict each other with every statement they make. It's so much better than the NFL Draft, where everyone just kind of defers to Mel Kiper and Chris Mortensen. The NBA commentators really rip into each other, and the picks as well. The worst Kiper says about anyone is that he's a "reach," whereas Stephen A. Smith will likely accuse a pick he doesn't like of being utterly incompetent and unworthy of the Jerry West silhouette badge.

At any rate, I am hoping against hope that the Knicks take Channing Frye, who is a much more complete player than Andrew Bogut. I have my doubts that Bogut can defend and rebound in the NBA.

I don't know enough about any of the players to really make a comment, but I will say that it looks like a very deep draft, in that there are many players who will make an impact sooner rather than "project" players. I think it will make the 05-06 season quite compelling.

LIVE UPDATE: The Knicks are on the clock! Channing Frye is available? Will Isiah screw up yet again????

LIVE UPDATE: THANK THE LORD!

LIVE UPDATE: Ladies and gentlemen, Andrew Bynum, first round pick of the Los Angeles Lakers!

LIVE UPDATE: Just heard a rumor that the Knicks are going to trade Frye and Kurt Thomas to Phoenix for Quentin Richardson (NOOOOOOO) and whomever Phoenix picks at 21....and they pick Nate Robinson. Don't make this trade!

LIVE UPDATE: Rumor revised! Knicks will keep Frye, and I guess be trading the 30th pick to Phoenix, along with Kurt Thomas, for Richardson and Nate Robinson? That makes a little more sense. If that's how it pans out, the Knicks just got ridiculously more athletic. Robinson is like Earl Boykins times two.

FINAL UPDATE: As a Knicks fan, I'm happy, not least because Isiah actually seems to be putting a plan into motion. What finally happened was that the Suns picked Robinson for New York, and New York picked a guard from UCLA in the 2nd round for Phoenix, which completes the Q Richardson for Kurt Thomas deal. The 4 players that are coming in--Richardson, Frye, Robinson, and 30th pick David Lee are all athletic and fit in with a Knick team that is now built to run. I didn't know much about Lee, but apparently he was rated as the most athletic power forward in the draft. I'm hoping that will translate to good defense and rebounding. I'm still not sure what the Knicks will do with Tim Thomas or Jamal Crawford. I expect them to start Marbury at the 1, Crawford at 2, Richardson at 3, Sweetney at 4, and Frye at 5. Then they'd have a rotation of Robinson, Tim Thomas, Malik Rose, and Trevor Ariza. It will be interesting to see how this roster works. At the very least, the Knicks should be playing some exciting basketball again, something I have sorely missed.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Various and sundry

Not worth putting up an image for this post, primarily because I wasn't able to see Game 7. I guess that shows you the general level of interest I have for the NBA. That the NCAA final game outscored this Game 7 (per minute, anyway) is one indicator of why folks have been tuning out. It's also just boring as hell seeing the same teams contend year in and year out, though I have to admit that Detroit is an immensely likeable team. I would have loved to see a team like the Suns or the Nuggets in the Finals. The East, thankfully, has been more of a crapshoot, but I don't think anyone will be interested until LeBron James makes the playoffs. So yeah, missed Game 7. I'd feel lamer if I didn't skip it to see Hitchcock's Vertigo on the big screen.

Tomorrow I am heading up to Milwaukee to see Johan Santana take on the Brewers. Ok, so maybe Santana isn't quite worthy of the George Mikan treatment just yet, but with the way the Twins have been hitting lately, it's not too far off. Santana is having a much better 1st half of this season than he did last year, so the question heading into the All-Star break is whether he will be 2nd half of 2004 Santana or "merely" a continuation of 2005 Santana, who still happens to be the 4th most valuable pitcher in the American League. In fact, based on his strikeout and walk rates, 2005 Santana is pitching just as well as he did in the latter half of 2004. His strikeout rates between years are virtually identical, and his walk rates are lower. The difference is that he's allowing slightly more hits and home runs. Some of this could be the result of luck, and the decline in quality of the Twins' infield defense. In any case, I'm looking forward to a great show.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

South Side speedball

Mark Buehrle pitched another gem today, this one coming in at a tad over two hours: 2:04 to be exact. He's establishing himself as the front-runner for the AL Cy Young by doing what he's always done: working quickly and efficiently. While his K:BB ratio is stellar (73:17 after today's game), the best indicator of his efficiency, and his value to the White Sox, is his major league leading 7.7 innings pitched per start. Add Jon Garland's 7.1 IP/start and Freddy Garcia's 6.9 IP/start (3rd and 8th in the AL, respectively), and get a good idea of why the White Sox bullpen has pitched so well. A rested bullpen is a happy bullpen is a good bullpen.

Of course, not every member of the Sox pen has pitched well; both Shingo Takatsu and Luis Vizcaino have struggled mightily this year. Manager Ozzie Guillen took a good step toward rehabilitating Takatsu today, allowing him to finish off the 9th inning. Mr. Zero responded well, retiring the side in order and striking out two, which undoubtedly set off gongs around the Cell. In his past 6 outings, Takatsu has only given up 1 run, struck out 8, and walked only 2. It's looking like Shingo is regaining his confidence after his horrendous start to the season. If Takatsu does return to form, credit is due to Guillen. Instead of humiliating his former closer, he professed continued confidence in him, and has slowly brought him along in higher and higher leverage situations. Tatkatsu may not need to close for the White Sox again, but if he starts thinking like a closer, he'll give the team yet another valuable setup man. Given that Dustin Hermanson, Cliff Politte, and Neal Cotts are all greatly exceeding expectations, it is vital that Takatsu improves to lessen the impact of any potential drop-offs from those pitchers. This team is looking more difficult to write off with each passing win.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The axe falls

The Reds fired manager Dave Miley and pitching coach Don Gullett today. I feel bad for Miley, considering he's a likeable guy and spent 20 plus years toiling in the minors before being hired as manager in late 2003. Miley got a lot of credit for the Reds success early last season. That argument has some merit, considering that they played over their heads until the very end of the season. Still, it's not like they were winning with Miley at the helm this season.

I'm happier that Gullett is finally out of town. He's been the pitching coach since 1993, and his departure is long past due. Gullett is well-known for his reclamation projects in Cincinnati. Pete Schourek, Pete Harnisch, Dave Burba and Jimmy Haynes, for example, were scrap-heap waiver pickups who ended up having one or two good seasons under Gullet's tutelage. That would be all well and good if these players were complementary pieces, but for too long, the Reds relied on Gullet's rehabs as the main source of their pitching. Gullett's glaring failure has been his inability to develop homegrown pitchers. Granted, part of the blame for this has to fall on management, who have consistently drafted high school pitchers, only to see them flame out in the minors. Still, it's kind of ridiculous that during the entire Gullett era, only one homegrown pitcher had any kind of success--Brett Tomko, who is the definition of mediocrity.

I'm not sure if Jerry Narron is the long-term solution at manager. He managed the Rangers for 2 seasons and had a winning percentage of .453. Not exactly good. I'm more encouraged that the Reds hired Vern Ruhle as the new pitching coach, because he has served as their minor league pitching coordinator for the past couple of years. This should provide some continuity for pitching prospects as they're called up to the majors later in the year.

These moves won't fix the Reds this year, and probably not for the future either. The franchise is a total mess, thanks to GM Dan O'Brien's ludicrous free agent signings. At this point, the best Reds fans can hope for is the establishment of a new culture with an emphasis on developing young pitching, something that former GM Jim Bowden and Gullett never seemed interested in doing.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Big shot Bob

The NBA Finals finally had a game worth watching, as the Spurs and Pistons traded punches throughout the game. It seemed like both teams were trying quite hard to lose the game, what with Duncan's distastrous night at the foul line and broken play after broken play when Detroit had the ball, particularly in overtime. One player seized the opportunity to win the game--Robert Horry, who is now officially Robert "So Damn Clutch" Horry. Horry has made a name for himself by consistently making "dagger" 3-pointers. In other words, he'd step it up at a key moment and deliver the win. Tonight, it was more like a broadsword, because Horry dominated the game starting in the 4th quarter. His performance tonight has to rank up there in the NBA Finals pantheon. The guy is now the all-time leader in Finals three-pointers. A player whose career scoring average is 7.5 ppg, and whose previous season high was 18. Horry scored 21 in the last 17 minutes of the game. I'm not sure if they can let anyone with a 7.5 career average in the Hall of Fame, but if there were a role-player's wing, Horry would be the first man inducted.

Friday, June 17, 2005

U.S. Soccer's race and class divide

Here is an interesting article in The Guardian about race and class issues in U.S. soccer. Basketball is so ingrained in cities, it's difficult to see soccer supplanting it. But it's true that many kids in cities don't even get the chance to choose. Black players are in larger roles on the national team than they were 10 years ago, and DaMarcus Beasley and Tim Howard have found success overseas. But Beasley is from soccer-mad Indiana, and Howard is from the college town of New Brunswick. New sensation Eddie Johnson is from a small coastal town in Florida.

Now look, I'm not advocating that we force soccer down the throats of inner-city black kids. However, I don't think we'll have to. Showing footage of Pele and other black soccer stars could do wonders. Then again, national broadcasts of the major European club competitions would help too, since virtually every top club is a hodgepodge of races and ethnicities. We must be careful in the way we go about this. The way some people write about "developing the game," it sounds more like "exploiting talent so as to win the World Cup." I have a bit more idealistic view, in that I really think a lot of these kids who grow up in a basketball culture would be drawn to soccer's natural emphasis on improvisation, skill, and aesthetics. I think kids who love basketball would also love soccer. To me, that's true development. Soccer may not supplant basketball (nor would I necessarily want it to), but it can certainly complement it.

This raises a really sticky subject, and I'm not sure if I can adequately address it on a sports blog. The question is whether we should be aggressively promoting sports to inner city kids at all. One side says that sports help keep kids out of trouble and teach them good values. The other side says that sports fill kids with delusions of grandeur, causing them to forsake their studies for futile attempts to become pro athletes--specifically (at least recently), pro basketball players. That playground legends like Rafer Alston and Sebastian Telfair now grace NBA rosters does nothing but fuel these ambitions. I'm not sure what role soccer would have in this environment. Certainly, there are fewer stars to emulate, unless Nike starts putting up murals of Ronaldo and Thierry Henry on playgrounds. Perhaps soccer would be viewed as more of a pasttime than a path to riches, and maybe that would allow kids to re-focus their attention on their studies. I recognize this is wishful thinking, and obviously I don't think soccer would fix the education problem in cities.

Despite all my concerns, what this is really about is inclusivity and equality. America's cities and schools remain heavily segregated, and interscholastic athletic participation remains one of the only theaters in which kids from different background can interact. The hideous comment by the Philadelphia soccer official: "If they think they're going to do what they did to basketball, they're crazy," justifies promoting soccer to black kids on its own. While sports will never solve this country's problems of prejudice, I feel they can at least serve as way of making contact, after which the problems can truly be addressed. Why not start with fair play on the pitch? We have to start somewhere.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Bandwagon team of the week: the Nats

Ryan Drese made Jim Bowden a happy man tonight, throwing 8 shutout innings while only allowing 2 hits. Of course, Bowden should be concerned with the only 3 strikeouts and 4 walks Drese recorded, but then again, Washington has defied statistical explanation throughout their entire streak. Drese is just joining the party.

I want to take a look at Washington's ridiculous run, which officially got started on May 29 against the Cardinals, when they won 3-2 in St. Louis, snapping a 5 game losing skid that saw them tumble from first place to below .500 in a matter of a week. Including that game on the 29th, they won 15 of 17 games, including their famous 10 game streak at the start of the month. What strikes me is that 9 of their 15 wins came by only 1 run. 1 other win was by 2 runs, while 3 more wins came by 3 runs. Only 2 of the 15 were bonafide routs. There are multiple theories concerning teams that win a bunch of 1-run games, with the truth probably lying in a combination of luck, managerial skill, timely hitting, and having a good bullpen.

I would go so far as to argue that RFK Stadium played a large factor in the National's run. This can be filed under the "luck" category, in that they are lucky to play in such a strong pitchers park. The reputation--and the stats--have held true during this streak. Washington won 12 of these 15 games at home, and they surrendered more than 3 runs only 3 times--all against the Atlanta Braves, and they even won 2 of those games. Obviously, credit is due to the pitching staff, and I won't deny them. But I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that RFK is conducive to low-scoring, close games.

As for managerial skill, it's almost impossible to quantify. The criterion traditionally used is record in 1-run games, but that would be begging the question in this case. In my opinion, the manager's most important job is handling his pitching staff, particularly the bullpen. Robinson rode Chad Cordero, Luis Ayala, and Gary Majewski hard over the streak, and Ayala and Cordero delivered. Neither pitcher walked a batter, and gave up 3 earned runs between them in over 20 combined innings. This is rather in line with what they've been doing all season, as Cordero has distinguished himself with the highest expected wins added stat in all of baseball, at 2.825. Ayala isn't close behind, checking in at 10th in baseball and 5th in the NL at 1.741. Majewski didn't pitch as well as the other two, although it's worth noting that in 7 of his 9 appearances during the streak, he did not surrender a run. Take out his one bad outing, and Majewski would look more like the pitcher he's been over the entire season, checking in with a respectable 0.841 expected wins added.

None of the other pitchers in the pen have fared particularly well, either during this streak or during the course of the whole season. As such, none of them got more than 6 innings over the course of the 17 games. It seems like a fairly obvious managerial decision--pitch your good pitchers more often than your bad pitchers--but it's not a choice that every manager makes (Exhibit A: Francona, Terry and Embree, Alan). Robinson rides his starter as long as he can (especially when his name is Livan Hernandez, who went 7, 9, 8, and 5 2/3 innings in his 4 starts), and puts it in the hands of his best relievers. No monkeying around with matchups, either--only 3 of the combined 30 appearances by Cordero, Ayala, and Majewski were for less than an inning. I think it's safe to say that both Robinson and the bullpen have been quite influential.

And that brings us to the hitting. As has happened all year, the Nats carried some dead weight in the lineup. During the streak, the rotten branches were Cristian Guzman (.506 OPS), Jamey Carroll (.516 OPS), Vinny Castilla (.583 OPS), and even Jose Guillen (.628 OPS), reputed to be the team's best hitter before the season. The trio of Brad Wilkerson, Nick Johnson, and Ryan Church carried the team, with all three posting OPS numbers over 1.000 during the streak. Catcher Brian Schneider also made a solid contribution. Bringing RBI into the mix produced some intriguing results. As one might expect, Johnson and Church led the team, recording 11 and 9 RBI, respectively. Despite tearing the cover off the ball, Wilkerson only delivered 3, but that's largely due to his leadoff position in the order. Clearly, his high OBP (.491 during the streak) is a big factor in the high RBI totals of Johnson and Church. Now the counter intuition comes in--Castilla and Guillen, despite their horrid OBP and SLG, managed to drive in 6 and 7 runs during the streak. Even Jamey Carroll of the career .353 SLG (.270 in '05) managed to drive in 4 during the streak, which constitutes exactly 50% of his total this season, and 10% of his career total, which, unfortunately for the Nats, is in its 4th year. What gives with the poorly performing hitters driving in runs? I'd say it's timely hitting, with a sprinkle of good luck mixed in.

So what does this all mean? Well, it's been my convoluted way of showing how the hell the Nats have won so many games while being outscored by their opponents. Are they getting lucky? Sure. But don't overlook Frank Robinson and that bullpen. Granted, Washington cannot expect such dismal performances by Guillen and Castilla to continue producing runs. Both hitters must improve their hitting if Washington is to maintain their lead. While Nick Johnson seems to be finally fulfilling his potential, it's too much to ask him and a rookie like Church carry the offense. We'll see if the veterans can keep the club in contention. Don't put it past Bowden to make another move, like he did for Junior Spivey earlier in the week. Spivey represents a significant upgrade over Carroll, and will only improve Washington's chances of staying in first. We'll see how long this can last. This post brought to you by the Day by Day Database at Baseball Musings.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

A moment for nostalgia

Tonight, Eric Davis and Jose Rijo will be inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame. It's a bittersweet moment for Reds fans. The sweetness comes from the success. From 1986 through 1990, Davis was the most exciting player in baseball, combining for 148 home runs, 451 RBI, and 207 stolen bases, while batting .277 and winning 3 Gold Gloves. Davis was--and still is--my favorite player. His combination of power, speed, and astonishing grace in center field made him a singular talent. People mentioned him in the same breath as Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, because so rarely have center fielders been able to hit and field so well. In the first inning of the first game of the 1990 World Series, he provided me with my most joyful moment on this earth, destroying Dave Stewart's fastball for a 2-run homer that set the tone for the series. It is said that Riverfront Stadium was never louder. For me, it never got any better--an 8 year old watching his hero hit a home run in the World Series against a team everyone thought would win.

Rijo became a dominant pitcher at age 23, when he came to Cincinnati. Between 1988 and 1994, Rijo had an ERA of over 3.00 only once (3.08 in '94). Over that span, he went 87-53 with 1139 strikeouts, 402 walks, and an ERA of 2.63. And then of course, there was the 1990 World Series, when he held the mighty Oakland lineup to 1 run in over 15 innings pitched. Though he didn't allow a run in Game 1, Game 4 was his finest hour. After allowing 2 hits and a run in the first inning, Rijo retired 20 consecutive batters. What made this feat more impressive was that his counterpart Dave Stewart matched him pitch for pitch. Stewart was known as the most intimidating pitcher in baseball at that time, and Rijo stared him down. When the Reds scraped across 2 runs in the 8th inning, Rijo retired one last batter in the 9th before giving way to Randy Myers. Had this been a Game 7, Rijo's performance surely would have been comparable to what Josh Beckett did in 2003. For my money, Rijo did just as well, because Oakland's lineup that year was just as good, if not better, than the 2003 Yankees.

Sadly, winning that World Series also marked the moment when Davis's career changed forever. Already suffering from injury, Davis was moved to left field, and injured his kidney while attempting to make one of his trademark diving catches. He never really recovered from that injury in 1991, leading the Reds to trade him to Los Angeles for pitcher Tim Belcher. I cried long and hard that day. Davis's career went into a tailspin, as he bounced out of LA and to Detroit, where, at age 32, he discovered that he developed colon cancer. Davis only missed one year, and made a miraculous return to the Reds in 1996, batting .286 with 26 homers and 23 steals at age 34. That wasn't good enough for the Reds, as they let him go to Baltimore, where he flourished for another couple years, before entering his inevitable decline phase.

Rijo continued to dominate after '90, but endured a similarly freakish injury in 1995, when his elbow simply gave out on him during a game. Rijo was out of baseball for 6 years, then made an even more miraculous return to Cincinnati in 2001 at age 36. While the move bordered on publicity stunt and Rijo was obviously a shadow of his former self, Reds fans welcomed Rijo back for one last shot at playing out what could have been a lengthy career.

Both players were so similar--their bodies allowed them to achieve astounding success early on, yet gave out before they could fulfill their potential. Reds fans like myself are stung thinking of what might have been, not just for ourselves, but for the two players. Both received accolades, but for those who followed the team, we all knew Davis and Rijo deserved far more. Had Davis's career not been derailed at age 28, there's no doubt in my mind that he would have hit 400 homers and stolen 400 bases, which, combined with his defense, would have made him a strong candidate for Cooperstown. It's tougher to say with Rijo, because his body failed him right at the beginning of the offensive explosion. who knows if he could have continued his string of sub 3.00 ERA seasons. Cooperstown would have been a stretch for him, but I think he would easily have gotten to 200 wins, well over 2000 strikeouts, and a 3.50 career ERA. Wishful thinking? Probably. But I'm allowed the indulgence.

So while we Reds fans are left dreaming about could have happened, we neverthless celebrate what did happen. We were blessed to have these two players on our team. Their induction only formalizes the way we felt about them already. They were the most thrilling talents to play for the Reds since Joe Morgan, and while they can't share the Hall in Cooperstown, it's fitting that they share one on the banks of the Ohio.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Help me, help you

The Phillies made a great trade today, acquiring Ugueth Urbina and Ramon Martinez for Placido Polanco. Urbina, according to the stat Expected Wins Added, has been the 9th best relief pitcher in the majors this year, and he's been striking out batters at a 10.21 K/9 clip. This trade will likely result in the following positive things for Philadelphia:

+They can get Rheal Cormier (who has stunk it up this year) out of high leverage situations. Cormier has been pitching in as many meaningful situations as Wagner this year, even though Cormier has been about 9 times less effective. As for Urbina, only a handful of pitchers have pitched in higher leverage situations--Francisco Rodriguez, Bob Wickman, Joe Nathan, and Akinori Otsuka--and Urbina has pitched equal to Rodriguez and better than everyone else. Essentially, the Phillies are going from one of the worst high-pressure pitchers this season to one of the best.

+They don't have to rely on as many innings from their starting rotation. A quick glance at the standings and at pitcher VORPs shows that most of the top teams have 3 or 4 of their starters into double digit VORP already. Philadelphia only has one, Brett Myers. Granted, his 28.8 is good for 6th in the majors, but even his success hasn't been enough to make up for the lack of production from Jon Lieber and Cory Lidle, or the atrociousness of Vicente Padilla. Myers is the only starter who isn't allowing close to or above 10 hits per 9 innings; his strikeout rate of 9.2 per 9 also towers above the rest of the staff--only Randy Wolf has a respectable K/9 rate, at 7.1. These numbers tell us that other than Myers, the Philly staff allows a bunch of baserunners. Obviously, that's bad in terms of run prevention, but it also leads to higher pitch counts per inning, which will wear down a staff. That's not good news, especially for such a thin rotation as it is. Placing Urbina in the setup role will allow Philly to shift Madson into the 7th inning, which will, to use an overused baseball cliche, extend the bridge between the starter and the closer. It won't quite be the Nasty Boys of the 1990 Reds (who absolutely obliterated their opponents), but it will mean the Phillies don't have to pitch their starters any longer than necessary, like this one team on the North Side of Chicago.

+Moving Polanco allows them to play Chase Utley every day. All Utley has done in his platoon role so far is to beat the crap out of the ball: .309/.382/.553/9 HR, which adds up to a 19.4 VORP, good for 2nd best in the NL among second basemen. If he had been playing every day, he would undoubtedly lead the category. Throw in his good fielding and 5 for 7 base stealing ability, and you've got the best all-around second baseman in the National League. His effectiveness had reduced Polanco from equal platoon player to a nomad infielder. As effective as Polanco has been--he chalked up a 11.0 VORP in his limited playing time--he was being paid $4.6 million to be a utility player, which is not wise allocation of resources. Better to spend that money on a proven big-situation relief pitcher, especially with the thin market for starting pitchers.

This trade will definitely make the Phillies better. But what about the Tigers?

I'd argue that this was a deal they absolutely had to make, given their situation. In giving a 12 million dollar deal to Percival over the winter, the Tigers practically set themselves up to trade Urbina. Perhaps if Detroit had a realistic shot at the division they would have held onto him, but paying 10 million dollars a year to two relief pitchers just doesn't make sense when a team is out of the race--one of them had to go. Percival's age, injury history, and salary make him virtually untradeable. What really forced Detroit's hand was the awful production from Omar Infante at second base. Infante has been puttering along to the tune of .215/.262(!)/.349, with below average fielding, as the everyday second baseman. That adds up (or rather subtracts down) to a VORP of -4.0. Only the much-maligned Luis Rivas has been worse at that position in the American League. Filling in Polanco where Infante has been will instantly boost the Detroit offense, if only because of Polanco's excellent on base ability. I would guess that Polanco over Infante could mean about 2 wins improvement in the standings. The question is whether they will lose those 2 wins by taking away Urbina.

The Tigers bullpen has been so-so; Kyle Farnsworth is having a nice season in some pretty high-leverage situations, and Chris Spurling has been adequate. Basically, it's all on Percival to make up for the loss. Percival hasn't really had the time to add or subtract any value, so now is the time for him to get started. Will Percival be able to make up that win deficit created by Urbina's absence? Not quite, but I think he'll make up at least half of it, which means the Tigers should improve by about one win. That may not seem like much, but the Tigers actually were able to pare about half a million dollars off their payroll and could potentially increase their win total. If you look at it from that perspective, it's easy to see why both teams made this trade.

We'll see if Urbina and Utley can help carry the Phillies in a drive for the division title and make me look smart. Perhaps the best thing about this trade from an analysis perspective is that we won't have to wait long to judge its worth. A quick look at the standings in September is all we'll need.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

NL VORP masters

Once thing I notice looking at all these National Leaguers is that the NL has much better players at the traditional "hitting" positions like first base and the corner outfield positions, while the AL has more stars up the middle. Even with that star advantage, the NL seems to be deeper than the AL, particularly at second base. This may have some deep meaning. Unfortunately, I have no idea what that might be. On we go...

C Ramon Hernandez, SD: .295/.333/.456/6 HR/31 RBI
Hernandez has quietly become one of the better-hitting catchers in baseball over the past few years. He never had a loud breakout year like Johnny Estrada or Victor Martinez, and never received much press. But while those players have regressed this year, Hernandez keeps on trucking. Doesn't hurt that he's been above-average defensively for his entire career either.

1B Derrek Lee, CHC: .380/.475/.710/17 HR/51 RBI
What a ridiculous line. It's a line that has belonged to Barry Bonds at various points during this decade, and a line that has obscured the immaculate hitting of Albert Pujols. Unlike Barry, we have no idea if Lee can actually keep this up. As it is, he is by far been the best player in the major leagues in 2005. Though the batting average will probably come down, he will probably end up leading in homers and ribbies.

2B Craig Counsell, ARI: .312/.425./.455/3 HR/20 RBI
Craig freakin Counsell? He was supposed to be one of those guys who drained runs out of the D-Back lineup. Instead, he could be the reason why they're doing so well. Getting on base at .425 in front of those big boppers ain't too shabby. Mark Grudzielanek in St. Louis has been another big surprise, putting up a .325/.364/.464 line, making Steinbrenner wish he'd left Womack in Cardinal red.

3B David Wright, NYM: .302/.395/.516/8 HR/30 RBI
The force is strong with this one. Such good plate discipline for someone 3 months younger than I am. It only bodes well for his future. He's got Scott Rolen written all over him, at least at the plate. Has to work on the defense a bit, but that will come with time. As it is, his bat far outweighs his glove deficit.

SS Clint Barmes, COL: .332/.374/.509/7 HR/33 RBI
He's cooled off a bit since April, but the hits are still dropping in at a pretty high rate. Of more concern are the 10 walks versus 22 strikeouts, meaning he might start sliding down the charts a bit. One of the only bright spots in Cincinnati's season has been the emergence of Felipe Lopez as heir to the throne of Barry Larkin. Lopez trails only Miguel Tejada in SLG for shortstops in the major leagues, and would surely lead this category had he been starting all season. If he keeps this up, this could prove to be one of Jim Bowden's best moves.

LF Miguel Cabrera, FLA: .354/.405/.591/10 HR/35 RBI
The other Miggie is at the top of an impressive list of NL left fielders, forming an impressive triumvirate with Jason Bay and Adam Dunn. Cabrera is the most well-rounded of all these players, and has shown it so far this season. He doesn't draw as many walks, but makes up for that with his sheer hitting ability, banging out singles where many other batters would strike out. And yes, he's only 22 as well. The Marlins look to be in good hands for a while.

CF Brady Clark, MIL: .338/.402/.470/6 HR/24 RBI
Clark always clamored for more playing time in Cincinnati, and he's showing they would've been better off keeping him and not trading for Junior. Well, not quite, but he's certainly one of the most cost-effective players in the majors so far. A perfect fit for Milwaukee. Too bad for them he's 32 and won't likely repeat this success again. His position says more about Jim Edmonds and Carlos Beltran dropping off than anything else.

RF Bobby Abreu, PHI: .335/.462/.600/14 HR/41 RBI
What a phenomenally good player. He's playing the way everyone thought Beltran would play, except Abreu's been doing this his whole career. The Phils have very quietly pulled to within 1 game of first, and Abreu deserves much of the credit. If not for Lee's otherworldly year, Abreu would be my MVP. Of course, what's impressive about Abreu is that we expected this of him.

Starting Pitchers

1. Roger Clemens, HOU
3-3/1.30 ERA/76 K/20 BB

The legend continues. Today's result isn't in this statline (the ERA goes up, but he gets another win), but my word, what a line that is. The Yankees had better hope he can pitch that well in the Bronx.

2. Dontrelle Willis, FLA
9-2/1.85 ERA/60 K/18 BB

The D-Train keeps chugging. The big question is whether he's build the stamina to avoid a collapse similar to his rookie season. The guess here is that he will make it through the whole season this time, but expect the ERA to go up to around 3.50. His big improvement this year has been reducing the number of home runs allowed.

3. Brett Myers, PHI
5-3/2.24 ERA/82 K/21 BB

Where would the Phillies be without this guy? Like Willis, he's got to show he can do it for an entire season. If he can make it and lead Philly to the playoffs, he has the potential to do something like Josh Beckett in '03; that's how good his stuff is.

4. Jake Peavy, SD
5-0/2.37 ERA/78 K/13 BB

That is one sexy K:BB ratio. Didn't get as much press as Ben Sheets last year, but he'll wind up being better. If he stays with the Padres and keeps pitching in that park, his career ERA is gonna take a nosedive toward 3.00.

5. Pedro Martinez, NYM
6-1/2.62 ERA/92 K/12 BB

*Cough cough* Did I say Peavy's K:BB was sexy? Pedro should be illegal. Not fit for human consumption. The only reason he's given up any runs at all has been his tendency to allow the odd homer or 6. That's about the only thing separating him from his glory years in Boston.

Relief Pitchers

1. Chad Cordero, WAS
14 SV/1.33 ERA/25 K/8 BB

This young pitcher will only get better. His walks are already way down over last year. With Washington's sometimes shaky starting staff, it's good to have a stopper of Cordero's caliber in the 'pen.

2. Jason Isringhausen, STL
17 SV/1.86 ERA/13 K/13 BB

Izzy has a pretty ugly line if you're talking baserunners, but fortunately, he's not allowed any of them to score. Zero homers allowed may be the best number of all. Still, the Cardinals had better hope he stops walking that tightrope before the playoffs start.

3. Trevor Hoffman, SD
16 SV/2.89 ERA/19 K/2 BB

Two walks...what a beautiful sight to behold for Padres fans. Hoffman continues to make his case as the best closer of his generation. It's a case he'll never win, thanks to Rivera's postseason heroics in New York, but Hoffman can at least lay claim to the National League. If he can stay healthy over the next couple seasons, he will make a push for Lee Smith's all-time saves record.

The quality of pitchers is striking in the NL. Obviously, NL pitchers will always put up better ERA numbers, but looking at the K:BB rates between the top 5 in the NL and AL, you can really see that there's a gap. There's also something poetic about three rising star pitchers like Willis, Myers, and Peavy being bookended by two of the ten greatest pitchers ever, Clemens and Pedro.

Now a quick look at the All Ignominy Team, NL edition:

C: J.D. Closser, COL
1B: Mike Lamb, HOU
2B: Jamey Carroll, WAS
3B: Mike Lowell, FLA (wha happened?)
SS: Cristian Guzman, WAS (GOLD STAR WINNER: worst player in NL!)
LF: Brian Jordan, ATL
CF: Marquis Grissom, SF
RF: Raul Mondesi, ATL

Starters
1. Eric Milton, CIN
2. Joe Kennedy, COL
3. Paul Wilson, CIN
4. Jamey Wright, COL
5. Oliver Perez, PIT (wha happened?)

Relievers
1. Byung-Hyun Kim, COL
2. Dan Kolb, ATL
3. Dea-Sung Koo, NYM

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Back with a vengeance (AL All-Star edition)

Whew. Finally have the internet up and working in my new apartment. Looking forward to posting again on a regular basis. It's useless to cover everything I've missed, although I will say the following:

-Liverpool's comeback in the Champion's League final is the rest of the world's equivalent of the Red Sox coming from 0-3 down against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. What an incredible comeback. Best sports drama of 2005 so far.

-I am very sad to see the Suns out of the playoffs, but they deserved the result. San Antonio put on a ruthless display. Given that the Miami/Detroit series might go 7, the Spurs have to be the prohibitive favorite.

-Props to Danica Patrick, but I'm sure enough has been written about her already.

Onto the baseball...time to check in with the monthly VORP totals, starting with the American League. The following players have been the most valuable at their positions. Stats given are AVG/OBP/SLG, HR, RBI. Starting pitchers are ranked by Pitcher VORP, relievers are ranked by Expected Wins Added.

C Jason Varitek, BOS: .311/.367/.553, 10 HR, 20 RBI
'Tek is doing his best to live up to his hefty contract, and has been the best at his position by far. Almost 40% of his hits have been for extra bases, making his slugging percentage by far the best in the league among regular catchers? On the other end of the spectrum, Victor Martinez is playing at replacement level, suggesting that last year's breakout may have been a fluke.

1B Mike Sweeney, KC: .301/.343/.522, 9 HR, 35 RBI
Start the Mike Sweeney sweepstakes now! Wouldn't be surprised to see him on either New York team by the deadline. Not that his numbers are anything spectacular. Just like in April, this is a relatively weak position--Sweeney wouldn't even crack the Top 5 in the National League.

2B Brian Roberts, BAL: 368/.449/.642 11 HR, 33 RBI
Meet your AL MVP! That's what Roberts would be if the season ended. He's showing that if this is a hot streak, it's at least 2 months long. Buzz around baseball sites is that Roberts has established a new performance level, and will not regress to his past levels of production. That said, much of this OBP boost is due to his batting average, which is a classic warning sign that once the hits stop falling in, he'll not be as valuable. But if he can keep his power, he'll remain far and away the best second baseman in baseball.

3B Alex Rodriguez, NYY: .319/.430/.639, 17 HR, 49 RBI
A-Rod's back. Back to his Texas performance levels, that is. Heck, he could even surpass them. He turns 30 a shade under 2 months from now, at which point he could have 410 career home runs. Given the state of Barry Bonds's knee, he's may have the best shot ever at breaking Aaron's record. Also gotta mention the great season by Brandon Inge in Detroit. .314/.396/.490 is nothing to sneeze at.

SS Miguel Tejada, BAL: .329/.371/.620, 14 HR, 46 RBI
He and Roberts could go combine for the best middle infield numbers of all time. Tejada is right up where he belongs as the best shortstop in baseball. Bar none. Carlos Guillen is still playing well (though not often), but the scary thing about Tejada is that this kind of ridiculous performance was expected of him. Not only that, but he could be the best clubhouse leader in baseball.

LF Kevin Mench, TEX: .303/.369/.605, 10 HR, 27 RBI
He's an extra base machine, and he's becoming known for more than just having the biggest hat size in the majors. This isn't really a surprise, since the power was there last year. This year, the plate discipline has caught up, and he's having a typical "Year 27" peak year. That said, like first base, this is a very weak position in the AL. Mench wouldn't crack the Top 5 in NL left field VORP. Where's Manny?

CF Johnny Damon, BOS: .354/.404/.458, 1 HR, 26 RBI
Hard to believe that line makes for the best centerfielder in baseball, but in the words of Jose Lima, "BELIEVE IT!" WWJDD? He would experience an expected loss of power this season, but make up for it with a higher OBP, that's what he'd do. However, his fielding is dropping off this year-- 98 Rate2 (100 is average) compared with 104 last year.

RF Gary Sheffield, NYY: .324/.424/.541, 9 HR, 36 RBI
Sheff's walk rate is ridiculous this year. No intentional walks in that OBP either. He's working the counts and mashing. I'll be curious to see if Vlad can pick up the slugging and pass Sheffield once he returns for injury, but given the nature of the injury, it's not likely.

DH David Ortiz, BOS: .302/.393/.563, 12 HR, 39 RBI
OBEY. He's picked up where he left off last season. No surprise. Bigger surprise is David Dellucci and his astronomical .462 OBP (with an AVG of .286!). That's positively Bondsian. Why are pitchers pitching around him? Maybe because he's slugging .556.

Starting Pitchers

1. Kenny Rogers, TEX
7-2/1.65 ERA/30 K/23 BB

Somehow, the Gambler keeps surviving. He has no business having that ERA with those K/BB numbers, especially pitching in a hitters park. The secret to his success? Only 2 home runs allowed. He's not letting his control problems hurt him. Damage control is the name of the game. We'll see if it lasts through June.

2. Roy Halladay, TOR
8-2/2.54 ERA/59 K/13 BB

Now that is a sweet line. In contrast with Rogers, the only thing that's hurt Doc has been the home run, and even then, 7 in 85 innings ain't bad. He's going to be the best pitcher in the AL for a long time.

3. Erik Bedard, BAL
5-1/2.08 ERA/52 K/12 BB

Another sweet line, this time by a young lefty. No smoke and mirrors here, just a great pitcher. The only question is whether he is durable enough to carry the O's in the pennant race, when they could very well be fending off 4 teams.

4. Mark Buehrle, CWS
7-1/3.07 ERA/48 K/15 BB

Jon Garland has tailed off, but Buehrle is Ol' Faithful on the South Side. He's a lock to pitch over 230 innings again, and those innings aren't too shabby either. His ERA might go up a bit as some hits start falling in on him, but more encouraging is that he hasn't been giving up as many homers this year. Hard to believe he's just 26.

5. Jon Garland, CWS
8-2/3.22 ERA/34 K/12 BB

Garland's medicore strikeout rate started catching up with him over the past few games. It'll never be as good as it was in Garland's first 8 starts, but the White Sox can rest easy knowing they have the best "fifth" starter in baseball.

Relief Pitchers

1. Dustin Hermanson, CWS
0.82 ERA/11 SV/15 K/7 BB

Hadn't given up any earned runs until a couple games ago. Pretty impressive. Hermanson continues the Troy Percival trend of ugly bastards performing quite well as closers. He'd better start striking out more batters if he wants to keep this up.

2. B.J. Ryan, BAL
1.44 ERA/14 SV/41 K/9 BB

What a fantastic line. If he had pitched in some more close games, no doubt he'd be on top. That said, The O's look to have a closer that can take them to the playoffs. We'll see if he can perform once he's there.

3. Francisco Rodriguez, LAA
2.65 ERA/10 SV/26 K/5 BB

K-Rod's in 3rd despite being injured. Of more concern is that his mechanics have been altered so that he no longer throws that devastating slider. He's changed it into a slower, slurve type of pitch. We'll see if he can maintain his effectiveness while learning this new pitch.

Conclusion: One of these things is not like the others....hmmm....Mike Sweeney, come on down! Every other player on this list is on a team in contention. You can also see that the AL East dominates the position players, while the Central's only representatives are the 3 White Sox pitchers (which helps explain their league-best record).

And now, a quick look at the All-Ignominy team (min 110 PA):

C: Miguel Olivo, SEA
1B: Carlos Pena, DET
2B: Omar Infante, DET
3B: Aaron Boone, CLE (GOLD STAR winner as worst player in the AL!)
SS: Wilson Valdez, SEA
LF: Terrence Long, KC
CF: Gary Matthews, Jr, TEX
RF: Casey Blake, CLE
DH: Jeff DaVanon, LAA

Starting Pitchers (worst listed first, min 40 IP)
Jose Lima, KC
Wil Ledezma, DET
Ted Lilly, TOR
Dewon Brazelton, TB
Joe Blanton, OAK (remember when he was in the top 5 at the end of April? ouch)

Relief Pitchers (worst listed first)
Steve Kline, BAL
J.J. Putz, SEA
Scott Schoeneweis, TOR