Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why I Love: Minor League Free Agent Signings

by Jason Wojciechowski

(Thanks to whichever of my fine fellows posted this for me, allowing me to contribute to "Why I Love" week despite my being 2200 miles from home and without Wifi due to my lack of desire to pay $13 for the privilege of connecting my computer to the internet.)

Minor-league free agent signings are the best. Put aside the question of how well your favorite team has deployed its resources in minor-league roster space in recent years, or how entertaining the local AAA squad has been. Consider the practice in general. A list of positive characteristics of minor-league signings reads like a small-town newspaper's Fourth of July ode to the greatness of America.

Freedom: it's right there in the phrase "free agency." Many players signing minor-league deals will have been free agents before, but some of them are choosing where they can play for the first time since, at best, college. They're toilers, strivers after the dream of just a single big-league plate-appearance, a story for the grandkids, a chance to be legendary, and they've been riding the buses for the team that drafted them ever since they were innocent babes, unsullied by the particular habits of mind and body of the small-time professional athlete. Suddenly, these players can choose. Outfielders can go to Oakland. Starting pitchers can ring up Brian Cashman. Backup catchers can visit the Twins. Offers can be collected and weighed in terms of pleasantness of weather (Tucson or Pawtucket in July?), chance to make the big-league roster, and orneriness of AAA hitting coach. They are free.

Why I Love: NotGraphs

The Common Man has been writing two columns a week (on Wednesdays and Thursdays) over at NotGraphs, by the way, if you had not yet been made aware. And given that this is “Why I love…” week, TCM really needs to tell you how much he loves NotGraphs. While we can get caught up in our numbers, NotGraphs is a reminder that baseball is full of joy and whimsy if you know where to look.

Today, The Common Man is especially loving former catcher Jamie Quirk, who was just named the Bench Coach of the Chicago Cubs. Thus, TCM provided a dozen mostly true facts about Quirk’s career, including the strange discovery that Quirk never actually played an inning of catcher as a professional until four years after he debuted in the Major Leagues, and yet ended up playing five times the number of games behind the plate than at any other position in what was truly a very strange 18 year career. Check it out.

Why I Love week: True Grit

By Bill

This week, TCM and I are ignoring all the horrible things we could be complaining about these days and trying to keep things light and positive. Here's the first installment, here's the second.

"Gritty," thanks largely to the brilliant Fire Joe Morgan, is probably the most hated word in the English language to people like you and me. That or "scrappy," or "Plaschke."

I have a confession to make, though: I love gritty players. Not the little white guys who journalists like to praise because they get their uniforms dirty, provide good quotes and have no discernible baseball-related skills. Rather, I mean legitimately good players, who legitimately help their teams in tangible ways, who may or may not be media darlings or even speak English, but who also happen to be the all-out, max-effort, self-sacrificing types. Who crash into walls, play whatever position they're asked, have valuable but particularly unglamorous skills, play (well) through pain, and so forth. And maybe some of it is show -- I do tend to believe that almost all players are "max-effort" guys, or else they'd never get to the majors -- but so what? A lot of the fun of baseball is show.

So here's my own personal top ten list of gritty scrappiness:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why I Love: Twitter

By The Common Man

As Bill pointed out yesterday, we’re trying especially hard to be positive this week about the game we love and why we love it. The Common Man can’t promise to remain completely cynicism-free (after all, The Common Man essentially runs on cynicism), but he’s gonna try his level best.

All of us speak through a filter, based on how we want the world, or parts of it, to perceive us. Baseball players are exceptionally good at this, having learned at an early point to speak in platitudes and clich├ęs as they give interviews with the media. After all, one misquote or misstatement could be hugely embarrassing to them and to their employers, like Luke Scott’s paranoid and racist interviews with Dave Brown and ESPN earlier this year.

There simply is no incentive for a ballplayer to be himself, which means we’re left to get to know them second hand (through the descriptions of sportswriters) or to simply admire them from afar. Sometimes, though, that’s not enough. Certainly, we’re all too mature to still idolize players like we did as kids, but isn’t it nice to be able to root for a person as much as you’re rooting for a player?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why I Love week: Take Me Out to the Ball Game

By Bill

So it's been pretty gloomy around here lately. On the same day a bit over a week ago, Bill and TCM wrote posts whose titles began with "Why I Hate" -- first the new playoff format, then the new draft rules. Last week came the announcement of the new CBA, the magnum opus capping Bud Selig's diabolical twenty-year plan for the utter destruction of the national pastime. People are giving Michael Young MVP votes. There's just a lot to be bitter about right now. 

So we've decided to completely ignore all that and observe a cynicism-free week of utter frivolity and happiness (TCM Note: TCM does not promise to keep this site cynicism free.  Without cynicism, what would The Common Man be? He will, however, try and refrain from being a Negative Nelly once a day). Bill and TCM (Jason and Mark can certainly participate if they want to) will alternate providing daily posts celebrating one little baseball-related thing we love, or that helps explain why we love baseball.

I'm a big fan of Frank Sinatra, and I'm obviously quite into baseball. So I really don't know how I got through more than thirty years of life without ever becoming aware that there's a movie in which a singing-and-dancing Frank Sinatra plays the part of a turn-of-the-century big-league shortstop. But there is, and it's called Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and once I learned of this, of course, I had to see it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The War of Statistical Aggression

Somewhere in the lung of Texas, the Traditionalists have met in order to subvert the growing power of the Saberists forces. With Bill James’ armies bearing down in their insurrection, Murray Chass has convened his loyal commanders to repel the rebels as his propaganda campaign has largely resulted in failure and has led to the unfortunate nickname “Blogger Chass”. Gathered together for this meeting are Evan Grant of the Texas Professionals, Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Fanatics (so named for their particularly vicious tactics), Jon Heyman of the Borasskissers, and Commodore Buster Olney of the Green Mountain Boys.

(enter Murray Chass and Buster Olney sitting on Chass’ front porch)

Blogger Chass: Hey kids, get off my lawn. We’re trying to have a meeting.

Buster Olney: Heard this: It’s alright, Murray. They’re just kids. What harm can they really do?

Chass: James, Neyer, Law, and all the rest were kids, too! Give them structure and teach obedience now, and they won’t question us later.

Olney: (rolls eyes) Heard this: I guess you’re right. Let’s start the meeting, shall we?

(Olney and Chass move into the parlor room where they start the meeting with Grant, Shaughnessy, and Heyman)

Dan Shaughnessy: Let’s kill all the bastards! NOW! NOW! NOW!

Chass: Oh Danny Boy, I love you so, but you’re a little insane sometimes. Well, we know what we’re here to do, so let’s get to it. How do we stop the Saberists?

Jon Heyman: I can send in my secret agent to give them misinformation on Mystery Troops.

Chass: My god Jon, enough with your secret agent.

Evan Grant: Alright, calm down. Let’s look at the opposition’s movements. Keith Law and his Snarks are moving down the Mississippi, gaining control of the waterways and cooking up trouble. Tom Tango’s Tigers keep moving across the Ohio due to their almost heartless resilience. And I hear Joe Posnanski is developing a Logic Bomb, but I’m hoping that transmission was just 5,000 words of bologna. Luckily, Rob Neyer’s mercenaries have faltered after he made the switch to using SBN rifles instead of ESPNs.

Chass: That’s terrible news for us. Posnanski can sure talk circles around you, but his threats usually come true. As for Law, we’ll …

Shaugnessy: Kill them all! Kill them all!

Heyman: Jesus, Shaughnessy, shut up.

Chass: As I was saying, we’ll do a few In-N-Out maneuvers along the river to distract Law from getting too close. Tango will be difficult as he has the numbers advantage, and he’ll just keep coming no matter how annoying he can get. And while Neyer’s seen a loss of momentum, he still has quite the following. So let’s come up with some ideas, boys.

Grant: Well, I’ve got this up-and-comer named Michael Young that’s a real classy individual. He knows his stuff, and he’s a real leader.

Olney: Heard this: Young requested a trade to my squad.

Grant: Shut up! He’s amazing, okay?! (coughs) Anyway, as I was saying, we could send his squadron to multiple positions to distract Tango from his frontal assault by making him think our main army is more toward the southeast.

Chass: Okay, that sounds like a plan. What about Neyer’s troops still in the Carolinas?

Heyman: (sings “Secret Agent Man” by Johnny Rivers)

Chass: Damn it Jon, you’re almost as annoying as Dan.

Shaughnessy: Down with the bastards! DIE! DIE! DIE!

Chass: For god’s sakes, Dan, shut the %^&* up, man. That wasn’t an invitation for your drivel. Sometimes, I think I’m surrounded by a bunch of idiots. (pauses to shake his head) Does anyone have an idea for keeping Neyer busy?

Olney: Heard this: people in the Carolinas hate Neyer.

Heyman: Yeah, we can just tell the masses anything, and they’ll believe us. No one questioned when we said that the Ellsbury and Bautista Towers weren’t brought down by the pitcher winds that we were warned about. We’ll just promise that this is the WAR to end all WARs, and we’ll give them a few more Ryanowards. They just love those big, shiny things that have no real value. Who knew?

Grant: As for Posnanski, I’ll just litter his rumored whereabouts with my Intangibles. They’re like Napalm but better, burning everything in sight without discretion or warning. And you can use them on anything, anywhere, and anytime! They’re multi-purpose bombs sure to end most battles.

Chass: Good. So Law is being distracted by In-N-Outs along the river, Tango by Young, Neyer by an inside revolt, and Posnanski will get Intangibled. Anything else?

Shaugnessy: BLOW THEM ALL TO HELL!!!! (Heyman softly continues signing “Secret Agent Man” in the background but barely audible, as if he hopes someone will hear him and think his idea is worth anything)

Chass: (mainly to himself) My goodness, I think we’re about to lose this war.

Olney: Heard this: It may only be a matter of time.

Chass: Damn it, Buster, you’re really no more help than the rest of them. Oh well, I’ve got to go write up these plans and post them on the intertubes on my site so the troops can get ready.

(Zoom out. Chass heads to his Hewitt-Packard - you know, the one with the black screen and green letters and hits keys. Olney goes to his laptop to actually type up the plans and asks Grant to tweet the link to his followers for him because he still hasn’t learned that. Heyman goes to call his “secret agent”, seeming very upset at not being considered more seriously during the meeting. And Shaughnessy is rolling around screaming, throwing things, kicking, and spitting but not getting the desired attention.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The new CBA

by Jason Wojciechowski

Larry Stone helpfully provided a link to the press release announcing the new CBA between the MLBPA and MLB. The Common Man has already given you his thoughts on the draft bonus cap rules, but I wanted to bang out a point-by-point, because there's a whole lot to talk about -- 4 1/3 pages in the release, to be exact.

Here, then, is a relatively comprehensive list with commentary of the new stuff in the CBA. Some of it you've seen before (draft-pick compensation), some of it I haven't seen discussed elsewhere (maple bats), and some of it is incomprehensible to me (debt service rules).

An Open Letter to Bill Regarding MVP Voting

“Jim Ingraham was the lone voter to leave Verlander off his ballot yesterday, and I think he did it for totally the wrong reason (which will be the point of the rest of this post), but he certainly had the right to do so, and I'm kind of glad someone did.” -Bill, like, two hours ago

Dear Bill,

The Common Man was going to leave this as a comment, but he’s pretty sure he’s going to run long, so a post it shall be…

Seriously, man, TCM does not understand how you can believe that Ingraham has the right to blatantly ignore the voting rules for an organization he belongs to. His post was well certainly thoughtful and his willingness to fully explain himself is completely appreciated on this end, but man is he wrong.

You’re a lawyer; do you get to ignore the rules of evidence simply because you don’t like them? Do you get to call the press and tell them what a scumbag your client because you think attorney-client privilege is bunch of bunk that only protects the guilty? Do you have the right to disrupt a sentencing hearing because you find the death penalty abhorrent?

Of course not. You chose to be a lawyer, and to abide by specific rules in order to be one. Similarly, Jim Ingraham chose to become a sportswriter, and chose to vote in the BBWAA election. It is incumbent upon him, then to follow the rules of that organization. If he doesn’t like the rules, he can lobby the BBWAA to change them. There are a number of writers who would agree with him. But there is no excuse for a writer to impose his own rules on the process, particularly when his decision to do so has the ability to hurt Justin Verlander just like it hurt Pedro Martinez in 2000. It’s selfish, petty, and thoughtless.

How Pitchers Can Be as Valuable as Hitters

By Bill

As you may remember, I don't think pitchers should be eligible for the MVP award. And were I voting today, when the rules explicitly state that they are eligible, I wouldn't vote for one. It's funny to me that there are people who think voters are bound to consider pitchers because the instructions say they're technically eligible, but think voters are free to consider utterly irrelevant things the instructions more or less unambiguously don't leave room for, like whether or not the candidate's team made or contended the playoffs...but that's a discussion for another day.

Jim Ingraham was the lone voter to leave Verlander off his ballot yesterday, and I think he did it for totally the wrong reason (which will be the point of the rest of this post), but he certainly had the right to do so, and I'm kind of glad someone did.

But I've spent some time (more than I should have, certainly) hanging around on MVP-related discussion and comment boards today, and I was shocked by how many casual or non-sabermetrically minded fans were dead-set against Verlander winning, and for what seems to me like a crazily stupid reason, the same reason Ingraham used in the link above. I'll quote from Ingraham, since he's considerably more literate than the dozens of other examples I've seen:
I know Verlander is a great pitcher. I also know, by the nature of his job, he did not appear at all in 128 of the Tigers' games this year. That's 79 percent of the Tigers' season. I can't think of any other sport in which a player who didn't play in 79 percent of his team's games could be voted the Most Valuable Player in his league.
And it just blows me away how relentlessly, determinedly ignorant this position is. And I think most people who get to this blog probably have the same reaction, or at least understand mine. But I was so overwhelmed by the lack of understanding of what I thought was a really straightforward, facially obvious fact -- pitchers can be just as valuable as hitters -- that I thought a more thorough breakdown than what we did in our blogfight was warranted.

Monday, November 21, 2011


By The Common Man

It is a strange world we live in where Clint Barmes can earn $11 million to play in Pittsburgh over the next two years, but given the contracts doled out to fellow middle-infielders Jamey Carroll and Mark Ellis this offseason, Barmes' contract seems to fit the market. Barmes is better than either Carroll or Ellis because he has long demonstrated the ability to be a plus defender at shortstop. Carroll is a better hitter, given his patient approach, but he's stretched at shortstop and is five years older. Ellis may be a great defender at 2B, but shortstop is the tougher position, Barmes has managed to outhit Ellis in at least two (and possibly three) of the past four years and is two years younger. Plus, Ellis' offense has clearly slipped. While a similar slip defensively is certainly a possibility for Barmes entering his age 33 season, there's been no evidence of a decline.

Barmes is an OBP-challenged hitter, with no patience at the plate, and without the ability to hit for average. He has some pop in his bat, but some of that will be mitigated by a move from Minute Maid/Enron/Whatever Park to PNC Park, which favors lefty power-hitters. He also clearly had the best season of his career last year, in which he hit well, stayed at one position all year, and fielded it well, but he is likely to be a 2 win player for at least the next season, barring injury (which he's generally done a good job of avoiding in his career).

It's a little weird to see that Pirates spending this much in free agency, especially after losing 90 games. But clearly their hot start in 2011 has them feeling like they can compete in a relatively weak NL Central that could see the Cubs start from scatch, and the exodus of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Can they? Probably not. The signing of Rod Barajas, for all his pitch framing skills, should be terrifying Pittsburghians, their pitching was above its head for much of the season, and they still have major holes at 3B and 1B that they have to fill, and their front-line prospects are still years away from making an impact. The contract makes sense, but not necessarily for this team. Fortunately, it's not going to cripple the Pirates efforts to build a contender, regardless.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Guest Post: The Winner's Curse

We welcome in a guest writer this Sunday with a thoughtful post on free agency. Until his recent decision to shut it down, Dan Hennesey headed up Baseballin' on a Budget, the SweetSpot Network's Oakland A's blog. Now, Dan himself is a free agent of sorts, and we're glad to be able to feature his work without committing to six years and $120 million. Check him out on Twitter or see his recent guest post for Athletics Nation.

Most Octobers, baseball fans of all sorts bury their noses in the game.  The nuts are at home every night (if not actually at a game), tweeting and texting about each game.  The casual fan makes more of an effort to catch games on television.  Everyone with even a passing curiosity ups their interest in the game in October.

Come November and continuing into the winter, there’s a void.  Some fans dive into the NBA, the NFL, or the NHL (I still feel like I have to mention it as a major sport), but baseball diehards have a lot of time on their hands.  For most of us, our primary focus moves to the next season’s rosters. There are trades, but we don’t usually know about them until they happen.  Most are unexpected.  However, we know who the free agents are well ahead of time, and speculation begins while the season is still being played.  We invest a lot of time thinking about free agents, where they might be headed, and what team should get who.

In high school I took micro- and macroeconomics as an elective.  Believe it or not, I was a nerd.  I had a terrific teacher who had me hooked from the start, and then I minored in Economics as an undergrad and continued taking classes in graduate school.  There’s a principle in auction theory called “The Winner’s Curse,” which is generally interpreted as follows.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Twins Catch a Break With Doumit

By The Common Man

Now this is more like it. In signing Ryan Doumit to a one-year, $3 million contract (as reported by ESPN's Jerry Crasnick), Terry Ryan matches a player's skills with what the Twins need, and does so at a very reasonable price.

Jamey Carroll, as we discussed last week, is a good player at second base, but is probably stretched as a team's everyday shortstop. He's also going to be 38 and is a candidate for regression. The Twins still committed two years and $7 million to him, when it was not clear that the market would pay him that much and there were potentially better shortstop options available.

Why I Hate the New Amateur Draft Bonus Cap Rules

By The Common Man

On the one hand, The Common Man is exceptionally happy to see labor peace reign in Major League Baseball. More baseball is inherently better than less baseball, and as we saw from 1994-1995 (and we're witnessing now with the NBA situation), a work stoppage can absolutely cripple a sport financially and in the public eye. That said, the billionaires who own the MLB franchises and the millionaires who play the game are making their bargain on the backs of the most vulnerable people in the sport, the amateur players who don't yet have a voice in union negotiations.

Being a professional baseball player is a great privilege. You get paid to play a game, and if you're really good or your name is Drew Butera, for some reason, you get paid a lot of money for it. It's tempting, as we look at the salaries paid to modern players, and to their agents, to get resentful, especially when we consider how much more they make than teachers, firefighters, military service members, and cops.

But it's worth remembering that, for every player that makes the Major Leagues, four minor leaguers will not. These are players that train for their entire lives to become Major League ballplayers who have that dream snuffed out once it becomes clear they don't have what it takes. Some of these young men make just around $6,000 for six months of work, out of which they're expected to pay rent and clubhouse dues. Most of these young men got no more than $1,000 as a bonus to sign their first professional contract.

Why I hate the new postseason plan

By Bill

We've known it was coming for a while now, but yesterday it was made more or less official, with the approval of the sale of the Astros to Jim Crane: the Astros will be moving to the AL West, most likely in 2013, giving each division five teams. And it seems a foregone conclusion that another change is headed our way by the 2013 postseason, and perhaps as early as next season, with the addition of two more wild cards, with the two wild cards from each league meeting in a one-game playoff (or play-in, if you will) to determine who advances to the traditional five-game LDS.

In the interest of full disclosure and all that: on this one issue, I'm kind of a traditionalist. Yes, I'd like to see instant replay and/or robot umpires in every feasible instance, including, if possible, computerized ball/strike calls. But here, I'm a regular Bob Costas or Billy Crystal. We've been in the wild card era for eighteen years now, and I'd still really love to see them go back to the four-division, two-playoff-round format that subsisted from 1969 to 1993, and if I'd been alive for the old no-division, two-league, winner-goes-to-the-Series format that had been in place from the turn of the century through '68, I'd probably be in favor of that instead.

It's not entirely nostalgia, though. The thing is that while what happened this year -- the Cardinals winning it all despite being, in terms of full-regular-season performance, probably the worst team in the postseason -- can be fun in its own way, I'd really prefer to see the best team from each league in the Series, or at least to be given a really good chance of getting there. Every expansion to the playoffs cheapens the regular season a little bit. If American League Team X won 105 games in the regular season, and American League Team Y won 88, in almost every case, we already know beyond the shadow of a doubt that X is a better team than Y, so having the two face off in a short series, in which anything can happen, seems counterproductive.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

You Have to Get Inside the Characters!

By Mark Smith

Freddy Got Fingered isn’t that great of a movie. At it’s very best, it’s a fun movie to watch when there’s nothing important on, and in all honesty, it’s probably a movie that should be placed on a VH1 Awesomely Bad list somewhere toward the top. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s a complete waste of time, and I thoroughly enjoy watching it. It just has no redeeming quality outside of being completely ridiculous, which is kind of a redeeming quality I suppose. Anyway, the funniest moment, in my opinion, is when Tom Green’s character, an aspiring cartoon writer, gets turned down by a cartoon exec, who suggests that Green needs “to get inside the characters”. This, of course, means that Green doesn’t really understand his characters or where they are coming from, but Green … well, hold on. On his way home, he hits a deer, and because of the advice he receives and that he draws animal cartoons, he literally cuts the deer open, gets inside the deer, and parades around before finally getting hit by a semi. Watch the movie. I don’t do the moment justice.

As a budding baseball writer/blogger and analyst, I wonder if I’m not in a similar position to Green’s character when it comes to baseball stats. I understand baseball stats. I understand why the traditional ones don’t always describe what they think they do, and I understand why advanced stats do a better job. I can even explain the logic of newer stats to other people. What I can’t do, however, is explain how those stats were derived, and I can’t tell you which one is better than another.

Let’s see if I can explain why I have to begun to admit that I have a serious problem with this, at least from my personal perspective. I’m not a man of faith. The reason is simple - faith isn’t something you can argue with. It can’t lose. I can sit here all day and explain how a certain religious belief is probably ridiculous, but faith can always argue that it’s the deity’s plan or that I don’t know. It’s frustrating. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but as a man that has to understand, faith is particularly difficult for me (please don’t send me crisis of faith emails/tweets; that’s not what this is about). What I started to realize was that sabermetrics had become my “faith”.

That probably seems absurd. Sabermetrics is all about science, numbers, and the pursuit of knowledge and, as such, seems to be the anti-thesis of faith. But from my perspective (and believe the perspective of many), it is a point of faith. The difference between religion and sabermetrics, however, is that this faith crisis with sabermetrics can be solved, whereas I’ll have to wait a hopefully long time before meeting my maker and figuring out how I screwed everything up. To this point, I certainly understand the logic behind the stats, but also to this point, I’ve taken it as a point of faith that the numbers actually work.

The pitcher who hit two grand slams

By Bill

I've written about this once before (I won't link to it, because why?), but only in passing, and it deserves more than that.

Entering the 1966 season, the newly-moved-to-Atlanta Braves' Tony Cloninger was a promising young pitcher. He was 26. He'd been in the league for five years, and had seen a steady increase in just about everything -- innings, wins, strikeouts and strikeout rate, ERA+ (with the corresponding drop in ERA), etc. In '65, Cloninger finished in the top ten in wins, innings, strikeouts, starts, and homers per nine (while also leading the league in walks, and posting just a 107 ERA+). He wasn't a superstar, yet, but he seemed to be heading in the right direction.

One thing it didn't look like he'd ever become, though, was a hitter. Cloninger was a pretty typical pitcher on that front; he'd finally hit his first home run in 1965, and in his five-year career, he was a .174/.179/.211 hitter in 329 plate appearances. That's a little bit better than the pitcher's norm -- NL pitchers hit .138/.170/.175 as a group in '65 -- but certainly not enough better to get excited about.

Then, 1966 happened.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

As If Frank McCourt Hasn't Flushed Away Enough Money...

By The Common Man

It’s official. With Jamey Carroll on his way to Minnesota, the Dodgers have reached out and signed Mark Ellis to handle the keystone for the next two years. For the privilege of employing his services, Dylan Hernandez reports they will pay him $8.75 million, but just $2.5 million of which is for 2012. There is team option for a third year, in which the Dodgers can pay Ellis $5.75 million, or let him walk for $1 million.

That’s a pretty remarkable payday for a player who is coming off of a .288 OPB and is so often injured he has only played in 150 games twice in nine seasons. Even at 34, Ellis is still a plus defender at second base, but his offense has taken a hit. Not even a second half in the friendly confines of Colorado could make him look good. He was terrible in his most extensive action since 2007.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Happy Birthday...

Curt Schilling!

Schilling is 45 today. It's a bit hard to believe, but he threw his last pitch four years and twenty days ago.

I think Schilling makes the Hall of Fame eventually, but it probably takes a while. It's a shame, because he's pretty comfortably deserving. Ignoring his postseason heroics (and I think those have to count for something; it's silly to credit a player for team success in the World Series and such, but not for particularly noteworthy individual performance), Schilling is 17th among pitchers in career WAR since 1950. Eleven of the sixteen in front of him are in the Hall, and the other five are Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Mike Mussina. Three of those guys are guaranteed to make it, and Mussina certainly should. Also, Schilling's 69.7 WAR is better than Don Drysdale, Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer, Jim Bunning, and Whitey Ford (along with Catfish Hunter and a bunch of other Hall of Famers in name only).

The Mildly Humorous Mildy Haunting Meandering Happenings of Mike Hampton

By Mark Smith

The idea for this post came from an early Saturday morning Twitter conversation that began when Greg Schaum asked, “When I say Florida Marlins what player do you think of as a Marlin?” Matt Klassen responded, “Mike Piazza”, and Bill suggested, “Trevor Hoffman”. In order to outdo them in their sarcasm (Piazza spent a little more than a week in Florida, and Hoffman was drafted by the Marlins but pitched in only 28 games for them), I noted, “Mike Hampton”, who spent not two full days as a Marlin before being traded to the Atlanta Braves.

Few former Braves players inspire more hatred in Braves fans than Mike Hampton. For $14-16 million a season from 2003 to 2008, Mike Hampton provided a whole 4.3 bWAR, and he spent all of 2006 and 2007 injured. Luckily, the Braves gave up nothing of consequence for him, but all things considered, Hampton had a rough go of it in Atlanta. While you could argue that he continued to work to get back and contribute, fans usually can’t overlook the complete and utter lack of contributions of such a highly-paid player, and it is in that vein that I remembered that Hampton had spent like 38 hours in Miami because I’ve often wished he had stayed there. Despite all of that, I find Mike Hampton to have had an incredibly interesting career, so I thought I’d spend some time on it.

I had no idea Mike Hampton was a Mariner. I had no idea Mike Hampton spent any time at all in the Mariners organization. That Hampton was a Mariner for any length of time is as shocking to me as the first time I found out my dad was in seminary school and I was somewhat close to not existing. But Hampton was, indeed, drafted by the Mariners in the sixth round of 1990 draft, which is also the same year that Chipper Jones (his future teammate) was drafted with the first overall pick (it’s also surprising to me that he was drafted only in 1990; it seems that he’s been around for so long and that he shouldn’t be as old as Chipper, but I guess the early retirement makes it seem different). But perhaps I was vicariously blocking out the memory for Hampton because the Mariners attempted to destroy Hampton while he was in the organization. For some odd reason, they threw their 6th-round pick into High-A for his introduction to professional ball, and after he predictably failed, they demoted him back to Low-A, where he did quite a bit better. He returned to High-A the next season and performed well, and he did alright in a brief promotion to AA to end the season. Starting 1993 back in AA, Hampton again did well as he followed a normal and logical progression through the minors, but then the Mariners promoted him straight to the majors at the age of 20, where he fell hard with an ERA of 9.53 in 17 innings and a K/BB of 8/17.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ryan Madson and baseball reporting

by Jason Wojciechowski

I don't like repeating myself. I understand that as an internet baseball writer, it's bound to happen, but I'd rather not do it consciously. But doggonit, sometimes you have to.

Baseball reporters, I've asked you before: please stop. Ryan Madson, I'm sure you all remember, was a done deal to come back to the Phillies for five years and $45 million. And then he wasn't. And then there was never a deal in place in the first place. And then, as The Common Man has already deftly analyzed, Jonathan Papelbon signed an even bigger deal with those same Phillies. (Until he didn't, anyway. Who even knows anymore.)

Apparently, You Can Never Have Too Many Second Basemen

By The Common Man

The Common Man certainly does not begrudge Jamey Carroll for immediately making TCM’s offseason blueprint column obsolete. Nor does he begrudge the 38 year old for accepting the two-year contract for $7 million the Twins offered him. But The Common Man dreads watching Carroll try to earn that money over the next two seasons.

Carroll has had one of the strangest careers in modern memory. He didn’t debut until he was 28 years old and then was a utility player for the next trhee years. He put up a strong season in 136 games for the Rockies in 2006, but was relegated back to a utility gig in 2007. He filled in all over the place for the Indians and the Dodgers over the past four years, getting the most playing time of his career as a 37 year old in 2011. He has strong on-base skills and is a capable defender at second base. And the flexibility he has offered for his employers has been incredibly valuable over the years, even though he’s only started 725 times in 10 seasons.

Overpaying Papelbon

By The Common Man

News broke this afternoon (via Jim Salisbury) that the Phillies signed free agent closer Jonathan Papelbon to a mammoth $50 million deal over four years (with a potential vesting option that could push it to $60 million), immediately forgetting the lesson they learned with Ryan Madson: Closer are made, not born. Sure, you might expect a team to overpay for an absolutely elite reliever (like Craig Kimbrel or Mariano Rivera) who just happened to pitch in the 9th inning, but nothing to this degree. Nothing like $12.5 million per season over four years.

Relievers are incredibly volatile, and Papelbon himself is a great example of this. In the last four years, his xFIP has been 2.34, 3.91, 3.56, and 2.16, and he’s been worth anywhere between 1.2 and 3.0 wins above replacement per season according to FanGraphs. He’s also going to be 31, has never pitched more than 70 innings in any regular season, and has severely struggled with his control in two of the past three seasons.

Best Laid Plans

By The Common Man

Despite the firing of Bill Smith and the triumphant return of Terry Ryan, it seems likely there will be a bunch of hand-wringing around here, between Bill and The Common Man, over the next few months over the Twins’ decisions. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t seem fair to critique the work that Ryan and his staff will do over the offseason without offering an alternative.

The Common Man did lay out some general priorities in September, as the Twins were eliminated from contention. But now, with a better idea about who is in charge and how much money they have to work with, here are some specific ways for the Twins to prepare for 2012:

Given the payroll commitments already on the books, and the obligations the Twins will have to pay their players in arbitration, Aaron Gleeman estimates the Twins have roughly $81 million spoken for. Given Terry Ryan’s announcement that the payroll would probably dip to around $100 million this year, that leaves the Twins with about $20 million to play with as they try to fill holes in the bullpen, shortstop, corner outfield, and maybe DH.

It’s worth pointing out here that the Twins really aren’t in a place where they can tear down and rebuild. Their best players have had their value compromised by high salaries (Mauer, Morneau) and injury (Mauer, Morneau, Span). And dealing their secondary players, guys like Danny Valencia, Carl Pavano, and Francisco Liriano, are at a low point in their trade value. As such, the Twins are stuck trying to win in 2011, and going forward with the players they have on hand. So who do they target to maximize their chances of winning the division with the money they have left:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Few Thoughts On the Wilson Ramos Kidnapping

By The Common Man

Normally, we like to have fun on TPA. Barring that, we (ok, mostly The Common Man) like to work up a good righteous indignation. But there’s nothing about the Wilson Ramos situation that’s funny. And, frankly, The Common Man is just left with an incredible feeling of sadness over the violence done to this young man.

If you’re unaware, news broke last night that four gunmen broke into Ramos’ home in Venezuela soon after the young catcher arrived, and dragged him out in front of his wife and family. Ramos remains missing, and there has been no word as to whether he is in good shape or not.

The history is not positive. Carlos Zambrano’s mother was kidnapped in 2009 and was rescued three days later. Yorvit Torrealba’s young son was also kidnapped in 2009, and his parents paid the ransom to get him back. But catcher Henry Blanco’s brother was found shot to death a day after he was kidnapped in 2008. Presumably, Ramos’ family and/or the Washington Nationals will find a way to pay for Ramos’ release, even though Ramos has only earned around $450,000 in his Major League career (which, admittedly, is a huge amount in Venezuela).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Spare a thought for the poor, neglected third baseman

By Bill

One of Bill James' books -- I think it was one of the Historical Baseball Abstracts, but I'm not positive -- talks about a sudden shift in the way baseball people perceived the third base position. In the game's early-ish days, third base was looked at as a defense-first position, a lot more like second base is now -- and if anything, second was the more offense-minded position of the two.

James (or one of his assistants; something tells me it was Jim Baker) credited the eventual perception shift on the little-remembered Harlond Clift, a star of the terrible Browns teams of the 1930s and 1940s. Clift's offensive numbers don't look like much today, but he really was the first power-hitting third baseman. Two 3Bs between the beginning of time and 1940 hit more than thirty homers in a season: one was Mel Ott, only barely a third baseman (and for only that one season), and the other was Clift. There were ten seasons by third basemen in that span where even twenty homers were hit: one was Ott; one was Ned Williamson, who took advantage of a rule change and a ridiculous ballpark to hit a record 27 of them in 1884; and four of the remaining eight were by Clift. And Clift, in his twenties, was a complete hitter, keeping his average near .300 and drawing plenty of walks. Clift really was a relevation; you can look back through history from now and see Alex Rodriguez and Mike Schmidt and George Brett and Eddie Mathews and Chipper Jones and Evan Longoria, and Clift doesn't look like much. Looking back from 1940, though, there was pretty much only Clift. So then came Mathews et al., and Clift had kicked off this big change in the way people looked at the position; it was another second base, and suddenly became another first base. Post-Clift, your third baseman was supposed to be one of the anchors of your offense.

Here's the punchline, though: I think that shift in the way third base was perceived was wrong. Or, at least, much, much too drastic.

Monday, November 7, 2011

OH MY GOD! That's Terry Ryan's music!!!!

By The Common Man

As you may have noticed if you were anywhere near a computer and a Twitter feed over the past 10 minutes, Bill Smith has been fired as the GM of the Minnesota Twins and has been replaced, on an interim basis by former Twins GM Terry Ryan. Wayne Krivsky, who worked in player development under Ryan, is also reportedly headed back to the fold. Speculation, at this point, is that either Assistant GMs Rob Anthony or Mike Radcliffe will be elevated to fill the GM role.

This is a good day to be a Twins fan. Aside from a very brief window in the 2010 offseason, Bill Smith has not been an effective General Manager. As we’ve documented extensively: here, here, here, here, here, and here. It’s unclear what the new GM will bring to the table as far as decision-making processes. But it has to be better than trading Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps, and then hamstringing yourself by giving him $7 million while losing several other effective relievers. And it has to be better than trading JJ Hardy for two unproven and ineffective relievers. And it can’t get worse than standing by the Twins’ medical staff, obsessing over soft-tossing control guys, and refusing to find a competent backup catcher.

Bill Smith’s sins were many. His best moves were undone by the Twins’ constant moves that whittled away their organizational depth. The Common Man doesn’t know what exactly the future holds, but he’s willing to be optimistic about it for the first time in a year.

Breaking Down: Melky for Sanchez

By The Common Man

According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Giants have just dealt starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez and a 24 year old pitcher to the Royals for centerfielder Melky Cabrera. In essence, Brian Sabean is selling one player at his lowest possible value for another player at his absolute highest, and thus is unlikely to come out of this deal looking good.

Melky does fit a need for the Giants, who are losing Cody Ross, so long as he stays at a corner outfield spot and Andres Torres remains in center. In center, Melky is severely stretched, but may prove mobile enough to handle either left or rightfield in San Francisco. He’s also very durable, having started at least 145 games in four of the last five seasons.

Offensively, Cabrera is coming off the best season of his career by a huge amount. He hit .305/.339/.470 (121 OPS+) for Kansas City and reversed his normal platoon split by crushing righties (.306/.344/.475). It’s very hard to believe, however, that Cabrera’s suddenly found a new gear after five full seasons. Indeed, Cabrera saw his walk rate fall in 2011 and his strikeout-to-walk ratio jump, while his BABIP jumped from a .290 career mark to .332. In short, a lot of the gains by Cabrera in 2011 look like a combination of bad defense and good luck. As such, Cabrera is a prime candidate for regression, especially as he leaves the AL Central.

Chad Harbach's "The Art of Fielding"

by Jason Wojciechowski

Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding made a buzzy trip around the baseball blogosphere a short time back as we discovered that baseball bloggers are apparently so starved for contemporary lit that involves the greatest game as to swarm all at once when they hear word that such a novel has arrived. That Harbach was the co-founder and current executive editor of one of America's most famous literary journals, n+1, gave the book additional gravitas.

Small-college baseball

Don't make the mistake, though, of thinking you're getting a Mark Harris-like baseball book. It's a college novel, really, that happens to involve three baseball players (one of whom is also a football player, another of whom is a rising academic star), the college president, and the president's adult daughter understanding how to escape the traps that their actions and stations in life have led them to up to this point. The inciting incident does happen on a baseball field (or, technically, I suppose, just off to the side of the field proper -- more on this in just a few words), but most of the action thereafter takes place in the president's office and quarters, the dining hall, the dorms, the gym, and, most importantly, in the heads of the characters, who are forever (I say this in a positive sense), especially when interacting with others, circling around their problems, considering them, probing at them, trying to determine just what exactly it is they're supposed to do, if there even is a supposed-to-do, who is doing the supposing, and why they owe that person anything at all.

Veterans Committee Candidates

By The Common Man

The ballot for the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee was released this week, with ten names on the list. Each would need twelve of the 16 members of the Veterans Committee to vote for them to be elected. The list is full of interesting players and officials who, even if they don’t deserve enshrinement, do deserve to have their great careers remembered. Here’s how The Common Man would vote:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Where Do Intangibles Fit In?

By Mark Smith

I can’t remember how many years ago this was, but I’ll tell the story anyway. My oldest brother was moving out of his apartment and into his first house. He was, of course, very excited, but the movers wouldn’t be there until the day after he could move into his house. So I helped him move some stuff out of his apartment, and because the TV is the most important thing in the house, we had to plug that in. With the entertainment center in, we decided we’d put the cable cord in the back of TV and put it in, avoiding the awkward attempt of putting the cord in with the TV in the entertainment center. On the way from picking it up to getting it in the entertainment center, one of us (I blame him) started losing his grip, and we dropped the TV, ripping the cable cord out of the back of the TV.

We, of course, not only ripped that out, we ripped out part of the thing the cable jack in the TV goes into, which essentially ruins the TV. My brother, the tech geek, decides he can fix it. We head to the nearest wherever-you-get-the-crap-for-that-store, and he buys a soldering iron to put things back together. When we get back, he takes off the back of the TV, which was really cool, but as he did it, he hands me the phone and warns, “If you hear a pop, call 911 and tell them my address.” I respond, “What’s your address?” He answers, “I don’t remember. Let’s just hope you don’t hear a pop.”

What was really cool about all that (yes, he did fix the TV; it was quite impressive actually) was seeing the TV taken apart. I’ve seen a TV thousands of times, but that’s the only time I’ve seen it taken apart. All of those parts come together to help me watch baseball games, Home Improvement, and The View whenever my dad decides he needs to watch that (it’s one of the weirdest sights; here’s my dad watching The View without my mother anywhere near the room, and people wonder why my gender roles are mixed up). It’s pretty amazing.

Sometimes, I think we forget to deconstruct things, and I think it would benefit everyone to do so more often (not literally; watch a Youtube video). On one hand, we can think that TV episodes come through by magic, or we can take it apart and ask how it actually happens. We can do the same thing with baseball players, so let’s do it in a very clear-cut fashion.