Nationals Baseball: January 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

How much better? - Part 2

AsI blogged yesterday, the offense is not going to turn this ship around next year. Right now it will probably only be very very slightly better than last year. That isn't bad, because last year the Nats weren't bad offensively, but it's also not going to help turn the Nats into a respectable team (re: under 90 losses) by itself. What the Nats need is a massive turnaround in the pitching. They've made a fair number of changes, but is it enough?

First off, we need to figure out how many innings the Nats starters will pitch and how many runs they will give up doing it. The better the starting pitching is - the less the Nats will have to rely on relief pitching, which as we saw last year, is very... uhh... variable. Last year Nats starters threw 901.1 innings with an ERA of just under 5.00. However, 206.1 innings/3.89 ERA of that was by John Lannan (iBrow?). The rest of the rag tag bunch of misfits threw only 695 innings at a 5.30 ERA pace. This helps us get a sense of what the "average" Nats starter will do. Divide by 4 and you got your base Nats starter - 173.2 IP with a 5.30 ERA. Are the Nats going to have several pitchers throw nearly 30 games with those stats? No. But the "everyone else" pot will likely combine into this menagerie of below average slop. (If Zimmermann were around, or I could be promised Strasburg, things would be different. But he's isn't and I haven't been, so things aren't.)

The Nats have two sure things on the staff - Jason Marquis and John Lannan. How will they do next year? Well pitching is hard to grasp. What the projections say is probably about 190+ IP for Marquis with an ERA around 4.40 and high 180s IP at a 4.25 ERA for Lannan. Do I buy that? Sure. Seems reasonable and conservative. But I also think the Nats will want to push these guys a little more - get that 200IP to help the bullpen rest. So how about we make it easy - 200IP for both at a 4.50 ERA. Any one want to vociferously argue that? Follow this up with three Nats "average starters" and what does your rotation look like?

920 IP, 507 runs scored and a 4.96 ERA. The ERA is only ever so slightly better. It's only 20 more IP too. Will that make a big difference?

The average team throws around 1440 innings total (the worse you are generally the fewer innings your throw. All those bottom of the ninths away are lost- but right now lets stick with the averages. ) So the Nats relievers are going to need to throw 520 innings. That's roughly about as much as before but the pitchers throwing those innings are much better. Let's look at the projections for the guys the Nats are counting on:

Capps about 57 IP and a 3.70 ERA
Bruney 45 IP, 4.20 ERA
Bergmann 68 IP, 4.35 ERA
Clippard 75 IP, 4.00 ERA
Burnett 55 IP, 4.50 ERA

That's 300 IP and around 138 runs given up. There is still 220 IP left for the dregs. Now the average Nats reliever last year (including some of the guys above) would be a 5.09 ERA reliever. Can I use that? I think so. That number does include some of the good pitchers up there (so it would be higher). But it also includes good deal of quality innings from McDougal and Beimel. If the Nats could have another "find" (Hello, Drew Storen) they could easily hit that number. Let's just say the rest of the pen is 5.00 ERA worth. 5.00 ERA in 220 innings... that's 122 runs.

So let's add this all up....
122 runs given up by bad relievers, 138 by good ones, 307 by bad starters, 200 by good ones...
That's 767 runs given up. Last year the Nats gave up 874 runs. 874! I think will see some difference.

Last year the Nats scored 710 runs and gave up 874.
Next year the Nats project to score about 722 runs and will give up 767 runs. Based on the pythagoream theorem that would push the Nats to... 76-77 wins. Hey, how about that! Now do I believe that?

I think I do. Let's say the Nats were a 66 win team last year, based on runs scored. This is because they had an average offense coupled with an incredibly bad pitching staff, specifically in relief. So bad in fact, that probably just sitting on the guys they had that were ok (Clippard, Bergmann, and Burnett) and moving on from there would save them 30 runs. They aren't going to be that bad again. They aren't going to give up 50 more runs than the next worse NL team. It just won't happen. That "correction" in itself would happen to bring the Nats close to 70 wins. Add in the actual improvement made in both the rotation and relief corps... and well 76-77 seems a bit high but not out of the question.

My guess is that they'll lose a couple more thanks to the competetiveness of the NL East. so 74-75.

But, BUT there is an exciting part to be had. What if they do add Orlando Hudson? And what if they do add another 200 IP 4.50 ERA type pitcher (like Doug Davis in a bad year). I said yesterday - Orlando probably brings the run created total up by 30 rather than 12. Another solid starter... adds up to about 10 runs more of savings I think (a few runs off that rotation spot, and a few more lost off the back of the bad bullpen). That gets you to 742-757 and that my friends is getting dangerously near .500. Not quite, but in the realm of possibility if things break right. It ALSO gets the Nats so far away from <70 wins that that becomes a worst-case scenario rather than a strong chance. That in itself, making it no chance of another non-competitive year, might be worth spending that money.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How much better?

Zimm thinks the Nats can be a 63 win team. Despite my scoffing yesterday, Zimm is actually not much a gambler. A 63 win season for the Nats is not all that much of a stretch. Despite the 59 wins last year (and what feels like every year since the first one in DC), the team was in fact closer to a 66 win team. Or at least that's what the run totals would have you believe. They're usually pretty honest, embarrassingly so when they're drunk.

The Nats are supposedly even better this year (yes even better than maybe 66 wins!) but how much better? A real rough way to tell is to figure out how many more runs they might score this year and how many less they'll give up. To do the former I'm going to look at the Runs Created stat. Is this rough? Sure. Is it useful? I think so.

Offensively the Nats really have only changed three positions so we're going to focus on those. I'm going to go ahead and assume stability in the other positions offensively. There was nothing too out of the ordinary from those guys. Feel free to argue if you like, I can't hear you.

The Nats added Pudge behind the plate, they got rid of the mess at second base (without yet solving it) and they are planning on a full year of Nyjer Morgan. But "Harper!" you say - "What about Milledge and Kearns? They sucked!" True, but they didn't really play all that much (7 games for Milledge, remember?) and frankly I don't see say, Chris Duncan, being some sort of super sub. I'm going to ignore this too, feel free to toss in a couple runs at the end if it makes you feel better.

Nats RC 2009 - 60

It's not apparent if you don't know but 60 runs created is pretty bad. Thing is as bad as Bard/Nieves was, Pudge could be worse. Pudge had a RC of 38.2 last season in 121 games. If Pudge played in 162 games he would have only created around 51 runs last year. That's embarrassing. He could bounce back, 2007 and 2008 were both noticeably better, but the man is 38 years old. There is no baseball renaissance for 38 year olds who don't throw a knuckleball. He's BAD offensively. He's likely to get worse.

Ok you say - but what about Flores? Well the way I see it, you only bring in Pudge for 2 years, 6 mill if (1) you don't believe in Flores and you plan to play Pudge a lot, or (2) you are worried about Jesus coming back from injury... and you plan to play Pudge a lot. In other words, Pudge is going to play. A lot. More than half the season. Now Flores could have a decent half season or so even coming off of injury, but let's remember the awful 60 RC by last year's catchers included an awesome 30 games of Jesus. An awesomeness he's likely to not repeat.

Given my back of the envelope math, I figure unless Flores comes back to play at least half the season AND plays at the high level we saw for the fifth of the season last year, the Nats' catchers are going to come real close to putting out 60 RC next year. So no improvement here.

Middle Infield
Nats RC (2B) - 62

This is actually even worse than the catcher's RC because there are more decent offensive 2nd basemen in the league than catchers. The Nats are going to go in a completely different direction in 2010, which hopefully will include a free agent signing, but for now we have to go on what the Nats have on hand. That's Ian Desmond.

Desmond had a real nice 20 game audition for the Nats last year, but that's not uncommon. The question about Desmond is do you believe 2009, in which Desmond hit much better than he ever had before, or do you believe... well everything he had done before? The projections have Desmond floating from pretty good to just hanging on. I'll be conservative and pencil him in for about 62 RC himself. Desmond won't be playing every game so the RC for the position is going to be higher than that... but not much. Let's say 75 RC. That's still below the average 2B and still an ok improvement for the Nats.

Nats RC - 101

Now the big one right? The big improvement the Nats will see by playing their new star Nyjer Morgan everyday. Tony Plush coming to save the day! It's going to be great! It's going to be super! It's going to be nonexistant! Wait.. what?

Well to understand my position you really have to understand two things; (1) 30% of 2009 was Nyjer Morgan playing like the best player in the league. This is very unlikely to happen again. (2) Over 40% of 2009 was Willie Harris playing quite decently.

Morgan should be decent probably putting in (in my estimation) around 80 RC+ for say 140 games by himself. This is actually a bit better than the average projection but hey I can optimistic sometimes. This translates, with the assumed below average back-ups to a little above an average season for the Nats CFs. However, last year the Nats were already a little bit above average in CF (offensively....) I like Morgan, but because of his near complete lack of power he'd need to hit.330+ again for the season to make a noticeable improvement to the position. I don't see it happening. No improvement.

OK so what do the changes so far amount to? Nothing . Ok, not nothing, but only about 10 more runs. They'll get a little better in the MI, but they won't get better in CF because they already had a pretty good offensive season last year, and they won't get better at C, because their catchers are either injured or too old to hit the ball anymore. If you're bullish on Flores you might be able to throw in 10 more. If you want to assume all of Kearns' awfulness is replaced by Willie Harris decency maybe toss in a few more runs but you are talking about 3-4 wins better at most because of an improved offense, and that's a stretch. Most likely I see the Nats only getting better at the margins, maybe gaining a win here. A 67 win team.

What if Orlando Hudson is signed? That'll make a big difference. He should generate 80RC or so for the season. With the general other game performance by random bench player thrown in there... I'd go over 90 for the MI spot. That would be a 30 run improvement all by himself. A sure 3 wins better or so. That may not seem like much but if Desmond plays instead of Guzman (or I guess if Guzman bounces back.... ha!) you could get a 45 run improvement from last year enough to get the team around 4 more wins.

Right now, unless the Nats see some surprises from their returning players, they aren't likely to improve much offensively. Hudson would help a bunch. Without him, barely anything would change. That doesn't mean that the Nats won't improve though. The pitching changes will see to that. We'll see about those tomorrow.

100 losses not happening

Zimm's got $20 on the Nats winning 63+. Who's got that action?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Who's Tyler Walker?

While I hoped for a second it was a druggy NASCAR racer, but it's just another arm for the fire.

Remember when I said a few weeks ago that the Nats would probably add a couple more cheap arms to the bullpen stockpile? Walker is one of those.


He's never been able to get over the hump strikeout wise to be a dominant reliever (6.88 K/9 last year - he's done better... but also worse) but he's made strides in walks to remain an effective one. 4.26 BB/9 -> 2.51 -> 3.54 -> 2.29. Plus he was able to lower his HR rate while moving from a HR hard park in San Fran to a HR friendly park in Philly. That bodes well. His BABIP was a little low last year at .271 which helps give him a FIP well above his ERA (4.06 to 3.06). Still, even a 4.00 ERA would have been 5th best out of the 20 relievers the Nats had pitch more than 10 innings.

Is there a surprising year left in his arm? Maybe. He looks great in AAA, but then again he's had enough major league time that he's probably not going to wow anyone at this stage. At 33-34 could he suddenly be over? I guess. More than likely he'll help fill out the bullpen, making sure that there are 4-5 good arms in there.

The Nats also signed Chuck James and Chris Duncan. Why? Organizational depth I guess.

The best thing about Chuck James is that I may be able to work in frequent references to Chuck Bass. He's a guy coming off of a missed season due to surgery, who walks too many, gives up too many HRs and whose only good season came because of a lucky BABIP. At best he's a average 4th/5th starter, but far more likely he's AAA filler.

Chris Duncan is similar. Stats aren't good. Best year was a fluke (in his case a fluky power showing). He can't hit well enough to stay in the majors but he might be good enough to sit around in AAA. He won't be blocking anyone because the Nats still have gaps in the minors.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hooray! The Nats aren't the Mets!

Gary Matthews, Jr! Ha!

An aging, poor offensive, no longer good on defense, player with a bad attitude? Wait am I talking about GMJ or Paul LoDuca?

Yay, no more Bowden! Yay, not the Mets!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Nats interested in Sheets!

Thank god. Not that I necessarily think the Nats should make an offer to Sheets (depends on how he looks), or that they should work hard to sign him (depends on how much other teams are looking at spending on him) but it would be silly for the Nats not to look at Sheets.

Sheets is high-risk high-reward type player. When healthy he is a #1 type pitcher, an ace. He's never been anything else. Any team with a rotation slot not set up with a youngster should be taking a long look at him to see if he's worth the gamble. It was kind of bothersome to me that we hadn't heard much about this before now.

Chances are the Nats won't make an offer at Sheets. The "high-risk" part is injury and the Nats almost certainly don't want to gamble with that. They've seen what trying to find another rotation arm can do to a pitching staff. Bad starting pitching, wearing our the bullpen, etc, etc. They want everything nice and set up for Strasburg and that means at least a couple of dependable arms in the rotation and a healthy decent bullpen. Counting on Sheets could risk both. Plus with all these teams interested, if Sheets does looks good then his price will go way up. So a high price for a type of player they probably aren't interested in = no dice. But no harm in kicking the tires.

(My opinion? The Nats really should be interested in this type of player because it's when gambles like these really pay off that teams are able to make big strides. However, that would be a divergence in the type of money management we've seen from the Nats so far. They are doing fine with "for value" contract spending for fair to good talent. Whether they are willing to overpay for higher potential or to fill in gaps with a bit more stability for a lot more money is the next step. Whether they are willing to go out and get a Davis and Sheets and worry about Zimmermann's rotation spot when/if Zimmermann comes back and is healthy. Seemed like it last year with Teixiera. We'll see. Doesn't have to happen this year. That is more of a playoff team move.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Getting Excited for Spring Reason #1 - Lannan's Magical Mystery Ride

It's always nice when you see something out there that reminds you of why you are excited for next season for start. For me it was this little bit going on at fangraphs - about the contact rate for starters with over 100 IP.

If you can't see this link, Lannan was the worst in this stat last year. He would have been the worst in 2007 but he was well short on innings. In 2008 he wasn't near the worst but he was fairly solidly below average. In general bad pitchers have high contact rates. As we've discussed before if you look at the fancy numbers this would have been the thought process on Lannan the last few years:

2007: "He can't be this good. He'll be worse next year."
2008: "He can't be this good. He'll be worse next year."
2009: "He can't be this good. He'll be worse next year."

So far he's defied the experts twice. One more year and it stops being "cute" and it starts to really stick in their respective craws. What I'm curious about is what the reaction will be. I would hope for a "The numbers make sense and they should still be followed, they just don't happen to work for Lannan. That'll happen when you try to make blanket rules for entire populations. There are always individual exceptions." However, I expect more of a "This is just a... umm... three season aberration! He can't be this good! He'll be worse next year!" response. Nobody likes an outlier.

Of course the "I told you so"s are already lined up if he does pitch demonstrably worse. Which is fair. Carlos Silva had a couple decent years (though not back to back, and he tended to walk nobody especially that one year, and I think he had a pretty good defense behind him). Damn Lannan - How ARE you doing it?

Fun times 2010. "Contact Tales" v Shirt Tales! I got to design me a Lannan eyebrow shirt.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kennedy : Plan C or not even that?

First I want to make it clear that if the Nats do sign Adam Kennedy he absolutely MUST race in the President's race at some point. That almost makes it a signing they should make, but let's take a look at Mr. Kennedy. Is he a legit 2nd baseman or a stop gap?

Last Year : .289 / .348 / .410
3-Year : .269 / .324 / .370

The 3-year isn't really fair - because it includes an injury riddled half season of hitting .219. The facts are that if Adam is healthy he can be a .280 hitter who gets on base ok, but with no power at all. He's like Cristian Guzman with 25 more walks a year.

That may not seem that bad but last year was his last decent year since 2005. Could it have been an aberration, a mirage, a mirageration? What do the fancy stats say?

BABIP : .329 That's a little high, but not unusual for a guy like Kennedy who hits relatively few fly balls and has a little spped. Excluding that awful year with the Cardinals back in 2007, he has generally been over .300 in BABIP. No reason he couldn't be there next year... though a bit lower.

LD% : 23.6% It's ok and right around what we'd expect from Adam.

HR/FB : 7.0% This isn't that high in general, but it's high for Adam. In fact, it was the 2nd highest of his career. Was there something odd going on? Well, it's kind of hard to tell. It's only 11 home runs. Oakland's park wasn't a HR haven, and as expected Adam hit more HRs on the road. But that's only like 7 and no more than 2 in one park... I'd hazard to guess he'd hit a few less homers this year but there isn't much here other than precedent going one way or the other

I know I'm not saying much... is there anything else interesting? Check out Adam's splits last year

v RH : .307 /.364 / .438
v LH : .241 /.303 / .333

This isn't a one year thing. Since 2005 Kennedy is a much better hitter v righties than lefties. Why is that important? Because Cristian Guzman hits lefties much better than righties. Last year:

v RH : .277 /.301 / .379
v LH : .307 /.323 / .425

Platoon Cristian and Adam and you got yourself... well a better hitter with blech patience and no power. But better! Slightly above average even!

What about the fielding? Well, as you know I'm not much on fielding stats but my best guess... he'll be average. It seems like he was really good, as recent as two-years ago, but it's likely that age (he's 34 as of... oh Sunday! Happy Birthday Adam!) is catching up with him. I'm not sure that he has another good season in him but maybe an average one. So I'll go with that.

What the verdict? I'm tempted to say he's an ok throw-away one-year type of guy that'll give the Nats better defense and offense than the alternatives, if only a little bit. But it depends alot on age. He's old, and likely to regress a little bit offensively from last season and probably be no better than ok in the field. And I fear he could regress a lot. Seems like he rides a fine line between major league average and major league fan. One big injury turned him into a "maybe he should retire" player at age 31. What would another one do at age 34?

I say don't bother, unless you plan to platoon him with Guzman.

Who really cares?

I mean it. Really, who cares who baseball's version of the 5-timers club ("Please call me, Mr. Pepper Martin) let's in?

If you want to argue about steroids in baseball, I can see that. If you want to discuss what kind of effect steroids may or may not have had on the standard offensive (and pitching) numbers of the era, that's fine, too. And if you want to have a little back and forth about which players would be in the hall of fame if you had a vote based on their performance, well that's just good natured fun. But making who gets into this silly made-up institution into some sort of morality play? No, thank you.

The greatest players of all-time aren't the greatest players of all-time because they are in the Hall of Fame, they are the greatest players of all-time because they are the greatest players of all-time.

Can't we get back to important things like celebrating good headline writing:

"Vlad Tidings"! Kudos to you, Mr. headline writer! Kudos to you!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Unnecessarily sneaky, or how Emily Post would do it?

Why would someone report the Nats are interested in Randy Winn, when Randy Winn himself seems unaware of the interest? It could be:
  • Randy Winn/RW's agent is feeding reporters bad info in order to drive up his price, or
  • the reporters are getting bad information, or, and this is the one I like since we haven't heard a denial from the Nats,
  • the Nats are trying to tell teams they are willing to make some deals (I'm glancing in your general direction Josh Willingham & Adam Dunn) without expressly saying it.
To me the first guess it certainly possible, but then it doesn't make sense for Winn to come out and say "I haven't been called and I don't think my agent has either." I suppose that the mere mention could get teams worried and then this response would be Winn trying to say that he never lied or something, but that seems unnecessarily complicated.

The second guess is certainly possible, though I'm not sure how hot the traffic is for Randy Winn / Nationals / Dbacks hot stove reports. Are you really going to report something you think might not be true to grab all THOSE hits?

So that leaves me with the third guess, that the Nats themselves put the rumor out there. (Contrast that to the D-backs where there is actual interest in Winn noted, but the mlb site remains quiet) Why put out the rumor without actually working to sign Winn? Because with regards to this rumor signing Winn is an afterthought (or possibly not even that) not a goal. No, the goal would be to let all other GMs know that the Nats view their current lineup of OFs as flexible.

Why not come out and say "We would trade Dukes." or "We would trade Willingham"? One reason is obvious - you could really piss off the player you say you want to deal - and if you don't end up dealing him that could end up causing unnecessary friction. Another reason is because you don't have just one person you could deal, you have multiple ones. You aren't going to deal them all, of course, but by not mentioning anyone in particular you put them all out on the table and let the other team pick and choose at them. The deals are potentially better (since they don't know who you really want to deal) and at the same time you can go back to the individual player and say "Oh, it's not you. Don't worry.", without being too much of a liar.

Of course if we can see this, it's pretty obvious that the players and their agents can see this too. Which makes this whole subterfuge kind of pointless, in theory. I guess, though, it's kind of like manners though, or social decorum. A player will know when they are on the block, and that creates a certain level of animosity but they also understand it's business and they could be dealt at any time. As long as you don't point them out in particular they can put it past them and play on. However, you start mentioning specific names and it becomes personal. It's not just business, it's something wrong with them. I guess.

Still the end result is that the Nats are ready to deal - Dukes, Willingham, Dunn one of these could likely be gone by the time pitcher and catchers report (like 45 days!). Is that ok? You can hardly complain about blowing up a 59 win team, but they've been blowing up this team for a few years now - at some point you have to build it up.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Randy Winn? Why the surprise?

Didn't you read my last piece at all?

Winn plays great defense, which the Nats want for their young pitchers (specifically Strasburg). Signing him would free up the Nats to deal Willingham (or Dunn, or perhaps Dukes - though I doubt that) for at the very least a good defense, passable offense middle infielder, if not something better.

No truth to the rumors of the team changing its name to the "Strasburgs".


Look at me Damie... I mean Stephen Strasburg! It's all for you!

Is that Mike Rizzo on the ledge of that window? Mike, don't!

Phew. Turns out that was just an empty velvet sweatsuit left by Jimbo flapping in the breeze. But the point remains the Nats off-season is less about making the team better and more about making the team better for Stephen Strasburg.

The moves the team made; sign a better "back-up" catcher (one hopes), a innings eating veteran starter, bolster the bullpen, will make the team better in general but think about who these moves benefit the most. If you had a young stud pitcher that you hoped would help turn around the team, what would you want for his development? What would you want to maximize his chances of success early? I would want, in no specific order :
  • A mentor on the staff
  • A experienced, well thought of battery partner CHECK!
  • Enough pitchers on the staff that he isn't forced into a top of the rotation role
  • A quality bullpen backing him up CHECK!
  • Enough GOOD pitchers on the staff that the bullpen doesn't get overtaxed
  • A solid defense behind him
As a checklist goes the Nats have marked off two things for the most part. Pudge is perfect for the first role - or as perfect as could be given what the Nats had available to them. In the bullpen, I wouldn't be surprised to see a couple more Guardado-esque signings, to see if the Nats can pull out one last season from a veteran arm, but for the most part the top of the bullpen as it is now is good. Capps, Bruney, Storen, Clippard, Burnett, I don't see how they can' t pull at least 3 quality arms from that bunch and you can get by with that. More than likely it'll be 4-5 arms from either these guys or someone we haven't seen yet.

If the Nats are really doing what I think they are doing then we can guess what they are (and aren't) going to do for the rest of the offseason.

Enough GOOD pitchers...
We've seen them grab one arm in Marquis that can push Strasburg to the back of the rotation and eat up innings, but when you're starting from one solid starter that's not enough. The Nats need another arm. It's not going to be what would have the most potential for helping the team (a gambit on a stud, but injured, arm) instead look for a Marquis-esque signing. Problem is there aren't a lot of middling relatively cheap pitchers out there. If I were to guess I'd say look for the Nats trying to make a cheap deal for Looper, or trying to wait out the market to grab a deal on someone toward the end of the hot stove.

A mentor on staff
Look for Smoltz (pitcher or coach), Glavine (coach), or some other name veteran/coach to be on this team by March. Leo Mazzone? (that's just me tossing out nonsense... unless it's true)

A solid defense behind him
This is where I think we see the biggest impact of this philosophy. If I'm right, we won't see any major moves for Orlando Hudson (of course if you can get a deal for him you move on it but I don't see that happening). If you sign Hudson, you've now filled your 2b and SS roles with aging guys. They are both young enough that they could both be ok next year but 1) why take that chance and 2) do you want just ok?

I think they desperately want to deal Guzman, but they know that's a non-starter. And I don't see where they'll get better defensively on the free agent market. I look for Willingham to be dealt for someone who might better fit either 2B or SS (Welcome back, Macier Izturis?). Or Dunn I guess is always possible, because then you can shift the Hammer to first. Whatever happens I'd be shocked if in March you were looking at a defense that included Guzman, Dunn, and Willingham. (Here's a crazy thought - if he comes up healthy - could they deal Flores? If they are going with Bryce My Name next draft... hmmm?)

The future of this team is going to be in the hands of Strasburg and whoever they sign with the first pick next year. The team knows it and is making the necessary adjustments. It's dangerously close to putting all their eggs in one basket but if Strasburg (and maybe Harper) are truly once in a lifetime talents then it's worth it. If.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Dawson and the pyschology of hall of fame voting

I kind of feel like I should say something about Dawson as I'm constantly bringing up that this is a franchise that includes the Expos history. Thing is - I didn't start following the franchise till 15+ years after Dawson left, my consistently failing memory only vaguely recalls "Expo Dawson" and most importantly, I wouldn't have voted him in if I had a vote. So what's a boy to do?

Dawson was a borderline case mainly because he didn't get on base and we're in a time where we realize that it's very important to get on base. But while that hurt him offensively, it didn't make him a bad offensive player. See a .328 OBP is pretty damn bad, but there's a distinct difference in being a guy with a .328 OBP who hits .260 with moderate power and a guy with a .328 OBP who hits .280 with fantastic power. The former is a guy who is probably "secretly" hurting the team, the latter is a guy who is very good rather than great. 16 straight years with an OPS+ of 100 or better, 13 of those were above 110, 7 above 130. He played over 138 games 13 of 15 non-strike years. Dawson was very good for a very long time.

Add to this that through the first third of his career he was a legit great defender and stolen base threat, and you have yourself someone who is good enough to be a hall of famer. Of course this was the case a decade ago when he first appeared on the ballot, why does he only get elected now?

Getting into the Hall of Fame amounts to convincing 2/3rds of the voters that you were great. (once you get to 2/3rds there starts to be a "I don't want to be the jerk who keeps him out" effect on the remaining voters. Peer pressure takes over and it doesn't matter if they feel you fall just short.) How do you convince a voter you're great?

Be undeniably great - be so great that any "but" in the conversation feels like an attack rather than an argument. Hit all the traditional numbers, hit all the sabermetric numbers, win a world series if you can help it. Ruth, Mays, Aaron, coming up Randy Johnson and Maddux.

Be undeniably great for your position - if you can be undeniably great with qualifications, you should still get in. For non OFs and first basemen you can get by on being awesome in comparison to others that played the same position you did. You may lose that "first ballot" vote, but you'll get in. Roberto Alomar, Carlton Fisk.

Be undeniably great at one thing - be the best fielder ever (Ozzie) or the best strikeout guy (Ryan), steal a ton of bases (Brock). Usually this skill will keep you in baseball long enough to hit other reasons for being elected - but this helps push a player into first ballot territory.

Be really good for a really long time and hit those magic numbers - 500 HRs, 3000 hits, 300 wins. It's tough for voters to deny these things. You are great by the sheer force of numbers. (and good - I hate the animosity toward "compilers". Most players play until they just can't do it anymore. If you happen to be major league worthy longer than someone else - that should matter.)

Usually it's some combination of the above that gets most players in. But what about the borderline cases? The ones, like Dawson, that don't fit into the above categories. They need some extra help.

Be great at the right time. This is what got Jim Rice in. The common view is that he was the "most-feared" hitter in baseball for 5-7 years, but really he wasn't even the best hitter in the game for his admittedly awesome '77-'79 stretch. However. in 1978, when all eyes were on the Sox and Yanks yet again, he WAS the best offensive player in the league. So a reputation was born. This would be cemented when later he had another very good season in '86 when the Red Sox would get one out away from ending that horrific/awesome drought and everyone was focused on them again. Those memories stick. It may be being dominant when your team is also dominant (Ecksersley), it may be a great playoffs (Puckett). If you can get in people's heads that you are great when they see you - they won't care as much how you were when they didn't see you.

Be the best thing on the ballot. It's hard for some voters to believe that there were times in baseball where no one was great. So if you hit a lull in actual great players, and you are merely very good, you start to look great in comparison. Out of the top 200 OPS+ seasons (so these are adjusted for time period) only 14 fall between 1972 and 1991. If these seasons were distributed evenly we'd expect around 37 in those 20 years. Even worse, there were only 5 between 1974 and 1984 (20 expected). Some of these great years are from obvious non Hall-of-Famers: Bobby Murcer, Fred Lynn, Kevin Mitchell, Jack Clark. Objectively there just wasn't alot of great offense in these years even taking into account the era. Yet it's hard for a lot of voters to believe that. So you get guys voted in like Rice, like Tony Perez, like Andre Dawson.

Be remembered for something that was great. Maybe you weren't great but something you are linked to is. You get points for "inventing/popularizing" pitches (Sutter, Candy Cummings) for dramatic singluar moments (Fisk waving that home run), usually this alone won't get you in, but it could be the final boost to get you in.

Be better in comparison to someone in the Hall of Fame. This is another "great by comparison". Sucks, but it's true. When someone gets in because of one of the reasons above and you can clearly show you were better, well you must be great too? This is what's helping Blyleven, and what helped get Dawson in. If you lower the bar, then certain borderline candidates drift right over the threshold.

These later reasons can't do it on their own. It still needs to be agreed that you were at least very good for a decade or so. But with these reasons you can get to that point where some people start thinking that you were great - and if you can get 2/3rd agreeing to that - that will get you into the Hall.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Hall of Fame Voting : The Worst of the First

I can see by the comments that you guys are riveted by this, so on we go. Today I look at the players on the ballot and see who are the worst of these guys. Who are the guys that Mark McLemore wakes up in the morning and shakes his fist at screaming "WHHHHHYYYY?" (or something like that). Again win shares will be our guide, the raw stats will be our... um... marker?

First let's cut out the potential Hall of Famers. Roberto Alomar (376) and Barry Larkin (346) should be Hall of Famers at their positions. (and as a side note Larkin could/would have been the first Nats Hall of Famer if they just listened to me and signed him to a 1 or 2 year deal instead of Guzman. Of course that made too much sense. Guzman. Jerk.) Fred McGriff (341) and Edgar Martinez (305) are also possibilities. (you can see the effect that Edgar's non-fielding has on his Win Share totals - he was a fantastic hitter but gave nothing else to his team. Will it be enough? I think he does surprisingly well this time. Voters love the hitters) Great players worth a serious look.

Next let's look at the very solid players - the ones you spend a second making sure they didn't do something surprising.

Ellis Burks (260) was supposed to be a star but took a while to get going. It was thought he might be a product of Colorado but he continued to smash the ball around in San Fran and Cleveland.

Andres Galarraga (251) Every 5 years Andre was awesome 1988: (.302 / .352 / .540), 1993: (.370/.403/.602), 1998: (.305/.397/.595). In between... well, outside of Colorado he had a lot of years that were just ok. His defense was outstanding though which kept him as a high level player.

Robin Ventura (272) another outstanding fielder - and a better hitter than you might remember almost 300 homers and a .362 lifetime OBP. Unlike Burks, who battled injuries, and Galarraga, who would occasionally have a dud year, Robin had the more typical ending. Age caught up with him in his early 30s.

Kevin Appier (189) Yeah the Win Shares are low but that's not all his fault. He was a 3.60 ERA pitcher over 13 years, 3.22 ERA over 8, just under 2000 Ks and had a couple of fantastic years. On a better team he would have been close to 200 wins, and on a better team with some luck with injuries (he was DONE at 35) he may have been on the legitimate discussion list.

Teir 3 - no reason they shouldn't be on the ballot - kind of a nod to long and productive careers.

Todd Zeile (221) Consistently good for a dozen years. That's really it. Only had one off year and usually played a ton of games, but was never great.

Ray Lankford (227) A poor man's superstar. Could hit for average, got on base, hit for power, and could steal bases. Wasn't a great fielder though and his peak was a few years short and just a step below the consistent All-Star. Kind of feel if he had come of age on a more offensively minded team he might have been one level up.

Eric Karros (183) Unlike Zeile he did have a couple of great years, unlike Zeile again he had a shorter "peak" and a lot more mediocrity. Almost too low for a first baseman.

Ok now we get to the nitty-gritty. The "why the Hell are these guys on the ballot" group

David Segui (130) A pretty average first baseman with limited power. No All-Star years, rarely a full season player, DH'd a lot, never made the postseason. Probably in because of his .291 average but other than that this guy was just a slightly above average first baseman.

Pat Hentgen (126) Here's a good case for letting a so-so career on the ballot. Legit Cy Young winner (265 innings of 3.22 innings), 3 times all-star. Was never the same after back to back 260+ IP. Mediocre after age 28, only one full season after 31 but for 5 years one of the best pitchers in the league.

Mike Jackson (126) a middling reliever that would occasionally put out tremendous seasons, including a 1.55 ERA, 64 innings seasons that got him a ridiculous MVP vote in 1998. Still though - most of those other 14 years he was good, but nothing you'd look twice at.

Shane Reynolds (94) Reynolds had his moments, votes for rookie of the year, Cy Young (239 innings, 3.65 ERA), All-Star, for 7 out of 8 years he was a guy you'd like to have as your #3 - eating up innings and keeping you in the game. Outside of those 8 years though there was really nothing.

So who earns my vote? Hentgen is obviously out, but the other three are all legit choices. Shane Reynolds has a mediocre but solid run. Not something to be disregarded for a pitcher in Houston, then again Houston was a good team then - you'd expect more wins. For all of Mike Jackson's accomplishments he was, in the end, a reliever. When dominant ones face questions on whether they should make the Hall should a blase one with a long career make the ballot? And then there is Segui, his numbers are allright, but are they allright for a first baseman? Who wasn't a great fielder? That seals it for me.

Reynolds filled a rotation need, Williams was a necessary piece of a bullpen, but Segui, David Segui was a stop gap. The guy you put at first base until you could get a "real" first baseman in there. Traded 5 times for second rate prospects you could tell what his own team (and the teams acquiring him) thought of his talent level. Baltimore gave up on him at age 26. The Mets felt Rico Brogna could do a better job. He was a player who lasted as long as he did for the simple reason that teams felt they could "do worse".

Congrats David Segui : Worst of the First

Monday, January 04, 2010

Hall of Fame Voting : The Best of the Rest

Once again it's time for the annual tradition where I take look at something that appeals only to me (actually that's probably a daily tradition, but hey it's my blog.) I take a look at:
  1. The new guys up for enshrinement for the Hall of Fame and try to determine who's the least worthy and,
  2. I look at the players eligible for the ballot (10 years service) who couldn't pass the screening committee and determine who most "deserved" to be on the ballot. (I write "deserved" because let's face it - these guys aren't good enough to really be on the ballot.
Today I'll be looking at the second situation. Now, normally I'd take a look a brief look at these guys' win shares to help find the handful that are worthy of the title "Best of the Rest", then take a closer look at their careers to make a decision. Thing is, this year looking at the win shares really cuts down the possible title holders. The top number was almost double the #4 guy and was about 20% better than the #2 guy. So really it's a one man competition, but we'll get to that in a minute. Let's first sepearte out that pesky chaff.

Middling Starters: Paul Abbott (34 win shares), Jimmy Haynes (37), Sterling Hitchcock (50)
Middling/Decent Relievers: Brian Boehringer (33), Mike Fetters (64), Josias Manzanillo (23), Scott Service (27), Scott Sullivan (54), Todd Van Poppel (31), Turk Wendell (57)
Middling Bench Players: Danny Bautista (48), Darren Bragg (52), Karim Garcia (26). Chris Stynes (55)
Veteran Catchers: Brook Fordyce (35)

Ok now the decent players but not good enough

Andy Ashby (85) : from 94-99 he was actually a very good pitcher (on mostly bad teams), but he was a relatively late bloomer and soon got injured and could only put together one more decent season after age 31.
Dave Burba (94) : Consistent rotation filler who happened to catch the end of the Indians dominant stretch.
Greg Colbrunn (70) : A really good contact hitter (.289 career average) but had a lack of pop and patience that when combined with his position (1B) left him a platooner.
Tom Goodwin (74) : Speedy OF, you know the type. Stole a lot of bases.
Ricky Gutierrez (79) : Should have been up in the less explained group because I don't know why this guy lasted as long as he did. I'll say defense.
Curtis Leskanic (71) : Kind of like Ashby - late bloomer who was really good (though in relief not as a starter) but age and injuries caught up with him.
Brett Mayne (87) : Ugh. Somehow turned a couple of .300 seasons at the right time into a 15 year career.
John Vander Wal (76) : Had one great season, then right when he should have collapsed developed some nice patience and kept his career going until he was 38

Now the contenders...

Mark McLemore (161) : Played forever (rookie season was on the 86 Angels that lost to the Red Sox in the playoffs). Once established as a starter in his late 20s played some very good D while not embarrassing himself at the plate. Late in his career gained a reputation as being able to play anywhere. Really though he only had one stellar season in 2001 with the Mariners.

Fernando Vina (128) : Played only 12 years but had the best single season of any player on this list. A 159 game .311 / .386 / .427 line. Another very good defender who would have likely surpassed McLemore in total stats if not for what amounted to basically a career ending injury. Named in the Mitchell Report for what it's worth.

Who is "Best of the Worst"? Well I believe that while Vina (and Ashby) were better players the longevity of McLemore puts him over the top. He should have been out of baseball (64 OPS+ up through age 27) but turned himself into a useful player for the next decade.

Congrats to you, Mark McLemore. Best of the Rest.