Sunday, February 27, 2011

Red Sox - Twins Spring Training Liveblog!

7:05. Is it ridiculous to listen, keep score of, and blog about a Spring Training game? Absolutely not. I'm more than ready for my fix of Jon Rish and Joe Castiglione. Happy 2011!

7:09: Darnell McDonald and Jed Lowrie batting 1-2. While 2010 was a disappointment, these two were two of the pleasant surprises, with McDonald becoming a super fourth outfielder and Jed Lowrie coming back from his various maladies to be a fantastic offensively the last couple months, delivering a .287/.381/.526. My guess is that, while Scutaro will be the nominal starter, Lowrie will find his way into the lineup four or five times a week.

7:17: Sounds like a nice play by Jose Iglesias. How long until he's forcing his way into the big league shortstop conversation? Unless Lowrie is a complete disaster defensively, I'm going to guess not until next spring training at the earliest. Iglesias is only 21, and while his glove is supposedly major league ready, .285/.315/.357 at AA Portland is still a long way from the majors. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Sox start him out at AA once again this year.

7:24: Does anyone really believe Carl Pavano considered returning to the Yankees? Did Brian Cashman really consider signing him, but not have any interest in Rafael Soriano? If so, is Cashman the most overrated executive in the history of professional sports? Has anyone ever done so little with so much?

7:29: Twins fans should be thrilled about the Danny Valencia era. After a few years for Brian Buscher, Nicky Punto and Joe Crede, Valencia showed good patience, good defense, and promising power. If they can get .300/.350/.450 with 15 home runs, he'll be worth 3 or 4 wins over what the Twins were getting for most of the decade. He's already the best 3B they've had since Corey Koskie's best seasons.

7:42: Interesting the Buchholz is relieving Beckett today. Both guys obviously went in opposite directions last year. Beckett has to be the biggest question mark on the club right now. Were all of his problems due to the back injury, or were there other mechanics issues? He seems to have less balance in his delivery, due to what seems to be a slightly higher leg kick. Buchholz, meanwhile, had an excellent year, but will need to improve his strikeout rate. If he can increase his strikeout rate per nine innings from the 6.2 it was last year to around 7.5, and keep his home run rate so low, he's an under-the-radar Cy Young Award candidate.

8:12: Hideki Okajima starts off his spring training by allowing a single to a lefty who hit .275 in AA last season. Usually you can't read too much into Spring Training stats, but if Okajima gets hit hard this spring, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him released. He was nontendered initially before being signed at a lower contract.

8:20: Three run double by Joe Benson. According to Jon Rish, Okajima is sitting at 85 if the stadium gun is accurate. I hate to put emphasis so early in spring, but there's a short time to evaluate and there are many people competing for only a couple roster spots.

8:35: Jeff Bailey! Good to see you! Bailey hit 78 homers as a 1B/DH for the Pawtucket from 2004-2009, before signing with the Diamondbacks as a minor league free agent before the 2010 season. Bailey is 32 now, and probably could've had Brian Daubach's career if he'd been in the right place at the right time. He has 176 career minor league homers, but he'll need to pick up the pace, though, to catch Rick Lancellotti for the minor league record - he's 100 behind. You can read an excellent interview with Lancellotti right here.

8:52: Che-Hsuan Lin is in the game after replacing Mike Cameron as a pinch runner. Lin is probably my sleeper in the Red Sox organization. He has a good, patient approach at the plate and excellent range in the outfield, covering the gaps effortlessly. Even if his power never develops, his defense and speed may carry him as a major league backup. If he can develop good gap power to the point where he can be good for 30-35 doubles a year, his pitch selection might make him a useful leadoff hitter.

8:57: Solo homer by Lars Anderson to get the Red Sox on the board. Anderson has fallen fast on prospect lists, but he's always been young for his class. His power is still excellent, but he simply strikes out way too much. 109 strikeouts in 409 at bats last year is about in line with where he's been the last couple years. If he's going to strike out that often in AAA, he's likely to do so one every 2.5 AB in the majors. It's hard to be successful in the majors at that rate, so he's really going to need to shorten up his swing and make more consistent contact.

9:20: Going to the 9th - Wagner/Linares/Spears will lead the stunning comeback. Chuck James won't know what hit him.

9:21: Mark Wagner did his part. Homer to deep left, 8-4 Twins.

9:28: The comeback is not to be. Chuck James strikes out Daniel Nava to finish it off. The Twins have a 1-0 lead in the all-important Mayor's Cup.

After a long winter, baseball is here.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Is Yuniesky Betancourt Really the Best the Brewers Can Do?

I have to make a confession - it's not a lot of fun to talk about how bad a player is. These guys are playing baseball for a living, and as such their flaws are exposed to us in ways that other players are not. Baseball players have it particularly tough. Because baseball is made up of a series of individual events, everything is tracked and cataloged, unlike a player who plays a sport with more continuous action. So when a baseball player isn't good at something, it's pretty easy to point it out, statistically. It's hard enough to play baseball, it can't be any easier to have everyone say you stink. That's why I'll always have respect for guys like Carlos Pena or Al Leiter who put early career problems behind them to become very good. You have to have some thick skin to deal with the negativity that came with their performance. ,

So when I talk about someone not being good, I feel a little bit bad about it. There are exceptions, of course, guys who DESERVE it pointed out. A guy like Joba Chamberlain, who a season after having a 4.40 ERA shows up looking like his offseason workout regimen consisted of Twinkies and Law & Order reruns, and says things like "other than a couple bad outings, I think I had a great season" I feel no shame in mocking. Or Jason Marquis, who blames his problems on Leo Mazzone and Dave Duncan, two of the best pitching coaches of all time, can be called "difficult to coach" without much trouble. But what of Yuniesky Betancourt? As far as I know, he works hard, is a good teammate, and tries to improve. The problem with Betancourt is that he's not good enough to be a starting shortstop in the Major Leagues.

It's been written several times this winter that the Brewers are in "win-now" mode. With Prince Fielder a free agent after this season, the Brewers have emptied their farm system and checkbook, bringing on Zack Greinke, Shawn Marcum and Takashi Saito. I'm not totally sure how true this is, with Greinke and Marcum, along with Ryan Braun and (now) Rickie Weeks signed beyond 2011, but it has been the Hot Stove narrative, so let's go with it. If the Brewers feel they MUST win in 2011, there has to be a better option at shortstop than Betancourt.

Betancourt's offensive difficulties have been well-documented. For his career, he has a .272/.296/.393 slash line in over 3000 plate appearances. Over the past three years, those numbers have actually gone down to .262/.288/.384. Those are for his age 26 through 28 seasons, what should be his "peak." He has walked 104 times in his entire career, 10 fewer times than Prince Fielder did last season alone. He averaged only 3.18 pitches per plate appearance in 2010, down from 3.31 in 2009. His power jumped in 2010, with a career high with 16 homers, but he also experienced a notable rise in his strikeout rate - an amazing feat considering the drop in pitches seen. Over the past three years, those pitches per plate appearance are dead last in baseball. His on-base percentage is second worst, one point ahead of Pedro Feliz. His OPS is fourth worst, ahead of only Feliz, Jason Kendall, and Elvis Andrus.

Well, you might be thinking, "not every shortstop should be expected to hit like Alan Trammell." You'd be right too - there is still room for mediocre-hitting, slick fielding shortstops in the league. Elvis Andrus falls right into that category. Betancourt, however, may be an even worst fielder than he is a hitter. By UZR, only Delmon Young and Jermaine Dye have cost their teams more runs than Betancourt over the past three years. Of all the shortstops with over 1000 innings, the only ones worse per game have been Julio Lugo and Jeff Keppinger. Neither of those two are put at shortstop at any consistent basis - Betancourt is going to be starting for a team that plans on contending.

So, if Betancourt is the among the worst hitters in baseball, and among the worst defensive players in baseball, why will he be starting for the Brewers. Well, supposedly it's because they don't have anyone else, which pretty well misses the point. The term replacement level has been around for a few years. It's a pretty fluid measurement, but it's meant to mean the level of player freely available. Castoffs like Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Renteria are better players. Long-since-forgotten minor league journeymen like Russ Adams and Luis Rodriguez are better players. The Brewers could have had any of them, but chose to do the least creative thing possible.

So, I hope Yuniesky Betancourt proves me wrong. I hope he goes out and hits 25 homers and plays defense that approaches league average. But, as a 29 year old, it's hard to anticipate a career season from Betancourt, which is what he'd need to give the Brewers in order to not hurt their playoff chances.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dave Stewart

Watching the MLB Network this afternoon, they were doing a retrospective of the 1993 World Series, and the most striking thing was Dave Stewart's glare. So I checked him out online, and found out that today is his 54th birthday.

Stewart was best remembered for his dominant performances in the playoffs with the Oakland A's, and his one-sided rivalry with Roger Clemens, going 9-1 against the Rocket in head-to-head appearances.

After several mediocre years bouncing from the Dodgers, Rangers and Phillies, Stewart was picked up by the A's in May 1986. In Oakland, he met pitching coach Dave Duncan, who taught him the splitter and worked extensively with him on pregame preparation. From 1987-1990, Stewart went 84-45 with a 3.20 ERA and 41 complete games. In each of those four years, he won at least 20 games and surpassed 250 innings pitched.

I can't help but wonder if Dave Stewart blows out the candles on his birthday cake, or if he just puts them out by glaring at them.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Is Andy Pettitte a Hall of Famer?

As you probably have heard, Andy Pettitte is set to announce his retirement today. We'll save the discussion for how this affects the Yankees in 2011 (the answer is "a lot") for another day. Today, we're going to look at Pettitte's Hall of Fame candidacy.

"Now wait a minute" you might ask. "Don't we have five years until we need to talk about this? Shouldn't we let his record stand up for a few years until we make a decision for someone in the Class of 2016?" Well, yes and no. If more information comes out in the next few years, by all means it should be considered. Bert Blyleven's numbers didn't change at all between 1993 and 2010 - only the analysis of them did. So of course, if we find out that, say, Pettitte's ability to hold runners actually let to him preventing significantly more runs than we think, then that should be considered. Still, as of today, his raw numbers are not changing, so it can't hurt to start the discussion. If I look like an idiot in six years... hey, it won't be the first time.

Much of the discussion about Pettitte's Hall of Fame candidacy seems to be related to his "record-setting" 19 postseason wins. I do accept that postseason should be considered in Hall of Fame voting. If someone's case may otherwise be borderline, but their postseason numbers are outstanding, I think it's reasonable to put them in. For example, Mariano Rivera has a postseaon ERA of 0.71 in 139.7 innings. That's ridiculous. Against the best competition in the world, during the most important games, he gives up a run every 13 innings. Pettitte though? Once we get past those 19 wins, it gets a little shaky. We find out that his postseason ERA is 3.83 - right in line with his regular season numbers. We find that he's started 42 postseason games, so he has wins in less than half of those. We also find that he's third all time in postseason losses, with 10. Digging a little deeper, we find that there have been 11 pitchers in history with 130 or more postseason innings. Pettitte has the highest postseason ERA of all of them. So giving Pettitte credit for all of those postseason wins would essentially be giving him credit for pitching on the Yankees. There doesn't seem any way that I can boost him above his regular season value, since his claim to postseason fame simply seems to be "having been there a lot on a team that happened to be the best at the time."

So, without further adieu, let's get into Pettitte's regular season qualifications. I've chosen to compare him with eight contemporaries, who are near him in innings pitched and wins. I've chosen to leave out Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson and Tom Glavine who, as incredibly durable 300 game winners and first ballot slam dunks, are unfair comparisons to someone who will have a borderline case. The contemporaries here are Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Kevin Brown, Chuck Finley, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, David Wells and David Cone.

We will start by comparing them in the standard first order stats that voters will look at immediately:

Andy Pettitte2401383055.32543.882251
Chuck Finley2001733197.363153.862610
Curt Schilling2161463261.083203.463116
David Cone1941262898.656223.462668
David Wells2391573439.054124.132201
John Smoltz2131553473.053163.333084
Kevin Brown2111443256.372173.282397
Mike Mussina2701533562.757233.682813
Pedro Martinez2191002827.346172.933154

Of this group of stats, Pettitte's winning percentage certainly stands out. Beyond that, though, he ranks seventh out of these nine in innings, eighth in ERA, ahead of David Wells, and eighth in strikeouts, also ahead of only Wells. The complete games and shutout numbers are shockingly low - Mussina himself had two individual SEASONS where he had as many shutouts as Pettitte did in his career. It's hard to make the argument that complete games were simply no longer part of the game anymore, since these were all his contemporaries. We're not comparing him to Rube Marquard and Three Finger Brown here.

However, the Hall of Fame doesn't just honor durability, it is concerned more with dominance. We've shown above that Pettitte didn't pitch as much or as long as these guys - but maybe he pitched better? Plus, Pettitte's backers will point out that he pitched most of his career in Yankee Stadium, which is a tough place to pitch. So, while I turn my cheek to the flaw in that argument, since the old Yankee Stadium was actually quite kind to lefthanded pitchers, here is another round of stats, this time just slightly more advanced.

Andy Pettitte1176.62.80.850.23.75
Chuck Finley1157.33.70.9553.91
Curt Schilling1288.62169.73.23
David Cone1218.33.50.857.53.57
David Wells1085.
John Smoltz12582.60.763.93.24
Kevin Brown1276.62.50.664.83.33
Mike Mussina1237.120.974.83.57
Pedro Martinez154102.40.875.92.91

ERA+ is a measure of a pitcher's ERA over the course of a season when compared to the league average - it does include Park Effects. WAR is Wins Above Replacement. There are many formulas for this, I used because it was most convenient. There isn't a whole ton of disparity here, but if you want to search for other sites calculations, please do. FIP is Fielding Independent Pitching, which is exactly what it sounds like - it filters out the things a pitcher does himself, and normalizes balls in play.

As you can see from the numbers, this is where Pedro Martinez really shines. 10 strikeouts per nine innings over his entire career, and a stellar 2.91 FIP. Furthermore, despite being dead last among these nine in innings, he leads the way in WAR.

On the other hand, this really emphasizes how weak Pettitte's Hall of Fame case is. Among these nine, he's dead last in WAR, behind David Wells and Chuck Finley, neither of whom will come close to the Hall of Fame. He has the second lowest strikeout percentage, and the third highest walk percentage. His FIP shows that he wasn't especially unlucky, and ranks ahead of only Finley and Wells. Meanwhile, David Cone and Kevin Brown, who both fell off of the ballot after one year, both blow him away in WAR, ERA+ and FIP.

To further illustrate the point, I've broken down the outstanding seasons for each of these pitchers. I've defined that in two categories - seasons with an ERA+ of over 130, and seasons with a WAR above four:

WAR > 4.0ERA+>130
Andy Pettitte32
Chuck Finley74
Curt Schilling119
David Cone86
David Wells52
John Smoltz88
Kevin Brown87
Mike Mussina129
Pedro Martinez108

This scale just makes it that much more evident that Pettitte didn't compare to the other top pitchers of his time. In order to enter the Hall of Fame, a player should be either extremely durable or exceptionally outstanding. Pettitte was very good, but he was neither of those things. With the bar already set at a level where Brown, Finley and Cone are not on the ballot for even a second try, a vote for Pettitte is essentially a vote for the Yankees, because Pettitte's individual performance does not warrant it.

Photo credit:

Statistics credit: and

Also, special thanks to which enabled me to take my spreadsheets and convert them to HTML, saving me lots of time and headache.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Red Sox Bullpen Outlook

After yesterday's discussion of Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera, I figured I'd devote some time today to their significantly cooler rivals to the north. Unfortunately, today's write-up contains none of the intriguing organizational quabbling. Everyone in Boston's front-office is saying, at least publicly, how excited they are for the upcoming season. Other than a series of freak injuries to star players, the biggest problem they had last year was their bullpen. They were 12th in the AL in bullpen ERA, and their relievers allowed more home runs than any other team. This was despite the fact that their (unfairly) maligned starting rotation was 3rd in the league in innings pitched.

As the Red Sox prepare to retool for the '11 season, take a look at these three players:

Player A74.7295630767855
Player B67.0287728765956
Player C52.7231318617020

For a further breakdown, check out their per-batter splits:

Player A 9.833 3.88249.1673.7825.364
Player B 10.250 3.77641.0004.8645.125
Player C 12.833 3.78777.0003.30011.550

Player C was clearly the most outstanding when he pitched, right? Sure, he pitched the fewest innings, so you might not say the most "valuable." But, all else being equal, you'd want him, right? At least, you wouldn't cut him, right? Players A and B don't look too shabby either. Player B has the better ground ball percentage, so I'd take him. Plugging those three guys into an equation, assuming average defense, Player A comes out with a 3.33 expected Runs Against Average (exRAA), Player B with a 3.76, and Player C with a 3.04.

If you hadn't yet figured it out, player A is Daniel Bard. Player B is Jonathan Papelbon. Player C is Bobby Jenks.

Papelbon had a rough year last year as the Sox closer, while Bard was the hotshot rookie. Meanwhile, out in Chicago, Bobby Jenks was so inconsistent that he was non-tendered by the White Sox. This little exercise is meant to show the difficulty in evaluating relievers by runs allowed or ERA over only a 50-70 innings sample. In 2010, Papelbon allowed about 6 more runs than you would expect, based on the rest of his stats. Jenks, about 10 runs more, giving him one of the highest discrepancies between exRAA and RAA in the league. Bard, on the flip side allowed about 10 fewer runs than he should have expected. Simply stated, Bard was one of the luckiest pitchers in the league last year, Jenks one of the most unlucky.
Jenks gave up a lot of runs last year because he gave up too many hits. Yet, every indicator other than that showed that he was still outstanding, no matter what Ozzie Guillen's son thinks. Bard, meanwhile, got lucky for the exact opposite reason - lots of balls in play turning to outs. He pitched well, yes, but another sub 2.00 ERA shouldn't be expected. And Papelbon, the nominal closer - well, you can see why the Red Sox were willing to offer him. An ace reliever simply can't be giving up a homer once every 41 batters. I'd like to say it was a fluke, but his indicators were falling in 2009. Interstingly, Papelbon was pretty much hit-neutral. Those extra runs weren't from extra hits falling in, but from bad timing. His situational stats were poor, leading to a slightly higher than expected RAA.

That's not to say that Papelbon shouldn't be the "closer" in 2010. If the Red Sox are using their third best reliever to hold leads 4-1 leads in the 9th inning, while Francona is able to use Bard and Jenks in higher leverage situations, they are all the better. If Papelbon has another season of decline though, it will be hard for the Red Sox to refuse the calls to give the money job to Bard or Jenks.