Thursday, March 31, 2011

C'mon, Buster...

Olney, that is, not Posey.

I'm of the mind that Buster Olney's ESPN offerings tend to be a mixed bag...he's a good writer, no doubt, but as far as his opinions and such, I find myself often in disagreement.

Now, though, he's picked the Giants to repeat as World Series champs.

This, of course, means I'm in complete agreeme...wait a minute. Hm, actually, I'm not. I tend to think that with a healthy Chase Utley and any kind of significant bounce-back season from Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies will again win the NL East, and from there...

Who are we kidding? The playoffs in MLB are a crapshoot. Once in, anything can happen in a 7-game series. However, provided those things happen and they get there (I just don't see the Braves catching up quite yet), then I think the Phillies will be the best team in the NL, if only just by a little bit.

But hey, I can't help but like Mr. Olney a skoche more for picking the Giants, and it isn't as if picking the Giants doesn't make sense -- they look pretty good, and of course, they just did it last year.

Then he makes questionable predictions like:

Cy Youngs: Felix Hernandez and Cole Hamels (who will have a good chunk of the season matching up against No. 4 and No. 5 starters)

Okay, so, I understand saying that Cole Hamels being matched up against other teams' #4 and #5 starters could help the Phillies win (although as someone astutely pointed out, this wouldn't hold true the entire season), and thus could mean more wins for Hamels.

But...what in the name of Snuffleupagus does the opposing teams' pitcher have to do with Cole Hamels' performance? Last I checked, the hitters of the opposing team will still be trying to score runs on Hamels, not the opposing teams' pitcher. Sure, wins for pitchers are important, but the Cy Young trophies on Felix Hernandez's and Zack Greinke's mantles show that less emphasis is being places on wins, and more on statistical performance.

I would think that having three (3) better pitchers on the same team as Hamels might steer Olney away from such a choice -- I mean, why do you think he's the #4 starter on that team in the first place?

One step forward(ish), two steps back, Olney. Geez.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Starting the season off right

Tomorrow, there'll be a baseball game of great importance. At the same time, there'll be a baseball game of little-to-no importance.

One team will win, one team will lose. Each of those teams, after the game is over, will have 161 games afterward to try and win more, or to avoid losing more. 1 of 162 is less than one percent, so to attribute too much thrill of victory or agony of defeat to this game would just be silly.

Still, however, it is the first one, and it is the Dodgers, after all. With that in mind...


Will a Sophomore Slump Strike?

One of the old addages of baseball is how hard it is to repeat as champions because everyone is gunning for you. But there might just be a little more tangible reasoning behind the difficulty than every opponent is trying a little harder because there's a really cool trophy at AT&T Park.

We live in an era of pitch counts. Pitches and innings are monitored more closely than Barrack Obama's tax return. The average starter seldom goes much past six innings, and the elite guys rarely see the eighth inning unless they're having a hell of a night. Younger pitchers are even touchier. College guys see 60 games before the postseason. That's a lot less innings than there are in 162 games. Minor leaguers are done at the dawn of September. That's a lot less innings, too.

For a team buyoed by many young arms that aren't used to throwing well in excess of 200 innings, especially when you include a post-season run, it's hard to not worry about the ramifications. Looking back at recent history, it's hard to recall a team that was so reliant on young starting pitching during a World Series run. Most champions have a more balanced line-up. And the young arms threw a lot more innings than they're used to. Consdier a few of the Giants key starters and their innings pitched in 2010, 2009 and 2008:

  • Tim Lincecum (2010 IP including postseason - 238, 2009 - 225, 2008 - 227)

  • Matt Cain (244, 217, 217)

  • Jonathan Sanchez (212, 163, 158)
All three of these pitchers were between 25 and 27 years old, all had ERAs between 3.00 and 3.50.

Looking back at three recent World Series young guns, you the drop off the following year is obvious: (note: I didn't include C.C. Sabathia, who even though is in the same age range, was a fairly established starter at that point and I didn't include anyone from the Cardinals' WS squad since the only young pitcher among their starters was Jason Marquis, and he was hardly their Cy Young candidate.)

Of all of these pitchers, only Dice-K managed an improvement the following year, but he has been on the decline ever since. Of the others, only Brett Myers managed an ERA even close to that of his world series year, but injuries kept him under 100 innings.

If recent history is any indicator, it's unlikely that any of the trifecta of Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez will repeat their performance in 2011. Hopefully, the slightly tweaked line-up will be able to put together enough to offer more consistent help to the staff.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What could've been in LaLa Land

One of baseball's favorite pastimes is looking back on what could have been. No other sport sees the deadline dealing and mentality that a bulk of the teams is just one piece away. Prospects are currency in baseball. I've yet to hear of a trade in any other sport to include the infamous minor-league-pitcher-you'll-never-hear-of-again, a PTBNL and cash considerations . Draft picks, sure. But it's in baseball that you get dealt from the Tigers' AAA club to Poughkeepsie. (Is there even a team in Poughkeepsie? It just sounds so insignificantly cliche.)

So, what could be more fun for a Giants' fan than looking at what they don't have to deal with in their rival down the Grapevine? What inspired this is that I just read about Cleveland Indians' catcher Carlos Santana. I forgot about why I was supposed to be angry about him. He was the major prospect in the Dodgers' trade for Casey Blake, who has been a capable, if unspectacular corner infielder in a capable, if unspectacular infield tandem for the Dodgers over the past few years. Santana has terms like "five-tool" thrown around. The Dodgers catching has terms like "Rod Barajas" and "post-Brad Ausmus era" thrown around. Clearly, any trade that the Dodgers have made since John Tudor hung up his spikes hasn't led them to the promised land.

So, by this metric, every dealing of prospects since then has failed. So, what could have been? What could have helped them overcome the image of a barely post-teenage Clayton Kershaw looking gassed as the Phillies slammed past them in the NLCS?

Looking back on the Dodgers' slate of Top 10 prospects over the past dozen or so years (a reasonable amount of time where the players might still be expected to be in the system, albeit thanks to a free-agent deal or two), piching isn't their issue. Granted, they could've used an ace, but the Dodgers are traditionally in the top of the NL in ERA. Maybe it's the park, maybe it's the staff. Besides, they haven't let that many arms get away. They just haven't developed as planned. Position players are another story.

Here's a look at what they let get away and what they got in return. (Yes, Pedro Martinez is conspicuously absent, as he'd be unlikely to be helping the 2011 Dodgers at his advanced age. However, he's the ultimate example of a woulda, coulda, shoulda.)

  • 1B - Paul Konerko - The poster child of the prospect that the Dodgers never should have sent away. From Eric Karros to James Loney, Konerko is better. He was a little slow hitting his prime, but in hindsight, should have been kept. He was traded with Dennys Reyes (who just made another 40-man roster) for Jeff Shaw, who never even made a single plate appearance for the Dodgers. (Oh, yeah. He was a closer. He had a bunch of saves over a few years, but that's beside the point. No playoff wins.)

  • 2B - Blake DeWitt - Truth be told, the jury is out here. He was dealt for Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot. Lilly looks like a serviceable starter. The fact that he was a former Dodger farmhand before he became any good doesn't help this argument, though. He did land the Dodgers Mark Grudzielanek, whose name I still can't spell unless I'm sober.

  • 3B - Andy LaRoche - Okay, Casey Blake is better, but he cost us Santana. I'm sure there was some free agent available somewhere along the line that wouldn't have cost us a "five-tool catcher". Sigh.

  • SS - None of note.

  • OF - Shane Victorino - He's better than Jay Gibbons/Marcus Thames/Tony Gwynn's Kid. That's for sure. He was drafted in the Rule 5 draft by the Padres. Then returned to LA. He was drafted in the Rule 5 draft by the Phillies. They kept him. Gave L.A. a few bucks. Awesome.

  • OF - Franklin Gutierrez - Outside of Ichiro and the future Justin Smoak, he's the only player in the Mariners' lineup that anyone cares about. Oh, and he could probably cover two outfield positions by himself. Even better, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians for headcase, and board-game namesake Milton Bradley, who currently clogs left field in Seattle. At least Guti gets to show his range with a limited left-side partner at Safeco.

Another Pablo Sandoval Projection

No, not about his weight. Geez. All of you reading this thinking I was going to make jokes about Panda's weight can just leave!

Okay, wait...come back.

($5 says he's back up to 260 by season's end)


His offense is what I speak of. While it's obvious any and all projections are educated guesses at best, not being able to take into account things like a player's feelings (nothing more than), injuries that affect performance, or a player's conditioning habits -- what they are based on is really all one has to go by: age, statistical history, and the migration habits of dandelions.

Okay, not really...I mean, what's statistical history gonna tell you? Psh, absolute balderdash.

Anyhow, our leaner, meaner, Panda machine...r has got to be a very hard player to project. Why?
  • He doesn't have years and years worth of major league plate appearances to reference
  • He followed a season and change of very, very good hitting with a season of very, very mediocre hitting.
Looking at his splits and comparing them with 2009 are like staring into the eyes of a fly, looking for a reaction -- impossible with all those eyes, and plus...ew, who would do that, anyway? Not me, and especially not when...

Does anybody know where I was even going with that comparison? E-mail me if you do, so I'll know you're a liar. Anyhow, here are numbers:
  • Sandoval hit significantly better as a right-handed hitter in 2009: 1.028 OPS as a righty, vs. .914 as a lefty. In 2010, however: .589 OPS as a righty, .779 as a lefty
  • He had torrid hitting months in April and August last year (1.008 and .908 OPS, respectively), but was below .650 in all other months, two of them below .600
  • He was a productive hitter on the road in 2009 (.877 OPS), but stunk like a scared skunk rolling in rotten eggs on the road in 2010 (.565 OPS)
Okay, so we've at least identified two problem areas; a stupidly massive drop-off from the right side of the plate and just a regularly massive drop-off hitting on the road. Let's compare a couple of other metrics which can sometimes paint a picture:
  • p/pa (2009/2010): 3.44/3.43
  • g/f ratio (2009/2010): 0.82/0.81
  • bb/k ratio (2009/2010): 0.63/0.58
That...didn't help at all. Panda saw almost exactly the same number of pitches per plate appearance from 2009 to 2010, had the same ratio of ground balls to fly balls, and his walks vs. strikeouts were nearly identical, too. His walk rate was about the same, too. It was like looking into a mirror.

Then, I looked at his numbers in certain counts, and found something there (last round of bullet points, I swear...well, at least before the round after that):
  • Pablo in an 0-1 count (2009/2010): 1.037 in 60 pa's/.560 in 75 pa's
  • Pablo in a 1-1 count (2009/2010): 1.123 in 49 pa's/.450 in 53 pa's
In 2009, Pablo essentially torched opposing pitchers early in his plate appearances in non two-strike counts. In 2010, the torch he used in 2009 to burn opposing pitchers instead was the opposite burn in 2010, burning his opposing self of 2009 in a blaze of...

I've really got to stop letting these metaphors get away from me. Look, it was the opposite in 2010. He sucked in those counts, and since about 21% of his plate appearances were decided in those counts, that essentially was the difference in 2009 Panda vs. 2010 Panda.

Now, without further research, using only the power of memory, I will hypothesize that opposing teams knew about the 2009 numbers last season, and had a conversation like this:

Opposing manager: "Hey. You know, giving Sandoval something to hit early in the count? Don't do that."
Opposing pitcher: "Hey. You know, I just might do that...or, not do that. What you said. Um, not to do. Not that I'd do anything different than what you said. You're my manager, and I respect you, totally. Wow, this is much more awkward than most pitching conversations, I bet."

So really, what it'll likely come down to for Panda, all weight-loss aside, is his adjustment to the adjustment that the opposing teams adjusted to after his initial non-adjustment. Can he lay off the elevator-fastballs and breaking junk down/away in the zone early on? Can he figure out what he's doing wrong from the right side of the plate? Can he figure out what he's doing wrong on the road?

Can I just make a freaking guess, already?


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Transactions usually don't get me this excited, but...

In Kansas City, it looks like the Pedro Feliz era could be over before it started.

The report is that the Royals have granted Feliz his release, freeing up the erstwhile epitome of Brian Sabean's anti-Moneyball position-player development system to look into other options, one of which seems to be the Florida Marlins.

I'm very pleased by this -- if Feliz had made the big league club, it would have followed a sad little parade of players that have been both on the Giants and the Royals and managed to suck goat testicles in both places, last year adding Jose "Gimpy" Guillen to the list.

(Ramon Ramirez notwithstanding, who has managed to very much not suck in both places. Bless you, laddy.)

I mention it here, of course, so as to bring something to mind, depending on your particular feelings of Feliz's time with the Giants:
  1. Feliz competently fielding ground balls at 3rd base, showing decent range and a strong arm, or
  2. Feliz flailing at sliders away and neck-level fastballs and missing, or Feliz making contact with sliders away and grounding out and making contact with neck-level fastballs and popping out.
I'm going to go with #1, if for no other reason than to avoid grinding my teeth. Good luck, Pedro!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Forbes Proves Revenue Sharing Is Broken ...

After reading the annual Forbes article about the value of major league baseball teams, one little factoid stuck in my head. The most profitable team in the majors last year was the San Diego Padres. They had a payroll of $38 million. It was the lowest in baseball. They made a profit of $37 million. They received revenue sharing of $30 million. Additionally, the team that practically invented the method for low-budget team development and another mentioned revenue sharing recipient, the Oakland A's, made a hefty $23 million.

The article also mentions that several other revenue sharing recipients (Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals) made nice profits, but they are also genuinely small-market teams.

My problem isn't with teams making money. My problem isn't with teams pulling a profit at the expense of not paying players. Someone stupid is going to come along and do it, whether they deserve it or not. It is a business. Don't get me wrong. It would be nice if those teams spent the money on players, but it's not like any MLB quality player is going hungry because the Pirates are trying to bank an extra million. I just question why are the Oakland A's, San Diego Padres and even the Florida (soon to be Miami) Marlins recipients of revenue sharing money.

Revenue sharing should be balancing for teams in their ability to generate revenue. To expect Milwaukee and its 39th ranked metropolitan statistical area, or MSA for short (by population), to compete revenue-wise with New York, a market that's approximately 13 times larger, is a ridiculous proposition. However, the Miami MSA is the 7th largest in America. I've heard the stadium issue ad nauseum, and Miami is finally solving it, but is that issue really the big revenue teams' issue? So, is revenue sharing supposedly helping "small market" teams, as that's the term that's been thrown around, or are they helping out teams are are not efficient in capitalizing on their market size? By the same token, Oakland is in the 13th largest market (and if you add the San Jose/Santa Clara MSA which is on their doorstep, it'd be 5th). San Diego is 17th.

It's one thing to help teams that can't legitimately compete due to inequalities in markets, but it's not the big market guys' fault that that the Marlins' owner Jeff Loria can't generate a competitive revenue stream in a market of 5.5 million people.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Dodgers in '11 ... Melsh's Take

Standing barefoot in the public restroom, I knew I’d hit rock bottom.

Oh, wait, wrong blog. But it’s still an excellent segway into the land of the Los Angeles Dodgers, or the evil enemy for the perspective of this blog. I’ve got to admit, that over the past season, there has been so much back-and-forth in the Frank & Jamie McCourt divorce drama, I’ve lost track of who has won which battle, but it’s apparent that the continuing battle is holding back the Dodgers, so let’s just let this thing get ugly quickly, so it can end quickly. Too much about the owners’ personal finances have been made public, and no team or their owners want their finances made public. Just ask any NFL owner. Frank spending a few hundred thousand on a Russian dude in Boston to think positive thoughts for the team instead of spending it on a long reliever just doesn’t sit well with the fans. So, getting this fiasco over will inevitably and hopefully leave the owner(s) in ruins and force them to sell the team. Sheesh. Second largest market in America, you’d think the boys in blue could muster more help for the offense than Juan Uribe.

Anyway, from a fan’s perspective, it’s easy to gripe about why the team hasn’t been made a lot better. Truth be told, few teams are usually in the market for the big names, and they’re usually the subject of a ridiculous bidding war, so it’s hard to get too worked up over not landing top-level help. If my team had just paid what the Nationals paid for (former Dodger) Jayson Werth, I’d be questioning that decision as much as I’m questioning their inactivity.

So, what’s going to come of the Dodgers for 2011? My gut says they’re in the right division. Even though the San Francisco Giants (it kills me linking that picture there, but gotta give props ... they earned it) are the reigning league champs, they didn’t exactly win the division running away. They got hot at the right time, and they have the strong pitching that wins a playoff series by shutting down a strong lineup. Their lineup keeps them from looking like a 95+ win team, so that keeps the door open for other contenders. Yet with their strong core of pitching, I wouldn’t count on a step backward, either. The Colorado Rockies appear to be only other serious threat in the division, but they have defined “split personality” over the past few years. I think everyone can agree that the Arizona D’Backs and the San Diego Padres will be non-factors. Given the records in the division over the past several years, it looks like 90 wins could take the division, so the door looks open for these three teams.

The Dodgers, to me, look like a team where their ceiling is about what they’d need to win the division. Their star power looks limited. On offense, Matt Kemp looked like he’d be in that discussion now, but had a sophomore slump in his junior year. Andre Ethier is clearly an upper-echelon player, but given that he’s pushing 30, it’s looking more and more unlikely he’ll hit the ultimate tier. The rest of their lineup looks average at best. Rafael Furcal’s best days are behind him. James Loney is miscast as an efficient, yet unspectacular slap-hitter playing first base. 37-year old Casey Blake, who’s starting the season injured, can’t have much left in the tank. Rod Barajas and Juan Uribe are those nice players that have been in the league for years, but unless you’re a true fantasy geek or they didn’t play for your team, you don’t know them outside of their rare SportsCenter moment. And left field looks like a wasteland of a platoon of a has-been (Jay Gibbons), a never-quite-was (Marcus Thames) and isn’t-close-to-being-as-good-as-dad (Tony Gwynn, Jr.). Being “average” looks like a best-case scenario for this bunch. Obviously, if you're looking at a three headed monster like that in left field, bench depth isn't a strength. When you're lead backup is Jamey Carroll (a player with the rare distinction of being a 37-year old major leaguer and having been in the league long enough to have been a Montreal Expo, yet is still obscure enough to be familiar to but a precious few fans).

The pitching staff has one player who has the potential to be the biggest star on the 25-man roster, Clayton Kershaw. His numbers are on the upswing and it seems like he’s been on the brink of being the ace for ages, so it’s easy to forget that he’s only 22 years old. If he makes that next step, not only does he become the presumptive ace of the staff, he becomes the game changer that makes this team look that much better when it comes to a playoff series. He’d be vital in that role, because the rest of their starting pitching is filled with those nice pitchers that fill out a rotation, but not the guys you’d want to count on as a #2 in a playoff series. Hiroka Kuroda, Chad Billingsley (not to be confused with Peter Billingsley), Jon Garland, Ted Lilly, Vincente Padilla … all guys you envision as #3 or #4 starters. Not guys you want going up against the #2 starters of the Giants, Philadelphia Phillies or St. Louis Cardinals in a five game series.

Breaking down a bullpen, outside of the closer, is probably one of the most difficult feats in the world of prognostication. Bullpens are baseball’s equivalent of offensive linemen in football. You really only hear names called when they come in and give up the big inning. Quick: outside of your favorite team or two (or the New York Yankees, because they just threw all kinds of cash at Rafael Soriano), name another team’s 7th or 8th inning guy. And most of these guys fall from grace just as quickly. One year, you hear about a team having an amazing bullpen, two years later, you’re hearing these same names as spring training non-roster invitees. But the big name here is Jonathan Broxton. His career path seems to be following Matt Kemp’s with a sophomore slump in his junior year. However, being a pitcher … hell, especially being a closer, a loss in velocity is far more concerning than a fielder having mental blunders or a lack of focus, which appears to be Matt Kemp’s issue. A bounce-back from Broxton looks critical, as anyone else in the pen stepping in would be a serious step back from the Broxton the Dodgers had in ’09 or the first half of ’10.

Long story short, if the Dodgers catch lightning in a bottle with this bunch, 90 wins seems plausible. And depending how the chips fall, that may be enough to win the NL West. 92 wins would win half the seasons in the NL West in the past decade. If spring training injuries to Casey Blake and Jon Garland are a harbinger of things to come, it looks like it’ll be a long year with glimpses of Ivan DeJesus, Jr. or Dee Gordon.

Somewhere, Rupert Murdoch is laughing. So is Darren Dreifort, but for other, yet completely legitimate reasons.

Oh, and thanks to Daniel for inviting me to be the voice of the enemy for the sake of this blog. Yup, I'm an avid Dodger fan. One that most readers here probably cannot fathom how someone could have such a point of view, and I for one, am still stinging from the day that Orel Hersheiser signed a free agent deal with the Gints. Somehow, getting Juan Uribe this year doesn't seem like it'll be an equal and opposite reaction.