Monday, November 30, 2009

Thole-Santos Platoon?

Ever find a writer whose stuff you almost always agree with? For me, there are two very good Mets-related writers who fit that criteria: Toby Hyde of the Mets Minor League Blog and Howard Megdal of the Perpetual Post. Both men are creative, critical, intelligent fans who I believe do excellent work.[1]

Hyde, who does an outstanding job blogging about the Mets minor league system, hit it on the head again this morning with a post entitled Thole vs. the Catching Free Agents. In it, he took a look at the available free agent catchers and concluded that:

Do you see a significant offensive upgrade over a Thole/Santos tandem? I don’t. The Mets must spend their money on positions, notably 1B and LF, where the market provides an appreciable upgrade over the players they ran out on the field in 2009. Catcher simply does not offer serious improvement opportunities in the same way.


On November 3rd, we wrote here on Fonzie Forever that:

Catchers around the league don't hit. These free agents being discussed don't hit. The Mets can survive, and thrive, with a catcher who is merely average at the plate... The Mets need to be very careful this offseason. There is not a lot of money to go around, and there are a lot of things that need fixing...

I'm not dead set against bringing in a more experienced guy to platoon with Thole or give him a few months in AAA, but I think it would be a big mistake to sign any of the guys that have been linked to the Mets so far in rumor.


So, we reached the same non-traditional conclusion. I don't think anyone in the mainstream really sees this as a realistic option. And yeah, sure, it's a long shot. So what gives Hyde the confidence to say that? In his article, he catches us up with Josh Thole, who has been dominating the Venezuelan Winter League:

The 24-year old Thole was 2-5 on Thanksgiving with a pair of doubles, giving him doubles in three straight games...An 0-4 Sunday dropped Thole down to .391/.488/.571 133 AB over 39 games.

He leads the VWL in AVG and OBP, is second in doubles, is fifth in slugging and is the second toughest player to strikeout in the league...Thole owns 13 2B, 1 3B, and 3 HR and 24 walks against 13 strikeouts. Just think about this: he has more extra-base hits than strikeouts.

Thole’s fine winter comes after an impressive summer in which ... he hit .321/.356/.396 at the big league level with four walks and five strikeouts in 53 AB. Thole earned his September call-up by hitting .328/.395/.422 at AA Binghamton in 103 games.


Thole just keeps hitting. He's been phenomenal. His defense has been receiving mixed reviews (mostly, that he's below average and needs work) but he is a young converted catcher and has a chance to improve considerably. And besides -- if he can hit .300 while the other options hit .230, that's going to make up for a lot of defensive miscues.[2]

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[1] Others who fit this description include Dave Cameron (Mariners) and the many brilliant commenters at Baseballthinkfactory.org including Dave Szymborski and others.

[2] The Mets might want to consider carrying three catchers or an emergency catcher this year and using Omir Santos as a late-inning replacement.

Thanksgiving Leftover

Thanksgiving and I haven't always gotten along. In the late 1990's I choked on a Thanksgiving turkey in front of my entire immediately family, a fact that I was reminded of for the next seven Thanksgivings. Nonetheless, I am appreciative of the idea of the holiday: to show our gratitude to friends and family by telling them as much and to eat as much as humanly possible. So in the spirit of Turkey Day I would like to babble about certain aspects of Baseball that I am thankful for.


Jose Reyes and David Wright


I admittedly took these two guys for granted going into the 2009 season. Watching them play day in and day out makes you see every aspect of their game, including their faults; I in fact probably valued Reyes and Wright less than if I were a fan of another team. (Reyes can get pouty and is too sensitive, Wright will over or under throw a routine ball to first more often than he should, etc.) But after this past season featured an injured Jose Reyes watching most of the games from the dugout and a David Wright losing his home run power I'm making an effort not to forget they are in their mid 20's and are usually considered among the game's elite. I'm glad that Reyes should be stretching out doubles into triples and triples into inside-the-park home runs for years to come, and that David Wright is contractually obligated to straddle the aww shucks/smug line for the Mets for at least the next few seasons.


Derek Jeter,Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada

It's important to know the enemy, and we've all gotten to know the triumvirate of pure evil that is Jeter, Rivera and Posada. While not being a catchy law firm name, Jeter Rivera Posada have been around since it first became cool to hate the Yankees back in 1996. JR&P were also heavily involved during the threepeat of 1998-2000 which made hating the Yankees a cliche, and they were all members of the 2009 championship team that made hating the Yankees cool again. It isn't as interesting, "fair", or fun to feel hatred for players like Mark Teixiera and CC Sabathia. They didn't know any better! The Yankees hadn't won a World Series in eight entire years! But Jeter Rivera Posada knew better. They stuck around just so they can get back at all of the haters who thought they had won. And while one could speculate that those three men deserve some credit for hanging around as long as they did - for showing pride in not just what they do but for who they do it for - it just makes you hate them even more for making you think such positive things.


The Instant Replay Debate


I'm thankful for the arguments back and forth between instituting full-fledged instant replay, because there aren't many "don't get me started!" issues with the actual game of baseball. OTHER sports might add shootouts or move their three-point line, but baseball wouldn't need to ever make a change like that. The rules have always been the same for over one hundred years. That's why the instant replay debate is so fascinating: people are always so scared of change in the game. Even though in the worst case scenario instant replay would make a game three minutes longer than usual and might hurt an umpire's feelings, some people are very adamant against this. Why? I think it's because we aren't used to change. What's interesting is that replay for specifically the home run ball controversies was instituted in the middle of the 2008 season. And the world didn't end! And the system worked the way it should. Selig was actually accidentally brilliant in his reflexive decision to implement it in that way: pen-wielding dinosaurs didn't have enough time to write thirty thousand opinion pieces saying how wrong it was and getting malleable yahoos to begin to echo their archaic garbage. Unfortunately the debate on whether to extrapolate the replay system to all controversial plays has already gone on for too long. I wrote "unfortunately" because the anti-replay people have gotten their say and raised their sheep, but I could have also wrote "fortunately", because the issue is somewhat entertaining to talk about, and I like telling people they are wrong.


MLB Network


Oh MLB Network I may have taken you for granted most of all. I actually talk about the NFL Network more than the MLB Network, because I don't have the NFL Network. I want what I can't have and it's driving me mad: Time Warner and Cablevision don't broadcast the football channel through its cable boxes. The reasons for this are basically because two corporations that have an astronomical amount of money don't agree on how much richer one or the other should get, which draws ire from those that realize this, myself included. This makes the NFL Network more a part of the public discourse than the MLB Network, which is of course ridiculously unfair. Major League Baseball actually made sure it didn't make the same mistakes the NFL Network made before they launched and ensured that they reached most of the cable audience around the country by their debut in January. Because of that we already take the channel for granted.


But I will try not to any longer! I loved their programming over the Thanksgiving weekend: it was nothing but All-Star Games. I particularly got a kick out of the 1981 Mid-Summer Classic. For one thing I found out that Rod Carew played the majority of his career at first base. (I never found out why he did exactly.) For a second thing, Bob Hope, the MLB Commissioner at the time Bowie Kuhn and Vice President at the time George H.W. Bush sat next to each other behind home plate. During the third inning a woman ran onto the field to attempt to kiss one of the players, provoking Joe Garagiola to comment that Bob Hope must had just come up with seven one-liners. Sure enough, NBC's cameras returned to the area behind home plate to show that Hope was pointing and laughing and talking to anyone who would listen, while Kuhn and Bush remain stonefaced. An inning later Bryant Gumbel was dispatched to go down to talk to VP Bush, and he didn't bother to talk to Hope! Ridiculous. No wonder why NBC is in the shitter 28 years later! It was a lot of fun to watch. Definitely a lot more fun than looking at a "Yankees Classic" from the 70's when Dave Righetti almost broke the strike out record or a "Mets Classic" when David Cone did the same in 1991. It's good to see that for not-so-instant replay at least, baseball got it right.

Monday, November 23, 2009

What Should the Mets Offseason Strategy Be?

Bill Madden, a writer at the Daily News, published an article yesterday entitled "Mets offseason focus will be on tier-two free agents." Madden believes that the Mets will be cutting payroll this season, leaving them only around $20 million to spend. He concludes:

[W]hat the Mets need to be concentrating on are second-tier free agents such as Mark DeRosa, Marlon Byrd, Jason Marquis or Randy Wolf, any two of which would fit comfortably under that $20 million surplus.[1]


Is he right? Well... I don't think so.

I'll put it this way. If the Mets are operating with only $20 million in payroll space, and do not want to trade away the entire minor-league system, I don't think they have enough talent to compete with the Phillies or Braves next season. Perhaps, in this case, the wisest thing to do would be to spend the money conservatively and gear up for a serious run at the post-season in 2011.

As a Mets fan, this pains me. But it would hurt worse for me to watch the Mets squander money on second-tier free agents, leaving us nothing in future years, simply to fall short again this season. Does anyone really think that adding Marlon Byrd and Jason Marquis is going to help the Mets overcome a 20 game deficit on the Phillies? Especially now that they will have Cliff Lee all year, and that Cole Hamels is likely to bounce back this year?

The way I see it, the Mets should address their issues in the following order:

#1: Starting Pitcher -- someone near the top of the rotation (think: Lackey)
#2: Starting Pitcher -- someone near the bottom (think: Marquis)
#3: First Base
#4: Catcher
#5: Relief Pitcher -- set up guy (think: Brandon Lyon)

I don't see the Mets having a realistic chance at making the playoffs unless all of those are addressed. We can't patch them all up with $20 million dollars. Now, if the Mets have more then $20 million to spend, the question of what to do with the money they have becomes far more relevant.[2]

It will be interesting to see which approach the Mets take, with so many holes to fill - not to mention the potential enormous holes that would exist if Reyes and Beltran weren't healthy enough to play this year.


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[1] This is just his conclusion. The article should actually be entitled what the Mets SHOULD focus on offseason, not what the Mets WILL focus on. There doesn't seem to be any real basis for his belief that the Mets payroll will be constrained as such.

[2] If the Mets DID want to make a serious run this season, I think we'd - at a minimum - need to do something like this:

Lackey, $17
Marquis, $6
Delgado, $6
Zaun, $2
Lyon, $4
Let Pagan play left field full time.

Obviously, guessing at what free agents will make is an inexact science -- but I'd guess that a payroll bump around $30 would be a minimum. For what it's worth, if the Mets did something like this, they would open 2010 with a payroll less than they had in 2009.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Benny And Me



I've been to quite possibly over 200 baseball games in my lifetime, and I never caught a foul ball. However: I did once catch a ball during batting practice. In Y2K I took advantage of Shea's Pepsi Picnic Area promotion where on Wednesdays for an empty Pepsi can or bottle you can sit in the bleacher seats for free. The only "catch" was you had to show up on a line at around 2-2:30 and you'd have to sit through batting practice beginning at around 4:45. I was 18 and perpetually bored, so I didn't care. One afternoon during BP, a long fly ball was hit deep to left field. It was DEFINITELY coming our way and specifically heading towards ME. I extended my right arm and in an absurdly seeming casual manner, I caught the damn thing. I caught a home run! Yes I know, in batting practice, but still, best I've ever done. A kid frantically began looking around and asked "Where is it?! Where's the ball?" As casually as possible I said, "Oh, I caught it" and showed him the ball. His millisecond look of disgust before his phony congratulations is something I'll never forget. I give all of the credit to the man who hit that ball. That man was Benny Peter Agbayani Jr. And he retired last week.


And that is very sad.


Here's a little story: Once upon a time in 1998, before New York fell in love with Benny Agbayani, Benny fell in love with a woman. This woman fell in love with Benny, and she loved him so much that she agreed to marry him on a baseball field in Norfolk, Virginia. After the ceremony Agbayani went about his business with his triple-A Norfolk Tides team, continuing his life as a 27-year old career minor leaguer. And then he went on his honeymoon: to Shea Stadium. Benny didn't do much with his promotion to the big leagues, only making 16 plate appearances. Oh sure, he seemed nice enough. The guy actually did a serviceable job in parts of his first season playing center field, despite his 6 foot, 225 pound frame. His batting stance was basically him lifting up his left leg as the pitcher was finishing his wind-up, and then stomping his foot as the ball was reaching him, swinging like a little leaguer trying to prove he can hit a pitch as far as the abnormally tall kid. That was about all there was to him. But by 1999 he was a folk hero. When manager Bobby Valentinegave him a few starts in a row Benny took advantage, going on a tear, and very quickly Mets fans fell for him. The Hawaiian native was nicknamed "Hawaiian Punch", a nickname that automatically makes you liked by everybody. I distinctly remember Fox introducing a national telecast with a video featuring a classic Hawaiian Punch commercial interspersed with video of Agbayani hitting home runs. (Would you like some Hawaiian Punch? Sureeee. THWACK. Ahhhhhh home run...). Shea Stadium had the worst musical taste possible, but they got it right when they'd play "Benny and the Mets" after one of his hits. (The song that played after a Mets win in 2000 was "Who Let The Dogs Out". Jesus christ.) After a torrid beginning one would think his stats would regress to the mean, but Agbayani maintained really decent numbers. He finished that season raking .286/.363/.525. In the Mets' pennant winning 2000 season he hit .289/.391/.480. He was third on the team in OPS. It didn't make sense with that swing. How did pitchers not shake their heads over this guy? I threw him a steady diet of offspeed pitches. How did his fatass not fall down lunging at my sliders?


Agbayani's greatest moment came in the 2000 National League Divisional Series against the San Francisco Giants. It was the 13th inning, tie game, and off of Aaron Fultz Benny lifted his leg, stomped his foot and hit the ball very very hard. He hit the ball so hard that it went over the left field wall, and the Mets won the game to go up two games to one in a series they'd win the next night.

I was at that game. I didn't necessarily see the home run however. Sadly I was in an obstructed view seat in the mezzanine on the third base side, so all I saw was him hitting it, and a slender Barry Bonds in left field jog fruitlessly and look up defeatedly towards the bleachers. Oh well! We won, and that was all that mattered. And I don't think I paid full price for the ticket. Life was good. (Until the boredom kicked in.)

Agbayani's WORST moment (which I was NOT in person for but I was watching live on television) was during a regular season game in the very same year against the very same Giants. He caught a fly ball, and thinking that was the third out gave it to a kid in the stands. Unfortunately for the Mets, it was only the second out, and the umpires awarded Ellis Burks and Jeff Kent of the Giants home plate. But even then, the Mets came back to win the game. Thankfully for Benny, he wasn't playing for the 2009 Mets. Not only would they had lost the game, the kid he gave the ball to probably would have somehow hurt himself playing with it.

In June of 2001 Darryl Hamilton and Hawaiian Punch had some sort of signing take place in the recently opened Mets Clubhouse shop. For some reason I decided to bring my high school yearbook, which I had just received a day or so before. (I had long since lost the batting practice home run ball, because I was 18 and a total idiot with no sentimentality.And bored). It was the first time I actually interacted with "celebrities", so the conversation pretty much went something like this:


(Roger approaches the table and opens his high school yearbook to an empty page.)
Darryl Hamilton: What's this?
(Darryl and Benny both look at the cover.)
Hamilton: Hahaha (points to a random person in the book)did this dude ever take your lunch money?
Roger: I ase...mas...wewq...ah...no...
(Benny continues to thumb through the yearbook, as if he's actually interested in its contents. He then passes it back to Hamilton.)
Hamilton: (laughing to himself) Here you go man.
(Benny signs it)
Benny: Thank you for coming
Roger: Asin...podfs...thanks.
(Roger walks away not knowing what the hell just happened.)



Darryl Hamilton would be DL'ed about a week later and never play baseball again. Him and his arthritic left big toe now work for the commissioner's office. He claims he placed a "hex" on the Mets because manager Bobby Valentine didn't treat him fairly. There's a slight chance Darryl was taking his issues out on me that day.


But anyway...


After the 2001 season Agbayani was traded to the Rockies. In 2002 he struggled and never played in the majors again. He would end up with Bobby Valentine in Japan, getting his own 49 second long chant and winning a championship in 2005. I never really saw much footage of those Japanese games, but I'm sure it would have freaked me out: I would have kept thinking that I was looking into a parallel universe where the 2000 Mets won the World Series and that all of the games were played in domes for some reason. And I hate domes. But I loved Benny. Aloha, Benny.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The 20 Best Pitches in Baseball Today

I am basing these rankings primarily on fangraph.com's pitch values statistics. People often talk about particular pitchers having the best this or that and as is often the case it is impossible to get a consensus answer. Because of this, I decided to look it up myself. I've used the pitch values over each of the last three seasons, and weighted the most recently completed years the heaviest. These rankings are based on a combination of overall value garnered from the pitch and the pitch's rate value.

20. Carlos Marmol's Slider - Marmol throws his slider roughly half the time and does not even command it that well, but the combination of his awkward motion/arm slot, velocity (the pitch averages over 82 MPH) and movement make it a nasty offering. His slider breaks across the zone more than most but its movement is only good and not spectacular. Marmol's slider is a testament to how much of a difference deception can make.

19. Randy Wolf's 4-seam Fastball - This was a bit of a surprise to me because Wolf's fastball sits in the upper 80s and has never really stood out in my personal observations much. Wolf does command the pitch well and often rides it up in the zone to pickup strikeouts. However, I think the biggest reason that it stands out is how much "life" it has. This is one of those things that is difficult to quantify because it is very subjective, but some pitches just seem faster than they are, and Wolf's fastball is a perfect example. It does have a bit more rise on it than most fastballs and a little arm-side tail that makes it deceptively quick. Wolf also throws one of the slowest curveballs in the league (sitting in the upper 60s) and perhaps it is the difference between those two pitches that catches batters off. Exactly why Wolf's fastball is so effective really is a bit of a mystery, but it is impossible to deny how outstanding the pitch is.

18. A.J. Burnett's Curveball - It is tricky to succeed as a two-pitch starter but Burnett, for all intents and purposes, has been one for his whole career. Although his fastball is extremely quick his lack of command makes the fastball only a decent pitch. However, his curve is just plain filthy. It moves so much (both across the zone and down) that hitters will often swing at it, even when it ends up a couple feet out of the zone. He throws the pitch to left-handed batters and they will often swing at balls that nearly hit their back foot. At an 82 MPH average, the simplest way to describe Burnett's curveball is that it is impossible to find another pitch with this much movement at that speed.

17. Hong-Chih Kuo's 4-seam Fastball - Kuo's injury history and lack of command forced him to the bullpen, where he has been invaluable to the Dodgers. When he was first called up, Los Angeles used him as a lefty specialist, but they quickly realized Kuo's fastball was actually his best pitch. As a result he ended up being able to dominate both left and right-handed batters. His velocity has gone up each year of his career and he averaged over 94 MPH in 2009. The movement on his pitch is nearly identical to Wolf's but the extra 5-6 MPH make Kuo's pitch that little bit better. Kuo would be a closer for most teams but as long as Jonathan Broxton (whose fastball and slider both came fairly close to this list) is in town he'll have to settle for setup duty.

16. Rich Harden's Splitter - Similar to Burnett, it is Harden's fastball velocity that gets the most publicity, but it is not his best pitch. Harden's fastball is very straight, making it more hittable while his splitter has good tumble and is pretty quick itself, sitting in the mid 80s. Harden's fastball velocity certainly helps the splitter because batters will be geared up for the heat and be way out in front when Harden pulls the string. Over the last few years Harden has completely abandoned every breaking pitch but because the split is so effective, he can still be a great pitcher... when healthy.

15. Jake Peavy's 2-seam Fastball - Peavy has gone to the back of most people's minds after a forgettable 2009, but even in limited time he still showed that his fastball is a special pitch. It sits in the low 90s but has a significant amount of arm-side run and decent sink that induces tons of groundballs. It is undeniable that the park he plays in has helped the pitch's value numbers but it also seems obvious to me that this is a top 20 pitch in any environment. If he had been healthy all season I have no doubt Peavy would have the highest rated fastball on this list.

14. Roy Halladay's Cutter - Halladay's curveball was actually #21 when I was writing this list up; after looking at the numbers, it cannot be denied that for about three seasons now, the cutter has been his best pitch. He threw it 41.5% of the time last year (a career high) and it still maintained an incredible level of effectiveness. As I wrote in a previous article Halladay went from being a very good pitcher to one of the best in baseball when he learned and tuned his cutter. The pitch has excellent velocity (averaging roughly 91 MPH) and moves across the zone nearly as much as a slider.

13. Chris Carpenter's 2-seam Fastball - Carpenter is a bit of an oddity on this list for two reasons. The first is that he only pitched in one of the last three years and the second is that the pitch he is on this list for doesn't actually generate many swings-and-misses. His fastball makes the list because it sometimes seems impossible to get it off the ground. His fastball was primarily responsible for 2009, allowing him to generate huge amounts of easy, efficient outs with slow grounders to his infielders. That is, I believe, the difference between the groundballs Carpenter gives up compared to the rest of the league; he never seems to give up a hard-hit grounder, everything is a 10 hopper and too slow to even sneak through the infield.

12. Jonathan Papelbon's 4-seam Fastball - There are two people on this list who are one-pitch pitchers. Papelbon is the first and the other will be coming up later. In order to succeed as a one-pitch guy, that pitch has to be incredible and Papelbon's fastball is just that. It sits easily in the mid 90s and he seems to be able to hit the upper 90s when necessary. Other than its velocity, there isn't actually anything that remarkable about the pitch. He can control it fairly well and does a good job at attacking hitter's weaknesses with it, but it does not move very much in any direction. Nonetheless the batters always know it is coming and it rarely matters.

11. Cole Hamels Changeup - Hamels has a very ordinary fastball and a below average curve, but has a 3.67 ERA through his first four seasons in the majors anyway because of his changeup. His command of the pitch is its biggest asset. He will throw it for strikes or down out of the zone, making batters flail helplessly at it. The pitch does hit the magical mark of being more than 10 MPH slower than his fastball and Hamels is so good at maintaining his arm speed and slot that the pitch is devastating.

10. Ryan Dempster's Slider - We begin the top 10 with a bit of a surprise. However he has put together a couple good seasons in a row, thanks almost entirely to his slider. Even when Dempster struggled his slider was a solid pitch, however in recent years it has been exceptional. He throws it over 30% of the time, and it is very hard, only six MPH slower than his fastball. As a result the pitch has a short, but very sharp break that can generate both strikeouts and groundballs. His slider has become such a go-to pitch that he posted a 3.65 ERA last year and it was his only offering with a positive value.

9. C.C. Sabathia's Slider - The hard-throwing Sabathia's slider took a bit of a dip in value last year, but it was so potent in '07 and '08 it ranks in the top 10 anyway. His slider has more across-the-zone movement than any other pitch that averages over 80 MPH and he has excellent command of it too. Last year lefties batted under .200 against Sabathia thanks mostly to his slider, and that was when the pitch wasn't at its sharpest. He has also become adept at burying it inside to right-handed hitters who can do nothing with it but swing and miss or dribble it weakly to third base.

8. Ervin Santana's Slider - It's probably hard to believe that someone who has only had one good season in the past three years is on this list, but even last year when he struggled Santana's slider was a dominant pitch. When Santana struggles it is generally because he loses command of the fastball. His version of a slider is not exceptionally hard like Dempster or with drastic movement like Sabathia, it falls somewhere in between. The raw movement data suggests that it should be a solid pitch but I can't really see a logical reason for it rating as highly as it does. Maybe he can control the pitch better than I realize or maybe batters know that his other pitches are less effective and they're always looking to drive something else. After seeing the stats I intend to pay closer attention to Santana next year and try to figure it out, but until than it will have to be enough simply that we know it's an amazing pitch.

7. Edwin Jackson's Slider - Jackson is Santana part 2, a reasonably effective pitcher with only one good pitch. The difference between the two of them is that Jackson's fastball is actually worse but he has still been a durable league average pitcher. He throws the slider less often than Santana or Dempster, but his other options are less effective and his slider is even better than either of there's. It seems like he could be much more effective overall if he used the pitch more often. His version of the slider looks almost like a cutter, averaging just over 86 MPH with a short, sharp break. It actually reminds me a bit of the one Robb Nen used to throw. The best way to illustrate how good Jackson's slider is, is to point out that he has been a league average pitcher over the last three years, as a two pitch pitcher, and the only other pitch he throws is pretty terrible.

6. Adam Wainwright's Curveball - There are only two curveballs on this list, and Burnett's is really more of a slurve (with Halladay's curve ranking 21st). So what do Roy Halladay and Adam Wainwright have in common that makes their curve's so exceptional? They are both very tall. Halladay is 6'6 and Wainwright is 6'7; I believe that allows them to get a little extra leverage and helps the pitch break down that much more. The movement on Wainwright's curve is staggering. It is perhaps best illustrated by looking at one of his pitch fx game charts, so you can see just how different it is from his other pitches. It has a significant amount of lateral break, but it is the downward movement that is off the charts. This makes it effective against both right and left-handed batters. Wainwright was one of the best pitchers in baseball last year and the reason for the spike is his refinement of the slider and curve. Both are great pitches, but the curve is better.

5. C.C. Sabathia's Changeup - The only person to appear twice on this list, (although several were very close) I think most people would be surprised to find out Sabathia's changeup is actually his best pitch. While it has always been very good, over the last couple of seasons it has improved drastically and last year it moved in front of Sabathia's slider as his best pitch. At an average of 86 MPH it is only 8 MPH slower than his fastball, but because he has become so good at spotting it on the outside corner to righties that difference is enough. The pitch also has a huge amount of tailing action for changeup. For a right-handed batter, the location, speed and tail makes the pitch appear like a strike out of Sabathia's hand, but by the time they swing it is no longer within their reach.

4. Zack Greinke's Slider - This is Greinke's only appearance on this list but his fastball was also in the 21-30 range. Early in his career Greinke's primary breaking ball was a curve, but after his sabbatical Greinke switched to a slider. He's actually used both pitches since, but the slider has become his bread and butter. In 2007, pitching mostly in relief, it was a slightly above average pitch. In 2008 it became one of the better pitches in baseball, and in 2009 it was one of the very best overall. As he has used it more often, its velocity has increased, up to an average of 86 MPH last year and it has increased its downward break each season as well. Its across the zone movement has actually regressed some, but even after that it remains well above average. It is the combination of velocity and movement that makes the pitch special. It is the same speed as Edwin Jackson's, but with more break in both directions, and he commands it better.

3. Cliff Lee's 2-seam Fastball - Over the last two seasons, Cliff Lee's fastball has the highest total positive value number. While it is not as special as some other fastballs on a per-pitch basis, he throws it nearly 70% of the time and batters still have not figured it out. Lee works with 4 pitches, but he throws his fastball more often than A.J. Burnett, Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden, all two-pitch pitchers. Lee gives opposing batters a chance to sit on his fastball and they still cannot do anything with it. It only averages just over 90 MPH and does not move an exceptional amount in any direction. There is no real secret behind Lee's fastball though. I believe there are three key reasons why it is the best in baseball. First he hides the ball extremely well in his delivery, second he works so quickly that hitters never feel comfortable against him and most importantly, he seems to be able to throw the pitch exactly where he wants, every time.

2. Mariano Rivera's Cutter - Perhaps the only surprise here is that Rivera's cutter does not rank first overall. You can make an excellent case for it being first, but objectively I think there is one better pitch out there. I doubt that any single pitch has ever been analyzed as much as Rivera's cutter. He doesn't sit in the mid 90s anymore, but still pitches routinely at 92 MPH and his command is obviously impeccable. I earlier wrote about Edwin Jackson's exceptional slider; just to show you how special Rivera's cutter is, it actually moves more than Jackson's slider and is roughly 6 MPH faster. It almost doesn't seem possible that a pitch has can move that much when it gets to the plate so quickly, but that's what makes it pitch one of a kind.

1. Tim Lincecum's Changeup - Seriously. In case you haven't noticed, Lincecum has been the best pitcher in baseball for two years now and the pitch most responsible for that is his insane changeup. His fastball was in the 21-30 range and both of his breaking pitches are also very good, but it is the changeup that is truly special. It is as close to unhittable as exists in the Major Leagues today. However, the annoying thing is that I really cannot tell why. It checks in at 83 MPH, making it roughly 10 MPH slower than his fastball, and gives the impression of a drop because of its velocity. The biggest reason that I can see on paper for its effectiveness is that its horizontal movement is identical to Lincecum's fastball, meaning it arrives on the exact same plane. Lincecum also uses the same release point regardless of the pitch and the same arm speed. Perhaps it is a combination of all of those things and his naturally deceptive delivery that make the pitch so lethal. Lincecum only threw his changeup 21.4% of the time last year yet it's total positive value was miles ahead of any other changeup in the last six years. In fact in all the years FanGraphs has data for, only Jamie Moyer in 2002 boasted a changeup with a higher total value than Lincecum's, and in that year Moyer through the pitch 34.6% of the time, 13.2% more often than Lincecum. MLB hitters beware, baseball's ultimate weapon is Tim Lincecum's changeup.

Outside the Box, Part 3: No Interest in Halladay

I do not want the Mets in on the Roy Halladay derby. Not at all. Not unless the price in prospects is very low.

Why?

Because it makes NO sense to trade many promising prospects for the privilege of paying someone his market free agency rate.

Why would we trade a boatload of pre-arbitration prospects (read: minimum salary) for Halladay, and THEN pay Halladay a ton of money, when there are free agents available elsewhere?

I understand that John Lackey is not as good as Roy Halladay. But tell me which one of these scenarios you would rather have:

Mets Get: Roy Halladay
Mets Give: $23 million dollars per year in salary to Halladay and four top prospects to the Blue Jays -- let's say Fernando Martinez, Jennry Mejia, Jonathon Niese, and Brad Holt.

-or-

Mets Get: John Lackey, Randy Wolf
Mets Give: $25 million dollars per year in salary and no prospects.

Many, many writers much smarter than me have tackled the issue of putting a dollar value on the benefit of having young, home grown prospects who are not yet eligible for arbitration or free agency. By trading them away just for the right to pay Halladay an exorbitant amount of money would be a mistake.

I'll take one useful almost-star player as an example. His first four seasons in the show, Ian Kinsler was worth:

2006: $3.5 million
2007: $7.1 million
2008: $19.1 million
2009: $20.8 million

That's over $50 million dollars of value from a player who made only a couple million dollars in salary.

Josh Willingham, not a star, has been worth $41 million so far in his career and only earned over a million dollars this season.

Even Mike Pelfrey, who basically stinks, has been worth $23 million to the Mets and has only been paid a couple million dollars. Even this season, pitching to a 5.03 ERA, he was worth $7 million dollars.

Jon Niese was even valuable this season! He pitched only 28 innings, but they were good. He was worth $2.7 million.

Of course, Roy Halladay is excellent. He is amazing. I would LOVE IT if the Mets could sign him as a free agent. But they can't right now. For reference, the incredible Halladay has been worth $20, $23, $30, and $33 million dollars over the past few years. Paying him a humongous salary of over $20 million a year is definitely a defensible move.

However, when considering his acquisition, you have to consider the dollar value of what we are trading away. By trading young, cost-controlled prospects to acquire him, we are costing ourselves tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in addition to what we'd pay Halladay.


-----
Footnote: I'm not advocating the position that trading prospects for an ace is always a bad idea. Sometimes you need to make an in-season acquisition (see Sabathia and the Brewers in 2008. Sometimes you have the chance to make an extraordinarily good deal (see Santana to the Mets). Sometimes you are one player away -- and flags fly forever, baby.

But now is not one of those times. The Santana deal was great for the Mets because they were able to steal Santana away for prospects whose futures were unclear. For the record, Carlos Gomez has been worth $14.6 million dollars to the Twins while earning less than a million. But that was a perfect storm. Right now, I fear the asking cost for Halladay is too high -- and he is not as good a pitcher now as Santana was when we acquired him.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dan Uggla Hits the Trade Market

The Florida Marlins apparently have voiced their intentions to trade Dan Uggla, one of of the more consistent and underrated players in baseball. Uggla has two more arbitration years left and Florida expects him to get a bit more expensive than they would prefer. This gives other teams in baseball a huge opportunity to acquire an in-their-prime player who is not particularly expensive. The Marlins would like younger, cheaper, major-league ready options in exchange, so let's see if we can figure out the ideal landing spot for Uggla.

First however, I'd like to talk about just how good Uggla is. Uggla has played second base at a slightly below average level for the past four years, meaning he is not an asset with the glove but he probably will not kill you there either. A lot of teams expressing interest in Uggla plan to move him to third base, and I would expect him to be roughly an average defender at that position. As a hitter, Uggla comes from the "three-true outcomes" offensive philosophy. He strikes out a lot, walks a lot and hits a bunch of home runs. Unlike most guys of this mold though he actually hits a lot of doubles as well, which definitely helps. Last season he his slash line was .243/.354/.459 but he also posted the lowest BABIP of his career, meaning his numbers should have been a bit higher than that. In other words, Uggla is a very useful player to have on a team, not quite all-star caliber, but he is averaging over 3 WAR per season in his career.

So, what kind of team could particularly use Uggla, enough to want to trade for him? Well, they would have to be a team that would expect to be in contention or close to it next year, has a hole at second or third base and could use some power, particularly right-handed. Here are the teams that make the most sense in my opinion.

Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays were better than you think last year, Scoring significantly more runs than they allowed, and they also dealt with an insane amount of injuries to their pitching staff. They are also made up mostly of young on the rise players, and they still have Roy Halladay. However, they currently are slated to have Edwin Encarnacion as their starting third baseman and he not a great hitter and a brutal fielder. Toronto would probably have to give up one of their young pitchers and something else to get Uggla, but he plugs an obvious void for the team. He is not enough alone to push the Jays past the other monsters in the AL East, but it's a step in the right direction.

Minnesota Twins
Uggla is not really a player that fits what the Twins are typically looking for, which is unfortunate because he is a perfect fit for them. They currently seem to plan on starting Nick Punto at either third or second and I don't see how a team expects to go deep into the playoffs starting Punto everyday. The Twins two best hitters by far are both left-handed and Michael Cuddyer in the only right-handed player on the roster with power so Uggla helps to balance out the lineup.

Oakland Athletics
The Athletics are actually close to being competitive in their division. They have a lot of good young pitching and some decent role-players in the lineup but desperately need some more pop. It is also hard to imagine a team that has gotten less production out of the third base position than the A's the last couple of years, leaving a spot wide open for Uggla. They are already playing Jack Cust everyday, and Uggla is a right-handed version of him that can also play defense.

St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals had to scramble mid-season last year to plug holes in left-field and third base with one-year solutions, so both holes actually still exist. Why not fix the problem at third base before the season? With Mark DeRosa and Troy Glaus on their way out and Brett Wallace traded to Oakland, the best in house option might be David Freese who is probably not good enough for a team with playoff aspirations. The only possible power threats in this lineup beyond Pujols are maybe Ryan Ludwick or Colby Rasmus but neither is a sure thing yet so they could really use Uggla's 30 home runs.

Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are losing both Orlando Hudson and Ronnie Belliard to free-agency so second base it once again an area of need. They might be more inclined to go with a defense-first player considering their already potent lineup, but the Dodgers are never afraid to make a trade so the possibility cannot be denied. However, they may be more focused on the pitching staff and Uggla will make more than Hudson did last year, possibly putting him over what they would be willing to spend.

San Francisco Giants
This to me is the best spot for Uggla. Since the Giants are locked into Freddy Sanchez at second, they would have to play Uggla at third and move Sandoval to first base, where he is a better fit anyway, and dump the Garko/Ishikawa duo that just isn't going to get it done. With Bengie Molina on his way out, only two players on the current roster had double-digit home runs last year and also only two players with OBP's over .330. This is a team with one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, but in desperate need for a bat. Buster Posey is almost ready, and he will help, but they need a lot more and the availability of Uggla is the perfect opportunity for them.


I could also see Uggla fitting in reasonably well with the Cubs, Braves, Rockies, Mariners and Phillies but don't think those teams make as much sense for various reasons; the Cubs have bigger needs elsewhere, the Phillies and Braves are both in-division and I don't think the Phillies would want to part with prospects to get him, the Rockies seem content with Barmes at second for some reason, and the Mariners probably would want a better defender for the salary Uggla makes.

There have also been reports that the Orioles have expressed interest in Uggla, and they do also need a third baseman. However, I think the Orioles are probably more than a year away at best, meaning they probably would not be ready to make a legitimate run at the division until after Uggla is due to hit the market. It is possible Baltimore believes they're closer than that or maybe they will just resign Uggla, but it does not seem like the best fit for me.

The Marlins should have plenty of suitors for Uggla and could probably get a decent haul for him. Each of the teams outlined above has plenty of reasons to go after Uggla but it is the Giants who stand the most to gain. They were a good team last year, even though they only had one good hitter on the roster, and they have a couple of prospects in Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner nearly ready to break into the majors. Adding Uggla might be enough to put them over the edge. With Los Angeles also in the division, San Francisco has to be aggressive if they expect to keep up and the door is now open for them to do so.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Keep or Trade Fernando?

Today Metsblog.com had a poll, asking readers whether they think that we should keep or trade top prospect Fernando Martinez.

I'm sorry -- where is the option for "THE IDEA OF TRADING HIM IS CRAZY!!!" because I didn't see it. I explained my feelings on Fernando earlier this month both here and here. Among other things, I pointed out that:

Fernando hit .290/.337/.540 in AAA last season at the age of 20. And this is building on a season where, at the age of 19, and after a slow April, he hit .303 in AA from May til the end of the year.

* * *

It appears the guys at Amazin' Avenue might feel the same about the drop in the rankings and the perception of Fernando. They worry that perhaps "the Mets are putting stock into his worthless sample-size major-league audition, because I find it hard to believe an injury could hurt his stock so much in a season where he had a break out."

And break out he certainly did. We are watching Fernando Martinez finally tap into the immense potential we've been told about for three years. If you told anyone that you had a 20 year-old in Triple-A and posting an OPS of 877, they would probably be willing to trade the farm for him. But in New York, the hype machine starts young and fizzles out quickly.


I also mentioned that Fernando's minor league performance compared favorably to players such as Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez, David Wright, Matt Holliday, Grady Sizemore, and many others. Metsblog acknowledged a hesitance to give up on Fernando now, pointing out:

He’s only 20 years old… i mean, at 20 years old, David Wright was batting .250 in the Single-A Sally League… this year, in his fourth professional season, Fernando hit .290 with 26 extra base hits in 45 games for Triple-A Buffalo

I'm not guaranteeing that Fernando Martinez is going to turn into Jeter, or Pujols, or whomever else. But the concept that he might be someone who would be a good candidate to trade now is nuts.

Take a look at Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects from last year. The #1 prospect in all of baseball was Matt Weiters. He had a fantastic season in 2008, before the rankings came out. He was a stud, and he posted an OPS over 1000 at both A and AA. But he was 22 years old... still two full years older than Fernando Martinez is today. If Fernando was left to grow and mature in the minors for two more years, how do you think he would do in Double-A?

To compare Fernando to another young outfielder, Cameron Maybin was the #8 prospect in the entire game. In 2008, he had just come off a season where he hit .277/.375/.456 in AA as a 21 year old. One year OLDER than Fernando, at one level LOWER than Fernando, and posted statistics WORSE than Fernando.

Colby Rasmus, another outfielder, was ranked #3 in all of baseball. He was coming off a season where he hit a paltry .251/.346/.396 in AAA as a 21 year old. People were giving him credit because of his tools and because he was dealing with an apparent injury -- but those stats are NOT good. People were still raving over his previous year, where he hit .275/.381/.551 in AA as a 20 year old. Fantastic stats to be sure, and the tools to match, but comparable to Fernando and at an entire level lower.

These are not meant to be direct comparisons or predictions[1]. They are simply meant to point out the absolute ridiculous nature in which Fernando Martinez's future is being discussed. Fernando isn't the next coming of Mickey Mantle -- but he compares favorably to players who were given incredible hype as prospects.

It is about time that he gets his due. He turned 21 only last month, and he's knocking on the door of the major leagues. The idea that now might be a good time to trade him, or that he could be used as a chip to acquire someone like Curtis Granderson[2], is downright silly.

-----
[1] Weiters was a catcher. Rasmus is regarded as one of the more athletically gifted prospects in the game. Maybin is also an excellent athlete, and plays centerfield.

These comparisons are not direct, nor does simply looking at numbers tell you the entire story. Some scouts don't like Fernando's tools or is projection. They worry that he will not be so fast, and he'll have to hit better to justify a high ranking. Well to that I say -- he has.

The point is that those three were SO highly regarded as to be considered 3 of the top 10 prospects in all of baseball. They were not just good or interesting prospects -- they were the elite.

Fernando, despite performing similarly or better and at a younger age, will probably be ranked somewhere between 25 and 35 on this year's list of top prospects. Why?


[2] I can't find stats for Curtis Granderson was 20, but when he was 21 he was in Low-A ball. He hit .286/.365/.458. He didn't truly break out as a prospect until he was 22, when he hit .303/.407/.515 in AA.

The 2008 Draft Class, One Full Year In

We're just starting figure out how good some of these players in the 2008 draft are now that they are a full year into their careers. So, let's just check in on them and see how each of them has started off their pro career.

1. (TB) Tim Beckham - Beckham was drafted more because he was a great athlete with some baseball skills than for his bat, and he had a very ordinary year in low-A. However, the most worrying thing is that scouting reports say that Beckham has lost some of his athleticism, and the once sure-fire shortstop now might not be able to handle that position long term.

2. (PIT) Pedro Alvarez - After some messy contract negotiations and showing up to camp out of shape, Alvarez had a lot of ground to make up and he did exactly that in 2009. After a sluggish start to the year he caught fire, earned a promotion to AA and simply destroyed the Eastern League. Alvarez is a real good hitter, but it seems like he's probably going to be a first baseman eventually.

3. (KC) Eric Hosmer - Hosmer was doing O.K. in low-A and then was inexplicably pushed to high-A where he struggled before being shut down with eye-issues. He apparently had lasik surgery and is ready to go for next year; he has a ton of raw power but really has not shown any ability to tap into it yet.

4. (BAL) Brian Matusz - The most polished pitcher in the draft, Matusz cruised through the minors and held his own in the big leagues to end the year. It was really a perfect year for Matusz who should probably be considered Baltimore number 2 starter already in 2010.

5. (SF) Buster Posey - Posey was almost taken first overall and in hindsight maybe he should have been. Posey had a terrific year with the bat, and is nearly ready for the majors already as a hitter. He has excellent defensive skills but still needs to iron out a few rough edges. There are a lot of great catching prospects right now, but Posey is probably the best.

6. (FLA) Kyle Skipworth - Skipworth flew up teams' boards right before the draft because of all-around potential. After a miserable season however, where he played some of the year hurt, Skipworth did not deliver on any of that potential. He is still very young so it is not quite time to panic yet, but his 2009 was terrible across the board.

7. (CIN) Yonder Alonso - A surprise pick to most, Cincinnati valued Alonso's disciplined approach at the plate. He continued to show his great batting eye, but a wrist injury and lack of power made his 2009 a bit forgettable. The Reds will probably have to trade him or Votto at one point since neither can really play anything other than first base.

8. (CWS) Gordon Beckham - Beckham had arguably the best season of anyone in the 2008 draft; he spent half the year in the majors, where he hit well and played solid defense at a new position. Beckham looks like he has the ability to hit for both average and power while handling any infield position, the type of player any team would love to have.

9. (WAS) Aaron Crow - Crow did not sign and went back into the 2009 draft.

10. (HOU) Jason Castro - Most considered this pick a reach, a cash saving move by a team that never spends money in the draft, but Castro's career is off to a fine start. He spent half the year crushing the ball in high-A and then was solid in AA. He's a sound defender and projects as a solid hitter in the majors, and he should be ready to play in Houston in 2011

11. (TEX) Justin Smoak - One of the best pure hitters in the draft, Smoak had a great spring and flew out of the gate but was slowed by injuries later in the season. He showed a much better eye than was expected and is also a great fielder. Despit the injury, Smoak really helped his stock this year.

12. (OAK) Jemile Weeks - Oakland was targeting an up-the-middle athlete and got one in Weeks. He was playing very well at high-A but struggled after a promotion to AA and then got hurt. Weeks is a great athlete but some are questioning his bat, and few expect him to have much power.

13. (STL) Brett Wallace - Wallace was the key trading chip that allowed St. Louis to get Matt Holliday. Wallace isn't much of a defender at third but looks like he could be a high average hitter with 20+ home run power and a good eye. He didn't play his best after the trade and many felt he was pressing due to the pressure of "being traded for Matt Holliday."

14. (MIN) Aaron Hicks - Hicks surprisingly started the year in rookie ball, and played well there before being moved up to high-A late in the year. He continued to show a good approach at the plate but did not drive the ball as well after the promotion. It will be interesting to see if Minnesota continues to move Hicks slowly up the ladder.

15. (LAD) Ethan Martin - Martin was considered by most to be the best prep pitcher of the draft and he struck out a ton of guys but also had some control issues in low-A. Overall it was a solid debut for Martin who will have to iron out his command issues as he moves up the ladder.

16. (MIL) Brett Lawrie - Lawrie was drafted as a catcher but has already moved to second base and there have been questions as to whether he can stay there long-term as well. He had a great year with the bat in 2009, particularly for a raw high schooler from Canada.

17. (TOR) David Cooper - Cooper spent the whole season at AA, a fairly aggressive assignment for the first baseman who held his own but did not do much more than that. Cooper does not have as much raw power as most teams would like in a first baseman, but he has a good approach and should be able to hit in the majors.

18. (NYM) Ike Davis - After a disastrous debut in 2008, Davis bounced back in a major way in 2009. He hit very well in high-A and then improved after being promoted to AA. Although his swing still gets long at times and he has issues with breaking pitches, Davis looks like he could be the future 1B of the Mets. There was also a lot of praise given out for his work in the field

19. (CHC) Andrew Cashner - Cashner has a big arm but doesn't always use it that effectively. He posted good ERAs in high-A and AA while giving up only 1 home run combined; however, Cashner's secondary pitches still need a lot of work and he did not strike out many batters. Most scouts think he is a reliever in the long term but he will remain a starter for now.

20 (SEA) Josh Fields - Fields nearly did not sign, and when he finally came to terms with Seattle he was obviously rusty. Fields' velocity and control were off all year and the bite on his curveball was rarely there. Time will tell whether the change is permanent or an aberration.

21. (DET) Ryan Perry - Taking a reliever in the first round because they should be able to move quickly rarely works, but Perry spent nearly all of 2009 in the majors and did a respectable job despite some occasionally erratic control. He's probably only some seasoning away from being Detroit's closer.

22. (NYM) Reese Havens - Havens had a solid season in 2009, showing he had good pitch recognition and enough pop to be a threat at the plate. His defense was a little below average at short and he is moving to second base for next season. He has a chance to be an above average hitter, and should be a solid defender at second as well.

23. (SD) Allan Dykstra - Dykstra had s mostly disappointing season, spending all of it in low-A, a very conservative assignment for a first rounder from college. He drew 104 walks but showed minimal ability to hit for average or power. Also not much of a fielder, Dykstra will have to prove he can be more effective with the bat soon.

24. (PHI) Anthony Hewitt - Hewitt was an incredibly raw player drafted by Philadelphia purely for his tools. However, I don't think even they thought he was this far away from the majors. Hewitt hit 223/255/395 with a 77:9 K:BB ratio in short-season ball. If not for his prodigious tools that would make him a non-prospect, as it stands the best case scenario for Hewitt is that he is 4 years away from the majors, but he is officially in the "prove it" pile of prospects now.

25. (COL) Christian Friedrich - The Rockies were conservative with Friedrich, a polished college pitcher. He over-matched both levels of A-ball in a very solid debut. Friedrich doesn't have the ceiling his numbers might suggest but he is an excellent prospect who should find a home in the middle of Colorado's rotation by 2011 at the latest.

26. (ARZ) Daniel Schlereth - Schlereth dominated the minors and spent some time with the big club in 2009. He nibbled a little too much in Arizona and has more than enough stuff to get hitters out. By any measure his first full season was a success and he should break camp next year with Arizona

27. (MIN) Carlos Gutierrez - This pick shocked me at the time, I'm not sure why anyone would want to draft a 25-year-old relief pitcher, but that's what Minnesota did. They tried converting him into a starter and he struggled mightily in AA. Normally that would not be a problem in a prospect's first full season but Gutierrez is already 27 and it is difficult to see how he could improve much.

28. (NYY) Gerrit Cole - Cole did not sign and is currently blowing batters away at UCLA

29. (CLE) Lonnie Chisenhall - Chisenhall was a bit under the radar going into the draft and it appears Cleveland found a bargain. He had an excellent year with the bat at high-A and also handled the transition to 3B well.

30. (BOS) Casey Kelly - Kelly split his time between the mound and shortstop in 2009. As a pitcher Kelly showed outstanding polish and poise for a kid drafted out of high school. As a shortstop he showed defensive aptitude but it also appears unlikely he will ever hit enough to make it to the majors. His future is on the mound and as soon as he fully commits to that path, expect him to fly through the minors.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Outside the Box, Part 2: Bring Back Fonzie

A few days ago, Kevin Kernan of the New York Post caught up with our former second baseman, Edgardo Alfonzo.

This caught my attention, to say the least.

Alfonzo still has his baseball dream. He wants to play for the Mets one more time. When his career ends, he wants it to end as a Met. The fact that Alfonzo still has that kind of loyalty to his former team tells you everything you need to know about the man.
* * *
He feels so confident he is willing to put it all on the line for a shot at the majors. He’s going back to Venezuela for winter ball with the hopes of being signed by a big league club.

The Mets stand above all others: The team he signed with in 1991 and played eight years with and went to the World Series with in 2000, the Subway Series, which he still holds dear to his heart . . . If Alfonzo goes to spring training with the Mets and it doesn’t work out, so be it.

“My dream is to retire with the Mets colors,” Alfonzo said. “That’s my dream. That’s what I’m praying for, maybe it will happen, maybe not, but dreams sometimes come true, you know.”

What? No. I just have something in my eye. In both my eyes.

It's been a while since Fonzie has been a truly productive ballplayer. After a fine 2002 season with the Mets where he hit .308/.391/.459 with 16 home runs and more walks than strikeouts, he has struggled mightily.

From 2003-2006 he posted an OPS of only 701, while batting .266. His plate discipline was still there (138 walks to 199 strikeouts in almost 1500 plate appearances), but he hit for no power at all (slugging .371 with only 26 homers in that time). Since then, he's played in the Independent League, Japan, and the Venezuelan Winter League.

The odds of Alfonzo returning to any kind of form where he could help the Mets on the field is somewhere between zero and impossible. Best case scenario, he might be able to hit .275 with some walks and no power -- but nobody has seen him play at the major league level in years[1].

His last two years in the majors he returned ugly fielding stats (courtesy fangraphs), but we really don't know how much of that is small sample size, injury, or otherwise. As any good Mets fan knows, when he was healthy he was an excellent and versatile defender, capable of playing third or second base (and also, according to Kernan, first base). Most importantly, even when he was putting up bad numbers defensively, they came almost exclusively at third base. As a second baseman, his UZR was basically zero from 2003-2006.

So why is this a good idea for the Mets? Frankly, it's a no-risk proposition and there is a fairly good chance that Alfonzo can help.

Fonzie sounds prepared to face the facts if he is unable to play the game at the major league level anymore. There is no harm in inviting him to spring training and letting him run around Port St. Lucie with the team again. As Kernan points out:

Anyone who has spent time in the Mets clubhouse the past year knows that adding a class player and person like Edgardo Alfonzo only would help. He could toss some helpful advice David Wright’s way.

Alfonzo’s dream is to go to spring training with the Mets and let the chips fall where they may. He said he thinks he could be a valuable utility player and feels he has two or three years of baseball left in his body. He also could offer guidance and wisdom to a team that lacked baseball common sense.

I don't typically buy the notion of "class players" or that Alfonzo will in any way make David Wright better. But he *is* a great person. He loves the Mets, and wants to give back to the organization. When healthy, he was a truly fantastic hitter with phenomenal plate discipline -- even when he was hurt and on the verge of getting knocked out of baseball, he managed to walk 5 times and strike out only once with the Blue Jays. He worked long counts, he understood the game, and he's a rare, decent human being.

So take a look at the potential upside. If he can hit .275, draw some walks, and play fair but not terrible defense -- he will have value. If he's willing to come back and don the Orange and Blue for one more year at a minimum salary or with a contract with incentives, what would we have to lose? Take a look at the sad excuses for players that the Mets trotted out there last season:

Alex Cora: 2009 OPS of 630. Career OPS of 658
Wilson Valdez: 2009 OPS of 664. Career OPS of 565.
Anderson Hernandez: 2009 OPS of 651. Career OPS of 627.
Ramon Martinez: 2009 OPS of 396. Career OPS of 689.

I don't advocate roster construction based on the worst-case scenario, but my suggestion to the Mets would be to bring Alfonzo back to spring training and give him a chance to show he can play.

If he can't, cut him loose. But if he can -- and I think there is a fair chance that he could surprise people -- he might be a low-cost, fan-friendly, positive-influence of a guy. Why not find out?

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[1] For what it's worth, Alfonzo posted good numbers in the Independent League in 2008. After an injury plagued 2006 in the majors, he struggled in the Independent League in 2007, posting a 714 OPS. The next year, however, he returned to an 884 OPS and .329 average.

Friday, November 13, 2009

He's got a lot of character

From what I've read, Mets fans should be ecstatic that Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek exercised his player option for next season. Blog posts and newspaper articles have breathlessly mentioned Varitek's shitty offensive numbers last season (.209/.313/.390) and have declared that it's a good thing Omar Minaya didn't have a chance to try to sign the 37-year-old catcher. This surprised me a little bit. Varitek has been the captain in Boston since 2005, and time and time again his "clubhouse presence" and "leadership qualities" have been celebrated. In the pre-Sabermetric age, wouldn't reporters be telling Mets fans Varitek would be beneficial for the team? That his "intangibles" would help "clubhouse chemistry"? Maybe even mention the '07 collapse and assume that if Tek was around he never would have let it happen? I think so. The purely numerical-based opinions being spewed by the media seem reflexive more than progressive, as if they are almost afraid of promoting a player because they'd be forced to result to using a trope. It's kind of funny. But kind of sad. Which is kind of why it's funny.

The trope I'm referring to is the notion of "clubhouse presence." Ever since I can remember, I've heard of specific players being great for their team, not because of their stats, but for how they bring levity to a 162-game season, say the exact right thing to motivate a newbie into a star player, and keep the peace behind the scenes.

Here's the thing: It's kind of bullshit. When you think about the classic examples of players who were brought in for the express purpose of doing those things, they were also really good on the field. It's great if you're not a jerk and you have a sense of humor with your teammates, but you have to perform too.

Remember Darren Daulton? Daulton was, as one unattributed but oft-repeated quote put it, “the greatest clubhouse leader the Phillies ever had.” Darren Daulton is also kind of a crazy person.* Apparently during a game he pulled a ball just inside of third base, which he would later claim to his wife was something he "did not do". The actual quote was: "It wasn't me who swung that bat! It wasn't me!" These are some things that Darren Daulton believes:

He can control the weather based on his mood.

He once traveled through time.

The Mayan calendar ending on December 12, 2012 means the world will in fact end on that date.

In other words, he will be at the midnight premiere of the movie 2012. Afterwards he will either write John Cusack a fawning letter of appreciation or call Art Bell and complain that it was "disaster porn" in the worst kind of way.

The guy was a character, clearly. But Darren was also a three-time all-star. According to Bill James he is the 25th greatest catcher to ever play the game. He and the '93 Phillies won the National League pennant. During the 1997 season Daulton was traded to the Marlins, who eventually won the World Series. "Dutch" actually hit .389 in that World Series, homering in Game 3, starting in all but one of the seven games. He then retired. The guy backed up the crazy.

* I say "kind of" a crazy person because he hasn't resorted to isolating himself in a cabin in the woods or anything like that. He still makes public appearances, including throwing out first pitches at Phillies games. However, it's 85 percent likely he is in fact cuckoo bananas, not because his weird theories are probably wrong, but because he never once started any sentence with "I know this sounds crazy, but..." That kind of disclaimer goes a long way. For more on his theories, click here. If you dare.

Ah yes, Lenny Harris. As a Met fan, I remember Lenny Harris. He was another player who was great for the clubhouse. Harris, however, tests my hypothesis a little bit. He was a bit of a choker in the postseason, going hitless in five at-bats in 2000 for the Mets against the Yankees, and in 2003 the Marlins left him off the World Series roster. (But got a ring for his troubles.) However, he IS the all-time leader in pinch-hits, so that's definitely something. You can't have such a good sense of humor that umpires will award you a spot on base 804 times.

Kevin Millar joined the Red Sox in 2003. During the season he began to utter the phrase "Cowboy Up!", which galvanized the team to...lose to the Yankees in the playoffs. However, in the following season, Millar got the Red Sox a little further, this time by insisting that he and his teammates were "idiots." When the Red Sox were on the verge of being eliminated again by the Yankees in the ALCS, Millar claimed that because they were "idiots" they were too dumb to understand that being down three games to none in a best-of-seven series was a bad thing. This despite the fact that a)they played seven games in a best-of-seven series one year before that, and b)all of them graduated from high school. It worked, and some fans will unconditionally love the jolly self-proclaimed moron forever.

Millar (mill-AH) couldn't have been that stupid. He drew the lead-off walk in the pivotal 9th inning in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. After that, he was pinch run for by Dave Roberts, who stole second, and scored on a Bill Mueller single, and something like ten days later there was world peace. Or something. And that walk was given up by Mariano Rivera, who is fairly decent. Millar is tied with Kevin Youkilis for the minor league record for most consecutive games reaching base (71). In 2007, he broke the Baltimore Orioles' consecutive games reaching base record. His lifetime .274 average is an indicator that he was a legitimate ballplayer on the field, and his attempt at portraying his teammates as dumbasses was only part of his contribution.

Jason Varitek wouldn't be of value to the Mets if he didn't perform offensively. He may have caught four no-hitters in his lifetime, and he may have leadership qualities, but you have to back it up with your bat. The thing is, there's a statistic that may indicate he would do better in 2010. Jason was actually the unluckiest person in baseball: his BABIP (batting average of balls hit in play) was .238. If he had played the minimum amount of games to qualify, that would have been the lowest BABIP in all of baseball. (The average BABIP "hovers around .300.") He also became unlucky in love: Varitek got divorced in July of 2008. It isn't inconceivable that a new city and a new team could have given a recently divorced man a fresh start, a better frame of mind, and a few extra hits in the gaps—giving him a higher average. A Varitek/Josh Thole catching duo, with Varitek playing the role of mentor, wouldn't have been unwelcome. And if it didn't work out on the field, we could end up with a hackneyed sitcom or dramedy about the guy.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Return of the Kid...Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

As I'm sure you've heard, the Mariners inked Ken Griffey Jr. to another one-year extension yesterday. The deal, however, has been criticized by notable figures in the Mariners sabermetric community.

Dave Cameron at USS Mariner cites diminished roster flexibility as his chief critique:
If we assume that the M’s are going to carry 12 pitchers again, that leaves them with a four man bench. One of those spots is reserved for the back-up catcher, and now Junior occupies another. That means the final two bench spots have to serve as the reserves for the other eight spots on the field.
Meanwhile, Jon at formerly-Bleeding Blue and Teal now-Pro Ball NW maintains a snarky ambivalence:
"Whatever...[h]opefully Griffey can use his super dooper clubhouse chemistry powers to lure in a free agent that Seattle otherwise would have trouble pulling."
Of course, there are plenty of the old-guard writers who excitedly await Griffey's return to the clubhouse. These include sabermetric averse writers who fawn over veterans and uncritical Mariners fans.

I feel that the oft-cited clubhouse tangibles that Griffey brought to the team this past season and increased Griffey-related merchandise sales are worth the $3.5 million (reported value of the contract if all incentives are met). The contract is hardly an albatross; monetarily, the incentive-laden deal is similar to the last minute deal he signed this past spring.

On the field, in ~450 PA, he somehow led the team in walks...though that may be more an indicator of how O-ffensive the offense was in '09 than anything else. That said, I harbor no fantasies of a return to form and I'm sure Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik doesn't either. It doesn't help that Griffey had surgery on Oct. 26 to remove bone spurs from his soon-to-be 40 year-old knees.

I'll concede the roster flexibility criticism to a certain degree. Jack Hannahan, Bill Hall and Matt Tuiasasopo can be utilized as super-subs in many positions to help fortify an already outstanding defense. Griffey, however, will most likely be utilized as SS Jack Wilson's late-inning pinch hitter against RHP. Wakamatsu, depending on who else Zduriencik acquires this offseason, can mix-and-match with the remaining bench players. Wak effectively mitigated Griffey's on field-presence as much as he could, particularly given Endy Chavez' injury and early-season roster deficiencies that weren't addressed until the arrivals of Hannahan and Hall. I'm confident that he'll be able to do the same in 2010.

Bottom line though, I like the move as a baseball fan because it allows me to see one of my favorite players evah continue to have an impact on my favorite team. Whether it's a net positive impact remains to be seen.

The Real Gold Gloves

Anyone who follows baseball closely realizes that the players who win the gold gloves are often not the best fielders in the league. The voters simply don't seem to care very much about who they vote for, which is a shame, but luckily we can just ignore them and figure out who should have won ourselves. Here are the people that, based on the most advanced statistics available, probably should have won the awards. I am basing this mostly on this year's performance, but also factoring in performance in the past couple of years as well since fielding stats are more accurate with the larger sample size.

American League

C - Gerald Laird; HM - Joe Mauer
Not really a surprise here, Laird is an excellent athlete for a catcher, he's excellent at nabbing base-stealers and one of the best on the bunt.

1B - Kendry Morales; HM - Kevin Youkilis
First base is the hardest position to really get statistically, but Morales combines exceptional assist, putout and fielding % numbers. It would have been Youkilis if he'd spent the whole season at first, but I cannot justify giving him the award since he just didn't rack up enough innings.

2B - Dustin Pedroia; HM - Placido Polanco
Purely on this years statistics, Polanco was better this year and Ian Kinsler was about equal; however, Pedroia has been better over the last few seasons on the whole by a respectable amount and given the large amount of noise in fielding statistics I feel that Pedroia is the proper choice.

3B - Evan Longoria; HM - Chone Figgins/Adrian Beltre
All three of these guys are really superb fielders, but Longoria has been the best, both this year and combining the last two. If you have watched him play, it is impossible to miss his lightning reflexes and strong, accurate arm.

SS - Elvis Andrus; HM - Cesar Izturis
Izturis and Adam Everett actually were slightly better than Andrus on a rate basis, but because Andrus played basically 300 more innings at SS than either of them, I'm giving him the award. He has phenomenal range and makes very few mental mistakes, particularly for someone so young.

OF - Franklin Gutierrez, Ryan Sweeney, Carl Crawford; HM - B.J. Upton, Ichiro, David Dejesus
Gutierrez is probably the best defensive player in all of baseball. He essentially laps the field in terms of outfielders and the fact that he didn't win a real gold glove this year is criminally negligent. Ryan Sweeney goes completely unnoticed in Oakland but he has both great range and a fantastic arm, he's the only one in the same area code as Gutierrez on a rate basis. Crawford is really a centerfielder playing left, but he does it so much better than everyone else he gets the third glove.

P - Mark Buehrle; HM - Felix Hernandez
Buehrle's defense is one of the subtle reasons he has so much success despite not striking out many guys or having great stuff. Ground-ball inducing left-handers tend to be the best fielding pitchers partially out of opportunity but also often out of necessity.

National League

C - Yadier Molina; HM - Russ Martin
Anyone who has watched Molina play the catcher position realizes he just does it differently than everyone else. He makes every base-runner nervous and passive while being rock-solid in blocking pitches as well. His quick feet and rocket arm also make him one of the best at fielding bunts. He also is the most aggressive catcher at trying to get lead runners or throwing behind people and steals several outs that way over the course of the season.

1B - Albert Pujols; HM - Adrian Gonzalez
Forget complicated defensive metrics, Pujols led NL 1B's in assists by 49 and putouts by 84! He's not just the best hitter in baseball but probably the best all around player.

2B - Chase Utley; HM - Brandon Phillips
Perhaps the only player that could give Pujols a run at best all-around player is Utley. He has been the best defensive second baseman in all of baseball for several years now and somehow has not won a gold glove yet. I think it is mostly a stereo type thing; people see a slugging second baseman and automatically assume he is a stiff, completely ignoring the fact that he gets to more balls than anyone else out there.

3B - Ryan Zimmerman; HM - Kevin Kouzmanoff
Zimmerman really has no competition for this award, he is similar to Longoria. A great athlete with quick reflexes and a big arm who makes both the spectacular play and the routine one.

SS - JJ Hardy; HM - Ryan Theriot - Hardy, Theriot and Rafael Furcal were all pretty even this year but I'm giving the award to Hardy based on his track record the last few seasons. Hardy would have probably separated himself on his own if he wasn't bench for poor hitting late in the year anyway.

OF - Nyjer Morgan, Randy Winn, Mike Cameron; HM - Colby Rasmus, Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence
P - Ubaldo Jimenez; HM - Jason Marquis
Morgan is not only one of the fastest outfielders in the majors, but he also takes perfect routes, allowing him to take full advantage of his speed. Even if his hitting tumbles (which it probably will) he is still a valuable asset. Cameron and Winn are both getting up there in years and while they may have lost a step, they make up for it with intelligent positioning. Both are still at the top of the class in terms of range.

Outside the Box, Part 1: Magglio Ordonez

This might sound crazy, but the Mets might want to take a look at acquiring a guy like Magglio Ordonez for next season.

Now, as has been discussed ad nauseum, Magglio managed to trigger his massive $18 million option for the 2010 season. At this stage of his career, at the tail end of a big contract, he is simply not worth that kind of money[1].

But might he make sense for the Mets?

Although his struggles last year were highly publicized, Magglio ended the year with a very respectable line of .310/.376/.428 with only 9 home runs. His career line is very similar in average and on-base, but his career slugging percentage is .513, and he hit 24, 28, and 21 home runs in the previous three years.

Even better, after struggling uncharacteristically in the first half, he hit above his career averages in the second half, destroying up the American League at a .375/.438/.540 pace.

As for 2010, Magglio has a projected (as per Bill James) line of .311/.376/.476 with 17 home runs. In addition, he played 104 games in right field last season and posted a -2.8 UZR according to fangraphs -- not bad at all[2]. The previous two years he posted ratings of 15.4 and -5.6.

He will play the entirety of next year at age 36. It is not unreasonable to believe that he can reach, or even exceed, that projected line. If he met the projection, he would be worth approximately $14 million next year.

So why does this make sense for the Mets? Because the Tigers are trying to dump salary. Per the New York Post:

In a cost-cutting frame of mind, the Tigers have let teams now that Curtis Granderson could be had for the right package, an NL executive told The Post.
* * *
But the Tigers are supporting a top payroll in one of the cities hit hardest by the economic downturn, and they have many long-term commitments to players who are just about untradeable, including Magglio Ordonez


If the Tigers are trying to dump salary, and they are out of it next year, then they would LOVE to shed Magglio's contract. They would much prefer to hold on to young talent who could concievably be around for the next good Tigers team, like Granderson or Edwin Jackson.

So instead of signing Matt Holliday for $18-$20 million per season for six years, the Mets could bolster their lineup by acquiring Magglio in a straight salary dump. We'd have a VERY good hitter, have to give up almost nothing, and have a financial commitment of only one or two seasons. This all depends on the state of the Tigers, but the teams match up perfectly.

In my outside the box plan, the Mets would take on Magglio's contract in a manner similar to when Manny Ramirez was available through waivers several years ago from the Red Sox. Then, they could non-tender Francoeur, move him to left field, or trade him for something that we could really use. If we were to non-tender him, the cost of Magglio's contract would net out to something like $13 million.

I'd say it's worth kicking the tires.

------
[1] According to Cot's Contracts, Magglio has the same vesting option for 2011 -- that is, if he reached 135 starts or 540 PA's, that his contract will trigger again for another $18 million. Let's assume for now, however, that we can avoid that by resting him continually throughout the year.

[2] In comparison, Jeff Francoeur rated as a -6.1 last season.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Everyone Should Learn to Throw a Cutter

I was recently looking through fangraph's pitching value stats when something struck me. It involved the effectiveness of the cutter, a pitch made famous by Mariano Rivera but thrown by several other pitchers with a great deal of effectiveness.

In the last two years among qualified starters, 17 pitchers can be said to use a cutter often enough that it can be considered a legitimate part of their repertoire. Those 17 pitchers are: Roy Halladay, Scott Feldman, Dan Haren, Jon Lester, John Danks, Andy Pettitte, Chad Billingsley, Jason Marquis, Doug Davis, Jamie Moyer, John Garland, Mark Buehrle, Brian Bannister, Cliff Lee, James Shields, Nick Blackburn, Jarrod Washburn. That is an interesting cross-section of players. We have power pitchers, finesse pitchers, stars, mediocre players, lefties and righties.

The big point however is that these are the only starting pitchers who throw cutters routinely in baseball right now and the striking thing is that all of their cutters are effective. With every other pitch available to a person you will find some that are very good and some that are very bad. For every Zack Greinke slider there is a Braden Looper slider, for every Adam Wainwright curve you have a Joe Saunders. Not so, with the cutter. Out of those 17 pitchers, the worst cutter belongs to Jarrod Washburn, but even his was just barely a below average pitch. Conversely there are a lot of pitchers whose cutters are extremely effective.

Out of the 17 pitchers listed, for nine of them, the cutter is their most effective pitch. Those nine include Halladay, Lester, Haren, Danks, and Pettitte who are some of the best pitchers in baseball right now. Just as interestingly, in zero cases is the cutter the worst pitch in any of those players' repertoire.

The data for the relief pitchers in baseball is actually very similar to this, for most of the players who employ a cutter, it is their best pitch and for almost no one who uses is regularly does it have a negative value.

All of this data seems to suggest that the cutter, in general, is an incredibly useful pitch to learn and use. It seems that more pitchers are learning it every year and it has helped their careers immensely. Scott Feldman only starting using it often this year and turned himself from an average reliever into an above average starter. Roy Halladay's spike in strikeouts recently corresponds directly to his increased use of the cutter. John Danks had a poor rookie season in 2007, learned a cutter in 2008 and turned himself into a borderline all-star. These are perfect examples of how learning this pitch has greatly altered a players career for the better. All of you pitcher out there take note; if you want to become a better pitcher, learn a cutter!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

New Team!

Hey everyone.

Just wanted to let you all know that we're taking a few new writers on board here at Fonzie Forever.

Two of my best friends from high school and two of my best friends from college are lending their talents to the site.

The staff is going to consist of two Mets fans, two Yankees fans, and a Mariners fan. Hopefully, it'll be a well-rounded and fun experience for everyone. Plus, I enjoy the perspective of non-Mets fans on my work.

Keep checking back!

-Brian

Formerly: A Blog Dedicated to the Mets, Random Statistical Analyses, Baseless Predictions, and Edgardo Alfonzo's Magical 1999 and 2000. And David Wright... and cookies. And Pedro's hair, but really that's it.