Sunday, January 31, 2010

2010 Top Prospects pt. 2: First Basemen

As would be expected, first base boasts some of the best hitters in the minor leagues, although this group is not quite as strong as in previous years. In fact, I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that 5 of the top 6 players on my list had disappointing '09 seasons, and that trend continued further down as well. Regardless there are a lot of sluggers here to get excited about. While there's no potential Prince Fielder or Ryan Howard in this group that is likely to be a dominating force very quickly, I do see several players that could easily become middle of the order hitters. The numbers in parenthesis show where the player ranks among all prospects in baseball, not just those at his position.

Pt 1: Catchers


1. Logan Morrison - Marlins (14)

Morrison has quietly been moving up prospect lists for the last couple of years thanks to his disciplined approach at the plate and intriguing raw power that he is only beginning to tap into. Currently more of a doubles hitter, Morrison should see his home runs steadily rise in the coming years because he has the strength and swing to produce plenty of big flies. He is also a fundamentally sound defensive first baseman.

2009 was expected to be a breakout year for Morrison and while it was in some ways, he missed time and managed only eight long balls in 278 at-bats at AA. However, Morrison still managed an outstanding 63:46 BB:K ratio and, as usual, picked up plenty of doubles. If his power never develops as expected, he still has a chance of being a John Olerud type player, but I do think he will eventually get to around 30 home runs a season in his prime.

Morrison is close to Major League ready and Florida does not exactly have any blocking him. Still, because he missed time last year expect Morrison to spend some time in AAA and reach the bigs around the All-Star break. Morrison's on-base skills and quick bat should translate well in the majors and help make the transition fairly smooth, even if he is a bit rushed.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Who Is This Guy?: Josh Fogg

Today we're going to learn more about Josh Fogg, a right-handed pitcher that signed a minor league contract with the Mets on Friday.

Josh:

- is like Vince Vaughn in "Dodgeball", according to Troy Renck,  Cool Expert/columnist of the Denver Post.

- was born Joshua Smith Fogg on December 13, 1976 in Lynn, Massachusetts. I always feel bad when someone has a birthday so close to Christmas.

- was drafted by the White Sox in the 3rd round in the 1998 amateur draft out of the University of Florida. Jesse Palmer was the swinging bachelor quarterback for the Gators at the time.

- made his major league debut September 2, 2001. He was traded from the White Sox to the Pirates that offseason for Todd Ritchie.

- would pitch for the Pirates through 2005 before signing with the Rockies for '06 and '07. After spending a terrible 2008 with the Reds he couldn't resist the siren call of Denver for one more season in '09.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Pecota Be Kidding Me


The 2010 PECOTA projections aren't too favorable to the boys in Blue and Orange.

NL EAST   W   L
Phillies     88 74
Braves     85 77
Nationals 82 80
Mets       77 85
Marlins   76 86

Oh if only we signed Marquis! I'm not too worried though. Check out how PECOTA guessed the 2009 season would play out.

NL EAST    W L
Mets          92 70
Phillies       87 75
Braves      87 75
Nationals   79 83
Marlins      72 90

Thanks to the Marquis-less Nationals the Mets actually finished last season in fourth place. In other words: shut up computer.

I'm Not A Machine! I'm Fernando!

Let's cut to the chase: The Mets are re-signing Fernando Tatis to platoon with Daniel Murphy at first base. Carlos Delgado was given a chance to reclaim the job playing winter ball, but he was seen hobbling around when he played the field, which apparently is a bad thing.

Tatis was mostly known in 2009 as being a Double Play Machine, terrorizing fans everywhere with his thirteen GIDP's. It got so frustrating there were times when I actually WISHED he was one of the many, many injured players.

Hey Tatis, break a leg out there!
Thank you.
No, seriously...


There's been chatter that the best free agent available that could have been Murph's right hand man was Ryan Garko, a 2009 member of los Gigantes de San Francisco. I think that in general, a player that wasn't on the Mets for the last few seasons will always look better to a Met fan than someone who has a bit of a stench of failure on them. To be fair, let's check the math:

Jonathan Mayo Is a Cool Dude

Roger is our twitter guy here at Fonzie Forever. Here is his conversation from today with Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com regarding my blog post from last night. I was baffled that Mayo could leave Fernando Martinez off a Top 50 Prospects List:

@fonzieforever Love your blog reaction. That's why I do the list. For the record, F-Mart not on b/c he's no longer a rookie.

@JonathanMayoB3 Ah, well then! Thank you.

@JonathanMayoB3 Although I must ask how FMart is no longer a rookie. He only had 91 AB's.

@fonzieforever Service time. More than 45 days...

@JonathanMayoB3 Keith Law, according to this thing said he just made rookie status http://bit.ly/a4DlsR Yay semantics!

@fonzieforever Yeah, about to tweet my mea culpa to having that wrong. OK, mea culpa time: Been saying Fernando Martinez doesn't qualify for Top 50, turns out I'm wrong. He is a rookie in 2010! Apologies!
I didn't think Fernando had used up his rookie eligibility yet. My Fernando love - vindicated.

Fernando Tatis Thoughts

No time for a real entry tonight, so here is a quick blurb on Fernando Tatis. I hope to expand on this later.

I am very glad we brought him back. He's the ideal 4th guy on our bench right now (after Cora, Matthews, and Catcher) because he gives us the flexibility to do whatever we want with the 5th spot on the bench (platoon someone, get a pinch hitter, etc.)

Howard Megdal (who I just happen to agree with on almost every issue... it's infuriating) already wrote up an entry on Tatis as the Mets appear on the verge of bringing him back for 2010.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

2010 Top Prospects pt. 1: Catchers


Even after graduating Matt Wieters to the majors there are still more impact prospects at catcher than any other position in baseball, except possibly center-field. Three catchers made my top 10 overall prospects and 13 made the top 100. They vary from defensive wizards to sluggers who just get by with the glove. Here are some brief profiles of the best catching prospects in baseball. The numbers within the parenthesis signify their ranking against all prospects, not just catchers.


1. Buster Posey - Giants (3)


The minor leagues are currently teeming with high-impact catching prospects, but even in that crowded field, Posey manages to stand out. He was nearly taken first overall in the 2008 draft after a monster junior season at Florida State, and ended up going 5th to a very happy San Francisco club. Now on the cusp of the majors, Posey has proven to be even better than scouts anticipated.

Although his receiving skills behind the plate are a little rough around the edges, he should develop into a plus defender. His bat, however, is his calling card. He has a quick swing and a disciplined approach at the plate, resulting in a high on-base percentage and lots of doubles. He also has above average power for a catcher and I anticipate him to average roughly 20 home runs a season in the majors.

Posey is knocking on the door of the big leagues and will likely spend a large chunk of 2010 with the Giants. He thrived in AAA after a mid-season promotion, only a year after being drafted, and should return there to begin the year. Once San Francisco is satisfied with his ability to handle their hard-throwing staff, expect him to be in the big leagues to stay.


2. Jesus Montero - Yankees (4)

MLB.com's Top 50 Prospect List

As the title of this post might indicate, MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo released his list of the Top 50 Prospects in baseball last night. I'll save you the trouble of clicking through - there are no Mets on it. There is only one Yankee.

Here's the list:

Rank Name Team
1 Jason Heyward ATL
2 Stephen Strasburg WAS
3 Mike Stanton FLA
4 Buster Posey SF
5 Brian Matusz BAL
6 Desmond Jennings TB
7 Neftali Feliz TEX
8 Pedro Alvarez PIT
9 Justin Smoak TEX
10 Madison Bumgarner SF
11 Carlos Santana CLE
12 Alcides Escobar MIL
13 Wade Davis TB
14 Domonic Brown PHI
15 Dustin Ackley SEA
16 Brett Wallace TOR
17 Kyle Drabek TOR
18 Martin Perez TEX
19 Jesus Montero NYY
20 Jeremy Hellickson TB
21 Jarrod Parker ARI
22 Starlin Castro CHI
23 Christian Friedrich COL
24 Tim Beckham TB
25 Logan Morrison FLA
26 Brett Lawrie MIL
27 Ryan Westmoreland BOS
28 Casey Kelly BOS
29 Aaron Hicks MIN
30 Yonder Alonso CIN
31 Jason Castro HOU
32 Mike Moustakas KC
33 Wil Myers KC
34 Julio Teheran ATL
35 Michael Taylor OAK
36 Dee Gordon LAD
37 Chris Carter OAK
38 Austin Jackson DET
39 Tanner Scheppers TEX
40 Drew Storen WAS
41 Aaron Crow KC
42 Jacob Turner DET
43 Mike Montgomery KC
44 Jhoulys Chacin COL
45 Jose Iglesias BOS
46 Michael Brantley CLE
47 Phillippe Aumont PHI
48 Juan Francisco CIN
49 Ethan Martin LAD
50 Jaff Decker SD

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Jon Garland Signs With San Diego


Per mlbtraderumors:

The Padres signed Jon Garland to a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2011. Garland earns $4.7MM in 2010, plus another $600K if San Diego buys out his $6.75MM mutual option for 2011.


I was against the Mets signing Garland this offseason -- but that was based on the premise that he would cost a lot more than that. Garland for one year, $5 million is a fantastic deal.

Garland has posted a FIP of between 4.24 and 4.76 every year for the last five years. He's been worth approximately 3 WAR per season over that span - with four of five years worth 2.4 WAR or more.

He's probably as safe a bet as anyone to post another season just like those - with an ERA around 4.50, earning a salary (according to the fangraphs calculations) of around $10 million as a free agent.

There are a lot of rumblings that Garland may not have wanted to come to the East Coast regardless of money - but you have to think that if Omar had offered him one year and $6 million guaranteed, he would have listened.

You have really got to wonder what is going on over there in Mets-land, now that we've missed out on Sheets and Garland. Is it part of a plan? Do free agents just not want to come to New York? I'm not ready to call for Omar's job yet, but it is curious to say the least to see Garland go to a last-place team for so little money.

-----
The above image was borrowed from Sons of Steve Garvey, which is actually a pretty funny read.

Who Is This Guy?: Gary Matthews Jr.


On today's installment we're going to lay down some knowledge on the newest member of the New York Mets, Gary Nathaniel Matthews Junior.

Gary:

- was born on August 25, 1974 in San Francisco, California. Virgos are known for their perfectionism and their highly analytical minds.

- drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 13th round of the 1993 Amateur Draft.

- made his debut on June 4, 1999 for the Pads.

- went on to play for the Cubs, Pirates, Orioles, Padres, Rangers and Angels.

- had in fact been a member of the Mets back in 2002. He played in two games, going 0 for 1 at the plate. (-100 OPS+)

Monday, January 25, 2010

When FIP Lies


FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is one of my favorite baseball statistics. It does exactly what it is supposed to do and does it with surprising effectiveness and reliability. It is one of the first things I look at when I want to gauge a pitcher's true level of performance. In fact I think that many statistically minded baseball thinkers have come to rely on FIP as the backbone of most pitching related analysis. However, I do not think that FIP is totally infallible.

When I am bored one of the things I will do to pass the time is scroll through fangraph's statistics pages and just look for something interesting. This is exactly how my article on cutters evolved, and that article has probably gotten more positive feedback than anything I have written recently. I was looking through FIPs and started to see a couple of trends that I felt were worth pointing out.

Who Is This Guy?: Kelvim Escobar


Who Is He?

Kelvim Escobar is a 33 year old (will turn 34 in April) right handed pitcher who was born in Venezuela.

Where Did He Come From?

Escobar came up through the Blue Jays farm system, striking out a lot of batters and always being a little young and a little wild for his level. He made his major league debut at the age of 21 and was fairly dominant out of the bullpen, saving 14 games that season.

For the next few years he bounced between the bullpen and starting rotation. From what I can tell, the Blue Jays knew that he could do either and moved him back and forth depending on their personnel. From 1998-2003 he made between zero and 30 starts each year. In 2002 he was the full time closer, notching 38 saves. In 1999 and 2003 he almost exclusively was a starter.

In 2004 he signed with Anaheim, who used him as a starting pitcher. That year he made 33 starts and pitched 208 innings, posting a 3.93 ERA, good for 10th in the league. In fact, he placed in the top ten in ERA two more times as well, placing 6th in 2006 (3.61) and 8th in 2007 (3.40).

2007 was his finest full season. He made 30 starts that year over 195 innings, going 18-7 with a 1.27 WHIP. As always, he struck out a lot of batters - 160 over 195 innings.

This is the Mets - So What's the Catch?

Ryan Garko and Roster Construction


We at Fonzie Forever have been in favor of bringing Ryan Garko on board here for a few months now. In early December, we pointed out:
Garko has a career .313 average and 887 OPS against left handed pitching - the perfect compliment to Dan Murphy in a platoon at first base. He's not a world-beater in general, being a 28-year-old first baseman with an average bat and average-to-below-average glove, but he has his uses.
More recently, Anthony DeRosa at Hot Foot pointed out that Mets fans on twitter are "almost unanimous" in their support of that move. But here at Fonzie Forever, we have a habit of challenging conventional wisdom. Going a level deeper - does acquiring Ryan Garko make sense?

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Mets Acquire Gary Sheffield Again


Brian and Roger compare viewpoints on the Gary Matthews Jr. acquisition:

Roger

When I first read that the Mets were acquiring Gary Matthews Jr. from the Angels, my immediate reaction was, "What in the wha?"

That doesn't really say much - that's usually my response to anything remotely coming out of nowhere. (It was my reaction to the Francoeur trade. And 75 percent of  "Lost".) My second immediate reaction was, "Beltran's out till July. Must be."

I've mentioned before that I am skeptical of Dr.Met's current estimation that the Mole will be out 8-12 weeks. "8-12 weeks" in 2009 meant "out for the season". If Beltran was only going to be missing action for a month why would Omar Minaya find it necessary to trade for a Gary Matthews Jr., with Angel Pagan already on the roster? But the more I thought about it the more I realized Omar Minaya is just as much of a joyless, nervous shell of a man as I am - Angel Pagan is far from a safe bet from surviving the entire season. Pagan's 88 games played in 2009 was a personal record - he's been hurt every year. (Do you want to uh, laugh? A New York Daily News headline from July 14, 2008 blared, "Mets and Angel Pagan have opposing views on shoulder surgery.")

In Defense of Marty Noble

For some reason, earlier today, Metsblog and Amazin Avenue (and perhaps others) linked to a blog called Fire Jerry Manuel and their article criticizing Marty Noble's recent defense of his Hall of Fame ballot. The blog post was insulting, crude, poorly-written, impetuous, and I think casts all bloggers in a very negative, very stereotypical light.

Sure, Marty Noble can at times be condescending. Sure, I don't agree with every word out of his mouth. But all things considered, I think Marty Noble has a good grasp of the game, works hard, and does a decent job of covering the Mets. It's no secret that the man comes from a different generation -- but make no mistake, he is not Murray Chass, Part 2. He is far from the worst beat writer out there.

And for him to be attacked, sometimes nastily, as he was by the Fire Jerry Manuel blog post, and for that blog post to be linked by two of the most influential Mets fan sites on the internet, is a shame. Considering the already-existing rift between "old school" writers and the sabermetric community, garbage like that post post should never have been written, much less linked.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mets Avoid Molina!!


This. Is. Great. News. This is the best possible news. I am elated.

Based on the way the market is shaping up, the Mets could do ALMOST ANYTHING with the money they would have given to Molina, and it'd still be better than signing him.

Last month, we wrote that a Santos/Blanco platoon was actually not so bad:

But there is one good part to [a Santos/Blanco platoon] -- their splits:

Santos, 2009, OPS: 616 vs. LHP, 727 vs. RHP
Blanco, career, OPS: 739 vs, LHP, 627 vs. RHP

Blanco's splits were even more pronounced last season, when he posted an awful 563 OPS against RHP and an amazing 1039 OPS against LHP (albeit in only 59 at bats). In 2008, 668 v. RHP and 771 v. LHP.[1]

IF (and I repeat, IF) the plan is to platoon Santos and Blanco, and have Coste mentor Thole in AAA for the first few months, then I approve. Santos and Blanco, as noted above, will be pretty bad offensively, but that's alright in the short run. If they can platoon and hit somewhere around .280/.320/.400 together, I'll take that... until Thole, as I anticipate, forces a promotion

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Feliciano Avoids Arbitration

Via Metsblog:

According to Ken Davidoff of Newsday, the Mets and LHP Pedro Feliciano also avoided arbitration and agreed on a one-year, $2.9 million deal.


Quick reaction... what?! I love me some Pedro Feliciano - perhaps irrationally so - but that is a ton of money for a left-handed specialist.

Fangraphs has Feliciano's value at $2.9 million or more in three of the last four years, but he was also worth NEGATIVE dollars in 2008. And with relievers, it's really a crap shoot. It's too much, but it alone won't break the budget, I guess.

Who Is This Guy?: Jolbert Cabrera

Last week the Mets signed Jolbert Cabrera to a minor league contract. Unfortunately, we all know that any player in the Mets organization who seem destined to stay in the minors or keep seats warm on the bench might end up starting at least half of the games in a season. So we should get to know all we can about this 37-year-old.



Jolbert:

-was born on December 8, 1972 in Cartagena, Colombia. Yes, on the 31st anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Ew.


-is the older brother of the more talented and more successful Orlando Cabrera. Lot of issues there.

Mets Prospect-itis: The Anti-Mets Prospect Bias

People tend to feel very strongly about Mets prospects for some reason. And it doesn't seem to be exclusive to Mets fans. If you ask someone who follows baseball and prospects what they think of the Mets minor league system, they will almost always tell you one of two things:

Mets prospects are overrated.

or

Mets system is underrated.


Cognitive dissonance, I know, is setting in. How could those BOTH be true? Well... my observations have led me to discover Mets Prospect-itis. Here are the symptoms:

Dusty Baker Destroys Aroldis Chapman’s Arm Within Minutes Of Arrival

The Onion, via the invaluable BTF:

CINCINNATI—Within just a few minutes of Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman's arrival in the United States, Reds manager Dusty Baker had already overused and mangled the 21-year-old's arm beyond recognition, team sources reported Sunday. Baker, who has been accused of overtaxing young pitchers' arms in the past, reportedly greeted Chapman with a bucket of 250 baseballs and told him to "hurl them" as fast as he could, later encouraging the fastballer to "go nuts" with his pitching style. "He didn't even let me stretch out first," Chapman told reporters through an interpreter. "And when I started to wince from the pain and soreness, he just gave me a thumbs up, winked, and told me to keep throwing." At press time, Chapman had already been to the hospital for an oblique strain, a torn rotator cuff, and his second Tommy John surgery of the week


I laughed out loud at this one.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mets 2010 ZiPS Projections, Part 3: Conclusions

Anyone who has followed Fonzie Forever for any amount of time knows my general attitude on the Mets and what I think they should be doing:

1. Make every move with a plan. Don't just acquire "stuff." Don't avoid risk because you're afraid of criticism. And...

2. Pitching, pitching, pitching. Oh, and also pitching.

In Part 3 of our series looking at the Mets ZiPS projections for 2010, we'll draw some conclusions as to what would be the best course of action for the Metropolitans.

To read Part 1, on hitting, click here.
To read Part 2, on pitching, click here.

Once again, all ZiPS projections courtesy of the great Dan Szymborski, via Baseball Think Factory. Listed below are the Mets projected opening day starting lineup, starting rotation, and bullpen, according to the projections:

1. Reyes, SS 117 OPS+
2. Castillo, 2B 94 OPS+
3. Beltran, CF 137 OPS+
4. Wright, 3B 140 OPS+
5. Bay, LF 126 OPS+
6. Murphy, 1B 95 OPS+
7. Francoeur, RF 94 OPS+
8. Santos/Thole C 69 OPS+/87 OPS+

Rotation

1. Santana, 133 ERA+
2. Pelfrey, 89 ERA+
3. Maine, 103 ERA+
4. Perez, 88 ERA+
5. Niese, 95 ERA+

'Pen

K-Rod, 138 ERA+
Feliciano, 110 ERA+
Green, 101 ERA+
Dessens, 98 ERA+
Stokes, 95 ERA+
Knight, 94 ERA+
Misch, 89 ERA+

It is an ugly, ugly picture. This is especially so with Beltran out of the picture for an unknown length of time. Let's go by unit here and see what we can predict.

Offense

What we have here projects to be a slightly above-average unit. Reyes, Wright, Beltran and Bay all project to have good seasons in 2010, Castillo and Murphy are somewhere around average, and Francoeur and our catcher bring up the rear. I'd say it is a line up with some potential to do some damage.

The bottom of the lineup looks weak, but no lineup in the world has eight starters all projected above average (okay except the Yankees). There is no need for all eight starters to be superstars. If Castillo can get on base early, and Murphy and Francoeur can drive in some of those runners while batting 6 and 7, we'll be great.

Here are the OPS+ numbers for the Mets 8 qualifying starters in prior years next to their projections for 2010:

2010: 140-137-126-117-95-94-94-69
2009: 143-123-120-119-98-95-82-69
2008: 141-129-127-123-118-106-87-77
2000: 155-147-123-110-98-98-98-76

Not an enormous difference between the two previous seasons, but that was the difference between being 2nd in the league in runs (2008) and 12th in the league in runs (2009). The Mets 2010 projections come in somewhat closer to the 2008 version than the 2009 version (with Jason Bay playing the role of Carlos Delgado) so the Mets have themselves decently well-positioned on offense.

I picked the 2000 team as well because I see some commonalities between that roster and this roster. The 2000 team had two offensive superstars in Piazza and Edgardo Alfonzo (blog namesake) and did very well with a cast of average roleplayers around them. The third-base regular on that team was probably Todd Zeile, who hit only .268/.356/.467 with only 22 home runs while playing first base (Daniel Murphy, anyone?).

The 2000 team finished 7th in runs. This team projects slightly better than that.

Pitching
This is, as usual, the place I perceive to be the weakness on this team. Of course, there are reasons to be optimistic about these Mets -- a computer projection cannot fully take into account the injuries to Maine and Perez, or the bad luck Pelfrey had last season -- but still, these raw numbers are eye opening.

1. Santana, 3.23 ERA
2. Pelfrey, 4.86 ERA
3. Maine, 4.20 ERA
4. Perez, 4.93 ERA
5. Niese, 4.57 ERA

Beyond that, our reserve starters include luminaries such as Nelson Figueroa (5.06), Fernando Nieve (5.19), Tobi Stoner (5.58) and I literally do not know who else. In comparison, the Phillies have TEN pitchers projected to have an ERA better than 5.00 (incl. Moyer, Pedro, and even Rodrigo Lopez). Even the Nationals have a better projected rotation than this, even with the loss of Jordan Zimmermann to surgery. By adding Jason Marquis to Stephen Strasburg and John Lannan, they have a formidable trio up top.

I say this every year - but there are going to be at least eight guys starting for the Mets this year, and probably closer to ten or twelve. In 2008, the Mets had 11 pitchers start a game for them. In 2009 it was also 11. In 2006 we had 13 starters. Even in 2000 we had 10.

In order to be competitive, I think we're going to need one of Pelfrey/Perez to beat their projection significantly and become a #2, AND to add a starter or for Maine to be healthy all year. Obviously, that is asking a lot. If this happens -- say for instance that Pelfrey bounces back to post a 110 ERA+, and we are able to sign Joel Pineiro who puts up a 110 ERA+ as well, I think we'll be okay.

Here's a look at some successful former Mets rotations by ERA+ and compared to a potential 2010 squad:

2010: 133-110-110-103-88 (Santana, Pelfrey, Pineiro, Maine, Perez, including the above assumptions)
2006: 114-88-97-107-121 (Glavine, Trachsel, Pedro, Duque, Maine, 3rd in ERA)
2000: 142-139-111-108-88 (Hampton, Leiter, Rusch, Reed, Jones, 3rd in ERA)
1986: 126-127-139-102-92 (Gooden, Darling, Ojeda, Fernandez, Aguilera, 1st in ERA... and who knew that Bobby Ojeda was so good that year?)

The common thread here is that all of those teams, 1986, 2000, and 2006 -- had good pitching. The only squad that wasn't exceptional was in 2006. Pitching wins. The rotation as currently constituted w/o Pineiro looks more like bad Mets teams we are used to:

2010: 133-103-89-88-95
2004: 133-119-107-87-94
1996: 117-91-95-84-75

Bullpen
As for this unit, well, anything goes. Bullpen construction from year to year is part planning, part luck. Since our last look at it, the Mets have added Kelvim Escobar and Ryota Igarishi to the fold. Both of these players are hard throwers and have the potential to really help. According to CHONE, Escobar is projected to deliver a very nice 3.00 ERA next season out of the bullpen if healthy -- a projection I'll take any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Even if neither are stars, the further down the depth chart we push guys like Pat Misch, the happier I am.

Conclusion
As currently constituted, the Mets would need a LOT of luck to compete this season. At a minimum, we need Reyes to remain healthy, Beltran to come back soon and healthy, for one of Pelfrey/Maine/Perez to really take a leap forward, and for Francisco Rodriguez to halt his slide.

As you can probably tell, I am not a pie-in-the-sky optimist about my team. That said, there are a lot of ways that things could break IN FAVOR of the Mets. This is probably truer for the Mets than any other team -- we have many unanswered questions which could end up favorable.

I did write in the last article that I thought the projections for Oliver Perez, Brian Stokes, Nelson Figueroa, and Mike Pelfrey were too pessimistic. Players regularly return from injuries to recover their former levels of play. We have a couple young players on the cusp of delivering at the major league level, such as Fernando Martinez, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, Jennry Mejia, and Ike Davis -- and there is no understating how much help those additions would be.

Based on what we've learned, I think the Mets would probably be best served by finding a way to improve their pitching. Whether that addition is someone safe like Joel Piniero[1] or risky like Erik Bedard is less important. What DOES matter is that the Mets spend their money improving the areas which give us the most marginal benefit. As we wrote a few days ago while advocating for Sheets or Bedard:
We need to look NOT ONLY at what our money will buy us --- but who the new player will be replacing. Signing Hudson to replace Castillo, or signing Molina to replace Blanco/Thole would make the Mets better -- but those are moves with NO upside. They would improve us by a win at most. In the Mets current position, they need to address areas of weakness with investments which could pay BIG dividends.
Those big upgrades will take place in the starting rotation ONLY. If we can add a guy like Pineiro, who was worth over 4 WAR last year, and bump from the rotation someone like Jon Niese, we improve ourselves dramatically. Not only do we improve from Pineiro to Niese, but then Niese then replaces whoever our emergency starter would have been. Niese bumps Figueroa, who bumps Nieve, and then hopefully we never have to stomach the likes of Jose Lima or Jeremi Gonzalez ever again.

The Mets project to have a decent offense already - it's time for Omar and the Mets to start living up to their promises and deliver us a team that can compete and win in Citi Field.

-------
[1] We looked at Pineiro a few weeks ago and declared his improvement "for real":

Piniero was 4.8 Wins Above Replacement last year, by far the best free agent remaining... Somehow, Joel Piniero was able to take his career ground ball to fly ball ratio, which has hovered around 1.5 for EIGHT seasons, and ramp it all the way up to 2.54.... His GB/FB ratio was the highest in baseball last year by HALF a point. Derek Lowe was second, at 2.18.

* * *

If you were looking only at the surface stats, everything about Joel Piniero's season last year would scream FLUKE. But because of his increase in ground balls, he allowed less home runs. He allowed less line drives. His unusually low BABIP of .293 might be close to sustainable.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Is Troy Tulowitzki Really the Best Young Player?


With all due respect to Evan Longoria, Justin Upton and Matt Wieters, the best young player in baseball right now is playing shortstop for the Colorado Rockies.
Not bad for a hook. But is this really the case? The writer for the
Boston Herald seems to think so.

I actually did not realize how good of a season Tulowitzki had last year. After a slow start, Tulo caught fire and ended the year hitting .297/.377/.552 with 32 home runs. Not bad for a shortstop with a great defensive reputation. But does that really make him the best young player in the game?



A closer look at his defensive statistics shows that Tulo's defensive reputation might be a vestige of his great defensive rookie season. His first year, in 2007, he posted a phenomenal +14.9 UZR in his time at shortstop. He had an injury shortened season in 2008 where he came in around average, and then last year posted a -1.2 UZR at shortstop.

Defensive metrics can, of course, be somewhat unreliable, but those statistics match what we can assume about Tulo in real life. We know that players defensive skills erode with age, and we know that he was injured for much of 2008. Could it be that his torn quadriceps tendon made him lose a step?

A commenter over at BaseballThinkFactory.org summarized the issue perfectly when he said, "you need to be very confident in Tulowitzki being the best defensive player in all of baseball to get him in the conversation" of best young player.

Who else is in that conversation? Firstly, it depends on who is a "young player." Troy Tulowitzki was born on October 10, 1984. Here are some players around that age or younger:

Prince Fielder, May 9, 1984
Hanley Ramirez, December 23, 1983
Matt Kemp, September 23, 1984
Tim Lincecum, June 15, 1984
Joe Mauer, April 19, 1983
Miguel Cabrera, April 18, 1983
Evan Longoria, October 7, 1985
Justin Upton, August 25, 1987
Ryan Braun, November 17, 1983
Brian McCann, February 20, 1984

David Wright, Jose Reyes, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Johnson... the list goes on. You can arbitrarily draw the line right at his exact age and disqualify some of the best ones, but either way, it is a competitive list. Troy Tulowitzki is a great player, but once again, you'd have to be VERY confident in his defensive or leadership skills to make an argument for Tulowitzki over Longoria, Upton, or Hanley Ramirez.

Tulo was worth 5.4 WAR last season. Prince Fielder, even though he plays first base, was worth 6.8 WAR last year. That is what 46(!) home runs and a .412 OBP will do for you. Evan Longoria, my pick, was worth 7.2 WAR last season. Even Jose Reyes, a great player but never in the "best" conversation, posted 5.5, 5.1, and 5.9 WAR in his last three healthy seasons.

What do you think?

Damon to the Mets?

Rob Neyer recently blogged "All The Places Johnny Damon Isn't Going," a quick look at some potential landing spots. In it, he quotes an article mentioning the Mets being a place that Damon would "probably not" end up.

On paper, Johnny Damon to the Mets would make sense. When healthy, Beltran is one of the best all around center fielders in the game. But with his knee surgery this off-season, there is a good chance that he will not be ready until June, if at all. Damon is still a good offensive player, and while his defense would be more than a little suspect at Citifield, neither party has better options at this point.
All of this I think is fairly obvious. Damon is without a team, and the Mets have a void in the outfield and in their offense. It was this little nugget at the end, a Neyer editorial, that really caught my interest:
When Beltran comes back, where exactly would Damon play? Unless they're thinking about using him at first base -- which, come to think of it, wouldn't be the worst idea in the world -- I just don't see the point.
Interesting idea! At least, it gave me some pause when I heard it.

However, even with that as an option, Damon doesn't make sense for the Mets anywhere NEAR to his asking price. He's a good player, no doubt, even at age 36. But last season was likely his last hurrah. He hit .284/.349/.446 away from Yankee Stadium with only 7 home runs. His defense is universally recognized as poor. If we wanted a first baseman who could post a 795 OPS, there are a lot of cheaper options.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Carlos Beltran's Surgery and Moving On, Part 2

So let's say you are not like me, and you don't think that the Mets should stand pat this season and focus on 2010. Let's say that you think the Mets should still be spending money, and still be going for it. If you thought that, what would you want to do? Looking at the Mets as currently constituted, minus Beltran, what is the smartest thing you could do to improve the roster with the remaining free agents?

A few days ago, Sam Page over at Amazin Avenue (been linking to Sam a lot lately) posted a handy chart with rough estimates of how many Wins Above Replacement each of the Mets starters could be expected to provide:



You can quibble with the numbers, but generally speaking I like his estimates. So looking at that -- what do we do? What are our potential areas of improvement? If we were going to take a shot this season, where would we improve? Obviously, there are a few places you can start: First Base, Second Base, Right Field, Starters #3-#5.

As I wrote earlier this month -- not ALL improvements are created equal. In fact, a run prevented is more valuable than a run scored. That being said, if I were the Mets and I were going for it this year, there is ONE place that I would start.

Starting pitching.

If the Mets are still in it to win it, they are going to have to take some chances. Lucky for them, there are chances still out there to take. Here are my boys - the "Mets Are Still Going For It" all-star team:

1. Erik Bedard

Bedard is a huge talent, no question. As we all know, however - he is injury prone. Over the last two seasons, he has pitched 81 and 83 innings. However, he IS only 30 years old. ZiPS projects him next year to reach 106 innings, but post a phenomenal 3.12 ERA and strike out 110 guys in only 106 innings. If he can be had on a short, incentive-laden deal, the Mets should go for it. He may not be ready for opening day, but in his best seasons with the Orioles, he was worth over 5(!) WAR.

2. Ben Sheets

Sheets and Bedard (and Rich Harden) all have basically the same story - great talents with injury issues. I think Sheets will end up being a worse deal than Bedard in terms of dollars-to-risk, based on his better reputation and the fact that he's actually had 200-inning seasons. Ben Sheets has been worth over 3.7 WAR 6 out of the last 7 years he has pitched - even in injury shortened years.

3. Pedro Martinez
4. Chien-Ming Wang


Pedro was worth 2/3 of a win last season in only nine regular season starts. Chien-Ming Wang was worth over 4 WAR a year until his short campaign in 2008.

These are the risky bets. But if the Mets want to compete, they are going to have to take some chances. If the Mets could sign both Bedard and Sheets to slot in behind Santana, they would stand a chance of being vastly improved.

Projecting Bedard at 3 WAR (he posted a WAR of 1.9 last year in only 83 innings) and Sheets at 3 WAR would improve the Mets my a whopping six games. The rotation would then be Santana, Bedard, Sheets, Pelfrey, and you choice of Niese, Maine, or Perez. One of the great things about improving your rotation is that you can sometimes move a starter into the bullpen, fortifying that unit as well.

Compare those acquisitions to the acquisition of Orlando Hudson to play second base. The Mets might be better if they signed him --- but the marginal improvement he would make to the team wouldn't even make a splash. As we wrote here in November:

Orlando Hudson is not really that much of an upgrade over Castillo... His batting line last year was a paltry .283/.357/.417 with 9 home runs and 8 stolen bases. He was basically Luis Castillo with 30 less points in on-base percentage and 70 more points of slugging. A few more home runs, and a dozen less steals.

In fairness, Hudson does tend to rank better than Castillo when it comes to defensive metrics... Therefore, even with their hitting being comparable, Hudson came out as worth $13.0 million last year compared to Castillo's $7 million.

However, we are comparing Castillo's age 32-34 seasons with Hudson's prime years of 30-32. It is probable (or definite) that Hudson's fielding is going to see a severe drop in the next couple of years.

I LIKE Orlando Hudson -- he's a nice guy, a great interview, and seemingly a good clubhouse presence. But don't be fooled -- making the swap of Castillo for Hudson most likely won't make the Mets better, and stands a chance of making them worse.
We need to look NOT ONLY at what our money will buy us --- but who the new player will be replacing. Signing Hudson to replace Castillo, or signing Molina to replace Blanco/Thole would make the Mets better -- but those are moves with NO upside. They would improve us by a win at most. In the Mets current position, they need to address areas of weakness with investments which could pay BIG dividends. I hope they look long and hard at a high-reward starter.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Top 50 New York Yankees Prospects

When it comes to sports, my three greatest passions, in order, are: baseball, minor league baseball/prospects and the New York Yankees. This is the culmination of those three in a form that is short enough to be readable. I am in the process of putting together a minor-league wide-prospect ranking but as a bit of a preview, here are the top 50 prospects in the New York Yankees system.

But before I get into the actual list I am just going to briefly mention the methods I used to come up with this particular order. I try and use every single resource at my disposal to learn as much as I can about prospects. I devour every credible scouting report I can find, search out actual video footage whenever I can and ponder every relevant statistic that is recorded. Talk to anyone that knows me well and they can confirm the lengths I go to in order to form an accurate picture of these players that I have never actually seen in person. I don't think it is a stretch to say I may know more about baseball prospects than nearly anybody who is not paid to follow them.

While I do follow every minor league system in baseball closely, it is the Yankees I pay the most attention to. I certainly could not write profiles for 50 players off the top of my head for other teams, but will talk at least briefly about everyone worth knowing in my big prospect article (I should be finished around February 1st with that.) Anyway, back to the Yankees...

Carlos Beltran's Surgery and Moving On

I have had almost 24 hours to digest the news that my favorite player, Carlos Beltran had surgery on his knee yesterday. I'm not going to engage in the ongoing speculation about who knew what, or how this reflects on the Mets, or any of that. All that I know is that, in my eyes, the Mets just went from a fringe contender to an unbelievable long shot -- and that the Mets would probably be best served by forgetting 2010.

On November 23rd I asked, "What should the Mets offseason strategy be?" It always appeared to me that the Mets were in the most undesirable of positions -- not good enough to compete for the East, not bad enough to sell everything and start over, and with several players locked into big contracts in their prime.

It was my opinion then that the Mets should "spend the money conservatively and gear up for a serious run at the post-season in 2011." It is even more true today. It appears now, more than ever, that any Mets run toward the playoffs this year was nothing more than a complete fantasy.

Did we really expect that Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, AND Johan Santana would all return from injury and be 100%? And that David Wright would recover his power and stop striking out? And that our underachieving young starters would somehow form a competent rotation? And before you say no -- we must have. If any of them faltered, we wouldn't have had a chance at Philadelphia or Atlanta even if we DID make a big-time offseason move.

So here we are, faced with the worst of the worst. Even if Beltran was able to make a miraculous recovery AND be back before the end of April AND be able to play centerfield, is this a team that we think we can win with? Or is this just a splash of cold water to the face? Is the fact that our best player had surgery performed on him less than two weeks into a new calendar year a coincidence? Or is it a grim reminder of the reality of the situation - that the injuries of 2009 can't be wished away? That life exists objectively, regardless of our optimism?

I never thought the Mets had enough to make a run at the playoffs this year -- not unless 1) we made a big splash and went over the widely-reported budget we were on or 2) literally every lucky break went our way. Now, neither of those things are possible. I still think the Mets can be good. I think they can compete in a tough NL East (where the Marlins are now using their revenue-sharing money and the Nationals are the most improved team). But I think it is time to bite the bullet on this one.

The Mets could, of course, do what so many have suggested and now try to make up for Beltran's absence. Sam Page over at Amazin Avenue does a great job and takes a crack at a solution:

So, as the A's did in Moneyball with Jason Giambi, the Mets need to replace Beltran in components, looking to upgrade elsewhere, which means firstbase and secondbase, most likely. Now, Orlando Hudson at secondbase and a flyer on either Russell Branyan or Carlos Delgado seems more likely.

* * *

The blind hope that Beltran would be fine and his old-self really allowed me to warm up to the Bay signing. Hopefully, this whole fiasco motivates the Mets to make drastic improvements to both their run-scoring and run-prevention.
How does the loss of a key player indicate to anyone that these is MORE reason to invest in this team? And if we didn't have the money before, how do we have it now? I'm not picking on Amazin Avenue - because I think this is the prevailing notion.

The loss of our centerfielder - a generational talent - is the LAST reason to pour more resources into the 2010 team. Now, more than ever, I think the Mets should stand pat and see what they have got. See if Reyes and others can bounce back, and see if we have a core of a contender for 2011 and beyond. And who knows? Maybe the team as currently constituted will be good or lucky enough to make a run -- and then we can make moves in-season.

But as I wrote yesterday:

An idea is either good or bad -- it doesn't matter which team it is. Ben Sheets is a good risk or a bad one, depending on the price -- not depending on which team he signs with.

* * *

Everyone has their own preference, either to gamble or be safe. But such a preference is personal -- it does not affect the OBJECTIVE truth of whether an investment is smart or not.


The Mets just became a far worse gamble than before.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Curse of Kevin Burkhardt

Mike Pelfrey's optimism can shove it; Carlos Beltran is out for 8-12 weeks after getting surgery. And if you read Dr. MetsToday's detailed perspective on the situation, he's probably going to be injured for a lot longer than that. 2010 is starting to look like 2009. As Joey Ramone sang, "Second verse, same as the first."

Perhaps I'm being myopic and pessimistic. On the other hand, it's obvious Citi Field is cursed. A cat was prancing around David Wright on Citi Field's opening night, much like a cat cursed the '69 Cubs. Don't buy that? What about the fact that Phillies jerseys are buried beneath the ballpark.

You make a good point imaginary reader; granted the Mets have been bitten by the injury bug and sapped of most of its blood exclusively in 2009 while clearly there has been bad mojo floating around since 2007, when the team was still playing at Shea. Well if you want to play that game I would like to bring up the fact that 2007 was the year one Kevin Burkhardt joined the SNY staff. For reasons we do not know to this day Chris Cotter was taken off of sideline commentator duty and replaced by this menace. I know I know, he's a likable guy, but clearly he has brought nothing but misery.

I'm being irrational and in my fear of another lost season I am trying to find a carbon-based life form to direct my frustrations. I'm just really upset (but not surprised, which makes me even more upset) that our all-star center fielder is on the shelf indefinitely. Angel Pagan wasn't too bad in limited playing time last season; he DID have 11 triples in 88 games. But you know, there's another guy out there who I know for a fact is looking for an employer. And as you can see below, he's pretty fierce on the diamond.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mike Pelfrey, Therapist

Via the excellent Adam Rubin at the Daily News:

Here’s Pelfrey on the thinking that the Mets don’t have enough starting pitching. Agree or disagree as you please: “I hear that and I think it’s kind of funny. Last year, we had pretty much the same rotation and guys picked us to go to the World Series and win it. Guys got hurt, I had a bad year and now people think everybody’s terrible and I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. I think we’re going to be fine. If they add another guy, it’s a bonus.”


He is ABSOLUTELY correct. This statement is totally on point. People are always too high or too low. It's always that we are winning the World Series, or we are bums. Nobody cares that the truth is that Oliver Perez from 2007-2008 was a great #3 starter -- when things are bad, people would much rather wail and whine about how "inconsistent" he is.

It's never as good as it seems, and it's never as bad as it seems. The rotation of Santana-Pelfrey-Maine-Perez-Hernandez last season was clearly not as good as people made it out to be. Similarly, the rotation of Santana-Pelfrey-Maine-Perez-Niese that we currently have is not as bad as people are making it out to be.

I for one think that Pelfrey is going to have a good bounce back season. In our look at the Mets ZiPS projections, we said:

The thing about Mike Pelfrey that confuses me, is why everyone expects him to be [great]... I was glad when he broke through in 2008, but I wasn't really expecting it.

The truth is, he was a little lucky in 2008 and a little unlucky in 2009. His tRA [was] 4.49 in '08 and 4.52 in '09.

I see Pelfrey's luck turning again this year, at least back to average... In addition, he's got a year more of experience under his belt and he's a year further removed from his first season as a 200-inning workhorse. I think he'll be fine.

Pelfrey will never live up to the hype that he received when drafted, or when he had a great 2008. But I can definitely see him bouncing back in 2010 with a season where he pitches 200 innings and posts an ERA around 4.20. If he can do that, he'll have a season much like the 2009 versions of Aaron Cook, Aaron Harang, Doug Davis, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. There is a lot of value in that.

The Mets and Risk

When it comes to the Mets and free agents, there is one idea which gets parroted over and over again:

They are not in a position to take risks. Because of what happened to them last year, they are better off with a "sure thing" or a "proven mediocrity."

I couldn't disagree more. Now, I am not necessarily going to advocate for Ben Sheets over Jon Garland, or Carlos Delgado over Ryan Garko... but the idea that the Mets are particularly unsuited to risk is not a wise one.

An idea is either good or bad -- it doesn't matter which team it is. Ben Sheets is a good risk or a bad one, depending on the price -- not depending on which team he signs with.

The Mets, and all teams, should look at players as investments. Sure, some people (or teams) may, as a general policy, be more risk-loving or risk-averse than others. Everyone has their own preference, either to gamble or be safe. But such a preference is personal -- it does not affect the OBJECTIVE truth of whether an investment is smart or not.

Take, for instance, a stock. Let's say Stock X has a 50% likelihood of going up $10 and a 50% likelihood of going down $1. A person with a neutral position on risk would look at that stock and probably buy it, as its value is inherently positive. Someone who is risk-loving would definitely invest. Someone who is risk-averse might not.

The same thing goes for Ben Sheets. A team might evaluate Ben Sheets and determine he has a 25% chance of being an ace, a 50% chance that he is middle of the road, and 25% chance of being injured all year. That gives him a value which is OBJECTIVELY measurable. You can put a dollar sign on that value, depending on how you value each added win in terms of dollars.

Some teams might find that a worthy investment. Some teams might want to stay away. This depends on their a) prediction of his value, b) their tendencies toward risk, and c) the amount of money it will take to sign him. But in listening to the blogosphere, you'd get the impression that signing a risk is a bad idea:

It would be completely irresponsible for the Mets to sign someone as risky as Sheets — who may not even throw a pitch in 2010. - MetsToday.com

However, as one person with the team told me, and like Joel Sherman said at his blog for the New York Post yesterday, the Mets now seem to be leaning toward bringing in a more ‘stable, more reliable pitcher,’ someone who, though he might not win a Cy Young, can be counted on every fifth day… which is important since Maine, Perez and Pelfrey can all be considered ‘question marks,’ and since Santana will be returning from elbow surgery. - Metsblog.com


But the idea that a team should not sign someone just because he is risky is far too simple. I hope that the Mets listen to all the options and do the best thing that they can with their money, no matter which players they sign.

Talking Shit About Superman

I'll tell you everything I remember about the night of September 8, 1998.

I remember that...

-It was the night Mark McGwire - and the rest of his mediocre Cardinals - played the Chicago Cubs, with McGwire tied with Roger Maris for the record for most home runs in a single season with 61.

-Fox broadcasted the game, pre-empting the series premiere of Costello, a sitcom vehicle for a comedienne that nobody had heard of named Sue Costello. (The show ended up being awful.)

-The Maris family - including Roger's son - was in attendance. For some reason they didn't have front row seats; they sat about ten rows back at field level. Kind of fitting actually.

-Steve Trachsel was the starting pitcher for the Cubs; therefore I assumed number 62 would come in the first at-bat.

-McGwire hit the home run in his second at-bat, barely. In fact, it was basically a line drive that practically skimmed over the left field wall. Joe Buck would later say it was the shortest home run he hit all year.

-McGwire originally missed first base after hitting it, and when he crossed home plate his son -the ceremonial batting boy - gave him a hug. McGwire then went into the stands to hug the Marises.

-The Mets got destroyed that night by the Phillies 16-4, and if it wasn't for the fact that I remember Trachsel giving up the homer to McGwire I would have assumed he started that game. (Hideo Nomo was the actual culprit.) When Buck mentioned the score I felt really embarrassed. Couldn't they have gotten their beatdown when most of the country wasn't in earshot of the scores?

The other day, Mark McGwire admitted to taking steroids during his historic 1998 season. He said he wanted to tell the truth to Congress in 2005 but didn't get immunity, so he lied. To Congress. He said he lied to Congress because he didn't want to get in trouble. This didn't make sense to me until I read that his lawyer was Roger Clemens.

There were two things that popped into my head when all of this went down. Actually, three things if you count the thirty seconds or so I spent trying to figure out if anyone else has ever looked as much like a gigantic zit as McGwire. The first thing I thought about was how impressive Roger Maris' record really was. (Or is that "record really is"?) For some reason, despite the fact I always figured Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds cheated, Maris' true accomplishment never showed itself to my mind until the other day. Maris managed to break a thirty-four year old record with some of his teammates and about half of his team's fan base rooting against him (preferring Mickey Mantle break the record)and without the use of illegal substances (as far as we know). This record lasted for thirty seven years until the Big Pimple broke it, with asterisk. So that's pretty damn good.

The second thing I thought about was...well it's hard to say. It's kind of painful to talk about. May 22, 1998 - three and a half months before McGwire's asterisk historical night - I remember sitting in Spanish class. Edrin Pecani said he heard rumors that Mike Piazza was going to be traded from the Florida Marlins, a week after he was a Los Angeles Dodger.

"The Mets might get him."

"No they wont. Come on, they have Todd Hundley."

Hundley at the time was on the disabled list and not due to return until September, but he was still our catcher, our heart and soul. Getting Piazza would simply be superfluous. He was going to be a free agent after the season, and you know, the Mets having a superstar? I only remember the post-prime years of Doc Gooden and Strawberry; the thought of having a player who was a shoe-in for the All-Star Game every year on the roster never crossed my mind. That night, I went on AOL, checked ESPN.com (which was then http://sports.espn.go.com or something of that natue)and sure enough, Mike Piazza was traded to the Mets for Ed Yarnell, Geoff Goetz and Preston Wilson. I was shocked. I remember that it was a Friday night when the transaction took place. The Mets began a series against the Milwaukee Brewers that night and despite the fact Piazza wasn't in New York yet, attendance was higher than usual. The next afternoon Piazza doubled in a Met win, and he was ours, all ours. Our own Superman. I don't need to tell you about his two most memorable home runs (June 30, 2000 against the Braves in the 10-run 8th inning, first game after 9/11 in New York off of Steve Karsay). I was at the Padres/Mets game in 2006 when Piazza returned to Shea as a San Diego Padre. (I was also at the 10-run inning game, but I didn't want to brag outside of parenthesis.) He hit a home run, and he got a standing ovation. A Padre got a standing ovation for hitting a home run at Shea. He hit a second home run later in the game, and hilariously he barely got any applause for that. I have nothing but fondness for all of the moments that he gave us.

But...

Matt Franco was in the Mitchell Report. So was Todd Pratt. Even Todd Hundley. But not Superman. No way.

Except...

I mean...he probably did. There's a fair amount of evidence. Just because you weren't implicated in The Mitchell Report doesn't mean you're not guilty. Ask Alex Rodriguez. But there's a chance that maybe...

Maybe...

There is going to be a day in the future. It will pretend to be like any other forgettable day. You will be at work. You will be at school. You will be at home. You will be in the car. You will read something, maybe hear something, that you never wanted to read or hear. And then it will be 1998 again. And you will start to think about every day since.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Yankees Off-Season Review (So Far)

It looks like the Yankees are mostly done with their off-season transactions, barring a minor move here and there so it seems like a good time to recap what has happened so far.

The Trades

Yankees Acquire: Curtis Granderson
Yankees Lose: Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, Ian Kennedy

First of all, I agree with the consensus that this is a great trade for the Yankees. However, I think most people are actually underrating exactly how much it helps the team. Granderson is a solid player, he is not the star he appeared to be in 2007 but it doesn't change the fact that he is a vast upgrade from whoever the Yankees have had in centerfield since Bernie Williams' prime.

Granderson is an absolutely perfect fit for the Yankees. Take a look at his home run chart courtesy of hittracker.com. Essentially all of his home run power is to the pull side, and those seats located only 314 feet away at the stadium are ready to welcome his fly balls with open arms.

Although Granderson's defense has occasionally been called into question, particularly the routes he took to fly balls, nearly every defensive metric I can find thinks that he is at worst average. Fangraphs.com's UZR has him at being a little over 21 runs above average in a massive 5500+ inning sample size. If that is not enough convincing, remember that the Yankees still have Brett Gardner, an elite defender, and can shift Granderson over to left field if they really want to focus on defense.

Finally I also think that Granderson's personality will be a great fit in New York. He has always struck the perfect balance between being willing to talk to the media and never appearing to be a glory hog. I have no doubt the New York reporters will find him enjoyable to talk to and quotable, something that will make him all the more endearing to the fans. This is a player that will not get melt under the magnifying glass of the big apple.

So what exactly did the Yankees give up to acquire Granderson? Not much to be honest. The only real interesting player is Jackson, who was once thought of as having superstar potential. However, he has not shown the tools the Yankees thought they were getting for many years now. He spent all of 2009 in AAA as a 22-year-old, but managed only four home runs and a 3:1 K:BB ratio. At this point he projects as a solid player, probably a poor man's Mike Cameron. In other words, somebody useful but hardly untouchable.

Ian Kennedy and Phil Coke are very similar players. They are both strike throwers with average stuff. Because the Yankees have the ability to throw money around on free-agents they have little interest in pitchers that just "get by." The Yankees are in the market for stars or players who could potentially be stars, and that is not Coke or Kennedy at all. Kennedy could thrive in the NL West (he ended up on Arizona) where a lot of the long flies he gives up are swallowed up by huge outfields, and there are no DH's to pray on his high-80s fastball. Similarly Coke looks like a serviceable middle reliever, but because his slider is fringy he will never evolve into even a good lefty-specialist. Essentially both of these players are much like Jackson, useful but ultimately tradeable.

This is exactly the kind of trade the Yankees should be making. They acquired a young, high-upside player who is not even that expensive while only giving up three middling players.


Yankees Acquire: Javier Vazquez, Boone Logan
Yankees Lose: Melky Cabrera, Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Dunn

I find myself more conflicted with this trade. Obviously, Javier Vazquez is an upgrade over the Wang/Mitre/Gaudin group that soaked up 24 starts last year. However, Vazquez is the opposite of Granderson. He is an excellent pitcher who is a horrible fit for the Yankees. Vazquez' greatest weakness is giving up home runs, particularly to left-handed batters; well he is now going to deal with a park that rewards left-handed fly ball hitters more than any other. Make no mistake, I think Vazquez is an upgrade. He is probably the most durable pitcher in baseball, and given the Yankees history with pitchers getting injured that does matter. I'm just not jumping up and down as much with this trade as I am with the previous one, and a large part of that has to do with what they gave up.

The most important player the Yankees are losing is Arodys Vizcaino. While I would not have rated him the Yankees top pitching prospect like Baseball America did, he probably had the highest ceiling of anyone in the system. This is the type of pitching prospect the Yankees should try and hold on to, boom or bust guys that have a chance to anchor the staff down the road. I would have rather seen them trade someone like Zach McAllister or Manny Banuelos who are more polished but do not offer the same upside. If push came to shove though, I would have been willing to give up Vizcaino for Vazquez, so I totally understand his inclusion in the deal if the Braves insisted on it.

Melky Cabrera is barely a loss for the Yankees. He was superfluous with Granderson around and I think Gardner is the more valuable bench player because you can use him as a pinch runner/defensive replacement. The Yankees also acquired Jamie Hoffman who is a very similar player to Cabrera anyway, making him even less needed. Cabrera is a nice player, but it is unlikely he'll ever be anything more than a league average center fielder, if he ever even becomes that. In that way Cabrera is similar to Kennedy and Coke, a nice player but easily replaced.

Finally we have Mike Dunn, a converted position player with a big time fastball. Dunn is interesting because he can routinely pop mid 90s fastballs from the left side, but he is a 24-year-old reliever with no legitimate secondary pitches and 30 command. Yankees fans should probably think of him as a left-handed Brian Bruney. Boone Logan, who the Yankees acquired, is a pretty similar type of pitcher albeit with a little less velocity in exchange for a better slider. If Dunn can iron out his rough edges he might turn into a quality setup man, but that is a big if. He is more of a loss than Coke was in my opinion, but Logan is not much worse than him so it is practically a wash.

This trade makes the Yankees considerably better in 2010, but losing someone with the potential of Vizcaino could hurt them down the road. Would I have pulled the trigger on this trade if I was Brian Cashman? Yes. However, I would have tried really hard to give up someone other than Vizcaino (and maybe Cashman did do this, we have no way of knowing).


The Signings

Nick Johnson

Johnson was signed to essentially replace Hideki Matsui as the Yankees DH. Call me crazy, but I think this is an upgrade. Johnson doesn't have Matsui's power but he more than makes up for that with his ability to get on base. Neither of them can run at all and both have a lot of health issues, but I'm optimistic about Johnson staying healthy since he will rarely, if ever, be in the field. I'm not sure how the Yankees plan on putting their lineup together at this point, but Johnson would look pretty good in the two spot behind Jeter in my opinion. I also think Granderson makes more sense down in the order a bit, maybe behind Posada at six. Even the 5.5 million dollars Johnson will be paid is totally reasonable. If he stays healthy I don't see anyway he wouldn't be worth double that.

Andy Pettitte

Pettitte was a rock for the Yankees last year, just like he had been almost every year of his career. Even though he is getting up there in years and got a good sized raise from last season, it is hard to be displeased with bringing him back. He's still an above average, durable, reliable, starting pitcher and I can think of 29 other teams that would love to have more guys like that.

Not Signing Holliday/Bay/Any Other Expensive player

Good. This was a bad year for free-agents and none of the big name guys were all that appealing. Holliday and Bay each have plenty of warts and Lackey is a number two starter whose health is trending in the wrong direction. I'm sure they'll all be fine players, but would I want them at the price the other teams paid for them? Absolutely not. For once the Yankees used some discretion and chose to hold back and bring in new players via trades and it was the right move. Good job Cashman.

Not Bringing Back Damon

Considering how his price has plummeted recently I do not think it is a given that he will be in another uniform in 2010. I feel like the Yankees should try and sign a cheap corner outfielder if one falls into their laps and that could still happen with Damon. Although with Gardner around, it might make sense to instead sign a right-handed batter as a platoon partner (Xavier Nady?) Regardless the Yankees refused to give in to Damon's hefty demands and that was the prudent move; now it seems like he will struggle to get a two year deal from anyone.

Not Bringing Back Wang or Hairston

Here is where I think the Yankees may have goofed a little. Wang was not going to be expensive because of how terrible/injured he has been lately and watching him walk away for nothing just does not seem like maximizing your resources to me. Similarly, Hairston looked to really enjoy his time in New York as a backup last year. He's also a solid player who can provide decent production at many different positions. In other words, he's the perfect bench player, why would they let him walk away so easily?


Overall


Overall I think this was a great off-season for the Yankees. Coming off a year where they won the World Series it is hard to believe it, but on paper I think their 2010 roster is even stronger. They have replaced Cabrera, Damon, Matsui and the Wang/Mitre/Gaudin group with Granderson, Johnson, Vazquez and either Gardner for free agent to be determined. Overall I think that is a win, and a strong one. It will be interesting how the team decides to try and use Hughes and Chamberlain, but at least now they have enough pitching that they are not dependent on either. Considering how much the Red Sox reshaped their roster and how good Tampa Bay still looks, it seems like a real possibility that the AL East may end up boasting the three best teams in baseball.

Heading Off Speculation Regarding the Lawsuit Against the Mets

As a lawyer, Mets fan, and native New Yorker, I want to take a moment and try and clarify something about the article published today in the New York Post (and other places) regarding a lawsuit against the Mets. As many already knew, the Mets (among others) were being sued for the injuries that a woman sustained when a drunken man fell on her at Shea Stadium in 2007. She broke a vertebrae or two, lawyered up, things got filed, and here we are.

And then the Post, the worst of the muck-raking New York papers, gets a hold of the story:

Maybe they should post signs: Beware of Falling Fat Fans.

A woman who says her back was broken when a 300-pound drunk dropped on top of her at a Mets game should have been looking up, instead of watching the action on the field, the team suggests in court filings.

In papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, Mets' lawyers say Ellen Massey's "injuries and damages" on opening day in 2007 "were caused in whole or in part or were contributed to by [her] culpable conduct," and "such alleged damages should be fully or partially diminished by such culpable conduct."

***

The blame-the-victim defense is one of nine offered up by the Mets as to why they aren't liable for Massey's injuries. The team also points the finger at the stadium's beer vendor and the fan who fell, who filings reveal is a New Jersey man named Timothy Cassidy.

I'm not going to get into the legal details, but let me say a few things here.

- 1 -
First of all, the Post is awful. Either the author 1) knows NOTHING about the legal system or 2) is intentionally misleading the readers of the article into thinking that the Mets are being tasteless/unethical in providing that affirmative defense in their answer. Either of those options are unpalatable to me. It is irresponsible of the Post.

- 2 -
Generally speaking, a defendant needs to raise IN THEIR ANSWER any affirmative defense they plan on raising at any point during the trial. Early in a trial, many or most of the specific facts of the trial are unknown to the parties. They need to plead anything and everything at the outset of the case.

The Mets are wise to have included that as a potential defense. It is legal boilerplate. Their lawyers would have committed malpractice had they NOT included it.

- 3 -
We truly do not know the facts of the case yet. It is truly a shame that in our legal system, so many people obtain a copy of the complaint and read and accept the facts of it as true. The truth is, we don't know exactly what happened yet. It may be that she DID, in fact, contribute to her injuries. Maybe she bought him beer herself. Maybe he said "OH NO I APPEAR TO HAVE LOST MY BALANCE AND WILL FALL ON THIS WOMAN IN FRONT OF ME" before he fell, and she ignored it.

The point is, any number of things may or may not be proven at trial. In our system - which is a "notice pleading" system - parties are obligated to plead whatever claims or affirmative defenses they MAY raise at trial and put their opponent ON NOTICE of it.[1]

The law gets complex at this point, but suffice to say, it is ridiculous to draw conclusions at this point. This is standard legal practice. This is how our system is, and should be, structured. This is an irresponsible article, and I hope it does not gain momentum.


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[1] Hell, the fact that the Mets are in the lawsuit to begin with is part of the legal game as well. The odds that the Mets did anything to contribute to this injury is probably no more than fantasy. The reality however is that, as the "deep pocketed" defendant, they may be found liable in part for the damages if it turns out that the most liable defendant cannot pay the plaintiff for all of her injuries.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Even More Context For Appreciating Fernando Martinez

I think my love for Fernando Martinez is well-chronicled by now.[1][2][3]

We already pointed out that his .290/.337/.540 line in AAA as a 20-year-old was downright phenomenal. We as fans already know about his tools, his quick-wrists, and his approach to the game. We saw him, almost a child, playing baseball against men in their prime - some almost twice his age.

That said, I came across another reason to love him.

Fernando's 878 OPS is impressive in any place -- but it is even more impressive in the International League. If he had accumulated enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, his OPS would have placed him ninth in the entire league. That's just outrageous.

Among Mets minor leaguers in Buffalo, he would have placed first by a mile. He was not competing with any elite players, but he easily outpaced Mike Lamb (669), Cory Sullivan (719), Nick Evans (694) and Wily Mo Pena (710), who have all played competently in the majors. The average hitter for Buffalo posted a line of only .255/.307/.365.

So who would Fernando have ranked among on the league leaderboard?

Kevin Barker, LOU, 1B
Matt LaPorta, COL, LF
Shelley Duncan, SWB, RF
Brian Myrow, IND, RF
Jordan Brown, COL, LF
Jeff Fiorentino, NOR, RF
Chris Richard, DUR, 1B
Jon Weber, DUR, LF
***Fernando Martinez, BUF, OF***
Michael Restovich CHA, LF

We can immediately eliminate some of these players as too old to be considered prospects. Kevin Barker is a 33 years old. Shelley Duncan is 29. Bryan Myrow is a 32 year old. Jeff Fiorentino is 26. Chris Richard is 35. Jon Weber is 31. Michael Restovich is 30. These are all men in their primes who are probably just not good enough to make the major leagues.

The other thing you'll notice is that ALL of these other players are either first basemen or corner outfielders - players with significantly less defensive potential than Fernando Martinez.

That leaves only Matt LaPorta and Jordan Brown as comparisons for Fernando. There has been an incredible amount of hype around those two players.

Matt LaPorta has been ranked the 27th and 28th best prospect in baseball in the last two years. He was a major piece in the CC Sabathia to Milwaukee deal, and hit 24 home runs between AAA and MLB last year. Jason Grey of ESPN said of LaPorta that "LaPorta won't hit for much average, but he will post a good on-base percentage and will have 40-homer power as he develops as a big league hitter." John Sickels graded him as a B+ prospect. Keith Law graded him as the fifth-best first base prospect in the game - between Logan Morrison and Angel Villalona, other big time prospects. He was 24 this season.

Jordan Brown kind of came out of nowhere as a prospect to post his good stats last season. He hit .336/.381/.532 -- but he is tied to first base or the corner outfield and is already 25 years old.

The bottom line is this: Fernando Martinez may have some warts. He has been injured with this-or-that at some point in each of the last three seasons. His strikeout to walk ratio wasn't superlative in AAA last year. But say what you will about all that -- his performance in AAA was phenomenal.

For Matt LaPorta, an inferior defender who is vastly older, to be hyped as he is, and for Mets fans to be so pessimistic about Fernando, is pretty ridiculous. Add in the fact that he had only a -0.3 UZR last season while playing almost 30% of his innings in center field last year, and you have yourself one hell of a well-rounded prospect.


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[1] I mentioned it a few days ago in a prospect write-up: "Fernando Martinez IS still an elite prospect."

[2] And also here: "We are watching Fernando Martinez finally tap into the immense potential we've been told about for three years."

[3] And from the same blog: "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... is downright silly."

The Wine Cellar Team

I just finished Bill Simmons' basketball epic which closed with a chapter called, "The Wine Cellar Team" where he attempted to build the best "team" ever. The difference between this concept and most is that here you do not simply pick the best player at each position. Instead, you try and pick pieces that fit together perfectly.

While this concept is more difficult in basketball because it is based less on individual matchups than baseball, I still think it is an interesting exercise to see what happens when you try and build the best team rather than a collection of the best players. So, basically if you had a seven game series that you absolutely had to win, what would your 25 man roster look like?

Some rules first. You are picking a player from one individual season. Meaning that picking Alex Rodriguez is not an option, but picking 2007 Alex Rodriguez is an option. Also, I am not going to pick anyone before 1948. The reason is because the concept of this game is that it would be played today, with modern rules and guidelines; essentially that you would take a player from his time period, in a time machine, and put him on the field today and I simply do not trust any players from that era to be effective in a modern game. They played in a different era with different rules and against weaker competition (a delicate way of saying that black ball players were not allowed in the league.)

So without further ado, here is my "Wine Cellar Team."

Starting at catcher, 2009 Joe Mauer. Back up: 1972 Johnny Bench

Joe Mauer's 2009 season looks like the best season ever by a catcher to me. He hit for average and power while showing great patience. He is great defensively and his teammates love him, what more could you ask for. Bench is the obvious choice for a backup, being right-handed is an advantage and few can match Bench's defensive ability. 1953 Roy Campanella just missed the cut, and so did Mike Piazza (who was not good enough defensively) and Ivan Rodriguez (who was not good enough offensively).


Starting at first base, 2009 Albert Pujols.

Probably the most loaded position, Pujols appears the choice to me just ahead of 1994 Jeff Bagwell. There is nothing Pujols cannot do and 2009 was his best all-around season, but really you could pick any of them and not go wrong. Lots of Frank Thomas seasons were considered, as were Mark McGwire's, but Pujols is just more of a total package.


Starting at second base, 1949 Jackie Robinson. Back up: 2007 Chase Utley

I'm actually amazed that neither Joe Morgan nor Craig Biggio made this team, but have you ever looked at Jackie's 1949 season closely? He was the best base runner that year and the best defender at second and was one of the top three hitters. Utley is a very similar player, fantastic all-around at the plate, in the field and on the bases. He is also left-handed giving us a better option off the bench.


Starting at third base, 2007 Alex Rodriguez

The best season by one of the games greatest players ever. He was a dominant force offensively and was solid in the field as well and even dangerous on the bases. Depending on the other players on this team, I could have easily taken 1980 George Brett or Mike Schmidt. Even Chipper Jones' MVP season was in the running. However, I had several good table setters already, eliminating Brett and A-Rod's year is just a bit more impressive than anything Schmidt or Jones did in my eyes.


Starting at shortstop, 1987 Ozzie Smith. Back up: 1999 Derek Jeter

Smith was probably the most valuable defensive player in the history of the game. His range was unbelievable and considering all the offense this team has I was willing to sacrifice some for Ozzie's glove. However, Ozzie did have a .392 OBP this year and was 43/52 as a base-stealer, not bad for the #9 batter. 1999 was Jeter's best season and I feel like he has more value in the club house and off the bench than Alex Rodriguez would. For a series of this magnitude I want Jeter's steadying influence, particularly when he is not likely to get a ton of at-bats.


Starting at left field, 1993 Barry Bonds. Back up: 1948 Stan Musial

I know what you are thinking... 1993? Yes. Bonds was by far the best hitter in baseball at the time, a great base-runner and probably the best defensive LF ever. Also we are playing this game with modern rules and he might not pass the drug test if I use 2001... Musial, in my opinion, is the most underrated player in baseball history. The guy simply did everything spectacularly and 1948 was his best year. I had to have him on this team in some capacity.


Starting at center field, 1956 Mickey Mantle. Back up: 1955 Willie Mays

This was one of the hardest decisions for me. With apologies to Griffey and several other outstanding players, I knew that these two had to be on the team but picking who to start and which years to use was a challenge. While I think Mays had the better career, he never had a season that topped Mickey's 1956 effort when he lapped the field offensively and was pretty good in the field as well. I chose 1955 for Mays because I wanted him at his absolute peak of athleticism. 1955 Mays is probably the best defensive CF ever and he also hit 51 home runs, I like it!


Starting at right field, 1987 Tony Gwynn

Stop scratching your heads already. I know this one is a shocker but go with me for a minute. I wanted a speedy/defensive type in this spot who could be a table-setter and Gwynn is the best choice. Remember Ichiro in 2004 when he set the record for most hits in a season? That was Gwynn in 1987 except Gwynn was better. Although Gwynn had only 218 hits, he had 39 more walks, stole 20 more bases while only getting caught one more time and out slugged Ichiro .511 to .469. Gwynn also won a GG that year (which really does not mean much, but in this case it was deserved) so Ichiro is not really beating him on defense either. Also, can you really find a better all around season for a right-fielder than this? Larry Walker had a monster season in 1997 but most of that was Coors Field. Sammy Sosa had some big years but never matched Gwynn's OBP, was poor in the OF and then of course there is the risk of a failed drug test again... Clemente and Kaline had some big years but none that actually seem better than Gwynn's. Frank Robinson had some big years but was not an elite defender and a bit of a pain to deal with. Gwynn has taken a lot of heat from the sabermetric community, and maybe Raines had a better career, but I'll take 1987 Gwynn as my right-fielder any day.


Starting at DH: 1957 Ted Williams

Originally I wanted to squeeze Edgar Martinez into this slot but it would be impossible to leave out Williams. An indifferent fielder this is the perfect way to maximize his hitting ability and keep him happy. Unfortunately we can't use his 1941 year because of the rules, but since he is playing DH I have no problem carrying the 38-year-old version of Williams.


One other note about the backups before I move on to pitchers. I think that all of them would be willing to accept their roles as backup players and that is extremely important here. I do not want a player on my bench who is pouting about not starting and will not be in the right state of mind when he is called upon. I trust all of these guys to do that based on what I know about them. The only concern might be the hyper-competitive Johnny Bench, but I think because it would be in the best interest of the team he would be willing to accept that role.


Starting Rotation: 1999 Pedro Martinez, 1994 Greg Maddux, 1995 Randy Johnson, 1968 Bob Gibson, 1965 Sandy Koufax

Pedro Martinez during his dominant stretch from 1997-2003 was simply the greatest pitcher ever. No one has ever matched that peak, in fact, no one is particularly close. 2000 was his best year of the bunch (even though he had a lower ERA in 2000) and is full of video game numbers, the most impressive of which is a 1.31 FIP.

Greg Maddux pitched 202 innings in 1994 during one of the highest scoring years in history. He posted a 1.56 ERA and allowed FOUR home runs all season and issued only 28 unintentional walks. I actually still remember Maddux at his peak, he was a surgeon who toyed with hitters. His best trick was starting the ball right in the hitter's favorite spot but by the time the pitch got to the plate it was somewhere entirely different and unhittable.

I needed two left-handed pitchers my rotation and Johnson obviously deserved one of those spots. I think 1995 was his best season, just barely edging out some of the years he spent with Arizona. 1995 Johnson was still sitting in the upper 90s with a slider that was harder than most fastballs. He was facing stiffer competition in those years than when he was with Arizona and still struck out over 12 batters per nine innings.

1968 was dominating by pitching in general like no other, but even in context, Gibson's season is ridiculous. His ERA+ was 258 and his WHIP was a microscopic 0.853. Gibson also pitched three complete games in the world series that year, I'd say it was a pretty special season.

I'm taking 1965 Sandy Koufax over the other iterations for one main reason: the fairly insane strikeout totals and durability. I've often called Koufax overrated, and I stand by that, but I need a lefty with lights out stuff and he fits the bill better than anyone else (including 1972 Steve Carlton).


Bullpen: 2005 Mariano Rivera, 2003 Eric Gagne, 1999 Billy Wagner, 1990 Dennis Eckersley, 1967 Hoyt Wilhelm, 1983 Jesse Orosco

I will not go into too much detail about these players because their reasons for selection should be fairly obvious. The first four are, in my opinion, four of the most dominant relief seasons ever. The last two were chosen for their unique abilities. I think having Wilhelm's knuckleball might be an asset just because it is so different from anything else any of these guys are throwing up there. I also think in an ideal world, each team would have two left-handed pitchers. Because of this Orosco gets the last spot in the pen, but probably will never be used as long as Billy Wagner is around.


Batting Order
1. Jackie Robinson
2. Tony Gwynn
3. Albert Pujols
4. Ted Williams
5. Mickey Mantle
6. Barry Bonds
7. Alex Rodriguez
8. Joe Mauer
9. Ozzie Smith

Wow. Maybe some of my questionable choices make sense now though. Doesn't that just fall into place so perfectly? I have high OBP fast guys at the top, boppers in the middle and a poor mans leadoff hitter batting 9th. It alternates between handedness. All of them other than Williams can run, and frankly I'm willing to accept that to get his bat in the lineup. So that is it, my wine cellar team. Think you can put together a roster that can beat it?