Friday, November 07, 2003

NL Rookie of the Year

Okay, I'm finally getting around to my choices for the Rookie of the Year awards. I'll give my top five for the NL today and I hope to give my top five for the AL by the end of the weekend.

5. Jae Weong Seo, SP, NYM

Seo gets the fifth spot by being a little bit better in just about every category than Atlanta SP Horacio Ramirez. Seo had a 3.82 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 188.1 innings while Ramirez had a 4.00 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 182.1 innings.

Seo had 5.26 strikeouts per nine innings, 2.20 walks per nine innings and 0.86 home runs allowed per nine innings this year. Ramirez was worse in all three categories with 4.94 K/9IP, 3.55 BB/9IP and 1.04 HR/9IP.

Ramirez did pitch longer in the games he started, but I don't think it's a big enough difference to make up for the fact that Seo was a better when he was on the mound. Ramirez averaged 6.29 innings in his 29 starts, while Seo averaged 5.91 innings in his 31 starts. Each pitcher had 17 quality starts.

Neither pitcher was tremendous and there wasn't a whole lot of difference between the two of them (they both had around nine win shares), but I like Seo's body of work better than Ramirez's, so I'm giving him the fifth spot.

4. Marlon Byrd, CF, PHI

It looked like this might be a lost season for Byrd. He was hitting very poorly when he got hurt in mid-April and then he was even worse in May after he returned. However, he was excellent in June and July, not bad in August and pretty good in September.

He finished the year hitting .303 with a .366 OBP and a .418 SLG for a .784 OPS. He hit 28 doubles, four triples and seven home runs. He walked 44 times while striking out 94 times and he scored 86 runs while driving in 45. He also stole 11 bases in 12 attempts (91.7-percent success rate) and appears to have played a pretty good defensive center field.

His .284 EqA, 74.3 EqR and 26.9 RARP put him in the middle of the pack of NL center fielders. If he had just been average, instead of awful, in April and May he might have warranted a spot in the top three among NL rookies. Instead, he's just fourth, which is a lot better than it looked like he'd do after those first two months.

3. Dontrelle Willis, SP, FLA

Willis burst onto the scene with that amazing streak of great starts from late May through early July and most people gave him the NL Rookie of the Year award right there and then. However, he wore down as the season wore on and he's not only not the Rookie of the Year, he's not even the runner up.

Willis finished the season with a 3.30 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 160.2 innings. That ERA's pretty nice, but the WHIP isn't all that impressive and he didn't pitch quite enough for my liking. He had 7.95 K/9IP, 3.25 BB/9IP and 0.73HR/9IP. All of those are pretty good marks, but they still don't get him into the top two.

Despite all of Willis' impressive starts, he only had 16 quality starts in the 27 games he started and he only averaged 5.95 innings per start. He has a World Series ring and a nice future, but he wasn't one of the two best rookies in the NL this season, charisma and funky delivery bedamned.

2. Scott Podsednik, CF, MIL

Podesdnik came completely out of nowhere this season to put up a season that would have drawn raves even if he wasn't a rookie. He hit for average (.314), showed good patience (.379 OBP) and had decent power (.443 SLG) for a nice .822 OPS.

He hit 29 doubles, eight triples and nine home runs. He scored 100 runs and drove in 58 from the leadoff spot while walking 56 times and striking out 91 times. He also stole 43 bases in 53 attempts (81.1-percent success rate).

Podsednik might not just have been the second-best rookie in the NL this season, he may have been the second-best center. He had a .292 EqA, 90.5 EqR and 35.6 RARP. That 35.6 number is lower than only Jim Edmonds among NL centerfielders. However, it's only barely ahead of Andruw Jones (35.3) and Jones probably makes up the difference with his defense.

Still, it's pretty impressive to be the third-best centerfielder in the league as a rookie, and most years it would be good enough to get you the Rookie of the Year award. This year, however, there was one player who was even more impressive.

1. Brandon Webb, SP, ARI

Webb was simply marvelous. He posted a 2.83 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 180.2 innings. He had 8.57 K/9IP, 3.39 BB/9IP and 0.60 HR/9IP. He made 28 starts and 21 of them were quality starts. He also averaged 6.42 innings per start.

If it wasn't for his last two starts of the season (9 earned runs and 16 total runs in 8 innings), he probably would be deserving of a spot in the top five for the NL Cy Young Award. And if he was that good, then he was clearly the NL Rookie of the Year.

A lot of things I've seen referring to the Rookie of the Year talk about Webb and Willis, but it's not even remotely close. First of all, Webb has much better numbers across the board. Second of all, he put up those numbers in a good hitter's park while Willis was putting up his numbers in a good pitcher's park. Of all the runs scored in Arizona's baseball games this year, 54.9-percent of those runs were scored in their home games. Of all the runs scored in Florida's baseball games this year, 53.4-percent of those runs were scored in their road games.

So, Webb made half his starts in a park that severely inflated scoring while Willis made the majority of his starts in a park that severely deflated scoring, and Webb still finished with much better numbers. Willis had a 3.63 road ERA, while Webb had a 2.27 road ERA. Look at that last number again. Pitching in a neutral park, Webb's final numbers may have rivaled those of Pedro Martinez.

Not only should Webb win the NL Rookie of the Year award, it should be unanimous. It probably won't be, but it should be.

Some stuff

As he promised yesterday, Bryan Smith gave his own opinion today on what will happen in Boston this off-season. If you missed it, yesterday was the Wait 'Til Next Year organizational meeting on the Red Sox. Bryan asked me and Jeff Kuhn of The House That Dewey Built nine questions and we both gave our answers. If you haven't already, go see what we had to say (make sure you have time available though, because my answers are a bit long).

Also, here the link to my fantasy football column for this week:

Fantasy football: Top busts so far

Finally, I will have a Rookie of the Year post up at some point this afternoon, so come on back later and check it out.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Required reading

I hope you'll all forgive me for not writing anything here yesterday, because I was spending most of the day writing for another blog. As I've mentioned before, Wail 'Til Next Year is holding Organizational Meetings with other bloggers this off-season. Today's meeting is on the Boston Red Sox and he asked me to give my thoughts on a number of questions.

Please go give it a read because I spent a lot of time working on it. Unfortunately, I'm also going to have to take today off from blogging. I need to write my fantasy column and I haven't even started looking at things for this week, so I'm a little behind. I promise I'll make my post on the Rookie of the Year awards some time, hopefully tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

An important trade

As you've probably heard, the Astros traded Billy Wagner to the Phillies yesterday. In exchange, the Astros got starting pitcher Brandon Duckworth and minor leaguers Taylor Buchholz and Ezequeil Astacio. So, I'm going to delay my Rookie of the Year choices and talk about what this means for Philadelphia and Houston, and what it might mean for some other teams.

Obviously, Philadelphia is getting one hell of a relief pitcher. Over the last three years, he's posted a 2.29 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 10.94 K/9IP, 2.62 BB/9IP and 0.80 HR/9IP in 223.2 innings. He also has 118 saves over those three seasons, but that's not nearly as important as the other numbers I just listed.

Basically, Wagner is one of the five best relievers in baseball right now. I don't think the "closer" role is a great thing the way it is used by most teams. However, if you are going to use a strict closer, as most teams do, it's much better to have one of the five best relievers in baseball doing that job than it is to have Jose Mesa or Mike Williams doing that job. Even with Mesa and Williams combining for a 6.35 ERA in 83.2 innings, Philadelphia's bullpen still had a very respectable 3.72 ERA this season. With Wagner now in the mix, the Phillies bullpen could be among the best in the majors.

Let me give you an example of how good Philedelphia's bullpen could be if every reliever who pitched for the Phillies besides Mesa and Williams is back and does about what they did this year. Wagner pitched 86 innings this season, Mesa and Williams pitched 83.2 for the Phillies. If you substitute Mesa and Williams' performance with the Phillies with Wagner's performance with the Astros, then the Phillies bullpen would have had a 2.91 ERA. Obviously you can't assume that everything else would have stayed the same with Wagner there instead of Mesa and Williams, but you can see the potential difference Wagner's presence makes.

It's a good thing that the Phillies have a potentially dominant bullpen, because they also have a very questionable starting rotation for next season so far. Five starting pitchers combined to start 150 of Philadelphia's 162 games this season and it looks like two of them will not be back.

Duckworth started 18 games and was not all that good, posting a 4.94 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 93 innings. He will obviously be pitching for the Houston Astros in 2004. Kevin Millwood started 35 games and was not as good as the Phillies hoped he would be, posting a 4.01 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 222 innings. He is a free agent and it does not sound like he'll be returning to Philedelphia in 2004.

That means Philadelphia's starting rotation will be Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla and Brett Myers along with two players who are unknown at this time. Padilla, Wolf and Myers are all fine pitchers. They combined for a 4.08 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP in 601.2 innings last year, which isn't a bad way to fill three-fifths of your starting rotation. But none of them is going to be a staff ace.

Millwood was the staff ace in name, but he really didn't perform like a staff ace. Duckworth won't be around next year, but he was never going to turn into a staff ace either. The only reason this trade might have an adverse affect on next year's starting rotation is that Wagner makes $9-million in 2004, which is $9-million of the Phillies budget that now can't go toward signing an ace starting pitcher.

Phillies GM Ed Wade said tha Phillies still have flexibility to go get a starter, but there aren't many top-notch starters available and there are going to be other teams bidding for the services of those top-notch pitchers. I'm not saying Wagner won't help the Phillies, I'm just saying that the bullpen wasn't Philadelphia's most pressing need. The Phillies bullpen ERA of 3.72 was eighth in the NL and it would have been better if Philadelphia's worst relievers hadn't been allowed to pitch so many innings.

Wagner will help the team win games next year for sure, but if his arrival means that the Phillies are unable to sign a top-notch pitcher that they otherwise would have been able to sign, then this trade might not be a good thing for them.

The other team that is obviously directly effected by this trade is Houston. The Astros probably had the best bullpen in the National League this year. Technically, their bullpen ERA of 3.22 was second to LA's 2.46, but Houston plays half it's games in a park that's great for hitters and LA plays half its games in a park that's great for pitchers.

The Astros will miss Wagner next year, but they will not miss him as much as a team that doesn't have Octavio Dotel and Brad Lidge would miss its best reliever. Dotel had a 2.48 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 87 innings this year and Lidge had a 3.60 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 85 innings. Both of them are also flamethrowers, as Dotel struck out 10.03 batters per nine innings and Lidge bested him with 10.27 K/9IP. Lidge was a rookie and his 5.46 post All-Star break ERA suggests that he may have gotten tired toward the end of the season, so he may be even better next year.

The big question is whether Dotel will become Houston's new closer or whether the Astros will entrust that job to Lidge. If we were just working with names on a sheet of paper, it probably wouldn't matter because they're both good pitchers and they should both be able to succeed as either the closer or the main set-up man. Plus, we all know that closers are overrated because of the stupid saves statistic anyway. Right?

Well, kind of. The problem is that we're not just working with names on a sheet of paper. Dotel has been Wagner's excellent set-up man for three years in a row and he's probably been able to deal with the fact that he was not "the man" because Wagner was already established as a tremendous closer. However, if the Astros decide to bypass Dotel and install Lidge as the closer, I don't think Dotel would be very happy about it and it might -- I obviously can't say for sure -- hurt his performance. Just because that's even a remote possibility, I'd name Dotel the new closer right now. Lidge would have no problem with it because he's still a young player and Dotel would be happy that his performance has been rewarded with the job he's probably felt he could do all along.

The big question about this trade is what Houston's intentions were when making the trade. Was it just a salary dump because the Astros didn't want to spend as much money in 2004? Or, were the Astros freeing up money to go after a free agent?

If the latter is the case, then this trade may end up effecting the New York Yankees, which would have a domino effect on a lot of other teams. The reason being, of course, that Andy Pettitte can become a free agent this winter and he has let it be known that he might enjoy pitching in his home state of Texas. As you probably know, Houston is in Texas and could use another starting pitcher.

If Houston signs Pettitte several things will happen. First, Houston will be a very good team next year. The Astros would have a starting rotation that includes Pettitte, Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller, a bullpen that includes Lidge and Dotel and a lineup that includes Jeff Kent, Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berman.

Second, the Yankees would need to fill at least one spot in their starting rotation, and probably at least two. The only sure things for New York's starting rotation at the moment are Mike Mussina and Jose Contreras. Jeff Weaver might be given another shot and the team is hoping that Jon Lieber will turn out to be useful.

Third, the Yankees, now needing to fill at least one spot in the starting rotation, would go after at least one of Millwood, Bartolo Colon and Javier Vazquez. If the Yankees were already planning on trying to acquire one of those three pitchers, then they would probably try to acquire two of them if they lost Pettitte.

Fourth, those pitchers prices would go up as there would know be more teams interested in them, including the biggest spender of them all. Teams that might have had a shot at one of the top-notch pitchers might turn their attention to the second tier pitchers instead, which might raise those pitchers' prices as well.

It will be interesting to see how everything plays out and I, for one, hope it's not just a cost-cutting move by the Astros. I hope they give the Yankees a run for their money for Pettitte and turn the off-season all upside down. Why?

Because not all of the GMs in baseball are as smart as the rest. Some of them have some money set aside that they plan on spending on a certain player(s). If they miss out on that player (or players), they don't always sit back and re-evaluate how best to use that money. Sometimes, they just turn around and offer it to somebody else, even if that somebody else isn't as deserving as the previous somebody.

So, when unexpected things happen to the free agent pool, it benefits the teams that have very smart GMs (like Boston).

Monday, November 03, 2003

Managers of the Year

Time for my top three choices for Manager of the Year in each league. This isn't going to be terribly in-depth because there just aren't a lot of stats I can use to evaluate the managers. Anyway, I'll start with the AL.

3. Carlos Tosca, TOR

In his first full season as manager of the Blue Jays, Tosca proved that you can be successful as a major league manager even if you have never played professional baseball. The Blue Jays finished 86-76 this season -- eight games better than they did last year -- for their sixth straight third-place finish in the AL East.

Tosca also showed that he's receptive to trying new things as the Blue Jays very rarely bunted (with Bille Beane disciple J.P. Ricciardi in the GM's office) and ace pitcher Roy Halladay worked on three days rest three times with outstanding results (0.78 ERA, 0.43 WHIP, 16 strikeouts and no walks in 23 innings).

Toronto also did about what its run differential said it should, so there's no reason to think Tosca may have cost them wins with poor decisions in crucial situations.

2. Ron Gardenhire, MIN

Gardenhire made some very questionable decisions (like giving Christian Guzman and Luis Rivas a combined 568 plate appearances in the second spot in the lineup), but he did lead a team that was 44-49 at the All-Star break to the best post All-Star record in the majors and a division title.

Although it took some time, Gardenhire gave Bobby Kielty a good amount of playing time when he was hot and he eventually moved Johan Santana into the rotation, where he thrived.

Also, the Twins were five games better than their Pythagorean projection this season. That's probably more attributable to luck than to anything Gardenhire did, but it's definitely not a bad sign for a manager.

1. Tony Pena, KC

This is pretty simple. The Royals went 62-100 last year and improved to 83-79 this year. You turn a 100-loss team into a winning team, and you get the Manager of the Year award, it's that simple.

Pena's job is even more impressive when you consider that Carlos Beltran missed 21 games and Mike Sweeney missed 54 games. Also, Kansas City had to use 15 different starting pitchers and only two players on the entire team pitched more than 100 innings (and only one pitched more than 130 innings).

Rob Neyer said a few times that some of Pena's strange decisions late in the year may have cost the Royals a chance to really jump into the division race, but the fact that they were even in the race at all is a testament to Pena. Also, everybody expected the Royals to fall apart everytime they went on a bit of a losing skid and Pena kept them believing in themselves and always got them back on track.

Now, on to the NL.

3. Bobby Cox, ATL

It's easy to overlook the job that Bobby Cox does because he's now lead the Braves to six 100-win seasons in the 11 full seasons he's been there. After winning on great pitching and just enough hitting for all those seasons, Cox took the Braves to another division title with great hitting and just enough pitching this season.

Cox and Leo Mazzone once again cobbled together a relatively effective bullpen (3.98 ERA was sixth in the NL) and pushed enough correct buttons to once again win the NL East easily despite most people predicting that this was the year their run would end.

2. Dusty Baker, CHC

Any other year and Baker probably would deserve the NL Manager of the Year award. He took over a Cubs team that lost 95 games last year and led it to 88 wins and a division title this season. He guided the team through some injuries, the corked bat incident and a very close, three-team race.

His continued disdain for younger players (positionally, at least) is somewhat troubling, but the team improved by 21 games and you can't ask for much more than that.

1. Jack McKeon, FLA

McKeon took over a 16-22 team that was missing its ace pitcher and led it to a 75-49 record the rest of the way and the NL wild card. He didn't appear to make any really stupid decisions as far as playing time goes and he obviously did something right to get the Marlins to go on that amazing run (which was amazing even before they went on to win the World Series).

Well, that's all I have for the Manager of the Year awards. Sorry it's not more interesting. I'll do the Rookie of the Year awards next, which should be more fun.