Friday, November 14, 2003

Bad news for Rochester

As you may or may not know, I live in Rochester, NY. Just two days after Rochester hosted a major sporting event for the first time since 1971 (a 2-2 tie between the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils), it seems the city has gotten some bad news. Apparently, the Minnesota Twins have traded catcher A.J. Pierzynski to the San Francisco Giants.

How is that bad news for Rochester? Well, if you didn't know already, Rochester is home to the AAA affiliate of the Twins. The Twins have a catcher in their minor league system you may have heard of named Joe Mauer.

Mauer tore apart A and AA last year, and many people were expecting him to do the same thing in Rochester next year, at least for the first half of the season. I am one of the people who was very excited about the prospect of watching this prospect play. I've only been to about 10 Red Wings (that's the name of the Rochester team) games in the five years I've lived here, but I likely would have gone to at least that many next year if Mauer was on the team (especially if fellow prospect Justin Morneau was on the team as well).

Now, however, it appears that Mauer may very well start the season in the majors with the Twins. Minnesota does have other options, but neither are as exciting (or likely to be as good) as Mauer. Matthew LeCroy hit .287/.342/.490 (.832) for the Twins last year, and he did play 22 games as the catcher (his most since catching 49 games in 2000). I don't think LeCroy could catch every day, but he could catch half the time with Rob Bowen, who was in the unenviable situation of being stuck between Pierzynski and Mauer, catching the rest of the time.

Like I said, though, that's not a really appealing option. It will especially tough to keep Mauer in Rochester if he goes to spring training and starts tearing the cover off the ball, which he's certainly capable of doing.

Only one thing seems certain to me today, the city of Rochester will not get to see Mauer as long as we would have liked. If the Twins had kept Pierzynski, Mauer almost certainly would have started the season in Rochester and there's a chance that he might have stayed here until the rosters expanded in September. With Pierzynski gone, however, the longest I could envision Mauer playing for the Red Wings is about a month.

It's a shame, because the city was hoping that Mauer would be the next great player to pass through Rochester, following the likes of Stan Musial, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr., Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina and others. Now, it's much less likely to happen.

Fantasy Football

Here's the link to my fantasy football column for this week:

Fantasy football: Trade Lewis for value

I'll try to have my AL MVP choices up at some point today.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

NL Cy Young award

Here are my top five choices for the NL Cy Young award. Once again, there are three players who I would be fine with winning the award, so the BBWAA shouldn't be able to screw this up too bad. If Russ Ortiz ends up in the top five, I'll be disappointed, but I can't say it would surprise me.

5. Brandon Webb, SP, ARI

If you've been reading this blog for the past week, then you know how I feel about Webb. He had a 2.84 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 8.57 K/9IP, 3.39 BB/9IP and 0.60 HR/9IP in 180.2 innings, all while pitching in a park that is tremendous for hitters. Webb's road ERA of 2.27 was the third-best for any NL starter.

As much as I think he deserves to finish fifth in the Cy Young voting, he has absolutely no chance of actually doing so. Thanks to the anemic Arizona offense, which scored two runs or fewer in 13 of his 28 starts, Webb's record this season was just 10-9. And just as 10-9 pitchers apparently can't win Rookie of the Year awards, 10-9 pitchers can't finish in the top five in Cy Young balloting.

4. Kevin Brown, SP, LA

Brown was a wonderful story this year, rebounding from two injury-plagued seasons to post a 2.39 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 211 innings. He finished with 7.89 K/9IP, 2.39 BB/9IP and 0.47 HR/9IP while making 25 quality starts in his 32 appearances.

There are, however, a couple of things working against Brown. One is the fact that he only won 14 games. Pedro Martinez could only finish third in the AL voting with 14 wins despite having just four losses, a 2.22 ERA and a home park that isn't notorious for being kind to pitchers. Brown had nine losses, a 2.39 ERA and a home park that is notorious for being kind to pitchers, so he might not even finish as high as fourth.

Speaking of Brown's home park, it did deflate offense by about 13-percent, but it didn't seem to help Brown, who had a 2.40 home ERA and a 2.38 road ERA. Not that that's anything in Brown's favor. If you can't take advantage of your favorable surroundings, then that's a bad thing for you, not a good thing.

There is one thing about pitching for the Dodgers that should help Brown's case, but which most people probably won't even think of. While he was helped (or should have been helped) by pitching in a great pitcher's park, he was also hurt by not getting the chance to pitch against the woeful Dodgers offense. Brown only made two starts this season against teams that scored fewer than 4 runs per game (one against Detroit and one against the Mets). Ortiz, on the other hand, made six starts against such low-powered teams and Webb had five such starts.

3. Eric Gagne, RP, LA

He'll probably win the award, but I just can't see how he's better than the two guys I have ahead of him, both of whom pitched over 200 innings with ERA's below 2.50. Gagne had a ridiculous 1.20 ERA and an even more riduclous 0.69 WHIP in 82.1 innings, which is rather a lot for a closer.

Gagne certainly put up some amazing numbers. He had 14.98 K/9IP and just 0.22 HR/9IP. He had a microscopic 0.76 ERA on the road (even though his home park favors pitchers a lot) and he held opposing hitters to a .196 OBP and a .176 SLG. I guess if a closer was ever going to do enough to be considered the best pitcher in his league, this would be the year. However, I've got to go with the starting pitchers who both pitched 2.5 times more innings than Gagne while putting up some very impressive numbers themselves.

2. Jason Schmidt, SP, SF

Schmidt led the NL with a 2.34 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP in 207.2 innings. He also had nice ratios of 9.01 K/9IP, 1.99 BB/9IP and 0.61 HR/9IP. He made 20 quality starts in 29 appearances and pitched 7.16 innings per start. In short, he did just about everything you would want the ace of your pitching staff to do.

People have been taking some credit away from him because PacBell Park is supposed to be a great place for pitchers. This year, however, it was a very interesting park. Overall, about the same number of runs were scored in Giants home games as were scored in Giants road games. The interesting part is that the Giants themselves scored about 9-percent more runs in their home games while the Giants opponents scored about 15-percent fewer runs in Giants home games. I guess that's why the Giants went 54-27 at home.

At any rate, it doesn't look like PacBell helped Schmidt tremendously. He had a 2.24 ERA at home and a 2.44 ERA on the road. Both numbers are excellent.

One thing that I'm discounting Schmidt for is the quality of his opponents. He pitched in the NL West, which featured his own team, an above average offensive team, two below average offensive teams and the worst offensive team in the majors. Schmidt made six starts this year against teams that scored fewer than 4 runs per game and 13 starts against teams that scored between 4.0 and 4.5 runs per game. That means he made 17 of his 29 starts against teams that could be considered have offenses that are well below average (the average NL team scored 4.61 runs per game this season).

1. Mark Prior, SP, CHC

Prior had a 2.34 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 211.1 innings. He finished with 10.43 K/9IP, 2.13 BB/9IP and 0.64 HR/9IP. He made 22 quality starts in his 30 appearances and averaged 7.04 innings per start.

He was not helped tremendously by his defense or his luck, as opposing batters hit .309 off of him when they put the ball in play.

He was not helped tremendously by his home park (which overall seemed to favor pitchers just slightly this year) as he had a 2.85 ERA at home and a 2.08 ERA on the road.
And he was not helped tremendously by his schedule, as he made four starts against teams that scored fewer than 4 runs per game and 10 starts against teams that scored between 4.0 and 4.5 runs per game.

Quite simply, he did everything you could ask of a pitcher. He had a low ERA (3rd in the NL), he struck out a lot of hitters (2nd in the NL), he pitched a lot of innings (10th in the NL) and he won 18 games for a team that averaged just 4.47 runs per game (the Cubs scored 4.67 runs per game in the games he started).

Like I said, Gagne will probably win, but I think Prior should win. And I'm certain that he will win one before too long.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Management by Baseball

I just noticed an interesting new blog on blogger's home page called, you guessed it, Management by Baseball. It is sort of the opposite of Moneyball in that it talks about how to use baseball to improve your management skills. Anyway, the reason I'm bringing this up now is that I found site author Jim Gilliam's post from Monday interesting. In it, he takes Joe Morgan to task for the column he wrote awhile ago on how MLB talent is too diluted.

Jim says that, based on the populations from which MLB teams are able to draw now as opposed to 30 or 60 years ago, it's not possible that the best rosters are weaker than they were. I would agree that MLB's talent pool is not diluted to the point when there aren't enough good players to go around, but I wouldn't necessarily say that Morgan is definitely wrong about the idea that the best teams in baseball aren't necessarily as good as they used to be.

However, I would say that the reason isn't because there aren't enough talented players around now. Maybe there weren't enough talented players to go around then either (although, it's more likely the amount of talent is fine and certain people's expectations are just too high). The difference is that the talent is distributed more evenly now than it was then.

I haven't really done any research to prove this, but I would guess that free agency and the amateur draft have served to make it so that talent is much more evenly dispersed throughout the 30 teams than it was in the 1960s (among the 24 teams) or the 1940s (among the 16 teams) or the 1920s. Back then, the rich teams could sign as many young players as they wanted to and not worry about losing them because of the reserve clause, and the poor teams frequently sold their best players to the rich teams for cash (and sometimes lesser players in return). The end result is that a lot of good players ended up on the rich teams and not so many good players ended up on the poor teams. Obviously, the rich teams would then have few weaknesses and the poor teams would, of necessity, have few strengths.

So, if the amount of talent available to go around isn't smaller, then Joe must be disappointed that the talent is distributed so well. If that's the case, then he must be advocating a return to the days of the reserve clause, when baseball players had almost no rights at all. Kind of an odd thing for a former baseball player to be saying, isn't it?

All bent out of shape

By now, you've probably realized the humor in all of the hubbub surrounding the Rookie of the Year voting. People are outraged, outraged I tell ya, that Hideki Matsui was left off two ballots because those voters decided that he shouldn't qualify as a rookie. Most people don't seem to care that Angel Berroa was also left off two ballots and probably should have won anyway. I think Mike Greenberg put it best when he essentially wrote that it's okay to be stupid, but it's not okay to make up your own rules.

I wholeheartedly agree that every writer should have voted for Matsui somewhere on their ballot, or at least considered him as a rookie. But I don't really care because I don't think he was the best rookie anyway. What I'm really annoyed by is the fact that Brandon Webb not only lost in the NL voting, he was completely left off seven ballots. Unfortunately, nobody I've seen in the mainstream media is at all disturbed by this. This kid puts up numbers that are just a notch below Pedro Martinez and nobody outside the blogging world cares that he didn't win the Rookie of the Year award?

As Aaron Gleeman said, it's all one big joke. You know what else is a joke?

That George Steinbrenner is calling the AL Rookie of the Year voting a great injustice. Does anybody think that Steinbrenner would have said a single thing about the voting if Matsui was wearing the uniform of another team? Of course not. I certainly don't remember Steinbrenner calling it a great injustice when two voters in 1999 decided to leave Pedro off their MVP ballots because they didn't think pitchers should be eligible to win the award.

How are the two scenarios different? Well, one scenario involves a member of the New York Yankees and one involves a member of the Boston Red Sox and Steinbrenner only gets indignant over the former. The latter he probably thought was funny. Hey Goerge, if you're going to tell us all how we should do things, be consistent about it or shut your big trap.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

AL Cy Young Award

Here are my top five picks for the AL Cy Young Award. The BBWAA is lucky in that there are three players they could give the award to without making me angry. Knowing them, however, they'll find a way to piss me off anyway. Is it a bad thing that I have such negative feelings toward an organization that I eventually would like to be a part of? Anyway, on to my choices. All five of the pitchers I'm going to mention had between 20 and 23 win shares this season, and since I don't know enough about win shares to know how much I like the system, I'm not going to use that to differentiate between them, especially since the differences are so small.

5. Keith Foulke, RP, OAK

Toward the end of the baseball season, I watched ESPN's less-than-stellar Around the Horn show a few times. Every time I watched the show, Jay Mariotti went off on how Foulke should win the AL Cy Young award and, every time, I starting yelling at the TV that somebody should knock Mariotti out. Well, I'm not sure I was wrong about somebody needing to knock Mariotti out, but when I looked at the numbers, I was surprised to find that I think Foulke is a top-five Cy Young award candidate. Under no circumstances do I think he should win the award, but he is number five on my list.

Foulke made Billy Beane look like a genius yet again by posting a 2.08 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP while Billy Koch struggled to keep his WHIP below Foulke's ERA. Foulke also posted 9.14 K/9IP, 2.08 BB/9IP and 1.04 HR/9IP.

Even more important than all of those numbers, however, is this number -- 86.2. That's how many innings Foulke pitched, seventh-most in the majors among pitchers who did not make any starts this season. Everybody was raving about how Mariano Rivera could shut a team down for two innings in the playoffs, but Foulke was doing that in the regular season too. Of his 72 appearances, 11 of them were for two innings or more. Foulke had a 2.38 ERA in those 2+ inning performances and 10 of his 43 saves saw him pitch more than one inning.

The one red flag about Foulke's qualifications as a Cy Young candidate is that he was probably helped significantly by his home ballpark and his defense. Almost 15-percent more runs were scored in Oakland's road games than in Oakland's home games, and that probably helped Foulke's ERA and WHIP at least a little. Also, Oakland's defense was very good, which probably helps explain why Foulke allowed just a .221 batting average on balls put in play. That number is ridiculously low and much better than what Foulke did in Chicago (generally in the .250s), which suggests he got lucky and/or had help from his defense.

Still, Foulke was the fifth-best pitcher in the AL this season, and whatever team signs him this off-season will probably get a bargain compared to what the other top-notch relievers are currently making.

4. Esteban Loaiza, SP, CWS

If I hadn't just looked at his player page, I would have had virtually no chance of telling you that Loaiza went 21-9 this season. You know why? Because I don't care. He could have gone 30-0 and I wouldn't really have felt any differently about him than I do right now.

He had a terrific season, much better than anybody could have ever expected, and he should be very proud of what he did. But he doesn't belong in the top three of anybody's Cy Young ballot. He posted a 2.90 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP in 226.1 innings. He also had 8.23 K/9IP, 2.23 BB/9IP and 0.68 HR/9IP. All of those numbers are very nice, but they're not good enough.

The biggest problem I have with Loaiza is the competition he faced. He got to make six starts against Detroit and one against the Dodgers, but he only had to make one start against each of Boston and Toronto. So, he made seven starts against teams that scored fewer than 4 runs per game (there were three such teams) and just two starts against teams that scored more than 5.5 runs per game (there were three of these teams as well).

So, that's one problem with putting Loaiza in the top three. The other problem is the next three pitchers on my list. One of them pitched significantly more innings at almost the same level of quality, one of them pitched slightly more innings at a slightly higher quality and one of them pitched significantly fewer innings at a significantly higher quality. And all three of them are better choices than Loaiza in my opinion.

3. Roy Halladay, SP, TOR

I was going to put Halladay second. I had already written the third-place comments for Pedro Martinez and I was just about to start writing the second-place comments for Halladay. I was going to talk about how his 3.25 ERA and 1.07 WHIP and 6.90 K/9IP and 0.88 HR/9IP weren't as good as Martinez, but the fact that he pitched 266 innings (79.1 innings more than Martinez) is just to hard to ignore.

I was going to write about all of those things and then I realized that Martinez might have prevented more runs in his 186.2 innings than Halladay did in his 266 innings. I don't mean Martinez saved more runs per inning, I mean more runs overall. This is just a quick-and-dirty thing I did, but I think it's fairly accurate.

Basically, the average ERA in the AL for starting pitchers was 5.32 (all AL starters combined to pitch 13,401 innings while allowing 7,922 runs) and the average ERA in the AL for relief pitchers was 4.26 (all AL relievers combined to pitch 6,816 innings while allowing 3,230 runs). Now, if you're going to replace Martinez's innings, you can pretty much do it with just one starter. To replace Halladay's innings, you'll need a starter and then some relievers.

So, let's say we replace Martinez with 186.2 innings from an average starter and we replace Halladay with 186.2 innings from an average starter plus 79.1 innings from average relievers. Martinez allowed 46 earned runs this season and an average starter would have allowed 110 earned runs in the same number of innings. Halladay allowed 96 earned runs this season, while his average replacements would have allowed 148 earned runs.

So, if my calculations and assumptions are correct, Martinez saved 64 runs above what average pitchers would have allowed in 186.2 innings while Halladay saved 52 runs over what average pitchers would have allowed in 266 innings. Basically, the argument that I've seen several other people use is correct.

If you think Halladay was a better pitcher than Martinez, then you're basically doing something that doesn't make a lot of sense. Assume that two pitchers had both pitched 186.2 innings and allowed 46 earned runs. Then, the second pitcher goes on to pitch 79.1 more innings while allowing 50 more earned runs (5.67 ERA), but the first pitcher doesn't pitch anymore. Which scenario would you think is better?

That's the story of Martinez and Halladay. Halladay did pitch almost 50-percent more innings than Martinez (42.5-percent more, to be exact), but he also allowed more than twice as many runs (2.09 times as many, to be exact). When you look at it that way, I think it becomes pretty clear that Martinez was the better pitcher this season.

2. Pedro Martinez, SP, BOS

There is no doubt that Martinez is still the best pitcher in baseball on a per-inning basis as he posted a 2.22 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. It was his seventh consecutive season with an ERA below 3.00 and his fifth straight season with an ERA below 2.40. Go back and read that again if you missed it. In an era in which offenses are averaging close to 5 runs per game, Martinez has turned in five seasons in a row with an ERA below 2.40. That's simply amazing.

The problem is that he's not very durable, making just 29 starts and pitching just 186.2 innings. It was the third year in a row he failed to reach 200 innings and the fifth straight season in which he could not make more than 30 starts. Martinez may have deserved to win the Cy Young award last year, when he fell just two-thirds of an inning short of 200 and Barry Zito pitched about 230 innings. This year, however, Martinez pitched 13 fewer innings at about the same quality and the A's best pitcher pitched 10 more innings at about the same quality.

Just for the heck of it, though, let's take a look at the rest of Martinez's stats. He had 9.93 K/9IP, 2.27 BB/9IP and just 0.34 HR/9IP. Batters hit .291 when they put the ball in play against him, but they still posted just a .271 OBP and a .314 SLG. He had a 1.76 ERA during the day, a 1.57 ERA on the road and a 0.82 ERA in September. He had an ERA below 1.50 against seven of the 14 teams he faced.

Still, even with all of those impressive numbers, he was just the second-best pitcher in the AL this season.

1. Tim Hudson, SP, OAK

Hudson had a 2.70 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 6.08 K/9IP, 2.29 BB/9IP and 0.56 HR/9IP in 240 innings. He made 26 quality starts out of 34 starts and averaged 7.06 innings per start. He made 13 starts against teams that scored at least 5 runs per game and just six starts against teams that scored fewer than 4.5 runs per game.

He probably got helped by his park (he had a 3.30 ERA on the road) and he probably got helped by his defense (batters hit just .253 on balls in play), but he was still the best pitcher in the AL in my eyes.

He only had a 16-7 record, but the A's went 26-8 in the games he started. Since both stats rely heavily on what the team's offense and bullpen do, I don't see how either one if more valuable than the other. Halladay had a much more impressive 22-7 record, but the Blue Jays only went 26-10 when Halladay started.

When you compare Hudson to Martinez the same way I did with Halladay, it comes out a lot better for Hudson than it did for Halladay. Hudson pitched 53.1 more innings than Martinez, while allowing 26 more runs (4.39 ERA). When you replace their innings with average pitcher innings, they both save about the same number of runs, although Martinez is able to save his runs in a much shorter span of time.

Basically, it comes down to this -- would you rather have the unreal pitcher who can't always take the mound every fifth day and who needs to turn things over to the bullpen early in most games or the very good pitcher who can take the mound every time it's his turn and who usually pitches deep into the game? I'd rather have the latter.

In the time that I've been writing this post, the actual winner was announced and it was Halladay. He was one of the three pitchers who I said I wouldn't be upset about winning, so I'm fine with this announcement. However, the fact that Halladay won and Loaiza came in second shows that the BBWAA still mostly cares about wins, which is a shame.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Change of plans

As you may have noticed, the Rookie of the Year awards have been announced. The BBWAA got the AL right, but probably for the wrong reasons, and completely screwed up the NL.

In case you haven't checked yet, Angel Berroa edged Hideki Matsui for the AL award in the closest vote ever. Both players were left off of two ballots (two writers from each of the 14 AL cities voted for three rookies each). My guess is that the two writers who left Matsui off did so because they thought players with as much experience as him should not be considered, while the two writers who left Berroa off probably did so because they really thought he was not one of the top three rookies.

In the NL, Dontrelle Willis won the award rather easily. In my post about the NL award, I said that Brandon Webb should be a unanimous winner, but probably won't be. However, while I'm not surprised that he didn't get even close to all 32 first-place votes, I am surprised that he wasn't on all 32 ballots. In fact, he was left entirely off seven ballots.

There were three NL rookies who were so far above the rest of the field as to render any discussion about the rest of the rookies in the league pretty meaningless. Those three were Webb, Scott Podsednik and Willis, in that order. Podsednik got the second-place finish that he deserved, but Webb got shafted.

I talked about Webb's qualifications for winning the award at length on Friday, so I won't belabor the point here. The BBWAA colossally screws up at least one award every year, and this is one of those cases. Hopefully, this is as colossal as their screw-ups get, but I wouldn't bet on it.

The order for the AL was Berroa, Matsui, Rocco Baldelli, Jody Gerut and Mark Teixeira. Since that's the exact order I would have put them in, I'm not going to make a post about the AL rookies like I originally planned.

The next award I'll discuss is the AL Cy Young. I'll try to have it up either late tonight, or tomorrow before the award is announced.

A good read

Over at Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT, Richard Lederer has a very good interview with Lee Sinins, creater of the Sabremetric Baseball Encyclopedia and the Around The Majors reports. Head on over and give it a read if you haven't already.

I'll have my choices for the AL Rookie of the Year award up some time this afternoon, so stop by later to check that out.