Minggu, 24 April 2011

Baseball Phenoms Part 4: Mickey Mantle

Mickey Mantle is a name you've likely heard. You're probably not going to learn, here, that Mantle was a good player, or a popular one, or a serious alcoholic, but what is clear, and the reason he's being written about in this series, is that Mantle was very much a phenom.

Mantle's pro career began as a teenager with the Baxter Springs Whiz Kids in Kansas. After a scout observed him belting home runs into a river well beyond the stadium's outfield fence, he was courted by the Yankees, who had to wait until his high school graduation until signing him as a 17-year old in 1949. After two years of seasoning (he slugged .638 in the Western Association in 1950), he made his Yankee debut in 1951 at 19 and never looked back.

There is little point discussing what Mantle could do on a baseball field. He cranked homers that cleared bleachers, hitter's backdrops, and routinely completely left ballparks. He had an infamous 1936 date with the right-field facade at Yankee Stadium. When he wasn't busy raking (he had an unbelievable .617 slugging % from 1955-1963, and retired with a .977 OPS (177 OPS+)) he was playing a capable center field -- at least when his knees were only really bad -- and stealing double-digit bases.

Mantle's issue was never talent, but health. He had chronic pain in both knees while in high school, and he suffered a horrific injury in the World Series as a 19-year-old rookie which some speculate may have been an untreatable ACL tear that he played with FOR THE REMAINDER OF HIS 18-YEAR CAREER. At various points in his career, he would break his ankle, ruin his hip after a medical injection, jack up his shoulder, and by the end of his career, had to collapse to one knee from pain after swinging. He could no longer run, throw, or hit from the left side, but Mantle continued to dominate on sheer talent and alcohol-fueled determination (did I mention he was a severe alcoholic?). In his last three seasons, he posted an OPS+ of 153, meaning he was still 53% better than the average AL hitter.

Mantle was incredibly talented, but he was also insanely popular. He was expected by New York brass and fans as the heir apparent to the Joe DiMaggio Yankees, and when he came up as a rookie he was originally issued number 6 to continue the lineage of Babe Ruth (3), Lou Gehrig (4), and DiMaggio (5), though he would switch to number 7 and have that number retired instead. His strong jaw, bulging muscles, exciting athleticism and the ability to hit a baseball 500 feet made him one of the biggest fan favorites in MLB. An interesting perspective on Mantle's popularity is given here:

"Mantle's rise in popularity paralleled the rise in America's obsession with the television. When he started playing in 1951, baseball was at the peak of its popularity. After the war, the country flocked to ballparks and gathered around radios (and televisions, if they could find them). With Mantle's strong bat, his good looks and charm, the chance that when you tuned into a Yankee game you might see or hear Mickey hit one out of the park sparked excitement in fans of every age.

In addition to his individual appeal, Mantle played on the New York Yankees, a team that had, of course, the legend of The Babe. Yankee Stadium was "the House that Ruth built," and add to that Willie Mays concurrently playing center for the New York Giants, and Duke Snider in center for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and New York was a media frenzy. When the Yankees made it into their innumerable World Series games in the fifties, fans would remember Mickey Mantle as the hero of many of the games."

One of the game's all-time very best players, The Mick's carried the legend of the golden-era Yankees with him while he played, and his own legacy lasted well beyond his 1968 retirement and his 1995 death (like, a really bad alcoholic). Mantle's career was kind of, appropriately, in the latter stages of baseball's golden era, a time of unprecedented popularity in the sport, and Mantle exemplified both the excitement and interest surrounding baseball in the immediate post-war era, as well as the slow corrosion of that fanbase until the late 1970's. For a time, and for many still, Mickey Mantle was baseball.

Sabtu, 23 April 2011

Baseball Phenoms Part 3: Rube Waddell

One of the more interesting characters in the history of professional baseball, Waddell was insanely talented, and insanely insane. This needn't be a long post, as it will consist essentially of a short list of his baseball accomplishments, and a longer list of his eccentricities.

Waddell began his career with the Louisville Colonels in 1897 as a 20-year-old. He would pitch just two games, but would return in 1899 for another short stint before being traded to Pittsburgh with Honus Wagner in a deal that Louisville would totally not regret, ever. No, they really wouldn't, because the franchise folded after 1899.

In any case, Waddell was only in Pittsburgh for a season and a half, but he led the league in ERA (2.37 (153 ERA+)), WHIP, and K/9. The Chicago Orphans (Cubs) would purchase him from Pittsburgh in May, 1901, but after the season he would abandon them for Los Angeles in the independent California League, where he posted a 2.42 ERA in 167 IP, but in June of 1902, Waddell would again abandon his team and sign with the Philadelphia Athletics of the upstart American League. From June on, he posted a 2.05 ERA (179 ERA+), and despite pitching just (just) 276.1 innings, managed to lead the new league in strikeouts with 210.

He would not let up on his dominance in Philly, as from 1902-1907, his full career there, he would go 131-82 with a 1.79 ERA (146 ERA+) with 1576 K's in 1869.1 IP, good enough to lead the league in strikeouts and strikeouts per nine innings pitched (averaging 7.6) every single year. Basically, Waddell was the first great power pitcher, setting the stage for other fireballers in the early 20th-century like Walter Johnson and Smokey Joe Wood.

The St. Louis Blacks purchased Waddell for the 1908 season, and he posted a 1.98 ERA and again led the league in K/9, but it was largely downhill from here. In 1909-'10, he averaged a paltry 127 IP, and posted a mediocre 2.52 ERA (97 ERA+) as years of alcoholism and general insanity caught up with the 33-year-old Waddell. He would put in some work for some minor league teams from 1910-1913, but age, tuberculosis and death would bring an untimely end to his playing career.

Nobody will refute Waddell's level of talent. If the numbers don't impress you, his Hall of Fame plaque might. Walter Johnson once said: "In my opinion, and I suppose if there is any subject that I am qualified to discuss it is pitching, Rube Waddell had more sheer pitching ability than any man I ever saw. That doesn't say he was the greatest pitcher, by a good deal. Rube had defects of character that prevented him from using his talents to the best effect. He is dead and gone, so there is no need for me to enlarge on his weaknesses. They were well enough known. I would prefer to dwell on his strong points. And he had plenty"

That being said, however, this is not the reason that Waddell is a baseball phenomenon. What made him insanely popular (his biographer, Alan Howard Levy, wrote that ""He was among the game's first real drawing cards, among its first honest-to-goodness celebrities, and the first player to have teams of newspaper reporters following him, and the first to have a mass following of idol-worshiping kids yelling out his nickname like he was their buddy.") was his oddities on and off the field.

He had a deep love for fire trucks, and had a penchant for bursting out of the dugout and, indeed, the field, to chase passing firetrucks to nearby fires. He could be lulled into a trance while pitching if fans were distracting him with shiny objects. He wrestled alligators in the offseason, and was, as previously mentioned, like everybody else in turn-of-the-20th-century America, a severe alcoholic. He got into fistfights with managers and teammates alike, and, according to Ken Burns, lost track of how many women he had married.

His personality is perhaps best described by historian Lee Allen: "He began that year (1903) sleeping in a firehouse in Camden, New Jersey, and ended it tending bar in a saloon in Wheeling, West Virginia. In between those events he won 22 games for the Philadelphia Athletics, played left end for the Business Men's Rugby Football Club of Grand Rapids, Michigan, toured the nation in a melodrama called The Stain of Guilt, courted, married and became separated from May Wynne Skinner of Lynn, Massachusetts, saved a woman from drowning, accidentally shot a friend through the hand, and was bitten by a lion."

Waddell's antics could not keep up forever, though, as in 1912, while working to help the town of Hickman, Kentucky during a flood, he contracted pneumonia. He would never really recover, and was hit with another case after another flood in the spring of 1913. He spent the remainder of his days in San Antonia Texas, living first with his sister before being admitted to an insane asylum that fall, where he would eventually die, aged 37, on April 1, 2014.

For his role as both an incredibly talented and successful pitcher and, more importantly, a huge draw and an absolute star of the sport, Rube Waddell was one of the earliest and most important baseball phenoms of all time.

He also had the world's squarest jaw until 1907

Previous Phenoms:
Part 1: Jim Creighton
Part 2: Bob Feller

Kamis, 21 April 2011

Free Scott Sizemore

The year is 2009 it’s an exciting season for the Detroit Tigers as they went all the way to a 1-game play-off with the Minnesota Twins, which they ended up losing and finishing in 2nd place. The second baseman at the time was Placido Polanco, who was hitting .285/.331/.396 and was in his last year of his contract. It became obvious during the season that they will not be bringing him back and instead will be going in-house as they were looking to shift payroll (which also facilitated the three-way trade with the Yankees and Diamondbacks sent away Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson and bought back Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth).

The in-house candidates were Scott Sizemore, Will Rhymes, Danny Worth and Brent Dlugach. Sizemore was the clear frontrunner as he came off a strong 2009 season hitting a combined .308/.389/.500, splitting time between AA and AAA and earning himself Tigers minor league player of the year. Dlugach had a solid season himself at AAA, hitting .294/.349/.446. Worth was the defensive specialist, but only hit .229/.294/.296 at AA and AAA. Rhymes only hit .260/.324/.354 at AAA but was a favorite of Leyland’s and had strong defense abilities. Only Dlugach made the majors that year as he could also play SS, giving the manager flexibility. Also, as the Tigers were in a tight race, so playing time would’ve been limited as Polanco wasn’t going to sit for a significant time.

As the off-season came, it became clearer and clearer that Scott Sizemore was going to inherited the second base job. However in October while playing in the Arizona Fall League, Sizemore suffered an injury to his ankle that required surgery. He was off to a great start, as he was batting .368 with 3 HR, 2 doubles and 9 RBI in 19 AB in the 6 games he played. The good news was that he would be ready for Spring Training.

Spring Training 2010 came and despite not 100% healthy and only hitting a lackluster .241, he had earned his first shot at the majors. And it proved to be a disappointment as he only hit .206/.297/.289 in 115 PA before getting replaced by Will Rhymes. How much was due to rookie jitters and his injured ankle is anyone’s guess. The fact remained that the first go-around was a failure. Later, Sizemore would have to spend some time on the DL as it was apparent he wasn’t fully recovered.

Meanwhile, it was Will Rhymes’ first try at the majors after hitting .305/.370/.415, which proved to be very successful as he hit .304/.350/.414 in over 200 PA at the ML level, giving him the edge for the 2011 starting second baseman’s job. Sizemore would go to hit .298/.378/.472 in AAA which earned himself a September call-up after a brief stint in July. In that September call-up, Sizemore hit .308/.357/.577 showing that it may not be such an easy choice to go with Rhymes in 2011.

Flash forward to Spring Training 2011. It’s a tight race between Sizemore and Rhymes and no fan knew exactly who would win the job. Sizemore hit .243/.300/.432 while Rhymes hit .328/.375/.406. Jim Leyland went with Rhymes and he had the better Spring and didn’t do anything to lose the job after the year he had in 2010, implying that it was Rhymes’ job to lose.

Here we are, 3 weeks into the season and Rhymes hasn’t shown his magic of last year, only hitting .208/.283/.208 in a Tigers lineup that’s struggling to score runs. Sizemore, down in AAA, is hitting an impressive .390/.468/.537. His ankle is fully healed, the Tigers need offense and Sizemore has earned another chance. Free Scott Sizemore!!

Jason Bay's Time is Now

After Alfonso Soriano signed his monster of a contract with the Chicago Cubs, giving elite corner outfielders huge money became a trend.  Before Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth got paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiid, Jason Bay got huge money from the New York Mets.  Bay signed a 4 year, 66 million dollar deal with the Mets.  That comes out to 16 million a year, with a vesting option at the end of the contract worth 17 million dollars (this vests if he gets 600 PAs in 2013 or 500 in both 2012 and 2013).  For a 4 to 5 WAR player, this should look like a great contract, right?  Well....that depends.  On what, you ask?  A lot.


2010 was not a good showing for Jason Bay.  There were indeed concerns among certain people about Bay going from hitters haven Fenway Park to newly constructed hitters wasteland: Citi Field.  If you are a Mets fan, the first thing that should concern you is only 95 games played.  That's just barely over half a season.  Luckily, Bay only got 8.6 million dollars for 2010, so he has the potential to step up and really earn his money as the contract goes on.  The biggest issue performance-wise was Bay's power...or lack thereof.  Bay hit 6 homers on the year...3 at home and 3 on the road, so Citi Field really isn't to blame.  He slugged 105 points better at home compared to on the road, so something is up.  He had more doubles, triples, RBI, a better BA, a better OBP, and his strikeout rate was much better at home.  So, something is up, here.  Citi Field did not cause Bay's problems in 2010, so let's dwell further into this mystery.  In 2010, Jason Bay had a higher BABIP and a lower K% than his career norms.  His BB% was down 1.4%, but that's not really enough to cause major concern over 400 PA.  The biggest change was an 87 point dip in his ISO, suggesting that he just wasn't making any kind of good contact....time to analyze the balls in play.  Well...Jason Bay had higher line drive and FB percentages than his career norms in 2010...and a lower GB rate...so WTF?  AHA!  Bay's HR/FB ratio dropped a full 10.7% from his career norms...and as mentioned before, that wasn't just an issue at Citi Field.  It happened everywhere.

So that leads me to suggest that Mets fans should be ecstatic about Jason Bay coming back.  He had a good year in 2010, minus the extremely fluky HR/FB ratio.  He hit more line drives and fly balls as a power hitter in the middle of the lineup.  That normally translates to success for a home run hitter.  Give Bay 500 PA this year, and that HR/FB ratio will normalize.  When it does, Bay will be back to his .280/.375/.510 career averages (or better, because he is still only 32).  So, if someone tells you that Jason Bay's contract was terrible and that Omar screwed the Mets over again...tell them to wait until September.  If you're wrong, live with eating crow and being sad.  If you're right, the Mets will have found themselves back into the race.

Senin, 18 April 2011

Cleveland Indians: ALC Cellar a thing of the past?

The Cleveland Indians are off to a scorching start to the 2011 season and almost everyone is riding them off as a fluke. While this is probably the case, I doubt they finish any higher than 3rd this year, how far is this team from really being competitive? The Indians have very quietly been building a very strong core of young players, specifically with their offense, that could make them a contending team long before most people expect them to be.

First off, let’s look at their offense and start with arguably one of the most underrated players in baseball. Shin Soo Choo is a stud, no other way to put it. The Korean star has put up .880+ OPS’ in each of the past three years, with great defense, a very strong arm and 20+ stolen base speed. One of the only true 5 tool players in baseball, and still only 28 years old, Choo is going to be the cornerstone of this Indians offense for a while. Next, we’ll go with the man who used to be the best player on this team, Grady Sizemore. Grady was one of the game’s best players from 2006-2008, with an MVP caliber season in 2006, but has pretty much fallen off the map over the past two years due to injury. He only played in 139 games over the past two seasons combined and, due to playing some of those games hurt, didn’t perform all too well either. However, reports are that Sizemore is now 100% healthy, and dazzled in his first game of the 2011 season, hitting a HR and a 2B in 4 trips to the plate. Hopefully, this means that he is getting back to his old ways, as a healthy Sizemore and Choo has the potential to be an excellent top of the lineup threat for the Cleveland Indians. Next, we’ll look at the young phenom backstop for the Cleveland Indians Carlos Santana. Santana was touted as one of the top 10 prospects in baseball before the 2010 season (one of the big three catchers along with Buster Posey and Jesus Montero) and did not disappoint once being called up. Santana beasted in limited time in 2010, hitting for an OPS over .850 with great defense; the sky’s the limit for this kid. Now let’s look at the SS position and Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera was on my radar since he hit for a very solid .799 OPS. He fell off the table in 2010, but looks to be back on track, hitting for an .869 OPS with 4 HR so far in 2011. If he could go back to his 2009 numbers, he would be a very solid hitter at one of the weakest positions in baseball. In fact, with no American League SS standouts, he could be one of the league’s top SS. Moving on to 1B, we get to Matt Laporta. Laporta was the cornerstone of the CC Sabathia trade and since then has been one of the most frustrating players in baseball, hitting either average or bad in every season of his major league career. However, he’s had a solid start to his 2011 season and, at 26 years old, the Indians can only hope that he’s starting to tap into some of that potential of his. Not sure I would count on it though. Going back to the outfield, we fill the final spot with the young left fielder, Michael Brantley. Probably one of the weakest spots on this lineup, Brantley has not done much since he has been called, hitting for a sub .700 OPS in parts of three seasons. However, he does have a good bit of talent, ranking as the Indians 5th best prospect before the 2010 season by Baseball America with great speed. He obviously hasn’t done anything yet, but I wouldn’t close the door on Brantley being a solid major league player just yet. To fill in the rest of the future Cleveland’s major league lineup, we have to go to their minor league system, with two young infielders with a ton of potential, both knocking on the major league door. First is 3B Lonnie Chisenhall, a young player who most people believe to be the best prospect in the Indians system. Drafted in the 1st round of the 2008 draft, Chisenhall was ranked 25 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect list for 2011 and it is easy to see why. Although he doesn’t really have any “standout” tools, Chisenhall is above average in basically everything, with good pop, the ability to “spray the ball to all fields” and above average defense. He projects to be a good hitter at the major league level and, maybe most importantly, is projected to hit the Indians major league lineup in 2011. Finally, we go to 2B and look at one of my personal favorite prospects, Jason Kipnis. Baseball America ranks him 54th on the Top 100 list, 3rd on the team behind Chisenhall and SP Alex White. Like Chisenhall, Kipnis will make his living with his bat, as he projects to be a very good hitter with good pop, especially for a 2B. However, Kip’s best ability is his plate discipline. He had a tremendous BB/K rate in college and continued in the Indians system, holding a 76/133 BB/K rate so far in his minor league career, which is pretty good considering his age. This good plate discipline has also given him a very nice .386 minor league OBP for his career. Like Chisenhall, Kip should be in the Indians lineup at some point in 2011, bringing immediate help to that 2B position. All and all, you have to be impressed with the Indians future lineup, as a whole.

Satoshi’s Projected 2013 Indians Lineup:
C: Carlos Santana
1B: Matt Laporta
2B: Jason Kipnis
SS: Asdrubal Cabrera
3B: Lonnie Chisenhalll
LF: Michael Brantley
CF: Grady Sizemore
RF: Shin-Soo Choo

I’m a little less impressed with the Cleveland pitching, but even there, they are better than most people give them credit for. Leading the way is sinkerballing “ace” Fausto Carmona. I put ace in parentheses, because Carmona is not an elite shut down pitcher that most people expect an ace to be. However, he is a very solid, groundball specialist who can be successful if he keeps the ball out of the air and does walk people. For example, in 2010, he only had a 5.31 K/9 rate, but due to a 3.08 BB/9, a 0.73 HR/9 and a 55.6% GB%, he still managed a 3.78 ERA and a 3.70 tERA. Not too shabby. After Carmona, there isn’t really anyone I would categorize as a good pitcher, but there are a few average-ish guys who would make solid backend of the rotation pitchers, most notably Josh Tomlin and Justin Masterson. The 27 year old Tomlin is another low strikeout, low walk guy who relies on his defense to get him through games. He did have a relatively decent 2.26 K/BB in 2010, thanks to his very low BB rate, and with a little bit of luck, could end up as a decent 4-5 pitcher on this Indians staff. Masterson is a guy I like a little bit more than Tomlin, seeing as he can actually strike people out and keeps the ball on the ground. In 2009, Justin had an 8.28 K/9 and followed it up with a 7.00 rate in 2010. Neither are awesome rates, but they are both big improvements from the first two pitchers featured so far. Most impressively though, is his career 57.1% GB% and his HR/9 of 0.78. Masterson had a 3.93 tERA in 2009 and a 3.80 mark in 2010. Not a great pitcher but a solid middle of the rotation guy, as seems to be the trend so far with this pitching staff. To fill in the rest of the minor league staff, we have to go to the minor leagues again, and we’re going to start with 22 year old Alex White. Alex White was the 47th best prospect in baseball entering 2010 according to BA’s list and projects as a #2-3 starting pitcher for the future. He was pretty impressive in 2010, posting a 2.25 ERA and a 2.85 K/BB in 108 AA IP. So far, in 11 AAA IP in 2011, White has excelled allowing only 2 runs and putting up a 4.33 K/BB….then again, I generally try to not make it a habit of getting excited over 11 IP. Like all of the pitchers so far White also has a very good GB% in mid to high 50’s. He doesn’t project to be a stud pitcher by any means, but could be a solid #2 or #3 and should be ready to contribute by 2011/2012. The 2nd minor league pitcher who should help the Indians relatively soon is Drew Pomeranz. Pomeranz ranks 61 on the BA 2011 list, 4th in the Indians system behind the aforementioned Chisenhall, White and Kipnis. Pomeranz probably has more upside than White, being a lefty who can touch 95 MPH with his fastball and probably DOES have dominating potential, but command issues, delivery questions and the fact that he’s probably a little farther away puts him lower on the list. Pomeranz only has 11 minor league IP to his name, as he was drafted in the 2010 draft, but as a 22 year old he should probably rise through the system pretty quick. As long as he doesn’t have any set-backs, Pomeranz should probably hit the majors by late 2012/early 2013. This SP staff does not, by any means, have the potential that their lineup has, but with a bunch of decent-slight above average starters and some good prospects, this could be a nice rotation in a few years.

Satoshi’s Projected 2013 Indians Rotation:
#1. Fausto Carmona
#2. Justin Masterson
#3. Alex White
#4. Josh Tomlin
#5. Drew Pomeranz

Now on to the bullpen. Seeing as I’ve already written more than I expected to and don’t particularly value relievers as much as most people, I’m going to keep this short. The Indians have a solid closer with 26 year old Chris Perez. Taking over for the departed Kerry Wood, Perez had his best year in 2010, posting a 1.71 ERA, a 2.18 K/BB and 0.57 HR/9. He’s a guy who gives up a good amount of walks and too many FB, but should be able to put up decent numbers, especially if he can keep the ball in the park. Following Chris in the pen are Rafael Perez, Joe Smith and Tony Sipp. Not the most impressive group of guys but, like I said, I don’t value relievers much at all; this Indians pen should be decent enough to not be a problem for them in the future.

Do I think the Indians are suddenly going to break out into a dynasty? No, not at all. But for a team that has been in or near the cellar since their excellent 2007 team, I think that the future is much brighter than the last few years have been. With a strong lineup, a decent rotation and a young core, I think this team will be much better in the future and maybe be legitimate contenders for the AL Central division as soon as 2013.

Baseball Phenoms Part 2: Bob Feller

You know who Bob Feller is. The man was perhaps the dominant pitcher of baseball’s Golden Era, and spent the majority of his life enshrined in Cooperstown. He was an all-time great pitcher, and a perfect example of a baseball phenom.

Feller was born and raised in Van Meter Iowa in 1918. Before the 1936 season, at 17, he was signed, infamously, by scout Cy Slapnicka for $1 and an autographed baseball. There was a short fiasco about Feller being placed on rosters for several different Indians’ minor league teams, but he eventually landed on the Indians’ roster and on July 19 he pitched a shutout inning against the Washington Senators. He would continue to pitch effectively, posting a 3.34 ERA, but the highlight of his season, and maybe his career, was a 17-strikeout performance versus the Philadelphia Athletics on September 13. Still at 17 years of age.

Feller’s calling card was his fastball. Before Aroldis Chapman and Nolan Ryan and Steve Dalkowski were lighting up radar guns, the world speculated on how fast ‘the Heater from Van Meter’ could throw. Feller himself claimed that he once hit 107.9 mph at a demonstration in 1946, and was also clocked at 104 mph in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. While these are mere claims, and methods of measuring pitch speed at the time are suspect at best, it is safe to assume he could throw well over 100 mph. In this video, Feller is, later in his career, after throwing 300-370 innings per year for a decade plus offseason barnstorming, hitting 98.6 mph. This measurement was taken at the plate, as opposed to the modern method of measuring the ball out of the pitchers’ hand. Feller was throwing well over 100 mph in that video, and one can only speculate how fast he would have been throwing in his prime.

Feller put that fastball to good use. He immediately set the American League on fire. He posted a 3.38 ERA over 210 IP in ’36-’37, then on October 2, 1938, struck out 18 Detroit Tigers, then a record for a 9-inning game. On Opening Day, 1940, he threw the only Opening Day no-hitter in MLB history. It was at this point, still just 20 years old, that Feller would enter his prime. From 1939-1941, Feller would average 25 wins, a 2.88 ERA, and 256 K’s in 320 IP. He instilled fear into opposing hitters. Ted Williams said he had the best stuff he ever saw in a career that spanned over two decades. Stan Musial called him the greatest pitcher of that era. Iowans were crazy about this dazzling young local kid. He was, in every sense of the word, a phenomenon.

He would miss most of five seasons serving in the US Navy during WWII, but would make 9 starts at the tail end of 1945. He picked up where he left off, and from 1945-1948, put up a 2.73 ERA (in one of the most offensively-charged periods in the history of the game) in 1024 IP. He averaged 39 starts, 317 IP and 236 K’s from ’46-’48. In 1946 he struck out 348 men.

1949 would mark the end of Feller’s dominance. Just 30 years old, he made 28 starts, posting a 3.75 ERA as years of abuse began to catch up with him. Over the rest of his career, (1949-1956) Feller would remain effective, though the performances of his prime were clearly in the rear-view mirror. Over this time, he posted a 3.73 ERA, about an average rate, while averaging only 170 IP per season. In 1956, at 37 years of age, he was finished as a starter. He made 4 starts in 19 appearances, posted a 4.97 ERA, and hung up his cleats.

In 1962 he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on 94% of the BBWAA ballot. Feller would remain a familiar face around baseball over the next 50 years, making many appearances and acting as a goodwill ambassador for the Indians and MLB. In 2009 at 90 years of age, he pitched in the Baseball Hall of Fame Classic. The ensuing year, however, affected by leukemia and thrush, Feller would pass away on December 15, aged 92.

Feller accomplished more as a teenager than many do in their careers, and pitched better before turning 29 than many Hall of Famers manage at any point in their careers. Feller’s fastball made him a myth, his success, a legend, but the excitement he garnered as a 17-year old with the best fastball in a generation of the sport makes him the embodiment of a baseball phenom.

Minggu, 17 April 2011

Pittsburgh Pirates Pitching

Fifteen years ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates began a stretch of poor drafting, especially when it came to drafting pitchers. They have had 16 first round picks, 14 second round picks, and 15 third round picks since 1996. In the third round, they have selected 3 pitchers. In the second round, they have selected 9 pitchers. And in the first round, they selected 11 pitchers. So, let us take a look at some of their simple numbers with the Pirates:

Kris Benson, 5 yrs, 126 GS, 782 IP, 43-49, 4.26 ERA, 1.413 WHIP, 1.85 K/BB
Andy Prater, no MLB experience
Clint Johnston, no MLB experience
Bobby Bradley, no MLB experience
Sean Burnett, 3 yrs, 13 GS, 160.2 IP, 7-8, 4.54 ERA, 1.506 WHIP, 1.23 K/BB
David Beigh, no MLB experience
Chris Young, did not pitch for Pirates
John Van Benschoten, 3 yrs, 19 GS, 90 IP 2-13, 9.20 ERA, 2.144 WHIP, 0.96 K/BB
Jeremy Guthrie, did not sign
Bryan Bullington, 2 yrs, 3 GS, 18.1 IP, 0-3, 5.89 ERA, 1.691 WHIP, 1.33 K/BB
Blair Johnson, no MLB experience
Paul Maholm, 6 yrs, 159 GS, 981.1 IP, 47-59, 4.48 ERA, 1.446 WHIP, 1.83 K/BB
Tom Gorzelanny, 5 yrs, 65 GS, 383.1 IP, 25-26, 4.79 ERA, 1.503 WHIP, 1.43 K/BB
Brad Lincoln, 1 yrs, 9 GS, 52.2 IP, 1-4, 6.66 ERA, 1.538 WHIP, 1.67 K/BB
Michael Felix, no MLB experience
Danny Moskos, no MLB experience
Duke Welker, no MLB experience
Tanner Scheppers, did not sign
Victor Black, no MLB experience
Brooks Pounders, no MLB experience
Jameson Taillon, no MLB experience
Stetson Allie, no MLB experience

So, after running through all of these pitchers, there's a pretty obvious trend. First, 12 of the pitchers they signed have not – or never will – made it to the major leagues. Not terrible, considering six of them were drafted in the last four years. Second, three of the pitchers did not sign or pitch for the Pirates. The two most successful of this group, arguably, are Jeremy Guthrie and Chris Young, neither of whom put on a Pirates uniform. The other, Tanner Scheppers, is a top 100 prospect for the Rangers. So that means 7 of the 23 pitchers made it to the big leagues. And all of them pitched terribly with Pittsburgh. Some were injured, like first overall pick Bullington, and some were just plain bad, like fellow first overall pick Benson (who at the very least is remembered for his wife).

In the last 15 seasons, all you think about when you hear "Pittsburgh Pirates" is losing. Since 1996, the Pirates have averaged 92.6 losses a session, finished last in their division 8 times, second last 3 times, and their best finish, second in the division, came when they had a 79-83 record. And their pitching has been dreadful, giving up as few as 718 runs (4.61 ERA) to 884 runs (5.08 ERA).

Even when they've had hope, it's fallen off the face of the planet. Ross Ohlendorf, at the very least, looked like a solid pitcher when he had his best year in 2009, but injuries and such have since hindered his career. Oliver Perez had a great 2004 season, posting a 2.98 ERA with 239 strikeouts and a 3.7 BB/9 rate in 196 innings, but his command fell apart since, as he has struggled with a 5.4 BB/9 with the Pirates and Mets since 2005.

So what is it about the Pittsburgh Pirates that gives them such a hard time developing pitchers? Perhaps it's the General Managers. Perhaps the Managers or Coaches. Perhaps the scouting director. Perhaps it's the lack of funds to draft better players or to hire better scouts. Or a cheap owner. But whatever it is, Pittsburgh just can't seem to get players that work out in the major leagues. And it isn't as if there hasn't been any talent. Notable players selected in the first round after the Pirates picked include CC Sabathia, Adam Wainwright, Zack Greinke, Jered Weaver, and Tim Lincecum among others.

So, is there any hope? Sure there is. Look no further than the two young arms selected in 2010.

Stetson Allie is a 20 year old, 6'4", 225 pound right handed fireballer from northeast Ohio. Entering the 2011 season, Baseball America rated him as the 79th best prospect in all of baseball. He has long arms and large hands, which help him fire his fastball at around 95 MPH consistently, even reaching 98 or 99. He has a good changeup to go with his fastball, and has good command of both pitches. He's very athletic for his size, and has very good mechanics, that he can repeat consistently. Unfortunately, he really only has those two pitches, and his breaking pitch can be labeled as nothing more than a project at this point. Should he fail to develop his slider, he still projects very well as an elite closer. However, if he does get his slider moving, he has the stuff, the athleticism, the durability, and the competitiveness to be a true ace. Pitchers who can strike people out generally have good long careers, because they tend to be harder to hit, hence the strikeouts. And unlike the majority of the pitchers mentioned, Allie projects to be a true fireballer, a guy who will throw six or seven innings, strike out about 9 per 9, and should he stay healthy, be a stopper. Something the Pirates have not had since Cy Young winner, and father of Blue Jays pitcher Kyle, Doug Drabek.

While Allie is a talented arm with a lot of upside, the man that Pirates fans should be really excited about, and the rest of the national league really worried about, is Jameson Taillon. In 2010, the Pirates had the second overall pick. While they did miss out on super prospect Bryce Harper, they drafted one of the best pitching prospects of the past decade in Taillon. At 6'7" and 225 as a teenager, Taillon appears to be a larger than life player. Without even playing in an official minor league game, Taillon was named the 11th best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America. That makes him the fourth best pitching prospect behind the Braves Julio Teheran, the Rays Jeremy Hellickson, and the Reds Aroldis Chapman. That seems a little ridiculous for a guy who, again, hasn't pitched a single inning in a minor league game. But then you see that he – again, at the age of 19 – has a fastball that sits comfortably in the mid 90's and has touched 98 MPH. And it's not just his fastball that is a plus-plus pitch, his slider is one of the most devastating wipe-out pitches that any man owns on the planet. The tilt on his slider is immense, and it sits at about 86 MPH. For a 19 year old with two pitches that look to be plus-plus, there is a lot to be excited about. And he has a nice curveball that sits at around 78 MPH with a 12-6 drop that, while it's still being developed, looks like it could be a plus offering. His worst pitch is by far his changeup though. Not surprisingly, Taillon relied almost entirely on his heater to blow away high school hitters. After all, not many people can hit a 95 MPH fastball. And those who can usually end up making it into a baseball organization. He will need to be able to change speeds, and his changeup is something he just recently started working on, so it'll be some time before anyone can project how good or bad his changeup will be. Now, maybe the worst thing a Pirates fan could hear is "Taillon is hurt". But that's a very realistic problem, and not just because he pitches. Taillon creates so much torque with his wild delivery, and many scouts worry that it may be causing a lot of strain on his pitching shoulder. He looks an awful lot like Stephen Strasburg, and he throws just as hard as Strasburg. So there will always be some concern about whether he will eventually blow his arm out and require Tommy John surgery. And even if he doesn't get hurt, his delivery will always cause concern about his ability to consistently locate pitches. At 19, there is still plenty of time for him to tweak his mechanics in a way that he will lower the risk of injury on his arm and increase his ability to repeat his delivery and spot pitches. But as for the raw talent, there is no one better in the minor leagues right now.

So what can the Pirates expect? Probably a good number two pitcher in Taillon, with his control keeping him from being an ace, and a good closer in Allie, with a lack of a third pitch keeping him out of the rotation. Best case, they have two legitimate aces. And worst case, Allie turns into Joba Chamberlain and can't find a role on a major league team, and Taillon blows out his arm and never recovers. But lets not be pessimistic, the Pirates have suffered enough. And who knows, in a best case scenario, if they add Gerrit Cole with the first pick of the 2011 draft, they could have three legitimate aces, and finally bring a winning team to Pittsburgh. If not, well, at least there is the NFL (well, maybe not)...

The 1991 MLB Draft

The 1991 draft will likely be remembered as one of the most disappointing, in terms of major league production. With every draft, there are players who produced in the majors. But the star power was lacking, and most of the elite prospects never panned out. This class includes tainted hall of fame talent, and one of the biggest what if's in history. This is a look back, 20 years later, on the 1991 MLB draft.

The most outstanding college player entering the draft was college baseball's top player of the 1990 season, Mike Kelly of Arizona State. He was named the player of the year, and was a two time All-American selection in the outfield. Although he was expected to be the next star from the prestigious baseball school, following the likes of 1990 MVP Barry Bonds, hall of famer Reggie Jackson, and all-star's Rick Monday and Sal Bando, Kelly was never able to find success in the major leagues. Kelly was known for his all around offensive game at Arizona State, hitting 350 with 46 home runs in his three seasons with the Sun Devils. Prior to the 1992 season, Mike Kelly was named Baseball America's 19th best prospect for the Atlanta Braves, who selected him with the second overall pick in the draft. And while he did steal 22 bases, and smash 25 home runs in AA, he only hit 229, and from there his stock tumbled. He made it to the big leagues in 1994, and stayed on with the Braves for one more season, collecting only 5 home runs, seven stolen bases, a 220 batting average, and a 656 OPS in 233 plate appearances with the franchise, before moving on to Cincinnati. His best season came in 1998 with one of baseball's two newest franchises, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In 1999, he saw his last major league action, appearing in only two games with the Colorado Rockies. He last appeared in 2004 for the Yankees AAA team.

The San Diego Padres, with the 8th pick, made Joey Hamilton the highest selected collegiate arm to sign in the 1991 draft. Hamilton has one of the more interesting stories in the draft. Hamilton was originally drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in high school, but opted instead to attend Georgia Southern University. Hamilton earned second team All-American honors, following his 18-4 season, with a 3.07 ERA. Despite his dreadful start as a Junior, due in large part to an elbow injury that later required surgery, Hamilton found himself selected at number 8 by the Padres. Initially, Hamilton was not expected to sign. Sadly, Hamilton's father was dying of cancer, and in order to fulfill his father's dream of seeing him pitch in the major leagues, Hamilton decided to sign a contract worth more than 400,000 dollars. Hamilton struggled in the minors for a couple of seasons, but when he reached the majors, he turned it on, finishing fifth in the 1994 rookie of the year voting. Four years later, he was a solid number three starter behind Kevin Brown and Andy Ashby on a world series team, although they lost. But control issues eventually forced him out of San Diego (he walked a league high 106 batters that year). He played for Toronto, then Cincinnati to finish up his career with a respectable 74-73 record.

He lead the league in home runs, RBI, batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS, and even intentional walks. He was named an all-star 12 times. He won 9 silver slugger awards. He finished in the top 10 in MVP voting 8 seasons in a row. He has a World Series MVP award, and two world series rings. He hit 555 home runs, 1831 RBI, owns a 312/411/585 line, and is regarded as one of the greatest right handed hitters ever. And with the 13th overall selection of the 1991 draft, the Cleveland Indians drafted a young third baseman who would later play in the outfield, Manny Ramirez. Without a doubt, Ramirez was the most successful player in the entire draft. His numbers with two of the greatest offensive teams, the Boston Red Sox of the 2000's and the Cleveland Indians of the 1990's, rank amongst the best in all of major league history. Without him, there were still some good players drafted. Shawn Green, Brad Radke, and Jason Isrighausen to name a few. But Ramirez is in a class of his own compared to his peers. Over a six year period starting in 1999 and ending in 2004, Ramirez had one of the best stretches by a right handed hitter ever, collecting 236 homers, a 1061 OPS, and even breaking the 86 year world series drought that the Boston Red Sox franchise had experienced. Sadly, Ramirez was hit with a 50 game suspension in 2009 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and with the Tampa Bay Rays early in 2011, faced a 100 game suspension and was forced to retire. Still, P.E.D.s or not, Ramirez had one of the greatest careers for a major leaguer in history.

So who was the most talented player in the draft? Manny Ramirez of course. Great average hitter, drew a lot of walks, hit a lot of home runs. No question. Well, not so fast. We all know about how Stephen Strasburg is supposed to be the best pitcher ever. But all the way back in 1991, we had a guy who was hyped up to be just that. His name is Brien Taylor, and he may have been the greatest player never to make it to the major leagues. Since what is considered the first June draft in 1965, the Yankees have had the number 1 overall selection twice. The first time, 1967, they selected the first DH in history, Ron Bloomberg. In 1991, they selected the big left handed pitcher Brien Taylor. Taylor was compared to, and was called better than the Doc Gooden that won the Cy Young award. Taylor was armed with a nasty fastball that consistently sat in the mid-90's, and occasionally approached triple digits. Not only that, his breaking and off-speed pitches were considered plus-plus pitches, meaning he had three great pitches. Not only that, but he had good control of his pitches too. Then in 1993, his brother got into a fight and was injured. Taylor decided to confront the man who fought his brother, and ended up falling on his arm awkwardly, dislocating his shoulder and tearing his labrum. By the time he got back to pitching, his fastball dropped a few MPH, his breaking pitches were not sharp, and he couldn't come close to finding the strike zone, as his walk rates from 1995 to 1998 were 12.2 per 9, 23.7 per 9, 17.3 per 9, and 9.2 per nine. He struggled to get much playing time, and in his last minor league season in 2000, he walked 9 batters in only 2.2 innings for the Indians A team. He nerve got higher than AA, and his stuff and command never recovered from what his doctor called one of the worst injuries he had ever seen. What could have been? What if he didn't get hurt? Questions will always remain about the best pitching prospect of the 20th century. If the comparisons were right, and he worked out the way he was supposed to, you could imagine how devastating the Yankees would have been. Would the 1998 Yankees have won more than the Cubs 116 wins in the 1906 season? Perhaps the Yankees would have won in 2001 and 2003, or perhaps they would not have blown the 3-0 ALCS lead in 2004. There are so many what if's, but one thing that is for sure, to put it as simply as possible, we never got to see a great talent pitch, and that is what baseball lost when Brien Taylor ruined his shoulder.

Now for some facts about this draft, and some of the players selected.

In the first round, 7 of the 26 players were named to an all-star game: Dmitri Young, Tyler Green, Shawn Estes, Manny Ramirez, Cliff Floyd, Shawn Green, and Aaron Sele. When the supplemental picks are included, two more all-stars are included in Justin Thompson and Bobby Jones.

The 8th round produced the most quality pitchers, including Jason Schmidt, Brad Radke, Derek Lowe, and Steve Trachsel.

The 11th round produced the most quality infielders, including Mark Grudzielanek, Joe Randa, and Jeff Cirillo.

Nomar Garciaparra and Aaron Boone were amongst the notables that were drafted but did not sign.

NFL MVP Steve McNair was drafted in the 35th round by the Seattle Mariners.

Todd Hollandsworth, drafted by the Dodgers in the 3rd round, was the last of five straight Los Angeles Dodgers rookies of the year, winning the award in 1996. He followd in the footsteps of Eric Karros, 92, Mike Piazza, 93, Raul Mondesi, 94, and Hideo Nomo, 95.

Finally, it's time to go through the entire draft and attempt to build the best possible team from the 1991 draft. This is what I came up with.

1. 3B Jeff Cirillo, RH, 11th round, Milwaukee Brewers
2. 2B Mark Grudzielanek, RH, 11th round, Montreal Expos
3. RF Shawn Green, LH, 1st round, Toronto Blue Jays
4. DH Manny Ramirez, RH, 1st round, Cleveland Indians
5. LF Cliff Floyd, LH, 1st round, Montreal Expos
6. 1B Mike Sweeney, RH, 10th round, Kansas City Royals
7. CF Mike Cameron, RH, 18th round, Chicago White Sox
8. C Scott Hatteberg, LH, 1st round, Boston Red Sox
9. SS Kevin Stocker, SH, 2nd round, Philadelphia Phillies

SP. Brad Radke, 8th round, Minnesota Twins
SP. Derek Lowe, 8th round, Seattle Mariners
SP. Jason Schmidt, 8th round, Atlanta Braves
SP. Paul Byrd, 4th round, Cleveland Indians
SP. Aaron Sele, 1st round, Boston Red Sox
CP. Jason Isringhausen, 44th round, New York Mets

Young Guns: The Orioles' Keys to Success

The Baltimore Orioles haven't been the most successful team in recent years. They've finished close to or in last place in the AL East for the majority of those years. Fortunately, there seems to be a bright spot in the O's future. Baltimore boasts a pitching rotation of young potential aces. The ace of the moment, Jeremy Guthrie is in his fifth year with the Orioles. He has been the top pitcher since his first season in Baltimore. After starting in the bullpen, Guthrie moved to the starting rotation and became one of the most consistent pitchers in the AL. The rest of the rotation features four young pitchers: Chris Tillman (RHP), Zach Britton (LHP), Jake Arrieta (RHP), and Brad Bergesen (RHP) (Brian Matusz, who is on the disabled list, will be put into the rotation when he is activated). Each of these pitchers have been top pitching prospects for Baltimore, and this rotation will improve with them all in the majors at the same time.

We'll start with Tillman. During his minor league career from 2007-2010, Tillman struck out 486 batters in 489.1 innings. In 2009, Tillman made 12 starts in the majors but still made 18 in AAA. Tillman began last year in the minors, making 18 starts there and 11 in the majors. This year, Tillman began the season in the rotation and has struggled out of the gate. He has the potential to be a front of the rotation guy at the best and at the worst, a solid middle of the rotation pitcher. He features a fastball with some heavy action that tops out around 94 MPH and his out pitch is a power curve that is often used as a hit-or-miss pitch in big situations. He has had control problems later in games during the minors and his time in the majors, but so far this season he has been keeping the majority of his pitches around the zone.

Chris Tillman
2009 (AAA): 8-6, 2.70 ERA, 99 SO, 1.148 WHIP, 9.2 SO/9, 3.81 SO/BB,
2009 (MLB): 2-5, 5.40 ERA, 39 SO, 1.554 WHIP, 5.4 SO/9, 1.63 SO/BB, -0.1 WAR
2010 (AAA): 11-7, 3.34 ERA, 94 SO, 1.236 WHIP, 7.0 SO/9, 3.13 SO/BB
2010 (MLB): 2-5, 5.87 ERA, 31 SO, 1.528 WHIP, 5.2 SO/9, 1.00 SO/BB, -0.2 WAR
2011 so far (MLB): 0-1, 7.30 ERA, 11 SO, 1.703 WHIP, 8.0 SO/9, 1.83 SO/BB, 0.1 WAR

Next we'll move on to Britton. He has spent his entire career with the Orioles organization, beginning his minor league career in 2005 and making his major league debut earlier this month. He has been the top pitching prospect for the Orioles. He spent 2010 in both AA-AAA, performing as a top prospect should. In his first two major league starts, Britton was dominant, but struggled in his third. In his first major league appearance, Britton went 6.0 inning against Tampa Bay, giving up 1 ER, 3 hits, and a walk while striking out 6. Britton pitches to contact, with great control and often starts out with first pitch strikes. He is able to keep low pitch counts and stay in games longer. Britton features a plus sinker that tops out around 92 MPH. He generally keeps it low and it's movement causes hitters to have trouble squaring up on it. He relies on his sinker so much that he throws it 60-70% of the time, which will leave him with low home run rates. Britton also throws a fastball that tops out at 96 MPH, but is usually not necessary with the dominance of his sinker, a biting slider used as his out pitch, and a change up that is still developing but will most likely end up as an average pitch. He will need to work on his control of the pitches in order to become successful. Britton has the makeup and composure of a future ace, and possible Cy Young candidate in a few years.

Zach Britton
2010 (AA): 7-3, 2.48 ERA, 68 SO, 1.195 WHIP, 7.0 SO/9, 2.43 SO/BB
2010 (AAA): 3-4, 2.98 ERA, 56 SO, 1.296 WHIP, 7.6 SO/9, 2.43 SO/BB
2011 so far (MLB): 2-1, 2.75 ERA, 14 SO, 1.119 WHIP, 6.4 SO/9, 2.0 SO/BB, 0.4 WAR

Now comes Arrieta. The Orioles were criticized early on for signing Arrieta to a contract similar to a first rounder while many thought that Arrieta was just not good. He had worked on his mechanics since then and the improvements have shown. Arrieta split time between AA and AAA in 2009 and was brought up to the big leagues during 2010 after beginning the season dominating in Norfolk. Arrieta's mechanics were tweaked slightly and they caused his control to become increasingly better. All of his pitches come from similar arm angles, so it hard for hitters to square up. His repertoire includes a high velocity fastball with late movement, a slider that often leaves hitters baffled (when he commands it), an incosistent 12-6 curve, and a much improved change up that can fall anywhere from 5 to 10 MPH slower than his other pitches. Arrieta projects to be a #2 or #3 starter in the future, but certainly has the potential to be a #1. So far this season, Arrieta has had trouble keeping guys off the basepaths, which has led to him giving up 12 ER in his 3 starts.

Jake Arrieta
2009 (AA): 6-3, 2.59 ERA, 70 SO, 1.153 WHIP, 10.7 SO/9, 3.04 SO/BB
2009 (AAA): 5-8, 3.93 ERA, 78 SO, 1.418 WHIP, 7.7 SO/9, 2.36 SO/BB
2010 (AAA): 6-2, 1.85 ERA, 64 SO, 1.123 WHIP, 7.9 SO/9, 1.88 SO/BB
2010 (MLB): 6-6, 4.66 ERA, 52 SO, 1.535 WHIP, 4.7 SO/9, 1.08 SO/BB, 0.8 WAR
2011 so far (MLB): 1-1, 7.04 ERA, 10 SO, 1.435 WHIP, 5.9 SO/9, 2.00 SO/BB, 0.1 WAR

Finally, we're on to Bergesen. Bergesen has been in the majors for the longest out of the four youngsters. He has began both of the past two season in AAA but has been quickly brought up both times. He had started out great in 2009, even garnering some Rookie of the Year consideration, until a shin injury in late July sidelined him for the rest of the season. He then began the next year in the minors but was quickly brought up for good. This year, Bergesen AGAIN started out in AAA but was brought up without an appearance when J.J. Hardy went on the disabled list. Bergesen is a ground ball pitcher who, instead of trying to strike many batters out, trys not to walk many people. Like Britton, Bergesen's sinker is his out pitch and he uses it most often. He also has a fastball that average 89 MPH, a change up, and a slider as his strike out pitch. Bergesen will most likely be a workhorse end of the rotation guy.

Brad Bergesen
2009 (MLB): 7-5, 3.43 ERA, 65 SO, 1.281 WHIP, 4.7 SO/9, 2.03 SO/BB, 2.4 WAR
2010 (MLB): 8-12, 4.98 ERA, 81 SO, 1.435 WHIP, 4.3 SO/9, 1.59 SO/BB, 0.6 WAR
2011 so far (MLB): 0-1, 3.18 ERA, 4 SO, 1.235 WHIP, 6.4 SO/9, 2.00 SO/BB, 0.0 WAR

Bergesen's spot in the rotation will be the one most likely taken by Brian Matusz when he returns from an injury, but until then this is what the Orioles will put on the mound every night. With the offensive strengths of the Yankees, Red Sox and even the Blue Jays, it will be hard for the Orioles to compete in the difficult AL East this season. But with a little more seasoning, the mind of Buck Showalter, and some offensive production, who knows how quick this team could turn into a contender?

Baseball Phenoms Part 1: Jim Creighton

I'm going to do a series of entries on baseball phenomenons; young players that garnered immense amounts of hype early in their careers -- or before their careers started. Appropriately, I've begun the series by throwing the first entry to TheeDogg, who wrote this article on baseball's first phenomenon, Jim Creighton.

Baseball’s first phenom was a brash young man by the name of James Creighton Jr who in his short career changed the dynamic of the game forever.

Creighton started in the game in 1857 at the age of sixteen and was used primarily as an infielder for a couple of years. There is some speculation that he was the first player ever paid to play, but this is not confirmed. His mark on the game of baseball came in 1859 while playing for the Niagras where he was brought into a game as a relief pitcher and proceeded to throw the ball at unthinkable speeds for the time. Back then the job of the pitcher was to help the batter so that the fielders decided the outcome of the game. Under the rules of the time pitchers delivered the ball underhand with straight wrists and elbows to the location that the batter wanted. Creighton generated extra velocity on his “speedball” by using an all but undetectable wrist snap and slight bend of the arm. As such he changed the pitcher-hitter dynamic forever from them being a cohesive unit designed so that the hitter could put the ball in play to being complete enemies at war with every pitch. This change was not met kindly by those in the game, but the fans absolutely loved Creighton for it.

Creighton’s success made him a hot commodity in the baseball world and he eventually ended up with the Brooklyn Excelciors as their star pitcher. To go along with is speedball Creighton created baseball’s first known changeup, a pitch that he called his “dew-drop” which he used to deceive and confuse the hitters. This unprecedented display of cunning and ability made him easily the most dominant pitcher of his era. While his numbers would seem ridiculous by today’s standards, his team keeping opponents to just 7.2 runs per game was far and away the best in baseball for the time. Creighton is also known to be the first pitcher in history to throw a complete game shutout on November 8, 1860.

Pitching was not where Creighton’s talents ended. He was also among the best offensive players of the day, scoring 47 runs in 20 games in 1860. It is rumored the throughout the entire 1862 season he was only retired 4 times. Creighton was a master of the “homerun swing” which has nothing in common with the way sluggers of today swing the bat but instead he kept his hands apart on a very heavy bat and relied on a hard upper body twist and almost no leg involvement. This method of hitting would also prove to be his downfall.

On October 8, 1862 Creighton took such a swing and John Chapman, the man on deck, heard something snap. Creighton upon reaching home plate on the homerun assured Chapman that it had just been his belt breaking when in fact it was far more serious; Creighton had actually caused internal injuries during the swing. What the injuries were is up for debate, some saying a ruptured bladder, others a spleen and others an inguinal hernia. Whatever the injuries were, they caused Creighton to lay in agony for four days after the game, at the end of which he was dead at the age of 21. He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn New York with a 12 foot tall obelisk adorned with a granite baseball as his tombstone.

James Creighton was the first true superstar in baseball and despite having such a short career has forever left his mark on the game in the duel that we see between the pitcher and hitter in every at bat.

Thanks again to TheeDogg. Part 2, probably on the late Bob Feller, should be coming in the next couple of days.

Sabtu, 16 April 2011

State of the Union: The Kansas City Royals

As many people know, the Kansas City Royals have been irrelevant in the baseball universe for quite some time now.  Since winning the 1985 World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals, the Royals have not made a playoff appearance.  They have finished last in their division 8 times, 4th 5 times, and haven't been higher than 3rd since 1995.  They have only had 6 winning seasons since that last WS title (out of 25 years), and nobody has had a reason to pay any kind of attention to them for 25 years.  They recently traded away one of only two truly valuable assets (Zack Greinke) to Milwaukee for a lucrative package of prospects, and going into the season, many people had them penciled in for failure before looking at the roster.  Hold the phone, folks, because the Royals may be ready to turn the corner in the very near future.

Before we venture off into the Royals' amazing farm system, let's look at what's brewing in the majors for them.  If you click the link above (the one that says Kansas City Royals), you will find the team page, and if you click on this year, you will probably be surprised.  The thing you'll probably be most surprised is Alex Gordon.  Upon seeing that name, you may have gone into shock, so I'll give you time to recover (yes, this is the same monumental bust that you may have kept asking, "Why don't you just dump him already, KC?")...well, something has changed (for the short period that has been this season).  Suddenly, a move to left field and absolutely no pressure on him at all has aided Gordon's plate discipline and power.  He leads the AL in hits and doubles, and he isn't striking out very much.  I'm not drawing any conclusion on him, but just do yourself a favor and keep an eye on him.  MAYBE he isn't dead in the baseball universe like many thought.

Well, Alex Gordon's resurgence really isn't what I wanted to focus on when starting to talk about what the Royals had, so let's get into that.  The Royals have one of the better DH's in the game of baseball (who, what?).  Yes, Billy Butler has moved over from 1B to DH, so that his wretched defense never has to see the field.  Butler has been improving his game each of the past three seasons, and he's off to an awesome start this year.  Great plate discipline, ability to hit the ball to all fields, and pretty good power have made Butler one of the better hitters in the game, and one of the game's best doubles hitters.  Along with Butler, the Royals have one of the best closers in the game of baseball, Joakim Soria. The Royals made it known how much they like Soria when they didn't trade him for top-level prospect Jesus Montero out of the Yankees' farm system. Soria has been absolutely dominant, but a good first baseman and a great closer won't get your team very far, so there must be something I'm holding from you, right?  Yup, it's that monster farm system I mentioned earlier!

The Royals feature the best farm system in all of baseball, and it isn't really even close.  On Baseball America's List of Top 100 Prospects, the Royals feature three players in the top 10, 5 in the top 20, and 9 players overall on the list of the top prospects in baseball.  Numbers are great to look at, but let's look at them, starting with the top rated player by Baseball America in the Royals' system:


Eric Hosmer, 1B: Big, strong, left-handed....all great ways to describe this monster of a 1B prospect.  After having LASIK surgery after the 2009 season, Hosmer has absolutely exploded in the minors.  Hosmer comes with the unique combination of power and patience that takes a good slugger to being a great one.  Think about guys like Prince Fielder and Joey Votto.  It isn't ridiculous to think that Hosmer could eventually develop into a player like them.  Great power, good bat speed, and patience at the plate have really helped Hosmer excel.  For the sake of argument, we'll plug him into the #3 spot in KC's future lineup.

Mike Moustakas, 3B: I would be lying if I said Moustakas wasn't my favorite prospect in the Royals' system. It's scary how quickly Mike Moustakas has developed in the minors.  Before last year, Moustakas hadn't don't much in the minors, but he got a promotion to AA...and then QUICKLY to AAA.  A slash line of .322/.369/.630 was impossible to ignore, so the slugger got a look at spring training, along with Hosmer.  Both will be in the minors, but the Royals have their clean-up hitter for the futre.  36 combined homers in 2010 between AA and AAA.  The Moose is going to be a force in the future.

Wil Myers, OF: Good hands, great patience, and solid power.  A third hitter of this type?  Yeah, that's why these 3 were all in the top 10. Myers bats from the right side of the plate, however, and he comes with a little bit more speed than his slugging counterparts.  I think the term "5-tool player" applies to a very select few players all-time, so I won't use that to describe Myers, but I will say that he's pretty good at everything, especially now that he isn't catching any more and will be more durable out in the outfield.  With a background at catcher, Myers has a great arm and will likely make his home in right field in the future, along with being the #5 hitter in Kansas City's future lineup.

John Lamb, LHP: Okay, so KC really needs pitching help.  Worry not, because John Lamb is here to help. Lamb is a lefty with a typically good fastball.  He throws it consistently in the low 90's and the pitch has late movement towards lefties and away from righties.   With great command, it is definitely a plus pitch.  His second pitch is a changeup that has been described as "devastating" by reports I've searched.  With a 10-15 MPH difference off of his fastball and great command, Lamb will likely be able to use this as an out pitch. Lamb's third pitch is a curveball, and it is his weakest pitch as of now.   After working with coaches, Lamb is trying to take a slow, sweeping breaking ball to a hard-spinning dominant pitch that he can use to become the ace that KC needs.  We'll consider him the future ace for now, especially with his easy deliver and ability to repeat his mechanics consistently.

Mike Montgomery, LHP: Another lefty starter for the Royals (remember that a lot of great AL Central hitters are lefties, like Mauer, Morneau, Dunn, Martinez, etc).  Montgomery is tall, lanky, and very close to being ready for The Show.Montgomery is a very mechanically sound pitcher and extends very well on his release. Mike has a fastball that also sits in the low 90's with late movement, and he has the distinctive "hop" that so many scouts talk about.   Much like Lamb, Montgomery sometimes struggles with his breaking ball, which is more of a sweeping breaking ball than anything else.  Perhaps Montgomery's out-pitch is his changeup. He throws it a little faster than Lamb, and his actually breaks a little later than Lamb's, which makes it more deceptive.  Montgomery could be the #2 for KC in the future.

Christian Colon, 2B: After getting Alcides Escobar, the defensive worries about Colon are no longer what they used to be, as he can now play 2B.  Colon was drafted in 2010 with more offensive potential than defensive potential.  Despite a bit of a lack of range, Colon has great hands and great footwork in the field.  Analysts such as Keith Law like Colon's contact ability at the plate, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Colon hit towards the top of the order in the future.  We'll say he fits the #2 hole for KC in the future.

Danny Duffy, LHP: Dear lord, another lefty.  This one, however, is a prototypical power pitcher.  Duffy's fastball sits in the low-mid 90's with the ability to touch as high as 97 MPH, and Duffy features good command of his fastball.  His secondary pitches aren't great, but he has the ability to control them pretty well, which leads to large numbers in the strikeout column.  Duffy's control and strikeout rates will likely continue to be great, and he has a lot of potential going forward.  Hard to say where he'll end up in the rotation, but with splitting up handedness in the rotation, we'll say he slips into the 4 spot in their future rotation, in favor of the next guy.

Jake Odorizzi, RHP: His fastball is his pitch.  Low-90's, great command, and "hop" make this Odorizzi's best pitch.  Unlike the other pitchers, Odorizzi's curveball is considered by some scouts to be an above-average pitch.    With a cutter as his 3rd pitch, Jake has a pitch arsenal fit for the rotation, but with inconsistency in his delivery (especially the speed), Ordorizzi finds himself being wild at times.  Odorizzi definitely projects as the #3 starter in KC's future rotation.

Chris Dwyer, LHP: Dwyer's best pitch is his 12-6 curveball.  It's a plus pitch in every sense of the word, and he locates it very well.  With good velocity in the low-mid 90's, Dwyer has an explosive fastball, but he struggles to control it at times.  In order to have a spot in the future rotation, he is going to have to improve his changeup a lot.  With improved mechanics and better control, I could see KC having a very legitimate #5 starter.  If he doesn't go to the rotation, he would make for a good relief pitcher.

So, you've met the prospects and the current big leaguers, so let's look at what the Royals could be in the future:

1. Lorenzo Cain, CF
2. Christian Colon, 2B
3. Eric Hosmer, 1B
4. Mike Moustakas, 3B
5. Billy Butler, DH
6. Wily Myers, RF
7. Alex Gordon, LF
8. ???, C
9. Alcides Escobar, SS

John Lamb, SP
Mike Montgomery, SP
Jake Odorizzi, SP
Danny Duffy, SP
Chris Dwyer, SP

Joakim Soria, CP

So, if you're a Royals fan, start going to games so that the team can have money to pay all of these guys when they come up.  We didn't even get to the other potential players deeper in the farm system.  The future looks bright for KC.

Jumat, 15 April 2011

Mets Prospect Report: Mejia, Harvey Off to Good Starts. Martinez to The DL

The first two weeks of the 2011 season has been pretty terrible for the New York Mets. Their lack to pitching and big hits has really hurt them so far this season and has left them with a 4-9 record. Coming off a 1-6 home-stand to begin the year, the Mets have a lot of issues they need to fix before they can be a winning baseball team. However, it's not all bad news for the Mets organization. Down in the minors, several key prospects have gotten off to a strong start in 2011. These prospects are important to the Mets' future and it's certainly a good sign to see them start off so quickly. Unfortunately, some others haven't been as fortunate.

Jennry Mejia: Starting Pitcher
Mejia was rated as the number 1 prospect in the Mets system this year by BA. After an impressive spring training last year, he made the team as a 20 year old and pitched primarily out of the bullpen. It was probably a mistake to do that in the first place instead of letting him develop more as a starter in double A. (One of the many reasons why Manuel and Minaya are gone) Mejia had a 4.62 ERA in 39 innings pitched (He made 3 starts) with a WHIP close to 1.7, and a K/BB of 1.10. Obviously the experiment didn't go well which further proves why they should have let the future starter develop more. This season Mejia is starting with the Mets Triple A team and he's looking real good.. He's pitched 12.2 innings, allowed no runs and has a WHIP of 0.947. Granted it's just two starts, it's still exciting to see Mejia getting closer and closer to being a ML ready pitcher. Mejia has a plus fastball with movement that ranges in the mid 90's. His breaking ball still needs work but it has been improving, especially his curve ball and slider. His lack of control is also an issue, but he's only 21 so he still has plenty of time to develop into a top of the rotation starter.

Matt Harvey: Starting Pitcher

Last year's first round pick for the Mets, Harvey weighs in at 210lb to go along with a 6'4" frame. Not having pitched after being drafted by New York, Harvey is starting the season in A+ St. Lucie. Harvey's first two starts as a pro have been impressive as he pitched 11 scoreless innings while allowing 8 hits and 4 walks. The most impressive part though is the 17 K's he's registered. With a quick start, Harvey should advance higher up in the Mets system later in the year. It's certainly a good sign for Met fans to see their two best pitching prospects to get off to a good start. Harvey has a plus fastball ranges between 92-95, and a good slider to go along with a potential plus curveball. His changeup still needs more work. Harvey also has command, and at times, control issues. If he can correct those flaws and continue to develop, Harvey can be a very good number 2 starter in the near future. Most people have him arriving in the Majors by 2013.

Fernando Martinez: Outfield

Yep. F-Mart was just placed on the DL today with yet another leg related injury. This time it's right hamstring strain. Last year he had a bunch of nagging leg injuries and it was in 2009 that his season was ended by knee surgery. He hasn't even reached the majors and he's already injury prone. Nice. Once rated as the Mets top prospect, Martinez has really fallen off recently due to being so injury prone. One wonders if he'll even come close to his potential, but F-Mart is only 22. He still has time to turn it around and actually play a full season. It's a shame to see someone with so much talent spend half the time on the disabled list than on the field. In his brief stints in the majors, Martinez has done nothing. (.174/.248/.257 in 122 PA) He hasn't been on a field for a full season since he turned pro so it has slowed his development in the minors. However, when he is on the field F-Mart is a good defensive OF but with a mediocre arm. He also has good power potential and could hit for average, but the problem has always been staying healthy. Is F-Mart ever going to become the player the Mets hoped for when they signed him for millions of dollars in 2006? Only time will tell.

Juerys Familia: Starting Pitcher

Familia is a 21 year old pitcher from the Dominican Republic who is currently on the Mets high A team. Familia has gotten off to a great start with a 0.69 ERA, 13 K's, and a WHIP of 0.308 in 13 innings pitched. One of the Mets top pitching prospect, Familia definitely has a great fastball that can reach the high 90's. He also has a good strikeout potential. (10.2 K/9 in A+ last year) It seems like his future will be in the bullpen, but he's going to continue to start for now. Hey, why not with outings like this? The way the Mets entire pitching staff has been getting clobbered lately, any kind of pitching down the road would be great for this team.

Cory Vaughn: Outfield

In class A Savannah, Cory has put up a line of .364/.517/.409 in 29 PA. Last year, Vaughn had a spectacular pro debut, crushing 14 homeruns, hitting .307, and OPS'ing at .953 in 313 PA. There's a lot to get excited about with the 21 year old OF. Vaughn is probably the only potential five tool player in the Mets system right now. Vaughn's best tool is his raw power, which was on display last year. He has above average speed has a good arm as well. He still needs to work on his swing and plate discipline as well as pitch recognition. Vaughn has potential to be a very good major league outfielder if he can develop and not fizzle out as the competition gets tougher. He still hasn't played in a game over single A so it remains to be seen how Cory will adjust.

The Mets farms certainly is not the best. It'd FAR from it, but there is good amount of promise in it and the Mets are a big market team. If some of these prospects turn out to be real good and the new regime makes some smart moves in the front offices, the Mets could have a good baseball team on the field everyday competing for a championship. They'll really need to get lucky. With all the bad luck surrounding the Mets, it has to turn around some time.....right?

Defensive Metrics

Fielding metrics are easy brandy about but quite difficult to understand. They can be a very helpful tool, but, like power, they come with great responsibility. To maintain any semblance of credibility, you must know what you are talking about and how to most effectively use these advanced statistics.

Before we delve into the types of defensive statistics, I must make one thing clear – do not use fielding metrics without ample sample size. Most people like a sample size of at least three seasons, or 3500-4000 or more IP. With how radically the ratings can fluctuate, it is prudent to gather a sample size before making your judgement.

Similarly, we need to have an established baseline. If a guy comes up and posts ratings of -10, +12, and 0, you still don’t have a baseline, and metrics will be of little use. If that same guy goes on to post ratings of, say +7 and +10 in the next two seasons, at that point it is safe to say that he is a pretty good fielder.

Finally, fielding metrics do not substitute every other method of evaluation. Scouting reports, opinions from baseball minds, even your own opinions, can be taken into account, but realise: for all the inaccuracies in defensive metrics, it is, in the right circumstances, relatively accurate empirical data, and your naked eye test isn’t.

With all of that said, here we go. There are three basic types of defensive metrics I would like to address: total zone runs, ultimate zone rating, and the plus/minus system.

Rtot (Total Zone Runs) - Once described to me as basically a play-by-play-based estimate of Zone Rating for seasons prior to STATS Inc.'s exhaustive video tracking of Zone Rating data. It credits/debits fielders for their hits saved/allowed compared to an average fielder at the same position, given how many balls were hit into their zone of responsibility. These hits are then converted into run values based on the linear weights value of each type of hit (i.e., Palmer's Batting Runs). Additional run values are also applied for OF and catcher arms, and IF double plays. Finally, Rtot is the sum of the runs above/below avg. for balls hit into the zone of responsibility, OF/C throws, and IF double-play chances.

Basically, the statistic that gives us the final rating is called rtot. This is an amalgamation of a handful of other stats, namely Rtz (Total Zone Fielding runs above average) – the value of the players’ ability to get to balls and make plays on them, Rdp (Total Zone Infield Double Play runs above average) – the value of an infielder’s ability to turn double plays, Rcatch and Rof, the value of the arms of both catchers and outfielders, respectively. These are added up, according to what position the player plays, and give you rtot, a total amount of runs that player saved or cost his team. Anything above 0 is above good, below 0 is bad. If you want to know what a really good rtot rate is, Andruw Jones was annually posting rates of 25-35+ in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, but usually anything above 10 is very good. Rtot and fielding runs are featured on baseball-reference.com.

There is more reading on the topic here:




UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) – Ultimate Zone rating requires very little explanation if one already understands Total Zone, because that’s basically what it is. UZR takes into account the amount and difficulty of balls that the fielder gets to, to give a Rngr, or range run, and combines this with ErrR, or error runs, which assigns a value to the players’ propensity for making errors per balls received. These are combined into UZR. UZR is featured on fangraphs.com under players’ defence (advanced)

UZR uses info from Baseball Info Solutions, as does a statistic featured on baseball-reference.com called rdrs, or BIS Defensive Runs Saved, right beside where they provide rtot information. My personal suggestion is that, if you want to use the combined information of rtot and UZR, you are better served saving the 5 seconds it would take to go to fangraphs and just use rdrs.

Brief explanation from fangraphs -- http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/the-fangraphs-uzr-primer/

Now, it should be noted that rtot, UZR and rdrs are all counting stats – that is, like hits, home runs or strikeouts, the statistic value will continue to rise (or decline) as the player accumulates chances. To counter this, Baseball-reference and Fangraphs provide rtot/yr and rdrs/yr (the number of runs saved over 1200 defensive innings played), and UZR/150 (defensive runs saved per 150 defensive games played).

Plus/Minus – I think this was said best on The Fielding Bible’s own website: “My book, The Fielding Bible, goes into great length (ad nauseum to some) describing the new fielding system we developed at Baseball Info Solutions, the Plus/Minus System. Video Scouts at BIS review video of every play of every major league game and record detailed information on each play, such as the location of each batted ball, the speed, the type of hit, etc. Using this in-depth data, we’re able to figure out how each player compares to his peers at his position. How often does Derek Jeter field that softly batted ball located 20 feet to the right of the normal shortstop position, for example, compared to all other major league shortstops?

“A player gets credit (a "plus" number) if he makes a play that at least one other player at his position missed during the season, and he loses credit (a "minus" number) if he misses a play that at least one player made. The size of the credit is directly related to how often players make the play. Each play is looked at individually, and a score is given for each play. Sum up all the plays for each player at his position and you get his total plus/minus for the season. A total plus/minus score near zero means the player is average. A score above zero is above average and a negative score is below average. Adam Everett turned in the highest score we’ve had in four years of using the system with a +43 at shortstop in 2006. That means he made 43 more plays than the average MLB shortstop would make.”


The obvious detriment with the Fielding Bible is that I don’t have one, and, probably, neither do you. It is an impressively deep system that is very interesting and very useful, but unless you’re willing to pay, hard to get your hands on. On their website you can see past winners and vote totals, which, in my opinion, are worth more than Gold Glove Awards. Another detriment of this system is that it is not weighted. Adam Everett may have made 43 more plays, but how many hits did he take away. 43? Were they all singles? What is the value of a removed single? The aforementioned statistics take care of this stuff for you and simply tell you the value of the defender’s play which, as a casual fan, is all one really needs.

So there you have it. The unnecessarily complex world of defensive metrics compounded into a 1200-word nutshell. If you managed to stick with me through the entire text, congratulations, you now know more about defensively rating players than the grotesque majority of baseball fans.