18 April 2015

Mid-April Noodlings

Chris Colabello led the Majors with nine doubles for the Twins at this point last season. He was batting .361. The big first baseman finished the season with 13 two-baggers while batting .229. He’s not on the roster this April.

Nelson Cruz has more homers in five games last week than the Twins, Brewers, Marlins, Cardinals, and Indians each have all season.

The Yankees’ lineup on April 14: Jacoby Ellsbury, CF; Chase Headley, 3B; Carlos Beltran, RF; Mark Teixeira, 1B; Brian McCann, C; Garrett Jones, DH; Stephen Drew, 2B; Chris Young, LF; Didi Gregorius, SS. That includes one player from the team two years ago, and that was Mark Teixeira, who played most of that season for the Disabled List.

Aaron Harang is pitching in his 14th season in the Majors. He’s won 123 games, earned 23 pitching wins against replacement, collected $60 million and hit like a girl. His .091/.100/.107 includes four walks and 278 strikeouts. In about a season’s worth of at-bats he has cost his teams four losses at the plate. 

With his first home run of the season, and the 155th of his six-year career, Giancarlo Stanton became the career leader for the Florida Marlins, passing Dan Uggla. That’s the fewest to lead any franchise, but it won’t be for long. Once Stanton reaches 164, he will pass San Diego’s all-time leader, Nate Colbert. The only other active team leader is Evan Longoria with 185 for Tampa Bay.

On April 17, Mike Trout became the youngest player to 100 home runs and 100 steals, breaking Alex Rodriguez’s record by two months. Trout is more than three months shy of his 24th birthday. The list of players to 100 homers faster than Trout – 10 in all – includes six Hall of Famers, one HOF-worthy (ARod), one future HOFer (Giancarlo Stanton) and two good players -- Tony Conigliaro and Andruw Jones. And hitting home runs isn’t Trout’s signature skill.

Diamondback hurler Josh Collmenter might want to retire now. He became the first pitcher to complete a game in 2015 with a four-hit whitewashing of the defending champs last night. He also threw the first shutout in baseball this year. He also piled up three hits, a run scored and an RBI.

16 April 2015

Early Season Fun

The great baseball writer Joe Sheehan once said that the best thing baseball writers could do to illuminate the game for their readers during April was to put away their keyboards.

But because we know better and are immune to the charms of early season over-reaction, we're going to have some fun with the Colorado Rockies.

No one outside southern Colorado thinks the Denver nine has even a puncher's chance at .500. A list of their weaknesses would include hitting, pitching, fielding, bullpen and bench.

But as of this writing, they have triumphed in 77% of their games, outscoring the vanquished by a 45-25 count.

They have three regulars hitting twice as well as league average: Keystoner DJ LeMahieu, batting .514, cornerman Nolan Arenado, who has poked an extra base hit every fourth at bat, and left fielder Corey Dickerson, batting .361. That doesn't even include Troy Tulowitzki who is simply doing what he does.

Nor does it include backup catcher Wilin Rosario and his double and home run in seven at bats. Or pitcher Kyle Kendrick, who is three for five. Sandy Koufax didn't collect his third hit until his fourth year in the Majors, by which time he had come to the plate more than 60 times.

And that's nothing compared to the vaunted Rockie hurlers. Two of the four starters boast ERAs below two, and at 2.25, Jordan Lyles has no reason for shame. All the members of the bullpen not named LaTroy Hawkins have allowed two runs in 33 frames. (Hawkins has surrendered five runs in three and two thirds.)

So the Rocks are 7-2 in first place in the NL West and Rockieing home field in the playoffs. And I predict they will win the pennant if they keep this up. The only thing preventing them is 153 more games...and reality.

13 April 2015

Here's to You, Pitcher Win Fans

Hey fans of pitching Wins, we have a fun game for you! And it's a double bonus, because it works for Saves aficionados as well.

Mariners closer Fernando Rodney is a winner because he knows how to win. He proved that yesterday by nailing down the "W" in an 8-7 Seattle victory over Oakland.

Rodney entered the contest in the ninth inning to close out a 7-3 game. Two walks, four hits and four runs later, it was on to extra innings. Thanks, Fernando, for bonus baseball!

It was all prelude to Nelson Cruz's 10th inning heroics. His solo blast in the top of the frame stood up and Seattle prevailed 8-7.

That gave Fernando Rodney the Win for the nine batters he faced. Better yet, because it was such a blowout when he entered the game, he didn't get blamed for blowing a Save. How can you blow a save when the game isn't even save-worthy!

The only thing missing from this is an Associated Press write-up congratulating Rodney for his triumph. Alas, even a blind squirrel knows an acorn from a pile of dog poo.

10 April 2015

The Cubs in the Playoffs? Get Over It

If hope springs eternal, it springs relentlessly in Chicago, especially in the Spring. And not since 2008, coming off a roaring 97-win season, has hope taken residence so distant from reality.

Over the last five years, the baby bears have averaged 93 losses and a fifth place NL Central finish while they weaned their young on the farm. Discerning observers could see a plan in action and wisely counseled patience, which began to pay off last season.

In their fourth seasons, Anthony Rizzo bloomed to a 10th place MVP placement. Jake Arietta shoved a 2.51 ERA down NL throats by fanning a batter-plus an inning and hardly walking any.  And flashy shortstop Starlin Castro recovered his hitting shoes. Rookie Kyle Hendrick bamboozled NL hitters to a 2.46 ERA in 13 starts. Journeyman Hector Rondon shook off elbow woes to claim the closer position with authority. And mega-prospects Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Addison Russell were knocking on the door. So when management indicated rebuilding's end by enticing Jon Lester to deal aces and Dexter Fowler to patrol center, Chi-town hearts started fluttering.  PECOTA forecasts them for 85 wins and many pundits have them snagging a Wild Card, or even a division.

And because everyone loves the Cubs, largely because no one has had to fear them since 1908, the bandwagon has grown.

But as the great philosopher, Quick Draw McGraw, used to say, "Now hoooooold on thar, Baba Looey!"

The Cubs are still on the right path and their time might indeed be nigh. But nigh is at low tide, not yet high. They're coming off an 89-loss season despite those lofty positives. Several of last year's performances were career outliers and will require confirmation before we can trust them. The rotation is thin after the first five and the bench is bare after Tommy LaStella and some catching depth. The big call-ups, like Soler, could flame out just as easily as they could catch fire. Teams relying on big years from freshmen are playing with fire themselves.

The Cubs will be improved, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. A couple of the veterans won't live up to billing. Some of the newbies won't even make the show. (There's a reason clubs send uber-prospects back to Triple-AAA , and it's almost never to save a few rubles.) The roster is still shallow and the learning curve is steep.

Cub fans, enjoy this one, but wait 'til next year.

08 April 2015

$21 Million Gets You Average: The Rick Porcello Signing

Either inflation in baseball is going to be an Abominable Snowman the next few years or Red Sox management is daft. It might be some of both.

Ben Cherington just inked Rick Porcello to a four-year, $84 million contract, preventing their #3 starter from hitting free agency after the season. Now entering his sixth season at the tender age of 27, Rick Porcello is, well, a guy. He pitches innings -- which is what you want your pitcher to pitch. If he pitches tunafish, don't sign him to an $84 million deal.

Porcello doesn't strike out a boatload of batters, but he doesn't walk many either. He keeps the ball on the ground, which is a good idea in Fenway. Good infield defense, which Boston thinks it has, will help him.

On the other hand, even after his best season last year, Porcello has been an average pitcher over his career. If "average" had his picture taken, it would look like Rick Porcello. His lifetime ERA+ is 98, where 100 is median. He's earned more than two-and-a-half wins above replacement for his team once -- last season.

According to the Red Sox, young, durable but thoroughly ordinary Major League pitchers are worth $21 million a year in 2015.

For just $4 million more, they could have coaxed back Jon Lester during the off-season. Or at least that's what the Cubs threw at Lester in an open and competitive market -- $25 million a year. Now, Lester is three years older and his deal is two years longer, so that's $50 million for a 35- and 36-year-old. 

But Lester eats Porcello's lunch -- for breakfast. His ERA since becoming a starter in 2008 is 25% better than average and he's accounted for four-and-a-half wins or more in five of those seven seasons. And like Porcello, Lester pitches innings, except more of them than Porcello.

In other words, Jon Lester : Rick Porcello :: pizza : grilled cheese. Similar, but oh so much better.

And yet, Lester's deal is not very different than Porcello's. It's  a little different -- longer to an older player, but way more similar than the players are.  Jon Lester's contract : Rick Porcello's contract :: cheese pizza : mushroom pizza.

Which tells us that either Red Sox management has gone all Ted Cruz or the team expects MLB to be swimming in a sea of money over the next four years that will balloon the going rate for Joe Starter to $21 million/year, or maybe even more.

The thing is, there's not much evidence of the former (although Pablo Sandoval may need to change his name to Exhibit A) and lots of the latter. MLB has $8 billion coming in through TV deals and its Alternative Media is bearing fruit, all on top of the cash cow that is New England sports fandom. So it's possible that Boston wants to keep Rick Porcello and if that costs $15 M/year so be it. Oh, did you say $20 million? Ha, let's just call it 21!

06 April 2015

Forget About Hamiltons, the Kimbrel Trade Was About Millions

Well, apparently John Hart has been Braindrizzling himself. Reliable sources (my gut) report that Hart read this Braindrizzling post and was inspired to consider flipping Craig Kimbrel for a package of young players, salary relief and Twizzlers.

It's actually much more than a simple Superman for prospects swap that Hart pulled off with his San Diego brethren -- and much less. Kimbrel and the sunk cost formerly known as B.J. Upton -- how desperate do you have to be to change your name to Melvin? -- bring back Cameron Maybin, offsetting sunk cost Carlos Quentin, a pair of prospects and an early second-round draft pick.

Pitching prospect Matt Wisler is highly regarded, and Maybin stole 40 bases and owned centerfield for 150 games four years ago, but that's a petty haul for the greatest closer the game has ever known, half-a-decade edition.

Indeed, the Braves have basically flipped Kimbrel for savings. Upton and Kimbrel will now cost the San Diego franchise $80 million through 2017, while Quentin and Maybin amount to just $23 million of albatross. (The Braves immediately ate Quentin's contract and cut him loose.) If that $57 million difference means signing coveted draft picks above slot, coaxing an international star their way and bringing in a useful free agent in 2017, then the deal might work out.

Or, if Atlanta has reason to believe that Maybin's speed and defense can trump his fragility and whiffle bat, perhaps that's a greater return than it appears on first blush. But first blush is underwhelmed. James Shields netted for the Rays Wil Myers, a top farmhand who crushed AL pitching as a rookie. For Kimbrel, the Braves' prospect return is more volume than quality.

For the Padres, who appear to have sacrificed the rest of eternity for a 2015 pennant, this deal makes sense in that it's more of that strategy. A.J. Preller has now stripped the farm, and Kimbrel does nothing for their putrid infield or their porous outfield defense, but none of that will matter if Kimbrel leads the Padres to a crown. And with baseball's most electrifying closer mowing down batters in baseball's offensive cemetery, well, it could resurrect the undead Padres.

04 April 2015

It's About Alexander Hamilton, Not Josh Hamilton

Since the Anaheim Angels signed Josh Hamilton to an ill-advised five-year, $125 million contract before the 2013 season there have been several important developments:

1. He has hit for a lower TAv than Juan Francisco.
2. He flamed out in the '13 playoffs.
2. He's spent more than 80 games on the shelf due to injuries.
3. He has abused drugs again.
4. He has turned 33.
4. His payments -- $480,762.23 a week -- have continued unabated.

None of this is a shock. Hamilton has had a litany of prior issues with drugs and injuries, enough to warrant pause before committing to him. Moving away from the high-offense environment in Texas and aging into his 30s nearly guaranteed a decline in production. Despite that, the Angels dangled guaranteed money to Hamilton as if he was an MVP without warts, with a predictably bad outcome.

Most of us reacted with sympathy when Hamilton turned himself in to MLB authorities this off-season to report his cocaine relapse. He is battling demons that control his brain and we all wish him godspeed in that lifelong fight. Even if he never plays another game of pro ball, addiction will be the dominant issue of his time on Earth.

Viewed through the prism of his albatross contract, it's easy to understand why Angels brass are symapthy-challenged. The guy they thought would team with Albert Pujols, another disappointing mega-signee, to lead Anaheim to a World Championship has led instead to headaches for team management.

That would explain the graceless response from GM Jerry Dipoto when an arbitrator ruled that Hamilton technically did not violate the collective bargaining agreement and therefore can't be fined our suspended by Commissioner Rob Manfred.

You might wonder why Dipoto and the team want Hamilton benched when play begins. He hasn't delivered to his contract, but he's still an above-average hitter, right? 

Well, no, not when he's on the trainer's table. 

Hamilton is rehabbing from February shoulder surgery and won't be available for another six or eight weeks at the earliest. In other words, the ruling is all about money. It's about Alexander Hamiltons, not Josh Hamilton.

The Angels were hoping that Hamilton (Josh, not Alex) would be suspended 30-50 games, roughly coinciding with the length of his recovery. That would save the team between $3 and $4 million, a thin salve to the wound that Hamilton's contract represents. Instead, he'll continue to accrue retirement service time without contributing a thing.

02 April 2015

The Silly Time

It's that time of the baseball schedule when every team is undefeated and shiny like a minted dime.  When every day is March perfection in Florida or Arizona, as opposed to  early April dreck in Chicago or Cleveland or Boston or, God Almighty, Toronto.

Every region's representative is a contender, even Phoenix's and Philadelphia's. No one's manager requires a vote of confidence.

So when Madison Bumgarner appeared on an ESPN radio show today (where the hosts pronounced that every baseball analyst in their stable considers him the best pitcher in baseball; let's hope that it is two hosts, not 20 baseball experts, who are morons) he declared that he felt great about his team and liked the moves they had made this off-season.

We could, charitably, assume that MadBum was referring only to the moves the team made, rather than the moves that former players made away from the team. Michael Morse took his power bat to Baltimore. Pablo Sandoval waddled off to Boston. That's 32 homers and 4.3 WAR to replace.

What were the Giants' giant moves? They brought fourth outfielder Nori Aoki aboard and traded a farmhand for cornerman Casey McGehee. That recoups five homers and two WAR, less if both fill reserve roles as expected.

In the meantime, star outfielder Hunter Pence broke his arm. Jake Peavy's arm is "dead." And the competition got meaner. The Padres rebuilt a contender. The Dodgers purchased excess firepower.

Heavy weighs the crown in San Francisco, as it did in 2011 and 2013. And Madison Bumgarner knows that as well as anyone. (Even better than two ESPN hosts.)

28 March 2015

An Open Letter To David Ortiz

Dear Papi,

You're the most popular player on a team that's won three World Series in the last decade.

You're beloved by a fan base that covers an entire region of the country.

An entire fan base is greasing the machinery for your Hall of Fame case, a fan base so starved for success before you won it all that one of its most well-known and devout followers offered half his gonads for a title.

You're so unconditionally revered that detonating a gerund form of the F-Bomb during a solemn ceremony before a national audience including women, children and Southern Baptists earned you further adulation.

And yet, you need to take a chill pill. You seem angry, and you seem to be spraying your anger wantonly, willy-nilly, at no one and everyone simultaneously.

You're upset that some baseball fans suspect you might have used steroids to enhance your play. You're ticked that enduring success has spoiled the underdog sheen, that some outside of Red Sox Nation who may have cheered Boston's 2004 and 2007 titles have moved on to the less entitled. You're annoyed that the baseball media is becoming immune to your charms.

Papi, lighten up. The steroid talk is as irrelevant as it is inevitable, given your apparent failed test in '03, your body type and your mid-career breakout. You need to stop reading Twitter, a forum for any half-wit to spew his uncorroborated venom. Twitter is a death trap for your social-emotional IQ.

More to the point, you need to lay off the venom yourself. You doth protest too much, too vigorously, too profanely and indiscriminately. You're the guy who broke the curse; stop bringing up new ones. Sure, you have enemies; so did Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Babe Ruth -- and you're not half of any one of them. Focus on your admirers, who are legion, even if they're unconvinced by the argument that you've passed 80 drug tests. That was the diamond frame of Lance Armstrong's ride and he turned out to be Beelzebub in Spandex.

As for the Hall of Fame, no one likes a campaigner, especially one still under contract to actually, you know, play. Okay, so you don't really play, unless you're visiting a National League park. But you are under contract to hit home runs, which is the best Hall of Fame argument you can make.

The thing is, you're an extremely fringey HOF candidate. You couldn't win a starting job during your first five seasons and didn't become a star until age 27. Your defensive inability has cost your teams 19 wins, which has to be considered when your case is made. That's even before we consider the whole steroid question, whatever it's worth.

So rather than argue ungracefully for a bust, strengthen your case on the field. You've got some bonafides -- the 12 years of mashing, the .304 lifetime TAv, the leadership, the undeniably clutch play. Let that, and your minions, carry your Hall of Fame water. You're a New England legend with $143 million American in career earnings. That's a long way from the squalor and ignominy of Santo Domingo's streets.

So be happy, Papi. That's the best revenge anyway.

25 March 2015

The Bryant Kerfuffle: A Shakespearean Tale

In the absence of baseball news, there brews a tempest in a teapot about Cubs prospect Kris Bryant. Bryant is the Cubs' third baseman of the future, a future that by all accounts should start on Opening Day.

Instead, Bryant will toil in Triple-A for two weeks so that his service time clock isn't wound and ticking. That will allow Chicago brass to dictate his wages for one extra year and delay his eventual free agency likewise. 

Prompting Twitter to go all a-twitter. This is emblematic:

Yeah, sure you will. Until they make the playoffs, and then you'll forget that Kris Bryant only made 146 starts instead of 153 back in '15.

The Cubs are simply exploiting a quirk in service time rules that makes this kind of gerrymandering not just possible but wise. Not just wise but unimpeachable. Not just unimpeachable but obvious. Losing 10 games of a rookie's contributions will save the team millions of dollars over time if he lives up to expectations. 

Many have brayed a similar donkey call about the MLBPA. Who do they think negotiated the rules that made this move necessary? It's called collective bargaining because the two sides do it together.

This dust-up is magnified by Bryant's cartoonish Spring Training. He has popped more in-game dingers than the Florida Marlins and has authored a 25-at-bat line of .480/.552/1.520, including one gargantuan long ball against King Felix Hernandez. 

But none of that alters the reality with which the Cubs have to deal, and that is that 12 days of banishment keeps their phenom on the team through 2021.

Perhaps the best final word comes from the Astros' George Springer, who was last Spring's Kris Bryant, until the season began and he commenced to fan like a deck of cards.