Archive for October 2009

Let’s Go, Geezers

October 31, 2009

The San Francisco Geezers — I mean Giants — just re-signed 2Bman Freddie Sanchez for two years at a reported total of $12 million.  Well, the price isn’t bad, but it sure looks like Sanchez is already well into the decline phase of his career.

Freddie had his career year (I’ll give 10-to-1 odds on it) in 2006 at age 28, when he hit .344 and had a .851 OPS.  His OPS numbers the last three years have been .785, .669 and .742.  His games-played since 2006 have been 157, 147, 145 and 111.  He’s 32 in 2010.

The long and the short of it is that the odds of Freddie’s having two consecutive seasons in 2010 and 2011 in which he is a better than average (or even an average) NL starting 2Bman are extremely slim.  In fact, the odds are probably between 25% and 40% that the Giants will have the worst double-play combination (SS and 2B), dollar-for-dollar, of any team in the NL in 2010.  In a 16 team league, that’s not good.

One thing’s for certain.  The Sanchez signing does nothing to improve the Giants’ two biggest weaknesses on offense: the inability to get on base and the inability to hit for power.  In his five seasons as a major league regular, Sanchez has averaged fewer than 27 walks and 8 HRs in 533 ABs per season.  Yeesh!

Since the Giants are now set with Sanchez at 2B in 2010 and 2011, I fully expect Brian Sabean to make a run at being the General Manager who gets the honor of overpaying Jason Bay on a five-year contract.  At least Bay would provide some punch for the Gints in 2010 and 2011.

Blanton to Start Game 4

October 31, 2009

I just read a piece on that the Phillies intend to start Joe Blanton in Game 4 of the Series, rather than Cliff Lee on short rest.  (BTW Cliff Lee’s full name is Clifton Phifer Lee, and he’s from Benton, Arkansas — I couldn’t make that up if I tried.  Also BTW, I have a friend who was born in Benton, Arkansas roughly 9.5 years before Cliff Lee.  Like Lee, he’s long and lean; unlike Lee, he’s a gay man who now operates a restaurant in Panama City, Panama — it takes all kinds).

For a guy who looks as old and old-timey as Charlie Manuel, he’s not caught up in an old way of thinking.  Someone did a study a few years back showing that four-man rotations in the post-season work a whole lot better than three-man rotations.  The temptation of the three-man rotation is obvious — if you have a three-man rotation, you can get a C.C. Sabathia three starts in a seven-game series.  This worked great back before WWII, when three- and then four-man rotations were the norm.  In modern times, however, going from a five-man rotation to a three-man rotation has, at least according to the statistical analysis, not worked well at all.

In fact, it would be damn foolish for the Phils to go to a three-man rotation.  Even before they signed Pedro Martinez and traded for Cliff Lee, the Phillies had a good (albeit, not great) team.  They had some pitchers before the trade deadline, so many, in fact, that strong Rookie-of-the-Year candidate J.A. Happ has been pitching almost exclusively out of the bullpen this post-season.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have been using a three-man rotation (Sabathia, Burnett and Petitte) throughout the post-season so far.  What do you want to bet that if it comes to a Game Seven, C.C. “290 lbs, Never Met a Cheeseburger He Didn’t Like” Sabathia will be running on fumes?  (You never now, though; even on fumes, Sabathia might be able keep the Yankees in the game, particularly if the big Bomber bats are bashing.)  At the end of the day, I still like a four-man rotation in the post-season.

World Series Baseball

October 30, 2009

As I’ve now written a couple of times, I was not particularly excited about the final four teams in this year’s post-season.  However, now that the World Series is here, it’s hard not to get caught up in it.  The Yankees and Phillies, despite my reservations, are two excellent teams well suited to provide baseball fandom with a gripping series.

I watched the last three innings of last night’s Game 2 when I got from work, and they were certainly exciting.  Disappointing to see the umps blow a couple more calls in the late innings, but at least the mistakes went against both teams, so they perhaps evened out.

Baseball will have to give serious consideration to more replay next season after all the blown calls this post-season.  I’ve written about this topic before, so I won’t say anything more than that there are all kinds of ways to structure replay so that it doesn’t slow down the games meaningfully.


Go Phillies!

October 29, 2009

I got home from work late today and caught the last two innings of tonight’s Game One.  It was certainly gratifying to watch Cliff Lee stultify the Yankees’ hitters and watch the Phils tack on four insurance runs in the 8th and 9th innings.

As I’ve said before, I wasn’t too excited about this year’s final four, but now that it’s down to the Yankees and Phillies, the choice for me is obvious.  Go Phillies!

My only real knock on the Phillies is that, as winners of only 93 games in the regular season, they are not the kind of powerhouse I’d like to see going for a second consecutive world championship.  Adding Cliff Lee at the trade deadline, not to mention Pedro Martinez, makes the team a lot better than their regular season record showed.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, this is the first World Series match-up between the Yanks and Phils since 1950, when the former at the height of their mid-20th Century dominance crushed the Whiz Kids in four games.  If the Phillies could return the favor this year, I’d be pleased as punch, as Hubert Humphrey liked to say.

The thing about the Yankees is that they’re always a team built to win now.  They load up with free agents every off-season, most of whom are starting the decline phases of their careers.  If they fail to win it all, it’s always something of a Phyrric victory for the fans of every other team in baseball.

Next year, the Yankees’ veterans will all be a year older, and there aren’t any C.C. Sabathias or Mark Teixeiras on the free agent market this year.  That means, if they don’t win this year, it’s going to be harder for them to do it in 2010.  Here’s hoping the rest of the Phillies’ now-strong starting rotation can channel Cliff Lee and put the Yankees out of their misery quickly.

Johjima Signs with Hanshin Tigers

October 27, 2009

Former Mariner catcher Kenji Johjima signed with the Hanshin Tigers to a four year deal that will pay him a total of somewhere between $20 million and $30 million, depending on which source you believe and what the average exchange rate will be over the four year period.

Based on what other salaries are in NPB (the Japanese major leagues), I tend to think the two billion yen figure, which at current exchange rates would be $21.8 million, is probably the correct one.

Unfortunately for Hanshin Tiger fans, the team is probably making a mistake.  Johjima will be 34 in 2010, and given how hard catching is on the body, I will be surprised if he has more than two good seasons left out of the next four.  While Tad Iguchi had a strong year back in Japan in 2009, also at age 34, he’s not a catcher.

The best thing to be said about this signing is that Johjima is a big star in Japan, which can’t hurt at the gate.  Also, Johjima can help the Tigers if the rest of their roster is strong.

The Tigers have made it a habit to overpay for washed-up American players, like Lew Ford and Kevin Mench, the last couple of years.  After dumping Mench following a horrible start this season, the Tigers signed Craig Brazell, who by and large played well for the Tigers in 82 games.  The Johjima signing, however, suggests that the Tigers haven’t really learned their lesson.

Is John McDonald the Worst Hitting Position Player in the American League?

October 20, 2009

Probably.  The reason I decided to look at this not-so-pressing issue is that a few days ago I posted a piece in which I stated that I thought the Blue Jays made a mistake giving McDonald, a good-field-no-hit back-up shortstop, a two-year $3.8 million contract before the 2008 season.  In response, I received a comment that because I had admitted that I was not familiar with McDonald (and I’ll admit that I’ve never seen him play and could not recall whether I had ever even heard of him when I wrote the piece), I could not possibly have a valid opinion regarding his relative abilities.

Of course, this contention is simply untrue.  One of the beauties of baseball is that even if you’ve never seen a player play, you can still evaluate him if you understand what his various statistics mean.  This is particularly true of offensive statistics.

John McDonald has a career .593 OPS in over 1,700 major league at-bats.  I thought that this would be enough to establish that he is a piss-poor hitter.

OPS is almost certainly the  one readily-understandable offensive statistic that most closely correlates with a hitter’s ability to generate runs for his team.  For example, Albert Pujols is recognized by almost everyone as being one of the top three, if not the very best, hitters in baseball.  Albert has a career 1.055 OPS, and his lowest single season OPS was .955 in 2002 (his sophmore-slump year).  ARod has a career .966 OPS and has never had an OPS lower than .846 in any full season he’s played (1997, also his sophmore-slump year).

Meanwhile, I think almost everyone would recognize Cesar Izturis as a light-hitting shortstop who has had a longish major league career only because he plays a key defensive position.  Cesar has a .624 career OPS with a single season high of .711 for the 2004 Dodgers.

McDonald’s .593 career OPS is only a little lower than Cesar Izturis’s career .624 career OPS, so just how bad is McDonald really?  Let’s look more closely at his numbers.

As I’ve said previously, McDonald is such a bad hitter that his team hopes to bat him as little as possible.  Playing in eleven different major league seasons, McDonald has never had more than 341 plate appearances in a season and has had only five seasons in which he managed even 200 plate appearances.

How did McDonald compare to other American League players who had a similar mininum of plate appearances in those five seasons, you ask?

In 2002, McDonald posted a .614 OPS in 281 plate appearances, good for 13th worst in the AL among the 139 players who had at least 275 plate appearances.  That put him in the ninth percentile (from the bottom) of all American League hitters.  By and large, that was a good season for John.

In 2003, McDonald posted a .538 OPS in 229 plate appearances, good for third worst in the AL for the 151 players with at least 225 plate appearances, behind only Jermaine Dye, who with a .514 OPS had a lost season, and Omar Infante at .538, an overmatched 21 year old middle infielder playing for the Tigers, who went 43-119 in ’03, the worst team since the 1962 Mets.  (Infante has improved as a hitter as he’s gotten older and now has a .701 career OPS in just over 2,100 career major league at-bats.

In 2006, McDonald posted a .579 OPS in 280 plate appearances, dead last among the 138 American League hitters who had at least 275 plate appearances that year.

In 2007, McDonald posted a .612 OPS in 341 plate appearances, again good for third worst in the AL among the 128 players with at least 325 plate appearances, behind only Nick Punto (.562) and Josh Barfield (.594).

Finally, in 2008, McDonald posted a .524 OPS in 200 plate appearances, good for second worst out of the 169 American League players who had at least 200 plate appearances that year.  McDonald was behind only Royals shortstop Tony Pena, who had an astoundingly bad .398 OPS in ’08.

It’s worth noting that of the 17 players with worse OPS numbers than McDonald during these five seasons in which McDonald played semi-regularly, none was worse than McDonald more than once.  The reasons are obvious.

The players who have seasons this bad are almost all (1) decent offensive players having an aberrantly (and usually injury-plagued) bad year, (like Jermaine Dye in 2003 — Dye has a career .826 OPS; (2) players of such marginal talents that they aren’t going to get more than one opportunity to have a season this bad (like Tony Pena last year, or Chris Truby, Ken Huckaby, Brent Abernathy and Chris Magruder in 2002); (3) young players in over their heads (Omar Infante in 2003 and Brandon Inge, also with the Tigers, in 2002); (4) aged veterans with nothing left in the tank (Chuck Knoblauch and Greg Vaughn in 2002; or (5) players who had at least one really good season, thus convincing some team that they’re worth playing regularly (Nick Punto, a solid, defensive middle infielder who had a .725 OPS in 2006 and a .726 OPS in 2008 with relatively high on-base percentages; and Josh Barfield, who had a .741 OPS as a 23-year old rookie 2Bman in 2006.

Actually, it’s a testiment to just how good John McDonald’s defense must be that he has managed to have an 11-year major league career in spite of his hitting numbers.  How else could a player who has finished as one of the league’s three worst hitters in four out of the five seasons in which he’s managed even 200 plate appearances hang on this long?

Actually, McDonald is a good pinch runner, he’s great to have in the clubhouse, and the Blue Jays fans apparently love him more than anyone other than Doc Halladay.  Still, as the worst hitter in the entire American League, you just can’t convince me that paying him more than $1 million a year is a good idea.

(P.S. Royals’ shortstops also have had a particularly strong claim to the title of “Worst Hitter in the American League” over the last ten years.  Aside from Tony Pena’s 2007 and 2008, there’s Angel Berroa in 2006 and Neifi Perez in 2002).  With the recent acquisition of Yunieski Betancourt from the Mariners, I expect Royal shortstops’ claim to the title to remain strong for the next couple of seasons.)

Johjima Opts to Go Home Foregoing the Big Money

October 19, 2009 reported today that Kenji Johjima has decided to opt out of the last two years of his contract with the Mariners in order to return to Japan while he can still play at a high level.  In doing so, he is walking away from more than $16 million his contract with the Mariners would have paid him in 2010 and 2011.

Since no one in Japan currently makes more than about $6 million per year, the decision will definitely cost Johjima money.  Aside from going home, the biggest up-side in returning to Japan is that Johjima will be able to play every day (barring injuries).  With the M’s, he lost playing time to rookie Rob Johnson, a 25 year old rookie in 2009.  That trend was likely to continue, given their relative ages (Johjima will turn 34 next June).

There’s something refreshing about seeing a player walk away from big money to play somewhere he’ll be happier.  If he stays healthy, I expect that Johjima will have a big year in Japan in 2010, just as Tad Iguchi did this year for the Chiba Lotte Marines after four years in the U.S.   Johjima has, of course, already been a star player in Japan, and playing in the higher quality MLB can only have made him a better player overall.