Archive for June 2010

When Did Jamey Carroll Become Such a Good Player?

June 30, 2010

I was looking at the box score of the Giants-Dodgers game today, and aside from the fact that the Dodgers are thumping the Gints, I noticed that Jamey Carroll was having a big day (2-for-2 with a couple of walks and three runs scored), and it got me thinking how much my thinking about Carroll has changed since he first came up in 2002.

Carroll didn’t establish himself as a legitimate major league player until he was 29 years.  He started his career with the Expos,  during their death spiral, and, to the extent that I paid attention to what the Expos and Carroll were doing, I didn’t think he’d stick around for more than a couple of seasons as a back-up infielder.

Very quietly, however, he’s had a terrific career for a player who reached the major leagues so late.  Carroll isn’t a true star, but he is an extremely valuable platoon and bench player.  He plays 2B (well according to fangraphs), 3B (average defense),  SS (slightly below average defense) and on occasion the corner outfield positions.  Meanwhile, he has a career .354 on-base percentage, which is just tremendous for a middle infielder who can give you the flexibility Carroll can.

Carroll has no power (his career slugging percentage is lower than his OBP), but he runs pretty well, so he makes a great table setter.  In fact, he has well more than twice as many runs scored in his career as runs batted in.

Carroll has mostly played for bad, low-profile teams like the Expos, Nationals and Indians, although he played two seasons in Denver and had his best season there in 2006.  He looked like his career might be over after poor seasons at age 31 and 33, but he’s now had three strong seasons in a row as a guy who gets about 350 to 400 plate appearances a season plugging holes as more respected players get injured or don’t perform.

Carroll is making a shade over $1.5 million with the Dodgers this year, and with a .397 OBP so far, he’s been a bargain.

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MLB Teams Should Be Able to Trade Draft Picks

June 30, 2010

Here’s an article from mlbtraderumors.com which states that the MLB Players’ Association is not opposed to the idea of allowing teams to trade draft picks.  Neither am I.

The article suggests that teams are concerned that allowing trading of draft picks might give amateur players leverage because they could demand trades to the teams they want to sign with.  That’s certainly a possibility, but I think it’s far out-weighed by the advantage to teams of having another option on how they go about building themselves up for the future.

Draft picks as a group have a definite value, and the people at fangraphs.com and elsewhere have put a value on what players in each draft slot are worth on average.  Their estimates may be more or less accurate, but they are based on facts (i.e., who got drafted in each draft slot in the past and the total value of those players as major leaguers divided by all players in the group), so these values are certainly reasonable estimates of value.

However, baseball draft picks are certainly less likely to develop into major leaguers than NBA or NFL draft picks, but that’s not a valid reason to prevent MLB teams from trading their draft picks.  Some teams value draft picks more highly than others, and teams can already lose late first round or early second round draft picks by signing Type-A free agents.

Teams like the Pirates or the Royals might well benefit by being able to trade their high first round picks for players who are already established major league players or prospects playing in the high minors.  The poorer, second-tier teams already make decisions not to draft the best players available at their draft slot, because they have concerns about their ability to sign those perceived as the top draft picks.

Allowing teams to trade their draft picks if they so choose to do so gives every team more options in trying to build up their clubs in the future.  I don’t see how that can be a bad thing.

Cubs to Put Carlos Zambrano on Restricted List and Other Notes

June 29, 2010

I saw a report on mlbtraderumors.com today that the Cubs have decided to place Carlos Zambrano on the Restricted List the way they did with Milton Bradley late last season.  Zambrano will reportedly not be back in a Cubs’ uniform until at least the All-Star Break, because the Cubs want Zambrano to get anger-management counseling.

I can’t help but notice that within a day or two of Zambrano blowing up in the dug-out because he apparently felt 1Bman Derrek Lee hadn’t made enough effort on a ground ball by Juan Pierre that went for a double, the Rays’ Evan Longoria got in B. J. Upton’s face in the dug-out about Upton’s perceived lack of hustle in center field and was praised by Buster Olney as providing much-needed leadership.

Context is everything, I guess.  Zambrano has a well-earned reputation for being a hot-head, Upton has a reputation for not always hustling, and both Longoria and Lee have generally good reputations.  Still, you have what amounts to basically the same conduct and the same circumstances (Player on under-performing team starts argument over perceived lack of hustle by a teammate), but Longoria comes out a hero while Zambrano is placed on the Restricted List.

Something doesn’t seem quite right about the two diametrically opposed outcomes.

I also saw a report that next year’s arbitration eligible super-two players (i.e. 17% of players with less than three but more than two years who have the most service time are arbitration eligible under MLB’s collective bargaining agreement, are expected to have the lowest cut-off for service time that will make them arbitration eligible.

To be eligible for arbitration last off-season, super-twos needed at least 2 years and 139 days of major league service time, and the cut-off has never been below two years and 130 days.  However, it looks like only 2 years and 123 to 125 days will be needed for the coming off-season.

No surprise there.  Teams are keeping young players in the minors longer to limit their service time for purposes of arbitration and free agent eligibility.  Since the formula is a strict percentage (17 %) of all players between two and three years of service time, less service time for more players means a lower super-two cut-off.  I don’t see this trend abating any time soon, as teams work harder and harder to prevent potential young stars from obtaining super-two status.

The Giants are reported to have significant interest in Royals David DeJesus and Jose Guillen.  I can’t say I’m particularly excited by the idea of the Giants obtaining either player.

Jose Guillen has 13 HRs and 47 RBIs so far this year, but he’s always been way overrated as an offensive player.  Specifically, in only two of his eleven seasons with at least 300 plate appearances has he had an OPS above .825, and those two seasons were more than five years ago (2003 & 2004) when he was age 27 and 28, exactly the age at which you would expect a player of his type to peak and then decline.

Guillen does not look like any kind of an improvement over what the Giants already have in Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell.  There’s a possibility that in jumping leagues Guillen could get hot like Randy Winn did in 2005.  However, I think the odds are far better that Guillen could go cold, like Ryan Garko last year or Shea Hillenbrand in 2006.

In fact, Guillen reminds me an awful lot of Hillenbrand.  They’re the same age (both 34 this year), and while Guillen has had a much longer major league career (Hillenbrand appears to be out of professional baseball already), Guillen’s career .764 OPS looks an awful lot like Hillenbrand’s career .761.

The only thing that might make Guillen attractive to a team with more money than sense is that the Royals are reportedly willing to eat a good portion of Guillen remaining contract and except mediocre prospects in return.

David Dejesus is having a fine season (.332 batting average and .880 OPS at present), and while he doesn’t have the power the Giants are looking for, they would certainly benefit from his ability to get on base and not hit into a lot of double-plays.  However, the Royals are looking for a top-flight prospect package in return.

If the Giants are going to give up a top-flight prospect package, I’d sure prefer it if they received someone like Prince Fielder, a genuine top-flight offensive player, in return.

In a final note of all’s well that ends well, Casey Fien, a 26 year old right-handed relief pitcher, was just called up to the Tigers after posting a 2.27 ERA in 26 games and 39.1 IP at AAA Toledo.

Fien got burned by the waiver rules last Spring.  After two strong seasons in the high minors in 2008 and 2009, he just good enough to get claimed when the Tigers tried to slip him through waivers, but not good enough to stick with the teams claiming him.

The Red Sox initially claimed him and then put him back on waivers, when they needed a space on their 40-man roster for another player.  Then the Blue Jays did essentially the same thing.

Fien ended up signing a minor league deal with the Tigers, just as the Tigers had hoped to accomplish when they first put Fien on waivers.  All the bouncing around between fickle organizations interfered with Fien’s ability to pitch in Spring Training and possibly make a major league club opening the season.

He’s now earned another opportunity, and I hope he makes the best of it.  At 26, Fien’s chances of a successful major league career aren’t great, but he looks like a major league pitcher right now, and he’s going to get his shot, since the Tigers are going to have to use everyone in their bullpen going forward as they battle the Twins in the AL Central.

The Latest Blow-Up in Chi-Town

June 26, 2010

Maybe it wasn’t Milton Bradley (although I definitely think it was) after all.  Now the Cubs have sent another renowned hot-head home for the day, suspending Carlos Zambrano indefinitely after he blew up in the dug-out at Derrek Lee, who failed to make a play on Juan Pierre’s ground ball down the line that went for a double.  Zambrano went on to allow four runs in the first inning, and he wasn’t happy about it at all.

In defense of Zambrano, Lee might have had a chance at knocking down the ball if he drove for it.  In defense of Lee, he was playing in to guard against the bunt by Pierre and may well have had no chance at the ball even if he had laid his body out.  Looking at the replay, it didn’t look like the best effort by Lee, but he may have simply mis-timed the last bounce.  He’s got three gold gloves to his name, so he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Zambrano has always been a hot-head, and I think this episode will blow over like the others have in the past, so long as Zambrano apologizes to Lee and the team for losing it.  It’s been a tough year for Zambrano, who was demoted to the bullpen after only four starts.

It may have been the best move for the Cubs at the time, but Zambrano had every reason to be unhappy about it, given all the good seasons he’d had coming into 2010.  For instance, compare the Cubs’ decision to that of the Giants, who have stuck with Barry Zito in the rotation through thick and thin.

Zambrano was put back in the starting rotation in early June, but he’s been inconsistent in the four starts he’s had since then, which I’m sure Zambrano would attribute to being out of the rotation for five weeks, whether or not that’s the real cause at all.

It’s possible the Cubs could be looking for a way to get out from under the nearly $36 million they owe Zambrano in 2011 and 2012, but so long as Zambrano is willing to apologize once he cools down, I don’t see any way the Cubs could dump him and not be liable for the rest of his contract.

Players on under-performing teams blow up at each other all the time.  A player might deserve a short suspension if he’s particularly out of bounds, but the television footage I saw didn’t even show any punches being thrown.  Zambrano might deserve a five game suspension, but any more than that would probably result in a successful grievance by the players’ association.

It’s perhaps more likely that the Cubs simply want to nip any blow-ups in the bud.  After last year’s Milton Bradley fiasco and Zambrano’s past history, GM Jim Hendry may simply be trying to send a message that the organization won’t put up with any more baloney.

While the Cubs look pretty awful right now at 32-41, they are still only 8.5 games back of the Cardinals with 91 games left to play.  The Cubbies have their work cut out for them, but there’s still a chance that if the team can come together and start playing good baseball, they can get back into the NL Central Race.

Three Home Runs in One Game — Fun Facts

June 25, 2010

In keeping with today’s theme inspired by Dustin Pedroia’s three home run game against the Rockies, here is a list of every player to have hit three or more home runs in a major league game.

You will note that three home run games have been particularly common in the last 20 years, when the PED-fueled offensive barrage reached its peak.

The original “Big Cat” Johnny Mize and Sammy Sosa are the all-time leaders with six different three home run games each. Joe Carter, Dave Kingman, Mark McGwire and Carlos Delgado each hit three or more in five different games.

Babe Ruth is still the only player to have two three home run games in the post-season, let alone the World Series.

Pending Carlos Delgado’s return (he will reportedly be ready to return from his second hip surgery in June if anyone is interested — I hope so — he’s only 27 HRs short of 500, and he hit 38 HRs as recently as 2008), Albert Pujols is the active leader with four three-home run games.

In the Dead Ball Era between 1900 and 1920, not one player hit three home runs in a major league game.

Interestingly, Babe Ruth did not have a three home run game in any of the four years (1919, 1920, 1921 and 1927) in which he set the single season HR record.  Nor did Roger Maris (or for that matter Mickey Mantle) in 1961.

Mark McGwire did it twice and Sammy Sosa once in 1998, the year they decimated the old HR record.  Barry Bonds did it twice in 2001, and Sosa three more times that same year.  The feat was accomplished a ridiculous 22 times in 2001, the year with the most three home run games.

George Bell (1988), Tuffy Rhodes (1994) and Dmitri Young (2005) had their big days on Opening Day.

Now’s a good time for a trivia question: who are the only two major league players to hit five home runs in a double-header?  This is a record that will probably never be matched again, since MLB teams no longer schedule double-headers.

In a final note, Christian Guerrero, a 30 year old outfielder with the Gary-Southshore Railcats of the Independent A Northern League and a cousin of major leaguers Wilton and Vladimir Guerrero, hit home runs in five consecutive at-bats in a June 9, 2010 double header against the Rockford RiverHawks.  According to the Northern League’s press release announcing Guerrero Player of the Week for the week ending June 13th, this is only the second time in professional baseball that a player has ever hit home runs in five consecutive at-bats, the first time being by Corey Parker on the Bangor Blue Ox of the now-defunct Northeast League.

I kind of suspect that someone else did it in the minors at some time between 1920 and 1970, but I don’t have the information at hand to prove it.

Answer to the trivia question: Stan “The Man” Musial for the Cardinals against the New York Giants on May 2, 1954; and Nate Colbert for the Padres against the Atlanta Braves on August 1, 1972.  Colbert was from St. Louis and claims to have personally attended the game in which Musial first accomplished the feat.   Whether or not he actually did, it’s a great story.

Where Are the African American Players?

June 25, 2010

Here’s an AP article today which points out that of the 269 players on the eight teams playing in the College World Series this year, only eight are African American.  While I am not surprised that fewer African Americans are playing the sport than thirty years ago, the specific numbers above are shocking.

It’s no secret that young black athletes have lost interest in baseball in favor of basketball and football.  In the Spring of 1996, I had a roommate who was teaching and coaching baseball at Galileo High School in San Francisco.  That’s the high school that Joe DiMaggio once attended (when he wasn’t cutting school to play baseball — he dropped out long before he graduated) and that a lot of African American teenagers living in the Western Addition or Fillmore attend today.  I remember my old roommate telling me that no black kids at all tried out for the baseball team he was coaching.

Playing little league (police athletic league) in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, I remember playing with and against black players.  However, the teams were usually assembled on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis, which meant that teams from the western half of San Francisco had few, if any, black players, while teams from the south east corner were almost entirely black.  If that was typical of other American cities, and it probably was, then I can see why the lack of integration may well have made baseball seem less and less appealing to black kids over time.

I also agree with the idea that baseball requires greater resources to play in an organized way than basketball or football.  Kids can organize one-on-one to five-on-five basketball games in any school yard that’s played with the same equipment and by basically the same rules as professional basketball.  In football, a lot of the kids who eventually make the NFL probably don’t start playing in an organized way until they start playing for their middle or high school team.

With baseball, on the other hand, it’s much harder to make a middle or high school team if you have never played in an organized little league program beforehand, and it’s extremely difficult for kids on their own to organize true nine-on-nine baseball games.

While churches and other local community organizations organized teams and leagues for young black players fifty or sixty years ago, such leagues have probably been declining steeply, particularly in the poorest black neighborhoods, for at least the last forty years.

At the same time, a disproportionate amount of black youth culture, from fashion to music, comes out of the ghettos.  As opportunities to play baseball have decreased in America’s inner cities, interest in baseball has declined throughout Black America.

That’s one theory, anyway.  Another is the perception that as black players have declined in professional baseball, black players are being held to a different standard than white players in terms of conduct.  I can’t help but think of the way that Barry Bonds became the public face of baseball’s steroid scandal, when an awful lot of players, black, white and latin were using PEDs.

As a sport dominated by whites, in a way that pro football and basketball no longer are, black baseball players have to adjust themselves to a “white” way of doing things that pro football and basketball players do not.  In fact, I’ve read that the success of black and latin players playing in Japan may have something to do with their ability to adjust themselves more readily to a different culture and style of play, since they have already had to do that playing professional baseball in the U.S.  Whether it’s true or not, I don’t really know, but it’s an interesting theory.

MLB has been pumping money into poor black neighborhoods for the last ten or twenty years trying to revive interest in baseball in the black community, under the basic and obvious premise that it can’t be good for professional baseball in the long run to be seen as a sport that appeals solely to white or latino Americans.  It may be too late, however.

Even the inner cities had baseball fields sixty years ago, when baseball was truly the National Pastime.  A lot of those fields have been lost to development or hopelessly neglected for decades. In an era when inner city property in most cities is increasingly valuable and the interest from local communities simply isn’t there any longer, it’s hard to see the will to build enough new fields and get enough black kids playing on them to renew an interest in baseball in the black community.

It’s a real shame, when you think that baseball was once so popular in the black community that negro league teams survived for decades and also the role that baseball’s integration starting with Jackie Robinson in 1947 played in the larger Civil Rights Movement culminating in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

The only thing that is constant is change, and I suspect that if baseball is ever to become popular again in the black community, it will be for reasons that originate in and emanate from the black community itself.

Least Likely Player Ever to Hit Four Home Runs in One Game

June 25, 2010

I noticed that Red Sox 2Bman Dustin Pedroia hit three home runs yesterday in the rarified air of Coors Field in Denver.  While Pedroia isn’t yet 26 years old, he isn’t known as a power hitter, and it got me thinking about what player was the least likely candidate ever to hit four homeruns in one major league game.

Here’s a list from wikipedia of the players to have hit four home runs in one game. The article has interesting tidbits about each of the games, although it fails to note that all four of Ed Delahanty’s home runs on July 13, 1896 were inside-the-park home runs.  In fact, in the 19th Century a majority of home runs were of the inside-the-park variety, because many of the ballparks of the day had extremely deep center fields or power allies, and it was much more difficult to hit the baseballs of the era 350 feet on the fly.

When over-the-fence homeruns were hit, they were usually a result of exceptionally short left-field or right-field fences.  That was reportedly the case for Bobby Lowe, who hit four home runs on May 30, 1894, but hit only 71 HRs in total over an eighteen year major league career.

According to the wikipedia article, all four HRs were hit over the exceptionally short left field fence at Congress Street Grounds, the Beaneaters’ park in Boston.  After the fourth home run, the fans in attendance showered the field with $160 worth of silver coins (dimes, quarters and dollars all being made of silver in those days).

Many baseball fans with a love of trivia know that Ned Williamson held the record with 27 home runs in a season, before Babe Ruth broke it with 29 for the Red Sox in 1919.  What they may not know is that Williamson’s power year was entirely the result of the ballpark he played in and the ground rules in effect for that season only.

Williamson was one of four Chicago White Stockings (now Cubs) to hit at least 21 home runs in 1884 along with 2B Fred Pfeffer (25), OF Abner Dalrymple (22) and 1B Cap Anson (21).  The 1884 White Stockings finished the season 62-50, only good enough for a fourth place tie in the eight-team National League.

The right field fence at Chicago’s Lake Front Park was only about 190 feet down the line, and in the years before 1884, balls hit over the short right field fence were treated as ground rule doubles.  As a result, the White Stockings routinely led the NL in doubles.

In Lake Front Park’s last year of operation, the White Stockings changed the ground rules and made balls hit over the fence home runs.  Naturally enough, the White Stockings led the league with 142 HRs in 1884, with Buffalo coming in second at 39.  However, home runs were up throughout the NL that year, since it was just as easy for visiting players to take advantage of the short right field fence as it was for the White Stockings for games played in Chicago.

Back to the question at hand.  If you look at all the players to hit four home runs in a game, you will immediately notice that almost all of them were great players, and except for Bobby Lowe, all would be considered power hitters for the times in which they played.

Ed Delahanty only hit 101 HRs in his major league career, played entirely in an era when home runs were uncommon, but he led his league twice in HRs hit, in triples once and doubles five times.  He was one of the strongest and hardest hitters of his era.

The worst players ever to hit four home runs in a game were Pat Seerey, who hit four in an extra inning game for the White Sox (AL) against the Philadelphia A’s on July 18, 1948, and Mark Whiten who hit four dingers for the Cardinals against the Reds on September 7, 1993.

Pat Seerey was the Rob Deer of this day, for those of you who still remember Rob Deer.  Jack Cust would be another apt comparison.

Seerey was an all-or-nothing hitter  who swung for the fences in every at-bat.  He had a career batting average of .224 and led the American League in strikeouts in all four seasons in which he played at least 100 games.  While Seerey hit only 86 career home runs, that was a result of his inability to hit for average in an era when that statistic was more highly valued, and also the fact that in the era before expansion or the designated hitter, there were fewer jobs for hitters like Seerey.

Seerey averaged 23 home runs and 68 walks drawn for every 550 at-bats, so he did have some value as a hitter, despite the feeble .224 batting average.  Comiskey Park was never known as a good park for home run hitters, although Bill Melton and Dick Allen led the AL in home runs three times (with totals of 33, 37 and 32) between 1971 and 1974.

Seerey’s four home run game was the last great hurrah of his major league career.  He finished the 1948 season with 19 HRs and a .231, and after going 0-for-4 with three walks in four games in 1949, he never played in the major leagues again.

Mark Whiten had an eleven year career as a major league right-fielder in which he hit 105 career home runs and recorded a .259 career batting average.  He had a strong throwing arm, but didn’t quite hit enough to become a star.

In 1993, the year he hit four in one game, Whiten set his career high with 25 home runs for the season.  In 1996, Whiten hit 22 home runs, the only other season in his career in which he hit more than 14.