Matt Wieters is here!
...he hits .271...
Wait until next year.
So we were checking out Rotoworld and there happens to be a bit about Scott Kazmir's imminent trade. Which, first of all, shocked us, because we had no idea this was actually in the works, let alone going to happen. We wrote about this a bit earlier in the year; you can check it out here if you're so inclined. But we'd like to append that post by saying that this is strange timing for the Rays. According to the ever-so-fun www.coolstandings.com, they have just a 15% chance of making the playoffs, but according to Baseball Prosepctus' Hit List and their third-order winning percentage (which are part and parcel, really, but there you are) they should be much better than they are right now. And there's enough of the season left to get on a hot streak and steal at least a Wild Card spot. So the question we ask, then, is why? Why trade him now? We know Kazmir's been awful all year, but can't they at least stick him in the bullpen? It's like what we said when Papelbon and Delcarmen were having issues with the idea of acquiring Billy Wagner; what team can't use an extra flame throwing arm in the bullpen, let alone when that arm is a left one?
Anyway, we just don't like the idea of a team that's still in contention shipping off potentially valuable parts. What we do like are the Twins getting involved with literally every person that's ever toed the rubber in their lives that has been put on waivers. Ron Mahay, Brad Penny, Trevor Hoffman, John Smoltz before he was claimed....each of these has and more have been linked to the Twins in recent days. And why not? They're not far back, they have a 16.6% chance of making the playoffs, and their biggest weakness is pitching. We love the fact that they're at least kicking the tires on every bit of available help they can find, regardless of how much help that player might be (we're looking at you, Mahay). That's not to say that we're particularly hoping the Twins make the playoffs...we just like that their collective head is in the right place.
The third piece of news we want to address here is that the Yankees have reportedly removed the "Joba rules"* which means that Joba Chamberlain will now be allowed to pitch every fifth day. We have a couple of things to say about this...first and foremost being that the Joba rules were a stupid idea in the first place. Why did they ever have it in their heads that the guy couldn't handle a starter's workload? There's a difference between managing a young pitcher's innings and jerking him around from role to role; the guy was a starter at Nebraska, and dominated in the bullpen as potentially great starting pitchers should do. One of those two things carries more weight, and it ain't the latter.
*We'd never heard this term used before, and we dislike it almost as much as the rules themselves.
Look, starting pitchers are more valuable than relievers. And when you have a guy on your hands who can be a great starting pitcher...you use him. You don't play games with his regimen, you don't tell him that he's going to be a setup man for a couple months and a starter the rest. You let him develop a groove, let him get comfortable in the majors. The Yankees never did that with Joba, and it's to his credit that he's survived the adversity.
But this is why we have mixed feelings about the lifiting of the 'rules': Joba's been terrible lately. Whether it's fatigue or just a rough patch or injury, we have no way of knowing, but, really, keeping him off the field has been the better course of action. And now that he's been bad for a couple of starts, they decide it's a good time to lift the silly rules that were imposed upon him in the first place? It's just weird timing is all. And it's not like they need an extra boost to make the playoffs; they have a 6-game lead on the Sawx and a 98+% chance of making the playoffs in one form or another. Maybe this will prove to be exactly what Joba needs; maybe he'll put it together once he goes out there every fifth day. Or maybe there really is something wrong with him and the Yankees are upping his workload just in time to ruin him for the playoffs. It's a big gamble they're making...and we're excited to see how it plays out. Stretch run baseball...it's a beautiful thing.
Today we were actually reading the ESPN Power Poll - it was a slow day, don't be so quick to judge - and they dropped this little nugget: Carlos Pena has 34 HR and 35 singles on the year.
Well, then we found out that Carlos Pena just hit another home run, extending his total to a league-leading 35. Of course, the corollary to this is that he now has as many home runs as he does singles. This is fairly remarkable given that we're nearing the end of August, yes?
Now, since he leads the AL in homers and has an equal number of singles, the natural question to ask is: where does he rank in singles? We're glad you asked that natural question because we did some research. Take a guess at the answer!
Go on, guess.
Well, of players with at least 350 PA, Carlos Pena ranks second to last in singles. His 35 juuuuust outstrips Jason Varitek's 34. Of course, Pena has 518 PA to Varitek's 365 (a 153 PA advantage, if you don't like math), so if we merely raise the minimum PA to 400, well, then Pena's the big winner (loser?). If you look at the NL also, there's guys like Chris Young, Jay Bruce, Chris Iannetta, Kelly Johnson, and Jason Giambi (a Rockie now), but they have either served time in the minors or on the bench as a punishment for their lack of contact hitting ways. So we don't feel bad doctoring the answer a bit to anoint Pena at least the AL Champion of Not Hitting Singles. Boy, that's a fun title for the mantle. Let's see if we can't give him a little more credit.
Well, gee, looking at Pena's Baseball Reference page, we find that Pena also leads the AL in walks and strikeouts, with 81 (leading Jason Bay's 79) and 149 (5 better than Russell Branyan's 144), respectively. So, what we have here is a guy who is on pace to win the Three True Outcomes Triple Crown in the AL.
The Three True Outcomes, for those of you who don't know, are a walk, a strikeout, or a home run. They are so named because they do not involve the defense at all - unless, we guess, there's a dropped strike 3 or something and the catcher has to throw the batter out. But, essentially, there you are: the only three outcomes of a pitch that depend solely on the contributions of the hitter and the pitcher.
The mention of the TTO reminds us of an article the inimitable Dr. Rany Jazyerli wrote for Baseball Prospectus some years ago - in 2000, to be exact. In it, he examined the guys throughout history who've posted the highest TTO% - defined as (HR+BB+K)/(AB+BB). A simple enough formula, and it yields reasonable results. As of the writing of that article, the highest career TTO% belonged to Dave Nicholson, clocking in at a tidy 52.1%. Other notable names on the list include Rob Deer, Jim Thome, Bo Jackson, Mark McGwire, Mickey Tettleton, and Jay Buhner. The highest single season TTO% (min. 100 AB), in case you were wondering, belongs to Russell Branyan, with a whopping 61.2%.
We're going to do a small exercise similar to that, which we're going to call TTOTC. Catchy, right? Basically we're going to look at all the seasons from 01-08 and see who's finished among the top 10 in their respective league in walks, strikeouts, and home runs. This sorting of the players allows us to see who can do each of the three at a level such as they might compete for the TTO Triple Crown, hence the TC part of the acronym. Which, we might agree with you, is a pretty terrible acronym anyway. But bear with us for a moment. Here are the guys:
2001: Jim Thome, Carlos Delgado, Troy Glaus, Sammy Sosa
2002: Sammy Sosa, Jim Thome
2003: Jason Giambi, Carlos Delgado, Jim Thome, Richie Sexson
2004: Adam Dunn, Jim Thome, Jim Edmonds, Alex Rodriguez
2005: Richie Sexson, Alex Rodriguez, Adam Dunn
2006: Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, Jim Thome, Alex Rodriguez, Troy Glaus
2007: Carlos Pena, Jim Thome, Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn
2008: Adam Dunn, Jack Cust, Carlos Pena, Jim Thome
We don't know about you but we're disappointed Thome didn't quite make it in '05, and surprised to see Alex Rodriguez on there once, let alone twice.
We then went through and figured out those guys' TTO% in the years where they were among the top 10 in each category. Here are the top 10 such seasons...
Cust 08: .576
Thome 01: .542
Thome 02: .520
Dunn 04: .516
Dunn 06: .514
Dunn 08. .510
Howard 06: .504
Thome 07: .501
Pena 08: .500
Thome 06: .496
How does Pena's 09 season stack up so far? Well, he's TTO'ing at a .524 clip, which would be the third best mark of this decade after Cust's 2008 and Thome's 2001 campaigns. But what's really remarkable is that none of those guys - not only the top ten list, but anybody from the longer, year-by-year list up there - led their respective league in homers, walks, and strikeouts. So not only is he having one of the best TTO seasons by percentage, but he could be the first slugger of this decade to win the Three True Outcomes Triple Crown. And that, if you ask us, is a title we'd be much prouder to show off on our mantle.
TL;DR version: No one this decade has been as prolific in the Three True Outcomes categories as Carlos Pena, and if he keeps it up, he'll win the first TTO Triple Crown of the 00's.
We're hoping Wagelbon catches on as a way of referring to the apparently contentious duo of Billy Wagner and Jonathan Papelbon, who may soon be together in the Boston bullpen. As we're sure you know, the Mets placed Wagner on waivers, not wanting to be on the hook for the rest of the money he's owed this season and the $8 million club option for next year. Boston put the claim on Wagner, for reasons that Theo Epstein didn't publicly explain but which are probably along the lines of "we're a contending team and would like to have all the talent we can get."
Now, if we were a Red Sock(x?), we can't really imagine we'd have a problem with this. The goal is to win the World Series, as countless players have told us, so why not be happy that your GM is working to bring a guy on board who would help you get there? Well, Jonathan Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen, apparently. Both expressed concern that Wagner joining the team would cause issues with the bullpen chemistry, and that they are good enough without him.
They aren't entirely wrong in that assertion either; they're second in the league in bullpen ERA with a 3.56 mark. But Wagner has something very important going for him: he's left-handed. And the Sox only have one other lefty reliever, Hideki Okajima. Okajima's been good, with a 2.77 ERA in 52 IP, to go along with 47 K and 18 BB. But it doesn't seem like a great recipe for postseason success, going in with one lefty. We mean, if you use Okajima as a LOOGY, all of a sudden you've taken away one of your better options for a full inning of work. And how long can Daniel Bard, Manny Delcarmen, and Jonathan Papelbon - who's been shaky with his control this year - shoulder the 7th-8th-9th grind with a full month to play before the playoffs? Depth in the bullpen is always good, and if you can bring in a guy like Wagner, who (we think) would cost only money, seems a no-brainer, especially for a rich organization like the Sox.
Oh, and Jonathan Papelbon really needs to rethink how he talks to the media. Not because we think athletes should be boring, but because...man, he sounds like a dick. Have some respect for a 38-year old battling through Tommy John rehab, and hope you never end up there.
We recommend clicking that link because it tells the tale of how a dead body was found on Chipper Jones' Double Dime ranch in Texas. Now, admittedly, this is a side of our hero with which we've not been able to reconcile ourselves; we come from Indiana, and get just about enough of the country music/NASCAR/hunting/camo gear scene, thank you very much. So we've always sort of ignored the existence of this ranch. But no longer - not ever since it has become a warning to those who would undermine the Braves' hopes and dreams.
Now, we suppose it's worth mentioning that the dead body was that of an illegal Mexican immigrant, and as such, he probably wished the Braves no harm. BUT STILL! Watch your backs, uh...whoever you youngsters are who play for the Rockies, Giants, and Marlins. You'd best groove pitches for Chipper...or else. Everyone knew Chipper was important to the Braves' playoff hopes...but we don't think everyone realized that this incident is a great example of why.
We feel like HLA: has unfairly focused on the negative thusfar. We profiled Matt Holliday when he was slumping, David Ortiz when he was slumping - and it was unconfirmed that he was on steroids, and he's still slumping anyway so this is all sort of redundant -and...well, ok, it's been a short-lived series. But today we want to take a look at the best player in the game today, and one of the best of all time. We feel like despite his towering greatness, Albert Pujols has not gotten the recognition he deserves. This may or may not be true; we don't exactly claim to have our fingers on the pulse of sports journalism. HOWEVER, we're going to pretend like we're on to something here and forge right ahead.
Now, before we get into any stats or "research," we'd like to present a short .gif we saw on Viva El Birdos of Pujols' swing slowed down into frame-by-frame goodness....and is there ever a lot of goodness. The swing is a thing of beauty, every movement compact, powerful, and dedicated to hitting a baseball better than anyone on the planet right now. We can't really do it justice; go take a look-see for yourself.
Don't be ashamed if you watched it a few times. And if your mouth fell open. These are normal reactions. SO, onward and upward, eh? What's this guy done in the past? Well, you might look at the career 172 OPS+. Or the .333/.427/.628 career line. Or the fact that since coming into the league in 2001, he has yet to OPS less than .955. Or the fact that he's already hit over 350 HR - and is the third youngest to reach that milestone. Or the fact that he's walked 233 times more than he's struck out. Or that he's an 8-time All-Star, and missed out on 9 straight selections because despite finishing 2nd in the MVP voting his second year he somehow wasn't elected to the ASG. He's a former Rookie of the Year, 2-time MVP (probably should've been at least 3 times), and is well on his way to another this season. He's hit at least .314 each of his 9 years in the bigs; no one else has ever done that. He's hit at least 30 HR in each of his 9 years in the bigs; no one else has ever done that. He's fourth all-time in OPS, and the four-time Silver Slugger also has a Gold Glove to his credit (however worthless those are, the man is a superb defender).
Oh, and did we mention that he's been doing this despite playing with a shredded UCL that should require Tommy John surgery, and forced his move from left field to first base? But that instead of undergoing the surgery he needs, he chose to have a nerve transposition surgery so that he merely wouldn't feel the pain that he feels whenever he straightens his arm? The guy is too good not to have some kind of handicap, we guess.
But hey, enough of the past. Let's have a quick look at what he's done so far:
.321/.445/.675/1.119, 39 HR, 105 RBI, 91 BB, 49 K, 36 IBB, 191 OPS+
The bolded stats are ones where he's a league leader. Further, if you care for advanced analysis - and we hope you do! - he's already worth almost 7 wins above replacement, and projects to be worth easily another 3 by the end of the season. His fielding is superb - worth a win itself, according to Baseball Prospectus - and leads the majors in EqA. His closest competitor for that title, Joe Mauer, is having maybe the best season ever for a catcher; the next closest guy, Prince Fielder, is a full 21 points behind. Oh, and did we mention that he has the fourth-highest EqA OF ALL TIME behind only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Barry Bonds? That seems relevant.
The question, then, is what we can we expect from him going forward? Is he going to keep being El Hombre, the guy our grandkids ask us about? Well, Baseball Prospectus thinks so; PECOTA projects him as a 4-5 win player when he's 35. If he hits homers at the pace PECOTA sees - which, keep in mind, seems very conservative to us - he'll have 619 at 35. And that's assuming he doesn't hit any more in the remainder of this season. And unless he suddenly loses his batting eye, he'll accomplish this feat of power while remaining one of the most patient and skilled contact hitters in generations. And as a further piece of evidence of his bulletproof nature: he hits .351/.460/.626 against lefties and .332/.429/.586 against righties. So either way you pitch him, he's still the premier hitter in the game. And lest you think he's some sort of hulking bopper who's a liability on the bases, consider that while he's not been a great base stealer in his career - successful only 66% of the time - he went 16/18 a few years ago and is 12/15 this year.
What we're trying to say is, the only weakness this guy seems to have is the fact that his elbow might decide to pop at any moment. And yet...he's never played in less than 143 games. So, while hoping with all our might that we're not jinxing him, he seems wildly durable. And...we're going to leave it at that, and back away slowly.
Well, besides the elbow, there's also the question of his age. As a Dominican Republic export, and especially with the age-related revelations we've seen from players like Miguel Tejada and Vladimir Guerrero, we can't truly be sure that he's only 29. Oh, we forgot to mention that - he's accomplished all of those astounding above feats despite the fact that he won't even be 30 until next year. Whoops! But, yeah, the guy's certainly looked old his whole career - we remember being shocked that a 21 year old could have such a strongly receding hairline - but, hey, everyone ages differently. Just ask Greg Oden*.
That's right: Greg Oden. We're not afraid to make cross-sport jokes on this here blog. We're growing into something unstoppable, we keep telling everyone.
And if all that isn't enough to make your jaw drop, really, isn't that one home run sufficent? You know, THAT one. In the NLCS, or something. 2005? Yeah, that sounds right. Against...Houston? We think so. One of those Texas teams. Let's check Google...
Oh, baby...don't be so cruel!
Anyway, yeah, there was looking at the best player around. We hope you take the time to enjoy him properly.
So, as most of you are already well aware, today (tomorrow?) at midnight* is MLB's amateur draftee signing deadline. And, as we imagine you're also aware, there is a player who has yet to sign, who is demanding many millions of dollars more than any draftee has ever received, who would, in all likelihood, already be the best pitcher on his team. So, yeah, we're talkin about Stephen Strasburg today. Seems timely, no?
*We hate the syntax issues inherent in dealing with midnight. We think how a person refers to it has a lot to do with their own tendencies - night owls would refer to it as today, early birds as tomorrow - but we, of course, have no evidence to support that and offer it up merely as a thought exercise. The bigger point to be made here, we suppose, is: who really cares? Also, yes, we have now fully embraced asterisk points. We hope you enjoy, or at least don't find yourself utterly turned off.
So, that said, let's take a look at the situation. The Washington Nationals are currently 43-75, which is the league's worst record. The Kansas City Royals* have lost 71 games, but the Nats play in a tougher division, and we'd have to imagine that they're going to end up with the league's worst record - and another #1 pick. We imagine this in part because the Nationals, allowing 5.42 runs per game, are the worst in the National League at preventing runs - and we know this is a crazy idea, but it sems to us that a potential ace like Stephen Strasburg may be just the ticket to bring that number down to a somewhat respectable level.
*The Kansas City Royals, who actually gainfully employ BRUCE FREAKING CHEN, have lost 71 games...
Now, you can bet that Strasburg and the ever-present (lurking?) Scott Boras know that. They know that Strasburg's 100-mph fastball, knee-buckling slider, and pinpoint command make for a once-in-a-generation talent that will not come cheaply. You can bet that the Nationals know how good Strasburg is and how much he can potentially help the team - to say nothing of how damaging it would be to lose him. So it would appear that we have an impasse - at least, until the team makes a ludicrous offer that Strasburg has to accept. But will that happen? Does it NEED to happen? Let's take a closer look.
If the Nats fail to sign Strasburg:
Strasburg/Boras do not see the Nationals' offer as adequate for Strasburg to deign to sign. Strasburg goes back to college, and re-enters the draft the next year. Only....guess who has the number one pick? That's right, the Nationals! And guess who else is eligible to be drafted? That's right, Bryce Harper*! So now, Strasburg has a conundrum. He's already had contentious, failed negotiations with the team picking first overall, only this time there's a comparable raw talent to be had. And he's an everyday player, to boot. So all of a sudden, Strasburg may not be able to make exorbitant demands. He may have the same talent, but maybe he disappoints in his senior year, or even - and we sincerely hope this doesn't happen - gets hurt. If either of those happen, you can bet that his stock will plummet and he'll end up losing out on a lot of money. And if he has another spectacular season, he's still labeled as unsignable - and with good reason, if the negotiations going on now are any indication - and drops in the draft anyway, being left to hope that he'll fall to a team willing to spend over slot. But which of the teams with bad enough records to be high enough in the draft to have a good chance at him (e.g. Pirates, Royals, Padres, Orioles, A's, Reds) have been willing to spend over slot in the past? Well...none. All of a sudden, the 2010 draft becomes very interesting. Oh, and the Nationals suffer a huge public relations setback because they weren't willing to do what it takes to improve their team. There's that minor detail.
*You may not know about Bryce Harper yet. But it's for your own benefit that you do. Here's an excellent Sports Illustrated article that details his eye-popping talents. And if you do know about him, but haven't read the article...well, it's worth your time.
If the Nats Sign Strasburg:
To be honest, we'd love to see them plug him straight into the rotation. But that doesn't really make a lot of sense, and here's why:
So there we have the potential outcomes of this imbroglio. But there are more issues to address here than the costs/benefits of Strasburg's decision to sign or not. One such issue, as raised by Hard Hittin' Ryan Zimmerman, is:
Should He Just Take What He Can Get and Report?
The answer, in a word, is NO. Absolutely not. We don't understand how athletes are almost universally looked down upon for wanting to squeeze every last dollar out of their employers. This is especially a sticking point for us in the NFL, an extraordinarily dangerous sport in which the players are lucky to make it through three seasons and where the contracts aren't even guaran-goddamn-teed. But even for Strasburg, who will get guaranteed money - and a record-setting amount of it, at that - there's a signfiicant amount of risk involved. With MLB's system, a player's pay is dictated by the pre-arbitration minimums for the first three years of their career. And then they get to politely ask their teams for a raise for each of the next three years in arbitration, a raise which the teams will always declare unreasonable. And then, finally, they get to negotiate with all 30 teams on the open market for the right to sign a ludicrously high-paying contract that will ideally set them up for life. Wheeee!
Of course, that leaves out all the nasty things that can happen in the six years between a player's breaking into the league and being able to sign a free agent contract - like, say, an injury that costs him a season and many millions of dollars. Or a case of lost talent, a la Ben Grieve or any other young prospect who put together a promising season or two and then utterly flamed out. The point is, there's so much that can go wrong for an athlete in any sport, that we always support them getting as much money as they can. So, Ryan Zimmerman, while it's great that you got drafted, signed your deal, and then got a cushy five-year deal despite not really being that great and not showing any signs of improvement, that does not mean that you can tell possibly the greatest pitcher we've seen since we don't know like Tom Seaver or something that he should just take the offer and show up.
Well, that was a long sentence. Let's now change course once more, without warning or ado, shall we? Because we think that this next is the most important issue of the entire negotiation.
Is Strasburg Worth It?
Good question, KCSD! We think there are three schools of thought here:
First, the risk-averse who see young pitchers as eminently fragile and unlikely to provide a good return on the team's investment.
Second, the ones who drool over the talent that oozes from Strasburg's tall frame*.
*And if that image isn't enough to turn you to the risk-averse side, we don't know what will.
And, of course, we have the third school, which is that of compromise. We tend to fall in this camp; yes, there is a great deal of risk involved with young pitching - especially when the pitcher in question has questionable mechanics* like Strasburg - but, come on, you can't NOT want a kid like this on your team! HE THROWS 100 MPH! AND HAVE YOU SEEN THAT BREAKING BALL?!
*Of course, the study of mechanics is an inexact science. It was said that Mark Prior had perfect mechanics, but according to at least one site, his delivery put a great deal of undue pressure on his scapular muscles, which are not load-bearing and not designed for the stress of pitching, thereby leading in part to his multitude of injuries. What we will say, from watching a few videos of Strasburg, is that he does seem to throw across his body a bit and he doesn't seem to use his body efficiently, like, say, Tim Lincecum does. It seems like his arm bears all the stress, and when you're throwing 100 mph and snapping off 90-mph sliders, that is an enormous deal of stress. Pitching is not a natural movement, but there are steps pitchers can take to minimize the risk they incur - and we aren't positive that Strasburg takes many of those steps.
Sorry, we got carried away with the talent thing. ANYWAY, the question of what, exactly, Strasburg is worth is up in the air. We don't know how much money is even on the table, but let's assume it's about $20MM to sign - or roughly twice Prior's previous (lawl) record-setting bonus.
So, let's consider it all at once now. Strasburg has the most leverage he'll ever have right now - Ryan Zimmerman is right about that - because he could easily go play another year in college and graduate and all that good stuff. The Nationals are hopefully as bad as they'll ever be right now, so they need him more than ever. He's a phenomenal talent whom it would cost only money to acquire, even if it is a LOT of money. He is entitled, in our minds, to gun for as much money as he can because of the intemperate nature of athletes' bodies, and pitchers in particular. And, if the Nats pay him what he wants, they'll still be spending money in a much better way than did the GMs of teams who shelled out big bucks to mediocre pitchers. Strasburg has the chance to be much, much more, such that the Nationals really can't afford to not offer him what he's asking for. Just suck it up, Stan...you might have something special on your hands. And Nationals fans need that right now.