Sunday, December 07, 2014

Tripping through the transactions

Way back in the early days of this site, I used to do my own unusual take on the MLB transaction wire. It was mostly for my own amusement as the ratio of people who thought the posts were stupid to those who liked them was about 12 to 2. But, what else is there to do when the snow is blowing and it is six degrees outside? You have to do something when living in the frozen tundra. For old time sake and for my amusement, I bring you my own particular spin on this week's transaction wire.
  • First Ibarra your pardon since this is my take when Edgar Ibarra gets signed to a minor league deal by the Angels. He hopes to barra a cup of coffee at least.
  • Ryan's pitching career is officially in the Dempster. But have no fear, the man landed on his feet and Ryan Dempster will work in the Cubs' front office.
  • Drew Butera is in the market for a new job as he was designated by the Dodgers. Chicago has a Butera Market so maybe he should go there. Or, since he is already in LA, he should apply at Barclay Butera. Heck, he might catch on in the furniture business.
  • Ryan Lavarnway is the reason Butera lost his job. Now Ryan will have to learn the Dodgerway. While in LA, he could do a new show called Lavarnway and Shirleyway.
  • Shane rode off in the sunset but Yankee fans of Shane Greene yelled, ""Shane! Come back!" Now he can say to Yankee players he didn't like, ""I hear that you're a low-down, Yankee liar."
  • Meanwhile, the Yankees got Didi Gregorius. His last name reminds me of "Gregarious." But to Matthew Kory, it reminds him of Gregorian. I'll go with Matty and hope that the Yankee fans will be chanting his name. I don't think I can say, "Didi," with a straight face though and will call him, "Mariekson."
  • And that's all they need in Arizona is another Robbie Ray of sunshine. But the best pun came from Diane Firstman who said on Twitter, "Diamondbacks / Tigers trade talks were Leyba intensive." That was a good one.
  • In the Danish language, "Barme," means bosoms. Does that mean that the Padres have taken Clint Barmes to heart by signing him?
  • On the signing of Kevin Cash as manager, one of the folks on Twitter I follow had the best line. I wish I could remember who it was, "This is the first time the Rays have used Cash to improve." Killer.
  • It's a good thing he is the Cubs' new first base coach instead of a third base coach where Cubs fans could either think his decisions were Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Brandon Hyde.
  • It doesn't matter if you are a Star Trek Picard man or a Kirkman as Texas signed Michael Kirkman to a minor league deal.
  • It's not the same guy, but the Rangers also signed Alex Rodriguez as trainer of the AZL Rangers. Frightening to think of A-Rod as a trainer.
  • Happy Braves fans are on a Markakis Island if still happy hearing recent signee, Nick Markakis, needs neck surgery.
  • After the Royals agreed to terms with Luke Hochevar, they hope Luke will be a force for good in the bullpen.
  • The Twins brought back Torii Hunter home. But while Torii might be a Hunter of gays because of his religion, it apparently doesn't stop him from cursing out a reporter.
  • I thought the trade between Seattle and Toronto exchanging Michael Saunders for J.A. Happ was a big win for the Blue Jays and Happ-less for the Mariners.
  • Speaking of the Blue Jays, they took a flyer on Justin Smoak. The fact that Justin was once considered a great prospect makes me wonder if those scouts were smoaking something funny.
  • Things were not beachy for Brandon Beachy as the Braves non-tendered him.
  • The Red Sox definitely left their heart for Juan Francisco as he didn't last very long on their roster.
  • Apparently, the Royals did not think Francisley Bueno was bueno enough as he was non-tendered.
  • The Dodgers hope Darwin Barney's offense will evolve as they signed him to a deal. But it wasn't a lot of money so the contract should not become a big dinosaur.
  • The Mets will not be forever Young after trading Chris Young last year and non-tendering Eric Young, Jr. this week. But they can be for-Everth young if they sign the non-tendered Everth Cabrera to be their shortstop.
  • Things were not caviar and champagne for Chaz Roe as he was non-tendered.
  • And finally, a pitcher left in a David Huff as the Yankees non-tendered David Hassle Huff.
Lord, I do apologize...

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Hero worship versus sports as entertainment

It has not shocked me in recent weeks to read stories about Jayson Werth getting ten days in jail or the varied reports on people like Bill Cosby or Adrian Peterson. Those who are fortunate enough to become very good at high visibility skills such as sports and entertainment are artificially built as superstars. But they are people. Just as we are all people.
Hero worship has never been a problem for me. From the earliest age, I seemed to have a build in knowledge that we are all created equal. And as much as it pains the modern person, those ideals came from a Judeo-Christian mindset. I happen to believe them. We are all just people muddling our way through life as best we can. At its basest level, we all are birthed in a bloody mess and eat and poop and sleep...even star players and entertainers.
I did have heroes growing up. I loved Mickey Mantle and Mel Stottlemyre and others. But my hero thing was based on enjoying what they did on the ball field and the familiarity of having watched them regularly. I've written myriads of thousands of words on Derek Jeter as a fan of his game and not not on his "mystique" or image.
Much of hero worship has come from writers and journalists. The Old West was a real starting point as writers built false images of Davy Crockett, Wyatt Earp and outlaws like Billy the Kid. Sports writers carried on that tradition and built legends out of Babe RuthTed Williams and Hank Aaron. Jeter is just the latest to be lionized beyond reality.
You see it with this image of Torii Hunter as the ultimate team guy and we on Twitter now have a lot of fun at poking holes at "scrappy" players. The bottom line is how a player performs and how his team fares, but we still have writers who make a living creating legends that go beyond results.
Part of the reason stat-based writers have risen to such heights is that in this post-Watergate era, many have swung the other way and love when icons are brought down from the lofty spots they hold in public imagination. Ryan Howard became a lightning rod between the myth-makers and Howard's RBI totals and stat-based writers who poked holes in his game.
So we have kind of come to a weird place in the history of public perception. There are those looking for demons behind every celebrity's tree and those that are still creating icons. Both still sell, which makes it all that much more confusing.
When I first moved to northern Maine and went back to school (some twenty-four years ago now), I worked at a hotel for three years. That will open your eyes about the human race. George Mitchell was the second most powerful man in the country at the time and used to call for a room. If reservations were full, his handlers would insist I find a place for him.
My answer was, "Let me give you a list of the reservations and you can tell me who I should tell not to come."
The answer was always, "Do you know who George Mitchell is?"
My answer was always, "I don't care if he is the Pope, I don't have a room."
I once had to deal with a national news correspondent for one of networks. One day he came down the elevator and asked how much the paper was. I said, "For you, it's free." His answer was that just because he was on TV, I didn't have to give him a paper for free. I told him politely that all of our customers get a free paper and that's what I meant.
The actor who played the lead on the early television show, Dark Shadows, stayed for a week. Every single day I had to show him how to get to the hotel restaurant.
They are all just people. Just like we are all just people. When I hear writers talking about those suspected of using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) as, "Cheaters," it gets to me because they were just people making a decision about what could make them more money more effective at what they did. Which of us would avoid that decision if it could mean millions of dollars and the Majors versus the Minors? Apparently, a large share of the baseball player population made that decision. Few resisted. And yet we judge those we know about because of that same George Mitchell. Funny that.
When I view sports--particularly baseball as that is my wheelhouse--I view and am entertained by the performance in the scheme of the game. I view actors in a movie the same way. They are skilled people performing a skill-seeking task. I watch a good carpenter the same way. Performance is entertaining. Skill is entertaining.
But skill has never equaled a higher grade of person for me. I admire the work of a great carpenter, but I don't think that carpenter is better than the person who makes a mean sundae at Friendly's.  And frankly, the president of the United States can be of any skin color, gender or sexual orientation as long as they do a good job.
Having such a view means that I am not heartbroken when Ryan Braun gets caught or fall for stories about how great a guy Torii Hunter is.
People are people. Those who get paid a lot of money are just like you and me. Just like us, they make a thousand decisions a day and just like us, some of those decisions can be costly. I try very hard not to judge others and I will not judge players or famous people who get caught up in scandal. There is a higher power who will do that judging.
And on the other side of the coin, I do not build idols of gold for players or the famous because they are skillful at a high-profile career. They either entertain me or they do not. Nothing more and nothing less. I encourage you to view them this same way and teach your children the same way. We are all created equal. Some just get paid better than others.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Orioles are leaking

General Managers are only as good as their team's performance in the past season. Dan Duquette was genius last season as the Orioles surprised everyone with blowing out the AL East and making it to the American League Championship Series. Duquette brought in pieces that worked perfectly such as Nelson Cruz and Andrew Miller. But so far this off season seems to show a general leaking of talent as Cruz, Miller and now Nick Markakis have been allowed to sign in greener pastures. Will the Orioles be one and done?
Such a pronouncement in December with almost five months of the off season yet to come would be misguided. But the Orioles have allowed at least six wins of offense and two wins of relief pitching to head out the door. In the long run, these decisions may be wise as the total expense of those players long term might be painful. But in the short term, Orioles fans might be getting a little antsy.
The Red Sox and Blue Jays have improved themselves greatly thus far--at least on paper. The Yankees have been spinning in place and the Rays seem in disarray (but with a still promising rotation). If you compare teams in the AL East, you have to look at the Orioles as an 89-win team after losing that talent. Can they make it up in other ways? Perhaps.
The team still has a strong core in Adam JonesJ.J. HardyManny MachadoChris Davis and Matt Wieters. There are questions marks among that group. Can Davis bounce back off a disappointing season and stay clean? How will Wieters respond after missing so much time with a rebuilt elbow? Can Machado's knees hold up or is this a chronic season to season thing? But let's, for now, assume that those folks will all contribute ably.
The starting staff will return all the same pitchers back into the mix even though Bud Norris has had his name rumored in trades all winter. They are not a great rotation, but with good defense, they get the job done. The loss of Miller will hurt, but the bullpen was pretty good before he even got there and that same cast is back for another season.
With that much stability (barring injuries), how can the production and play of Markakis and Cruz be made up?
Markakis is probably the easiest to replace. No knock on the guy as he has been a very good player for the Orioles. But his offense has only been about seven percent better than league average and that is not as hard to replace as you think. The most obvious answer seems to be Dariel Alvarez, the Cuban refugee the O's signed in 2013. He has raked pretty consistently in the minors and while he is not that patient a hitter, he does hit enough to replace Markakis if his minor league play is an indication.
The only other minor league options such as Mike Yastrzemski and Josh Hart are still a year or two away.
Harder to replace is Nelson Cruz. While Cruz never saw a pitch he didn't like to swing at, his power is a high commodity in today's market. How do the Orioles close that gap? To me, expecting Steve Pearce to repeat his season last year also seems to be dicey. So that is a lot of power to replace.
Let's say that Wieters comes back as good as he was. That is a plus total of 17 homers over the five he hit last year before he was hurt. If Chris Davis can be somewhere between his monster 2013 and disappointing 2014, he could hit 35 homers and add seven more to the total. Platooning Davis with Christian Walker might produce the same results with a better overall batting average.
I'm not sure Jonathan Schoop will ever develop into an effective MLB hitter. His thirteen walks for all of 2014 are a red flag to me as it led to a .244 OBP. But he could add another six homers to his total of 14 last season. And add to that a bounce-back power year for J.J. Hardy who was way below his career yearly homer output last season could make up some more.
If all of that goes well, which, of course, is a big if, the Orioles could make up the power lost by Nelson Cruz. Whether they can overcome the lack of Cruz's presence in the lineup is a very big question.
Like I said, there is a lot of off season left to go and I'm sure Dan Duquette is not going to stand pat. Adding Melky Cabrera or someone of that caliber might still be a possibility.
But even if Duquette stands pat, as I have outlined, the Orioles might be okay as is. The core is still there. For the most part, a team built on defense and a winning attitude instilled by Buck Showalter could keep the Orioles in the mix. Only time will tell if this General Manager will go from hero to bum or whether he was shrewd to let those players walk when he did. I wouldn't count the Orioles out.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Lewis Wolff and John Fisher are bad, bad men

Look around baseball and you will see entrepreneurs and smart business people who have purchased baseball teams. Oh, there are some who might have inherited their money but for the most part team owners have gotten into a position of owning a team because they were very good at business. Once they become baseball owners, the expectation is that they are supposed to forget all of that and bring a city a winner at all costs. Take the Josh Donaldson trade as an example.
The two owners of the Oakland Athletics, Lewis Wolff and John Fisher were roasted last night and this morning because Billy Beane traded away Josh Donaldson for a cheaper Brett Lawrie and three prospects. If you don't believe me, check out this article by Jason Leskiw for a major media outlet. How dare Wolff and Fisher save money and run a good business!
But is the assumption this is a money dump realistic? When I looked at the deal last night, I saw a 24-year-old player with upside in Brett Lawrie, two really good prospects and a so-so prospect traded for arguably the best third baseman in the American League if not in baseball. While both players, Donaldson and Lawrie, are heading to arbitration for the first time this season, Lawrie will turn 25 in January and Donaldson, 29 a month from now.
Lawrie has been hurt a lot. Donaldson has been healthy. At least that is the line some angry Twitter people have given me when I said I liked the trade for both teams. The implication is that Donaldson is a "gamer" and Lawrie a "poser." I don't know how you justify or quantify that, but okay. Donaldson does stand to make more in arbitration. But then you have two really good prospects in Kendall Graveman and Franklin Barreto and the throw in of Sean Nolin. Not a bad haul for Donaldson if one or two of those prospects can be helpful.

Lawrie has shown much upside defensively and while he may not be in Donaldson's class, he isn't in the dunce category either. Donaldson has compiled 16.6 rWAR by the age of 28. Lawrie, 11.7 by the age of 24. Doesn't that make this trade look a little better?
People forget that Donaldson was acquired from the Cubs back in 2008 in a deal very similar to this one. Donaldson was a prospect too for the Cubs and I bet there was a lot of consternation when Billy Beane traded away Rich Harden to get Donaldson and three other prospects. Of the four, only Donaldson panned out (though Matt Murton has had a great Japanese career).  Harden was never the same and has been out of baseball for years.
First of all, you cannot judge trades until years after the fact. But with the instantaneous cyber world we live in, people are dying for page views and social media followers by making judgement pronouncements immediately. And one of those is to blast the owners for "forcing" Billy Beane to manage his assets efficiently.
It's okay for the players to be business people. It's okay that their agents are charged with maximizing the players earnings. But it's not okay for baseball owners to do the same thing. Why do the owners in Tampa get a pass and the ones in Oakland scorn? Both have lousy stadium issues and low attendance. They both do the best they can while trying to keep a profit margin. Anyone who thinks owners should not care about making money is misguided.
The sons of George Steinbrenner are facing similar scrutiny. Why aren't they countering the moves made recently by the Red Sox!? Why aren't they spending money like crazy to get back on top!? Old George would never allow the Yankees to go two years in a row without making the playoffs! Um...remember the 1980s?  And the team payroll for the Yankees is just as high or higher under the sons as it ever was with The Boss.
The big complaint in Oakland is that the A's haven't made the World Series. The theory is that if Wolff and Fisher would spend a little more, that World Series would have been in reach. It doesn't matter that the team has won 277 games in the last three seasons, by golly, the goal is to win it all.
Money does not make that happen. A lot has to fall in place for a team to get hot at the right time and win short series to get to the biggest of all short series and win it all. Peter McGowan, the owner of the Giants doesn't like to throw money around either and he has won three titles. All three had people scratching their heads. Getting to the playoffs is hard enough. Winning there is a crap shoot.
I understand that Josh Donaldson was a beloved player in Oakland. I understand that he has been an MVP candidate two years in a row. I also understand that his defensive skills play a large part of his value and I do not trust the current way those defensive skills are valued. I do agree that Donaldson is a great fielder. But give me a better way to quantify it.
Jason Leskiw says himself in his diatribe that Josh Donaldson played hurt most of 2014 and had to wrap his shoulder like a pitcher. Think about that for a second. Yeah, he played almost every game, but at what cost and how will that influence his game moving forward? Who knows.
I don't believe Wolff and Fisher had any part of this deal. Billy Beane made the deal. Billy Beane has made a lot of deals. A lot of them turn out pretty well. Why don't we let this one play out for a couple of years before we start painting a picture of Beane as browbeaten by greedy, Scrooge-like owners.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Sorting out the Red Sox position players

According to my untrained observation, the Boston Red Sox have eleven Major League starting players for eight positions on the field. Then there is David Ortiz who is as designated a designated hitter as there is in baseball. So after signing and anchoring Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to third and left field with free agent signings, what happens to everyone else? What should happen to everyone else?
Judging from the question marks surrounding the starting rotation, you would figure that some of the excess will be traded for pitching. But what if the Red Sox round out their rotation with free agent signings? You still have to deal with a logjam on the roster.
And I am not even including here guys like Garin Cecchini, who I am convinced is the next Wade Boggs if given a chance. With Sandoval at third for five years, what happens to him? We already know that Will Middlebrooks has fallen out of favor with everyone except Jenny Dell. So he will either be traded or designated. With his power potential in a power bereft MLB, traded seems more likely.
I am also not including catchers here. With David Ross gone, two young unprovens (Christian Vazquez and Dan Butler) are projected for the 25-man roster, so then we have eleven fighting for seven spots.
Perhaps we should list out what we know. Dustin Pedroia will (of course) be the second baseman. There has to be worry about his recent surgery though. Xander Bogaerts will be the shortstop. There is no way the Red Sox are going to give up on him yet. You have Sandoval at third, Ramirez in left, Mookie Betts will get the first crack at center field and David Ortiz will be the DH.
Over at first, you have one year remaining on Mike Napoli's contract. His face has been wired shut all winter with his weird operation, but the guy was worth 3.2 rWAR in only 119 games last season. It would appear that he would be your first baseman with perhaps Sandoval taking over in 2016?
Right field is interesting. There is Yoenis CespedesShane VictorinoAllen Craig and Daniel Nava. Baseball-Prospectus has Victorino projected as the starter. But I'm not on that train. He might be healthier now that he has had a back operation, but I wouldn't count on him being a productive player again. And even if he is healthy, you can't risk him in center field.
Allen Craig forgot how to hit last year, which is weird because he was fantastic in prior years. His ankle has to have been a factor. Is that chronic moving forward?
I think you can count Nava out, which is sad because Jerry Remy won't be able to say, "Nahver." anymore. Cespedes has to be your guy, right? After all, he was the big chip in the big trade last year. Rumors are out there that the Red Sox hate the guy. Who knows. Despite his lack of on-base skills, Cespedes makes a lineup deeper just with the threat of him.
Nava is out of options so he can't be sent down without losing him. Craig is too talented to give up on. Perhaps Craig is your swing guy with time at first and right with hopes of getting him 400 PAs. Or perhaps you just trade both Nava and Craig.
Brock Holt is your most likely utility guy. He played seven different positions last season and despite a fade in September, was productive at the plate. If he isn't overexposed, he is the perfect utility option.  I don't like him at short though, so Deven Marrero or Jemile Weeks (who is out of minor league options) make sense as a roster spot.
If we recap here, we have the following extra players or trade prospects, if you will. They would be Middlebrooks, Craig, Cecchini, Nava and one of Victorino or Cespedes. My gut is telling me that the Red Sox will trade Cespedes if the rumors are true. But we'll see.
I have always heard it said that there is no such thing as too many pitchers. And I agree with that. Pitchers are remarkably fragile. But what about position players? It seems that the Red Sox have too many Major League ready guys for too few positions. You hate to see guys with offensive talent like Craig and Cecchini go to waste. If they do not have a position on the team, then trading them makes the most sense. Cecchini might be the next Jeff Bagwell, though, as the one that got away.

P.S. I haven't forgotten about Rusney Castillo. Baseball-Prospectus has him projected as the starting center fielder. But we'll see what the spring brings.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mayflowers bring fun baseball hours

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. First of all, it usually means family and secondly, it reminds us to take stock of where and what we are and to be thankful. The tradition goes all the way back to the Mayflower and that band of misfits and adventurers that crossed the Atlantic to start a new life. Today, just for fun, I am going to list some baseball players who have had the same name as some of those Mayflower passengers.
Let's start with William Bradford, the second governor of the Plymouth colony (Plimoth is more accurate). His writings gave us most of what we know historically about the fate of the Mayflower and its passengers and crew. Bill Bradford pitched one game in the Major Leagues. He pitched two innings for the Kansas City A's on April 24, 1956 against the Tigers.
It did not go well. He gave up a homer to Reno Bertoia, his second batter. It was the only homer Bertoia hit in 1956. Two batters later, Ray Boone also took him deep. Thus, Bradford finished his career with a 9.00 ERA, a 9.00 hits per nine and a 9.00 homers per nine in his career.
Bradford's given name was William D. Bradford, thus qualifying him for our list. He was not a descendant though as his family came to Virginia in the mid-1650s. Oh, also, did you know that Wil Myers' full given name is William Bradford Myers? No wonder he never played for the "Royals."
William Brewster was the spiritual leader of the Mayflower Pilgrims. Charlie Brewster was a shortstop but his name is not the same. There was a William Brewster who played in the minors in 1941. does not know anything about him.
Edward and Samuel Fuller were two brothers who sailed on the Mayflower. Edward died the first winter in America. There was an Edward Fuller who played two games for the National League Washington Nationals in 1886. He was not a direct descendant of Edward or Samuel, but instead traces back to Lt. Thomas Fuller, a brother of Samuel and Edward who came to Plymouth Colony on a later ship.
There was a Frank Fuller who played for the Tigers in 1915 and 1916 and for the Red Sox in 1923. His full name was Franklin Edward Fuller. But his nickname was, "Rabbit."
Thomas Rogers was another Mayflower Pilgrim who died in that first awful winter in Massachusetts. There was a Tom Rogers who pitched four years in the Major Leagues for some really bad teams like the St. Louis Browns. To be honest, he wasn't very good either and finished with a 15-30 career record.
John Tilley was another Pilgrim who died that first winter in the New World. John Tilley's baseball career fared little better. He played two seasons, one in 1882 and in 1884. He had a career batting average of .138. Oops. The baseball John Tilley was an Irishman whose grandfather came to NYC in the early 1800s.
So far, our Mayflower players aren't very good, are they?
John Turner not only died himself in that first Pilgrim winter, but both his sons died too. Awful. Jerry Turner had a ten year career from 1974 to 1983. His given name was John Webber Turner. But he could not be a descendant of the Mayflower guy. Jeffrey Turner was African-American.
Thomas Williams was another of those unfortunate souls that perished that first winter after the Mayflower delivered its passengers. Jackson Williams got a cup of coffee with the Rockies this past season after eight years in the minors. His given name is Jackson Thomas Williams.
Tom Williams or Thomas C. Williams pitched for the Cleveland Spiders in 1892 and 1893. He did not pitch badly, so you wonder why his career kind of ended there.
Edward Winslow was a fairly prominent member of the Pilgrim group and at least he didn't die that first winter. The closest I could come to him was an Eddie Winslow who played several years in the minors from 1912 to 1922 with a couple of years absent probably due to WWI. doesn't have anything on him.
William Latham was eleven years old when he crossed that Atlantic in 1620. He was an apprentice to first governor, John Carver. Bill Latham, or William Carol Latham, pitched seven times for the Mets in 1985 and then seven more for the Twins in 1986. His main claim to fame was that he was traded to the Twins along with Billy Beane (yeah, that guy).
Not all of the Mayflower passengers were Pilgrims or part of that Separatist group trying to escape King James. Thomas Weston, that unscrupulous financier of the Mayflower voyage sold his own tickets too. One of those passengers was Richard Clarke. He died the first winter in the colony.
Grey Clarke played 63 games for the 1944 Chicago White Sox. He walked a lot and had a .351 OBP and only struck out six times. Even so, it was his only season in MLB although he did play twelve years in the minors. He was a 31-year-old rookie. His given name was Richard Grey Clarke and had the rather comical nickname of, "Noisy."
Another of the Weston passengers on the Mayflower was Christopher Martin, who was a prominent player (pun!) in the History Channel's Mayflower special. Martin died that first winter.
Chris Martin, or Christopher Riley Martin pitched sixteen times in relief for the Rockies in 2014. It appears that he was not very lucky and his FIP was much better than his ERA.
The Mullins family is a fascinating Mayflower story. Father William, Mother and son, Joseph, all died the first winter. The only family survivor was Priscilla, who married John Alden and became the subject of a Longfellow poem as the unrequited love of Miles Standish.
Recent MLB player, Fran Mullins, played three years in the 1980's. His full name was Francis Joseph Mullins.
Miles (or Myles) Standish is a Mayflower passenger many remember from school. He wasn't a Pilgrim though and was a hired military man Thomas Weston employed to teach the Pilgrims the art of war.
Miles Standish was a minor league player in the late 1890's.
Richard Warren was another Thomas Weston man and though he had a family, he came alone to Massachusetts. He survived the initial winter and after some years brought his family over. But he died in 1628 and his wife lived another forty-five years beyond him. His daughters married and had several children and many Mayflower descendants have him in their family tree.
Rick Aguilera had 86 wins and 318 saves in his sixteen-year career. His given name is Richard Warren Aguilera.
William White was another Thomas Weston passenger and died the first winter. His wife married Edward Winslow, who had lost his wife that same winter.
There have been six MLB players with the given name of William White. Four of them played as Bill White including the one who was an All Star and broadcaster for the Yankees. Another played as Will White and the other played as Barney White.
And there you have it. Those are the baseball players that bore the name of Mayflower passengers. Have a great Thanksgiving! Oh wait! I shouldn't forget Squanto Wilson!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Jeremy Hellickson and thoughts on defense

I have been looking at all the angles on the Jeremy Hellickson trade that brought two prospects to the Tampa Bay Rays from the Arizona Diamondbacks. And all that contemplation led to some thoughts about the recent history of both teams and what might have contributed from their falls from grace over the past few seasons. A lot of my thoughts ended up settling on defense.
The thought for years was that Jeremy Hellickson was not nearly as good as his results. In 2011 his ERA was 2.95 but his FIP was 4.44. Similarly, in 2012, Hellickson's ERA was 3.10 but his FIP was 4.60. He also had a high strand rate of 80% or better in both seasons.
It all seemed to catch up with Hellickson in 2013 and his ERA ballooned to overtake his FIP and that lack of success continued into his injury-shortened 2014. Those of us who felt that Hellickson was overrated clucked like proud chickens and said, "See!?" Perhaps our thinking is too simplistic.
The reason this resonates with me was watching the post season this past year. The Orioles and, more pointedly, the Royals seemed to make hay with flawed teams because their fielders seemed to catch everything in sight, especially in big spots. Every time you tuned in, some Royal was diving and making a play. More than anything else besides perhaps the bullpen, defense seemed to define the Royals.
If you look closely at the Orioles, the most drastic change from 2011, when they were terrible, to 2012, 2013 and 2014 was their pitchers' team BABIP or batting average for balls in play. In 2011, the Orioles' BABIP was .302. The next year, that figure went down to .285 and the team won 93 games. In 2014, that figure went down to .280 and they won 96 games.
While BABIP is not a magic bullet to point at for the sole reason a team succeeds, it does point to better defense and team positioning.
The Royals lost 90 games in 2012. Their pitchers' BABIP was .311! The team has won 86 games or better both of the last two seasons and that BABIP is down to the .291 range for both seasons. This corresponds to a defense that ranked first among all teams in team defense in 2014. In 2012, the Royals' team defense finished 18th among 30 teams in team defense. That has to make a difference.
Let's look at the Rays during Hellickson's career. In 2011, the Rays finished second among the thirty teams in defense. The Rays were sixth in 2012. They fell to ninth in 2013 and were only fourteenth in 2014. Just to give you an idea of the drop, according to, the Rays' defense was worth 59.8 runs in 2011. It was worth 4.5 runs (total!) in 2014. That is a huge drop. Hellickson's BABIP is only .269 for his career, but has been over .300 the last two seasons.
Just for kicks and giggles, I looked at David Price's BABIP statistics over the years with the Rays and 2014 marked the third year in a row that his BABIP had gone up, so there does seem to be some sort of relationship.
So what is going to happen as Hellickson goes to the Diamondbacks? The Diamondbacks have had a similar and maybe more dramatic fall in team defense. In 2011 the Diamondbacks were the best defense in baseball. They were strong at shortstop, the outfield could fly and they were also strong behind the plate and at third base.  They won 94 games and their pitchers' BABIP was .290.
In 2012 Stephen Drew got hurt, someone thought it was a good idea to break up the terrific outfield defense and put Jason Kubel out there and the defense fell to 13th and the team won thirteen less games. The BABIP for its pitchers went up over .300.
The 2013 Diamondbacks won the same number of games as the 2012 version, but this time the defense bounced back to second place. The outfield minus Kubel was again strong and the up the middle infield was strong as well.
2014 was a fielding disaster for the Diamondbacks. Mark Trumbo proved that the team hadn't learned from the Kubel education, Gerardo Parra was moved from left to right. It just didn't work and the team was awful. The team went from a pitching BABIP of .296 in 2013 to .316 in 2014. That is a full twenty point swing!
The bad news is this is what Jeremy Hellickson is getting himself into. However, there is hope. The entire front office and the manager on the field have all been cleaned out and perhaps the focus will again be on defense and preventing runs. Heck, it couldn't get much worse, so it has to get better under Tony La Russa's house.
The Diamondbacks play in Arizona where the hot and dry air means that the baseball flies. Defense has to be a key to how well the team can compete in those conditions. It's not quite  as bad as playing in Coors Field, but it's a tough environment. Hellickson is more of a fly ball pitcher. Outfield defense will be very important to him.
If the Diamondbacks improve defensively, Jeremy Hellickson, if healthy, will thrive in his new environment. He will get to pitch quite a few times in LA, San Diego and San Francisco, which should help even out the Chase Field disadvantage. He will not have to deal with the DH regularly and lineups aren't as deep. IF the Diamondbacks can support him defensively, he can be a nice addition. That is one heck of an IF though.