Friday, March 27, 2015

The DH - Where I get NL fans mad at me again

National League fans are adamant, and I get it. We baseball people do not like people messing with our game. Even though replay worked great (IMHO) this past year, many still hate it because it takes away the "charm" of human error. But that human error cost teams World Series titles in the past. NL fans, pitchers batting has got to go. It doesn't cost games, but it sure costs enjoyment.
Let's break this down a bit into numbers. NL pitchers when batting as a group did not have as high an OPS as what is borderline acceptable as an on-base percentage. The group OPS of all NL pitchers last season was .312. OPS combines on-base percentage with slugging percentage. This is a terrible number.
How terrible? The league as a whole had an average OPS of .694. Therefore, collectively, pitchers' offense was 45% as good as league batters as a whole. NL pitchers when batting struck out 36.4% of their plate appearances. Pitchers walked only 3% of the time. And here is the part that gets me the most: Pitchers sacrificed bunted (successfully) 10.2% of their plate appearances.
Let's put some of this in perspective. NL pitchers came to the plate 5,141 times last year. They actually reached base a grand total of 722 times. That works out to an on-base percentage of .140. Let me clarify that point briefly. NL pitchers' official on-base percentage was .156. Why am I getting a different number? Sacrifice bunts.
An OBP and an OPS do not penalize a player for successful sacrifice bunts (or for sac flies for that matter). I have never agreed with this statistical anomaly. Whether a sacrifice is successful or not, the batter made an out. Yes, a runner got to second or third, but an out was still recorded.
Those numbers are bad enough. But there are other consequences. Pitchers having to bat means a greater reliance on pinch hitters. National League pinch hitters put up this unlovely triple slash line in 2014: .210/ .286/.319. That .605 OPS is second to only pitchers in futility among "positions." Their help only brought up the ninth spot in the lineup up to a grand total of a .444 OPS. Pinch hitters struck out 27% of the time. Heck, the pitcher could have done that!
It doesn't stop there.  The eighth place batter in a National League lineup becomes a moot point. The National League had a combined .625 OPS from the eighth spot in the batting order. Compare that with the American League which had a .680 OPS from their eighth position in the batting order.
Oh, and get this: That OPS is deceptive too. With the pitchers batting ninth, the eighth place batter often gets intentionally walked even if it is a weak hitter. The eighth place batters had fifty more intentional walks than any other lineup position, even the big boys in the third spot.
We are not really talking apples to apples here, but the National League scored 561 runs less than the American League in 2014.
If the commissioner is interested in improving offense and is concerned about the current run scoring climate, making the DH universal is a good place to start and is much better than outlawing shifts.
The long-term trends of pitcher batting have shown a gradual decline. Sacrifice bunts are up four percentage points from where they were in the early 1960s. OPS figures have stayed fairly static since 1961, but again, with sacrifice bunts trending up, the OPS is deceptive. The strikeout rate has always been high, but has spiked the last two seasons. The chart below starts with the 1961 season on the left and tracks the percentages to the present as you move right.
Pitchers batting
This decline makes a lot of sense really. In the old days, a pitcher would bat consistently through high school, college and the minor leagues. Today, most colleges use the DH and if a pitcher is drafted by an American League team, then the pitcher never hits. If that same pitcher gets traded to a National League organization, suddenly he has to hit and it might have been a few years since high school.
Plus, pitchers are much more valued (read "babied") than in the past. Most pitchers are encouraged to protect themselves when batting and not to run at full strength.
The weekly reality of interleague games also puts new wrinkles into the entire argument. National League teams are not constructed to have an offensive player available as the DH and suffers in AL parks. And if you think NL pitchers are terrible at batting, they are all Mike Trout compared to AL pitchers who have to hit in NL parks.
American League pitchers put together this triple slash line when batting last year: .090/.110/.109. In 154 such games, AL pitchers got on base a grand total of 35 times. It is a joke and a travesty to baseball. Making AL pitchers hit is like asking an NFL punter to play one game a year at offensive tackle. AL pitchers have a strikeout rate of over 40% when batting. Pathetic.
If you make the DH the norm for all interleague games, you are punishing NL teams that do not plan roster spots for DH types. So that doesn't make for an easy solution.
I know there is a lot of passion in this area of conversation. I'm sure two of my friends who cover the St. Louis Cardinals are glaring at me as they read this. But times have changed. Tickets cost too much to have to watch a woefully skilled batter being sent up to the plate. Times have also changed in college and in the minor leagues. Pitchers had a chance at the plate sixty years ago. They do not now. It is time to make things universal instead of the two leagues playing with different rules.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Valdespin and Andrus: Youth is Wasted on the Young

The quote in the heading by George Bernard Shaw could also be modified as, "Talent is Wasted on the Young." Two different stories have caught my attention this spring. Both involve the people behind the baseball players.
The first story  caught my attention early in Spring Training and involved Elvis Andrus being in the best shape of his life (BSOL). And the second story was much more recent concerning Jordany Valdespin and how his mother told him to grow up. Andrus is 26 and Valdespin is 27.
It is easy to forget that baseball players reach their physical peak early in life. We also fail to understand that most males do not reach their maturity peak until much later. I used to tell my son that boys were always three years younger (in maturity) than their actual ages. Sometimes that is optimistic.
And yet for every Mike Trout who bursts onto the scene with nothing but determination and a level head, there are a dozen others that don't figure it out until much later. The result is losing a lot of time and talent and sometimes it is too late.
Let's start with Elvis Andrus as his is perhaps the less harsh story of the two. Andrus has been a millionaire since the age of 23. When he signed a long-term deal with the Rangers that runs unti 2022, his future became secure and he had nothing but years of money heading his way.
Andrus' reaction to that was him coming to Spring Training a year ago really out of shape. I am not being unfair here, he says it himself. As such, he wasn't ready to play and ended up having the worst year of his career when he should have been peaking as a player.
Andrus has been in the spotlight since he arrived in the Majors. The arrival coincided with the Rangers having great teams and making two World Series in a row. Andrus wanted to be talked about in the same breath as Jeter. But it never happened. While he was a much better fielder than Jeter ever was, his offense has been below league average for every season he's been in the Majors.
It appears that last season made the bell go off and he went into the off season with a plan and is having a fabulous spring. This could be the year that he actually becomes the offensive player it was thought he could be.
It's just a shame that it took him so long to figure that out.
Jordany Valdespin has an even harsher story. The Mets were excited about his talent and either thought he would be the team's future second baseman or a weapon as a super-utility type player. The trouble was, the young man was poison to his fellow players.
Valdespin has a track record of immaturity which included altercations with his manager when he didn't play or was sent to the minors. And when he did play, he angered his teammates by showboating. His results definitely show a guy who should not have been showboating.
How bad was the antipathy with his fellow Mets? When he got caught up in the Biogenesis scandal and was suspended for fifty games, his own teammate said the incident, "definitely confirms his stupidity." Ouch.
Valdespin handled the adversity the way most immature young people do. He wanted to quit after the suspension in 2013. He was frustrated. He probably felt that where he landed was everyone else's fault.
That's when his mom stepped in. She did what every decent parent has to do at some point in the life of their child. She told him to grow up. To his credit, he took that advice and accepted it.
The Miami Marlins gave him another chance. And he is having a great spring and will make the decision on whether to keep him in the Big Leagues a tough one for the Marlins. I find myself rooting for him...and for Andrus.
You have to root for someone who finally gets it. Andrus is guaranteed to be a rich man. Jordany Valdespin is fighting for his baseball life. Both have wasted their prime years and a serious chunk of talent by their immaturity.
But that's what makes this game interesting if you care to think about it. We are talking about human beings here. And human beings who try to improve themselves and grow up are human beings to root for and make an interesting story in counterpoint to the cold, harsh reality of statistics and results.
Talent is often wasted on the young. That happens. Some take longer to figure it out. Some never figure it out. Elvis Andrus and Jordany Valdespin have apparently figured it out. I hope they are rewarded with the the physical time they have left in the game. If they never get where they were supposed to become, at least it won't be because they were their own worst enemies.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Rickie Weeks, Mariners?

Rickie Weeks just signed a $2 million deal with the Seattle Mariners who happen to already have a second baseman named Robinson Cano. The deal is a pay cut for Weeks to the tune of 82%. Ouch. It doesn't seem that long ago that Rickie Weeks was an All Star and seemed to be one of the most dynamic players in the game. What the heck happened?
The timing of Week's descent from All Star to mediocre was not great for the Milwaukee Brewers. They based their 2012, three-year, $31 million contract for Weeks based on his five-year run beginning in 2007 of averaging 3.12 WAR a season with good pop, high on-base, stolen base and decent fielding skills. That contract was a bust in just about every way.
Beginning in 2009, Weeks had a three-year run of scoring a 120+ wOBA a season. 2010 was a particularly productive and break out season in which Weeks compiled over 300 total bases and got on base 276 times. Both were career highs as were his home runs, RBIs and runs scored that season. He led the league in getting hit by pitches in 2010 for the second time in his career.
Weeks missed about a third of the following season of 2011 but still scored in the same ranges in the time he did play. Thus, it might have seemed reasonable for the Brewers to extend the deal they made to their second baseman. It just didn't work out that way.
In 2012, the first year of the deal, Weeks played a full season and compiled 677 plate appearances. But his OPS dropped 90 points and his wRC+ dropped 27 points. According to the numbers, his defense also totally crapped out.
In 2010, Weeks was rated the second most valuable second baseman in baseball behind only Cano. In 2012, he was only the 20th best. But it would get worse...much worse.
Weeks started 2013 badly. He had a .615 OPS for April. It was even worse at .506 in May. He had a great June and seemed to be back to himself. But in July, he plummeted to .582. On August 8, mercifully, he was shut down for the rest of the season for a hamstring injury for which he had surgery and did not play again the rest of the season.
For 2013, in 399 plate appearances, he compiled a woeful triple slash line of: .209/.306/.357. Scooter Gennett finished out the season for the Brewers at second base and come on gangbusters (cliche alert) and was named the starting second baseman for the Brewers for 2014. Weeks was now a pretty expensive bench player.
The funny thing is, Rickie Weeks' bat bounced back. He played 57 times at second base and compiled an .861 OPS as a starter there. He also pinch hit 56 times with less success and DHed twice. But otherwise, he was no longer in the Brewers' plans. Add in the fact that his fielding was still abominable.
Since he played in only 104 games in 2013 and only 121 in 2014, he did not reach the totals necessary for his option for 2015 to kick in automatically. His Brewers days were over.
How are the Mariners going to use him? Obviously, they already have a VERY expensive second baseman on board. Weeks has never played a position other than second base in his entire MLB and MiLB career. Can he suddenly play the outfield? Will he be tried at third? First? It seems a rather strange signing.
Then again, if Weeks is back offensively, he is a right-handed batter and the Mariners have needed that in their lineup. Will he be the DH? It is hard to say what the M's are thinking when signing Weeks.
It might be a good thing for Weeks to learn a new position and rebuild his value. His annual salary took a beating and his former team gave up on him. Those two things can be highly motivational. The things we do know are that Weeks might not be done as a hitter but is quite done as a viable second baseman. The Mariners could still make that work and turn this head scratching into something none of us would have thought about.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Jon Jay is quite a bargain

There are times when emotions run smack into reality. And this post is one of those times. I have never been a big fan of Jon Jay of the St Louis Cardinals. I didn't think he was a bad player. He simply felt like an obstacle from others getting to play that I thought were better. In 2012 and 2013, I felt that Jay got in the way of Shane Robinson.  Last year, I felt he got in the way of Peter Bourjos. I was wrong both times and now that he has signed a two-year, team-friendly deal, the Cardinals got quite a bargain.
You have to look at all the numbers before you can appreciate Jay very much. For example, I never would have guessed that Jay had a 112 wOBA for his career. In fact, in his five years with the Cardinals, Jay has never had a year with a wOBA less than a hundred. I never would have guessed that.
Next, I never would have pegged Jon Jay for having a career .359 OBP.  Not only that, but for the last two seasons, Jay has been over .370 in the category. His combined on-base percentage over the last two years is the 25th best in baseball. I never would have guessed that.
Jay is a left-handed batter who is one of the few with very good splits against left-handed pitching. He only came to the plate 94 times against lefties in 2014, but he still had an OPS against them of .859 (much higher than against right-handeed pitchers). And Jay has a .718 OPS in his career against lefties.
Jay is also very consistent and not prone to bad months. His second half totals over the years are better (slightly) than his first half totals. But they are so close together, you barely notice them.  It seems he is going to give you a good quality at bat each time he comes to the plate. His career 16% strikeout rate for his career is very reasonable for this age of strikeout rates through the roof.
If you just look at his ground ball to fly ball ratio, he looks rather Jeterish with many more ground balls than fly balls. It works out to a 2.33 career ratio. But, the ground balls work for him as he has a .278 BABIP on ground balls for his career. The MLB average is closer to .230.
Better yet, he hits a lot of line drives. His line drive percentage in 2013 was 26.7% and an incredible 28.3% in 2014. If you combine the last two seasons, Jon Jay has the fourth highest line drive percentage in baseball, trailing only Freddie FreemanJames Loney and Joe Mauer.
The success on ground balls and the amount of line drives leads to a high BABIP and he has been over .350 in that category for two of the last three seasons. Another factor of that is his willingness to hit to the opposite field. Jay has actually put more balls in play to the opposite field in his career than he has pulling the ball. And when he hits to the opposite field, his batting average is over .400!
The two weaknesses in Jay's offensive game are his lack of power and his fairly low walk rate. Hitting mostly line drives and ground balls, that leaves little way his batted balls can ever go over the fence. And his 6.0% walk rate in 2014 was below his career average of 6.8%, which is not very high. He will swing at pitches out of the strike zone 30% of the time or more.
All that said, Jon Jay is a solid offensive performer and has consistently been so for his entire career. He is not going to hit you the three-run homer, but he will hit for average and get on base better than league average.
I think some of the knock on Jay from people like me and others is that we see him the most in the post season and he has not had much success in the post season. And he misplayed a couple of balls in the outfield in the World Series against the Red Sox. "He takes bad routes to the ball," we are told. That may be, but his defense has been solid.
Jay finished with negative defensive marks in 2013. But the year before and then last year in 2014, the marks have been above average. There is no denying that he has a really weak arm and can't throw very well. But he is not going to kill you in center according to the numbers.
Looking through Jon Jay's numbers have been a surprise and I guess I can shut up now. Jay has averaged 2.24 WAR per season and 2.58 over the last four. In today's market, that makes him roughly a $12.9 million player. That said, his recent contract will pay him $10.98 million (total) for the next two years. The Cardinals have done a nice job here of going to the department store and signing a player for half off. That's quite the deal.

P.S. Several mentioned on Twitter that Jay's deal was not a bargain since Jay was 2nd Year arbitration eligible. Well...I know that. But I still peg his value at $12.9 million and Jay is giving up his right to have a hearing for much more next year, so my point still stands.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Funny Manfred would say, "Inject"

Rob Manfred has been the commissioner of Major League Baseball for less than a month and already he is making me very nervous.  It is apparent that he is not happy about the current state of offense in the game. In an interview with Karl Ravech, Manfred said he wanted to "inject some offense into the game." Interesting choice of words there, Mr. Commissioner.
There have been five historic ways to "inject" offense. There is expansion where teams are added and the talent pool of good pitching gets floated with pitchers who would not ordinarily make the cut. It is not a coincidence that Roger Maris hit 61 homers the year of an expansion. Although Bud Selig did mention expansion on his way out, anything imminent is not in sight.
The second historic way to increase offense is to lower the mound. This was famously done after 1968's historic "Year of the Pitcher." With the constant threat to pitcher's arms, this one sounds dangerous to consider.
The third way to increase offense is to fudge the baseballs. Many theorize that the flood of home run balls after the last baseball stoppage had less to do with steroids and more to do with the baseball.
The fourth way is to mess around with the strike zone. Calling it tighter helps offense. Calling it looser helps the pitchers (hello Tom Glavine).
And finally, there are performance enhancing drugs. And that is why I got such a kick out of Manfred's choice of words. Injecting is something baseball has tried very hard to eliminate from the game.
While all five of these scenarios change the game to a degree, they do not, of themselves, change how the game is played. The rules of play stay the same except for measuring the mound. What Rob Manfred is talking about is to change the rules of play. And that does not make me a happy camper.
I do not like less offense as an observer of the sport. Lord knows, I have ranted over the current state of strikeouts in the game. I have hated the sight of player after player refusing to try and stop the infield shift. But I also have followed the sport long enough to know that offense and pitching are cyclical to a degree and the conditions of this era will not be the same as the next.
As someone who would rather not see a bunch of .230 hitters with .290 on-base percentage who strike out 150 times a year, I do not want to fiddle with the rules of play just to make more runs happen. I don't like artificially changing the rules to change the game. Pitch clocks make me squirm in the same way.
But, William, you might ask, haven't they already changed rules like the Buster Posey rule at home plate and the take out side at second? Well, yes. But in the case of the former, you are protecting players (which worked by the way) and a player still has to try to score while the other team tries to prevent it. In the latter, you are simply enforcing base line running rules already in place.
But eliminating shifts is a totally another ballgame. You are limiting teams from placing their fielders where they desire to place them. This is a huge and fundamental rule shift that limits what a team can do defensively. Are infielders going to have boxes like coaching boxes where they have to stay? That would be ugly.
As others have already pointed out (Dave Cameron for example), BABIP hasn't changed all that much with the exponential growth in the use of shifts. The biggest problem in baseball is that there are less balls in play than ever before. Strikeouts have never been higher in the history of baseball. So what's next then? If you want to inject offense, change a strikeout to four strikes. No thank you.
How far can you take this once you start this kind of tinkering? Are you going to force teams with big ballparks to bring in their outfield walls? Are you going to eliminate how many relief pitchers a team can use?
The interview brought up the subject of there being a lot of smart people in the game. Those smarts have figured out how to use data to place fielders where batters tend to hit most of their balls in play. Those same people have figured out how to exploit batters for more strikes and swings and misses.
Just as smart people have brought the shifts to baseball, the same smart people can find ways for offenses to beat those shifts. Players with big swing and miss potential will not always be in vogue. Like I said, these things are cyclical. Let the game progress naturally. Baseball will always be about the intrigue of how one team tries to get an edge to beat its opponent. Just leave it alone.
The interview linked above was the first time we got a real chance to hear from Rob Manfred. And frankly, it was a little chilling to hear his mindset of artificially adding offense to the game. It is a terrible idea to change the way baseball is played on the field and doing so should always be done with extreme caution and care.
Performance Enhancing Drugs were such a problem because in many people's minds, it altered the outcomes of statistics in what has always been a traditional game. It was the artificial enhancement that people objected to. "Injecting offense" has the same artificial feel and to me puts such artificial means in the same category as PEDs. Please don't go there, Mr. Manfred. Just don't.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The BBA and me

This must be my morning for mixed feelings. I just wrote about the Dan Haren situation and now I am writing about the Baseball Bloggers Association (BBA). If you haven't heard by now, the BBA has a new president in Niko Goutakolis and he has asked me to be the vice-president. Goutakolis seems to have the energy and ambition to run with this thing and that is a good thing. He asked me to take my position as Veep to balance the young with the old. The old would be me.
I owe a lot to the BBA. Through my association with the association (which works if you think about it), I have "met" lots of people I treasure on Twitter and have even met a few in person. A good chunk of my regular readership comes from these folks I have come to know through the BBA.
As such, I became a chapter president of one of the largest chapters in the BBA and did what I could to promote the writers that were under me. I did link posts, etc. I would like to think it helped, at least a little bit.
But I have also become one of the BBA's most vocal critics in the past few years. Frankly, I was much so that I gave up my chapter presidency because I didn't see the point.
The Baseball Bloggers Association has always been a great idea. It was founded by a very good and very popular man and through his skills grew to include some pretty high-octane writers as well as providing a place for up and coming writers to have a voice and a community. As the world was moving from printed media to online markets, the BBA was timed perfectly to form an association of those of us who developed our online niche.
But a few years ago it bogged down. The founder had small children, his own business and another association around his team that occupied his time. It is understandable that he ran aground on personal resources to take the BBA to the next step. He stepped down and that did not bring improvement. 
A post I shared here led to an upheaval of sorts and the founder took back the presidency and hope was raised. But his time constraints had not eased or changed and sometimes the entrepreneur is not the guy to take a company to the next level.
So here we are after basically four years of stagnation and deflation. Other groups have passed us by. There has been no spark and no energy. We have not gone to the next level but have had our roof bowed by really heavy snow.
Mr. Goutakolis has repeatedly asked me to make a statement. I'm not quite sure this is what he had in mind (wan smile). I agreed to be his vice president for two reasons. First, there is still that measure of gratitude for what my membership has meant to me. Second, if I was going to be vocal in my discontent, how could I not want to be part of the solution if there is one?
So far, I like the energy and communication I see from our new president. I hope he can get the BBA moving. There is so much to be done. The BBA needs to be a real mechanism for promotion of its members. It needs to rebuild its reputation within the baseball writing community. The BBA needs to focus on quality writing and be judicious in who can join. There needs to be avenues of cooperation and perhaps even regional meetings to bring writers together. Perhaps there should be a fee involved to be a member so there is a budget to accomplish something.
There needs to be better structure to voting for awards and participation by members is not optional. Either you participate in these votes or you are not a member. Our press releases need to become news. As our members move up in their writing careers, we should be featuring them and taking some credit for the advancement. Our involvement with the BBA should mean something on our resumes.
On the personal side, Niko Goutakolis' request of me couldn't have come to me at a lower ebb. After writing nearly 4,000 long form posts over the last eleven years, I'm a little toasted and have had a bit of a block in my writing in the last few months. I have always been nothing but prolific, but have struggled to put up posts lately. Perhaps at my low energy cycle, it would have been fairer to Mr. Goutakolis if I had politely declined.
But I didn't. There is a certain "put your money where your mouth is" that goes along with my acceptance. Therefore I am willing to give this a try and support our new president.
He's got a tough row to hoe, to use a trite expression. After years of stagnation, it's now or never for the BBA. Either we take the next step or it becomes meaningless to continue. I will do what I can to help. Let's give this thing a push, shall we? Perhaps it is not too late to find the torrent in the stream.

Dan Haren owes baseball nothing

Or does he?
I have been having this internal debate about Dan Haren's position about pitching for the Marlins for about two weeks now. Every time I get a handle on how I feel about how he is handling this trade to the East Coast, my emotions turn the other way.
We can all understand Dan Haren's desire to stay close to his family on the West Coast and he signed his free agent contract out there to facilitate his desire. Family is a noble thing. I once turned down a sure $160 grand job in Georgia because I did not want to leave my daughter behind. I get it. In fact, I should get it more than most.
One of the main differences in my situation and Haren's is that I was not under contract. I did not sign a piece of paper in good faith that said I would perform XYZ expectations in return for a financial gain. Haren did sign such a piece of paper.
He has made perfect use of the collective bargaining agreement to earn himself $71 million in his career playing baseball. He is signed another $10 million to do so again in 2015. His contract did not include a no-trade agreement although there is some murkiness as to what was promised him when he signed.
In fact, Haren has earned $35 million in the last three years being a less than league-average pitcher. In this age of pitching, his FIP has been over four for three straight years. But that's not really fair as he is more or less getting paid what he couldn't make when he was younger and was really worth something as a pitcher.
He has already told the Marlins (according to the linked story) that he doesn't want to play there. He is basically asking them to trade him back out West. All this speculation has caused to put up a poll on where he will end up. The biggest choice so far is that he will retire. Really?
Has he made enough money to throw away $10 million? For all his lack of success the last three years, he is a strike-throwing machine who has made thirty-plus starts ten years in a row. That kind of durability will get you a good contract somewhere on the open market once his obligation for 2015 is over.
Would he really leave all that money on the table? If the Marlins cannot, or will not trade him, would he just quit? Or would he sit out a year? Why can't he just rent out a bungalow in Miami for a season and move his family there? He certainly has the money. It is a temporary inconvenience for the family en route to millions of dollars of potential earnings.
The decision would seem to be easy. Miami has a spacious ballpark. One can see Haren building back his reputation as a starter and freeing him to play his hand in 2016.
Let's think about Miami's position for a moment. They already have their $10 million from the Dodgers. They got paid whether Haren pitches for them or not.  If Haren sits home with his millions, they still have their money and won't have to shell it out. If he plays for them, they can pencil in 30 starts, which is still something.  Or they can trade him and get value knowing that a trade partner would basically pay Haren nothing to pitch for them.
What would you do if you were the Marlins? Frankly, I would call his bluff. If you want to throw away $10 million smackers, have yourself a nice day. The collective bargaining agreement between the players and the teams is pretty fair. And the fact is that he is under contract.
So what happens if Haren sits out the year? What should baseball do then? Should he be allowed to play 2016 when he effectively broke his contract? I don't know the answer to that and what the provisions are for that circumstance.
What I do know is that I am no closer to resolving this moral dilemma for myself. I know it doesn't matter what *I* think. But I am sure that I am not the only one thinking about Haren's situation.
Where I am, basically, is where I started. Dan Haren has made his millions and owes no man anything and can walk away if he wants to. He owes baseball nothing except for that contract he signed in good faith. That contract and the fact that baseball has been the means of his family having the lifestyle they lead swing me over to the other side of the moral reading.
Thus, my conclusion is wishy-washy. Dan Haren owes baseball nothing, but yet again, he owes baseball everything.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Who are the Tampa Bay Rays now?

We have become so used to the Tampa Bay Rays being the smartest kids on the block that last year's down season seemed unreal. Now, after a turbulent off season that has seen two pieces of the brain trust leave for greener pastures, are the Rays still the Rays? Well, they still have Evan Longoria and Tropicana Field, so there's that. But who or what is this team now?
The body blows actually began last year when David Price was dealt to the Tigers. Price, more than any other Rays player was the face of that team. His presence on Twitter, his personality and, of course, his talent on the field made him a star. A bit of the genius luster came off on what was perceived to be little return for Price with the trade.
As soon as the 2014 season was over, Andrew Friedman bolted to the Dodgers. Friedman was long considered one of the best front office people anywhere. His departure also created a loophole in Joe Maddon's contract. Maddon opted out and after a brief courtship and bidding war, he has now gone to manage the Cubs.
Whether the reputation is earned or not, Maddon had become the model of what a great manager was supposed to look like. He was the master motivator and innovator. He helped turn what was a devil of a franchise into a winning one. He made other managers over-manage to try to keep up with him. If Friedman was one part of the brain, then Maddon was the other along with being the heart of the franchise.
The spigot stayed open after Friedman and Maddon. Jeremy Hellickson is gone. Wil Myers (in a shocker) is gone. Joel PeraltaRyan Hanigan and Matt Joyce are gone. Jose Molina finally tipped over the age scale.
This should go without saying, but time will tell on how these trades all work out. But from this early standpoint, only two of all those prospects netted by all those trades are ranked by Baseball Prospectus. Add them to the Price trade haul and all the deals feel more like salary dumps than strategic moves.
David Price's departure hurts, but the pitching still looks like the most impressive part of this team. Alex Cobb has become a star. Chris Archer was terrific until it seemed like he hit a wall in the second half. He should benefit from that experience. Matt Moore will be back in the early part of the season. Jake Odorizzi can be as good as Hellickson or better. Drew Smyly has a chance to be very good. The only real question in the rotation is Alex Colome, but he is a highly rated prospect who has shown poise in his two cups of coffee.
The bullpen needs to get a healthy Jake McGee back but, otherwise, has some good arms, especially in Brad BoxbergerKevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri can make the group formidable.
And so the pitching looks solid at least with perhaps a hole or two that time will sort out. But the offense, already 14th in the American League last year in OPS has taken more of a hit than the pitching.
I cannot understand giving up on Wil Myers, but perhaps they had their reasons. Longoria was finally healthy and played all 162 games. But his output offensively was surprisingly mundane. Desmond Jennings has to be considered a disappointment thus far. Ben Zobrist has been great, but will be 34 in 2015. Other than those guys, there is a whole lot of meh in the rest of the lineup.
Kevin Kiermaier is a very good player but his offense faded a bit at the end and he will need to prove himself again in the lineup. James Loney is useful, but behind these five guys previously mentioned, the lineup as it stands now does not scare anyone.  An unproven Steven SouzaDavid DeJesusRene Rivera and Yunel Escobar round out the group.
The other bothersome thing about the offense that is currently constructed is that it is overly right-handed in a park that seems to favor left-handed batters more. Both catchers are right-handed and of a really weak bench, only Nick Franklin is a switch-hitter who shows some promise and is at least young enough to emerge from the group.
With the Rays' 2014 finish, perhaps some of the mystique was already gone on these upstart Rays. After an impressive run of success, everything came to a screeching halt last season and only a late-season surge prevented them from fighting the Red Sox for the bottom spot in the AL East.
A year later, with their GM and manager gone and several players becoming more expensive gone as well, it is difficult to gauge who this team is now. Has the sun set on this Rays team or is a new dawn about to begin? The former seems more likely than the latter, but time will tell. The only thing that is sure about the 2015 Rays: They will feel really different.