July 27, 2009

NEW POST ALERT

There is a new post here, three entries below this one. It got slotted in based on when I began writing it (approximately seven years ago), which meant it might've gotten overlooked had I not been here pointing it out while screaming, "READ, DAMN YOU!" You're welcome.

Visual AIDS: A Recap of CDR Radio 63

Featuring host Scott Aukerman and guests Jon Hamm and Rich Sommer, with a surprise visit from Gerald "T-Bones" Tibbons.









July 24, 2009

Is Jim Hendry with the Cardinals now?

Huh?
The Athletics and Cardinals have completed a trade that sends outfielder Matt Holliday to St. Louis in exchange for third baseman Brett Wallace, outfielder Shane Peterson and right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen, sources confirmed to ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney.
Even with the reported $1.5 million the Cardinals will get from the A's, this is just a horrible deal for them. First off, while much has been made of Holliday's poor season, his .286/.378/.454 line is right on par with his career road stats (.281/.351/.450), suggesting that any perception of Holliday as an elite hitter can be almost entirely attributed to Coors Field (Sound familiar, Vinny Castilla/Dante Bichette/Garrett Atkins fans?), where he's gone .357/.423/.645. While he might see a slight bump in his seasonal numbers from moving back to the easier league, if the Cards are expecting him to be this year's Manny Ramirez-to-the-Dodgers acquisition, they are most likely going to be sorely disappointed.

But where it really gets ugly? What the Cardinals gave up. While Mortensen's 24 and doesn't appear to be that great of a pitching prospect, Baseball America still ranked him #6 in the Cardinals system. The team's sandwich pick (#36 overall) in 2007, he had an impressive debut that year, when as a 22-year-old he (somewhat predictably) blew away Low-A hitters. Last year, the righty split time at AA and AAA, in the latter stop walking 42 while striking out just 57 in 80 innings. Back in Triple-A this year, he's been better, with an 82:34 K to BB ratio in 105 innings pitched, and has allowed about a hit an inning, right in line with his career rate. He could end up being a decent bullpen arm, but I wouldn't expect much more than that.

Peterson, the Cards' second rounder (#59) in 2008, is a corner outfielder/first baseman. The lefty debuted last year in the short-season New York Penn League, where in 275 plate appearances, he showed a propensity for hitting doubles (20), drawing walks (39) and whiffing (65 Ks), while posting a .291/.400/.409 line. He started this season in High-A, where both his walk and strikeout rates dropped, but after going .298/.367/.428 in 319 PAs -- remember, this was after skipping Low-A entirely -- he was promoted to Double-A. He's had just 80 PAs there, but has held his own at .284/.338/.405. While he might never hit for enough power -- I'm smelling a bit of a left-handed Matt Murton -- he is still just 21 years old and he can run a little bit too, going 12-for-13 in stolen bases this year.

Mortensen and Peterson alone would have represented a decent return for Holliday, but as prospects they pale in comparison to Wallace. With Colby Rasmus now in the majors, Wallace, a 22-year-old third baseman, was far and away the Cards' top minor leaguer. The 13th-overall pick in last year's draft, the lefty-hitting Wallace has already made it to Triple-A, where he's posted a respectable .293/.346/.423 line in 243 PAs. A little more than a year after leaving college, Wallace has accumulated 631 PAs -- split somewhat close to equally between A, AA, and AAA -- and gone .306/.390/.466.

Coming into the season, Baseball America ranked Wallace as the #40 prospect in all of baseball; ESPN's Keith Law, meanwhile, had him at 19. And his performance this year has only enhanced his standing. Any way you slice it, Wallace is one of the very best prospects in the minors, and giving him away for a middling talent like Holliday is an enormous blunder.

Holliday is raking in a cool $13.5 million this season in the final year of his contract. So if the Cardinals don't try to sign him to an extension -- something they might feel pressure to do, which would only compound their mistake, in my eyes -- he will become a free agent. But before you go adding a couple of compensatory selections to the Cardinals' side of the ledger, keep in mind that in order to get those extra draft picks, the Cardinals first have to offer Holliday arbitration. And that might present a huge risk for the Cards, because with teams likely to again be tight-fisted this off-season, Holliday just might accept, putting the Cardinals on the hook for another season in the $15 million range. There is a good chance that, like what was done with Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell, and Bobby Abreu (among others), the Cardinals might decline to offer Holliday arbitration, meaning they would lose him -- and all those prospects -- for absolutely nothing. Whoops, I stand corrected. For two-and-a-half months of slightly-above-average corner-outfielder production.

Incidentally, I just read Walt Jocketty was out coffin shopping so that he'll have a suitable place in which to roll over.

July 23, 2009

LeBron L'erreur

Ending what has to have been the stupidest scandal in recent history, the video of LeBron James being dunked on has finally been leaked on the internet. And I have to say, WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA?!?!?!?!?!?

That was what all the hubbub was about? Jordan Crawford -- not LeBron's man, by the way -- drives, goes up for a dunk, LeBron's a little late rotating over, and the kid dunks it. It's not like LeBron was standing between him and the hoop, jumped, and the kid smashed it on his head. I don't even know if I'd call what happened getting "dunked on". It was that benign.

Why Nike and/or LeBron made this into an international incident, I have no idea. If this thing had just popped up on the internet without the preceding brouhaha, my guess is 99% of basketball fans would have never even heard of it, and those that had and then bothered to watch it wouldn't have given it a second thought. Instead, 99% of the people on the planet have heard LeBron got dunked on and that he was so embarassed/insecure that he actually had all tapes of it confiscated. And now, a tremendously small percentage of them will actually watch the play, or ever see how run-of-the-mill it really is. Instead most will just imagine the second coming of Scottie Pippen-vs.-Patrick Ewing.

Just a huge miscalculation on behalf of Nike and LeBron, as instead of defusing any story they created one that was infinitely larger. They have turned a minor embarrassment into a major headache, and added even more fuel to the LeBron-is-overrated fire. Look, I understand LeBron is a cottage industry. But that's doesn't mean he should shit a brick any time someone briefly gets the better of him on the basketball court.

July 19, 2009

Visual AIDS: A Recap of CDR Radio 62

Featuring host Scott Aukerman with special guests Andy Richter, Bennett Stephens, and Don't Stop or We'll Die.









July 16, 2009

Mid-season player analysis, only slightly past the expiration date

Alright, so I'm a little late to this party. But as a follow up to my review of Jim Hendry's off-season machinations, I'd like to do a player-by-player analysis (mostly through the All-Star break, but sometimes later depending on when I actually got around to writing the player's section) of everyone who has been on the Cubs roster this year.

These evaluations will be based solely on what a player has done, not whether they should have acquired him in the first place, or if he's grossly underperforming his 8-year, $136-million contract. I am also going to incorporate a stat I have never used here, UZR/150. UZR stands for Ultimate Zone Rating, the /150 part is per 150 games, and it is an advanced fielding metric that how many runs better (or worse) than average a player is at his position, over the course of 150 games. It is probably the most useful defensive statistic out there, and far more telling of a player's ability than fielding percentage and the like.* Don't worry about the actual number; for the most part I will only reference where a player's UZR/150 ranks among major-league players with at least 200 innings at the position this season.

* Fielding percentage is pretty much useless because it only reveals how a player did on balls he actually had the range to get to, which means he might have made far fewer plays than someone else could have. But let's say we have a machine that releases a predetermined but seemingly-random series of 600 ground balls, liners, and pop ups -- basically a system that allows for completely identical conditions. Shortstop A gets to 400 balls and makes 10 errors. Shortstop B gets to 500 but makes 20 errors. That's twice as many errors for B, and a fielding percentage (.960 vs. .975) that's 15 points lower. But Shortstop B has undoubtedly been the more valuable defensive player, as he turned 480 (500-20) balls into outs, versus just 390 (400-10) for A. In other words, B has allowed 20% of would-be hitters to reach safely, compared to 35% for Shortstop A. But if we use only the most basic fielding stats, A appears to be the better shortstop; the more advanced metrics at least attempt to measure a player's actual impact.

Finally, if you're not a huge stat person, keep in mind that anytime you see the "slash stats" that I so often use -- you know, a series of numbers like .214/.313/.286 -- those represent batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage. We cool? Good. You are now fully prepared for my alphabetical list of players.

Jeff Baker
He has just 16 plate appearances as a Cub, and has a .214/.313/.286 line. Given the right circumstances -- which would include never letting him bat against a righty -- Baker can probably be mildly productive. But if he continues to take at-bats away from Mike Fontenot, I'm really not going to like him. Grade: Incomplete

Andres Blanco
Inexplicably thrust into a starting role when instead of inserting Jake Fox at third when Aramis Ramirez went down, the Cubs moved Fontenot there, Blanco has been totally overmatched at the plate, going .222/.276/.272 in 92 PAs, good (?) for an OPS+ of 43. I'm not quite sure what the Cubs were expecting, given his career .256/.317/.319 line in over a thousand Triple-A PAs.

Oh, that's right. They were enamored with his great defense. Well, it's been somewhat less great than advertised, as he ranks 23rd in the majors in UZR/150 at second base, among players with at least 100 innings at the position. Yes, he's slightly above average, but his bat is so far below he needs to be Bill Mazeroski over there to compensate. Grade: D

Milton Bradley
While working on yesterday's post, I was shocked to discover that Bradley has the best on-base percentage (.379) of any Cub with more than 20 PAs. Sure, his .243 batting average and .381 slugging percentage have been disappointing, but he has not been a total disaster by any means.

In fact, now that Alfonso Soriano seems to have been(mercifully) removed from the top of the order, I think the Cubs should bat Bradley leadoff. His seasonal OBP is right in line with his career mark, and look what he's done over his last 39 games before the break:

AB----R----H---2B--3B---HR---RBI---BB---SO---BA---OBP---SLG---OPS
114---15--33----7---1----2----12----27---25--.289--.434--.421---.855


Sure, he's not going to steal many bases, but he's also going to make far fewer outs than anyone else Lou Piniella's likely to try there. C'mon Lou! Don't let your creativity be limited to Sean-Marshall-plays-left-field-for-a-single-batter-before-retaking-the-mound-type moves.

Speaking of outside the box, who woulda thunk that Bradley woulda remained relatively healthy during the first half, avoiding the disabled list altogether? Not me, that's for sure. Which only means he's due for multiple trips in the second half.

Then there's Bradley's defense in right, which was billed as an upgrade over recent Cubs 9's like Sammy Sosa, Jeromy Burnitz, and Jacque Jones. Umm, not so much. In fact, Bradley is the 32nd best right fielder (out of 34 qualifiers) in the major leagues. Which is odd, because Bradley has actually been a good fielder throughout his career, and one would have to assume that being a full-time DH last year would have made him even better.

Of course, one area where Bradley hasn't disappointed is in the crazies, where he's already thrown a ball in the stands when there were only two outs, feuded with Piniella, and claimed there was a vast umpiring conspiracy against him. He is, at the very least, an interesting player to follow. Grade: C-

Mike Fontenot
I covered Fontenot extensively in yesterday's post, but I'll reiterate that while he's slumped badly at the plate after a great first month, I believe it was due to the shift in positions, and that with Aramis Ramirez back, he's poised for a nice comeback second half. Provided Lou is smart enough to continue to give him regular at bats.

I really like the way that Fontenot shifted over to third without a peep, and I never once heard him use the switch as an excuse for his poor performance at the plate. He just seems to be a great guy to have on team. Not surprisingly considering he is a novice at the position, Fontenot was slightly worse than average defensively at third. But as a second baseman, he currently has the third best UZR/150 in the majors, and the highest mark among active National Leaguers. Just one more reason he never should have been moved off the keystone -- not only did it effect his bat, it also made the Cubs markedly worse defensively. Grade: B

Jake Fox
This is another thing I've written plenty about, but Jake Fox has been pretty fucking brilliant. At the plate at least. His .906 OPS (in 90 PAs) is the highest on the team among players with significant at-bats, and he really performed once the Cubs inserted him as the starter at third.

Unfortunately, with Ramirez's return, Fox's shoddy defense has basically left him without a position. But just how shoddy is his defense? Actually, at third base at least, his defense has been hardly shoddy at all. In fact, his UZR/150 at the position is better than anyone else's on the team, be it Ramirez, Fontenot, or Aaron Miles. Granted, it could be a statistical anomoly, as he's only played a shade over 100 innings there, but right now he is one of the top-20 defensive third baseman (out of 55 with at least 100 innings) in all of baseball.

Given that he was able to play at least a passable third base as a fill-in, it is imperative for the Cubs to give Fox significant time at catcher with Geovany Soto out. After all, Fox has caught in 276 minor league games, and he had only played third five times. I understand his skills behind the plate have been found to be wanting, but they need to get his bat in the lineup and Soto's injury provides the opportunity to do so. Whatever advantages Koyie Hill's glove might carry, Fox's edge with the bat has to outweigh them. C'mon Lou! Don't let your creativity be limited to Sean-Marshall-plays-left-field-for-a-single-batter-before-retaking-the-mound-type moves. Grade: A

Ryan Freel
Was awful in limited opportunities before getting shipped out. Grade: F

Kosuke Fukudome
Stop me if you've heard this before: Fukudome started the season strong, but has slumped badly in June and July. However, his overall numbers still look decent at .251/.367/.421, acceptable for a center fielder.

Fukudome's defense in center, meanwhile, is also basically average, as he's at +1.6 runs/150 games. But considering his defensive numbers in right field are well above average, we have yet another reason to really dislike the Bradley signing.

And then there's this:

AB----R----H---2B--3B---HR---RBI---BB---SO---BA---OBP---SLG---OPS
118---11--21----6---2----2-----7-----15---27--.178--.269--.314--.582


Those are Fukudome's numbers since June 3. And those are not good. At any position. Grade: C-

Sam Fuld
Fuld has looked great in limited appearances, as his .375/.474/.563 line would be far and away the best on the team if it had come in more than 19 PAs. If the entire Cubs outfield plays like it did in the first half, he might get some opportunities to prove he is a legitimate big-league player. Grade: Incomplete

Joey Gathright
See Ryan Freel. Grade: F

Koyie Hill
For a backup catcher, he's hit, um, like a backup catcher. At .217/.301/.315 over 105 PAs this year, he now has career marks (in 364 PAs) of .198/.269/.291. Which I suppose is fine, when you're the backup catcher. He's also passable with the glove, throwing out 30% of basestealers in his career, and his catcher's ERA this season is almost a run better than Soto's, though last year it was a run-and-a-half worse, which is why I don't put a whole lot of stock in that stat. Anyway, with Soto out for at least a month, Hill is going to really hurt the Cubs with his bat if he's forced into an everyday role. Did I mention Lou should play Jake Fox back there? Grade: C

Micah Hoffpauir
Even though there wasn't a whole lot in Hoffpauir's minor-league track record (before 2008, at least) to indicate that he could sustain last year's success, I was nonetheless hoping that he would. He hasn't.

He's followed up his .342/.400/.534 season with a .241/.286/.429 one. While that seems to be a huge dropoff, it's not exactly what it seems. Last year, in 80 PAs, Hoffpauir had two home runs, six walks, and 24 strikeouts. This year, 182 PAs, eight homers, 10 walks, 39 strikeouts. Look at the ratios:

Year--HR%--BB%--K%
2008--2.5----7.5---30.0
2009--4.4----5.5---21.4

Yes, his walks are down, but so are his strikeouts, and his home runs are way up. So why the huge disparity in his overall batting line? Well, last year he had a crazy .489 BAbip. This year it's at an abnormally low .266. Both of these are things that happen when you deal with small sample sizes. The results might be worse, but I'd say he's probably been at least as good of a hitter. Just a rather unlucky one.

Hoffpauir has been a great defensive first baseman, a touch better than Derrek Lee actually. Unfortunately, Lee's bat/Milton Bradley's struggles/injuries has relegated Hoffpauir mostly to right field, where he's the third worst defender in all of baseball. Though he is better than Adam Dunn.

One more thing about Hoffpauir -- and this is an issue with basically all of the Cubs' young guys -- he's old. Hoffpauir's 29. Fox is 27. Fontenot is 29. Theriot is 29. Bobby Scales is 31. With the exception of Geovany Soto (26), all of the Cubs relatively inexperienced bats don't have a whole lot of upside left. That's definitely a problem going forward. Grade: C-

Reed Johnson
Johnson's another guy who's been a bit hit-unlucky, as his .271 BAbip is nearly 50 points off his career mark. That's resulted in a .248/.322/.398 line that's still not terrible for a backup CF.

Johnson looks good in the field, somewhat routinely making highlight plays, but I have my doubts as to whether he actually is good. UZR/150 says he's pretty much dead average, at 1.3, making him slightly better than his platoon partner Fukudome. I suppose they could do worse (see: Gathright, Joey). Grade: C+

Derrek Lee
I've covered Lee extensively before, so I'll just add that he's rebounded nicely from his year-long slump/slow start. Still, his .281/.354/.510 line is good, but not great for a first baseman, and I hope the Cubs don't make the mistake of extending his contract, which runs out after next year. I'll pass on a mid-to-late 30's Derrek Lee, thank you very much. Grade: B

Aaron Miles
The only good thing Miles has done this year is that he's had the decency to be hurt for a majority of it. Grade: F-

Aramis Ramirez
Ramirez is one of my all-time favorite ballplayers. Even before the Cubs acquired him, that was the case. I've always just loved saying his name. It's just a fun, cool-sounding name to say. But Ramirez , who missed two months with a left shoulder injury, is clearly not healthy. I've seen pained expressions on more than one swing, and combined with his .217/.294/.304 line since returning -- granted it's only 51 PAs -- I'm a little worried.

Plus, the injury is part of a growing career trend. Since establishing himself as a big leaguer by playing 158 games in 2001, here are Ramirez's totals since: 142, 159, 145, 123, 157, 132, 149, 99**. That's more than a full season of games, and he's now missed at least 30 games in three of the past five years. Plus, Aramis just turned 31. These past five seasons have been pretty much been his prime. Would there be any reason to believe he will somehow become healthier as he moves deeper into his 30s?

** The 99 games I used for this year represent a best-case scenario, meaning that -- having already missed 63 contests -- he would have to play in every game the rest of the year to reach that total.

Still, when healthy, Ramirez is a legitimate force. His absence (and subsequent struggles) is the biggest reason the Cubs offense has been such a disaster this year.

How much of a disaster? After leading the NL in runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and (obviously) OPS in 2008, here are the Cubs current standings in each category: 12th, 12th, 10th, 11th. They were also second in batting average last year, at 278. This season their .249 team average is good for 13th. How does a team batting average drop nearly 30 points in one season? I know they miss Mark DeRosa, but he ain't that good.

But it gets worse. The Cubs dominance at Wrigley Field has completely disappeared. At home, they're 11th in runs (203) and BA (.259), 12th in OBP (.335), and 8th in SLG (.416) and OPS (.751). Last year, they led the league in all five categories, and in OPS (.839) enjoyed a remarkable .035 advantage over the next-best team. Part of it might be the park itself. While Wrigley's home run park factor last season was 1.163, this year it's down to 1.035. Still, that doesn't quite explain 88 points of OPS. You know what would? If you skip the Bobby Scales section, you'll find your answer posthaste. Grade: C-

Bobby Scales
Ahh, young Bobby Scales. A mere eight-and-a-half months older than Aramis Ramirez, who's in his 12th season. Not that it's some sort of character flaw. In truth, Scales has done everything the Cubs have asked of him. He's got a very respectable .241/.333/.466 line, especially good for a utility player (Scales has played every position except catcher in the minors). It's not Scales' fault that he's old, or that Jim Hendry wasted a ton of cash on the less-capable Aaron Miles. In an insane 2,329 Triple-A plate appearances (dating back to 2003) Scales has hit .289/.380/.449. As a middle infielder, it's surprising Scales had never gotten a call from a big league club before this year.

Then again, Scales' UZR/150 at second base of -36.2 ranks him 42nd (of 43) in the National League. The only player worse is Ian Stewart, who's primarily a third baseman. Grade: B

Alfonso Soriano
Worst. Contract. EVER.

Soriano, whose deal was preposterous the moment he signed it, has not merely been an overpaid player this season, as he had been the last two. No, this year he's become an $17 million negative.

The site FanGraphs.com -- which I also used for the UZR data -- assigns value to players, in both batting [using park-adjusted runs above average, based on weighted on-base percentage (wOBA)] and fielding [based on UZR]. They then make adjustments for position -- Soriano's spot, left field, is the second-easiest to fill (behind first base), and thus has a negative correction factor --and what a replacement-level player could do, and ultimately calculate a player's dollar value for the season. Here are Soriano's numbers since 2006, his lone season with the Nationals and the one that led to his Powerball jackpot:

Year-Batting-Fielding-Value [in mil]
'06---32.2----8.1------$20.4
'07---22.1----19.5-----$22.7
'08---16.4----2.7------$13.8
'09---(4.1)---(6.2)-----($0.4)

That's right. Soriano's had negative value with the bat and glove, to the point that he's actually below replacement level. Meaning the Cubs could pull a guy out of Triple-A or off the bench -- say, I don't know, Jake Fox -- and have him outperform Soriano.^ Basically, anyone but Joey Gathright or Ryan Freel would be better than him.

^ Actually, Fox specifically has far outperformed Soriano. In just 98 PAs, Fox has accumulated $3.4 million in value.

Soriano is in severe decline, not all that surprising considering he is 33. The only reason his overall value hasn't gone down for the third straight season is the fluke year with the leather in '07. As a hitter, he's gone from one of the best in '06 to one of the worst, declining significantly in each season. Is he as bad as he's been this year? No, probably not. But he's not that good, either.

But there is good news, Cubs fans. Soriano will be gone just in time for the 2015 season. In the meantime, the Cubs will pay him $18 million per for the next five years after this one. Those will be his age 34-38 seasons. I'm not positive Soriano's deal tops Mike Hampton's on the list of all-time worst contracts, but it sure as shit ain't too far behind. Grade: F

Geovany Soto
As I have documented before, Soto struggled to start the season -- supposedly because he was so guilt-ridden from testing positive for weed -- before really picking it up in June. Of course, just as he was turning it around, Soto got hurt. His year has been a bit of a microcosm for the Cubs season: just when it appears everything might be okay, something else goes wrong. Grade: C-

Ryan Theriot
Other than knowing he's got a great nickname, I'm not sure what to make of The Riot. He entered this season with a career marks of .290/.362/.369. After being successful on 41 of 47 steal attempts (87.2%) over his first season-and-a-half, he was one of the league's least efficient base-stealers last year, going 22-for-35 (62.9%).

I was never the biggest Theriot fan because his minor league numbers pretty much sucked. Despite being old for pretty much every level, he has a career line of .271/.355/.337 in 2,364 minor-league plate appearances. He wasn't a particularly good base-stealer either (115-for-164, 70.1%). The only thing he did reasonably well was control the strike zone (260 walks against 264 strikeouts), but there wasn't much in his history to indicate he'd be a successful big-leaguer, especially considering he was already 27 -- the age at which players typically peak -- by the time he spent his first full season in the majors.

But at 29, Theriot has been a completely different ballplayer. With seven home runs already, he's equaled his career total entering the season; his home run rate is 1.7%, versus 0.5% in his previous seasons. That's helped him to a .418 slugging percentage, nearly 50 points better than his career mark. The power has come at a price, however. While his average (.298) hasn't suffered, his OBP has; after he's down 35 points from his career-best .387 of last year. This is due largely to a disturbing loss of control of the strike zone. After entering the season with fewer strikeouts (128) than walks (140), this year he's fanned nearly twice as often as he's walked (57 to 28). That is not a good sign, especially considering a falling walk rate -- Theriot's at 7.1% this season, after drawing a free pass in 11% of his plate appearances last year -- is as much to blame as his skyrocketing whiffs, which have gone from 8.6% over the last two seasons to 13.9% this year. In truth, I prefer the powerless, just-get-on-base version of Theriot^^ to this one.

^^ Additionally, the only reason Theriot's OBP coming into this season was only .362 is because of a insanely unlucky '07 season in which his BAbip was an absurdly-low .287; over the rest of his career, his BAbip is .339. Those missing 50 points of BAbip cost Theriot 24 hits -- but let's be conservative and add just half that many (12) hits to his stats. His average that year jumps from .266 to .288, and his OBP from .326 to .347; his career OBP then would've stood at .371.

I've never been particularly impressed by Theriot's defense, but it turns out that he's more than solid. His UZR/150 of 5.7 ranks fourth among regular NL shortstops, ahead of renowned glove men like Jimmy Rollins and Troy Tulowitzki. Last year, he was decidedly middle of the pack, with a 0.7, but he was very good in '07 as well. I'm not sure what to make of Theriot offensively, but he's proven to be a much better ballplayer than I thought. Grade: B

And that, thankfully, is all of the position players. I was planning on doing all the pitchers too, but the realities of work -- Work? What's that? -- are getting in the way. So that may never happen. Too bad, too. I'd love to dedicate 5,000 words to the walkinest staff in recent baseball history.

July 15, 2009

Hendry's ham-handed habits have his hordes hurting halfway home

Are you familiar with Casey McGehee? After the recent Cubs-Brewers series, you've probably had an assfull of him, as he went 7-for-9 with 6 RBIs in the final two games. That just continued what has been an impressive season for the unballyhooed rookie, as he currently sports a .329/.387/.541 line.

As good as that is, the 26-year-old rookie has been a revelation for the Brewers since oft-injured Rickie Weeks offed himself to the DL with a season-ending wrist injury and McGehee was thrust into a role as a regular. Starting on May 19, McGehee's stats are:

AB----R----H---2B--3B---HR---RBI---BB---SO---BA---OBP---SLG---OPS
130---23--45---11---1----6----27----15---22--.346--.408--.585--.993


I was out of town the last time the Cubs played the Brewers, so I didn't catch the broadcasts of the games. But did you know that, despite that extra he, McGehee pronounces his last name like Willie McGee, not Willis McGahee? I did. How? Because some five years ago, as I regularly frequented a certain team's minor-league affiliates' web sites, I was greeted an audio clip on one of them that said this:
"Hi. This is Daytona Cubs' third baseman Casey McGehee. Welcome to www.daytonacubs.com."
That's right. Casey McGehee used to be the property of the Cubs.

Admittedly, I wasn't high enough on McGehee as a prospect to even notice that he was gone until I saw his name on the Milwaukee depth chart at the beginning of the season. A line of .282/.335/.410 in 1154 Triple-A plate appearances, as well as a .286/.347/.422 one in 934 AA PA's, didn't exactly scream 2009 Rookie-of-the-Year candidate. Perhaps this year's numbers -- boosted by a .359 BABip -- aren't all that sustainable, but that's irrelevant.

Because the Cubs didn't trade McGehee to the Brewers, oh no. Milwaukee merely claimed McGee off waivers from the Cubs on October 29. Which means that the Cubs lost someone who, at minimum, is a viable major-league bench guy, for nothing. To one of their biggest rivals, no less. I have no idea why the Cubs would ask for waivers on a 26-year-old who can play all over the infield. Perhaps Jim Hendry needed to open up a spot on the 40-man for one of his impressive off-season acquisitions. You know, like Joey Gathright.

I mention this not to ridicule the Cubs (though that is a nice bonus) but because the loss of McGehee wasn't among the 12 transactions I covered in my Cubs' season preview. With the Cubs sitting at 43-43 at the break, let's re-acquaint ourselves with the off-season maneuverings that have resulted in the Cubs being 8 games worse than at the same point last year. And for the record, I'm giving Losing Casey McGahee on waivers to the Milwaukee Brewers a good, solid F.

Jettisoning Kerry Wood
Pre-season grade: F
My issue with getting rid of Kerry Wood is unchanged. It's not that they let him go -- the implications of which I will cover in the Kevin Gregg section below -- it's that they failed to offer him arbitration, meaning they received no compensation for losing him. Since that is unchanged, so is my grade. Grade: F

Trading for Kevin Gregg
Pre-season grade: F
Gregg has been acceptable as a closer. He's also been better than Wood, though Wood is pitching for a bad team in the superior league. Let's compare their numbers:

Wood: 30.2 IP, 27 H, 18 ER, 6 HR, 17 BB, 33 K, 5.28 ERA, 1.435 WHIP, 12-of-16 saves
Gregg: 40.2 IP, 35 H, 15 ER, 6 HR, 16 BB, 41 K, 3.32 ERA, 1.254 WHIP, 16-of-19 saves

Actually, some of the numbers are remarkably similar; both have been homer-prone and have shown iffy control. (In addition to the walks, Gregg has hit three batters, Wood none.) Wood has allowed 7.9 hits and has recorded 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings pitched; Gregg has given up 7.7 H/9 and posted 9.1 K/9. Still, Gregg has been the more effective pitcher.

However, the Cubs didn't trade Wood for Gregg, although the latter did slide into the former's slot. Instead, the Cubs gave up top pitching prospect Jose Ceda for Gregg, and that -- in addition to my lack of confidence in Gregg's abilities -- was what resulted in the low grade. Well Ceda, who some gave an outside shot of making the Marlins' pen out of spring training, has yet to pitch an inning anywhere this year. Though minor league injuries are almost impossible to track down, just yesterday the Miami Herald reported that Ceda has undergone shoulder surgery and will miss the entire season. With a hard-thrower, a shoulder injury is the absolute last thing you'd want, so it appears that Hendry either got a little lucky or knew something that the rest of us did not. Grade: C

Re-signing Ryan Dempster
Pre-season grade: D
Halfway through the first season of Dempster's four-year, $52-million deal, it ain't lookin so hot. His line:

5-5, 17 GS, 105.2 IP, 101 H, 48 ER, 13 HR, 44 BB, 89 K, 4.09 ERA, 1.372 WHIP

While those numbers aren't terrible, compared to last season's, there are plenty of reasons to worry.

2008: 151 ERA+, 7.6 H/9, 0.6 HR/9, 3.3 BB/9, 8.1 K/9, 2.46 K:BB, .227/.302/.341
2009: 108 ERA+, 8.6 H/9, 1.1 HR/9, 3.7 BB/9, 7.6 K/9, 2.02 K:BB, .258/.335/.430

There is no doubt Dempster's 2008 was a fluke. It was by far the best season of his career, and there was no reason to think that he would repeat the success for even one year during his age 32 through 35 seasons. Right now, he's just slightly better than a league-average pitcher. And $13 mil a season is a lot to pay for that kind of guy. Oh wait... Did I mention Dempster's currently out with a broken toe sustained while attempting to enter the field of play for post-game handshakes? Yeah, that too. Grade: D-

Signing Joey Gathright
Pre-season grade: D-
Gathright, predictably, was a disaster. Well, not quite a disaster, as he only got 15 plate appearances, but he was, in every sense of the word, useless. In his limited action, he posted a .214/.267/.214 line, which is even worse than what he had done during his awful career.

Gathright was flipped to Baltimore for Ryan Freel, who proceeded to make Gathright look positively Ruthian, going .143/.226/.143 in 32 PAs. With his laughable OPS, Freel was recently DFA, and then dumped on KC for a PTBNL, who will surely be a POS. Grade: F

Trading Mark DeRosa
Pre-season grade: D-
No offseason move has backfired worse than the DeRosa trade. The move was done in part to free up some cash to sign ahem Milton Bradley. Additionally, it opened up a spot in the lineup for Mike Fontenot, who started strong but has struggled overall. Actually, that's not entirely accurate. Through May 7, Fontenot had posted the following numbers:

AB----R----H---2B--3B---HR---RBI---BB---SO---BA---OBP---SLG---OPS
85----12--21---3----0----5-----17----12---17--.247--.340--.459--.799


That's pretty good for a middle infielder. Since May 8, Fontenot hasn't been nearly as productive:

AB----R----H---2B--3B---HR---RBI---BB---SO---BA---OBP---SLG---OPS
158---10--35---8----1----1-----11----15---42--.222--.287--.304--.591


So what the hell happened on May 8? Aramis Ramirez got injured.

Fontenot was immediately thrust into the role of regular third baseman, a position he'd manned for just 62 (of 632) games in the minors, and one that he had never played in the major leagues until this year. Unfortunately, the lack of familiarity with the position appears to have had a deleterious effect on his hitting. I mean, just look at his K:BB rate. Last year, it was 1.50. Through May 8, it stood at 1.42, but since moving to third it has jumped to 2.8. The adjustment in the field seemingly overwhelmed a player who was only somewhat established as a major leaguer. Now that Ramirez has returned, Fontenot, who never once complained or made excuses, might have lost his job as the regular second baseman to the newly-acquired Jeff Baker, which would be patently unfair. Everything about third base is different from second, and it takes a special kind of player to move from one to the other without a hitch.

A player like Mark DeRosa.

Yes, DeRosa would have plugged that third-base gap quite nicely, doncha think? Ramirez has now missed at least 13 games in five of his six full seasons with the Cubs (and at least 30 games in three of those), so discarding DeRosa and leaving the team without a viable backup at third was especially galling. To make matters worse, Cleveland recently moved DeRosa to the Cardinals, the Cubs biggest rival and the team they currently trail by 3 1/2 games. But that's not the extent of the misery, as Cleveland somehow received a better package of players for DeRosa than they gave up to the Cubs, which is maddening since not only had the Indians gotten a half-season of production from him, but St. Louis was buying DeRosa for only 80 games (as opposed to the 162 Cleveland potentially got when they acquired him), which means the return should have actually been lower. Ugh. Two things are preventing this outright debacle from being an F-minus. The first is that the three middling prospects acquired from Cleveland -- pitchers John Gaub, Christopher Archer, and Jeff Stevens, who was recently promoted to the big-league club -- are all striking out more than a batter per inning and have sub-3.00 ERAs. The second? DeRosa went 0-for-9 in three games for the Cardinals before hitting the disabled list with a wrist injury, meaning St. Louis has gotten absolutely no return on investment. Grade: F

Signing Aaron Miles
Pre-season grade: D
Miles has been terrible when he hasn't been hurt, which thankfully has been rarely. In 131 PAs, he's at .203/.240/.260, which I'm going to say is probably not a line worthy a 2-year, $5.5-million contract. Considering Bobby Scales could be on the major league roster for about a tenth of that, it's just a colossal waste of five million dollars. Grade: F-

Trading Jason Marquis
Pre-season grade: A
On its face, this move has looked terrible, as Marquis' 11 wins are tied for the most in the major leagues. Despite moving to Colorado, he has an ERA (3.65) that is nearly a run-and-a-half better than his cumulative mark over the previous three seasons (5.08). So what the hell is going on here? Look at his peripheral numbers:

2009: 8.8 H/9, 0.7 HR/9, 2.9 BB/9, 4.2 K/9, 1.45 K:BB
2007-2008: 9.1 H/9, 0.9 HR/9 3.7 BB/9 5.0 K/9, 1.37 K:BB

Really not much has changed. He has marginally better control, but isn't striking out as many guys either. The remarkable thing is, that despite going to freakin' Colorado, Marquis home run rate has dropped. And it doesn't seem to be happenstance either.

Jason Marquis
Ground ball/fly ball ratio:
Career: 0.99
2006-2008: 0.89
2009: 1.33

Ground out/fly out ratio:
Career: 1.40
2006-2008: 1.34
2009: 2.11

Those numbers are shocking. It appears that Marquis has turned himself into a ground-ball pitcher. I know the Cubs aren't exactly renowned for their defense, but why he decided to wait until he got to Denver to do this is beyond me, as Wrigley isn't exactly a pitchers' park either, typically. Although Marquis' strategy seems to be working though, I would nonetheless expect significant regression from him in the second half.

While Marquis has undeniably been good, I still support the thought process behind the trade. Who's spot would Marquis have taken? 26-year-old rookie Randy Wells has arguably been the Cubs best starter, and he likely wouldn't have gotten a shot with Marquis around. Although Dempster's recent toe-ing has left a bit of a void, I doubt if Marquis would have taken his ground-ball tack if he were still in Chicago.

Luis Vizcaino, the man acquired for Marquis, was dumped early in the season, but the biggest upside of the deal was that the Cubs saved about $5 million. Sadly, that's precisely how much they wasted by signing Aaron Miles. Grade: C

Signing Milton Bradley
Pre-season grade: D+
Sure, signing Bradley hasn't exactly panned out, but I don't think the prevailing opinion of unmitigated disaster is quite right either. Among Cubs with more than 20 PAs, do you know where Bradley's OBP ranks? First. Let me type that again, this time in italics: First. In fact, his .379 OBP is exactly 25 points higher than that of Derrek Lee, who is generally considered to have had the best first half among Cubs regulars. Of course, Lee does have a 130-point advantage in slugging, so it's not all farts and flowers for Bradley. In fact, only two Cubs with over 100 ABs -- Fontenot and Miles -- have slugging percentages lower than Bradley's .381. But again, that OBP means he's been far from worthless. And if Lou Piniella would just put him at the top of the order instead of one of his beloved 'fast' guys, the Cubs might have an actual asset on there.

On the other hand, Bradley has already played 71 games, meaning he's just four away from turning his two-year, $18-million contract into a 3-year, $30 million one, and likely five games away from a season-ending injury. Since freeing up money to sign Bradley was a big reason for the DeRosa trade, the deal isn't looking like one of Hendry's more prudent moves. Especially given Bradley's known allergy to playing 100 games in a season. Grade: D-

Trading Felix Pie
Pre-season grade: D
Only one of the two guys the Cubs received for Pie is still in the organization, as the other (Garrett Olson) was shipped to Seattle (see below.) Henry Williamson recently bypassed AA after impressing at Daytona, earning a promotion to Triple-A Iowa; but at 23, he'd better be dominating kids in High-A. Still, his 56 strikeouts (versus 19 walks) and just a single home run given up in 56.1 IP are both good indicators, though his hits allowed (54) are a bit of a red flag. Yet in his first game at Iowa, Williamson allowed just one baserunner in three-and-two-thirds innings, striking out five. He could end up being a viable bullpen arm.

Meanwhile, Pie has yet to blossom in Baltimore, going .234/.299/.355. Sure that's better than his replacement (Gathright) and his replacement's replacement (Freel), but it's still a notch or two below mediocre. Pie hasn't been a regular since early May, however, and he has done much better as a part-time player. Since May 10:

AB----R----H---2B--3B---HR---RBI---BB---SO---BA---OBP---SLG---OPS
50-----11--16---2----2----1-----6-----4----10--.320--.370--.500---.870


And at 24 -- he's been in the majors three seasons, but is only nine months older than Williamson, who is just now pitching above A-ball for the first time -- it's still way to early to give up on Pie. Grade: C

The acquisition of Aaron Heilman for Garrett Olson and Ronny Cedeno
Pre-season grade: F
Heilman has a so-so 4.32 ERA and an alarming 1.63 WHIP. He is just one more horribly unreliable arm in what has been a horribly unreliable bullpen. Heilman's main problem, like so many others in the Cubs' pen, is walks, with 27 in 41.2 innings pitched.

Speaking of not good, have you looked at Cedeno's numbers? .168/.227/.301. Yuk. That's very nearly Aaron Miles-caliber bad, although the 26-year-old Cedeno actually plays a passable shortstop. He would have been a much better (and cheaper) option.

Olson's been surprisingly effective splitting time between Triple-A and Seattle, posting a 4.42 ERA and an impressive 1.19 WHIP with the big club, while walking just 18 in 57 IP. Olson is 25, Heilman's 30. Cedeno and Olson's combined salary is $1.25 million, while Heilman's "earning" $1.63 million this year. Grade: D-

Trading Rich Hill
Pre-season grade: D-
Like Kerry Wood's, this grade was mostly based on a major mistake regarding the transaction, not the deal itself; as shaky as the Cubs' staff has been at times, I doubt they're missing Hill's 6.92 ERA. The problem is that the Cubs waited way too long to deal him, and could have gotten some actual value had they traded him three years ago. Instead, they labeled him untouchable and watched his value decrease to the point that he could only yield a PTBNL, one who, nearly six months later, still hasn't been N. Grade: D

Trading Michael Wuertz
Pre-season grade: C-
Wuertz, as he was during most of his Cubs tenure, has been very reliable. In fact, he's been much better than that for the A's:

5-1, 42.2 IP, 31 H, 14 ER, 3 HR, 12 BB, 53 K, 2.95 ERA, 1.01 WHIP

Those would be by far the best numbers in the Cubs' pen. I'm not sure why he fell out of favor with the Cubs, because while he's not young (30), he is still relatively cheap -- tragically, he will make half a million dollars less this year than Heilman.

As for the players the Cubs got in return? Well one of them, shortstop Justin Sellers, has a rather respectable .375 OBP in AA. Unfortunately, it's not for the Cubs' affiliate in Tennessee -- he never appeared a game in the Cubs organization -- and I have no idea why. He's playing for Chattanooga, which is in the Dodgers system, but I don't recall any deal between the teams, and an internet search proved fruitless. I suspect the Cubs may have dumped him. He recently played in the Southern League All-Star game.

The other, Richie Robnett, went 3-for-21 at Iowa before being demoted to Tennessee, where he went .184/.253/.303 in 83 PAs before being let go. So to summarize: the Cubs traded a guy who would be their best reliever and just months later, have absolutely nothing to show for it in the entire organization. Excellent work, gentlemen. Grade: F

Overall GPA: 0.8

So even though some of the grades have shifted, the net result has been even worse than I thought before the season started, when I gave the Cubs a 1.0 GPA. The overall failure is not surprising when you look at this:
Players subtracted:
Henry Blanco, Ronny Cedeno, Mark DeRosa, Jim Edmonds, Chad Gaudin, Rich Hill, Bobby Howry, Jon Lieber, Jason Marquis, Casey McGehee, Felix Pie, Daryle Ward, Kerry Wood, Michael Wuertz

Players added:
Jeff Baker, Milton Bradley, Ryan Freel*, Joey Gathright*, Kevin Gregg, Aaron Heilman, Aaron Miles, David Patton, Jeff Stevens, Luis Vizcaino*

* No longer with team
I know which list I would rather have. As I wrote at the end of my season preview:
The bottom line is, I don't think this team is as good as last year's. The outfield seems shaky, the infield is a year older, the bench is weaker, and the roster in general seems less versatile. Plus the bullpen is markedly crappier. The only area that's not appreciably worse is the starting rotation. And while I love the Marshall-for-Marquis swap, they're counting on Dempster recreating his fluke season, Carlos Zambrano stopping his regression, and Rich Harden staying healthy. I don't hold out a lot of hope that even one of those things will happen.
Of course, unduly influenced by most of my sources, I then pussed out and predicted an 89-73 record, which was, in my defense, 8.5 games worse than 2008. But to reach my prediction, the Cubs will have to win at a .605 clip the rest of the way. I suppose it's possible, if everything goes right in the second half, and the team gets healthy relatively quickly. But seeing who we're dealing with, I don't see that being very likely. All of the questionable moves appear to have doomed this team.

And possibly Jim Hendry along with it.

July 14, 2009

I'm no conspiracy theorist, but...

What the hell was up with Fox's broadcast of President Obama's first pitch at the All-Star Game? Look, I know Fox being owned by News Corp would make it seem that they'd go out of the way to paint the liberal commie in a less-than-flattering light, but it sure looked like there had been a wink-wink deal to not show the flight of the pitch because of its potential to make Obama look bad.

I have watched a lot of baseball games, and I have never seen a ceremonial first pitch where they didn't show where the freakin' ball went. Ever. Surely Obama's team did not want him becoming the next Mark Mallory, or have another bowling debacle on their hands. So they probably asked Fox to not show the pitch, and since he is the President of the United States -- and Fox Sports is probably a far less right-leaning organization than the parent company -- they obliged. Still, I have to wonder if the strategy might backfire; while it's possible it could fly for President Obama, trying to keep a minor embarrassment under wraps hasn't worked out so well for King James.

July 13, 2009

ESPN sets baseball coverage back 15 years

I am completely dumbfounded as I watch ESPN use some stupid CGI gimmick (ESPN Ball Track) to mark the flight of the ball during tonight's Home Run Derby. Is it possible that no one at ESPN remembers FoxTrax? It was only the biggest debacle in recent sport-broadcasting history, Joe Buck Live notwithstanding. Sure, it was despised in hockey. But this is baseball we're talking about. Their are no "baseball purists" to offend, as the game has no history or tradition. It was a god-awful idea a decade and a half ago! How could it have gotten any better, especially considering the existence of HD completely mitigates any need to highlight the ball. Please, ESPN, just stop.

July 12, 2009

Visual AIDS: A Recap of CDR Radio 61

Featuring host Scott Aukerman and guests Jimmy Pardo and Rory Scovel.










July 8, 2009

LeBron James: A Whiff of Misdirection

I don't know, for some reason I'm not buying the LeBron-to-the-Heat talk. I think it is all just a ploy to make his actual decision that much more dramatic.

Think about it for a moment: How would the Chris Bosh-Dwyane Wade signings leak out -- remember, that story came out and then those two acknowledged it, as opposed to them revealing it themselves -- but not LeBron's? I just can't believe that they could keep his decision that airtight when the other two-thirds of the plan was exposed.

Plus, the Heat just don't make sense. LeBron is an alpha dog (or at least that's what we've always thought). Any titles he wins with the Heat will be discounted because of Wade's presence. At the very least, the whispers would be that Wade was The (True) Man -- after all, he already won a title without LeBron -- and that would taint the perception of LeBron, preventing him from being considered the greatest player of all time, which other than becoming a comically over-the-top attention whore seems to be his primary goal. Deciding to become a mere triplet in this Heat threesome would be a huge departure, and would really speak volumes about the kind of competitor he actually is.

So where do I think LeBron will go? Nowhere. He's going to re-sign with Cleveland. Which, basketball-wise, is the worst possible move.

I think he's going to re-sign with the Cavs because he's too cognizant of the devastation his leaving would cause. Basically, he's afraid to let down a very loyal fan base, and in the process he's going to sabotage his legacy.

As of now, the Cavs have no future, with or without LeBron. Sure, he's good enough to carry them to 60 wins every year, but unless they somehow get some good, young talent -- the closest thing they have is J.J. Hickson, who struggled to even crack former coach Mike Brown's rotation -- he's never going to win anything there, regardless of his individual greatness.

LeBron's best move would be to sign with the Bulls. In Chicago, five of the team's current top-six are actually younger than him, and he would get no-doubt Alpha Dog status. Add in the signing of Carlos Boozer and the Bulls, even more so than Miami, give him his best chance of winning multiple titles.

But as much as I'd love it, I just don't see it happening. I think it will be Cleveland, and my only other prediction is that the duration of the contract will not be the full 6-year max. At the very least he'll have the final three years or so as some sort of player option. Because as stupid as re-signing with the Cavs is, as a business man LeBron James is no dummy.

July 6, 2009

The WOBAs

Welcome to the Worst of the Best Awards.

While some sports writers (and fans) waste time lamenting that statistics are ruining baseball, I choose to waste my time in a different manner. Using the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index Season Finder, I decided to examine some seasonal benchmarks in an effort to find instances where the statistics would be particularly misleading. Because the irony of the hordes of people bemoaning the analysis of statistics in baseball is that those same people use statistics -- instead of wOBA and DIPS, they prefer RBIs and wins -- to evaluate players. Baseball has always been, and probably will always be, a stat-driven game, it's just the stats we have now are more telling. Anyone who tells you otherwise is an old fuddy-duddy. Or, perhaps, a nincompoop.

With that in mind, I present the WOBAs, the Worst of the Best Awards. In this first installment, I looked at every 100-RBI and 20-win season in the live-ball (1920-present) era -- there were 1,554 of the former and 547 of the latter, by the way -- in order to find players who hit the milestones but were truly awful nonetheless. And believe me, there was no shortage of candidates. So without further ado, the WOBAs:

WORST 20-WIN SEASON
The nominees are:
Ray Kremer, 1930: 20-12, 5.02 ERA, 276 IP, 366 H, 63 BB, 58 K, 29 HR, 99 ERA+
Bobo Newsom, 1938: 20-16, 5.08 ERA, 329.2 IP, 334 H, 192 BB, 226 K, 30 HR, 98 ERA+
Lew Burdette, 1959: 21-15, 4.07 ERA, 289.2 IP, 312 H, 38 BB, 105 K, 38 HR, 87 ERA+
Stan Bahnsen, 1972: 21-16, 3.60 ERA, 252.1 IP, 263 H, 73 BB, 157 K, 22 HR, 88 ERA+
Joe Niekro, 1980: 20-12, 3.55 ERA, 256 IP, 268 H, 79 BB, 127 K, 12 HR, 92 ERA+

Kremer led the National League in starts, innings, hits, and home runs. Yes, 1930 was a historically prolific offensive season, but his pitiful strikeout rate was still second-worst in the NL. His 11.93 hits per nine innings are by far the most ever allowed in a 20-win season; David Wells' 2000 is second-worst with 10.42 H/9. Kremer was an impressive 127-67 (.655 W-L%) over his first seven seasons, leading the NL in ERA twice in that span; unfortunately he didn't make it to the majors until age 31.

Newsom paced the American League in starts, complete games, innings, hits, earned runs, home runs -- basically everything but walks, where his 192 were only good for second, as Bob Feller had 208 that season, the most ever in the modern (post-1900) era; Newsom's total, meanwhile, is the fifth-worst since 1901. Interestingly, he was an All-Star that season and finished fifth in MVP balloting, so his contemporaries obviously didn't read Moneyball. Newsom's 211 career wins -- against 222 losses -- are the second most in history to Jack Powell (245-254) among pitchers with losing records.

Despite 203 wins and a winning percentage of .585, Burdette's career ERA+ is 98, so he might be worthy of some WOBA lifetime achievement recognition. In '59, he led National League in starts, hits and home runs allowed, earned runs, and -- surprisingly -- shutouts. He was also second in innings pitched and complete games (20), but 24th (out of 25) in strikeout rate and 23rd in H/9. He was helped by Forbes Field and it's 462-foot deep center field, as his home ERA (3.72) was three-quarters of a run better than his road mark, all of which gave him the worst ERA+ among the contenders, even though his actual ERA of 4.07 wasn't far from the NL-average of 3.98.

Bahnsen's 3.60 ERA ranked 34th in the American League, and was more than a half-run worse than the league-average 3.07. He allowed the fourth-most hits while pitching the 14th-most innings, and his 9.4 hits per nine innings ranked 37th (out of 41) in the AL. His 41 starts tied for the second-highest total in the league, but his five complete games tied for 32nd, and 40 pitchers tossed more shutouts than Bahnsen's one. Additionally, he was god-awful away from commodious Comiskey Park, posting a .293/.346/.428 line, which doesn't sound terrible until you consider the American League averages in '72 were .239/.306/.343. But what's 125 points of OPS among friends?

Proving once again that Cy Young voters love wins, Niekro ended up fourth in the balloting despite finishing 14th in strikeouts, 19th in ERA, 25th in WHIP, and 27th in K/BB, all while allowing the second-most hits in the NL. He was able to keep the ball in the park, though, yielding just 12 home runs, and his 11 complete games tied for the third most in the league. He was helped greatly by pitching in the cavernous Astrodome, with a home ERA (3.05) a full-run better than his road mark (4.06). Incidentally, the Cy Young finish was the second-highest of Niekro's career, in a season where his ERA+ was his 14th-best.

The WOBA goes to: Stan Bahnsen. While I'd like to go with Kremer or Newsom, given their comical strikeout and walk rates, respectively, the 30s were baseball's offensive heyday. Calling either one the all-time worst would be no different than, say, picking Todd Helton's '00 season with the Rockies as the best ever -- you have to adjust for context. So I'm giving it to Bahnsen, as both Burdette and Niekro had some redeeming stats while Bahnsen basically had none, and he additionally was awful in the second-best pitching year of the live-ball era. Plus his crappy season came with the White Sox. That's enough for me.

WORST 100-RBI SEASON
The nominees are:
Joe Pepitone, 1964: 100 RBI, 647 PA, 28 HR, 24 BB, 17 GIDP, .251/.281/.418, 91 OPS+
Tony Armas, 1983: 107 RBI, 36 HR, 29 BB, 31 GIDP, .218/.254/.453, 85 OPS+
Joe Carter, 1997: 102 RBI, 668 PA, 21 HR, 40 BB, 12 GIDP, .234/.284/.399, 77 OPS+
Tony Batista, 2004: 110 RBI, 650 PA, 32 HR, 26 BB, 14 GIDP, .241/.272/.455, 80 OPS+
Jeff Francoeur, 2006: 103 RBI, 29 HR, 23 BB, 16 GDP, .260/.293/.449, 87 OPS+

Ahh, Joe Pepitone. In the lone 100-RBI season of his career, he managed to hit only 12 doubles, which tied for 76th in the American League. His .281 OBP was the third-worst in the AL, and he made the sixth-most outs. Yet despite a .258/.298/.387 mark at the break, Pepitone was selected to play in his second of three consecutive All-Star Games.

Armas' OBP was dead-last in the league, nearly 30 points behind the second-worst mark (.283), and 74 points off the league average. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was also by far the worst at 4.52, nearly triple the AL-average of 1.56, and he led the league in outs. Finally, he put up a putrid .186/.218/.402 line in road games, though he did jack 19 of his 36 home runs away from cozy Fenway Park. And those 36 round-trippers ranked second in the American League.

Carter in '97 had the 69th-best OBP, and he was totally useless against righties, going .211/.255/.368 against them. He was only sixth in outs, though, with 492. For his career, Carter has three of the seven worst OBP's posted in a 100-RBI season, and five of the worst 22.

Batista finished 82nd (of 83) in OBP, 60 points below the NL average and a mere 337 behind league leader Barry Bonds. He did have a relatively decent second half, going .250/.285/.536 with 68 of his 110 RBIs.

Fantasy-favorite Francoeur finished 76th (out of 80) in OBP, and his mark of .293 was a full 40 points less than the National League average. His 507 outs were the third most in the NL, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was second-worst. Plus his base stealing was nearly as impressive as his selectivity, as he went 1-for-7. Despite Turner Field not being known as a hitters' park, he was much better there than on the road, where he had just 10 of his 29 homers and posted a .217/.248/.369 line.

The WOBA goes to: Tony Armas. Despite the impressive homer total, I just can't ignore the 31 double plays, the .254 OBP, or the numbers away from Fenway. Though Carter's '97 OPS+ is the worst, his OBP was .290 with a league average of .340; given the conditions in 1980, Armas would have needed to post a .280 OBP to be comparable with Carter, and he fell more than 25 points short of that. And while some 100 RBI-men have made more outs than Armas' 481 -- Sammy Sosa and Jim Rice both had 509-out/100-RBI seasons -- every single one of them had at least 55 more plate appearances than the 613 Armas had. Coincidentally, Carter's 483-out '97 had the next-fewest PAs at 668; the next lowest total? Armas again, with 679 PAs in a 484-out/123-RBI season in 1984.

So those are the first two WOBAs ever; consider yourself a part of history, for some day you will tell your grandchildren that you remember reading the first-ever WOBAs on a gizmo that was called a computer. "A conpuber, Grampa?" they'll say in their adorable and inimitable way, and you'll enjoy a hearty laugh, briefly forgetting that the passage of time has completely ravaged your body and you are mere breaths away from your inevitable demise. You're welcome.

P.S. I'll have more soon, but probably not until last week as I'm forcing myself to work on my Cubs midseason review. Yea!

July 5, 2009

A tale of two Foxes

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

While wondering what the Cubs will do with Jake Fox with Aramis Ramirez's return imminent, my thoughts drifted to another Fox-Cub about whom I have been meaning to blog: Chad.

You probably already know the story: reliever with an electric arm can't seem to keep it healthy, blows out every ligament/tendon/joint during the course of his career, but refuses to call it quits, endures excruciating rehab regimens just to toss the ol' horsehide in the bigs again, re-takes the mound with the bases loaded and nobody out in the 9th inning of the seventh game of the World Series with his team leading 1-0, and strikes out the side for the save as every orphan in the world chants his name.

That's Chad Fox's story. Minus the last two clauses.

Fox has consistently annihilated his elbow, and just as consistently, come back. After a patented Dusty Baker into-the-ground-running -- our man Dusty used poor Chad in 11 of the first 19 games in 2005, despite the fact that Fox had missed the final 142 games of the previous season after fellow old-schooler Jack McKeon trotted him out there in 12 of that year's first 20 games -- Fox missed the next two seasons before making a brief, between-injury cameo (after his second Tommy John surgery but before another bout of ulnar neuritis) last season for three games in May.

So Fox returned (again) this season, (sadly) got blasted in his first appearance and was (tragically) getting pounded in his second outing before (surprise!) suffering yet another elbow injury. He has not pitched since, leaving the Cubs' individual pitching stats looking like this (courtesy of ESPN.com):


It is overwhelmingly likely that Fox's season is over, and those numbers got me wondering if a pitcher had ever finished a season with a triple-digit ERA before. So, per usual, I went to baseball-reference.com*

* Baseball-reference.com is a great site, and I use them all the time while crediting them all-too-infrequently. I highly, highly recommend it, both as a stat source and time-waster.

According to B-R, there have been 16 seasons** when a pitcher finished with an ERA of 100 or above, and all, like Fox, totaled just one third of an inning. Both Jeff Ridgway and Joe Cleary tied for the worst mark, at 189.00. However, to me Ridgway's was clearly the worst, as it came over three games to Cleary's one. Incidentally, Ridgway's 189.00 came in 2007, and this is somehow the first I'd heard of it, not to mention that he also rebounded to post a 3.72 ERA last season. For Cleary, meanwhile, that third of an inning marked his only big-league appearance, so he retired with the highest ERA in the record books, aside from the infinity guys listed below. Fritz Fisher, Frank Wurm, and Harry Heitman are the only other pitchers to end their career with a triple-digit ERA, all at 108.00.

** Additionally, there have been 23 occurrences of a pitcher finishing the year with an ERA of infinity; that is, they allowed earned runs without retiring a batter. The worst of these was Bob Kammeyer's 1979 season, when he allowed 8 runs without recording an out. Kammeyer's OPS allowed was a mind-boggling 3.143.

They weren't all bad, though: One of those infinity ERA seasons belongs to Clark Griffith, who pitched in baseball's early years and whose 237 career wins (undeservedly) got him into the Hall of Fame. Additionally, Wilson Alvarez began his career with an infinity ERA in 1989, his only year with the Rangers. Pitching mostly for the White Sox, Alvarez went on to win 102 games while compiling a career ERA under 4, good for an ERA+ of 112. (Griffith's ERA+ was 121, incidentally; a mark of 130 or higher is generally considered Hall-of-Fame caliber.)

Besides Kammeyer, only three others allowed enough runs -- 4 or more -- to have posted an ERA over 100 had they recorded a single out in that season. One of these men was Doc Hamann, who allowed 6 runs in his one appearance in 1922, which would also be the only game of his career. That makes him one of 11 men to retire with a career ERA of infinity, and he allowed by far the most runs; of the remaining 10, four allowed three runs, two allowed two, and the rest allowed one.

Fox's 135.00 ERA ties him for fifth-worst, with John Mabry -- an outfielder/first baseman by trade -- Clise Dudley, Pembroke Finlayso, and one-time Cub Mike Capel, who accomplished (?) the feat with the Brewers in 1990. But aside from Ridgway, each of the triple-digit ERA seasons ahead of Fox came in a lone appearance, while Fox's (and Capel's, for that matter) came in two. So I'd call Fox's feat the second-most ignominious ERA of all time.

I'm sorry Chad. I really do hope you come back again, and are able to wash that taste out of your mouth. I'll be rooting for you.

Speaking of guys I'm rooting for, let's get back to Jake Fox. Over the last 11 games, Fox's numbers have been awesome:

AB----R----H---2B--3B---HR---RBI---BB---SO---BA---OBP---SLG---OPS
41----8----13---3----0----4-----9-----4-----4--.317--.391--.683--1.074

So while many are looking at Aramis Ramirez to provide the Cubs an instant boost upon his return, I don't see him topping what Fox has done over the last 11 games. He is, however, more likely to sustain such excellence, and in the long run, the Cubs will be far better off having him back.

Not to mention he can actually, you know, play third base.

Fox was great as a stopgap there, and the Cubs really should find a way to get his bat into the lineup. Unfortunately, he's not going to -- nor should he -- supplant Ramirez, or Derrek Lee at first. That would leave one of the corner outfield spots, both of which are manned by two of Jim Hendry's most colossal free-agent blunders, making it unlikely that Alfonso Soriano or Milton Bradley end up on the bench for very long. I'd love to see Lou Piniella bench Soriano for a stretch, but he just got two hits yesterday, so I guess the Cubs will interpret that as a sign he's heating up.

Still, Fox's batting average (.310) is twenty points higher than Soriano's OBP (.290). While Fox's defense would most likely be a disaster, it's not like Soriano's reminding anyone of a young Barry Bonds, either. The Cubs shouldn't keep trotting Soriano out there solely to justify his contract, they should be doing whatever will help the team win games. And right now, they should be trying like the dickens to find a place in the lineup for Fox's bat.

P.S. If you liked all the Chad Fox statistical minutae, I have good news for you: Coming tomorrow, more fun with baseball-reference.com's play index, my source for all of these great, anomalous single-season stats.

July 2, 2009

The Cubs made a trade and I don't hate it?

But I don't exactly like it either.

If you haven't heard the breaking news, the Cubs have acquired first-second-third baseman/outfielder Jeff Baker for minor league pitcher Al Alburquerque. If Baker is going to replace Ryan Freel on the roster, then I am not completely opposed to this deal. Freel, who back in his Reds heyday was one of my favorites, has been totally useless since the Cubs acquired him for the equally-useless Joey Gathright back in early May.

With the Cubs, Freel currently sports a .143/.226/.143 line, and while it's only 32 plate appearances, he hasn't been a useful player since 2006. Plus, with Sam Fuld on the roster as of Monday, the need to have Freel as a backup centerfielder (with Reed Johnson out) no longer exists. As long as it's Freel that's on the way out, Baker is an upgrade.

If the Cubs instead are planning to send Jake Fox back to the minors, then this move ain't so hot. Fox hasn't been spectacular, but he has been one of the few recent offensive bright spots, and currently sits at .316/.344/.509. With the Cubs biggest failing being their inability to score runs, I really, really hope they aren't going to bench one of their more productive bats because of some reportedly shoddy fieldwork.

As for the deal itself, at first I was slightly excited, as Baker was considered one of the Rockies top prospects for a number of years, and he enjoyed a mild breakout in 2008, the first season he was given significant major-league at-bats. This was tempered a bit by the fact that I knew who Alburquerque was without having to look him up, as he boasts one of the best strikeout rates in the Cubs minor league system, the primary stat I use to determine whether or not a pitcher is a prospect. Alburquerque's 44 Ks in 34.2 IP are as sweet as his name, which I had as one of the best in the Cubs' system.* As a friend just texted me, "You never, NEVER trade a guy with a name like Al Alburquerque."

* The rest of the top-10 names in the Cubs' minor league system: Manolin De Leon, Jericho Jones, Robinson Chirinos, Tarlandas Mitchell, Wellington Castillo, Rogelino Carmona, Darwin Barney, Esmailin Caridad, and my favorite, Arismendy Alcantara.

Nonetheless, Alburquerque is a 23-year-old pitching in A-ball. Add in that he's very small and this is the first year he's enjoyed anything more than moderate success, and I'd say that he's not much of a prospect. Still, in a system utterly bereft of decent minor-leaguers, Alburquerque and his 2.08 ERA weren't exactly expendable, either.

So what did the Cubs get in return? With 617 major league plate appearances spread over the course of the last five years, Baker has about the equivalent of one full season under his belt. His numbers:

561 ab, 144 hits, 35 2b, 6 3b, 22 hr, 88 rbi, .257/.313/.458

While those stats are hardly world-beating, for a guy coming off the bench they're certainly serviceable, and the extra base totals impressive. But then there's the fact that he played his home games in Coors Field. Baker's career line on the road? Ugly. I'm talking .205/.266/.335-ugly. With just five of his 22 homers. At the same time, Wrigley during the summer can be as great a hitters' park as any, so Baker might derive a similar home-field advantage, provided Lou Piniella only plays him when the wind is blowing out.

Other than that insignificant limitation -- that is, that he's terrible everywhere but extreme hitters' parks -- Baker should be great.

Still, I am pretty confident that Baker can be better than Freel has been, which admittedly isn't saying much. Since I also don't think Alburquerque will ever be a very successful big-leaguer, the trade's not terrible. I just don't think it helps alleviate their offensive woes, nor does it make the team better in any significant way. And if that's the case, then why make the deal?

Especially when it was such a downgrade name-wise. I mean, really, when you're trading an Al Alburquerque, shouldn't you at least get a Ubaldo Jimenez in return? Be reasonable, Dan O'Dowd!

July 1, 2009

55 million??? Dollars???

In a move sure to generate much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth, Ben Gordon will be leaving the Bulls to sign with the Detroit Pistons.

Then again, maybe not. About the garment rending and teeth gnashing, that is; Gordon is definitely going to leave. But check out this highly-scientific chicagotribune.com poll:
After five years with the Bulls, Ben Gordon has agreed to a free-agent deal with the rival Pistons. Will you miss him?

Yes, he was the Bulls' leading scorer (1551 responses)

43.6%

No, he was too streaky and wanted too much money (2010 responses)

56.4%

Oops, I stand corrected, as apparently the results of an internet poll are not scientific. Thanks Tribune! I was about to come up with an alternative to the internal combustion engine based on your poll's findings, but now I realize that would be folly, as its results are not scientific. I do wish you'd have put the disclaimer before the poll, because I was mislead about its scientific legitimacy for a good 6, 7 seconds.

Anyway... Apparently, most people -- at least those who immediately go to chicagotribune.com/sports upon hearing this sort of news -- didn't want Gordon back at those terms (5 years, $55 million). Good for them, as that was the exact position I took in yesterday's post. With Gordon gone, the Bulls should have enough flexibility to pursue at least one serious player during next summer's free agent bonanza, which will provide them with an opportunity to jump into the elite. Even if they come up empty, just the chance to do so is worth losing Gordon over, especially at those insane terms.

Now the Bulls have just two players signed to non-rookie contracts that extend beyond next year: Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng. If I were building a franchise, there is no doubt that I would pick Gordon before Hinrich or Deng. He is the most desirable player because he does one thing -- score -- so exceptionally well. But two factors led to his demise as a Bull: 1. Between his lack of height, defense, and a willingness to pass the ball, Gordon was not a good fit next to Derrick Rose. 2. The other two guys were already under contract. In the current climate, both would be very difficult to move without taking back either some equally lousy contracts or far lesser players.

While it is lamentable for the Bulls to lose their leading scorer in each of the last four seasons without any compensation, such is the nature of free agency. Any sign-and-trade involving Gordon likely would have eliminated most of the Bulls' 2010 offseason flexibility, so they had little choice but to let him walk. He had a good (but not great) Bulls career, and I really enjoyed watching him, as for a time he was my favorite player. But with the drafting of Rose, the relationship had run its course, and it was time for Ben and the franchise to go their separate ways. Good luck, BG. Please do not learn how to handle the ball, play defense, or be unselfish while in Motown, for I prefer my garments unrended, and my teeth gnash-free.