Friday, December 19, 2003
Winter in New OrleansVarious baseball scribes from around the internet are back from MLB's Winter Meetings and they've been kind enough to report on their experiences there.
My favorite Winter Meetings wrap-up comes from Alex Belth, who writes brilliantly about what is essentially a whole bunch of guys sitting around a hotel in New Orleans.
My favorite quote from his piece, entitled "Fear and Loathing in New Orleans":
On Saturday afternoon, I spotted Howard Bryant of The Boston Herald. After I introduced myself, he said something to the effect of, "Oh yeah, I've been by your site. You were pretty tough on my book." Gulp.I enjoyed that because as a guy who, like Alex, writes about baseball on the internet, I sometimes forget that the people I am commenting on are actual people who I might possibly run into one day.
That doesn't mean you should back off from criticizing someone, of course. Still, it's an interesting reminder for someone like me, who has been known to rip a few people in this space. Alex goes on to describe how, despite his being critical of Bryant's book, they were able to have a very friendly conversation.
At some point I may end up in a dark alley with Luis Rivas, Joe Morgan and Phil Rogers. I can only hope they are as forgiving as Howard Bryant.
If you haven't already, I strongly urge you to read Alex's take on the entire experience.
Over at Baseball Prospectus, Joe Sheehan wrote several articles checking in from New Orleans. In one from over the weekend, he drops the following bit of information:
It should be noted that for about an hour last night, Jay Jaffe owned Baseball Prospectus. I promise to never again be suckered by someone who pretends to need a reminder of how poker is played, or play with someone who comes equipped with a built-in nickname. Well, except "Baldy" Carroll.Poker and baseball in a hotel in New Orleans. It sounds like some sort utopia.
Baldy Carroll himself writes about the experience over at his blog. Instead of doing a typical summary of events, Will shares a whole bunch of "blind quotes" that he overheard while he was there. I'm not sure why exactly, but there is something incredibly intriguing about quotes entirely stripped of all context.
Some of my favorites:
"Why are you calling me? I'm ten feet away from you."It's like reverse madlibs!
If you head over to Jay Jaffe's Futility Infielder blog, you can read another great rundown of the Winter Meetings experience, and you can actually find out the source of several of those blind quotes. For example, the source of the brilliant line: "You can't bluff me, I'm not even paying attention!"? None other than Will Carroll himself.
It really sounds like an incredible time was had by everyone and I have to say, I am jealous. Not only would I love to hang out in the lobby of a New Orleans hotel while Peter Gammons digs up rumors five feet away, I would just love to meet all these guys whose websites I have been reading all these years. Plus, who wouldn't want to play poker with a bunch of baseball geeks until the wee hours of the morning?
I know it's still 2003 for another week, but I already have something atop my 2004 to-do list: The 2004 MLB Winter Meetings.
Announcements (Vegas Baby!)When I was a kid, I went to summer camp for two whole summers. Everyone at the camp would eat meals together in a big cafeteria and occasionally someone would go up to the front of the room, where there was a little stage and a microphone, and make an announcement. The only problem was that they couldn't actually say it was an "announcement." If you said that word, you would be grabbed off the stage, dragged to the nearest body of water, and thrown in.
It happened quite often. Some poor, soon to be drenched soul would step up to the mic and "announcement" would inevitably find its way out of their mouth.
When it did, everyone in the entire cafeteria would, in unison, sing the following to the tune of...well, I don't know what, but it was in song form:
ANNOUNCEMENTS ANNOUNCEMENTS ANNOUNCEMENTS! THROW EM IN THE LAKE! THROW EM IN THE LAKE!
A group of people would then grab the person, pick them up, carry them off stage and out of the cafeteria, down to the lake, and then throw them in. Occasionally, after being thrown into the lake, the person would walk back to the cafeteria, get back up on stage, and proceed to finish their "bulletin."
I've even witnessed someone say announcement, be dragged off stage and thrown into a lake, get back up on stage soaking wet, and then accidentally say announcement again. The entire process repeats, no matter how fast you run, trust me.
Anyway, at the risk of being thrown into a lake, I do have an announcement...
Yours Truly, the boy blogger extraordinaire, turns 21 years old on January 3rd. To celebrate, I am heading to Las Vegas for a week of gambling, drinking and all sorts of other various forms of debauchery.
I make this announcement for two reasons:
1) I want to assure everyone that, in my place, there is a star-studded group of "Guest Columnists" lined up. Seriously, some big names. You'll enjoy them so much you may never want to hear from me again.
The guests will start on January 5th (Monday) and run until January 9th (Friday). Then, assuming I don't get arrested for anything serious or get married or something, I'll be back from Vegas on Monday the 12th, with a full report on my trip. I have a digital camera now, so it may even include pictures (hide the women and children!).
2) Despite a much smaller following at this time last year (as shown yesterday, traffic is up about 400% compared to last December), many of you who were around back then expressed an interest in buying me a birthday/Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza present.
I was extraordinarily flattered back then and I remain open to the idea of strangers giving me things because they enjoy my writing. Last year I set up a "wish list" on Amazon.com and several people purchased items from it for me, for which I was incredibly grateful.
This year, since there is still some time before I leave for Vegas, I figured the best present I could get is cold, hard cash. What better present can you give a 21-year old birthday boy than money to fund his gambling and drinking?
So, if you want to make a little donation for my birthday, for Christmas, for Hanukkah, for Kwanzaa, for New Year's, for my trip to Las Vegas, or just because you realized yesterday that you have way too much money, here is what you do...Click on the above link. It'll take you to a secure PayPal website, where you can make a quick and easy donation for however much you want.
Think of it as an investment in the future. The more money I have to bring to Las Vegas, the more I can gamble. The more I can gamble, the more I can win. The more I win, the less I have to work. The less I have to work, the more time I have to spend on this blog. It's a win-win situation for all involved!
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Thursday, December 18, 2003
TwosomesYesterday in this space I talked about hearing Kevin Millar interviewed on SportsCenter and how what he said led me to believe the Alex Rodriguez/Manny Ramirez deal was all but official.
Well, yesterday there was some doubt thrown into the equation, with the players' union having a problem with the proposed changes to Alex Rodriguez's contract that the Red Sox and ARod were interested in making.
I still think this deal is going to happen, although I'm not nearly as sure as I was yesterday morning. The latest is that, assuming the ARod/Manny swap happens, the Red Sox would then ship Nomar Garciaparra to Chicago for Magglio Ordonez.
There are probably a couple other players or some money involved in both trades, but that would essentially mean Boston was replacing Garciaparra and Ramirez at shortstop and left field with Rodriguez and Ordonez.
Let's see how that swap looks, using last year's numbers...
2003 EQUIVALENT RUNSOrdonez and Rodriguez were a total of 1.3 Equivalent Runs better than Ramirez and Garciaparra last year, which is basically nothing. All four players were among the top dozen AL hitters in EqR, with Manny and ARod ranking 2nd and 3rd, while Ordonez and Nomar ranked 10th and 11th.
Beyond just EqR, the combined offensive totals of the twosomes were amazingly close last season...
Manny/Nomar Maggs/ARodThat's probably about as close as you can get when you're swapping this level of talent. The twosomes essentially had the same amount of plate appearances and created the same amount of runs, while using up the same amount of outs.
It is amazing to me that a team would be able to trade away two Hall of Fame players in the middle of their prime years, like Nomar and Manny, and actually be able to replace them with two players who were just as good last season. But that is the beauty of ARod. He hits like Manny Ramirez and he does so while playing a great shortstop. That allows you to find a left fielder who hits like Nomar, which is hard, but not impossible.
Here is what they did in 2002...
Manny/Nomar Maggs/ARodARod and Ordonez were significantly more productive offensively than Nomar and Manny in 2002, but much of that is due to Ramirez missing 42 games. If you pro-rate Nomar and Manny's combined production to the same amount of plate appearances (1378) as Ordonez and Rodriguez, they total 261.8 Equivalent Runs. Amazingly, that is 1.3 EqR fewer than Magglio and ARod, which is the exact same number they were behind them in 2003.
Of course, all of this has just been looking at things on offense. Defensively is a big issue here too.
In my opinion, Rodriguez is an upgrade over Garciaparra at shortstop and Ordonez is an upgrade over Ramirez in left field. Not huge upgrades, but definitely upgrades.
Diamond-Mind assigns defense ratings to every player in baseball, every year. Their rating system is on the following five-point scale:
Interestingly, Rodriguez and Garciaparra got the same ratings in each of the last two years. They each received a "Very Good" in 2002 and an "Average" in 2003.
Magglio Ordonez has been given "Average" ratings in right field in each of the last two years, while Manny Ramirez has been given "Poor" ratings in left field both years. It's not a given that Ordonez would be an "Average" left fielder, since it's not a position he has played over the last two years and Fenway is a unique left field to cover, but I'd say there's little doubt he'd be a sizable upgrade over Ramirez in left.
As long as we're talking about offense and defense, let's take a look at Bill James' Win Shares, which takes offense and defense into account. Here's what the twosomes did last season:
WS WSI think it's pretty clear that Ordonez and Rodriguez have been a more valuable twosome over the last two seasons. They have been more durable and slightly better offensively, and they provide better defense.
Another issue here, besides the on-field stuff, is the contractual and monetary differences. I'm not going to get into the money, because a) I'm not sure yet if Boston would have to pay a portion of Ramirez's contract or not and b) the Red Sox have plenty of money, so it probably doesn't matter much anyway.
Unless he is able to make significant changes to his contract, ARod is signed through 2010, although he has the ability to "opt out" of his contract after 2007, 2008 or 2009. Manny Ramirez is under contract until 2008, with $20 million team options for 2009 and 2010.
Meanwhile, both Nomar and Ordonez are free agents after this season.
If Boston can make this switch, replacing Ramirez and Garciaparra with Alex Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez, they should do it. They would be getting the best all-around player in baseball right in the middle of his peak and they would be improving their defense while not sacrificing any offense. They're probably going to have to add in some money and some players to make this happen, but it's worth it. Now, all we have to do is wait.
As some of you may have noticed, this website just surpassed 300,000 total visitors. I first started this blog in August of 2002 and I have to admit I am surprised that it's still around 17 months later. The fact that it has been read 300,000 times since then is beyond shocking to me.
I used to post monthly visitor-counts, but I figured there wasn't much interest in that sort of thing. Recently though, as the site has come closer to 300,000, I have gotten quite a few emails from people wanting to see another update. So, for those of you interested, here it is...
Month Visitors Per DayDecember obviously isn't over yet, but it definitely looks like traffic will increase here for the 16th straight month.
Aaron's Baseball Blog. It's spreading like a virus. Thanks to everyone for all their support and here's hoping for another 300,000!
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Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Road Warriors and a trade that will happenAdding to my Mike Cameron article from Monday (if you haven't read it already, please do so), here are the top hitters among center fielders, using their performances on the road from 2001-2003:
AVG OBP SLG GPAWhat that list tells you is basically who the best hitters are, stripped of whatever help or hinderance they get as a result of their home ballparks. The results are pretty interesting.
First of all, Jim Edmonds is in a class by himself. Edmonds' .326 GPA on the road over the last three years is 8.3% better than the next guy on the list, Bernie Williams. Edmonds has led all MLB center fielders in GPA for each of the last three seasons.
Edmonds' home/road splits over the last three years are essentially identical:
AVG OBP SLG GPAIn addition to the great offense, Edmonds' defense, although probably a bit overrated, is pretty damn good too. Edmonds is a more than a little injury-prone (he's missed 65 games in four years with St. Louis), but when he's on the field there is little doubt in my mind that he's the best center fielder in baseball.
After Edmonds, Bernie Williams is the next guy on the list and the only other center fielder with a three-year road GPA above .300. Of course, a lot of Bernie's offense is only making up for the runs he gives up on defense, which is why he'll probably be DHing for the Yankees this year. Still, Bernie's offense on the road over the last three years has been great, even this year, when he overall numbers were sub par.
After Bernie comes the man of the hour, Mike Cameron. Over the last three years, only looking at what they have done outside the friendly (and sometimes not so friendly) confines of their home ballparks, Mike Cameron was the third-best offensive center fielder in baseball.
Better than Andruw Jones, better than Carlos Beltran, better than Vernon Wells, better than Torii Hunter. Throw in the fact that Cameron is, without a doubt, one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball (and, in my opinion, the best) and I think it's safe to say, in a neutral environment (ie one that doesn't destroy his offense like Safeco Field), he is one of the top handful of center fielders in all of baseball.
In fact, judging them solely by their performances on the road, I think Cameron has been the second-best center fielder in the baseball over the last three years, behind only Jim Edmonds. His offense is third-best and his defense is on a whole different planet than Bernie Williams', so I think he moves up into the #2 spot.
Anyway, I've talked enough about Mike Cameron and how great I think he will be to last a lifetime, but I just wanted to make my point one final time. The Mets just got a top-5 center fielder for $6.5 million a year and Mike Cameron is going to have an extremely impressive season in 2004.
At this point I'm sure almost everyone is sick of reading about the long-rumored Alex Rodriguez/Manny Ramirez trade and whether or not it's going to happen.
Let me just say that it is going to happen. I don't have any inside information from any secret sources or anything like that, but I saw Boston first baseman Kevin Millar interviewed by Dan Patrick on SportsCenter last night and what he said convinced me that this is going to get done very very soon.
Patrick asked Millar a bunch of stuff about ARod and Manny and Nomar. One of his questions was, "You have to choose, you can have Alex Rodriguez or you can have Manny and Nomar, who are you taking?"
I was expecting Millar to give some double-talk filled answer that completely avoided the question, but actually said, "Alex Rodriguez." Then, at the end of the interview, Patrick asked him, "When the season begins, who's going to be throwing the ball from shortstop to you?" Millar again wasted no time and answered, "Alex Rodriguez."
This, to me, says that the deal is done. There is just no way Kevin Millar goes on a national TV show and says that he'd rather have Alex Rodriguez than two of his teammates, unless they are no longer his teammates. I'm not saying Theo Epstein and Boston's front office is keeping Kevin Millar up-to-speed on everything they are doing, but there is no way Millar says something like that unless he knows for sure he won't have Manny and Nomar as teammates next year.
I, for one, am very excited about ARod joining the Red Sox. For one thing, I am a big fan or Alex Rodriguez's and it is going to be nice no longer having to listen to the nonsense about him not being valuable because his team stinks. It's going to be fun to see everyone suddenly come to the realization that he is the MVP, just because the Red Sox are going to win plenty of games every year.
In addition to that, an Alex Rodriguez-for-Manny Ramirez swap has to be among the biggest exchanges of talent in the history of sports. They are two elite, Hall of Fame-level players, right in the middle of their primes. It's not often you see a trade like this and it's also not often you see the best overall player in baseball (with appologies to Superman) get traded when he's 28 years old.
I'm itching to give my thoughts on the big trade, but I think it is best to wait for it to actually happen, not because I have any doubt that it will take place, but because I want to know all the specifics before I form my opinion. I don't think we'll have to wait very long. It should be an interesting week.
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Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Beasts in the EastI have a theory that I have voiced on many occasions, which is that anyone who lives in Minnesota past the age of about 23 is completely insane. I use 23 as the magic number because that's the point at which most people should be able to actually make decisions on where they want to live.
The theory is especially true for those people who were not born and raised in Minnesota, because they have come here by choice and they aren't simply staying here out of habit or because the rest of their family is also here and also insane.
Don't get me wrong, Minnesota is a beautiful place to live for about half the year. In the spring and summer the weather is great, while not ridiculously hot. Then comes winter, a season that lasts about five months, and things start to look like this...
To be honest, the picture above isn't even a big deal. It was 25 degrees outside when I took that picture yesterday afternoon and I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, with no jacket. 25 degrees in the middle of December qualifies as a heat wave in Minnesota. My dog thought it was so nice out that she decided she wanted to just sit in a big pile of snow for about 10 minutes.
At some point in the next month or so, there will be twice that much snow on the ground and the temperature outside will be negative something. You won't be able to go outside if you have wet hair, because it will freeze to the point that you can snap it off. People will avoid doing things they enjoy because they are afraid to drive on the roads. And those who do venture out into the world will find themselves slipping and sliding around, always just a second away from a huge accident.
The poor souls who must park on the street, either at home or at work, will come out of wherever they have been to find a car that has vanished underneath a heavy coat of white. They will dig themselves out and then have to chop the ice off the front window, just so they can see where they're going.
If you live here and you are old enough and mentally capable enough to make your own decisions regarding where you live, you are, without a doubt, completely insane. Don't be offended, I include myself in that group. I remind myself everyday just how nuts I am, while I walk to class with the wind burning my face and my breath as visible as cigarette smoke.
Yet, despite all of that, I found myself extremely happy to be a Minnesotan yesterday afternoon. Why? Well, as with most things in my life, it has everything to do with baseball.
You see, the Twins will be going for their third straight division title this year. They'll be fighting against Chicago, Kansas City, Cleveland and Detroit. The Twins have lost quite a few valuable players this off-season and the team is in a major state of flux right now. Even with that, I think they have to be considered the favorites for the AL Central division in 2004.
Meanwhile, in the American League East, all hell has broken loose. New York and Boston, the two best teams in the league last year, have gotten even better (and the Red Sox may yet make a trade for the best player in the league).
At the same time, the Blue Jays, who had an incredible offense and a mediocre pitching-staff on their way to 86 wins and third-place in the division last year, have made several moves that will significantly improve their pitching. All signs point to them winning 90+ games in 2004.
As if that weren't enough, the latest news is that the Baltimore Orioles, a team that has finished in fourth-place in each of the last six seasons, have signed Miguel Tejada and are on the verge of also signing Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero.
Three players does not a team make, obviously, but adding those three players would have a massive impact. Guerrero, Tejada and Rodriguez are all among the top 3-5 players at their position in all of baseball. They don't do anything to solve Baltimore's problem of not having any pitching, but they would immediately make Baltimore's offense (which finished 10th in the AL in scoring last year) among the best in the league.
Suddenly guys like Melvin Mora and Jay Gibbons aren't the "stars" of the team, and are instead simply secondary players. And suddenly the Orioles could put the following lineup on the field:
C Ivan RodriguezThat lineup will score a lot of runs.
It is still early in the off-season and I am sure there are several big moves yet to come from various American League teams, but I think, at this point, there is a very good chance that New York, Boston, Toronto and Baltimore could be four of the best five or six teams in the American League (assuming Baltimore ends up with Guerrero and Rodriguez, in addition to Tejada). It is shaping up to be an incredibly strong division.
I am really starting to feel sorry for Tampa Bay. They have some nice prospects in their system and they have been trying to make some little moves over the last year or two that they hope will help them make baby steps towards respectability. At the very least, they were looking like they would have been able to possibly get out of the AL East basement at some point in the next two years. And now...not so much.
I also feel sort of bad for Toronto. The Blue Jays have become one of my favorite teams over the last two years. They have an intelligent, well-run front office and they have made major strides at both the major league and minor league levels. J.P. Ricciardi and company are setting up a team that is going to be very good over the next decade or so and will be able to make a serious run right around 2005 or 2006.
At the same time, no matter what they do, there is a very good chance they will have to settle for being the third-best team in their own division. Those are just the facts of life when you are playing with the two big boys in the AL, New York and Boston. Now, as if that weren't enough, the Orioles appear ready to wake up from their six-year slumber as a franchise and they will definitely give Toronto a fight for third-place.
If my team, the Minnesota Twins, were in the AL East, I think the prospect of dealing with those four teams over the next several seasons would be even more depressing than the weather here in Minnesota. There's a very real chance that either Toronto or Baltimore could win over 90 games next season and not even come particularly close to the playoffs, let alone first-place.
To be honest, Toronto was probably a playoff-caliber team last year, or at least as much of one as the Twins were. The Twins won 90 games last season, while Toronto won 86.
Toronto played in a division with a team that won 101 games and a team that won 95 games. Beyond Toronto, the other four AL East teams had a combined record of 330-318 (a .509 winning percentage). The Twins played in a division where the second-place team won 86 games and the combined record of the four non-Minnesota teams was 280-368 (a .432 winning percentage).
If things had been reversed last year, if Minnesota had been in the East and Toronto had been in the Central, I think the Blue Jays would have been in the playoffs and the Twins would have been in third-place.
Taking out the games they each played against the four teams in their own division, here is how the Twins and Blue Jays did last year:
W L Win%Sometimes just being in the right place is pretty important. Both teams won right around the same number of games outside of their division, but then the Twins got to beat up on four teams with a combined winning percentage of .432 for 76 games, while the Blue Jays had to play the two best teams in the league 19 teams apiece.
Sometimes in the morning, when I'm still half-asleep and remembering how warm I was under my covers, I open up the door to go out into the world and am hit by a giant gust of ice-cold wind. My eyes shoot open and I find myself staring at a sea of snow. While I walk to class in that environment, I think about just how horrible it is and just how insane I must be to live here. Or at least I used to.
Instead, now I'm going to think about how wonderful it is to be in Minnesota. Because as bad as the weather is, it's a walk in the park compared to the prospect of fighting against New York, Boston, Toronto and Baltimore for two playoff spots. I'd rather freeze my ass off and play the Tigers.
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****
Monday, December 15, 2003
Cammy in The Big AppleSome guys have all the luck.
Take Todd Helton for example. After playing college ball at Tennessee, he gets picked in the first round by the Colorado Rockies. For a slugging first baseman like Helton, getting picked by the Rockies is like a fat kid getting a job as a "tester" at a chocolate factory.
So Helton, through pure luck and the fact that the Rockies took a liking to him and had a high pick in the 1995 draft, has now spent the first seven years of his career as a hitter in the best offensive environment in the history of baseball.
That's not to say Todd Helton isn't a very good hitter, because he certainly is. For his career, he has the following road numbers:
G AVG OBP SLGSome very nice numbers. They are comparable to the career numbers of first basemen like Ryan Klesko (.282/.370/.521), Rafael Palmeiro (.291/.373/.522), Fred McGriff (.285/.378/.511) and Mo Vaughn (.293/.383/.523).
Now take a look at what Helton has done in Coors Field:
G AVG OBP SLGThose numbers are comparable to the career numbers of...well, nobody really. I suppose Ted Williams (.344/.482/.634) and Babe Ruth (.342/.474/.690) come to mind.
The end result of his good luck, to this point at least, is that Todd Helton, a .294/.385/.523 hitter away from Planet Coors, currently leads all active major leaguers in career OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage) at 1.041.
Better than Bonds, Ramirez, Thomas, Thome, Giambi, Piazza, Delgado, Bagwell - you name the player and Helton has a higher career OPS. In fact, he ranks 4th all-time, sandwiched right in-between Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx.
Baseball-Reference.com lists "park factors" for every ballpark in baseball, every season. They are somewhat complicated, but essentially a number above 100 means it is a hitter's park and a number below 100 means it is a pitcher's park.
For example, Dodger Stadium hasn't had a park factor above 100 in its entire 42-year history. Meanwhile, Enron Field/Minute Maid Park in Houston has had park factors of 107, 105, 104 and 104 in its four-year history.
Helton has been with the Rockies since 1997. Coors Field has had the following park factors during his time there:
While Todd Helton has been launching balls into the friendly air in Colorado, Mike Cameron has been at the other end of the ballpark spectrum. Having just completed his seventh full-season in the major leagues, Cameron has played with home ballparks that had the following park factors:
The last four of those years were spent in Seattle, playing in Safeco Field, one of the toughest parks for a hitter in all of baseball. In addition to that, Cameron seems to have been uniquely impacted by Safeco Field, to the point that his home performance has suffered significantly more than the overall park factors would suggest.
Perhaps it is because he hits right-handed, perhaps it is because he is a fly ball hitter, perhaps it is because he has had vision problems that were only made worse by the difficult hitter's background in Seattle. Whatever the reason, Cameron has been significantly worse at Safeco than he has been on the road.
This is a subject I have written about on several occasions. I first discussed Cameron's Safeco woes back in early July, when I pointed out that, during his career with the Mariners, Cameron had been hurt as much by playing in Safeco as guys like Larry Walker and Todd Helton were helped by playing in Coors Field.
Then, last month, I checked back on the situation and found that Cameron's hitting at Safeco improved quite a bit during the second-half of last season, perhaps because the Mariners finally addressed the problem they had been having with the hitter's background in center field.
In his four seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Mike Cameron had the following splits:
G AVG OBP SLG GPAThat is, to me at least, absolutely amazing.
Using GPA as the judge, Cameron's offense was 18% worse at Safeco Field than everywhere else. During his career with the Rockies, Todd Helton's offense at Coors Field is 20% better than it is everywhere else.
Everything in baseball is about context. Todd Helton's career road numbers (.294/.385/.523) look very similar to Mike Cameron's numbers away from Safeco Field during the last four years (.286/.364/.514). Taking both of them out of their home environments, you get Helton with a .304 GPA and Cameron with a .292 GPA.
But, because one of them has the good fortune of hitting in Coors Field for half his games, he has the best OPS among all active players. And the other, by virtue of playing half his games in a ballpark that, for whatever reason, absolutely cripples his offense, is looked at by many fans as a bad offensive player, someone defined by their high strikeout totals and low batting averages.
Put into context however, Mike Cameron and Todd Helton aren't so different offensively. Helton is, without a doubt, a better hitter. The gap between their offensive capabilities is not nearly as massive as the raw numbers would suggest. Like many things in baseball, the truth lies not only with the numbers, but with how those numbers were made.
Had their baseball lives been reversed, I wonder how different things would be for Helton and Cameron. What if Cameron had been drafted by the Rockies and had spent his entire career in Colorado? Would his numbers in Coors Field be 20% better than his numbers on the road? If so, his offense, independent of context, would be among the best in the history of baseball for a center fielder.
And what about Helton? What if he had bounced around with a few teams, always playing in ballparks that were very tough on all hitters and particularly tough on him? Would his career numbers be even lower than his numbers away from Coors are now? Would he be a four-time All-Star or would he be thought of in the same breath as someone like Ryan Klesko?
We will obviously never know the answers to those questions and, unfortunately for Cameron (or at least his stats), he has signed a free agent deal with the Mets and will be headed to yet another pitcher's ballpark, Shea Stadium.
There are some players who are simply destined to be underrated. Maybe they played in a small-market without much media attention, maybe much of their value came from overlooked facets of the game like defense or plate discipline, or maybe, like with Mike Cameron, they just always ended up doing their hitting in a place that simply wasn't all that good for hitting in.
Shea Stadium has not had a park factor over 100 since 1969. Its average park factor over the last five seasons is 95. Safeco's average park factor while Cameron was there was 93. That said, while Shea Stadium has never been a friendly place for hitters, it will almost certainly be much nicer to Mike Cameron than Safeco Field was.
Cameron won't get the 20% boost at home that Coors Field gives Todd Helton, but he doesn't need that to put up extremely impressive numbers. If playing in Shea Stadium can simply allow Mike Cameron to take the numbers he has put up on the road during the last four years and duplicate them at home, he will immediately be seen as one of the best hitting center fielders in baseball. Combine that with the fact that he will now be playing in New York, and it's very possible Mike Cameron could go from incredibly underrated to overrated, or at least correctly rated, in the span of one year. As a fan of Mike Cameron's and someone who would like to see him get just a little luck, I would love to see that happen.
Cameron's .292 GPA away from Safeco over the last four years would have ranked him fifth among all major league center fielders last year, one spot lower than Vernon Wells, who hit .317 with 33 homers and 49 doubles on his way to a .299 GPA and an eighth-place finish in the AL MVP balloting.
Throw in the fact that Mike Cameron is, in my opinion, the best defensive player in all of baseball, and I think the New York Mets have just signed one hell of a player. He's going to have a huge impact on their pitching-staff and his offense is going to surprise a whole lot of people. Not those of you who are readers of Aaron's Baseball Blog, of course. You have all been warned.
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