Friday, November 17, 2006
Once upon a time I devoted every other entry to Santana, yet I saw fit to spend just two paragraphs discussing him when handing out my season-ending awards, and most of that focused on the fact that he should have been going for a third straight award. Very few pitchers in baseball history have ever been as good as Santana since moving into the Twins' rotation, and as the driver of the bandwagon from Day 1, it's been spectacularly rewarding and fun to watch him become the world's best pitcher.
They have discussed the possibility of building a trade around right-hander Jason Jennings with several teams, the most interested of which appear to be Houston and Minnesota. ... With Minnesota, a package would include right-hander Jesse Crain, who grew up in Boulder, and a younger starting pitcher. Texas officials indicated they remain interested in Jennings but most likely will have to wait until the Rockies exhaust talks with the Astros and Twins.Jennings is a solid pitcher who seemingly could thrive if he buys into the Twins' focus on throwing strikes, but he's also a pending free agent who's set to make $5.5 million in 2007. Given that the Twins figure to have a tough time keeping him beyond next season due to his likely price tag, I question whether it's smart to give up Crain, along with a pitching prospect, for what would essentially be 30 starts from a well-paid middle-of-the-rotation starter.
While Crain is somewhat expendable given the Twins' excellent bullpen depth, he's still a 25-year-old reliever with a mid-90s fastball and a 2.95 ERA in 183.1 big-league innings. Plus, he's not eligible for free agency until 2011. If the Twins are going to part with him--and it now seems likely that Crain or Juan Rincon will be leaving town via trade this offseason--I'd much rather see them target a young hitter or a starting pitcher who'll be around for a few years.
Arn Tellem, the agent for Randy Wolf, spent yesterday visiting with clubs at the meetings. He said that the Phils have shown serious interest in re-signing Wolf and that the lefthander is open to returning but first wants to gauge the market. A number of teams, including the Yankees, Twins and Blue Jays, have interest in Wolf.Randy Wolf hasn't been healthy since 2003 and is one year removed from Tommy John elbow surgery, yet seems to be a very popular mid-level pitching target for a number of teams looking for rotation depth on the free-agent market. Of course, the high level of interest from various teams means he's no longer really a "mid-level" option at all and will probably be well out of the Twins' price range. Given the contract he's reportedly looking for, it's probably for the best.
There's a reason Carrot Top doesn't mix up his act by performing Shakespeare once a month.
Since the end of World War II, only one pitcher won 12 or more games as a rookie and did not pitch in the majors in the following year: Kerry Wood, who was 13-6 in 1998 but missed the 1999 season after undergoing elbow surgery.Liriano, of course, went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA as a rookie and will miss the entire 2007 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery earlier this month.
I'm biased, having co-created THT several years ago with Matthew Namee, but I think it's safe to say that this year's edition will be among the best baseball books of 2007. I'm incredibly proud of the finished product, which gets better each year thanks in large part to the work of the book's editor, Dave Studemund. Because of my contract with NBCSports.com, The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2007 will be my final act as co-owner and editor-in-chief of THT, and I couldn't be leaving on a higher note.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Thursday on NBC ...
NBCSports.com officially launched its baseball section this morning, completing one of the final stages of a "gradual rollout." The baseball content is pretty sparse so far, since it's literally Day 1, but it will increase rapidly throughout the offseason and really ramp up heading into spring training. Here's the first headlining article in the history of NBCSports.com's baseball section:
Worth a Fortune: If history holds, Daisuke Matsuzaka may surprise the doubters
You may be familiar with the writer.
In Twins news ... Johan Santana will win his second Cy Young Award in three seasons today (and what should be his third straight), while the Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, LaVelle E. Neal III, reports that Terry Ryan is kicking the tires on 28-year-old right-hander Jason Jennings in preparation for a possible trade with the Rockies.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
My Ballot: Everything Else
Earlier this week I revealed what my ballot for American League MVP would look like, so today I'll cast my non-existent vote for the various other season-ending awards ...
NL MVP PA AVG OBP SLG RBI RUNWhen the actual voting is announced later this month, the National League MVP will no doubt go to either Albert Pujols or Ryan Howard. That's fine, of course, because both players had excellent seasons and are certainly legitimate MVP candidates. However, much like filling the top of my AL MVP ballot with an assortment of up-the-middle defenders, my preference for NL MVP is a guy who put up amazing offensive numbers and played a premium defensive position.
In terms of raw offensive production, Carlos Beltran isn't on the same level as Pujols or Howard:
AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RBI RCRegardless of which stat you choose to focus on, Beltran comes in third. He batted .275; they both hit well above .300. His OPS was .982; they each cleared 1.000 with ease. He hit 41 homers and drove in 116 runs; Howard managed 58 and 149, Pujols had 49 and 137. The all-encompassing Runs Created shows Beltran as having been worth 118 runs; Howard created 161 and Pujols was responsible for 154. If this were merely a hitting contest, it wouldn't be particularly close.
However, as I discussed while making my AL MVP picks, baseball is about more than what you do at the plate. Beltran may check in about 40 or 50 runs behind Pujols and Howard when it comes to overall offense, but he makes up ground on them in nearly every other facet of the game. A quick glance at Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), which puts offensive contributions in the context of which position a player mans defensively, cuts the gap immediately:
VORPCompared to other first basemen, the ridiculous numbers Pujols and Howard put up were worth about 85 and 82 runs above replacement level, respectively. Compared to other center fielders, the slightly less ridiculous numbers Beltran put up were worth about 69 runs above replacement level. The distinction between overall offense and offense in context of position is an important one and when that's accounted for the gap is suddenly closer to 15 runs than 50.
That's still a lot of runs, but it's not difficult to imagine Beltran's excellent defensive in center field being worth 15 runs more than the work Pujols and Howard put in at first base. In fact, depending on how much weight you give to defense, what you think of the specific players involved, and how much trust you put in advanced defensive metrics, it might be difficult to imagine Beltran's advantage defensively being as small as 15 runs.
In the end it comes down to which player you'd take on your team if the 2006 season was being replayed. I recognize that much of the baseball-watching public, including many of those with an actual say in who wins awards, would choose one of the slugging first basemen. I would choose the Gold Glove-caliber center fielder who hit .275/.388/.594 with 41 homers, 38 doubles, 95 walks, 116 RBIs, and 127 runs while stealing 18 bases at an 86-percent clip, and there would be little hesitation.
AL CYA IP ERA SO BB HR OAVG OOPSThis is as big a no-brainer as an award can be, although Roy Halladay had a really good year. Johan Santana led the league in ERA, wins, WHIP, strikeouts, innings, starts, Quality Starts, strikeout rate, opponent's batting average, opponent's on-base percentage, opponent's slugging percentage, and just about every other stat you could possibly think of. In doing so he became just the eighth pitcher in baseball history to win the pitching Triple Crown by leading all of MLB in wins, ERA, and strikeouts.
As the world's biggest Santana backer from before it was cool to be a longtime Santana backer, his blowing away the competition makes it even more of shame that the voters couldn't see how deserving he was of the same award in 2005. Santana deserved to beat out Bartolo Colon and Mariano Rivera for the AL Cy Young then, except the voters weren't able to look past his modest 16 wins to see it. Three straight Cy Young wins would've put Santana in rarified company, although he's basically there anyway.
NL CYA IP ERA SO BB HR OAVG OOPSThe NL Cy Young candidates are bunched so closely together that I'd have no problem with any of the top three guys winning the award. Even beyond the three pitchers listed on my ballot, Bronson Arroyo, Carlos Zambrano, John Smoltz, and Aaron Harang are close enough to have decent arguments. In the end I went with Brandon Webb because his pitched more innings and gave up fewer homers than Roy Oswalt and Chris Carpenter, and did so in an extremely hitter-friendly ballpark.
AL ROY IP ERA SO BB HR OAVG OOPSJustin Verlander had an outstanding rookie season and would be deserving of the award in a lot of years, but Francisco Liriano was about as dominant as a starting pitcher can possibly be and that beats 186 innings of a 3.63 ERA in my book. Jonathan Papelbon narrowly gets the nod over Jered Weaver and Joel Zumaya in the third spot, which shows what an extraordinary crop of rookie pitchers the AL had in 2006.
NL ROY PA AVG OBP SLG RBI RUNThe AL boasted five stud pitchers, but the NL had one of the deepest rookie classes of all time. No fewer than a dozen NL rookies would have been legitimate Rookie of the Year contenders many years, but the sheer number of great rookies left guys like Prince Fielder, Scott Olsen, Josh Willingham, Conor Jackson, Cole Hamels, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton, Adam Wainwright, Chris Duncan, Cla Meredith, Luke Scott, Josh Barfield, Josh Johnson, and Anibal Sanchez as afterthoughts.
I narrowed it down to Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman, Dan Uggla, Russell Martin, and Takashi Saito before eventually going with Ramirez over Zimmerman, but much like the NL Cy Young race I could have gone either way. So, there you have it. My MVPs are Derek Jeter and Carlos Beltran. My Cy Young selections are Johan Santana and Brandon Webb. And my Rookie of the Year picks are Francisco Liriano and Hanley Ramirez.
Monday, November 13, 2006
My Ballot: AL MVP
As a lowly internet writer (as opposed to a slightly less lowly newspaper beat writer) I don't actually have a vote, but if I did here's what my ballot for American League MVP would look like ...
AL MVP PA AVG OBP SLG RBI RUNTwo things I've often been accused of being over the years is a Twins homer and a Derek Jeter basher, so the above ballot should change those perceptions at least a little bit. While it's true that I feel the mainstream media and most fans tend to overrate Jeter, sometimes to ridiculous levels, the fact is that his 2006 season was fantastic with or without a fawning public attempting to make it even better. His season stands on its own as MVP-caliber, whether you're a Jeter basher or a Jeter lover.
Jeter batted .343, supplemented his 214 hits with 69 walks and a dozen hit by pitches to get on base at a .417 clip, and used 14 homers and 39 doubles to slug .483. He appeared in 154 of the Yankees' 162 games, stole 34 bases in 39 attempts, scored 118 times, drove in 97 runs, and played nearly 1,300 innings defensively at shortstop (though not particularly well, despite what the Gold Glove voting would have you believe).
Of course, Joe Mauer is also an up-the-middle defensive player, beat Jeter for the AL batting title (.347 to .343), and topped him in on-base percentage (.429 to .417) and slugging percentage (.507 to .483) as well. Toss in Mauer being safely above average (at least) as a defensive catcher while Jeter is below par (at least) at shortstop and it should actually be Mauer in the top spot, right? At first glance, perhaps, but after further digging, not quite.
Jeter and Mauer play premium defensive positions and posted similar hitting numbers, with Mauer holding an edge both offensively and defensively. However, Jeter's superior base running eliminates Mauer's advantage at the plate and the difference in their playing time more than takes care of the rest. Jeter played 154 games, came to the plate 715 times, and fielded his position for 1,292 innings. Mauer played 140 games, came to the plate 608 times, and fielded his position for 1,059 innings.
Much of that gap is not Mauer's fault, obviously. New York's lineup was the best in the league, which enabled Jeter to come to bat more often than he would have on other teams. Similarly, the rigors of catching make it nearly impossible for someone to squat behind the plate for the same 1,300 innings Jeter manned shortstop. Whatever the reasons, at the end of the day Jeter played 14 more games, batted 100 more times, and played an additional 250 innings on defense.
There are some years when one player has a monster season to make himself the clear choice at MVP, but that wasn't the case in the AL this year. Instead, two up-the-middle defenders put together great seasons at the plate that were eerily similar. When that's the case--when no truly dominate candidate emerges from the rest of the pack and the race at the top in his absence is extremely close--Jeter's edge in playing time is the type of thing that makes a difference.
In a sense this is a choice of quantity over quality, although that's not really the case because both Jeter and Mauer were excellent in very similar ways. Mauer was better as a defender, but Jeter played 22 percent more innings in the field. Mauer was better as a hitter, but Jeter added more on the bases and came to the plate 18 percent more often. Both players are deserving MVPs who had tremendous seasons, but in terms of all-around total value I think Jeter has a slight advantage.
In situations like this, I look towards advanced metrics that are designed to go deeper than simply eye-balling the overall numbers. Here's what a few of them say about the Jeter-Mauer comparison:
WS-AB RC VORP WARP WPAThey're tied at 20 Win Shares Above Bench (WSAB), but Jeter holds a small 33-to-31 edge in Win Shares (WS) and leads by nine runs in Runs Created (RC), 13.6 runs in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), 1.1 wins in Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP), and 3.62 wins in Win Probability Added (WPA). In other words, while the difference between the two players is relatively small regardless of what metric you choose to look at, Jeter does come out on top.
Even beyond Jeter and Mauer, the rest of the ballot is pretty interesting. Johan Santana will likely get almost zero support from the people who actually vote for AL MVP, but a convincing argument could be made for his deserving the award over both Jeter and Mauer. Santana was by far the best pitcher in the league, throwing 233.2 innings with a 2.77 ERA and 245 strikeouts, and his 923 batters faced dwarfs the number of plate appearances for any hitter.
On the other hand, Justin Morneau will receive a ton of support for AL MVP and reportedly may even win the award, yet I nearly left him off my ballot completely. Morneau's season was fantastic and his 130 RBIs had a huge impact on the Twins, but there were a number of defensively limited sluggers who put up similar numbers. In fact, just to get Morneau on the ballot at No. 10 I had to convince myself that he was more valuable than Jermaine Dye (.315/.385/.622, 44 HR, 120 RBI), which was a stretch.
It's no surprise that Morneau will get plenty of support from the writers who vote for AL MVP, because they've always looked primarily at batting averages, RBI totals, and team success with little regard for context. I choose to focus on all-around offensive value along with defense and positional adjustments, and give no weight to how good someone's teammates are, which is why Morneau's case for the award shrinks considerably in my eyes.
That's also why the top of my ballot is filled with guys who put up big offensive numbers and played premium defensive positions, whereas the top of most "real" ballots will be littered with power-hitting sluggers who added little defensively. It's certainly true that most of the biggest RBI totals every year are posted by first basemen, designated hitters, and corner outfielders, but that alone doesn't make them the most valuable players.
Defensive counts and big hitting numbers from an up-the-middle position are better than slightly bigger hitting numbers from a plodding slugger, which is how guys like Grady Sizemore, Vernon Wells, Carlos Guillen, and Miguel Tejada move past the assortment of "run producers" like Morneau, Dye, David Ortiz, Travis Hafner, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Jason Giambi, and Paul Konerko.
As the number of sluggers on the above list should indicate (there were more where those came from), it's not particularly difficult to find a big bopper to drive in runs. What is tough is finding players like Jeter, Mauer, and Sizemore who can put runs on the board in bunches while manning important defensive positions and simultaneously keep runs off the board in bunches. Except for the top spot, my ballot won't look much like those cast by people who actually have votes, but that's just fine with me.