Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lee in Philly? Raise your hand if saw that coming!

Utterly stunned. Speechless. Totally shocked. Amazed. Blown away.

These are all reactions that were had when Cliff Lee announced his signing with the Philadelphia Phillies over the Yankees and Rangers. Ever since this process started, New York and Texas were seen as the only "realistic" landing spots for the ace. Sure, the Nats made their pitch but it wasn't taken all that seriously. As time passed and the winter meeting ended, rumors of a third team, a "mystery team" or "darkhorse" if you will, have been quietly fluttering around. I, for one, thought that a true third contender didn't really exist. If anything, I thought it might be a team that was merely looking to push the price up on the Rangers and Yankees, forcing them to match this "mystery team's" offer. Little did I know, or really anyone for that matter, that the "darkhorse" was real and in fact, the team that would wind up taking the cake.

Its not often that the Yankees don't get what they want. The Rangers have had their share of heartbreak but also success (see: Nolan Ryan). Lee spurned both of these clubs and turned down more guaranteed money in order to return to the Phils. Why would he do this, especially after they traded him away to Seattle almost one year ago today? Because that's where he wanted to play and where he felt like he could win. Not money, not fame, Cliff Lee wants to win a World Series. In an era where players like Jayson Werth get $126 million dollar contracts, Cliff Lee is a breath of fresh air. When traded to Seattle in the winter of '09, he commented how he was disappointed with the trade because he wanted to retire as a member of the Phillies. Well Cliff, that's again a possiblilty. Congratulations.

As for Philadelphia, they have undoubtably the best rotation in baseball. Halladay will still be their ace, Lee will take the two spot, Oswalt the three and Cole Hamels the fourth spot in the rotation. The team is actively trying to move Joe Blanton and his salary so the fifth spot will be up for grabs but probably end up going to developing pro Kyle Kendrick. Despite sending Jayson Werth packing, the Phillies will be the favorites in the N.L. East for sure. Domonic Brown will take over in RF and, unless they find someone to take on Ibanez' salary, Raul will play LF with Victorino in CF. The infield will be the same Howard, Utley, Rollins and Planco. Ruiz wil remain behind the plate and Phillies look awfully good on paper. A few less runs scored, no doubt, but far fewer runs surrendered. Good luck Marlins, Mets, Braves and Nationals. Your fate may already be sealed!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

So Far, So Strange?

If you remember a recent post titled, "Hurry Up and Wait (Part 1&2), I tried to pick the likely landing spot of the top players that would (free agents) or might (trade candidates) be on the move. Let's see how I did, shall we?

10. Matt Kemp (CF) LAD
At the time, rumors were swirling that the Dodgers might be tempted to move their young, athletic, embattled center fielder. I promptly squashed this one and I'm glad I did. It seems that about as soon as this idea got off its feet, it disappeared. Wise move on the part of the Dodgers. Kemp could become truly elite if he realizes his potential and, even if he doesn't, he still possess the talent to be well above average.

9. Adam Dunn (1B/LF/DH) FA
When I wrote the previous article, Dunn had just hit free agency. The defensively-challenged slugger made the right call, moving from the National League to the DH-friendly American League. I predicted the right city but not the right team as I guessed the Cubs and Dunn ultimately signed with the White Sox. One reason why I didn't see this one coming was because the White Sox were expected to, and eventually did, re-sign All-Star first baseman Paul Konerko. Because of this, Chicago will have to use Dunn at the DH spot exclusively.

8. Adrian Gonzalez (1B) SD
The long time infatuation that the Red Sox had for the San Diego slugger finally came to fruition. The Sox pulled off arguably the most surprising move of the offseason when they acquired Gonzalez from teh Padres in exchange for three prospects and a player to be named later. While this appears to be a clear-cut salary dump for a small market team, and I suppose it mostly is, the Padres got excellent return in the deal, centered around Casey Kelley (a stellar pitching prospect). They also obtained Anthony Rizzo (a strong first baseman with the major written all over him), almost ensuring that Gonzalez will have a replacement shortly. While I fully expected Boston to make a hard push for him, I predicted that San Diego would once again fail to deal Gonzalez. Needless to say, this one got my attention!

7. Rafael Soriano (CP) FA
It's been widely known that the Rays are shedding payroll this offseason and Soriano was going to be a casualty of this action. My prediction was that Soriano would land in either Chicago (White Sox) or Anaheim. The Angels are clearly out of the mix because of their surprising move to sign a 35 year-old Scott Downs to a three year deal while the White Sox still remain a viable option. Jerry Riensdorf has already shown that he's willing to spend money this offseason (signing Dunn, Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski) and the back end of their bullpen is still incomplete since Bobby Jenks isn't coming back. This one is still up in the air but Soriano's market is shrinking. At this point, I'm betting on the Southside.

6. Adrian Beltre (3B) FA
Similarly to Soriano, Beltre has seen his market shrink following his re-breakout season in Boston. The Red Sox are moving on without him, the Orioles (my pick) went another direction (Mark Reynolds), the Tigers are spending their money elsewhere (Victor Martinez, possibly Magglio Ordonez) and the Cardinals are focussing on extending Pujols rather than signing overpriced, aging free agents. The Oakland A's have been in contact with Beltre and it appears that they are his only option at the moment. The Angels are still rumored to be in the mix but either way, it looks like Beltre won't be getting the cash he expected and he will likely end up back in the AL West, which doesn't suit him well (see Seattle Mariners).

5. Jayson Werth (RF) FA
Coming off a big season, Werth was expected to cash in big time and he certainly didn't disappoint. The Washington Nationals added the outfielder with a seven-year, $126 million contract. Considering that Werth is 31 and is just now playing exceptionally well, it appears that the Nats overpaid big time for a slugger who will undoubtably underachieve in the latter half of his contract. Somehow I predicted this one correctly, but I never expected him to receive the deal he got. Of course, neither did anyone else. Seven years is just too much for someone his age and the Nats will likely pay the price.

4. Prince Fielder (1B) MIL
Similarly to Kemp, I predicted that Fielder would be dangled but not traded. Indeed, talks around Prince have fallen off almost completely and the Brewers are saying that they won't be moving the slugger even though he is about to hit his contract year and an extension is unlikely. Expected Prince to be with the Brewers until at least the trade deadline.

3. Zack Greinke (SP) KC
Trade rumors around Greinke remain in play but I predicted that he would stay put and he is still a Royal, at least right now. Should the Yankees lose out on their number one target, Cliff Lee, they will likely make a big push for the Royals' ace. The Yankees are the only team that appears to be willing to part with the pieces to make a deal for Greinke an actual possibility. I got this one right, for now...

2. Carl Crawford (LF) FA
With speed to burn and a flare for making flashy plays, I couldn't see Carl Crawford going anywhere besides the Anaheim Angles. Apparently, neither could the Angels since they were shocked when the deal they were working out with Crawford fell through in the eleventh hour and he jumped across the AL East and wound up with the Red Sox. Boston was known to be a candidate but I expected them to pursue Werth more than Crawford. This deal, added to the earlier trade for Gonzalez, makes Boston the clear winner of the winter. Can they transfer that to the diamond?

1. Cliff Lee (SP) FA
The biggest fish in the pond is still swimming at the moment. Lee hasn't made a decision yet and it has baseball holding its collective breath. It appears to be a two team race with an unknown "darkhorse" lurking in the background. Currently, the Rangers and Yankees have the upper hand and it is believed to be between these two, as I guessed it would be. My prediction was that he would choose the Rangers and I still hope he does for a few reasons: it seems like a better fit for him (he's a country boy) and he wouldn't be pitching for Team Evil. Yes that means I would have to watch him carve up my Mariners a few times a year but I want to see some Fexlix Hernandez v. Cliff Lee matchups! I'm sticking with my prediction: the Rangers will lock him up with a seven year deal worth somewhere in the $155-165 million range.

Overall, I have four correct predictions with a chance to make it six (if Soriano ends up with the White Sox and Lee picks Texas). Not bad, I have to say, despite some earth-shattering deals that appeared to be longshots (Gonzalez to the Red Sox, Crawford in
Boston also). The winter is one of the best times to be a baseball fan!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Werth's Worth, Jeter Gets Nasty and Pujols for President?

Wow, what a start to the Winter Meetings as the Hot Stove is absolutely roaring right now! The biggest deal to go down and the biggest name to land a big deal, Jayson Werth, got settled early on. Werth agreed to a seven year deal worth $126 million with the Washington Nationals, marking the biggest splash the Nats have ever made and the third richest outfielder contract in MLB history (although Carl Crawford's eventual deal with probably be larger). The crazy part of this deal is the fact that it is seven years in length, which is rather long for anybody, let alone a 31 year-old outfielder who has really only had one truly great season ('10) and one other that could be classified as quite good ('09). This could be a great move for the Nats if Jayson continues to post huge seasons through his mid 30's and doesn't decline sharply after the age of 35. If he fizzles, he will be impossible to trade because his salary is so massive, a la Vernon Wells. Mix this with that fact that he is blocking Bryce Harper's defensive position and will likely have to move to left field and we are left scratching our heads. Do the Nats really have a plan or are they just trying to sell out the park every night? Hopefully the answer is both. Likely its not.

Derek Jeter had to end up a Yankee in the end and everyone knew it. In fact, Jeter said he wanted to stay in pinstripes all along so this wasn't really any mystery. So why did things get nasty between him and the Yanks? Jeter's value has been declining, especially in 2010, but he didn't want to take a paycut when he re-signed. Derek had been making roughly $22 million for the last five years and was reluctant to let that number go and early rumors indicated that he wanted to continue making A-Rod money. The Yankees knew they had no competition to re-sign him so they were more interested in paying him based on his current value rather than his past value. The pair settled on a more "reasonable" number around $17 million per season for three years with a player option for a fourth. Jeter has made no bones about it that he is rather upset that the negotiations became public. This is really his own problem, though, since he was so unwilling to back down from his huge demands until the Yanks went public and used his image against him to get him back to a workable contract. Sorry Derek, but this is what most guys have to go through. Here's to guessing that Jeter hated his first (and presumably) las time being a free agent.

While it may have been laughable that Jeter expected to continue making A-Rod money, one player that also expects those dollars and actually deserves them is Albert Pujols. The Machine has been consistently raking for nearly a decade and playing Gold Glove defense as well. He's signed through 2011 and the Cardinals almost have to keep him in St. Louis, much like Jeter had to stay in New York. He's an icon with the Cardinals and it would be just plain weird to see him play anywhere else. A-Rod signed a 10 year, $275 million contract in 2007 and there's no reason to believe that Pujols won't get something close to that. In fact, Pujols has been consistently more productive than A-Rod over the course of the last decade. The problem with that is that Pujols occupies a much larger portion of the Cardinals payroll than does A-Rod with the Yankees, making it difficult for St. Louis to put enough players around Albert to keep them contenders. Pujols is easily worth $25-$30 million per season and I'm guessing he gets something in the neighborhood of 8 years and $230 million. Whenever it happens, it will be a well-deserved deal despite its gargantuan size and when it goes down, the people of St. Louis will undoubtably dance in the street and chant "Pujols for President!"

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Felix and Sabermetircs

"Sabermetrics is the analysis of baseball through objective evidence, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity rather than industry activity such as attendance."

Why is this definition important? Because it clearly lays out the focus of sabermetrics: the study of measurable game data on a player-by-player basis. The latest Cy Young Award winner, Felix Hernandez, is the poster child for sabermetrics. Although he posted the lowest win total of a Cy Young winner in a non-shortened season, with only a 13-12 record, Felix was given the award based on a number of other statistics that suggest that he was much better than a nearly .500 pitcher. In fact, there is little doubt that "King Felix" was the best American League pitcher in 2010. In the past, most pitchers needed to win a minimum of 15 games, and closer to 20 was a big advantage, to have a shot at being named the best pitcher in baseball. So, what's changed? The pervasiveness of sabermetrics has officially penetrated baseball and success on an individual basis is finally being determined by calculating individual results, not team or industry-based metrics.

Traditional statistics have long governed baseball. For pitchers, these are statistics like wins and losses, strikeouts, walks and ERA. Some of these statistics have their merits for assessing individual performance, particularly strikeouts and walks. Stats like ERA are dependant on the performance of the fielders behind the pitcher and wins and losses not only take fielding into account, but also rely on the offense to score runs. In essence, ERA, wins and losses do not show the individual effectiveness of a pitcher as accurately as other statistics.

New-wave individual statistics, generally labeled as sabermetrics (the term is derived from the acronym SABR, which stands for the Society for American Baseball Research), can isolate the pitcher from the rest of the team's performance. For instance, these statistics don't penalize the pitcher for errors made behind him or a lack of run-support from the offense. Examples of these statistics include WHIP (walks+hits/innings pitched), baBIP (batting average of balls in-play) and FIP (fielding-independent pitching). The WHIP statistic shows the pitcher's ability to keep the opponent off of the basepaths, the baBIP statistic shows how lucky or unlucky a pitcher has been when opposing hitters but the ball in play (which can artificially inflate of deflate statistics) and the FIP statistic proves how well a pitcher has performed completely independent of the play of his infielders and outfielders.

Felix Herandez did not fare as well as other pitchers in the American League in a few of the traditional categories, most notably wins and losses (13-12). While he did post great strikeout totals (232), a fantastic ERA (2.27) and pitched the most innings of any pitcher in baseball this year (249.2), he shined brightest in the new-era categories. His WHIP was excellent (1.057), while his FIP (3.07) was still very good. Mixed with the traditional statistics, the sabermetric stats only further increased Felix's case for winning the AL Cy Young.

The fact that Hernandez was voted the winner was monumental. The voters around American overlooked his negative traditional stats and instead acknowledged his positive sabermetric results. This is clearly the first major victory for "SABR-heads" on a national level. While sabermetrics have been slowly gaining acceptance amongst more and more baseball fans and writers, the outcome here is clear. Sabermetrics are here to stay and will now be a major factor in examining baseball players, not just with stat-obsessed baseball fanatics, but even in the mainstream media

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Golden Payday

Gold Glove Award winners have been announced over the last two days. While some players are not surprises at all, some players are likely to use their awards to help them cash in. Agents are tricky dudes and will use anything as leverage. With an emphasis on defense taking hold of the Majors, Derek Jeter and Carl Crawford will probably use these awards to increase their 2011 paydays.

Derek Jeter needed this one. The Captain is aging (previous post) but is apparently aging well. Despite clearly losing a step (or two) over the past few seasons in the Bronx, Jeter won yet another Gold Glove. If you're privy to metrics like UZR, they Jeter's new award might be a surprise. He's not listed in the top half of AL shortstops according to the Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). His fielding percentage is fantastic but we have to ask why. His range is clearly limited and he can't make some of the throws he used to. So why does he win? Because of the balls he does get to, he makes the right play and is almost never given an error. This is kind of like Kobe or LeBron not given fouls. This artificially inflates his feilding percentage and because he's a modern baseball icon, he get the Gold Glove. As Jeter works to finalize a free agent deal to keep in in New York, expect him, or his agent, to claim "he still plays Gold Glove defense" and try to parlay that into a few more million dollars on his contract.

Carl Crawford didn't exactly need this one. Its not like he's complaining, but compared to Jeter, this didn't much matter. Crawford is going to sign the deal of a lifetime in the next few months, whether he won a Gold Glove for his defense or not. He's the most talented position player available and is going to cash in huge this offseason. Crawford is a standout left fielder, however. Why is he so much better than his brethren? Most left fielders are old, overweight, slightly unathletic and often a combination of all three. Manny Ramirez, anyone? Crawford is an athletic specimen who has the speed and range to play center field but his arm keeps him in left (think: Juan Pierre). Therfore, he stands tall above the competition by default. While Mr. Crawford clearly doesn't need the help, expect him and his representatives to use the defense angle drive the price amongst the teams that are expected to bid on him (Angels, Red Sox, Tigers, Braves, etc). The team that values his defense most might be the one who is willing to outbid the competition.

Gold Gloves aren't a science. They are voted on and the results are subject to massive debate. Either way, two players are expected to utilize their 2010 Gold Gloves to garner them some extra cash this winter. When they do, call it a "Golden Payday."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Derek Jeter, Big Papi and "Old Player Skills"

As the hot stove warms, two teams are in a position to make some tough calls, specifically the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Both are attempting to navigate a tricky situation with the face of their franchise. "The Captain," Derek Jeter, is a free agent and technically has the right to to to whatever team he wishes. David Ortiz, or "Big Papi" as he's referred, wanted a multi-year contract extension rather than the Red Sox picking up their option on retaining him for only 2011. One team has already made their move. Was it the right one and how is the other team's situation different despite the similarities?

The Red Sox acted decisively, making their decision on Ortiz today, the 4th of November. While Ortiz was seeking the long-term security of a multi-year extension, Boston took the conservative approach by exercising their club option on him, which locks him up for 2011 season for the nominal fee of $12.9 million dollars (I was kidding about it being nominal). They did this for a few reasons. First of all, Ortiz has gotten off to shaky starts the last two years, showing his age and declining ability to hit left-handed pitching. Big Papi is 34 and in case you haven't noticed, isn't exactly the finest athletic specimen on the face of the earth. Also factoring into the Sox's decision, Ortiz doesn't play a defensive position since he's a DH only. Therefore, he only has value with the bat and doesn't contribute to the team's defensive achievement.

Derek Jeter is hoping to stay a member of the New York Yankees. Its hard to imagine The Captain wearing anything but pinstripes since he is has been the face of the Yankee franchise for over a decade. Jeter is currently 36 years old but still holds his own at shortstop defensively. He no longer turning heads at the position but he's still quite serviceable. With the bat, Jeter had a down year but not a horrible one. His OBP remains good and he has high quality at-bats nearly every time he's up at the dish. He's hoping for a multi-year contract offer from the Yankees who claim to want to re-sign him, but the price doesn't seem likely to fit the product. Jeter will be 37 next year and that is a tough age to play shortstop. Moving to third base isn't an option (see Alex Rodriguez) and going to second isn't either (Robinson Cano, anyone?). So herein lies the problem: Jeter is still a serviceable player who is vital to his team and community, but is losing value as he ages despite his high salary.

As concluded by Bill James, the "Old Player Skillset" is: power, walks, low average, lack of speed. This fits David Ortiz perfectly. In my opinion, he's an injury or really bad season away from losing his value to anyone, not just the Red Sox. Sure he clubbed 32 homeruns last year, but that was after he played terribly through the first two months of the season. In the A.L. East, you can't have a bad two months from your best power hitter and hope to contend. There's simply too much firepower in that division. Because of this, and the fact that no one else would be willing to pay Ortiz $12-15 million a season, Boston did the right thing by exercising Ortiz's option and not giving him a three year deal that would have kept him with the team until he was nearly 38 years old. Keeping it year-by-year with Big Papi allows the Red Sox to cut him loose whenever they see fit without losing a ton of money on him.

The Yankees almost have to re-sign Jeter. That goes both ways, though. Jeter isn't worth nearly what he'll earn with New York and no one else is looking to give a three year deal to a 36 year old shortstop. Derek's salary last season was a whopping $22 million. Considering he put up roughly the same season as several slightly-above average shortstops, that's about three or four times what his performance dictates. This is a different situation, though, from Ortiz's. Jeter should get an extension, just not a huge one. He's a big part of the clubhouse, he's "Captain Clutch" with big hits, he can still do his job defensively and he is still worthy of his time at bat. He also sells jerseys and tickets as the ultimate emblem of the most popular sports franchise in the world. As long as Derek's alright with taking a bit of a pay cut, he will likely be rewarded with something in the neighborhood of 3-4 years and $55-75 million or less. Despite overpaying big time, the Yankees can afford it.

David Ortiz clearly has "Old Player Skills" and could nosedive at any moment. Sure he's the biggest power threat for the Red Sox but he doesn't play defense and has a body that doesn't project to age well. Honestly, I'm surprised he's held up as well as he has. Jeter, on the other hand, is worthy of more contract time since he's the leader of his team, plays solid, but not incredible, defense and can still handle the bat sufficiently. "Old Player Skills" haven't hit The Captain just yet and I don't think they will. The Red Sox were right to pick up their option on Ortiz and go year-by-year with him while the Yankees should give Jeter a few more years, just not at his current salary.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hurry up and wait (part 2)

To finish my last thought, there will surely be a lot of offseason movement this winter. Here are the five biggest names on the list and where I believe they will end up.

Jayson Werth (OF), Free Agent
Werth is coming off of a huge second half after he started the season a bit slowly. Although his agent, the beloved Scott Boras, says that Werth is a good enough athlete to play center field, he's certainly better suited to continue playing right field. Werth is a legitimate 30/30 candidate at this point in his career, although that will probably change as he ages past his current 27 years of age. At 6'5", Werth is an athletic specimen who will command a lot of money this winter. He is one of the "Big 3" free agents who will likely need to fall into place before many of the smaller deals fall into place this offseason. He could be the recipient of a six or seven year deal worth over $100 million. Prediction: the familiar suspects will likely be involved in the bidding, such as the Angels, Red Sox, Yankees, Braves, Nationals and maybe even the Dodgers or Cubs. I'm curious if someone will be willing to overpay and just buy Werth away from the competition. Depending on where Carl Crawford lands, I see Werth staying in the National League, presumably with the Nationals. Since they may not retain Adam Dunn, Werth would be a solid replacement offensively and a big upgrade defensively, plus they may just be willing to pay the price to get him. Expect the discussion to be where to play Bryce Harper in two years, first base or left field?

Prince Fielder (1B), Milwaukee Brewers
The big firstbaseman of the Brewers could be on the move the winter. The small-market Brewers have grown tired of his antics at times and probably won't be able to afford him once his deal is up at the end of the 2011 season. As is the case with Gonzalez, the Brewers could trade Prince to bring something back in return for him moving along. A perennial 40 homerun threat, Fielder could be enticing to teams that are high on his power and not scared off by his weight problems. Prediction: while the smart move would be to move Fielder this offseason, I don't think the Brewers will get it done. Teams like the Dodgers, Braves, Nationals, Mariners and Orioles could be interested and "kick the tires" on Fielder in the next few months, but I expect the Brewers to have too high of an asking price to make a deal realistic.

Zack Greinke (SP), Kansas City Royals
Interestingly, Greinke's name has recently surfaced in trade rumors. The 2009 Cy Young winner had a letdown season in 2010 but most agree that his "stuff" is still top-notch. Because he's young and has been pretty consistent, Greinke could be a huge get for any team looking to significantly upgrade their starting pitching. It appears that Greinke has gotten frustrated with the direction of the franchise and it is truly a shame that one of the game's best pitchers plays for such an abysmal team. Prediction: This one may have some traction. The Royals may jump at the chance to move Greinke for the right pieces since they are still obviously a long ways away from being a legitimate contender. The Yankees still have Jesus Montero to deal and could presumably put something together, especially since AJ Burnett has disappointed. The Mets, Twins, Braves and Cardinals could also take a run at the Ace. Odds are that he stays a Royal but don't be surprised he does change teams in the next few months.

Carl Crawford (OF), Free Agent
Crawford is clearly the premier position player available and he will receive a very large contract with whomever he chooses. He appears to be really coming into his prime with the bat as his power numbers have steadily increased over the last few seasons. He's also a very athletic left fielder since he has the prototypical speed of a center fielder. He can steal 40 bases per season too if needed. At this point in his career, and with the price it will take to acquire him, he appears to slated for a middle-of-the-order role rather than in the leadoff capacity. The former Ray will not have the opportunity to come back to his former team since they are cutting payroll so drastically. Prediction: I firmly believe that Crawford will end up a member of the Los Angeles Angels. He's a good fit with them and they will likely pursue him hard. Other teams could include the Braves, Tigers and Red Sox. As an Angel, however, Crawford will continue to play in a warm, sunny environment (not Tropicana Field) and showcase his talents to the Left Coast.

Cliff Lee (SP), Free Agent
If you don't know who Cliff Lee is or haven't followed the hoopla that has surrounded him, I have know idea how you found this blog. Everybody and their brother will probably make a pitch at the hottest Ace to hit free agency since CC Sabathia. Turning 32 next season, Lee is not a spring chicken but isn't exactly and old guy either. His mechanics make his pitching style, which isn't overpowering, much more manageable. The Rangers will try hard to convince Lee to stay with the club but others will be lurkkng, such as the Yankees, Cubs, White Sox, Angels and even the Phillies. Prediction: Lee will be a huge target this offseason and a deal for him will help the other pieces fall into place. At the end of the day, I think Lee will re-sign with the Rangers. He's a simple guy who loves to Bass fish, Deer and Duck hunt and Texas isn't far from his home in Arkansas. The bright lights of New York would probably be a little much for him. The other teams will do their best but I don't think they will be willing to commit enough resources to garner the best postseason pitcher in recent baseball history.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hurry up and wait (part 1)

As Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum face off tonight, I started wondering something. No, I wasn't debating who's the better pitcher or even who will win the 2010 World Series. Like any true Hot Stove addict, I'm wondering what faces are trading places in this year's offseason. This winter should see a fair amount of deals go down because this is a relatively deep free agent class. Add to this the fact that there are also a number of marquee names who are under contract but will definitely be discussed as trade pieces and we should get an offseason full of rumors and, hopefully, personnel movement. Going off of Yahoo! Sports' Tim Brown article, here are ten names to keep an eye on and where exactly I think they will end up.

Matt Kemp (OF), Los Angeles Dodgers
The embattled centerfielder may have just worn out his welcome in the City of Angles. He's clearly a talented individual, wether with the bat, on the basepaths or in the outfield. The problem is consistent effort. Kemp did not get along well with Joe Torre and it is yet to be seen whether he will work well with new manager Don Mattingly who is a younger manager but also someone who is cut from the traditional baseball cloth. Despite his playing and limited coaching background, the perception is that Mattingly is more of a "players manager" than was Torre. Prediction: I don't think that the Dodgers are willing to give up on Kemp yet, despite his attitude. Mattingly will at least get a chance to get through to the young talent. Since Kemp is under contract, he would have to be traded and would likely net the Dodgers quite a haul of prospects but I just don't think the Dodgers will be willing to let him go this early in his career.

Adam Dunn (OF/1B), Free Agent
Dunn is undoubtably the biggest power bat available in this offseason, at least via free agency. Despite not having a true defensive position, Adam Dunn is always a threat to put 40+ baseballs over the fence each season, which is becoming more and more valuable in the post-steroid era. There will likely be many suitors for Dunn this winter and he will definitely command a large price on the open market. Early possibilities could include the Nationals, the Cubs, the Angels and the Mariners. Dunn will have to end up in a place where offense is emphasized more than defense, especially if he stays in the NL. Otherwise, he's best suited as a DH in the American League but could survive in left field (but just barely so). Prediction: I see Dunn signing with either the Cubs or the Angels. Chicago would take him with open arms and has money to spend as they always seem to. The Angles would take him as well, but probably only if they lose out on Carl Crawford and Jason Werth, both of whom will likely be their key targets. The Mariners need the pop but probably won't shell out the cash or take the defensive risk and the Nationals will likely wait in the wings and see how things play out before making an offer. My gut says he ends up on the Northside.

Adrian Gonzalez (1B), San Diego Padres
Unfortunately for Padre fans, the winter of 2010 may be the time that all of the trade talk surrounding Adrian Gonzalez comes to fruition. The only position player with any sort of clout in the Padre lineup, Gonzalez is a huge fish swimming in a muddle puddle in his current situation. He has power to all fields, plays a solid first base defensively and is a good teammate, making him essential total package. His deal is up at the end of 2011 so the Padres only have him for one more season. By trading him this offseason, as opposed to dealing him at the trade deadline, San Diego could get a healthy haul of prospects and probably one MLB-ready player in return for Gonzalez. Prediction: Boston has been long enamored with Gonzalez and would to snag the power firstbasmen but they appear to be somewhat unwilling to part with the pieces to complete the deal. The Cubs have an opening at first and could also be serious contenders. Despite the fact that the Red Sox and Cubs would love nothing more than to lure Gonzalez away from San Diego, I don't think the Padres will ultimately pull the trigger on dealing the man. Why? Because they're the Padres and they are sometimes willing let the ultimate opportunity pass them by. That will be the case here as well.

Rafael Soriano (RP), Free Agent
The Tampa Bay Rays employed one of the best closers in the game in 2010 but don't appear to be willing to bring him back. Soriano will likely be looking at a big time deal this offseason and the Rays are expected to be reducing payroll in a major way in 2011. As always, closers are debatable when it comes to big contracts. In his favor are the facts that Soriano has a good track record and is relatively young. He can be flat-out dominant at times and will probably get at least a 3-year deal worth $7-$9 million dollars per season. There aren't too any teams that have the capital to commit to a deal like that and most of the teams that do already have a closer who they've invested in. There are several potential suitors but nobody really jumps out at this stage of the game. Depending on Francisco Rodriguez' situation, the Mets could be involved as could the Red Sox if they decide to let Jonathan Papelbon go. The White Sox appear to be fed up with the declining Bobby Jenks and the Nationals could use back-end help that is dependable with a solid, young pitching staff expected to mature over the next few seasons. Don't count out the Angles in this sweepstakes, either. Prediction: I see the White Sox as the team most likely to sign Soriano with the Angels also getting in the mix. Ozzie Guillen likes to have a solid closer to turn to in the ninth and I think Soriano will be pitching for the Chi Sox in 2011.

Adrian Beltre (3B), Free Agent
After a breakout performance in 2010, Beltre will be looking to cash in for the long haul in 2011. After leaving Seattle, the third baseman put up MVP caliber numbers in 2010 for the Red Sox. He's a free agent once again this winter and the bidding could be intense. The Red Sox are likely the early favorites but that depends on what happens with catcher Victor Martinez and a possible trade for Adrian Gonzalez. Several other teams could use help at the hot corner, especially teams that value a good defensive third baseman like Beltre, but few will likely have the resources to bid on an aging slugger who could be resurrecting his career or just coming off a good season only to disappear like he did following his stellar 2004 campaign. Once again, the Angels could be a possibility as could be the Orioles, Dodgers, Tigers and Cardinals. I don't believe the Dodgers will bring him back and I can't see the Cardinals spending the money either. The Tigers are intriguing as they are probably going to let Ordonez walk without much of a struggle, making them a likely landing destination. The Orioles are looking for a power upgrade and Beltre could fit the bill because he already knows the divisional pitching staffs. The Red Sox would prefer to keep him but their priorities may lie elsewhere. Prediction: The Orioles will pay Beltre what it takes to bring him aboard. He will be a good fit for the O's if he keeps his form given the amount of good young talent they already have in place.

The other five names will be next to come!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Its World Series Time!!!

Well, its finally here: World Series Time! Aces Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum will face off in game one in approximately 56 hours and I can barely contain myself. As a huge Giants fan, I wanted two things at the outset of the playoffs: 1, for the Giants to reach the World Series and, 2, for the Yankees to get beat by the Rangers (since I knew the Twins couldn't do it). In case you missed it, both of these things has come true and I am now squarely placed in a large conundrum. What the hell do you do when both of your favorites make it to the World Series?

Since I am ultimately a Giants fan to the core whereas I have recently picked up on the Rangers, I suppose I should address this problem from the San Francisco perspective. I love teams with strong pitching. Lincecum is truly "the Freak," Matt Cain is as steady as a rock and Brian Wilson is, well, Brian Wison . I can even admit, although somewhat grudgingly, that I enjoy Barry Zito's overpriced 12-6 curveball. But wait a sec, the Rangers have some outstanding chuckers, too. Cliff is the best post-season pitcher in recent history, CJ Wilson has made an amazing transformation from back-end bullpen guy to successful starter and Neftali Feliz has some wicked hair hanging out the back of is cap, not to mention a crazy ability to close games. From a pitching standpoint, the series is pretty even with an ever-so-slight nod going to San Francisco.

I’ve always appreciated teams with an ability to do “the little things” like timely hitting, bunt a runner over and cash him in, hit the much-needed sacrifice fly or steal a base when necessary. Despite their offensive ineptitude at times, the Giants can do all of the things listed above. Bruce Bochy has had an innate ability to push all of the right buttons at all of the right times this post-season. With that said, there’s only one flaw here. The Rangers can hit the ball out of the park with insane regularity. Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Vladamir Guerrero and Ian Kinsler can all put the ball over the wall with authority. Even Bengie Molina, Michael Young and David Murphy can swat a big fly if one leaves a fastball out over the plate. The ability to hit homeruns with frequency eliminates the need to do “the little things.” The San Francisco pitching staff had better be nearly perfect because if they get down three, four or five runs or more, they will be in a nearly impossible situation because the offense lacks the ability to pick them up. There’s a big edge to the Rangers when it comes to the bats.

There are some intangibles in this series. The coaching staff’s are both solid, so that should be a push. One area I see things turning, however, is homefield advantage. There will be seven games in San Francisco’s AT&T Park, a beautiful ballpark if I may say so, and that should heavily favor the Giants. Sure the crowd will be cheering for the home team in those games, but the real advantage lies in the conditions at the park. AT&T is a tough park to hit a homerun in, especially this late in the season. Its often windy with the wind blowing in and the damp, coastal air has a way of knocking down fly balls. By the end of October and early November, these conditions will be at their most extreme. Since Texas relies on the thin Texas night air to hit so many of their homers, they will likely see a decrease in their ability to put the ball over the fence when the series is in San Francisco. This could be critical. The Giants are accustomed to the conditions and aren’t engineered to hit the long ball anyways, so the effects are pretty negligible to them. Add this to the difficulty some newcomers have in playing balls in Triples Corner and the Giants just might be able to win three of four at home. Last but not least is the fact that San Francisco is an awesome city while George “Dub-Ya” Bush owns the Rangers. The edge here is solidly in favor of the Giants since there are more games in San Francisco than Arlington.

Through it all, I see the Rangers taking this series, probably in five or six games. Best-case-scenario is the Giants pushing a game seven in which Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum both pitch on three days rest with the wind blowing way in creating lots of fly ball outs for the Rangers while the Giants succeed at playing small-ball and stealing a home and clinching victory. But don’t bet on it. In all likelihood, Texas takes game one, the Giants game two and then the series goes to Arlington. There the Rangers will take game three, the Giants game four and the Rangers game five before the series goes back to San Fran. I believe the Rangers will take came six and win the series but, I could be wrong. I just don’t see the Giants being able to keep up offensively, especially against the incredible pitching wonder, Cliff Lee. Respecting both teams so much, there’s only one thing I know: it’s World Series Time and it’s going to be fun to watch!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

From "Worst" to First

What a quick and strange trip it's been. Just a few years back, critics were teasing the NL West by referring to the division as the "NL Worst" since the division struggled to have any team from the division finish with a winning record. Most wondered how a team could make the playoffs when they barely won more than 81 games. The Diamondbacks, Giants, Padres, Rockies and Dodgers meddled in mediocrity and, no matter who seemed to squeak by the rest, they were dead meat once they arrived to the postseason party. As I'm getting quite tired of hearing Lee Corso say on College Gameday every Saturday morning, "Not so fast, my friend!"

The former worst division in all of baseball has quickly become baseball's most competitive division from top to bottom. In 2008, the Dodger snuck into the playoff by winning a paltry 84 games while the Diamondbacks were somewhat "hot" on their tail by finishing with 82 wins on the season. In case your wondering, those are winning percentages of .519 and .506, respectively. During the same season, 84 wins would have placed the division-winning Dodgers in fifth place if they were in the NL Central instead of the appropriately named NL Worst. Believe it or not, the division was actually less competitive in 2005 when only one team, the Padres, posted a winning season by coming out ahead in 82 of the team's 162 contests, only one game over .500. During that very same season, the entire NL East finished with better records, save the Washington Nationals who won only 81 games on the year, just one short of the division-winning Padres. You clearly get the point, the National League West clearly earned the moniker of the "NL Worst".

With October 2010 just around the corner and the magic of the playoffs in the air, the super-competitive NL West is the only division race still going on. In fact, three teams are still in the hunt for the division crown and the NL Wild Card. The Giants are narrowly ahead of the Padres by one game with each team having five games left in the season. Three of those five games are against one another and will likely decide who wins the division. The Colorado Rockies aren't far off the pace and, if either the Giants or Padres get exceptionally hot and sweep one another, the Rockies may be able to sneak into second and take the Wild Card, thanks in large part to a faltering Atlanta Braves team that is fading fast in the NL East. The Rockies will have to do their best to sweep the Cardinals in their final series of the season and overcome their terrible 31-46 road record to do so. As it stands now, it appears that either the Giants or the Padres will win the division with the second place finisher settling for the Wild Card.

As mentioned above, the final series of the season will see the Giants face off against the Padres at AT&T Park in San Francisco with a division crown on the line. NL West supremacy will be up for grabs and, with this being the only race yet to be declared, nearly all of the baseball world will likely be watching. Who would have though this would be the case just a few years back? The Phillies and Reds know that they cannot afford to take either of these teams lying down since both have capable pitching to go along with scrappy, timely offenses. If you turn on your TV set this weekend to watch a little baseball, like most other baseball-loving Americans, you'll notice a fantastic is ripe for the taking. And if you pay close attention to these teams you'll clearly know that you're not watching the NL Worst anymore. In fact, you could now refer to it as the NL First.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Does it Matter Who Wins?

When one sees a question like this, and if you're self-respecting fan, one has to answer, "Hell yes!" But in the instance of the World Series looming ahead of us this year, do any of the potential National League teams have the talent and ability to beat the potential American League champs? The answer is yes, but its a tentative yes at best. Here's why:

First of all, we have to identify just who the National League champs will need to beat to win the World Series. In the AL West, Texas is all but certain to take the title. Oakland has made a nice little run lately but Texas, with a healthy Cliff Lee back in the rotation, the Rangers should finish the season atop the standings. In the Central, it looks like the Twins have a stranglehold on the division. The White Sox have done all they can to keep it close but, barring a epic collapse, Minnesota will likely hang on to represent the AL Central in the postseason. The AL East is home to tightest matchup to determine a division. At the moment, the Yankees have a half-game lead over the Rays. This one is a toss up but with a healthy A-Rod back in the lineup, New York seems likely to hold onto the division. Tampa Bay, however, has a large lead in the Wild Card standings and will almost certainly still make the postseason. In the end, the AL should be represented by Texas, Minnesota, New York and Tampa Bay.

These four teams area all solid. They are all home to strong postseason rotations and have powerful offenses. Cliff Lee, Francisco Liriano, CC Sabathia and David Price are all legitimate aces that have the ability to shut down the opponent. Behind them are a host of young, up-an-coming arms that have posted solid seasons and can provide stability each respective team's rotation. Texas is lead by Nelson Cruz and Vladamir Guerrero, Minnesota by Joe Mauer, New York by Mark Texiera, A-Rod and Robinson Cano while Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria provides the pop that makes the Rays go. Each team has the ability to score a ton of runs on the opponent and still play solid defense. The National League champs will be up against a tall order no matter who they face.

On the NL side of the equation, the races are much tighter. Only the Cincinnati Reds have a virtual lock on their division by being a surprising seven games up on the Cardinals. In the West, San Diego has weathered the storm and emerged from their slump to right the ship and are locked in a battle with the San Francisco. This race could go either way. San Diego has significantly overachieved this season and they could falter down the stretch while the Giants have made several roster additions to attempt to improve their offense but it may not be enough. In the East, The Phillies have once again got hot (and healthy) at the right time and have evened up the division against the Atlanta Braves. The nod has to go to the Phillies in this race with the presence of Halladay and the dynamic Philly offense. Atlanta is fading fast and just doesn't have the firepower to keep up so they will most likely have to battle with a few teams for the Wild Card.

In the end, I believe that the Phillies will take the East, the Giants will win the West, the Reds will hold onto the Central while the Padres (or Rockies) will take the Wild Card. If this is the case, only the Phillies and Reds have the ability to really challenge any of the American League playoff teams. These two teams can score runs in bunches and have enough pitching to keep the opponent in-check. Now these rotations aren't exactly stifling but can be effective. Roy Halladay is probably the only ace amongst the group but the bullpen of the Reds is quite impressive while the Phillies' 'pen is effective at times, as well. Joey Votto is a legitimate MVP candidate while the Phillies order with Howard, Utley and Werth in the middle should scare anybody.

So, does it really matter who emerges with the National League pennant? Of course it does, but they will still be considered the underdog regardless of who comes out of the American League. The AL teams are simply too powerful on paper to make any of the NL teams look like juggernauts. Only the Reds and Phillies have a realistic chance at taking down the rotation-rich, offense-minded American League pennant winner. Look for the American league to capture yet another World Series title in October.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Who Are The Dodgers Kidding?

With the N.L. West race coming down to really a two team battle, the Los Angeles Dodgers are clearly on the outside looking in. But don't tell that to their front office. While San Diego is running away with things and the Giants being the only team with a realistic chance to compete with them, the Dodgers could make a handful of moves that would benefit them for years to come. Unfortunately it doesn't look like Ned Colleti will be able to swallow his pride to get it done.

First and foremost, the Mannywood days in L.A. are done and everybody knows it. Manny has worn out his welcome in Dodger Blue. He's raking in a ton of cash and giving back very little on the field (sound familiar, Matt Kemp?) since he's spent so much time on the DL once again this year. Colleti had the cajones to put the slugger on waivers and, as anticipated, the White Sox have won the waiver claim on Man-Ram but its unclear at this point whether or not a deal will get done. Trading Manny would save the Dodgers a very nice chunk of change and also net them some prospects or possibly a MLB-ready guy right now. Its silly to think that this may not get done since the benefits are so obvious. You'd have to think the Dodgers would be very aggressive sellers of Ramirez but that may not be the case.

The acquisition of Ted Lilly was a smart move approaching the trade deadline. If the Dodgers were to contend this season then Lilly would be an important piece. Things haven't worked out for the team but Lilly has been excellent. Despite his success and modest price tag, the Dodgers have place Lilly on waivers. The only reason to trade Lilly would be if the Dodgers were truly rebuilding but with their talent and reluctance to trade the aging and injured Ramirez, rebuilding doesn't appear to be the case. Lilly is affordable and effective but he is made available while Ramirez is expensive and ineffective (yet somehow in demand) and they won't make the deal with the White Sox. Is anyone else confused here?

The Los Angeles Dodgers need to recognize the situation that their currently in. They are out of the playoff picture and should be focussing their efforts on 2011. Getting something in return for Manny Ramirez (aside from salary relief) would be a plus. Retaining Ted Lilly to help Clayton Kershaw hold down the rotation for an affordable price would set them up for next season. Will the front office see the writing on the wall in time to get things squared away and swallow their pride to ensure that it happens? We'll have to wait and see.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Who's got next?

Living in the Northwest, its been a tough baseball season. The Mariners were many people's sneaky pick to win the AL West but, in case you haven't noticed, that hasn't exactly worked out. A fired manager and possibly 100 losses later, the Mariners will find themselves in a precarious position. Jack Z will have to ask himself whether or not to try to win in 2011 or begin to rebuild completely. Since the Mariners were largely inactive come the trade deadline and haven't completely shelved their veterans to give experience to their young guns, signs point to the M's attempting to be competitive once again in 2011. They have reason to give it a try, though, as they've been quite competitive over the last month, winning several series along the way. Looking ahead, there are clearly some question marks for the M's in 2011 but there's no reason to think they won't be competitive. Here's a position-by-position breakdown of what to look for next season.

Behind the plate, Adam Moore will continue to get a chance to develop. Josh Bard didn't provide much for the Mariners and what you see is what you get with Rob Johnson (poor catching and worse offense). Moore is the catcher of the future for Seattle but they will definitely need a reliable backup. Don't expect them to spend much on acquiring another big-league catcher and while they shouldn't even consider it, Johnson could be a cheap option. Unless Jack decides to overpay for a veteran backstop, pencil in Adam Moore as the 2011 starter.

At first base, Justin Smoak should be the Opening Day starter. As the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee deal, Smoak didn't transition well to Seattle and was sent down to AAA after about a month or so with the big club. His AAA numbers are relatively good as he's posted an .897 OPS and 6 HRs in 33 games. He still manages to walk a ton and get on base at an impressive clip so he'll likely get another chance to start the season in the bigs, especially if he has a decent Spring Training next April. Current first baseman Casey Kotchman will like be non-tendered in the offseason given that he has a .632 OPS in 97 games. Gold-Glove caliber defense or not, Kotchman hasn't done nearly enough with the bat to be re-signed by the club.

Second base is maned by Chone Figgins and although there have been some rumors of him being traded (notably to the Braves), I expect the Mariners to keep him after giving him a four year deal in the offseason. He started the season tremendously slow but has been impressive since the All-Star break. A strong second half in 2010 could likely carry over into a solid 2011. Figgins is all but a lock at second.

Third base is currently manned by Jose Lopez but I don't expect that to last much longer. While he made the switch from second to third successfully in terms of defense, Jose is experiencing his worst season offensively. His on-base percentage is a disgusting .270 and all of his other offensive numbers are down as well. His plate discipline continues to be poor and his power has disappeared which makes him another non-tender candidate. This is the one area where the Mariners could look to make a splash. While there won't be many options to sign in terms of free agents, the M's could explore trade opportunities. Matt Mangini has been successful in AAA this season but won't likely be a strong candidate to begin the season in Seattle. Jack will have some work to do to fill the void at third base for 2011. The outcome at the hot-corner is unclear at this point in time.

Shortstop was supposed to be manned by Jack Wilson in 2010 but it comes as no surprise that Jack has had trouble staying healthy, at one point even considering a mid-season retirement. Josh Wilson, however, has filled in admirably. Although not as good as the elder Wilson, his defense is solid and he can hit some but not a lot. Wilson is really best suited to be a utility guy but has been forced into the everyday lineup for the bulk of 2010. In 2011, however, the management could look to add a piece or simply give Josh Wilson another shot. Like third base, the free agent field is pretty thin so any significant upgrade would have to come through a trade. I would look for them to stick with Wilson but also explore what's out there.

Left field is an area where things start to get interesting. There are a host of players that could be fits for the club, including the developing Michael Saunders who probably should get the nod in 2011 as he was one of the clubs top prospects coming into 2010 and has had some success at the plate this season while playing terrific defense. Seattle hasn't given up on Matt Tuiasosopo either and he's gotten some time in left this season as well. While some Seattle fans would like to do it, they can't forget about Milton Bradley, either. Depending on what happens at the DH position, Bradley and his sub-par defense could wind up in left field, relegating Saunders to a backup role. The Mariners are committed to Bradley so he's not going away, they just have to figure out how to use him. Saunders should be the left fielder but that doesn't mean he will be.

Franklin Gutierrez is having another fantastic season defensively in center field. After a red-hot start to the season, however, Guti has struggled to keep his average over .250 but has been a consistent contributer with the stick. He signed a four-year extension this winter and will be the Opening Day center fielder in 2011.

While he's in jeopardy of not reaching 200 hits for the first time in his 10-year career this season, Ichiro Suzuki will still be the M's right fielder in 2011. The perennial All-Star and outstanding leadoff hitter will surely take the first at-bat for the Mariners again in 2011. He and Gutierrez are the surest things in the Mariners lineup.

At DH, the Mariners have a few options. Since re-acquiring Russell "The Muscle" Branyan this summer, he's been again dinged up but very potent when in the lineup. The Mariners could keep him as he'd clearly be the hitter with the most power in the lineup but he is going to be a free agent in 2011 so they'd have to pay a good little bit to keep him a Mariner. He is also a first base candidate but that blocks the path of top prospect and first baseman of the future, Justin Smoak. Given Russell's injury history, he's best suited to be a big-bopping DH. Milton Bradley will be in the final year of his deal and could also be the designated hitter if he isn't in left field. He's been super-disappointing in 2010 and if he doesn't get it together early on in 2011, he could be DFA'd. The Mariners will surely be happy to get out from under that contract (or essentially the contract of Carlos Silva) once 2011 is over. Heading into the season, however, the Mariners have options at DH and the first piece of the puzzle will be shown when they decide whether or not to re-sign Branyan.

The rotation is in relatively good shape looking ahead. Felix Hernandez has been solid yet again for the Mariners and will likely make another run at the Cy Young in 2011. Despite never making it into a game with Seattle in 2010, Erik Bedard will probably be healthy come next year and could be an $8 million gamble as he has a mutual option for 2011. Provided he can attain some level of success, he would make a great number two pitcher behind King Felix, especially since he's a lefty. But at $8 million I wouldn't bet on it. Jason Vargas has been the surprise of 2010 and will have the opportunity to prove it wasn't a fluke. The lefty could fill the third or fourth slot in the rotation in 2011. Doug Fister started the year on fire but came back to earth after a DL stint. Look for him to take over the forth or fifth spot in the rotation and continue to mature. Youngsters Luke French and David Pauley could get looks in Spring Training while one would have to figure that Ryan Rowland-Smith is all but done as a big-league starter after having one of the worst season in recent memory by any full-time starting pitcher (1-10, 6.96 ERA, 40 BB, 38K in 98 IP).

Seattle could definitely stand to add a starter or two in the offseason. Bedard is a long-shot in my opinion since Seattle would have to pick up the $8 million mutual option on him and he hasn't really pitched at all in the last two years. Guys like Bronson Arroyo (if his $11 million club option isn't picked up), Jeremy Bonderman, Kevin Correia, Aaron Harrang, Ted Lilly, Carl Pavano, Brandon Webb and Todd Wellemeyer will all be options for the Mariners. Although these pitchers won't strike the average fan as all that exciting, Correia and Lilly are having strong second halves, Pavano has been surprisingly solid and would have to likely be overpaid to get away from Minnesota, Webb is a proven star coming off of a severe injury, Harrang and Arroyo are innings-eaters while Bonderman and Wellemeyer are coming off disappointing seasons after having success in the past. Best of all, these buys are affordable for Seattle and could help fill out the rotation in various capacities. Hernandez, Vargas and Fister are locks to make the rotation but the rest is unsettled. Look for the Mariners to add at least one starter via free agency in the offseason.

After the bullpen was stellar in 2009, it was a major let-down in 2010. This was not all that surprising after several members overachieved in 2009 and fell back to reality this season. David Aardsma will likely be the closer again and get a chance to redeem himself. If Mark Lowe can return from a back injury that shut him down in 2010, he will have a place in the 'pen and could be the set-up man once again. Brandon League will be returning after a decent season where he has served in nearly every bullpen capacity at one point or another this year. Aside from those three, the rest is up in the air. Garret Olson, Brian Sweeney, Sean White, David Pauley and Luke French could all be in the mix. There's a bevy of option on the free agent market as well so Seattle could add pieces if they wish. The bottom line is that the 'pen has to be better for the Mariners to have any kind of success in '11.

To recap, Seattle has some reasonable pieces in place for the future but they also have plenty of areas to shore up. They will almost certainly need to add a third baseman, could potentially add a shortstop, will need to make difficult decisions at first base, left field and DH, could definitely use at least one quality starter (if not two) and should explore adding a bullpen piece or two. The most crucial key to 2011 success, however, lies in the achievement of players that are currently on the roster and will be counted on again next season. Many players, such as Figgins, Bradley, Gutierrez and Aardsma have severely underachieved and will need to get closer to their 2010 forms if the M's want to make a legitimate run at things in 2011, which is not completely out of the question.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Why Chipper Jones and Brett Favre are more similar than you think...

At 38 years old, Chipper Jones is at a major crossroads. The notion of retirement has swirled around the Braves' third baseman for for the last few seasons. If you have ears and/or can read, you don't need a refresher on Brett Favre's retirement situation but there is an obvious similarity: aging superstar, one of the very best in the history of his sport at his position, facing a devastating injury and at risk of damaging his certainly Hall of Fame legacy. So why continue to play? Because both of these guys have earned the right to call it quits on their own terms, not the public's.

Chipper Jones is purely one of the best switch-hitters to ever swing a bat. He has taken every single at-bat with the Braves over his 17 year career, winning one World Series (1995) and an MVP Award (1999). Since he broke into the league, Chipper has been a steady producer for a team that has been incredibly successful, often leading the team in most or all major offensive categories. In the last few season, however, Chipper has incurred injuries that have becoming seemingly more and more difficult to recover from. His latest injury is nothing short of catastrophic: a torn ACL. Is Chipper's retirement imminent? Only he knows the answer at this point.

Critics are saying overwhelmingly that Chipper should retire. He may well have already made up his mind on the matter but the simple fact that some are overlooking here is that no one, and I mean no one, should tell Chipper Jones to retire unless that person is him. As someone who is destined to become a true legend of the game, Chipper has earned the right to go out on his own terms, regardless of what others have to say about it. Brett Favre is in the same boat. He gets to retire whenever he declares the time is right, as does Mr. Jones.

Am I saying that Chipper should retire, un-retire, retire, un-retire and then leave us all in limbo while ESPN spends hours a day covering all of the drama? Absolutely not. In fact, Chipper Jones will show the American public how a professional athlete should handle this difficult situation. He will do it with dignity and in a professional, adult manner. Oh yeah, and he'll do it when he's good and ready and not before.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Most Exciting Time in Baseball

With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, it can get exciting projecting who might end up where. Unfortunately, it often ends up a tease with little swapping really going on. This makes the trade deadline incredibly exciting and incredibly disappointing at the same time.

A few pieces have been moved by mid-day on the 29th, with Roy Oswalt being the biggest fish to change ponds. As speculated, Oswalt will join the Phillies who must now likely move Jason Werth to make salary room for Oswalt moving forward. Good news for prospect Dominic Brown who made his MLB debut last night for the Phils by going 2-3 with a couple RBI’s. This trade is interesting, however, because the Phillies moved Cliff Lee in the winter, then realized they didn’t have enough pitching and had to make a desperation move at the deadline to re-bolster the rotation by adding Oswalt. After the all of the pieces have settled, the Phillies would have been way better off just keeping Lee in the first place since it appears that keeping Lee would have been a possibility (especially if they had been willing to move Werth before the season since they knew that contract issues were sure to arise after the 2010 season concludes).

Dan Haren moved over from the D-Backs to the Angels, a move that really helps Los Angeles going forward. Haren seemed to be really excited about the trade since he’s a California native and the Angles are much bigger contenders than the Diamondbacks who are in total rebuild mode. The Angels are hurting without slugger Kendry Morales in the lineup for the rest of the year and shouldn’t, in my opinion, try to make a big push this season. The Rangers aren’t going anywhere and the Angels aren’t going to run them down, no matter who they might add at first base (Derek Lee is a bad idea). Its been well-documented that the Angels gave up very little to get Haren and they should begin assembling pieces to regain the division in 2011 when Morales is healthy again and they have Haren and the recently acquired Callaspo for an entire season.

In smaller moves, the Padres acquired Miguel Tejada from the Orioles. In the first post of this blog, I explained why the Padres needed to buy at least one bat and possibly two. They’ve got one and, if they can acquire a hitting outfielder, they may not just win the West but be strong pennant and title contenders. They are beginning to distance themselves in the NL West and I don’t expect them to be caught unless the Rockies get hot. The Dodgers don’t have the resources to make a push and the Giants’ don’t appear to be on the verge of making up major ground.

The Ranger snatched Jorge Cantu from the Marlins and, although he’s cooled down significantly since he began the season red-hot, he should be a strong platoon-mate for Chris Davis. This adds to the versatility of the Rangers as Cantu can play third base as well or DH. This will let them rest guys like Vladamir Guerrero or Michael Young down the stretch to prepare for the playoffs. The Rangers may not be done adding, too. Rumors are that they are looking to acquire another piece or two in the next two-plus days as the deadline approaches. I fully expect the Rangers to make an all-out push for the AL pennant despite they’re future franchise sell-off question mark.

I don’t expect Adam Dunn or Prince Fielder to get moved before the deadline and it appears that moving Jason Werth may be difficult. We’ll see, though!

Friday, July 23, 2010

AL/NL Comparison: Final Analysis

In the previous post we’ve established a few things. First, the average All Star for either the AL or NL is 29 years old. The average American Leaguer makes roughly 25% more per season, has about 18% more total value to his team (as determined through the WAR statistic) and has 10% more big league experience than their NL counterparts. In short, this year’s AL All Stars are, on average, more expensive but more valuable than this year’s NL All Stars. Does the American League overpay for these players, though? Let’s see…

On average, American League position players have a slightly higher value every season, posting an average WAR of 3.2 while NL All Star position players posted an average WAR of 3.1 per season. Needless to say, these totals are very similar. So why are American League All Star position players paid an average of $10.36 million dollars per season when NL All Star position players are paid an average of $6.61 million per season? I suppose we’d have to ask the Steinbrenners that question to find an answer.

Dissimilarly, the American League does not appear to over pay its pitchers, at least compared to the National League. With an average WAR of 2.6 per season, AL All Star pitchers are paid an average salary of $5.74 million dollars per season. NL All Star pitchers were paid just less at $5.50 million per season but also posted lower average WAR’s at 2.2 per season. In fact, the NL pays slightly more per pitcher WAR but this is in line with the typical view of the pitching/defense-dominated National League.

To compare what all of this is worth, I decided to divide the average WAR (true value) of AL/NL position players by their average salary. I did the same thing with pitchers. I believe this gives the best true understanding of what each league is paying for and what they are receiving in return. Per win above replacement level (WAR), the American League pays its All Star position players over $370,000. By comparison, the National League paid its All Star position players only $329,000 per WAR. When it comes to pitchers, the AL leads the bidding as well. AL All Star pitchers are paid $367,000 per WAR while their NL counterparts were paid just under $330,000. Because all WAR units are truly equal, the AL definitely overpays for what it receives. By this measurement the National League does a much better job of evaluating talent getting a better “bang for the buck” than the AL does. The NL is forced to do this for a number of reasons, the biggest being that more NL teams are considered “small market” and, outside of the Phillies and Cubs, don’t have the massive salaries that are seen in the American League.

So in review, we can see that the average American League All Star is more experienced and has a slightly higher “true value” than NL All Stars. They are also overpaid when compared to their fellow NL All Stars, though. In terms of both position players and pitchers, the American League can boast a higher value for both over the NL but the National League can clearly laugh last in terms of salary efficiency. These factors may contribute to why the American League is considered by some, especially the casual observer, as the premier league. Amongst baseball critics, however, most of us appreciate the National Leagues ability to put together championship winning teams in a league that technically achieves less and definitely pays less.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

AL/NL Comparison: The Facts

Before we begin, let me announce that the All Star rosters do not represent a perfect sample for league-wide analysis. With that said, some things still do stand out and I suspect that if I were able to compare all the criteria listed above for every player in each league I would probably find similar results. Also, these rosters should represent the best players in each league so, as one might expect, salaries and career achievements are noticeably higher than your average player. Each roster should represent a similar talent level, however, and this was evident when the game played on the field was so dramatically close. Lets take a close look at the results of each criteria.

Age: I was somewhat surprised to see that the average of any given player in either league was almost exactly 29 year of age. That means that for each league I totaled up the age of every player and divided it by the number of players counted. Surprisingly, each league was nearly identical. I had expected the AL to be at least 1 or maybe 2 years older on average since this is the league where someone with “old player skills” can usually still flourish. After looking at the data, however, I assumed that either I was wrong about the American League being the “senior circuit” or players with “old player skills” aren’t usually voted into the All Star Game. Either way, age didn’t play much of a factor in the initial analysis.

Salary: Salary saw a relatively large discrepancy between leagues. This, too, was expected before I ran the numbers. Teams like the Yankees and Red Sox artificially inflate the salaries paid in the AL while the National League contains more stereotypically small-market teams. This shouldn’t be news to any of us and it was clearly reflected in the average salary of a player in either league. AL players averaged a salary of $8,384,568 while NL players averaged a salary of $6,165,028. That’s roughly a discrepancy of $2.2 million per player across the two leagues. Of course players like Alex Rodriguez don’t help this comparison by making $33 million this season while the top earner in the NL, Ryan Howard, makes a paltry $19 million per season. In fact, there are four players on the AL roster that out-earn Howard: A-Rod, Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia and Miguel Cabrera. For arguments sake, there is simply no team in the National League that could take on the salaries that the Yankees do. It’s not only the Yankee players (and Cabrera) that establish the comparison results, though. Across the board one can see that the American League All Stars clearly out-earn their NL counterparts.

WAR: To calculate the success or effectiveness of players in each league, I found the average career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of each roster, AL and NL. If you are unfamiliar with the WAR statistic it can most easily be described as the “total value of a player over a given season”. In short, it gives a snapshot of success, value, effectiveness, or performance per season. To find the average career WAR per player (per league), I totaled the career WAR of every player on each team’s roster and then divided by the number of players on that roster. The average career WAR for an American League All Star was 22.6 while National League All Stars averaged a career war of 18.7. In WAR terms, this shows a fairly significant drop off in terms of total player value across the two leagues. In fact, it represents a nearly 18% loss of total player value over the average NL All Star’s career when compared to the average AL All Star. This shows a clear discrepancy of career “greatness” or performance between the two rosters with the American League’s roster clearly out performing the NL roster over the average player’s career.

Major League Seasons: This set of criteria is about as unscientific as it can get. I added up the career experience of each player per roster and divided by the number of players on that roster to find the average experience of American League and National League All Stars. While the average age of players was nearly identical from AL to NL, the American League All Stars have, on average, almost 10% more big-league experience that the NL All Stars. American Leaguers have an average of 7.6 major league seasons while National Leaguers averaged only 7 major league seasons. This shows that the American League roster was slightly more experienced than the NL roster.

Now that we’ve established the facts, we’ll take a deeper examination in my next post.

AL/NL Comparison: Intro

Because the All Star Game theoretically provides us with “the best of the best” from each league (tell that to those who booed Omar Infante), it also sets the stage for analysis. Because this is one of the few instances where the National League and American League stand side by side, comparison becomes obvious. There’s always the mantra of the pitching and defense-heavy NL and the overpriced, offense-laden AL but do those generalizations paint accurate pictures of each league? To take a look I decided to analyze both rosters against one another in terms of player age, player salary, player career WAR and number of seasons in the big leagues for each player. So what did we find out? Take a look at the next few posts to see the results.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

How Badly do the Padres Want to Win?

Jed Hoyer and Tom Garfinkel’s worst dream has come true. The Padres are leading their division at the All Star break despite having a rotation that is anchored by a 22 year-old pitcher in Mat Latos and manages to score just enough runs to win as opposing teams continually pitch around All Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Players all over the roster are overachieving in an incredible way. As we all know, all good things must come to an end but the questions is, in this case, what outcome do the Padres truly wish to see? The truth will be revealed in the next two weeks or so.

To begin, lets review the current situation, then explore three options that the Padres front office has.

With so many inexperienced and journeyman players filling the lineup every night in San Diego, one must acknowledge that regression will occur throughout the batting order, rotation and bullpen. It would be foolish to assume that a team that ranks third to last in the NL in batting average and fifth to last in runs scored could continue to lead a division where its three closest competitors rank second (Dodgers), third (Rockies) and fifth (Giants) in average and both the Rockies (2nd) and the Dodgers (3rd) are amongst NL leaders in runs scored. Scott Hairston is not a cleanup hitter and neither are catchers Nick Hundley or Yorvit Torrealba. Shortstop Everth Cabrera can’t hit at all and the Padres aren’t getting the on-base percentage they need in the leadoff spot from Jerry Hairston Jr. (.294). The lack of offense will have to give at some point as the pitching staff cannot be asked to continue to carry the burden of the entire team.

Journeyman John Garland has exceeded all expectations in the first half by keeping his WHIP relatively low despite walking almost four batters per nine innings. Simply put, he’s done a good job of avoiding trouble although he frequently puts himself in sticky situations. Kevin Correia has been disappointing this season after winning 12 games and posting a 3.91 ERA last season. 26 year-old Clayton Richard and the aforementioned Mat Latos have anchored the staff. Neither was expected to achieve nearly the level of success that we’ve seen from them thus far in 2010. Wade LeBlanc has a nice ERA (3.30) but hasn’t had much success to show for it while going 4-7 on the year. Closer Heath Bell and the rest of the bullpen have been fantastic. Edward Mujica, Luke Gregerson, Tim Stauffer and Joe Thatcher all have paper thin WHIPs, low ERAs, low walk rates and high strikeout rates. In case you haven’t noticed, the Padres bullpen has been slamming the door all season on opponents, which is critical considering the team does not often create big leads. The margin of error for the Padres is constantly low and the entire pitching staff has been sharp to keep San Diego in games. Expecting them to continue to dominate in this fashion for the rest of the season, however, is not exactly feasible.

So, what can the Padres do?

Options #1: Add pieces to make a run at the division title.
If the Padres organization is serious about contending then they must look themselves in the mirror and realize that they’ve been considerably lucky this season. Teams with this level of an anemic offense don’t usually contend but the Padres aren’t just contending, their leading. They absolutely have to add offense before the trade deadline if they want to stay in first place. The Dodgers are unlikely to be buyers because of financial issues (read: the McCourt divorce) while Tulo will eventually be back for the Rockies and the Giants are exploring offensive upgrades as we speak. I would suggest selling high on a reliever and/or a starter to acquire a bat that can adequately protect Gonzalez, maybe Corey Hart or Josh Willingham, and moving a couple prospects for a shortstop that can bat in the leadoff spot, perhaps Ryan Theriot. Willingham would be a strong upgrade over any of the current cleanup hitters that the Padres throw out there while Theriot could be just the spark plug the Padres need. They could afford to lose a guy with upside like LeBlanc or an established guy like Correia and one of their young relievers like Thatcher or Gregerson. A package like this should be able to net them a respectably outfield bat.

This proposition would allow the Padres to contend for the rest of the season (barring unforeseen events like injuries of suspensions) but we have to wonder if this is really what the Padres want. Of course they say they want to win this thing but they are going to have to put their money where their mouth is before the trade deadline. The organization has been long criticized for making large profits by keeping salaries down and putting a respectable product on the field. Now that the product is more than just respectable, will they do what they must to go for it all?

Option #2: Trade Adrian Gonzalez and/or Heath Bell.
Many teams have coveted first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, most notably the Red Sox. He is perhaps the best hitter that could potentially be available before the deadline and, in fact, most expected him to be wearing something other than a Padres uniform by this point in the season. He would net the Padres a large return, probably one major league ready player and a handful of plus-level prospects. Heath Bell is one of the better closers in baseball and could also bring in a nice haul for the Padres if moved. Together, they would reign in some major talent for the Padres to develop and use in the future. The fanbase, however, may revolt if the powers that be resort to their old tricks of trading legit talent for cheap prospects. The front office may recognize that many of their players have overachieved this season and are likely to falter down the stretch, prompting them to sell off their best pieces before the team succumbs to its own pressure. While it would probably be an unpopular decision, San Diego could win big in the long run by moving Gonzalez and/or Bell.

Option #3: Do nothing and try to hold off the Dodgers, Rockies and Giants.
Perhaps the biggest roll of the dice would be to gamble on the team’s roster of unproven overachievers in an attempt to hold off the offensively superior teams in the division who are already knocking on the door. If they aren’t up to the task of winning the division, however, the Padres would likely be ciriticized for not making the moves necessary to win the division or at least getting a haul of young talent in exchange for its top (and most expensive) players. The Padres are one or two injuries away from being in big trouble and standing pat would expose them to such a possibility. Or perhaps the team has the magic to win the division on its own, although I’m not betting on it.

If it were up to me I would choose option one. The Padres need to realize that they are a roster move or two away from being in good shape to hold off the more talented Dodgers, Rockies and Giants. It would be good for baseball to see San Diego succeed and their loyal fans deserve to see the franchise make the most of this situation. If they decide to not be buyers as the trade deadline approaches, they should opt for option two. They need to get something in return for their most expensive pieces if the front office ultimately decides that they cannot afford Gonzalez and/or Bell. Option three should really not be considered an option at all. It would be an epic failure to get nothing in return for the organization’s best talent and still lose the division by a couple of games.

So how badly to the Padres want to win? Will a franchise known for being frugal pony up the dough to make a run at the division it currently leads at the halfway point? Will they back down from the division race and sell off their best pieces? Will they stand pat and risk the consequences of inaction? The next few weeks will show us all just how badly the Padres really want to win.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How Homefield Advatage was Won (or Lost)

As the National League finally broke through and won an All-Star Game, I began to wonder just how this happened. With nearly everyone picking the American League to continue its dominance because of their absolutely murderous lineup, many were overlooking a couple of small things that made a big impact. Although the AL lineup was particularly devastating on the surface, once substitutions were made, the lineups began to really even out. Also, Joe Girardi underutilized his pitching staff while Charlie Manuel got the most he could out of the arms he had available to him. Now the NL will enjoy home-field advantage in the World Series for the first time in years.

Looking at the initial lineup for the AL, its no wonder that most were picking them to take yet another All-Star Game.

1. Ichiro Suzuki RF

2. Derek Jeter SS

3. Miguel Cabrera 1B

4. Josh Hamilton CF

5. Vladimir Guerrero DH

6. Evan Longoria 3B

7. Joe Mauer C

8. Robinson Cano 2B

9. Carl Crawford LR

I’m a sure stud like Ubaldo Jimenez or Josh Johnson would even nervous about facing that lineup! Who wouldn’t be? Once Jimenez and Johnson began throwing up zeroes, however, substitutions started to occur and this evened out the rosters quite a bit. Elvis Andrus replaced Derek Jeter, Paul Konerko replaced Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista replaced Josh Hamilton and John Buck replaced Joe Mauer, just to name a few key losses to the AL lineup. By the end of the night, the American League lineup was no longer such a daunting force.

By comparison, the National League lineup was deeper and didn’t see nearly the drop off once substitutions started. Aside from Michael Bourn taking over for Matt Holliday (who had replaced Ryan Braun earlier in the game), replacements on the NL side were fairly even. Raphael Furcal replaced Hanley Ramirez, Brandon Phillips replaced Martin Prado, Adrian Gonzalez replaced Albert Pujols, Joey Votto replaced Ryan Howard, Scott Rolen replaced David Wright, Chris Young replaced Andre Eithier (which is a offensive downgrade but a huge defensive upgrade as Eithier was making his major league debut in centerfield), Marlon Byrd replaced Corey Hart (whose base running speed was critical to scoring the third NL run as Byrd scored from first on the McCann double) and the day’s hero, Brian McCann, replaced light-hitting Yadier Molina. In the end, the NL lineup may have lost a small amount of pop but was quite a bit stronger defensively and ultimately held up better than the AL lineup did.

Charlie Manuel clearly did a better job of managing than Joe Girardi. When it came to managing the pitching staff, Manuel utilized the NL arms better than the AL skipper. Manuel allowed Johnson to pitch two full innings rather than one, then played the matchups the rest of the way out while continuing to utilize quality arms for the appropriate amount of innings. Girardi, on the other hand, underutilized two of his very best pitchers. Cliff Lee and Andy Petite should have been able to pitch two innings apiece rather than only one. Of course this would have limited the amount of innings pitched by other pitchers but, with home-field at stake, it was more important to get his money’s worth out of guys like Lee and Petite. For what its worth, Cliff Lee, arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now, threw only six pitches while Petite threw only nine. Phil Hughes clearly had a bad outing but Matt Thornton should never have been allowed to face three batters. Middle relievers should not be asked to pitch to the equivalent or an entire inning against such intimidating lineups, especially when guys like Lee and Petite only get to pitch one inning. Let Thornton pitch? Definitely. Let him pitch to three batters when he’s clearly not that effective? Not in an All Star Game. Add this to the Alex Rodriguez fiasco and Manuel definitely out-managed Joe Girardi.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Is Justin Smoak the next Mark Teixeira?

Let me just start by saying that I hate player comparisons. You know, when somebody says, “Player X looks like a young Willie Mays,” or, “Player Y is going to be the next Nolan Ryan.” I hate these comparisons for two reasons: (1) they are unfair to the youngster being compared and (2) they are rarely anywhere close to accurate. Usually the player being compared to a former great fizzles somewhere down the line or simply fails to live up to the comparison (and for good reason: there aren’t very many Mays’ or Ryan’s). This is what has me concerned when people say that Justin Smoak looks like a young Mark Teixeira. Not only is that an incredibly high ceiling to try to live up to but it also puts enormous pressure on the Mariners organization since he was the “gem” of the Cliff Lee trade.

So far in his young career, Smoak hasn’t been very Teixeira-esque. Yes, of course it’s still very early in the game for him. He should see a ton of at-bats in the second half and will have every opportunity to get comfortable in Seattle at first base, but so far, he’s more Casey Kotchman than Mark Teixeira. In fact, the only real way to compare Teixeira and Smoak was to cross-reference their first full seasons of minor league ball since it would be unfair to gauge Smoak’s long-term success based on his limited time in the majors.

Teixeira is known for his power and ability to hit with runners in scoring position while still posting a strong average, on-base percentage and playing fantastic defense. In effect, he’s a terrific all-around player of MVP caliber. How did Smoak do in his first minor league season as compared to Teixeira?


Teixeira 321 21 19 69 46 60 .318 .413 1.005

Smoak 386 21 12 57 75 81 .290 .410 .853

It should be noted that Smoaks stats come from an almost even split between AA and AAA ball while Teixeira’s come from an almost even split between A+ and AA ball. Both were 22 at the time these stats were compiled (Teixeira in ’02 and Smoak in ’09). Teixeira’s slugging percentage was significantly higher and recorded an extra-base hit in 14% of his AB’s. Smoak on the other hand recorded an extra-base hit in fewer than 9% of his AB’s. On the plus side, Smoak had a higher walk rate than Teixeira and a very similar strikeout rate. While Teixeira is noted for his defense today, Smoak actually had a far superior fielding percentage in his first full minor league season. Overall, it would appear that Smoak has slightly less raw power than Teixeira did at the same point in their respective careers. To his credit, Smoak has a better plate discipline and appears advanced defensively.

Now let’s fast forward to the major league version of Justin Smoak. He’s off to an incredibly slow start but has just been the key piece in a trade for one of the top three pitchers in baseball. Teixeira was rather impressive in his first big league season and finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. Smoak is a long ways away from receiving any votes when it comes to special considerations this year as he’s barely above the Mendoza Line with only eight homers while striking out in over 1/5 of his AB’s. By comparison, Teixeira hit .259 and homered 26 times while posting very similar strikeout and walk rates in his first full major league season. Both hit line drives about 21% of the time and had nearly identical groundball to fly ball ratios.

So what’s so different? Many tell-tale factors appear be consistent from player to player but one in particular stands out and is beginning to show (aside from BABIP where Smoak has been plagued and has resulted in an uncharacteristically low batting average). As the Mariners may be unhappy to find out, Justin Smoak does not appear to have the same raw power that Mark Teixeira does. For me, this is where the comparison falls apart. As the ISO statistic shows, Teixeira (.221) was clearly more of a raw power hitter in his first season than Smoak (.140), at least halfway through Justin’s first season. This trend also becomes evident when going back to comparing each player’s first full minor league season where Teixeira (.274) clearly out-slugged Smoak (.152). While Smoak’s power should continue to improve as he matures and begins to turn more of his doubles into homeruns, I don’t see him becoming a consistent 35-40 homerun hitting threat. Smoak’s plate discipline should continue to improve and his strikeout rate is likely to decrease as he gains experience. Defensively, he should remain solid and is unlikely to ever be considered a defensive liability.

Comparisons are often unfair. In this case, the obvious reason for comparison is appearance. Both Justin Smoak and Mark Teixeira have worn a Rangers uniform, both are switch hitters and both play first base. As the Mariners are about to find out, Smoak will likely walk and hit for a strong average while playing good defense, just like Teixeira, but he is unlikely to become an MVP-caliber power threat.