Sharing The Wins

Sharing The Wins

 

 

If you’ve ever been to the gigantic Opryland Hotel in Nashville, you wonder how all those baseball executives and agents could even find each other to consummate a deal during the Winter Meetings. But consummate they did, and in a sport awash with money, old-school fans are having difficulty wrapping their heads around the new budgetary guidelines. These days, even the 7th or 8th pitcher on a major league staff is commanding $6 Million a season and more.

 

The real question under the surface, however, is if these acquisitions can really make a difference in the standings? In other words, what is their contribution to winning games? We’ve discussed WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numerous times in this space and that statistical outcome does impact decisions made by writers voting on awards and General Managers making deals. It has become a mainstream analysis over the last decade and can help clarify and justify some contract amounts. For example, if you believe in the WAR calculations, it appears that the Diamondbacks got a slightly better deal on Zack Greinke (5.8 WAR average the last three years, $32M per year x 6) than the Red Sox did on David Price (4.4 WAR average the last three years, $31M per year x 6). Most baseball stat-heads believe a free agent is worth about $7-8M per win, so that makes Greinke’s contract a relative bargain while Price comes in right on the money. Of course, that’s just a snapshot valuation based on past performance and all of these deals require projecting into the future.

 

This time, we’ll turn to another statistical measure in an attempt to gauge the free agent market. The other stat that is team-result based is WS (Win Shares) as developed by the godfather of modern statistical analysis, Bill James. While trying to describe the formula is impossible (James wrote an entire book on the topic in 2002), it comes down to a system where each game a team wins during the season is meticulously analyzed and the three players most responsible for that win get a “win share”. So, if a team wins 80 games, there will be 240 win shares distributed on the roster. Position players will have a tendency to accumulate higher totals than pitchers, but it’s all about comparisons between players among positions. Less than ten position players had a number over 30 in 2015 and it’s difficult to take exception with the results- both MVP’s are on the list with Josh Donaldson at 32 and Bryce Harper at 38. Other impressive performances belonged to Matt Carpenter (30), Kris Bryant (30), Anthony Rizzo (32), Joey Votto (33), Andrew McCutchen (35) & Paul Goldschmidt (35). The leader, however, was a repeat from last season…Mike Trout with 42! In fact, Trout has averaged 40 Wins Shares over the last four years. The pitching leaders were Jake Arrietta (27), Greinke (26), Dallas Keuchel (22) & Clayton Kershaw (21).

 

Let’s look at the free agent class through the prism of “Win Shares” and analyze the results…

 

> David Price, P – 7 Years, $217M (Red Sox). A durable, left-handed ace was exactly what the BoSox needed to bolster their mediocre rotation. At age 30, his Win Share average for the last four seasons is 16.5, so maybe he’s slightly overpriced…but big market teams roll the dice.

 

> Jason Heyward, OF – Available. At age 26, his free agent timing couldn’t be better. Productive hitting and superior defensive skills give him huge WAR numbers and his Win Share four-year average of 20 is solid. The question remains if some team thinks that translates to $200M. Just to keep things in perspective, the last mid-20’s free agent OF with great skills was B.J. Upton.

 

> Zack Greinke, P – 6 Years, $206.5M (Diamondbacks). A bold move by the Snakes, but it makes them an immediate contender because their run-scoring ability and defense are already first-rate. His four-year Win Share average of 18.5 is elite.

 

> Justin Upton, OF – Available. Another guy in his prime at age 28, but his opportunity to be a real star has already passed. Has had 21 Win Shares each of the last three seasons, so despite his in-season “streakiness”, the overall production is consistent. Probably looking for 7 years, $140M+.

 

> Chris Davis, 1B – Available. The poster boy for HR’s & Strikeouts, his power is unquestioned. Led all of baseball with 47 Homers in 2015 and set a record by having five (5) others robbed by OF making over-the-fence catches. Leaving out 2014 (when he had legal issues regarding medication availability), his Win Shares in 2013 & 2015 were 33 & 27. Six years and $150M+ should be waiting somewhere.

 

> Yoenis Cespedes, OF – Available. Another streaky, power-hitting OF, his Win Share average after four big league seasons is 21. At age 30, he’s looking for a similar payoff as Upton & Davis.

 

> Jordan Zimmerman, P – 5 Years, $110M (Tigers). Not in the same category with Price and Greinke and his Win Shares tell the tale…an average of 14 over the last four seasons.

 

> Johnny Cueto, P – Available. Likely did the D’Backs a favor by turning down 6 years and $120M. Had only 12 Win Shares in 2015 and has only exceeded 20 twice in his career. The market will force some team to pay $20M+ per year, but he’s the least reliable of the big name starting pitchers.

 

> Alex Gordon, OF – Available. An injury limited his Win Share total to 16 this past season, but it was over 20 each of the previous four years. Even at 32, he’s under-rated and a team might be smart to pay $100M over five years for him as opposed to $200 over 10 years for Heyward. How many GM’s expect to be in their job ten years from now?

 

> Ian Desmond, SS – Available. He’s fortunate to be on the market right now because the SS position is going to be loaded with great young players for years to come. We already have Correa, Lindor, Seager, Turner, Simmons, Russell, B. Crawford & Bogaerts and on the horizon…J.P. Crawford, O. Arcia, Albies, Rodgers & Swanson. At age 30, coming off a career-worst 12 Win Share season, he better grab a deal quickly from one of the few “have-not” teams

 

> Jeff Samardzija, P – 5 years, $90M (Giants). You may wonder how a pitcher with a 4.96 ERA could command such a contract. The rationalization from the Bay Area must include that he pitched in a terrible park (and in the AL), he hasn’t missed a start in the last three seasons (647 IP), his fastball velocity has been at 94 MPH each of those three seasons and he’s a great athlete who should age well. Win Shares say be careful…his highest total was just 11 (in ’14).

 

> Mike Leake, P – Available. Still in his 20’s, it was amazing how successful he was in Cincinnati’s ballpark despite a low strikeout rate. His Win Shares the last three seasons have been 12,10 & 10 so this is not an ace…more of a complimentary piece.

 

> Wei-Yin Chen, P – Available. If a LH starter had 14 Win Shares, 190+ IP and a 3.34 ERA in Boston or New York, everyone would be talking about him. Instead, he seems like an afterthought in this market.

 

> Dexter Fowler, OF – Available. Did a good enough job for the Cubs that they gave him a $15.8M qualifying offer. He chose to test the market with his 22 Win Share season, which was the best of his career.

 

> Daniel Murphy, 2B – Available – This post-season hero made a name for himself and we’ll see how it pays off in free agency. Even before becoming a household name, he’s averaged 20 Win Shares for the last four seasons.

 

> Scott Kazmir, P – Available. Came off the baseball scrap heap to post 10 & 11 Win Shares the last two years. Realistically, he’s a #3 SP at best.

 

> Ian Kennedy, P – Available. If you had a 4 Win Share season along with 4.28 ERA in a Pitcher’s park, maybe that $15.8M qualifying offer wasn’t a bad deal. His name hasn’t even been mentioned during coverage of the Winter Meetings.

 

> Yovani Gallardo, P – Available. His 14 Win Share season in Texas was his best since ’12 and convinced him to turn down the Rangers $15.8M offer. If you look closely at his numbers, however, 2015 seems to have been somewhat of a “smoke & mirrors” campaign. Could be a risky investment on a 3-4 year contract.

 

> Ben Zobrist, 2B – 4 Years, $56M (Cubs). Any deal of this length for a player in his mid-30’s is risky, but he’s a consistent and versatile player. Over the last seven seasons, his average Win Share number is 23+.

 

> Howie Kendrick, 2B – Available. Another player who turned down $15.8M, he doesn’t seem to be aging well at 32…especially defensively. Still had a 18 Win Share, so he’ll get a multi-year deal somewhere.

 

> John Lackey, P – 2 Years, $32M (Cubs). Even though he’s 37, this is a smart short-term commitment from Chicago. His 17 Win Share season was his best since 2007, so he’s not on the downside…yet.

 

> Hisashi Iwakuma, P – 3Years, $45M (Dodgers) . Will be 35 on opening day, but his numbers have been solid the last three seasons. Warning sign – his Win Shares have gone from 20 to 11 to 8.

 

> J.A Happ, P – 3 Years, $36M (Blue Jays). These dollars tell you all you need to know about the financial status of the game. A 10 Win Share in 2015 (his best since ’09) makes him a fixture in Toronto’s rotation.

 

> Gerardo Parra, OF – Available. Reportedly looking for a 4-year deal, this outstanding defensive OF has only had one Win Share season over 15 in his career…last year it was 14.

 

> Joakim Soria, P – 3 Years, $25M (Royals). This explains how valuable bullpen pieces have become in today’s game. $8+M per season and he’s not being asked to pitch the 9th inning…and maybe not even the 8th inning.

 

> Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B/33 – 2 Years, $18.5M (Mets). At first glance, it looks like he resurrected his career somewhat in Tampa this past season. A look at Win Shares tells a different story at age 30…the player who averaged 22 in ’11 & ’12 had only 11 in 2015. The Mets were concerned about the defense of Wilmer Flores, but Cabrera’s “Runs Saved” total over the last three seasons is -(minus) 31. Of course, one of the ex-ballplayers on the MLB Network panel described him as a “defensive wizard”?

 

> Ryan Madson, P – 3 Years, $22M (Athletics). His first healthy season since 2011 with a Win Share of 9 gets this kind of contract at age 35. As Yakov Smirnoff once said, “America is a wonderful country”.

 

> Rich Hill, P – 1 Year, $6M (Athletics). Might not seem like much, but this was based on four (4) great starts at the end of 2015. He’s 36 years old and has a lifetime ERA of 4.54.

 

And, of course we’ll have all those LOOGY’s (Left-Handed One Out Guys) like Antonio Bastardo, Tony Sipp & Randy Choate still to sign.

 

Hope all your free agents signings win their share of games.

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Visiting With Bill James

Visiting With Bill James

 

 

Many baseball fans from the “Baby Boomer” generation haven’t really bought into the immense change in how statistics are viewed. They still look at the game with their eyes and are only concerned with the numbers on the back of the baseball card. For those of us more immersed in the details of the game, the man who guided us through the wilderness is Bill James. Starting in the late 70’s, he published an annual “Baseball Abstract” that began the task of analyzing data in new and different ways. By 1985, he wrote the first “Historical Baseball Abstract” and that 700+ page volume still sits on the bookshelf in my office.

 

For baseball fans in general and Fantasy Baseball players who participate in keeper leagues, Bill also helps us get through the winter while we’re longing for box scores. Each November, The Bill James Handbook gives us a review of the season, lifetime stats of every major league player and numerous articles and lists to make the “hot stove” season tolerable. The 2016 version is available now and at 601 pages, offers just about something for everyone. The Old Duck has an annual exercise, where I take my initial cursory glance at the book and begin discovering information that surprises and enlightens me.

 

So, here are some random observations from my first time through the pages…

 

> In golf and tennis, fans can easily find current rankings on each player. The systems are set up so that the rankings move up and down based on performance and are not just for the current season. James has developed a similar idea for ranking starting pitchers. The current top five are Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, Jake Arrieta & Madison Bumgarner. Jacob deGrom was 94th going into 2015, now he’s 22nd. Carlos Carrasco was at #120 and now sits 28th.

 

> Most spectators are much more aware of pitch velocity than they were 10, 20 or 30 years ago. With radar guns in stadiums and in every scout’s hands, we focus on that statistic and assume a pitcher’s performance will deteriorate with diminished velocity. This year’s handbook charts average fastball velocity by age and actually shows how little difference there is for most pitchers. For example, Kershaw’s average velocity for the last eight years has been either 93 or 94 mph. Looking for outliers, however, shows that from 2008 to 2015, Felix Hernandez has dropped from 95 to 92, Johnny Cueto from 93 to 91, Tim Lincecum from 94 to 87, Ubaldo Jimenez from 95 to 91, Jered Weaver from 90 to 83, Jonathan Papelbon from 95 to 91, C.C. Sabathia from 94 to 90, Bartolo Colon from 92 to 88 and C.J. Wilson from 93 to 90. On the flip side, Tommy Hunter increased from 91 to 95 and Glen Perkins from 91 to 94. Even when you look at a disastrous performance like Matt Garza’s 2015 campaign, the obvious assumption of diminished velocity doesn’t hold up…he’s been at 93 or 94 for the last eight seasons.

 

> Fielding metrics are relatively new and not yet accepted by fans or even by many statisticians. The handbook’s “Defensive Runs Saved” chart does help us verify what we think we’re told by our eyes. The Royals defense in the post season was a major part of their winning formula the last two seasons, so it isn’t difficult to understand that Alex Gordon saved 50 runs during the last three years to lead all Left Fielders and Lorenzo Cain trails only Juan Lagares with 49 saved among Center Fielders during the same span. Most observers think Andrelton Simmons is the best SS in the game and his 25 runs saved in 2015 seems to verify that opinion. Jason Heyward’s 22 runs saved was the best for Right Fielders this past year and will contribute to his free agent value. Watch out for the Rays CF Kevin Kiermaier, as he accumulated 42 runs saved in his first full season and was far-and-away the best defensive player in baseball. For all the cynical fans out there, we can’t leave out the worst fielders in the game and how many runs they cost their teams…

 

1B) Pedro Alvarez -13

2B Johnny Giovotella & Howie Kendrick -12

3B) Yunel Escobar & Pablo Sandoval -11

  1. SS) Danny Santana & Ruben Tejada -15
  2. LF) Hanley Ramirez -19
  3. CF) Angel Pagan -20
  4. RF) Matt Kemp -15
  5. C) Blake Swihart -16
  6. P) Jon Lester & Jimmy Nelson -8

 

> A consistently debated topic among fans and media is the dramatic increase in defense shifts. In 2013, shifts were utilized over 8,000 times, in 2014 the number increased to over 13,000 and in 2015, it grew again to over 17,000. To the naysayer, the question becomes, would teams be shifting more if it didn’t work? According to the “Runs Saved” statistic, shifting saved 135 runs in 2013, 196 runs in 2014 and 266 in 2015. Only five teams (White Sox, Mariners, Brewers, Cardinals & Braves) shifted less than the previous year. The Orioles led all of baseball by saving 29 runs through utilizing the shift. Using ground balls and short line-drives as the criteria, the chart of the top shifted batters shines a spotlight on this trend. Five batters are now hitting into the shift at least 90% of the time…David Ortiz, Chris Davis, Lucas Duda, Ryan Howard & Adam LaRoche. As a group, they hit .199 with the shift in place. And some players below the 90% threshold can probably expect more shifting in 2016…Adrian Gonzalez hit .148 in these situations while Edwin Encarnacion & Albert Pujols hit .196.

 

> In the past, players were judged as good baserunners if they swiped a lot of bases. Not only weren’t their other baserunning skills not considered, even their caught stealing stats were ignored. However, as Tom Boswell pointed out over 20 years ago, a caught stealing is equivalent to two outs because it not only removes a baserunner, it also causes an out. Now we have information that tells us how often a player goes from 1st to 3rd or 2nd to home plate on a single. The handbook grades baserunning on the net amount of bases a player gains in a given season. The Rangers had a surprisingly good season in 2015, which resulted in new skipper Jeff Banister winning AL Manager of the Year. Every year, however, fans wonder if a Manager really makes a difference. Think about these stats – in 2014, the Rangers had a +24 in baserunning, which was near the middle of the pack…in 2015, they led all of baseball with a +142! And over 100 of those bases were due to the team’s aggressiveness on the basepaths, as opposed to just stolen bases.  Only one MLB player gained over 50 bases for his team in 2015 and it was the Reds Billy Hamilton at 67. Ben Revere was 2nd with 44. The Tigers were the worst team at -107 and the two worst individual players were Billy Butler (-38) & Jhonny Peralta (-33).

 

> If you’re wondering how the top five pitchers ascended to that rank, The “Pitcher Analysis” in the handbook gives you some insight. Old-school fans would tell you that getting ahead in the count is extremely important and digging deeper into the stats seems to confirm that logic. When you check how many times these hurlers got ahead in the count 0-1, the numbers are amazing. Arrietta is at 49%, Greinke at 52%, Bumgarner at 53%, Kershaw at 55% and Scherzer had an 0-1 count on 537 of the 899 batters he faced…that’s 60%!

 

> Were there any successful major league pitchers who threw their fastball over 90% of the time? The “Pitchers’ Repertoires” section will answer that question by telling you that there were four and all were well-known Closers…Kenley Jansen, Jake McGee, Sean Doolittle & Zach Britton.

 

That’s just a taste of the information in this year’s edition and we haven’t even looked at the individual player stats. No wonder that “stathead” is now an accepted baseball term.

 

 

Protecting The Prospects

Protecting The Prospects

 

 

 

Baseball is a game of history and tradition, but also a game of infinite changes. The current debate over young starting pitchers and their workloads is a perfect example. From Stephen Strasberg not pitching in the post-season to Matt Harvey’s innings limit to the 2016 outlook for Jose Fernandez, the topic continues to percolate with baseball fans of every age.

 

People of the older generation who consider themselves “old school”, like to point out that Pitchers of the 50’s & 60’s toiled in four-man rotations and sometimes exceeded 300 innings. Robin Roberts went over that threshold for five consecutive seasons from ’51 to ’55 and Warren Spahn was over 290 IP twice in the late 50’s when he was 37 & 38 years old. In the 60’s, 300+ innings were normal for Don Drysdale, Juan Marichal, Sandy Koufax, Jim Bunning & Denny McLain. In the early 70’s, Mickey Lolich pitched 376 innings two years in a row! The highest totals in 2015 were accumulated by Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel at 232.

 

Of course, those days are long gone and the reasons are many. Obviously, the long-term health of a Pitcher’s arm is a consideration, but to be honest, that didn’t seem to be a big concern in those earlier decades. It seems more than a coincidence that the uncontrolled usage of the bullets in a Pitcher’s arm started to change with the advent of free agency in 1976. Players and their agents could now see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and it all depended on longevity. In today’s game, if you can stay healthy for six years, even an average Pitcher can become a rich man. Gone are the days of Managers and GM’s being allowed to go “all in” on player’s careers in order to keep their jobs.

 

The examples of Pitcher’s careers being short-lived are many, including Koufax, who was forced to retire at age 30. A classic case study is that of John D’Acquisto in the 1970’s. He was drafted in the first round (17th pick in the country) out of High School by the Giants in 1970 and was blessed with an electric arm that could throw triple digits before radar guns were the rage. To help you understand the mentality of major league teams at the time, let’s look at his minor league progression…

 

> 1971, Class “A” Decatur of the Midwest League – 29 starts, 233 IP, 244 K’s & 124 BB…at age 19.

 

> 1972, Class “A” Fresno of the California League – 26 starts, 209 IP, 245 K’s & 102 BB…at age 20.

 

> 1973, Class “AAA” Phoenix of the Pacific Coast League – 31 starts, 212 IP, 185 K’s & 113 BB…at age 21. And if that wasn’t enough, the Giants brought him up in September to pitch another 27 2/3 IP in the big leagues.

 

Now think about the three young hurlers in the first paragraph and their agent, Scott Boros. What kind of reaction might there have been if the Nationals, Mets or Marlins suggested that even one of those statistical lines was reasonable for their top pitching prospect? The obvious answer is a coronary for Boros, but imagine the media scrutiny?

 

In 1974, John came up to the Giants and pitched his first full big league season…

 

> 36 starts, 215 IP, 167 K’s & 124 BB…at age 22. That’s over 850 innings before his age 23 campaign. And innings don’t tell the entire story because when you look a the strikeouts and walks, you can start to imagine the pitch counts.

 

Not surprisingly, arm trouble was the result and after two injury plagued years with the Giants, John was traded to the Cardinals and eventually got healthy enough to emerge as the Padres Closer in the late 70’s, before retiring after the 1982 season. He now works for MLB in the Phoenix market monitoring games for the pace-of-play project and you can see him at Chase Field,  Spring Training ballparks and the Arizona Fall League. When you meet him, you can’t help being impressed by his warmth and friendliness to everyone at the ballpark. And being an old-school guy, he’ll be honest and tell you that he never wanted to come out of a game because he knew he’d get the next guy out. However, maybe that attitude would be different if the bullpen had Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis & Greg Holland to pitch the 7th, 8th & 9th. In 1974, the Giants were 72-90 and the bullpen included Randy Moffitt, Elias Sosa and Charlie Williams…Moffitt was the Closer and his ERA was 4.50!

 

As with all former big league players, John D’Acquisto is proud to have worn the uniform and happy to tell you great stories about his years in the game…but you can’t help wondering what might have been.

 

 

What’s In A Name?

What’s In A Name?

 

 

The annual Bill James Handbook hit the shelves in early November and we’ll be diving into all the statistical information in future blogs. However, there is some information in the player section that is usually overlooked and that is the correct pronunciation and structural emphasis of MLB player’s names. So, as you get into those hot stove conversations with your baseball buddies, you’ll sound much more informed if you know the following…

 

> The young Rockies SS is named kris-tee-Yahn ah-dah-MAZE

 

> A potential Cub OF for 2016 is air-es-MEN-dee al-CAHN-truh

 

> The Giants back-up infielder is wah-KEEN AH-ree-us

 

> The White Sox just signed pitcher fih-LEEP ah-MOHNT

 

> At the back-end of the Yankees’ bullpen, you’ll find DELL-inn buh-TAN-siss

 

> The Rangers on-base machine is SHIN-sue CHEW

 

> The Padres’ swing man is oh-DREE-sa-mehr des-PAHN-yay

 

> The Mets Closer is jeh-REES fuh-MEAL-yuh

 

> The Dodger backstop is yaz-MON-ee gran-DAHL

 

> At SS for the Marlins is a-DAY-nee hetch-a-VA-ree-a

 

> A possible OF starter for the Rays is MIKE-ee MAH-took

 

> There are two baseball brothers and they’re both named ROOG-ned oh-DORE

 

> At the hot corner, the Padres have YAWN-gurr-veess sol-LAHR-tay

 

You should also try to remember that…

 

> In Seattle, it is TIE-wahn Walker

 

> The first name of the Braves possible Closer is ah-ROH-dis

 

> In the Cards’ bullpen, Samuel’s last name is TOO-ee-vah-la-la

 

> North of the border, Devon is pronounced DEV-in

 

> If he makes the cut out of Spring Training with the Braves, Joey’s last name is ter-DOSS-low-vitch

 

> The “h” isn’t there in the name of Julio tay-Ronn

 

> This future Hall of Famer is known by the single name of EE-chee-row

 

> If you want to call the Reds SS by his first name, it’s ay-yoo-HAY-nee-oh

 

> The Marlins slugger who used to be Mike, is now john-CAHR-loh

 

> There doesn’t seem to be an “R” in Marc zepp-CHINN-ski

 

> Hector is rahn-DOHN while Bruce is ron-DOAN

 

> Tanner should own a large boat because he’s ROW-ark

 

> That Marlin behind the plate is J.T. ray-al-MOO-toh

 

> Now that he’s retired, we’ll ah-RAH-miss Ramirez

 

> Casey gets two more letters than Jake, but they’re both McGEE

 

> Brandon gets an extra “r”, but he and Joe are both MAUW-er

 

> Alfredo & Ketel are mar-TAY while Starling & Jefry are marr-TAY

 

> Machi & Segura are both GENE

 

> Brett is LORI, but Jed is LAU-ree

 

> The “K” disappears in Jung Ho GAHNG

 

> The “J” disappears in Taylor YOUNG-man

 

> What happened to the “G’ & “y” in Jedd JERK-oh

 

> Conor is guh-LESS-pee while Cole is gil-EH-spee

 

> Elvis is in the building and his name is pronounced AHN-drews

 

Once you’ve committed all those to memory, don’t forget that Fiers is FIRES, Aybar is EYE-barr, Barmes is BAR-mess, Benoit is ben-WAH, Rusney is ROOZ-knee, Cishek is SEE-sheck, d’Arnaud is dar-NO, Jaff is JEFF, Goins is GO-inns, J.A. is JAY, Niese is NIECE, Pham is FAM, Plouffe is PLOOF, Puig is PWEEG, Strop is STROPE, Vogt is VOTE, ARod is CHEATER and Papelbon is BOZO.

 

OK, you’re ready for the off-season.

A Final Lap Around The Warning Track

A Final Lap Around The Warning Track

 

 

 

Today marks our 200th visit in this space and after something in the neighborhood of 200,000 words on the subject of baseball, maybe it’s time to summarize.

 

Without trying to sound snobbish or elitist, I always find myself feeling sorry for those who don’t love baseball. Clearly, much of what we love is guided by family and background, but baseball is so engrained in the fabric of America, it is always surprising to meet people who find the game boring or slow. They obviously have never had the opportunity to learn the nuances of the game and can’t  treasure the small moments. For example, even though it includes eight (or more) other players, the battle between pitcher and batter just might be the most direct confrontation in all of team sports…and it happens a couple of hundred times in every game!

 

So, as an homage to the game, here are some of my personal reasons why it has meant so much to me over the years. I unapologetically love baseball and you can repeat each of my reasons by simply adding the word “Because” at the beginning of each entry.

 

1) I can still remember going to the park on Sunday morning to (with apologies to Kevin Costner) “play catch” with my Dad.

 

2) Even though I’ve never been to the “Louvre”, it’s difficult to imagine anything more beautiful than Ted Williams’ swing.

 

3) Booing the Yankees is something you can do at any age.

 

4) My brain still has a clear snapshot of that grand-slam home run I hit in Little League…to the opposite field!

 

5) Before the days of MLB Network, ESPN and instant replay, Jimmy Piersall was making spectacular catches in the outfield every night…and he didn’t have to make an unnecessary dive to get himself on a highlight reel.

 

6) Even as a kid, I realized that Mickey Mantle’s skills were different than those of other players.

 

7) 59 years ago, I watched on TV as Don Larsen pitched a perfect game in the World Series…it hasn’t happened again since.

 

8) Instead of doing homework, I was reading every available baseball book or magazine to learn the history of the game…Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb and so many others comprised my history lessons.

 

9) It has been a privilege listening to Vin Scully for over 60 years.

 

10) The aroma of the bubble gum in a nickel pack of Topps baseball cards should be bottled as a women’s cologne…we could never resist.

 

11) Talking baseball with the fan next to you in the stands has nothing to do with race, religion, politics, age or sexual identity.

 

12) How can you not love names like Monbouquette, Throneberry, Pagliaroni, Berberet, Pumpsie & Pinky?

 

13) You’ll always be that 9 year-old boy who cried when Harry Agganis died at age 26.

 

14) There’s no such thing as a bad seat at the ballpark…only better or worse.

 

15) A fan will gladly ruin a $50 pair of pants to catch a $12 baseball…and then give it to a kid!

 

16) Getting your first autograph from a major league player is a moment you’ll never forget.

 

17) In your mind’s eye, you can still see that catch Willie Mays made in the 1954 World Series.

 

18) You know the link between Yogi Berra, Sandy Amoros & Johnny Podres.

 

19) You can almost imagine the trepidation of a right-handed hitter digging in against Don Drysdale or Bob Gibson.

 

20) On a beautiful Summer evening at the old Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, I got to see “Big Klu” in his final season and “Yaz” in his rookie year.

 

21) The Pitcher can’t “take a knee” with two outs in the 9th inning so the clock can run out. In other words, “the game ain’t over ’til it’s over”.

 

22) As you’re scanning through the channels and “Bull Durham” appears, you’ll stop and watch to verify that candlesticks are always a nice gift.

 

23) You realize that Jackie Robinson was so much more than just a ballplayer.

 

24) Occasionally, you actually understood what Casey Stengel was saying.

 

25) Even Red Sox fans get teary-eyed watching Gary Cooper making that speech in “Pride of the Yankees”.

 

26) You celebrate Bobby Thomson but also feel empathy for Ralph Branca.

 

27) You’re fairly sure that the subway grate scene in “The Seven Year Itch” was the beginning of the end for Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio.

 

28) The sadness of hearing names like Fred Merkle, Mickey Owen, Bill Buckner & Steve Bartman is still part of the game.

 

29) You still laugh every time Bob Uecker explains that the proper way to catch a knuckleball is to “wait for it to stop rolling and then pick it up”.

 

30) You know that Mordecai Brown only had three fingers, while Antonio Alfonseca had six.

 

31) You consider Fenway Park & Wrigley Field to be national shrines.

 

32) You are aware of the fact that Joe Jackson was shoeless and Jay Dean was dizzy.

 

33) It is no secret to you that Lou Boudreau invented defensive shifting over 60 years ago.

 

34) You know who “Scooter” was and that he said “Holy Cow” when Roger Maris hit home run #61.

 

35) The class and style of Sandy Koufax has never been duplicated.

 

36) The nickname “Charlie Hustle” was perfect for Pete Rose.

 

37) Hearing the crowd encouraging Maury Wills to steal 2B was like feeling electricity in the ballpark.

 

38) Meeting a Hall of Fame player is exciting, but when you reach the front of an autograph line and Warren Spahn looks at you and says, “Would you mind if I went to take a piss”, it’s a priceless baseball moment.

 

39) Going to a collectibles convention and finding out that Ernie Banks is the nicest athlete you’ve ever met, confirms your faith in mankind.

 

40) Eddie Gaedel wore the uniform number 1/8.

 

41) You got to attend a game at Camden Yards when Cal Ripken Jr. hit a home run.

 

42) Harmon Killebrew was a “bonus baby” and you know what that means.

 

43) You clearly understand the stupidity of any baserunner who tried to go from 1B to 3B when Roberto Clemente was playing RF.

 

44) Satchel Paige pitched three scoreless for the A’s in his final appearance at the age of 59.

 

45) Carlton Fisk’s home run in the 1975 World Series is a landmark in the televising of baseball and changed our expectation of what we should see when watching a game.

 

46) Bucky Dent has a middle name and it starts with the letter “F”.

 

47) Mark “The Bird” Fidrych had the cleanest pitching rubber in the history of the game.

 

48) Rich was a “Goose”, Ron was a “Penguin”, Jim was a “Catfish”, Bill was a “Mad Dog” and Orel was a “Bulldog”.

 

49) The unique experience called “Fernandomania” was impossible to explain to anyone who wasn’t there at the time.

 

50) You remember where you were when Kirk Gibson hit that home run off Dennis Eckersley.

 

51) You went to the ballpark knowing that George Brett had 2,996 hits and then he went 4-for-4.

 

52) Sitting behind home plate in March watching the veterans shape up and the youngsters trying to impress, makes an adult feel like a kid again.

 

53) If you build it, they will come.

 

54) No matter how good the reviews, you will never go see “No, No Nanette”.

 

55) Only one major league player (Fernando Tatis) has ever hit two grand-slam home runs in the same inning and he did it against a pitcher (Chan Ho Park) who was on your Fantasy team.

 

56) You always loved hearing Harry Carey trying to pronounce “Grudzielanek”.

 

57) You secretly hoped that Bo Jackson would strike out at least once just so he could break the bat across his leg.

 

58) “The Bender”, “The Hook”, “Uncle Charlie”, “The Yellow Hammer”, “The Yakker” & “The Deuce” all mean the same thing….baseball has a language of its own.

 

59) A Hall of Fame player can be 5′ 8″ or 6′ 5″.

 

60) Wearing the same protective cup for your entire career is an accepted practice…so is wearing mismatched socks, eating chicken before every game, covering your batting helmet with tar, jumping over the foul-line and breaking a slump by dating ugly women.

 

61) You can be “Old School” and still belong to SABR.

 

62) Each day you go to the ballpark, there’s a chance to witness sports history.

 

63) We live and die with our team every day…and tomorrow is a new day with another chance. “We won a game yesterday. If we win one today, that’ll be two in a row. Then, when we win tomorrow, it’ll be a winning streak”. Isn’t that what life is all about?

 

64) James Earl Jones’ character in “Field of Dreams” told us that “the one constant through the years has been baseball” and he was correct. When you meet someone born in the 60’s and he or she knows why the numbers 56 & .406 relate to 1941, you begin to understand the impact of the game’s history.

 

65) A game where the score is 1-0 can be as exciting as a game where the score is 10-9.

 

66) Baseball for real fans in about anticipation…how about a 3-2 pitch with two outs and the bases loaded? Or a runner on first trying to steal 2B in a tie game? Or an outfielder gliding back toward the fence for a long drive off the bat?

 

67)  As Humphrey Bogart once said, “A hot dog at the game beats roast beef at the Ritz”.

 

68) The game is all about family…just look around the ballpark.

 

69) Looking through a set of baseball cards from the 1950’s gives you a wonderful history lesson that tells you the identities of Dusty, Duke, Red, Minnie, Puddin’ Head, Spook, Smoky, Suitcase, Pee Wee, Junior & Rube.

 

70) When I got divorced, I really missed my Springer Spaniels…but I still had baseball.

 

Everyone reading this probably has dozens more of their own…thanks for sticking with me until the end.

 

 

The Clutch Chronicles

The Clutch Chronicles – 2015

 

 

The Urban Dictionary defines Clutch as, “To perform under pressure”. For decades, baseball pundits and fans have extolled the virtues of players who supposedly had this trait. Their evidence, however, was only visual and anecdotal. Back in the 1970’s, most people considered Tony Perez of the “Big Red Machine” one of baseball’s best clutch hitters. After all, he had over 100 RBI’s in six seasons between 1967 & 1975. In fact, some would argue that his election to the Hall of Fame was based on this reputation.

 

Now that baseball is in the age of statistical analysis, our old observations may be called into question. Even a math-challenged fan understands that you can’t get a plethora of RBI’s without baserunners. And, boy, did those Reds teams have baserunners!

 

Statistics on RBI Percentage (RBI-HR/Runners On) now go back to 1974, so let’s see how our legendary clutch hitter fared in a season where he was an All-Star. Perez had 101 RBI’s, 28 HR’s & 489 runners on base for a RBI percentage of 14.93%. That didn’t even crack the top 50 for the major leagues in ’74! He finished behind household names such as Reggie Smith, Richie Zisk, Jimmy Wynn, Cesar Cedeno & Ted Simmons. The leaders were Jeff Burroughs at 21.18% and Sal Bando at 21.15%.

 

Our Hall-of-Famer improved considerably in 1975 as he accumulated 109 RBI’s with 20 HR’s and 489 runners on base (again). His percentage improved to 18.20% and he just snuck into the top ten for that season. The only hitters at 20% or higher were Willie Stargell at 20.48% and Thurman Munson at 20.00%.

 

As a fan, you certainly have an opinion on today’s clutch hitters but do the stats back you up? In 2015, there were 15 hitters who exceeded the 18.20% that Perez posted in ’75. We’ll only include players who had at least 200 baserunners during the season to eliminate the “small sample size” outliers.  These are “Quacker’s Clutch All-Stars” and we’ll see how well their performance aligns with their reputation.

 

1) Nolan Arenado, Rockies 3B, 21.4% – This is in addition to winning his 3rd Gold Glove at age 24.

 

2) Danny Valencia, Athletics OF, 19.8% – Somewhat misleading because he’s essentially a platoon player, but still impressive.

 

3) Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays 3B, 19.7% – Another statistic to validate his MVP candidacy.

 

4) Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins OF, 19.3% – What we wouldn’t give for an injury free season.

 

5) Kendrys Morales, Royals DH, 19.1% – If you weren’t already convinced of KC’s smarts, Billy Butler’s number was 13.1%.

 

6) Adam Lind, Brewers 1B, 19.1% – His second consecutive year on this list, but remember his .221 BA and zero HR’s against left-handed pitching.

 

7) Matt Kemp, Padres OF, 19.0% – Another great second-half helped produce 100 RBI’s for the season.

 

8) Justin Smoak, Blue Jays 1B, 18.8% – Part-time role but a big-time contribution to this playoff team.

 

9) Andrew McCutcheon, Pirates OF, 18.8% – Just because he didn’t have another MVP season doesn’t mean he didn’t have a great season.

 

 

 

10) Jose Abreu, White Sox 1B, 18.6% – Second straight year in the top ten… not a bad way to begin a career.

 

11) Ryan Braun, Brewers OF, 18.6% – Finished 2nd in 2014 and this is a nice follow-up…the post-PED numbers are solid.

 

12) Mookie Betts, Red Sox OF, 18.6% – This is how good your rookie season can be when you’re also an avid bowler.

 

13) Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals 1B, 18.6% – Came through in the clutch…when he was on the field.

 

14) Caleb Joseph, Orioles C, 18.3% – Another part-timer who excelled in 2015…and he won’t cost $15.8 Million.

 

15) Matt Carpenter, Cardinals 3B, 18.2% – A player who looks like he needs a decent meal turns into a power-hitting clutch performer.

 

Last year’s leader Miguel Cabrera finished 17th despite an injury-plagued season. Probable ROY winners Kris Bryant (17.2%) & Carlos Correa (17.9%) were both solid in this category. Bryce Harper (14.2%) & Mike Trout (14.4%) were surprisingly low, while Torii Hunter finished 20th (17.9%) in his final season.

 

The  three worst clutch hitters in baseball were Mike Zunino at 6.6%, Anthony Gose at 7.5% and Marcus Semien at 7.6%.

 

Hope all your fantasy players come through in the clutch. For more information on RBI Percentage, go to baseballmusings.com.

 

Resurrecting The Dux

Resurrecting The Dux

In 30 years of playing auction-style Fantasy Baseball, winning over 25 championships can be good news and bad news. The good news is that you’ve proven your skills by establishing strategies and methods for success. The bad news could be that you’re hesitant to adjust and make significant changes because you’re afraid to mess with the baseline that has achieved positive results. That was the quandary that presented itself last year as the 15 owners in the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL) gathered in Phoenix for their 13th annual draft.

As a quick refresher, the XFL is the only experts keeper league within the fantasy industry and many of the owner’s names are familiar to those who have viewed the landscape of fantasy sports over the years. These brilliant guys produce websites, magazines, newsletters and blogs that help guide you in becoming a better player in your league. The league is a 5 X 5 format (with on-base percentage replacing batting average), a 23-player live auction draft in early November with a $260 budget and a supplemental snake draft in late March to round out the 40-man rosters (23 players are active each week during the season). Donald’s Dux (my squad) has captured four championships and holds the best overall performance record over the first thirteen campaigns.

The Dux adjusted their long-time strategy of sticking with a 70/30 spilt for hitting & pitching because the team’s offensive keepers last November were statistically valued much higher than their salaries. That allowed the shifting of money to pitching and the Dux ended up spending about 43% on pitchers in an attempt to balance the roster. Unfortunately, injuries to Yasiel Puig, Devin Mesoraco and Carlos Gomez somewhat derailed the offense. On the pitching side, Tanner Roark lost his rotation spot during the off-season, Kyle Lohse imploded, Ervin Santana got suspended and Addison Reed & Steve Cishek lost their Closer gigs early in the season. The Dux were in last place in April and spent the entire campaign trying to make up ground. With that back story, 90 points (56 in hitting, 34 in pitching) and a 7th place finish doesn’t look that bad, but after finishing 1st, 1st, 2nd & 2nd over the previous four years, it was certainly a disappointment.

So, as we approached the November Draft for the 2016 season, the first question was whether the strategy was flawed or was it just the player choices. Objectively, it seems like the answer is the players because despite the attempt to balance the roster, only 38% of the team’s points came from the expensive pitching. This is a key question, as the Dux keeper list falls into a similar category once again.

Here’s the keeper list for the Dux that was frozen on October 23rd –

C – Devin Mesoraco $11

C – Francisco Cervelli $6

1B – Jose Abreu $7

3B – Matt Duffy $10

1/3 – Anthony Rizzo $23

2B –

SS – Brandon Crawford $6

2/S – Eugenio Suarez $10

OF – Yasiel Puig $10

OF – Colby Rasmus $6

OF – Andrew McCutchen $22

OF – Michael Brantley $17

OF –

U –

P – Jacob deGrom $15

P –

P –

P –

P –

P –

P –

P –

P –

The 11 hitters had a salary total of $128, while the one pitcher equaled $15 leaving $117 to buy 11 players at the draft table. Historically, under the 70/30 strategy, the allocation would have been $54 for the three hitters and $63 for the eight pitchers. Realistically however, the hitters on the keeper list could be worth $50+ more than their salary, while the single pitcher didn’t have a plus side of more than $10. The answer of course, was to set aside 30 years of success once again and try to balance the roster. The decision was to shift at least $10 from hitting to pitching at the draft leaving approximately $44 for the three hitters and $73 for the eight pitchers. So, the draft strategy was as follows…

>  Find a consistent base-stealing OF in the $20 range, a regular 2B for $15-$20 and one end-gamer at Utility.

> On the pitching side, allocate $45 for four starting pitchers, $20+ for two closers and two end-gamers for the final pitching spots.

Not much research needed to be done on the offensive side, as I could bid on any position player and was only concerned about getting regular playing time and some SB’s. On the pitching side, the plan needed to be a little more precise. My advice to players has always been to not “chase” any particular player. Find a group of players that fit your need and focus on getting one of them. Based on that criteria, three starting pitching tiers were established with a goal of getting one from each of the top two tiers and two or three from the third tier . Here’s the basic list that was generated…

Tier 1 – Cole Hamels, Jordan Zimmerman & Jon Lester

Tier 2 – Tyson Ross, Francisco Liriano & Andrew Cashner

Tier 3 – Gio Gonzalez, Alex Wood, Jason Hammel, James Shields, Mike Leake, Garrett Richards, Julio Teheran, Jamie Garcia & others.

For the $20 allocation on the two closers, the list included David Robertson, Kenley Jansen, Hector Rondon, Francisco Rodriguez, Craig Kimbrel, Zach Britton & A.J. Ramos . The end-gamer list had Arodys Vizcaino, Anthony DeSciafani, Brett Anderson, Jimmy Nelson, Jose Quintana, Collin McHugh, Andrew Heaney, Dellin Betances, Drew Smyly, Ian Kennedy & Roberto Osuna along with every other available pitcher.

Before reviewing the results of the draft, there’s one other important league rule for readers to understand. Even though the word “list” is being used in this discussion, the really unique aspect of the XFL is that team owners can bring nothing to the table…no lists, no projections, no research, no draft software, no laptops, no tablets and no smart phones. When you sit at the table, major league depth charts are handed out with the names of keepers crossed off and that is your only reference material during the auction. Even the depth charts are as neutral as possible with players listed by position and alphabetically. You don’t get any help as the typical MLB team could have 12 relief pitchers on the sheet and you need to know which one might get (or be next in line for) Saves.

The actual approach at the draft table needed to be somewhat passive-aggressive. Passive in the sense of being patient, as eight of the teams had more money to spend and aggressive in the sense of acquiring solid starting pitchers. It became apparent early on that the available dollars at the table were going to impact pitching prices dramatically. When Jon Lester went for $22 and Tyson Ross for $20, the Dux needed to start being aggressive. Francisco Liriano was my first target and while the $18 price tag was steep, he had solid numbers in ’15 and is under contract with the Pirates for 2016.

Zach Britton was the last cut on my keeper list because his salary of $15 was justified based on performance. For my second acquisition, Britton came back onto the squad for that exact $15 figure at the table. In essence, it was like getting an extra keeper.

Looking for a second Closer, I put Arodys Vizcaino on the table for $1 and figured he might go in the $5-$6 range because he’s not yet totally established in the job. When the bidding went beyond that plateau, I backed off and was surprised that the eventual price was $11. Not much later, the Dux paid the same $11 for A.J. Ramos. For perspective, Kenley Jansen, Davis Robertson & Craig Kimbrel were $16 each while Huston Street & Roberto Osuna were sold for $14 each.

With $44 spent on three Pitchers, it was time to address the speed issue. Ben Revere was on the Dux last year and produced an $18 statistical season in this format. There’s a reasonable expectation that he could have even better numbers in 2016 hitting ahead of Donaldson, Bautista & Encarnacion, so when I got him at the table for $18, it fit perfectly on my squad.

Back to pitching for their 5th pick, the Dux rostered Jeff Samardzija for $11. Despite a lousy ’15 season, he’s still a power-arm free agent who will hopefully land in a better spot than U.S. Cellular Field.

With four pitchers taken for $55, it was time to focus on 2B. I did make some lower-end bids on players like Howie Kendrick (went for $10), Dustin Pedroia  ($13) & Ben Zobrist ($23) and didn’t get involved in Neil Walker at $13, Daniel Murphy at $18, Ian Kinsler at $19 or Robinson Cano at $31. My brain was still telling me to add some speed at this position leaving more options for my Utility spot. Cesar Hernandez of the Phillies had 405 AB’s in 2015 with a .339 OBP and 19 SB’s creating $8 worth of value in this format. With Chase Utley gone, the 2B job (and lead-off spot) is his to lose. The Dux put him on the table for $2 but were prepared to bid up to $8-$10 for the upside potential. The fact that this bid was answered with the sound of “crickets” indicates that the Old Duck is either really smart or really stupid.

Getting Hernandez for $2 impacted my budget for the remainder of the draft. With $24 still allocated for the Utility spot, it was obvious some additional money could be shifted to pitching. That allowed me to win the bidding on James Shields for $15. While 2015 wasn’t a great season for this veteran, he was durable and had a good K/9 rate. At this point, inflation was impacting the bidding significantly as evidenced by prices like Joe Ross for $15, Jaime Garcia for $16 & Michael Pineda for $19.

Using more of the new-found pitching dollars, another SP was added in John Lackey for $8. He produced $14 worth of value on 2015 and could end up back in St. Louis again next season. This gives the Dux squad five rotation starters who pitched a total of 1,012 innings in 2015.

Now the end-game began in earnest, as the Dux had $19 remaining for the Utility spot and two pitchers. The offensive slot was the priority and the decision came down to choosing between power (HR & RBI’s) or the best player available. As often happens in this situation, the choice may fall in your lap when a particular player is brought up by one of your rivals. In this case, it was the Phillies CF Odubel Herrera. Taken in the Rule 5 Draft, but still only 23 years old, he posted a .344 OBP with 8 HR’s & 16 SB’s in his rookie season…and earned $10 in this league’s categories. The price was $11 and the pick seemed even better 72 hours later when the report came across the wire that Brantley had shoulder surgery and may not be ready for opening day. As for the needed power, there are always low OBP players with pop who don’t get taken in November but will be available in our supplemental draft in March. This time around, the list includes names like Mark Trumbo, Nick Swisher, Andre Ethier, Domingo Santana, Ryan Howard, Matt Adams and others.

With $8 left for two pitchers, another unique aspect of November drafting came into play. With the previous season so fresh in our memories, we can be easily fooled by a player’s most recent performance. For example, Edison Volquez going for $9 in this draft was certainly influenced somewhat by his post-season heroics, as was the spirited bidding for Zobrist. On the other end of the spectrum was Jason Hammel and his short stint in a key playoff game. I brought him up and closed the deal for $5 even though his 2015 stat line of 10-7, 3.74 ERA, 1.16 WHIP & 172 K’s in 171 IP earned $7 in Roto value. In addition, he’s under contract with the Cubs for ’16 with a $10 Million salary. Even one of my friends watching the proceedings questioned my pick by saying, “he was lousy in the playoffs”. In the 1981 World Series, Dave Winfield went 1-for-22.

The final pitching slot was a crap shoot and the Dux added Jerad Eickhoff of the Phillies for $1. The team will be terrible, but in eight starts at the end of ’15, he posted a 2.65 ERA with a 1.04 WHIP and had a 49/14 K-to-BB ratio in 51 IP. A more interesting pick than pitchers left on the board such as Jeff Locke, Matt Cain, Brett Anderson, Tom Koehler, Wily Peralta, Jonathon Niese or Charlie Morton.

The final math was $258 spent and a 62/38 percentage split between hitting & pitching. Realistically, you can’t go into a league with this type of inflation thinking that your $117 can buy $117 in value. However, looking at the 11 players drafted, it’s reasonable to assume that their worth is right at $100. Added to the $202 estimated value of the keepers, that’s $300+ of value in a $260 league. That seems like a reasonable start for the 2016 season. Of course, many additions in the March Supplemental phase will improve numerous rosters and fill gaps due to November draft mistakes, injuries and role changes. Thanks to their 7th place finish, the Dux have the 6th pick in March, so there may be an impactful player available in that spot.

Just to keep you mind percolating during the off-season, here are a few prices from last weekend that might surprise you in either direction…

> The most expensive hitter was Miguel Cabrera at $45…close behind was Adrian Gonzalez at $42

> The most expensive Pitcher was Cole Hamels at $26

> Troy Tulowitzki was $33 while Jose Reyes was $13

> Justin Bour ($11) was only two bucks less than Ryan Zimmerman ($13)

> Brett Gardner ($24) went for more than twice the figure of Jacoby Ellsbury ($10)

> Roto players still believe in Hanley Ramirez ($19) but not Pablo Sandoval ($1)

> Teams were also more than willing to take chances on players coming back from injuries like $11 for Zack Wheeler, $3 for Homer Bailey and $1 bids on Hyun-Jin Ryu & Jurickson Profar.

You can peruse additional league information at fantasyxperts.com