February 27, 2003

1st Annual Aaron's Baseball Blog Pre-Season Predictions Contest

"I'm smart! Not like everybody says. . .like dumb. . .I'm smart and I want respect!"

--- Fredo Corleone, "The Godfather, Part II"

When it comes to baseball predictions, we all have a little bit of Fredo in us.

We've all been following the off-season signings and trades and injuries and we think that we know stuff about the upcoming season - we think that we're smart!

And personally, I know I love to get credit (and respect!) when I make a (rare) correct prediction.

In the short time I have been running this little website (since August), we have established a nice little "community" of readers here.

This blog is currently pulling in between 400-500 hits per weekday and February, despite being only 28 days long, was the biggest month yet, with approximately 10,000 visitors.

So, I figure now we've got enough people to have our first contest!

Here's how it works:

1) You predict the standings of all 6 MLB divisions.

2) You predict the World Series participants.

3) You predict the World Champions.

4) You predict the winners of all 6 major awards (3 in each league).

5) You predict "over" or "under" for 6 questions involving Barry Bonds.

Pretty easy, right?

This contest should separate the men from the Fredos and it'll be a lot of fun too.

Here's how we determine the winner:

1) You predict the standings of all 6 MLB divisions.

Basically, all you need to do here is pick which team will finish first in each division, which team will finish second, finish third and so on.

Each of the 30 Major League teams starts out with a "value" of 50 points.

If you correctly predict their final place in the division standings, you receive the full 50 points.

For every spot they end up different that your prediction for them, you lose 10 points.

For example: The Yankees start with 50 points. If you predict that they'll finish 1st in the AL East and they actually finish 3rd, you receive a total of 30 points (50-20).

The maximum point total you can get for the division standings portion of the contest is 1,500 points (50 points x 30 teams).

2) You predict the World Series participants.

Very simple, just say who will win the American League championship and the National League championship.

You get 25 points for each World Series participant you correctly predict.

So, if you predict Tampa Bay and Milwaukee will play in the World Series and it ends up being Tampa Bay and Colorado, you would get 25 points for picking 1 participant (Tampa).

If neither Tampa or Milwaukee made it, you'd get 0 points.

3) You predict the World Champions.

Extraordinarily simple, just predict who will win it all come October.

You get 25 points for correctly predicting the World Champions.

4) You predict the winners of all 6 major awards (3 in each league).

There are 6 "major" awards: 2 Most Valuable Players, 2 Cy Youngs and 2 Rookie-of-the-Years.

For each of the 6 that you predict correctly you receive 10 points.

If there is a tie for an award, both players will be "worth" 10 points to those that predicted they would win it; meaning if you predict Neifi Perez will win the NL MVP and he ties with Mike Matheny for the award, you would still get the 10 points - as would anyone that predicted Matheny would win it.

5) You predict "over" or "under" for 6 questions involving Barry Bonds.

All you have to do here is say whether or not Bonds will go "over" or "under" the number specified.

The 6 questions are:

1) Barry Bonds home runs OVER/UNDER 50?

2) Barry Bonds on-base % OVER/UNDER .500?

3) Barry Bonds runs batted in OVER/UNDER 120?

4) Barry Bonds batting average OVER/UNDER .330?

5) Barry Bonds total walks OVER/UNDER 150?

6) Barry Bonds slugging % OVER/UNDER .750?

In case he hits a number right on the nose, everyone gets credit for predicting correctly.

That's a long shot though, so don't worry.

For each of the 6 Bonds questions that you predict correctly, you get 10 points - for a total of 60 possible.

Adding it all up...

The maximum point total for this contest is 1,695 points.

That would include correctly predicting the exact order of finish for all 30 MLB teams, correctly predicting the AL and NL Champions and the World Series Champions, as well as the winners of all 6 of the major awards and the OVER/UNDER on all of Bonds' stats.

And what exactly are we playing for?

Well...

I am not exactly a rich man, but I figure we definitely need some sort of a prize and what better prize than an excellent baseball book.

The winner of the 1st Annual Aaron's Baseball Blog Pre-Season Predictions Contest will receive their choice of a brand spanking new copy of 1 of the following books:

cover"Ball Four" - by Jim Bouton

"Ball Four" is my favorite book in the entire world. I have read it at least a half dozen times and I plan on reading it about 100 more times before all is said and done.

If you haven't read it, you are missing out in a huge way. I don't know what else to say other than it is absolutely, without a doubt, the best and most entertaining book I have ever read (and read and read and read and...).

cover"Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy" - by Jane Leavy

This is a relatively new book and one I got for my birthday from my grandparents. Koufax is obviously one of the most interesting and intriguing players in baseball history and this book is a really good one. I'm currently in the middle of reading it.

cover"Hitter: The Life and Turmoils of Ted Williams" - by Ed Linn

Quite simply the biography of my favorite baseball player of all-time.

Ted Williams was not only a great hitter, he was also a very unique person and this book really does a great job putting forth his life story.

However, more than simply winning an actual prize, the winner of this contest will receive the 1st annual "Fredo Award for Excellence in Predicting" and will be honored on this very website and praised by millions around the world.

At the bottom of this entry I have included a nice, neat little form that you can copy and paste into an email to me, so that entering this contest is as easy as possible.

Just copy the form I have provided, fill in the blanks with your predictions and send it to me.

*****The deadline for entering is March 24th (the day before the season officially begins)*****

If you have any questions, feel free to ask me.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

OFFICIAL 1ST ANNUAL AARON'S BASEBALL BLOG PRE-SEASON PREDICTIONS CONTEST ENTRY FORM:

ENTRANT NAME:

AL EAST:

1)

2)

3)

4)

5)

AL CENTRAL:

1)

2)

3)

4)

5)

AL WEST:

1)

2)

3)

4)

NL EAST:

1)

2)

3)

4)

5)

NL CENTRAL:

1)

2)

3)

4)

5)

6)

NL WEST:

1)

2)

3)

4)

5)

AL CHAMPS:

NL CHAMPS:

WORLD CHAMPS:

AL MVP:

NL MVP:

AL CY:

NL CY:

AL ROY:

NL ROY:

BONDS OVER/UNDER 50 HOMERS:

BONDS OVER/UNDER .500 OBP:

BONDS OVER/UNDER 120 RBI:

BONDS OVER/UNDER .330 AVG:

BONDS OVER/UNDER 150 WALKS:

BONDS OVER/UNDER .750 SLG:

***TIE BREAKER***

THE TOTAL NUMBER OF RUNS SCORED BY THE YANKEES:

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

February 26, 2003

Procrastination 101

I was planning on not writing an entry for today.

You see, at approximately 12:45 this afternoon I have/had a paper due in my "Mass Media Ethics" class. While I have been working on the paper for the last week or so, I am like any good college student in that I inevitably wait until the last moment to put the "finishing touches" on the paper.

My plan for last night was to work tirelessly on the paper and to skip writing an entry for this blog in order to devote as much time to the paper as possible. Makes sense right? I mean, the paper is a once or twice a semester thing, whereas I write something here at least 5 times a week. Plus, as much as I like you guys, you don't have the power to affect my GPA and you certainly lack the ability to protect me from my mother when my grades arrive in the mail.

The part of that equation that I did not factor in is that I am perhaps the worst procrastinator in the history of the human race. You may be thinking that I am really exaggerating when I say that, but if you knew me you wouldn't be so sure.

No matter what it is, I tend to wait until the last moment.

It's why, as I discussed earlier, I lost out on having my dorm room again next year.

And it's why I am writing this blog entry instead of my ethics paper.

I just can't help it because it is deeply ingrained in my inner-being, or it's at least a really bad habit.

I've convinced myself that if I don't stick to one topic and write 3,000 words on it for today's entry, it is okay that I am taking time away from my schoolwork to write it. In other words, if I just do some short comments on various topics, it'll be okay.

Now that I typed it on the screen, it really doesn't make any sense. But hey, it is keeping me from actual school work.

And away we go...

I saw the following article in the Houston Chronicle yesterday:

Berkman dismisses one-sided thinking



The story is about Houston outfielder Lance Berkman, who is a switch-hitter.

Here's a quote:

If he could do it all over again, Lance Berkman would not do it all over again. He definitely would not try to switch-hit in the major leagues. Lance would bear down, suck up and train himself to accept the scary visuals of a curveball whizzing straight for his noggin, then breaking sharply back across the plate.

This is interesting because Berkman is a "natural" left-handed hitter and has had a whole lot more success batting left-handed (against right-handed pitching) than he has had batting right-handed (against left-handed pitching).

2002:

Left-handed = .307/.420/.639

Right-handed = .240/.351/.364

2001:

Left-handed = .337/.438/.661

Right-handed = .308/.400/.467

2000:

Left-handed = .320/.401/.615

Right-handed = .218/.347/.372

2000-2002 (total for 3 years):

Left-handed = .322/.422/.642

Right-handed = .260/.368/.404

That is a huge difference.

He hits like Brian Giles from the left side and David Eckstein from the right.

Berkman is still a useful player batting right-handed, but that's only because he still manages to post a good OBP; he definitely should not be batting in the middle of the lineup on days when a lefty is on the mound.

Further down in the article I found another quote that "interested" me:

Berkman doesn't expect to evolve into as stout a hitter from the right side as he is from the left. That would be an unrealistic aspiration. Lance's contemporary reference standard for switch-hitters, Atlanta's Chipper Jones, has batted above .300 from both sides of the plate over the last three seasons, yet three-fourths of Chipper's homers have been jacked from the left.

Obviously, the problem with that quote is the part about 3/4 of Chipper Jones' homers during the last 3 seasons coming from the left side.

Why is that a problem you ask?

Well...

The author is trying to say that, because 3/4 of his homers have come from the left side, he doesn't have as much power from the right side.

There is one fatal flaw in that assumption however, which is this:

2000-2002:

Left-handed = 1360 at bats

Right-handed = 339 at bats

In other words, during the last 3 years, only 19.9% of Chipper's at bats have come from the right side. Which means approximately 80% have come from the left side.

So really, if he's hit 25% of his homers from the right side during that span and has only had 20% of his at bats from that side, isn't he MORE powerful from the right side?

Well, yeah.

2000-2002:

Left-handed = 1 HR / 17.9 AB

Right-handed = 1 HR / 14.1 AB

That, my friends, is an example of extremely sloppy journalism. The author uses a "stat" to support his "point" even though the actual stat is completely incorrect in the context he is using it. Someone reading that quote might think, "Wow, Chipper hits 3 times as many homers from the left side!" In reality, he hits more homers per at bat from the right side, which is the complete opposite of what the author was trying to show.

Those damn facts are always messing up good stories.

What makes this manipulation of stats even worse is the fact that the author actually used the exact same stat correctly in regard to Berkman just a few short paragraphs earlier!

Batting left, [Berkman] has a .317 career average over his three-plus Astros seasons and has whacked 95 home runs -- one every 13 at-bats. Batting right, he's a .256 hitter with just six shots having cleared the fence, or one per every 57 at-bats.

He uses the per-at-bat homer rate in that case because he wants to show that Berkman lacks power from the right side. So, using that stat is convenient for him and it helps support his argument. Then when he is talking about the exact same thing in regard to Chipper, the stat no longer supports his argument, so he just ditches it.

It's blatant and it's just flat out crappy journalism.



Over at ESPN.com, Peter Gammons' most recent article had an interesting tidbit about the Oakland A's.

(By the way, did you notice how I resisted the temptation to segue from the Berkman article to Gammons' article by using something like "Speaking of crappy journalism..."? Just checking)

Peter often discusses music in his articles, which is occasionally somewhat annoying, but in this case was interesting (to me at least):

Here are Scott Hatteberg's three musical picks for this spring training:

Jason Marz

Jets to Brazil

Supreme Beings of Leisure

Remember, Hatteberg was the first one interested in John Mayer and Jack Johnson, no matter how tired you may have gotten of each. And Hatteberg is amazed at teammate Barry Zito's musical progress, his song-writing and his guitar playing.

Zito is big on Mayer, which doesn't get far with A's GM Beane.

"It all sounds the same," Beane told Hatteberg and Zito. "Like if you've heard one Dave Matthews song, you've heard the entire repertoire."

I don't have anything earth-shattering to add here, other than it being really cool that a General Manager can talk to his first baseman and starting pitcher about John Mayer sounding like Dave Matthews.

Before Sid Thryft got canned by the Orioles, do you think he was discussing Coldplay with Jeff Conine and Sidney Ponson? I'm gonna go out on a very large and stable limb here and say no.

That story from Gammons now becomes reason number 653,484,567,593,920 why I think Billy Beane is an awesome General Manager.

Speaking of Billy Beane...

(Seriously, do you see how easy it would have been to have gone from Berkman to Gammons earlier by saying "Speaking of crappy journalism"? Once again, just checking)



I neglected to mention this earlier this week when it first came out, but Miguel Tejada is talking contract extension.

From the ESPN.com story:

Miguel Tejada wants his two children to have a stable education in the United States, and that's why he says he is so anxious to get a long-term commitment from the Oakland Athletics.

Call me a cynic, but I don't believe for a single moment that Miguel Tejada's children will have anything to do with whether or not he stays in Oakland. I could be wrong and it would be nice if I was, but I just don't think I am. That's not to say anything bad about Tejada, it's just the way it is.

My initial reaction to this story is that Miguel Tejada will be wearing a different uniform this time next year. I don't see Billy Beane and the A's committing to a long-term, multi-million dollar contract with Tejada.

He's a great player and he absolutely deserves to be paid very handsomely and to receive a long-term contract, but I just don't think the A's are going to be the team to give it to him.

Of course, maybe I am wrong. Maybe Tejada really does want to keep his kids in Oakland and maybe he's willing to sign a shorter deal, like say 3 years.

I bet Beane would be a whole lot more willing to give him 3 years and $35 million than he would 7 years and $75 mill. Having star players is definitely a nice thing, but having payroll flexibility, particularly when you are a low-budget ballclub like Oakland, is absolutely essential.

If Miguel Tejada is willing to sign a 3 or 4 year deal, his kids might grow up in Oakland. If not, I bet he'll be somewhere else and Mark Ellis or Bobby Crosby will be playing SS for the A's.

It'll be an interesting story to keep an eye on.

That's enough procrastination for today.

Please check back tomorrow when I'll have an exciting new announcement involving reader involvement.

It'll be fun for the whole family, I promise!

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

February 25, 2003

Hells Bells

For as much as I talk about a "closer" just being a made up position dependent on a stupid stat, being a closer sure is a cool thing to be. I mean, it is just so damn manly and tough, you know?

What's the #1 cliche you hear associated with a closer? "He's coming in to slam the door!"

It's just cool.

A closer's job is to come in and put an end to the other team's chances of winning the game.

He's going to stop whatever rally they have going, get rid of any thoughts of victory they may have and "slam the door" on the game.

It gets even better when you add in some really cool music.

For years now, Trevor Hoffman has been closing games for the Padres and has been making his entrance into the game like a wrestler, complete with "Hells Bells" by AC/DC blaring over the loud speakers.

I am the kind of guy that gets really pumped up by music at a sporting event. I've been at Timberwolves first round playoff games when they've played "Welcome to the Jungle" in the 4th quarter and I get all goofy. I don't know how to explain it, but it happens to me a lot.

If I get pumped up sitting in the stands, I can only imagine how it feels for someone like Trevor Hoffman to come into the game in the 9th inning to "slam the door" and to make his trip from the bullpen to the mound accompanied by "Hells Bells," with thousands of screaming, pumped up fans, ready for a door to be slammed and another win to be had.

By the way, if you've never seen/heard Hoffman make his entrance in San Diego, you're missing out. I can't recreate it obviously, but if you click on the link below you can listen to a good clip of "Hells Bells" and get a little feel for it.

30 seconds of "Hells Bells by AC/DC

My favorite part isn't the actual song, but the eerie silence at the beginning of it that is followed by the sound of a big bell (Hell's Bell!) ringing loudly several times. It is sort of like Hoffman saying, "Here I come" in his best grim-reaper voice.

Anyway, I started thinking about all this stuff when I saw the following article on ESPN.com yesterday afternoon:



Hoffman needs surgery, likely shelved till July

Hoffman's injury isn't a new thing and he and the Padres have basically been trying to figure out the best way to go about dealing with it for a while. They decided that Hoffman needs surgery "to repair a bone in his throwing shoulder," which will probably keep him out of action for at least the first half of the season.

There are very few guys in baseball that I would call a "true closer."

Obviously, as I have discussed here before, there are tons of guys every year that rack up 30 or 40 saves and there are at least 28 or 30 guys a year that have the "closer" label. But really, how many of them are truly closers?

Antonio Alfonseca has 113 saves over the last 4 seasons, including 45 in 2000, but is he really what you think of when you hear the word "closer?" Of course not, he's just a relief pitcher that has been asked to pitch the 9th inning of a lot of games where his team has a small lead.

No, when I think of a closer, there are a few active players that come to mind.

Mariano Rivera.

Troy Percival.

Robb Nen.

And, of course, Trevor Hoffman.

There are definitely other very good pitchers who have been closers for a while, guys like Billy Koch, Billy Wagner, Armando Benitez, Ugie Urbina or Kaz Sasaki.

But, in my mind, there are very few guys that are truly closers.

Sort of like when people talk about an "ace" starting pitcher.

Sure, there are probably 50 guys that you could call an ace, but when I think about the term I associate it with guys like Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux, not guys like Al Leiter, Chuck Finley or even Mike Mussina.

All of this is my very long way of saying that I am sad that Trevor Hoffman is injured and will very likely miss the majority of the 2003 season. He's been one of the best closers in baseball history and, in my mind at least, he is one of the few true closers in baseball right now.

What he's done in San Diego is really amazing.

He was originally an 11th round draft pick of the Reds and became a member of the Florida Marlins in the expansion draft, but came to San Diego in 1993 in the trade that brought Gary Sheffield to the Marlins.

Check out his career:

Year     IP      ERA      SV      K/9     BB/9      HR/9      ERA+

1993 90 3.90 5 7.9 3.9 1.00 107
1994 56 2.57 20 10.9 3.2 0.64 161
1995 53 3.88 31 8.8 2.4 1.70 104
1996 88 2.25 42 11.4 3.2 0.61 178
1997 81 2.66 37 12.3 2.7 0.99 146
1998 73 1.48 53 10.6 2.6 0.25 258
1999 67 2.14 40 9.8 2.0 0.67 205
2000 72 2.99 43 10.6 1.4 0.88 143
2001 60 3.43 43 9.4 3.1 1.50 117
2002 59 2.73 38 10.5 2.7 0.30 140

When you take into account the fact that 1994 and 1995 were strike-shortened seasons, you can see a definite pattern with Hoffman's workload. As with many modern closers, the more success Hoffman has had, the fewer innings he has pitched. You can probably guess that I think that pattern is probably one of the dumbest things in baseball and the exact opposite of what should happen.

He started in San Diego as an 80-90 inning a year guy and has gradually become a 60-70 inning guy.

Looking at his career numbers, it is amazing how long he has been able to maintain an excellent strike out rate.

After checking in with a 10.9 K/9 rate in 1994, it dipped all the way down to 8.8/9 in 1995.

Then it shot back way up and he had 3 straight years over 10/9, including his career high of 12.3 strike outs per 9 innings in 1997.

For the last 4 seasons Hoffman has hovered right around 10.0, which is excellent.

What makes his big K rates even more impressive is the fact that he doesn't rack up the big strike out totals with a 98 MPH fastball, like a lot of other closers. While Hoffman's fastball is certainly a very good one, his best pitch is his incredible changeup, which is definitely one of the best changeups in all of baseball. Hoffman has an extremely deceptive throwing motion, which just adds to the awesome changeup and makes it almost impossible to get a good read on the ball out of his hand.

Looking at those ERA+ totals, there is a direct relationship between his "poor" seasons and his home run rate. While Hoffman has never had a bad season, he has had a couple that weren't great. Specifically 1993, 1995 and 2001, when his ERA+s were "only" 107, 104 and 117. Not-so-coincidentally, those are also the only 3 seasons in which he gave up 1+ homers per 9 innings pitched.

Hoffman has always had very good control and his K rates have been excellent throughout his career. It is really his home run rate that determines the overall quality of his season. When he keeps the ball in the ballpark he is great, when he doesnt he is simply good.

Hoffman has gotten a break by playing his home games in San Diego, because Jack Murphy/Qualcomm has always been a tough place to hit homers in, which makes his occasional problems giving up the gopher ball a little less prevalent.

I think that the reason why he occasionally has struggles giving up too many homers is that he relies on fooling batters and not simply overpowering them. So, occasionally, when a batter isn't completely fooled - which is very rare - or Hoffman isn't quite perfect with his change, the ball gets hit very hard and travels a long way. Hoffman has been great for a very long time, so it obviously doesn't happen a lot, bu, when it does I think that is the reason.

What kind of pitcher will he be when he comes back from this surgery?

Who knows?

My intitial thought would be that, even if he has some loss in velocity, it won't affect him as much as other pitchers because he isn't blowing people away anyway. That said, perhaps a loss of a 1 or 2 MPH off his fastball would make his awesome changeup a little less awesome, which would obviously have a huge affect on his overall ability to get outs.

Like I said, who knows?

I hope Hoffman makes a full and speedy recovery and I hope the Padres don't feel as though they need to rush him back. If he can pitch a few games at the end of this season, I think they should probably take that as a positive and concentrate on him being fully healthy and ready to go in the spring of 2004.

As far as Hoffman's place among the great relief pitchers in baseball history, there is no doubt he is right up there, but I am not sure exactly how close to the top he should be at this point.

If you want to judge him strictly against "closers" and judge them on saves, then you put a lot of non-active relievers at a disadvantage because 40 and 50 save seasons weren't commonplace back when Goose Gossage and Rollie Fingers were slamming doors. "Closers" back then were used in a much different manner.

Of the top 50 single season save totals, only 6 of them took place prior to 1990.

To put that in some context, 7 of the top 50 single season save totals were put up last season alone! In other words, more top save seasons were established last year then in the first 120 years of professional baseball put together.

That said, Hoffman currently ranks 5th all-time in career saves, with 352. He is 126 saves behind the all-time leader, Lee Smith, which is about 3 full "Trevor Hoffman" type seasons. Hoffman alone has 7 of the top 100 single season save totals in baseball history, which are his last 7 years in a row.

In addition to the big save totals, Hoffman has a career adjusted ERA+ of 146, which puts him at the very top of the all-time list in that category. He only has a career total of 701 innings pitched, which isn't enough to qualify for the ERA+ leaderboard over at BaseballReference.com, but as far as preventing runs goes, his ERA+ of 146 would be tied for 3rd in the history of baseball, with Walter Johnson, Greg Maddux, Dan Quisenberry, Hoyt Wilhelm and Smokey Joe Wood. Saying that is some good company is like saying I'm a big fan of Heidi Klum.

In case you're wondering, #1 and #2 on the all-time ERA+ list are Pedro Martinez (171) and Lefty Grove (148)

I thought it might be a good idea to compare his ERA+ totals to the other top save guys, most of whom also don't have enough IPs to qualify for the ERA+ leaderboard.

Player                 IP      SV     ERA+

Trevor Hoffman 701 352 146
Player                 IP      SV     ERA+

Lee Smith 1289 478 132
John Franco 1150 422 143
Dennis Eckersley 3286 390 116
Jeff Reardon 1132 367 121
Randy Myers 885 347 122
Rollie Fingers 1701 341 119
John Wetteland 765 330 148
Roberto Hernandez 775 320 143
Rick Aguilera 1291 318 117
Robb Nen 715 314 138
Tom Henke 790 311 156
Goose Gossage 1809 310 126
Jeff Montgomery 869 304 134
Doug Jones 1128 303 130
Bruce Sutter 1042 300 136

That covers all the guys with 300+ saves. Here are some other notable, active players:

Player                 IP      SV     ERA+

Troy Percival 488 250 160
Mariano Rivera 579 243 180
Billy Wagner 418 181 158
Armando Benitez 511 176 143
Ugueth Urbina 487 174 129

Looking at those numbers, what is amazing to me about Hoffman is how many saves he has been able to rack up while pitching so few innings. Hoffman has 352 saves and 701 innings, while the 4 guys in front of him are checking in 1,289, 1,150, 3,286 and 1,132 innings pitched.

Obviously Eckersley is a totally different animal from the other top save guys, because he spent the first 12 years of his career as a starter and started a total of 361 games in his career. But actually, Eckersley is somewhat similar to Hoffman if you only look at his career as a reliever. He became a full-time relief pitcher in 1987 and if you only count his years after that, he totaled 790 innings and 387 saves. That is an average of 2.04 innings per save.

Lee Smith, John Franco and Jeff Reardon were all relievers from the get go, starting only 6 career games between them - all by Lee Smith.

While Smith is still about 120 career saves ahead of Hoffman, he pitched about 600 more innings to get those saves. For his career, Smith averaged 2.7 innings pitched per save. John Franco also averaged 2.7 innings per save over his career and Jeff Reardon averaged 3.1 IP per save.

Hoffman has averaged slightly less than 2.0 innings per save so far.

There are a few major reasons for his innings/save average being so low.

The first is that he became a closer almost immediately. Basically, his first year in the Majors was the only one that he wasn't serving as his team's closer at least part of the time. Smith, Franco and Reardon all had multiple seasons when they were not closing and thus pitching innings without racking up saves.

Another reason is that, unlike Smith, Reardon and even Franco early in his career, closers during Hoffman's "era" simply don't pitch that many innings.

When Lee Smith first became a closer, he pitched 100+ innings 3 years in a row and 98, 90, 84 and 84 the next 4 years.

Early in his closing career, with Cincy, John Franco pitched 80+ innings 5 years in a row, including 99 and 101 in 1985 and 1986. He later had a more "normal" closer usage (at least for today's standards) with the Mets.

In Jeff Reardon's first season as a closer, he saved 26 games and pitched 109 innings. After that season he pitched 92, 87, 88, 89 and 80 innings in the next 5 seasons.

Meanwhile, once Hoffman became a closer, he never topped 90 innings and quickly got into the 40+ save/70 IP range that is the "norm" for today's closers.

I hate to see an elite pitcher get put into a role that doesn't even come close to utilizing him in the most valuable way, but if you're going to be put into such a role, you can't do it much better than Trevor Hoffman has done it so far. Here's hoping he can come back and start up right where he left off and make a run at Lee Smith and the all-time career saves record.

More than all of that, I'd like him to come back just so I can see him enter a 3-2 ballgame in the top of the 9th inning again and slam that door.

Uh oh, here I go again...

I'm a rolling thunder, a pouring rain

I'm comin' on like a hurricane

My lightning's flashing across the sky

You're only young but you're gonna die

I won't take no prisoners, won't spare no lives

Nobody's putting up a fight

I got my bell, I'm gonna take you to hell

I'm gonna get you, Satan get you

--- AC/DC, "Hells Bells"

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

February 24, 2003

The Hot-Corner in Hot-lanta

I get about 2-3 emails a day from people, regarding their various fantasy baseball teams.

While I enjoy discussing their teams and questions via email, I thought it would be fun to also do so in an actual entry or two on this website.

So, what I'd like to do is to ask you guys (and girls!) to send me some questions about fantasy baseball.

I'm certainly not an expert in the field, but I've won some ESPN.com leagues, I've won some BaseballManager.com leagues and I made the playoffs in my first ever season playing Diamond-Mind.

If you've got a question about who the best closer is or whether you should trade Player X for Player Z (don't do it, Player X is due for a breakout year!) or how a certain player will perform in 2003, send me an email and you just might get your question posted here.

Make sure to give me any important details, such as what type of league it is (roto, Diamond-Mind, etc), how many teams there are, whether it is NL, AL or MLB, etc, etc, etc.

I'm not sure when I'll do the post, but it'll probably be sometime next week, assuming I receive enough questions (which I think I will). If I get enough response, maybe it'll be a weekly (or bi-weekly) column, which would be pretty cool.

Also, as always, if you've got any other baseball questions (or questions about other stuff, although I am far less "qualified" to answer non-baseball things!) or topics that you'd like to see me discuss, please let me know.

Okay, now for the actual baseball talk...



According to ESPN.com, there is a "battle" going on in the Atlanta camp for the starting third base job.

The candidates are Vinny Castilla and Mark DeRosa.

This story caught my eye, because Vinny Castilla was unbelievably bad last season and I think Mark DeRosa is a pretty good player.

I doubt Bobby Cox sees it quite the same way, so I wouldn't be surprised if Castilla got 500 at bats for the Braves in 2003.

Just how bad was he last year?

Well, he hit .232/.268/.348.

Think about that for a minute.

A .616 OPS from a starting, 500+ at bat third baseman on a playoff team!

Castila's situation with the Braves is a really strange one.

Back in 2000 he signed with the D-Rays as a free agent, after spending years hitting in Coors Field with the Rockies.

Castilla had been taking big advantage of the hitter's paradise that is Coors and he was actually pretty good there, slugging .475+ 6 years in a row.

As soon as he got to Tampa Bay, everything changed and he hit .221/.254/.308 in his first year there.

The Devil Rays were stuck with him and his big contract though, so he began the 2001 season with them and hit .215/.247/.344 in 24 games before they mercifully released him.

Castilla signed on with the Astros and actually finished the year hitting "okay" for them (.260/.308/.467).

So, at the end of the 2001 season, Castilla was a 34 year old hitter whose only good years came while playing in Colorado and who had had 1 and a half miserable seasons in Tampa Bay and a mediocre half season with Houston.

What happened?

Atlanta signed him to a 2 year deal worth $8 million dollars, of course!

I'm not sure what they were thinking or who they thought they were bidding against, but they felt the need to not only give him a lot of money, but to give it to him for 2 seasons.

Incredible.

Castilla was even worse than expected in Atlanta and was one of the worst offensive players in all of baseball.

This situation calls into question the idea of "sunk costs."

Basically, there comes a point in any business that it is simply better to just "cut bait" on something (or someone) no matter what it is costing you.

The theory in this situation being that the Braves are going to be paying Vinny Castilla $4.5 million dollars in 2003 no matter if he is playing for them or not, so really it comes down to whether or not you want him on the team.

Personally, I don't see much room for a 3B with that had a .616 OPS last year and .240/.280/.384 the past 3 years, Atlanta has apparently decided that not only will he be on the team to "earn" his money, he'll be in serious competition for the third baseman's job.

The guy he is "fighting" for the job, Mark DeRosa, is certainly not a great player and never will be.

In a perfect situation, he'd be a great utility infielder, getting 200-300 at bats while going from 2B to SS to 3B and maybe even to the OF, whenever an injury or something came up. That said, he is certainly a decent stopgap for a team at third base.

He hit .297/.339/.429 last year in 232 plate appearances and has a career hitting line of .288/.339/.403 in 442 PAs.

DeRosa also spent significant time in AAA in 2001 and hit .296/.351/.425 there, which is pretty similar to his ML numbers thus far.

He's not great, but he's definitely passable for a short term solution, which is exactly what the Braves need.

Atlanta has a very good prospect in Wilson Betemit who will likely take over 3B in the future, but for the next year or so, they just need someone to play there and not be completely worthless.

As it stands now, Vinny Castilla will most likely be starting at third base and devouring outs by the hundreds in 2003, but he is just one example of Atlanta's inability to fill holes in their lineup with non-horrendous offensive players over the years.

The Atlanta Braves have had an incredible run of winning over the last decade or so and their front office and on-the-field coaching staff certainly deserve a ton of credit.

However, one area that I feel they have been very poor at over the years has been their inability to find passable offensive players to fill out their lineup.

No team can have superstars at every spot in the lineup, but the difference between an average offense and a good one is often as simple as finding a couple of mediocre hitters to fill spots for a year or two.

Keith Lockart got 296 at bats last year, which is about 296 more than he deserved, and he hit .216/.282/.331, which is just awful.

But that's not the first time Lockhart has been a waste of hundreds of at bats for the Braves.

He played in a total of 658 games over 6 seasons in Atlanta and accumulated 1,423 ABs, hitting .248/.312/.359 in them.

There was only one season - 1997, his first with the Braves - that Lockhart wasn't a horrible hitter and that was in only 147 at bats, mostly as a pinch-hitter.

But wait, there are others...

In 2001, the Braves began the season with Rico Brogna as their starting first baseman, despite the fact that he hit .232/.278/.357 the year before. He hit .248/.297/.335 in 72 games for them and then retired from baseball.

Their other first basemen that year included a 38 year old Ken Caminiti, who hit .222/.306/.380, Wes Helms, who hit .222/.293/.435 and Dave Martinez, who hit .287/.347/.384.

Finally, at the end of the year, they brought in a 75 year old Julio Franco and he was their first first baseman that actually hit sort of like a first baseman should (.300/.376/.444).

First base is the easiest position to find someone that can hit well and yet the Braves trotted out a bunch of guys that hit like a bunch of backup shortstops (with appologies to any backup shortstops that may be reading this).

They were so impressed that Julio Franco actually hit a little bit that they managed to talk him out of retirement at the age of 92 and kept him as their first baseman in 2002, when he hit .284/.357/.382, which is really bad (although he did do very well against lefties).

Back in the old days (when it was Glavine, Smoltz and Avery, instead of Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux) the Braves featured the worst offensive middle-infield in baseball: Rafael Belliard and Mark Lemke.

Now, both players were good defensively and it isn't always an awful idea to sacrifice some offense for defense if you have a lot of other good offensive players.

However, Atlanta was also trotting Sid Bream out at 1B and had Otis ".314 career SLG%" Nixon in CF.

Back to Lemke and Belliard for a moment...

While Mark Lemke was a bad offensive player, he atleast had some skills at the plate and managed to get on base a decent clip occasionally, although he was usually one of the worst hitters in the league.

Lemke looked like Barry Bonds compared to his double-play partner though.

Rafael Belliard is truly one of the worst hitters in baseball history.

He was a very good shortstop, but my God was he awful at the plate!

Belliard played 8 years in Atlanta and managed to get 1,250 at bats.

He hit .223/.260/.265 in them, with 1 homer and 39 doubles.

Belliard wasn't even a good base stealer or anything, as he stole only 8 bags in 8 years and was caught 50% of the time.

Obviously this was the early 90s and shortstops weren't hitting like ARod, Nomar, Tejada and Jeter, but Rafael Belliard was in a class by himself.

By the way, Mark Lemke hit .248/.319/.327 in his 10 seasons with Atlanta, although no one probably noticed him chewing up outs because of Belliard's presence.

I mentioned that their first basemen during the early 90s was Sid Bream, who is best remebered for laboring around third base and scoring on Barry Bonds in the 1991 NLCS.

Bream's "wheels" were notoriously bad, but his hitting wasn't much better.

In his 3 seasons with the Braves, he slugged .423, .414 and .415 and had a .330 OBP.

As I said earlier, the Braves' success during the 90s and into the 2000s is incredible and I certainly don't want to take anything away from that.

That said, I wonder how many more playoff games they could have won and whether or not they could have another World Series championship or two if they had just found ways to fill their lineup with a few mediocre players, instead of complete offensive sinkholes.

Which brings us back to 2003 and Vinny Castilla versus Mark DeRosa.

As I see it, here is how the Atlanta lineup shapes up for 2003:

With an outfield as good as the Braves have (the Jones brothers and Gary Sheffield), it is very hard to have a bad offense, but somehow they managed to do it in 2002.

They picked up Robert Fick to play 1B in the off-season, which is a good thing I guess - although I think they could have found a better option at 1B (actually, the platoon of Matt and Julio Franco, if used correctly, is a very good one).

With the loss of Tom Glavine to free agency and Kevin Millwood to an idiotic trade, the Braves have "re-made" their rotation and, in my opinion, it is significantly worse than it has been in years.

Because of that, they are going to have to score some runs and playing Mark DeRosa at 3B over Vinny Castilla is a good way to start.

I've said it in a previous entry and I'll say it again: The Philadelphia Phillies will win the NL East Division in 2003.

I think it'll be close, but in the end the Phillies will win it, in no small part because of the Braves helping them immensely by sending them Kevin Millwood.

Atlanta has already helped Philly enough and they've also weakened themselves quite a bit, so letting Vinny Castilla make 400 outs at third base is overkill, unless they don't have any more room in Turner Field for pennants or something and they've just decided to cut back on the winning for a while.

Vinny Castilla had this to say about his 2002 season:

"I didn't hit the way I know I can hit, but we had a great year as a team," Castilla, 35, said. "Winning cures everything."

He is absolutely right about winning curing everyting, but at some point it also masks some problems, like having a 3B that can't hit.

The Braves have won in the past despite having some really horrendous offensive players in their lineup, but at some point it's going to catch up to them in a big way and with the pitching losses and the Phillies making some big moves, this definitely looks like the year.

Of course, I am pretty sure Atlanta fans have heard that a few times before.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

Girls!

Girls - all I really want is girls

And in the morning it's girls

Cause in the evening it's girls

I like the way that they walk

And it's chill to hear them talk

And I can always make them smile

From White Castle to the Nile

--- Beastie Boys, "Girls"

Last Friday I mentioned that I got my first ever email from a female reader.

Guess what? I got emails from 5 (yes, 5!) other female readers over the weekend, which is both extremely shocking and a very pleasant surprise.

So, to Sara, Kumiko, Melissa, Anne, Emily and Jen, thanks for checking out the site and make sure to tell all your (female) friends about it! A guy can never have too many women interested in what he is saying, particularly when they are baseball fans.

If I get enough of a female audience, we could have an "Aaron's Baseball Blog Mixer" or something!

Speaking of females...

I want to tell everyone how wonderful my mother is.

My Baseball Prospectus 2003 arrived in the mail a few days ago.

The arrival of BP is one of my favorite parts of the year, but the problem this year was that it arrived at my house and not my dorm.

But, my mother, being the lovely woman that she is, delivered it to me at the dorm last night and even took me out for dinner!

I'm sure I will be devouring BP2003 over the next few days and will probably discuss it in some more depth then.

That said, if you haven't picked up your very own copy of it yet, what the heck are you waiting for?!

Here, I'll make it very easy for you.

Just click on this link and...

Buy Baseball Prospectus 2003

Along with emails from a bunch of girls, I also got another interesting email over the weekend.

Friday's edition of Lee Sinins' "Around the Majors" email newsletter, which arrives in my mailbox everyday, had some info about Rickey Henderson:

Rickey Henderson's agent called the Padres, but the team says they don't have any room for him. Meanwhile, GM Kevin Towers says Henderson's agent says he's going to sign with the St. Paul Saints, an independent league team that has had a reputation for signing old players.

As all of you know, I was semi-obsessed with Rickey last week, devoting the majority of 2 different entries to him (#1 and #2).

As some of you know, the St. Paul Saints play in St. Paul, Minnesota - which coincidentally is in the same state I live in.

As none of you know, my uncle has season tickets to the Saints and I am pretty sure I can bug him enough to convince him to take me to a few games to watch Rickey.

I've never been real big into autographs, but I think I'd like to get one of Rickey Henderson.

Of course, I hope he signs with a Major League team and I never get the chance to see him in St. Paul, but it would still be pretty cool.

I was thinking about how he'd do in the Northern League and I've decided that, with his plate discipline and the "pitching" in the league, he'd probably walk about twice a game and he could probably steal as many bases as he wanted.

The Saints have a long history of signing "interesting" players, including J.D. Drew and Darryl Strawberry, as well as guys like Leon Durham, Matt Nokes, Darryl Motley and Jack Morris.

Big-news-maker Kevin Millar was even a St. Paul Saint once upon a time and they had the newly defected Rey Ordonez as their shortstop for a while too.

Ordonez defected from Cuba, along with Eddie Oropresa and join the Saints.

I never saw Ordonez or Oropresa play in St. Paul.

My uncle though had a full scouting report for me, which included:

"Everyone thought Oropresa was going to be so great because we kept hearing about him being a Cuban defector and everything and he got all this hype. Then he shows up and his stuff isn't even that good - no better than an average Northern League pitcher, maybe a little above average."

"Ordonez was the best fielder I ever saw. He would make plays that no guy in that league has ever even thought about making. He couldn't even hit back then though, he was a .250 hitter with zero power even in the Northern League. I didn't think he'd ever play in the Majors, because he couldn't hit."

Well, if it makes you feel any better, he can't hit.

And Eddie Oropresa's career Major League ERA is 7.92.

I didn't get a chance to see J.D. Drew there, but I saw Darryl Strawberry a few times, including his last Saints appearance before signing with the Yankees.

He was just in a completely different universe than the rest of the players there.

It's not so much that he would hit a homer every time up (although he did hit a ton of homers), it was that every single ball he hit was absolutely crushed.

Singles right back up the middle, line-drive doubles off the wall in straight away center, screaming liners into the gaps (and over the fences) in the left and right center.

And the more than occasional 400 foot bomb.

As my uncle says, "it looked like he was barely swinging."

I agree. It was almost as if he was trying to hit fungoes to the outfielders, but the ball would just explode off his bat.

It really made me realize just how great a "good" Major League hitter is.

I mean, at that point, Darryl was well past him prime, but, as he proved with the Yankees, he was still a very capable Major League hitter.

The Northern League is really good baseball and there are plenty of good players there, many of whom have gone on to the regular minor leagues and even the Major Leagues.

But, against that level of competition, Darryl Strawberry was simply unbelievable.

By the way, I looked up Darryl's stats with the Saints, just to see if my memories of him matched his actual statistics...they do!

29 Games

108 At Bats

.435 AVG

18 Homers

7 Doubles

1.000 SLG

18 homers and 7 doubles in 29 games.

Not too shabby.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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