October 30, 2003

Manny on the move?

In yesterday's entry, I looked at this off-season's "six-year minor league free agents," the guys who are basically available for free to any team interested. I called them "the real free agents" and talked about how there are valuable players to be had, but stressed that none of them were ever going to become superstars. Of course, that wasn't exactly shocking, because I think we all know you don't just get superstar players for absolutely nothing in return.

Or at least I thought we knew that.

As I'm sure most of you have heard already, the Boston Red Sox placed Manny Ramirez on "irrevocable waivers" earlier this week. What that means is that any team that wants Manny Ramirez (and his remaining contract) can simply put in a claim for him. If even one team makes a claim, the Red Sox lose Ramirez.

There are so many potential things to talk about with this story that I think I will just try to stick to the basics. I believe the Boston Red Sox are doing this in the hopes that some team, whether it is the Yankees or another team, will claim Ramirez and take his remaining contract, which breaks down like this:

2004 - $20.5 million

2005 - $20.0

2006 - $19.0

2007 - $18.0

2008 - $20.0

That is a lot of money and, although Manny Ramirez is one of the best hitters in all of baseball and has been for many years, that contract, in the present market, is bloated.

Just for comparison's sake, last year's top free agent slugger, Jim Thome, got "only" $85 million over six years from the Phillies. Now, Thome was three years older than Ramirez was when he signed his deal with Boston, so it's not exactly a perfect comparison. Still, Thome's contract was for only six seasons, while Ramirez's was for eight, and Thome's deal is worth about $6 million less per season.

I seriously doubt Boston would do something this bold and this unexpected without being extremely confident in a "backup plan." The most obvious plan would be to dump Ramirez and his $20 million a year deal on someone and then sign Vladimir Guerrero as a free agent, for somewhere around $15-17 million per season.

If the Red Sox made that switch, they would save several million per year and they would get a younger, similarly talented offensive player who is a vastly superior defender.

Of course, if you aren't about 95% sure you can land Guerrero and land him for less than Ramirez, it's a pretty risky move. Because of that, I would bet that Boston has a "Plan B" and probably plans C through F too. Gary Sheffield is another free agent slugger who could step into Ramirez's vacated corner outfield spot and provide similar offensive production (and better defense) at a lower price, and there are plenty of interesting second-tier free agent outfielders to choose from, including guys like Shannon Stewart, Mike Cameron and Juan Gonzalez.

Or, maybe the Red Sox have a trade on the table. Who knows, maybe they shed Manny's contract and then take Alex Rodriguez's mega-deal off Texas' hands? Sure, it sounds far-fetched, but so did the idea of Manny Ramirez being available to anyone who put in a waiver claim.

I'll take Alex Rodriguez at $25 million a year until 2010 over Manny Ramirez at $20 million a year until 2008 any day of the week.

Honestly, at this point, nothing would surprise me. Letting Ramirez go for nothing, signing Vlad Guerrero, taking ARod off Texas' hands, signing Sheffield...who knows?

In all honestly, the most likely scenario is probably that absolutely nothing happens. No one is willing to take Ramirez and his contract, the 48-hour waiver period passes, and Manny goes back to being Boston's left fielder. Of course, I'm pretty sure that would upset Manny just a little bit, which isn't usually what teams want to do with their superstar players.

As soon as Manny went on waivers, everyone's immediate reaction was that the Yankees were the team most likely to claim him. It seemed sort of like Theo Epstein and company daring George Steinbrenner and the Yankees to take him. Surprisingly, the Yankees have said they are not interested.

Of course, the "source" ESPN.com has on that is "a baseball executive who has had contact with a high-ranking member of the team's front office." In other words, their source heard it from a source. I'll believe the Yankees aren't interested in acquiring one of the top five hitters in all of baseball as soon as that 48-hour waiver period expires, and not a second before.

The larger question is whether or not Ramirez is worth $20 million to any team, Yankees or otherwise. Is there a team out there that would be making a smart move by claiming Ramirez? I believe the answer to that question is yes, although I can't say for sure which team(s) that would be.

I do think $20 million a season until 2008 is too much to pay Manny Ramirez. On the other hand, he is one of baseball's best hitters and certainly he is worth at least $15 million a season in today's market. Is the difference between paying someone $15 million a season and $20 million a season really that huge, particularly for one of the teams with a giant payroll?

Well, the Red Sox apparently think so. The only problem with the idea of cutting Ramirez and his $20 million to pick up Guerrero and his $15-17 million is that only one team is going to end up with Vladimir Guerrero. And, if that fails, only one team is going to end up with Gary Sheffield.

So, there is at least one team out there with a ton of money to spend that is going to end up without Guerrero and without Sheffield. That as-yet-undetermined team is the one that should put a claim in for Ramirez. If you can't get Vlad Guerrero for $15-17 mill a year and you can't get Sheffield for $12-14 million a year, the next best thing is Manny Ramirez at $20 mill a year.

Whether that team is the Yankees or the Orioles or the Mets or the Dodgers or some other team, I have no idea. I am a big believer in not giving slightly above-average players big free agent contracts, but I am also a big believer in paying top-dollar to the truly elite players in baseball, and Manny Ramirez is certainly one of those elite players.

Just take a look at this...

Manny Ramirez's career numbers, pro-rated to 155 games played:

  G      AB      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR     2B     RBI     RUN     BB

155 562 .317 .413 .598 39 38 129 108 90

Those are just awesome numbers.

There isn't a General Manager in Major League Baseball who shouldn't have at least thought "hmmm...what if..." as soon as he heard about Ramirez's sudden availability. The guy has consistently been one of baseball's best hitters throughout his entire career and, although he may not play great defense or be a speed-demon on the bases, he is almost a lock to hit .300+ with 35+ homers and 100+ RBIs each and every year.

In 10 full-seasons in the majors, Ramirez's lowest slugging percentage is .521, and that was in his rookie year. That rookie year is also the only season in which he has hit below .290 and the only year he has had an on-base percentage below .375. Quite simply, he is an offensive machine.

This story fascinates me, not only because of the possibility that Ramirez could be switching teams very soon, but also because of the possibility that the Boston Red Sox have a plan in place for if/when Ramirez switches teams. As a GM-wannabe, I would pay to see that plan.

A couple of notes for next week...

Today is the final day of October (Happy Halloween!), which means by this time next week we will be right in the middle of the free agent frenzy that goes on every off-season. This year's list of available free agents contains a ton of impressive names and a whole bunch of potential bargains.

I'll spend a couple days next week breaking down all of the free agents, covering pitchers one day and position-players the next. I always enjoy playing General Manager for a Day, so it should be fun.

Also next week, I am planning on doing a "Mailbag" entry devoted entirely to the responses I have received in regard to the two Derek Jeter-related entries from earlier this week. If you haven't already read those two entries, click on the following links...

"Derek is really, really cute"

"Derek is really, really cute" (Part Two)

So, for those of you who have sent me emails about Jeter (and there are a ton of you) and have not heard back from me, it is not because I am ignoring you, it is because I am saving all the emails and my responses to them for sometime next week.

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

October 29, 2003

The real free agents

Over the next few months, most of the biggest stories in baseball will involve players switching teams, either by trades or through free agency.

Starting next week, I will take a look at this off-season's free agent crop and give my thoughts on who the top guys are, who the underrated guys are, who the overrated guys are, and who the potential bargains are.

But before I do that, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at a different group of free agents - the six-year minor league free agents.

There are no big names on this list and none of these guys will be signing any multi-million-dollar deals anytime soon, but there are some players that can help teams, and these guys are essentially available for next-to-nothing, to whichever teams are interested.

A six-year free agent is someone who was signed at least six years ago and is not currently on a team's major league 40-man roster. Freed because of baseball's "six-year renewal plan," these guys were all granted free agency on October 15th and are free to sign with any team.

According to Baseball America, there are 588 six-year free agents this off-season. An interesting exercise might be to make a team out of this large group of players, but in reality that team would be pretty awful.

These guys are essentially what everyone is talking about when they bring up "replacement-level players." Some of the position-players can play a little defense, some of them can hit a little and some of them can run. There aren't many of them who can do all three, and probably only a few who can do two out of three. Some of the pitchers can strike guys out and some of them have good control, but you won't find many guys who can do both, and you'll find even fewer who can do both and have not had some serious arm injuries in the past.

This is the scrap heap. Any team that wants any of these guys can just call them up, make a little pitch to them, offer them a few bucks, and make them a promise about a spot in Triple-A or an invite to spring training. And, just like that, you've added a new player to the organization.

I was discussing this group of players with my good buddy Craig Burley (of Batter's Box and Baseball Primer fame) and I think he put it best, saying that this group contains the guys you would get to pick from if you were just awarded an expansion team and a stadium, but you didn't have any minor league players, draft picks or money. Just a GM, some coaches, a team logo and a place to play the games.

If you tried to build a team from the 588 available guys, you'd end up with...well, you'd end up with the Detroit Tigers, I guess. And really, who wants to do that, even just for fun?

Instead, I'm going to take a look at some of the more interesting names in the group and try to find a few diamonds in the rough that might be able to actually help a major league ballclub.

There were plenty of six-year free agents from last off-season that helped major league teams this year.

Pitchers:

- Jeremi Gonzalez: 156.1 IP with a 3.91 ERA for Tampa Bay

- Luis Ayala: 10-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 71 IP for Montreal

- Josh Towers: 8-1 with a 4.48 ERA in 64.1 IP for Toronto

- Tommy Phelps: 63 IP with a 4.00 ERA for Florida

- Amaury Telemaco: 45.1 IP with a 3.97 ERA for Philadelphia

- Brian Shouse: 61 IP with a 3.10 ERA for Texas

- Dan Wheeler: 51 IP with a 3.71 ERA for New York

Hitters:

- Adam Melhuse: .299/.372/.584 in 40 Gs for Oakland

- Warren Morris: .272/.316/.373 in 377 PAs for Detroit

- Billy McMillon: .268/.354/.458 in 175 PAs for Oakland

- Ryan Freel: .285/.344/.431 in 153 PAs for Cincinnati

- Joe Vitiello: .342/.407/.539 in 38 Gs for Montreal

Pitcher/Hitter:

- Brooks Kieschnick had one of the more interesting seasons in baseball. The former top hitting prospect made the switch to the pitching mound and spent the year as a relief-pitcher/pinch-hitter for the Brewers. As a pitcher, Kieschnick went 1-1 with a 5.26 ERA in 53 innings, posting a solid 39/13 strikeout/walk ratio. As a hitter, he was awesome, hitting .300/.355/.614 with 7 homers in 70 at bats.

There may not be any stars on this list, but as you can see, if you need some cheap bullpen help, a decent innings-eater at the back of the rotation, or a couple of reasonably priced backup position-players, there are lots of good players to choose from.

So, let's take a look at some intriguing names from this year's list...

- Morgan Burkhart

Morgan Burkhart is one of my favorite players that 99% of baseball fans have probably never heard of. He spent 1995-1998 playing in the independent Frontier League. In those four seasons, he hit .330, .357, .323 and .404. That final year, when he hit .404, Burkhart smacked 36 homers and 16 doubles in just 80 games, and had a .854 slugging percentage.

The Red Sox took notice and signed him. Burkhart started in Single-A, where he hit .363 with a .718 slugging percentage in 68 games. He then moved on to Double-A, where he hit just .230, but posted a relatively decent .448 slugging percentage, with 12 homers and 14 doubles in 66 games.

Burkhart started 2000 in Triple-A, slugged .504 in 105 games there, and eventually played in 25 games with the Red Sox, hitting a very impressive .288/.442/.493. It was back to Triple-A in 2001, with a little cup-of-coffee with Boston later in the year.

Burkhart resurfaced this past season playing for Kansas City's Triple-A team. He hit just .251/.364/.432 in 104 games and managed to get into six games with the Royals.

Morgan Burkhart certainly isn't a Jim Thome-clone wasting away in the minor leagues, but I really think he can help a major league team. Of course, he is 31 years old already, so it would have been nice if someone would have given him a shot a few years ago.

In his three extended stints in Triple-A, Burkhart has hit .255/.392/.504, .269/.382/.502 and .251/.361/.432. He's going to hit for a bad batting average, but he'll take a ton of walks and hit quite a few homers. I would be willing to bet he could outperform at least a half-dozen starting major league first baseman from last year.

At the most, he's a league-average first baseman or DH for right around $250,000. At worst, he's a hell of a switch-hitting pinch-hitter/backup first baseman.

- Joey Dawley

Joey Dawley was originally a 28th round pick of the Orioles way back in 1993. He bounced around for a while, playing in a couple of different independent league teams after being let go by Baltimore, and then signed as a free agent with the Braves in 1998.

Check out his numbers in Atlanta's minor league system over the past few seasons:

             LVL      IP      ERA      SO     BB

2001 A/AA/AA 144 3.38 151 47
2002 AAA 140 2.63 136 36
2003 AAA 57 3.34 73 23

Dawley was a starter in 2001 and 2002 and then was switched to the bullpen this past season.

The strikeout rates are excellent, both as a starter and as a reliever, and his control is also very good. His strikeout/walk ratios over the past three years are 3.21, 3.78 and 3.17.

Dawley got into five games with the Braves this season and was absolutely hammered. He pitched a total of 7 innings and managed to strike out 8 batters, but he served up a total of 15 hits, including 3 homers. His career ERA now stands at 18.00, which is enough to make any minor league veteran want to keep fighting for another shot in the big leagues.

I think if I signed Dawley I would give him another shot as a starter, because his numbers there have certainly been good. At worst, he looks like a pretty decent right-handed setup man. I have no doubt that he could do better in a bullpen role than at least 50 or so currently employed major league relievers.

- Brad Clontz

Brad Clontz holds the distinction for the biggest gap between a player's video game persona and his actual, real-life abilities. Several years ago, while Clontz was with the Pirates, the Brad Clontz on Triple Play Baseball for Sony Playstation was completely un-hittable.

Clontz is a sidearmer/submariner, and the video game version was too. You could throw 95 MPH fastballs past every hitter and then drop a tight-slider right over the inside part of the plate. The guy was unbelievable. I used him as my closer and I think he ended up with about 50 saves and an ERA below 1.00.

Unfortunately, the real Brad Clontz is entirely believable, and not all that exceptional. That said, I think he could do a very solid job in someone's bullpen.

Clontz has more major league experience than most of the six-year free agents, having pitched in the majors in parts of six years, for five different teams.

In 1995, as a 24-year old rookie, Clontz went 8-1 with a 3.65 ERA in 69 innings for the Braves. He had a bad year for Atlanta in 1996 and then went 5-1 with a 3.75 ERA in 48 innings for the Braves in 1997. He moved on to the Dodgers and Mets in 1998 and pitched a total of only 23.2 (horrible) innings.

He resurfaced with the Pirates in 1999 and pitched 49.1 innings with a 2.74 ERA in what was his last full-season in the majors. Overall, for his major league career, he has pitched in 272 games, all in relief, posting a 4.34 ERA in 277.2 innings.

Clontz spent this season at Triple-A Colorado Springs, which is a very tough place to pitch (think Coors Field, but without all the people). Clontz went 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA in 55.1 innings there, striking out 63 batters while walking 23 and giving up just 4 homers. He appeared in 57 games, recording 30 saves.

I see no reason why Brad Clontz couldn't give a team 60+ innings with a 3.50-4.00 ERA out of the bullpen. And what team can't use a sidearming right-hander like that?

As is the case with many sidearming righties, Clontz dominates right-handed hitting. In his 272 games in the majors, right-handed batters have hit just .222 off him. Of course, the flip-side is that lefties smack him around to the tune of a .350 average. Put him in the bullpen, do your best to keep him away from lefties, and a team could have a mini-Chad Bradford for the league-minimum.

- Calvin Pickering

Calvin Pickering was once one of the top hitting prospects in baseball. He was originally drafted by the Orioles in 1995, and his first several minor league seasons were awesome.

He made his pro-debut as a 19-year old in 1995 and hit .500 in 15 games. He played rookie-ball the next year, hitting .325 with 18 homers in 60 games. Pickering moved up to Single-A in 1997 and hit .311 with 25 homers and 31 doubles in 122 games.

In 1998, he made the jump to Double-A and continued to mash, hitting .309 with 31 homers and 28 doubles in 139 games. He also improved his plate discipline greatly, walking 98 times, compared to just 53 the previous year. Pickering got a brief cup of coffee with the Orioles in 1998, and hit .238 with 2 homers in 21 at bats.

Pickering played in Triple-A in 1999 and did pretty well, hitting .285 with 16 homers and 20 doubles in 103 games. He got a longer look with the Orioles that year, but hit just .125 in 40 at bats. It was back to Triple-A in 2000, and Pickering hit just .218 in 60 games there.

The Orioles then cut him loose and he was later picked up by the Reds and then the Red Sox. He got four at bats with Cincinnati in 2001 and 50 with Boston. After that, he just sort of disappeared for a while, at least as far as I can tell.

He played last season with the "Vaqueros" of the Mexican League, where he hit .323/.463/.625 with 25 homers and 13 doubles in 88 games. That was enough to get Cincinnati's attention again, and the Reds signed him to a minor league deal a few months ago. He joined Triple-A Louisville for the end of the year, hitting .284/.422/.469 in 26 games.

Calvin Pickering is a huge man. He's listed at 6'5" and 278 pounds, but I think that weight is from high school. He's had some injuries and some problems with his weight and I think I have heard previously that some people have felt he has a bad attitude, although I'm not entirely sure about that and may be thinking of someone else.

That said, this is a guy who has shown a real ability to hit incredibly well throughout his minor league career. Whether it is rookie-ball, Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A or the Mexican Leagues, the one thing Pickering has been able to do is hit a baseball. Plus, after all of these years bouncing around from league to league and team to team, Pickering is still just 27 years old.

I think Pickering would be a perfect left-handed portion of a DH-platoon for some American League team and, depending on what he's tipping the scales at these days, he wouldn't be a horrible guy to platoon at first base either. The man can hit (.301 career minor league average, with a .543 slugging percentage) and that's the number one thing a first baseman or DH needs to do.

A team that takes a chance on Pickering (and really, what is there to lose with a guy like this?) may very well end up with a left-handed slugger right in the middle of his prime years, for about $250,000 a season. Sure beats the hell out of recycling the Kevin Youngs of the world over and over again.

Way back in November of 1999, John Sickels, whose opinions on prospects I respect as much as anyone, saw Pickering (still with Baltimore) play in the Arizona Fall League and had the following comments:

"Two things I am now convinced of after watching Pickering in two games. 1) He can definitely hit. 2) His massive girth and lack of effort on defense are serious problems. That said, his bat is excellent and he deserves a chance."

The same thing is true now, except Pickering is a little older and that "chance" won't cost a team quite as much.

- Travis Phelps

Travis Phelps is a guy whose presence on this list confuses me. Up until this season, he was property of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, an organization always in need of decent pitching. And, at just 25 years old, he has had success both in the minor leagues and in the major leagues. Yet, this March, the Devil Rays let him go and he was claimed by the Braves. And now Atlanta has cut him loose as well.

Phelps pitched quite a bit for the Devil Rays in 2001, going 2-2 with a 3.48 ERA in 62 innings. He also pitched a little bit for them in 2002. For his major league career, Phelps has a 3.97 ERA in 99.2 innings pitched. He has some control issues, but he struck out 90 batters in those 99.2 innings (8.12/9) and his career ERA+ of 113 is very solid.

You would think anyone who has shown the ability to pitch with an ERA under 4.00 for any length of time in the majors would be someone Tampa Bay would want to hold onto, especially if they're 25 years old, but I guess not.

Beyond his fairly decent stints in the majors, Phelps has also done well in the minors. This past season, while at Triple-A Richmond, Phelps went 9-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 93.1 innings. He appeared in a total of 47 games and even made eight starts, his first time as a starter since 2000. Along with the career ERA of 3.97 in the majors, Phelps has a 3.55 Triple-A ERA and a 3.00 Double-A ERA.

Like many guys on this list, Travis Phelps is just as good a bet to give a team 60 innings with a 3.50 ERA as any number of well-paid, veteran relievers in the majors right now.

- Brian Dallimore

Dallimore is a former ninth-rounder of the Astros back in 1996. He didn't hit a whole lot during his first five seasons, but seems to have found his groove recently.

He hit .327 in 127 games at Double-A in 2001 and followed that up by hitting .294 at Triple-A last season. Despite those solid back-to-back years, Dallimore was on this same minor league free agent list last season. He ended up joining the Giants organization, where he had an amazing season for Triple-A Fresno. Dallimore played in 91 games, splitting time between second base and third base, while hitting .352.

If this guy gets a chance and doesn't do a better job as a utility infielder than half the guys currently holding down those jobs in the majors, I'll eat my Neifi Perez rookie card.

Some other names to keep an eye on as teams begin to snatch up these six-year free agents...

Hitters:

- Michael Coleman

- Jon Nunnally

- Jermaine Clark

- Mitch Meluskey

- Mike Coolbaugh

- Ramon Castro

- Rob Ryan

- Mark Johnson

- Rob Stratton

- Hiram Bocachica

- Kevin Witt

- Brent Butler

- Jacob Cruz

- Rontrez Johnson

Pitchers:

- Josue Matos

- Eric Hiljus

- Gary Glover

- Ed Yarnall

- Corey Thurman

- Brian Tollberg

- Roy Smith

- Todd Williams

- Carlos Almanzar

- Travis Driskill

- Peter Munro

- Brad Baisley

See you tomorrow!

Oh, and if this story is for real, I think it's safe to say it'll be tomorrow's topic.

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

October 28, 2003

"Derek is really, really cute" (Part Two)

In yesterday's entry, I looked at Derek Jeter's post-season performances over the last four years, and found that his hitting in "Clutch" situations didn't quite match his reputation for being "Mr. Clutch."

The reason I only looked at the last four years was because the detailed data from previous post-seasons wasn't available. Or so I thought.

Turns out Retrosheet has post-season stats galore. I should have known better. I was trying to find the post-season stats on ESPN.com, and their database only dates back to 2000. But, as Tangotiger from Baseball Primer told me yesterday, "when in doubt, Retrosheet saves the day."

For those of you who missed yesterday's entry, here is a little piece from it:

"The situations one would want to look at in trying to determine the Clutchness of a player would seem to me to be the following:

- Runners in scoring position

- Runners in scoring position with two outs

- Close and late

The first two are self-explanatory. "Close and late" is defined as "results in the 7th inning or later with the batting team either ahead by one run, tied or with the potential tying run at least on deck."

In other words, how does someone do when the game is on the line? When the going gets tough and the tough get going. When the s--- hits the fan. When the men are separated from the boys. When (insert your own cliche here).

Here are Derek Jeter's post-season numbers in those situations from 2000-2003, combined...

Runners in scoring position: .214/.421/.357

Runners in scoring position with two outs: .188/.381/.375

Close and late: .176/.263/.323

Again, those numbers do not include what he did from 1996-1999. Even with that disclaimer, I think that if you are looking at the same stats I am looking at, the whole "Jeter is Clutch" theory has a David Wells-sized hole in it."

Unfortunately, while Retrosheet has Jeter's complete post-season record, it does not include his numbers in "close and late" situations, or his numbers with "runners in scoring position and two outs."

Those are two situations that are obviously important when discussing whether or not someone is a "Clutch Player," so it's a little disappointing to not have those numbers. But, what Retrosheet does have is Jeter's numbers with men on base and with men in scoring position. And, unlike ESPN.com, they have those numbers for his entire, 99-game post-season career.

Here they are...

Runners in scoring position: .210/.355/.306

Runners on base: .245/.345/.329

In his entire post-season career, a total of 99 games spread over eight seasons, Derek Jeter is a .210/.355/.306 hitter with runners in scoring position and a .245/.345/.329 hitter with men on base. Take that and add in the fact that, over the last four post-seasons, he is a .176/.263/.323 hitter in "close and late" situations, and I think it is safe to say that my sarcastic response to Jeter constantly being hailed as "Mr. Clutch" is completely justified.

One of the things that I enjoy most about having a website that a lot of people read is that just about every day, some sort of "message board" or "forum" or "chatroom" discusses what I've written. It's a nice boost to the ego to see that people care about the things you say, and it's always interesting to see your opinions discussed.

I stumbled across a NYYFans.com "Forum" where the subject "Does 'Clutch' really exist" was being debated.

Someone going by the name of "Hawaii Yankee Fan" commented that "anyone who voted 'no' clearly has never seen Derek Jeter play."

Someone else, going by the name of "YankeeNut18," said, "Look no farther than Derek Jeter."

About midway through the discussion, a reader of this blog going by the name "Luke2003" added a link to yesterday's blog entry to the discussion and commented that "there's one problem with this...the numbers say the opposite."

The resulting responses were incredibly interesting. Here are a few of the highlights:

ACPS: "The postseason is all about being clutch, and I don't need some Sox fan's blog to tell me that a guy with a .314 postseason average and the most postseason hits ever to tell me otherwise."

It was later pointed out to this person that I am, in fact, a Twins fan. He didn't really care.

It is interesting that the implication seems to be that Jeter's numbers being shown on a blog and being shown by what "ACPS" thought was a "Sox fan" makes the numbers less real. It's also interesting that this person wants to dismiss Jeter's offensive numbers in specific "Clutch" situations, but then immediately brings up Jeter's overall post-season batting average.

Hitman23: "I hear ya. And we're not even talking about what he does defensively which is just as important and no one ever mentions."

So, in this person's opinion, not only do the stats that say Jeter has performed poorly in "Clutch" situations not matter, Jeter's defense is something that "no one ever mentions." I'm not the first person to say this, but Derek Jeter's defense is awful. Horrendously bad. It strikes me as incredibly funny that a Yankee fan would dismiss Jeter's actual numbers in Clutch situations because they are bad and then bring up the subject of defense as something in Jeter's favor.

OilCan: "I have to admit I was surprised by these numbers, though."

That response is basically what I was hoping for. In showing Jeter's sub par numbers in Clutch situations, I did not intend to imply that I thought he was a "choker" or some other such nonsense. I simply was shocked by the actual numbers I found after I stopped trusting Tim McCarver and looked them up for myself. And I figured most everyone else would be just as shocked as I was.

Luke2003: "You're absolutely right. If you don't like what the numbers say, just ignore them."

Luke2003 is the guy who posted the link to the entry. I am not sure if this comment was said sarcastically or not, but it's a funny line either way. I wonder what the response of some of these Yankee fans would be if the numbers showed Jeter to have been a .350 hitter in Clutch situations?

Bakntime: "Geeze, you really get around with this "Gleeman" propaganda, don't you?

Stats=who cares.

I know all I need to know by WATCHING Derek Jeter play. He's a postseason powerhouse. Anybody who doesn't think so or has "stats" that say otherwize aren't really watching him play."

I'll let that comment stand on its own and just say that I am fairly sure I have seen Jeter play every single one of his post-season games during at least the last three or four seasons. Oh, and I think "Gleeman propaganda" has a nice ring to it.

I have found, in the 15 months or so that I have been writing this blog, that many people are extremely reluctant to accept anything they feel is related to or based on statistics. I can understand that feeling, because I absolutely despise math when it comes to anything except baseball.

At the same time, I think baseball is the sport that lends itself to statistical analysis more than any other sport. During my freshman year here at the University of Minnesota, I took a prerequisite math class and struggled through the whole semester. There was absolutely nothing about it that interested me and no matter if something was complex or simple, I became bored and frustrated by it. But when it comes to baseball, something clicks and I enjoy using numbers to enhance my experience as a fan.

It strikes me that many people also feel the same way that I do about math in general, but unlike me, many of those people continue to hate numbers even when it comes to baseball. This is one of the things that really frustrates me.

Every announcer calls Derek Jeter "Mr. Clutch" and the majority of fans (particularly those in New York) take this "information" as fact, and it becomes part of Jeter's persona as a player.

Then, someone looks up Jeter's actual numbers and points out that he has not been particularly Clutch at all, and has in fact been very poor in most "Clutch" situations.

Those same fans that bought into the "Jeter is Clutch" idea revolt against the person who pointed this out, solely because he has used "statistics" and "numbers" and all that other scary stuff.

I am one of the most anti-math people in the world, and yet I will never understand the extreme unwillingness to accept something just because it involves numbers. I can't begin to tell you how many times I have written something on this blog, only to get an email from someone that says, basically, "Who cares about the numbers, I watch the games" or "Get your head out of a spreadsheet, I don't need numbers to tell me..."

It's as if some people think that because I say Derek Jeter has hit just .210 with runners in scoring position in his post-season career that I spend my days and nights in some laboratory someplace, working on complex statistical formulas. Meanwhile, the fact is that I watch more baseball games than most people think is humanly possible, and my mathematical abilities stop right after being able to calculate someone's batting average.

I guess I will just never understand how someone can be persuaded into thinking Derek Jeter is a Clutch Player, find out that his actual performances in Clutch situations have not been very good, and respond by dismissing that information, because it involves statistics.

If we learn nothing else from this little exercise in futility, at least we know that the words of Tim McCarver carry a lot more weight than actual numbers when it comes to baseball. And that, my friends, is a scary, scary thought.

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

October 27, 2003

"Derek is really, really cute"

I wrote a couple of diary/notes entries during the World Series last week (Game Four and Game Five). In them, I jokingly referred to Derek Jeter as either "Jetes" and/or "Mr. Clutch" on numerous occasions, and often pointed out "pro-Jeter" comments made by FOX TV analyst Tim McCarver.

Those World Series entries generated a lot of reader response, including the following email from "Lisa":

"I know you don't think much of Tim McCarver's obvious infatuation with Derek Jeter, but what you don't seem to understand is that Derek is really, really cute. Since you seem to talk a lot about girls and how attractive you find them, you probably don't see that men can get crushes on guys, especially really cute guys like Derek.

When you're infatuated with a guy, you just don't think he has any shortcomings and you exaggerate his abilities (us girls, by the way, get out of that stage pretty quick, but my husband doesn't know that).

I understand perfectly why Tim McCarver is so in love with Derek, but at least I know that Jeter has lousy footwork and routinely fails with grounders and turning the double play. And I don't think that saying so makes Derek any less cute.

P.S. - If you're going to propose to a different girl every night they're gonna get suspicious.

P.P.S. - If you're going to say that Derek isn't Mr. Clutch, why not show how he has done with 2 outs and RISP in the post-season or how many times he has made the last out and killed a rally."

That is, perhaps, my favorite reader email of all-time. First of all, it's hilarious. Second of all, it's from a female reader, which is always awesome. And not just any female reader, one who knows about and uses the acronym "RISP." If I hadn't already proposed to two different women last week (and if Lisa hadn't mentioned her husband in the email), I think I would propose to her right here, right now.

Also, if I ever get a real job and become relatively wealthy, I may buy a diamond ring and just carry it around with me. Then, if I ever hear a woman utter the phrase "Derek Jeter is really, really cute, but he has lousy footwork and routinely fails with grounders and turning double plays," I will simply pull out the ring and propose on the spot.

Aside from sounding like the perfect woman, Lisa raises a couple of interesting questions. First and foremost is whether or not Tim McCarver's thoughts on Derek Jeter are clouded by the fact that he, like Lisa, thinks Jeter is "really, really cute." I'll leave that up to you all to decide.

The second thing that Lisa brings up is the issue of whether or not Mr. Clutch is really all that Clutch.

In-depth post-season statistics are fairly difficult to find, particularly when you are searching for things like someone's numbers with two outs and runners in scoring position. Thanks to ESPN.com however, we do have access to detailed playoff stats dating back to the 2000 post-season.

So, while I can't tell you if Jeter was particularly Clutch in the 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 post-seasons, I can tell you about his performances in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003.

Before I get to the more detailed statistics, here are Jeter's overall offensive numbers during his many trips to the post-season:

 G     AB     AVG     OBP     SLG    RBI    RUN    HR    2B    3B    BB    SO

99 392 .313 .381 .469 33 69 13 16 3 42 79

Those are some excellent numbers. Pro-rated to 162 games, that comes out to .313/.381/.469 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 21 homers, 26 doubles, 5 triples, 68 walks, 54 RBIs and 112 runs.

His post-season hitting line of .313/.381/.469 is almost identical to his regular-season career hitting line of .317/.389/.462. When you take into account the quality of pitching Jeter has seen during all of those post-season at bats, compared to his regular-season at bats, I think it is safe to say that Jeter has been a slightly better hitter in the post-season than in the regular-season.

Does that, in itself, make him a "Clutch Hitter"? I'm inclined to say no, but I am sure it could be reasonably argued either way. 392 at bats is a lot in the post-season, but it is still less than 100 games. If someone duplicates their career averages in any other 100-game stretch, even against better competition, I don't think it is evidence of them being a Clutch Hitter.

In my opinion, a .317/.389/.462 career hitter hitting .313/.381/.469 in the post-season doesn't make him a Clutch Hitter, it just makes him a good hitter.

In regard to Lisa's request for a look at Jeter's playoff numbers in more specific situations, let's take a look at that right now...

The situations one would want to look at in trying to determine the Clutchness of a player would seem to me to be the following:

- Runners in scoring position

- Runners in scoring position with two outs

- Close and late

The first two are self-explanatory. "Close and late" is defined as "results in the 7th inning or later with the batting team either ahead by one run, tied or with the potential tying run at least on deck."

In other words, how does someone do when the game is on the line? When the going gets tough and the tough get going. When the s--- hits the fan. When the men are separated from the boys. When (insert your own cliche here).

Here are Derek Jeter's post-season numbers in those situations from 2000-2003, combined...

Runners in scoring position: .214/.421/.357

Runners in scoring position with two outs: .188/.381/.375

Close and late: .176/.263/.323

Again, those numbers do not include what he did from 1996-1999. Even with that disclaimer, I think that if you are looking at the same stats I am looking at, the whole "Jeter is Clutch" theory has a David Wells-sized hole in it.

Aside from the obvious eye-opening numbers, I think it is also interesting how much more Jeter has walked in those three situations than he normally does.

I'm not sure if this is a "real" stat or not, but let's look at his on-base percentage minus his batting average. I know the same stat with slugging percentage and batting average is called "Isolated Power," so let's call this one "Isolated Discipline."

Overall for Jeter's regular-season career, he has an Isolated Discipline of .072. Overall for his post-season career, he has an Isolated Discipline of .068. Essentially identical.

In those three post-season situations - RISP, RISP w/2 outs and "close and late" - Jeter's Isolated Disciplines are .207, .193 and .087. Now, the .087 in "close and late" situations isn't really that different than his career or post-season numbers. But the .207 and .193 in the two RISP situations are significantly higher.

I'm not quite sure the reasons for this. It may just be that in the post-season, when runners are on base, pitchers are more hesitant to throw Jeter strikes. It may be that when there are "runners in scoring position" there is also often no one on first base, so pitchers are more willing to walk Jeter with a base open. It may be that Jeter becomes much more patient when there are runners in scoring position. And finally, it may just be an issue of small-sample size, because we are talking about a fairly limited pool of at bats here.

(In case you are wondering, Jeter's Isolated Disciplines in regular-season RISP situations are very much in-line with his "normal" rates)

Over the last four post-seasons, Jeter has hit just .176/.263/.323 in "close and late" situations. I have to say, that really shocked me quite a bit. I'm not sure why, although maybe the fact that McCarver and Buck call him Mr. Clutch during every late-inning at bat has some influence on my perception. Whatever the reason, the fact is that Jeter has not been a good hitter in the late innings of close playoff games during the last four years.

He has also been a poor hitter with RISP and with RISP and two outs, but the fact that he has walked so much has kept him from making a ton of outs despite bad batting averages, which is valuable in those situations. Still, I think telling someone that Jeter is a .214 hitter with runners in scoring position during the last four post-seasons would likely be quite a shocker for them, as it was for me.

I imagine if the numbers I just showed had been put up by any number of other players, some form of media would have picked up on it. If Barry Bonds was hitting .214 with runners in scoring position over the course of four post-seasons, I suspect you'd have heard about it by now. And if Manny Ramirez was batting just .176/.263/.323 in "close and late" playoff situations over four years, I can almost guarantee Tim McCarver would be talking about it every time Manny came to the plate.

But with Jeter, it is just the opposite. His struggles in those situations are not brought up at all and he is actually talked about as if his hitting in those situations has been excellent. He is called "Mr. Clutch" by announcers and his late-innings heroics are talked about, over and over. It's a bit like "The Emperor's New Clothes," I guess.

And until I looked up the actual numbers, I just listened to Joe Buck and Tim McCarver and everyone else who praises Jeter as a Clutch Hitter, and believed them. Turns out though, for the past four post-seasons at least, Derek Jeter has been naked. Of course, Lisa and Tim McCarver may not think that is such a bad thing.

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

October 26, 2003

Just another year

2,467 games. A few wins, a few losses. A little joy, a little heartbreak, a lot of memories. And just like that, another baseball season is in the books.

I came into this season as a completely obsessed baseball fan. I watched baseball, I read about baseball, I talked about baseball, I played baseball, I dreamt about baseball. Heck, I even started a website so that I could write about baseball. I now leave the season having fallen even deeper in love with the greatest sport in the world.

As I write this, it is less than 48 hours since Josh Beckett picked up that slow-roller along the first base-line and tagged Jorge Posada, and I am already going through baseball withdrawal.

It makes me sad to think that there won't be a game for me to watch tonight. Or tomorrow night. It makes me sad that there won't be any teams to root for until next Spring. It makes me sad that there won't be a Tigers-Indians boxscore for me to check tomorrow morning.

It'll be a little while before I get a chance to listen to Joe Morgan and Jon Miller again, or even Tim McCarver and Joe Buck. I won't be able to see Barry Bonds hit bombs into McCovey Cove for a few months, and I won't even be able to watch Neifi Perez hit weak pop-ups to second base.

At the same time, it makes me smile when I think about next year. A whole new set of optimism (or pessimism, if you prefer). A whole new set of rookies, another year for all the veterans. A fresh schedule, a clean record, a glimmer of hope for every team. Yes, every team.

Because if the last few seasons have given us anything, it is the knowledge that almost anything can happen in baseball. The 2000 season gave us the New York Yankees as champions, their third straight World Series title, and their fourth in five years.

Now try to imagine yourself back then, less than 48 hours after the final out of that World Series was made. Imagine someone telling you that the next three championships would be won by the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Anaheim Angels and the Florida Marlins.

You can't tell me that doesn't fill you with hope for the future of your team. Even those of you in Detroit.

In 1998, the Florida Marlins went 54-108. In 1999, they went 64-98. In 2000, 2001 and 2002 combined, they won just 48% of their games, finishing below-.500 in all three seasons. In fact, prior to this season, the Marlins had exactly one winning season in their 10-year history as a franchise.

Coming into this season, you would have been hard-pressed to find a dozen relatively-sane people who thought the Marlins were a serious contender. Hell, Yours Truly predicted a last-place finish in the NL East for Florida and said, "If they don't finish in 5th place, I will be shocked."

Well, consider me shocked.

In that same preview of Florida's upcoming season, from March 24th, I said, "The Marlins aren't only bad, they are actually sad and depressing. They have some amazing young talent, but some equally amazingly bad people in charge of things that will probably ruin it all."

How quickly things can change. Out goes Jeff Torborg, in comes Jack McKeon. Out goes sad and depressing, in comes a World Series.

The start of the 2004 season seems much too far away for my taste, but it will be here eventually. And when it starts, odds are your team has at least as much of a shot at the 2004 World Series as the Florida Marlins had heading into this season. Or as the Anaheim Angels had heading into last season.

In 2001, the Anaheim Angels won 75 games. Along with the Angels, 19 other teams won at least 75 games that season. And the next year, the Angels were world champions.

This year's champions, the Florida Marlins, won 79 games last season. In addition to them, 15 other teams won at least 79 games, and a total of 23 teams won 70+.

In the season that just ended, 18 different teams won at least 79 games. 20 won at least 75. And a total of 23 teams won 70+.

If you are a fan of one of the teams that made it to the playoffs this year, including the Marlins, you know your team has a shot at winning it all next season. And even if your team is one of the many teams that finished this season above-.500 but fell short of the post-season, you should know that your team has a chance too.

But the interesting thing about the last two seasons is that there is reason for hope for almost every fan. It sounds too far-fetched to consider now, with the World Series still fresh in our minds, but why can't the Pittsburgh Pirates win the World Series next year? You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone, anywhere, who thinks that will happen, but why can't it? The Pirates won 75 games this season, the same amount the Angels won the year before their World Series title. And why not the Anaheim Angels again, who won just 77 games this year - two more than they won in 2001.

To take it a step further, the Texas Rangers won just 71 games this season, which is less than even the Marlins and Angels won the year before their championships. But really, what's keeping the Rangers from doing the same thing. Or the Indians or the Rockies or the Padres or the Orioles. Why not, what is so different about any of these teams than the Angels or Marlins, the year before they won it all?

As Fall and Winter arrive and the memories of this season gradually fade, think ahead to next year. No matter what team you root for or what city you live in, your team can do what the Angels and Marlins have done during the past two years. Looking at it now, that seems like an extremely unlikely scenario, but do you think Angels fans were thinking about the World Series during the off-season before their championship? Do you think Marlins fans were saving up for playoff-tickets last Winter?

A change at manager. A hot-shot prospect emerging after a callup from the minors. A hot-hand or two in the starting rotation to ride down the stretch. Some good defense. A little timely hitting. Maybe even some luck.

The beauty of baseball is that youneverknow. If the Marlins and Angels can do it, what exactly is keeping your team from doing it? Think about that this off-season, while trades and free agents are in the news, and think about how amazing it would feel this time next year, after your team just did the unthinkable.

And just remember, the off-season may be long and going cold-turkey from baseball may be tough, but pitchers and catchers report in 115 days, and the next unthinkable World Series champion may be just 363 days way.

The 2003 season was a great one and I want to thank each an every person who stopped by Aaron's Baseball Blog during the year. It's been incredibly fun documenting a season like this, from Opening Day to the final out of the World Series, and I can't wait to do it again next season.

In the meantime, it will be business as usual during the off-season. Just as I did last off-season, I will have a new entry for you to read each and every weekday. I'll talk about trades and free agents and prospects and injuries and retirements. I'll talk about the season that just ended, the season that is right around the corner, and the seasons that are ancient history.

I may even throw in a few thoughts on football or basketball or movies or television or music. And I'll probably share a few "interesting" stories from my life on the University of Minnesota campus.

I hope you will continue to come by every day and I hope you enjoy reading what I have to say about baseball even 1% as much as I love writing about it for you.

See you tomorrow.

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

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