November 30, 2003

Not So Gleeman-Length Thoughts

He cannot tell a lie

Remember last month, when Jonah Keri of Baseball Prospectus did an interview with San Diego General Manager Kevin Towers?

I wrote an entry on this blog after reading the interview because I was so impressed with it. Here's a little bit of what I said at the time:

"Towers' responses were incredibly thoughtful and intelligent and I was extremely impressed by the honestly and bluntness he showed. He didn't dance around questions or speak in double-talk, he answered everything directly and actually gave insight into the organization's thoughts and plans."

In particular, I was impressed by Towers' response when asked about what the Padres were planning to do at catcher next season:

"I'll say that we're looking at two or three guys on other clubs, two AL guys, one NL guy. All three play for three of the eight playoff clubs."

Then, later in the interview, Towers said:

"I'm hoping that the trade I was talking about that may bring that catcher may also open up an outfield spot to let Nady play every day."

Well, the Padres and A's finally completed the deal that sent Mark Kotsay to Oakland for Ramon Hernandez and Terrence Long and I'd say Kevin Towers is looking even more honest and more forthcoming than he did originally, if that's possible.

They traded for a catcher, just like he said they would. The catcher was from a playoff-team, just like he said he would be. And the trade clears an outfield spot for Xavier Nady, just like he said it would.

I have never met Kevin Towers and Baseball Prospectus' interview with him is probably one of the only times I have seen him quoted in great length, but I've got say, I found his interview to be extremely interesting back in October and now that I see how his plans unfolded, I admire his honesty. Of course, whether or not being that forthcoming in an interview is a good thing or not for the GM of a baseball team is debatable, although it definitely makes for good reading.

I'd also love to hear his honest and forthcoming answer to the question of just how bad a starting outfield of Ryan Klesko, Brian Giles and Xavier Nady is going to be defensively.

Sheff to the Yanks

It sounds as though Gary Sheffield and the Yankees have all but agreed upon a three-year deal. The immediate reaction from many people seems to be that New York is making a mistake, mostly because Sheffield does nothing to solve their defensive problems up the middle.

I certainly agree that the Yankees middle-infield and middle-outfield situations are pretty bad on the defensive end. That said, Sheffield is one of the best hitters in baseball and adding his bat to the lineup is going to be a massive improvement over the production New York got from their right fielders last year (.256/.317/.465).

And really, what is the difference if you are improving a team by 50 runs on offense or 50 runs on defense? It's the same 50 runs. Actually, I don't think that's completely true, but you get the general idea. And improving the team by 50 runs on defense would probably require more than just signing one player, which is all they had to do to improve the offense that much.

As of late Sunday night, ESPN.com is saying that Sheffield will sign for three years and "$36 million to $38 million." Seeing those numbers reminded me of what I wrote about Sheffield when I previewed all of the free agents last month:

"If I were running a team with an opening if left or right field I would love to sign [Sheffield] for something like three years and $32-35 million."

Who would have guessed that the Yankees and I thought so similarly?

Meanwhile, the Royals re-signed Joe Randa, Brian Anderson and Curtis Leskanic. Leskanic and Randa signed for 2004 with options for 2005 and Anderson signed for both years.

The trio will make over $8 million next year and Anderson alone will make over $3 million in 2005. For a team that is about six months away from complaining about "not being able" to keep Carlos Beltran, these re-signings strike me as bad moves.

I mean really, Brian Anderson for $3.25 million a year? He had a nice year last season, but it wasn't that great (3.78 ERA in 197.2 IP) and he has a career ERA of 4.58. And Joe Randa for $3.75 million? Again, he had a decent year (.291/.348/.452), but he's been thoroughly mediocre for years.

When it comes to "small-market" teams, I am a big believer in not paying for mediocrity. That means not giving $3 million a year to a pitcher who isn't even a good bet to have an ERA under 4.00 and not paying $3.75 million to a league-average third baseman.

I would much rather pay Carlos Beltran what he's worth and patch together cheaper alternatives to guys like Anderson, Randa and Leskanic. When you have a limited budget, you have to pick and choose what you're going to pay for. Lots of teams can sign mediocre guys for a few million a year to fill holes. The Kansas City Royals aren't one of them.

How to ruin a great song

I was flipping channels on Friday night when I stopped on NBC and saw the great Al Green singing "Let's stay together." Al is getting up there in age at this point, but I am a huge fan of his and it is a great song. Then, a moment later, just as I was starting to enjoy the song, Justin Timberlake enters the picture. Apparently I was watching "Justin Timberlake: Down Home in Memphis."

But okay, I'm a big enough Al Green fan that I figured I could stomach a little Justin Timberlake too. So, for the next few minutes I watched in horror, as Al and Justin sang the song together. They basically just alternated, each singing a couple of lines or a few high-pitched "squeals."

I have to say that if ever you have any doubt about whether or not someone is a great singer/musician/performer, put them on stage with Justin Timberlake. A 58-year old Al Green put him to shame. It sounded as if Al Green had gone to a karaoke bar and decided to do a duet with the guy who could hit the highest note in the place.

When Al Green squeals and does all the weird stuff with his voice during a song, it sounds cool. When Justin Timberlake does it, it just sounds weird. And what kind of bizarro world are we living in where Al Green gets invited on stage to do a cameo appearance on Justin Timberlake's national television special?

Quote of the Year:

FOX NFL announcer Joe Buck, as Rams kicker Jeff Wilkins lined up for a short field goal in the first quarter against Minnesota yesterday afternoon:

"Wilkins has been as valuable as any Ram this year."

For those of you who aren't huge NFL fans, let me just tell you that it is impossible for a kicker to have been as valuable as "any" player on the team. And I don't care how many emails I get from former kickers or mothers of kickers - it is a fact. Kickers can be good. Kickers can be valuable. But kickers cannot be as valuable as any other player on the team, no matter how good the kicker and no matter how bad the team.

In this case, Wilkins plays on the same team as Torry Holt, a wide receiver who is on-pace to set the all-time NFL record for receiving yards in a season.

I don't really want to simply pick on Joe Buck here (although that was an incredibly ridiculous statement), but instead I want to point out what seems to be a growing trend in sports today. More and more announcers lately have taken to proclaiming more and more undeserving players the "MVPs" of teams.

In basketball it will be some guy on a great team who comes off the bench and averages five points and four rebounds per game while playing good defense and "hustling." In baseball it's usually some left fielder who joins a team at mid-season and hits relatively well while the team wins lots of games. In football it is apparently a kicker who plays for a team with a great offense, thus allowing him to rack up tons of points.

What is so wrong with just saying someone is good? Or that they are underrated? Or that they are very valuable? Why must people resort to such hyperbole and exaggeration? Robert Horry was not the MVP of the Lakers during their three-peat. Shannon Stewart was not the MVP of the American League, let alone the Minnesota Twins. And for the love of God, Jeff Wilkins is not as valuable as any other player on the St. Louis Rams.

Happily ever after

Congratulations to Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren, who got engaged to be married over Thanksgiving. Actually, congrats mostly to Tiger, because...well...



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

November 25, 2003

Lee for Choi

To Chicago:

Derrek Lee

To Florida:

Hee Seop Choi

PTBNL

It seems strange for the two teams that squared off in the NLCS last month to be making a major trade with each other, but that's exactly what happened yesterday. The Florida Marlins sent their starting first baseman from last year, Derrek Lee, to the Chicago Cubs, in exchange for Hee Seop Choi and a Player to be Named Later (PTBNL).

By trading Lee, the Marlins have come full-circle. Back when they won their first World Series, in 1997, they had a firesale, trading away essentially every good veteran on the team. One of those trades sent Kevin Brown to the San Diego Padres, in exchange for a 21-year old first base prospect named Derrek Lee.

Now, after another World Series win, the Marlins once again appear set to make some wholesale changes to the roster. It sounds as though Lee, now 28 and likely to make about $6-7 million next year, is probably just the first one out the door.

I thought it might be interesting to look back to see how the Marlins 1997 firesale went. So, with the help of Retrosheet.org (one of the best baseball websites around) I was able to find that, from the end of the 1997 season until the start of the 1998 season, the Marlins traded away the following players:

Kevin Brown (to San Diego)

Moises Alou (to Houston)
Al Leiter (to New York)
Robb Nen (to San Francisco)
Jeff Conine (Kansas City)
Devon White (to Arizona)
Dennis Cook (to New York)
Kurt Abbott (to Oakland)

In addition to those deals prior to the start of the 1998 season, the Marlins also sent Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich, Charles Johnson and Gary Sheffield to the Dodgers about two months into the season. That deal netted them Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile. Just a few days later, they traded Piazza to the Mets for Geoff Goetz, Preston Wilson and Ed Yarnall, and they sent Zeile to the Rangers for Daniel DeYoung and Jose Santo at mid-season.

So, in the span of about eight months, the Marlins dismantled their entire championship team, trading away nearly every valuable veteran player, including stars like Sheffield, Alou, Nen, Brown, Bonilla, Conine, White, Johnson and Leiter.

Counting the quick turn-around deals involving Piazza and Zeile, here are the players the Marlins got in return for all those veterans:

Manuel Barrios

Oscar Henriquez
Mark Johnson
Jesus Martinez
Joe Fontenot
Mike Pageler
Mike Villano
Blaine Mull
Chris Clark
Steve Hoff
Derrek Lee
Rafael Medina
Fletcher Bates
Scott Comer
Eric Ludwick
A.J. Burnett
Jesus Sanchez
Geoff Goetz
Preston Wilson
Ed Yarnall
Daniel DeYoung
Jose Santo

That's a very long list (which is what happens when you trade away a dozen veteran players for all prospects, I suppose), but there aren't a lot of impressive names. The only guys who have gone on to have any sort of a distinguished major league career are Derrek Lee, A.J. Burnett and Preston Wilson.

The relevance of this to the current Florida situation is probably less than it seems. While they have already traded Lee, a key part of their championship team last season, and appear ready to lose several other important veterans, many of them will leave via free agency and not through trades.

Luis Castillo, Ivan Rodriguez and Ugueth Urbina are all free agents right now and Florida also has a few arbitration eligible guys like Mark Redman, Brad Penny, Juan Encarnacion and Mike Lowell, some of whom may be cut loose because of their rising salaries.

As for the Lee/Choi trade, I think it is a deal that works fairly well for both teams. For the Marlins, they cut payroll and get a young player who is very capable of stepping right in to replace Lee at first base next season and beyond. For the Cubs, they add an established upper-level first baseman (Lee ranked 6th among MLB first basemen in RARP last year), while taking on some salary and trading away a young player whom they appear to have soured on recently.

Personally, had I been the Cubs, I would have simply kept Choi and spent the extra $6 million on improving the team somewhere else. I think Choi is going to be a very good hitter very soon and, as good as Lee is and has been, I don't know that the difference between them is worth that much. That said, Dusty Baker didn't seem to have been a huge Choi fan and I have a feeling, had he stayed in Chicago, Choi's opportunity to blossom would have been severely limited.

Many people seem to be very down on Choi at the moment, for reasons I don't really understand. They point to the fact that he hit just .218 this year or to his 71 strikeouts in 80 games. As if no 24-year old rookie has ever struggled before. And really, if this season was Choi "struggling" (.218/.350/.421), he is in for a very good career.

In fact, I think Choi's rookie season was actually quite a bit more promising than the overall numbers suggest. He was doing very well through the first two months or so, while being platooned at first base with Eric Karros and playing on a regular-basis. Through June 7th he was hitting .244/.389/.496. That day he collided with Kerry Wood while trying to field a pop-up and crashed hard into the ground.

Choi didn't play again for three weeks and, when he finally returned, he no longer played as often. After getting 68 plate appearances in April and 75 in May, Choi got a total of just 72 plate appearances in July, August and September combined. He hit terribly when he was given a chance to play and his season-totals plummeted.

Still, this is a young player who did very well in his first taste of the big leagues this season before getting injured. He struggled when he came back, there is no doubt about it, but he also was not given a chance to play regularly during the last several months of the season. And, throughout all of that, he still managed to put up a decent rookie year. He's also got an impressive minor league track-record

Choi hit .321/.422/.610 in 79 Single-A games in 1999 and then hit .296/.369/.553 at Single-A in 2000, before moving up to Double-A. Once there, he hit .303/.419/.623 to finish the season. He moved up to Triple-A in 2001 and had a very sub par year while struggling with a wrist injury. Choi bounced back in 2002 however, hitting .287/.406/.513 with 26 homers in 135 Triple-A games. And, in 18 games back at Triple-A this season, Choi posted a .621 slugging percentage.

Hee Seop Choi will never be the defensive player that Derrek Lee is, but I think he eventually has a good chance to be just as good offensively. Whether or not that happens in the next year or two is a little less clear and I think that is why the Cubs made this move. Derrek Lee is far more of a "sure thing" over the next several seasons. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if Hee Seop Choi, assuming he gets everyday playing time in Florida, puts up very similar numbers to Derrek Lee over the next 2-3 seasons. And, after that, as Lee reaches the wrong side of 30 while Choi enters his prime, Choi should be a far better player.

It's a question of "now" versus "later." The "sure thing" versus "what might be." The Cubs have the luxury of adding to the payroll to get the "now" and the "sure thing." I think the Marlins, all things considered, did very well here, getting a very intriguing "what might be" with a potentially very good "later." And if the PTBNL turns out to be someone valuable, that's just icing on the cake.

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

November 23, 2003

Interesting Seasons in Baseball History: Nolan Ryan, 1987

Nolan Ryan had one of the best seasons of his 27-year career for the Houston Astros in 1987. At 40 years old, he pitched 211.2 innings in 34 starts and led the National League in ERA (2.76), fewest hits per nine innings (6.55), adjusted ERA+ (142) and strikeouts (270). His 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings not only led the National League, it was the best strikeout-rate of his entire career.

So, what exactly is so interesting about Nolan Ryan's 1987 season? His record: 8-16.

Since 1920, no pitcher who has thrown at least 180 innings has had a better ERA than Ryan's 2.76 while winning fewer games or having a worse winning percentage.

There have been 157 times in baseball history when a pitcher has recorded at least 250 strikeouts in a season. Nolan Ryan in 1987 is the only one of the 157 when the pitcher didn't win at least 10 games.

While Nolan Ryan was going 8-16 with a league-leading ERA, the other pitchers on the 1987 Astros were doing quite a bit better, at least in the wins department.

                     ERA     Win%

Nolan Ryan 2.76 .333
Other Astros 4.02 .493

Despite a combined ERA that was 45.6% higher than Ryan's, the other Houston pitchers went 68-70, good for a .493 winning percentage, 160 points higher than Ryan's.

The reason for Ryan's horrible record is pretty obvious. Ryan was much better at preventing the other team from scoring than his teammates, but when he was on the mound the Houston hitters just didn't score any runs of their own.

Take a look at how Houston's hitters performed with Ryan on the mound, compared to other pitchers:

                    RS/G

Ryan's starts 3.35
Other games 4.17

Certainly Houston's offense was not very good in 1987. They ranked 11th in the NL in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and, the most important stat for an offense, runs scored.

Still, as bad as Houston's hitters were in 1987, they were even worse when Nolan Ryan was on the mound. They scored an average of just 3.35 runs per game in Ryan's 34 starts, 24.4% fewer runs than they scored in the 128 games Ryan didn't start.

Overall, here is the run-support Ryan got in 1987:

Runs     Starts

0 3
1 8
2 5
3 4
4 4
5 3
6 2
7 3
8 2
9 0
10+ 1

The 1987 Astros averaged exactly 4.0 runs per game. Nolan Ryan made 34 starts. They scored him more than four runs in 10 of them (29.4%), fewer than four runs in 20 of them (58.9%) and exactly four runs in four of them (11.7%).

In the 14 games in which Ryan received at least four runs of run-support, he went 6-2. In the other 20 games, he went 2-14. In the 16 games Ryan lost, the Astros scored him a grand-total of 27 runs, or 1.68 runs per game.

It is really amazing the degree to which Ryan had to "take things into his own hands" in order to get a win in 1987. In four of his eight total wins, Ryan allowed zero earned runs. Overall in those eight starts he won, he had an ERA of 1.10 in 57 innings pitched.

In the 26 starts he made when he didn't get a win, Ryan had an ERA of 3.37, which would have ranked eighth in the National League. Ryan's "stat-line" for those 26 starts is rather amusing:

GS        IP      ERA     W      L

26 152.2 3.37 0 16

Amazingly, Nolan Ryan won his first start of the year. He was also 2-2 after five starts (with a 2.23 ERA). After that, he went 6-14 for the rest of the year, including one stretch, from the middle of June until the middle of August, in which he made 11 starts and went 0-8, with eight losses in a row.

Ryan made five starts in July with a 2.62 ERA. He went 0-5.

Despite winning just eight games the whole year, Ryan won back-to-back starts in early June and then won three straight starts in September. Aside from those five starts, he was 3-16 in his other 29 starts.

Just in case you weren't yet convinced that life isn't fair...

There were 96 different pitchers who won more games than Nolan Ryan in 1987. Exactly one of them, a reliever named Ken Dayley who won nine games in 61 innings as a reliever for St. Louis, had a lower ERA (2.66) than Ryan (2.76).

Eight different pitchers with an ERA of at least 5.00 won more games than Ryan, including one, Dan Petry, who had an ERA (5.61) that was more than twice as high as Ryan's.

18 pitchers won at least twice as many games as Ryan in 1987. Dave Stewart won 20 games with an ERA (3.68) that was 33.3% higher than Ryan's. In fact, of the 18 guys who won at least twice as many games as Ryan, 10 of them had an ERA that was at least 25% higher. Walt Terrell and Shane Rawley each won 17 games, with ERAs that were 46.7% and 59.0% higher than Ryan's.

Mike Scott, who was Ryan's teammate on the Astros, won 16 games with an ERA 17% higher. Another one of Ryan's teammates, Jim Deshaies, won 11 games despite pitching in 59.2 fewer innings than Ryan, with an ERA (4.62) that was 67.4% higher.

Yet another of Ryan's Houston teammates, Bob Knepper, pitched horribly in 1987. He appeared in 33 games, making 31 starts, and had an ERA of 5.27. He struck out just 3.8 batters per nine innings, had a strikeout/walk ratio of just 1.4/1 and served up 26 homers in 177.2 innings. Opposing batters hit .313 off him with a .502 slugging percentage.

Nolan Ryan went 8-16 for the Houston Astros in 1987. Bob Knepper went 8-17.

"Statistically, wins mean the most to me.

Fans tend to value ERA as the most important statistic for a pitcher. But ERA is like a batting average; it's a personal number. Pitchers can have low ERAs and not win many games.

If a pitcher has a low ERA and consistently loses low-scoring games, like 2-1 or 3-2, it means the opposing pitchers are outpitching him. That is not a criticism; the pitcher may be pitching great. But he is pitching well enough to lose, not to win."


--- Joe Morgan, Hall of Fame second baseman and ESPN baseball expert

Sure Joe, whatever you say.

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

November 20, 2003

A little help from my friends (More on Bobby Kielty)


What would you do if I sang out of tune?

Would you stand up and walk out on me?

Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song

I will try not to sing out of key

Oh baby, I get by with a little help from my friends


--- Joe Cocker, With A Little Help From My Friends

(Yeah, I know, The Beatles wrote the song and sang it, but I like the Cocker version better. So sue me!)

Yesterday I talked about Bobby Kielty being traded from Toronto to Oakland for Ted Lilly. In discussing Kielty's performances over the last two years, I broke down some of his hitting numbers, including his "splits" against lefties and righties. Kielty, a switch-hitter, did well against left-handed pitching in both 2002 and 2003 and did well against right-handed pitching in 2002, but he struggled mightily against righties in 2003.

Here's a little more of what I said:

Kielty's minor league "splits" are not widely available, so it's tough to say whether he struggled from the left-side in years past. It seems like it would have been very tough for him to hit as well as he did consistently throughout his minor league career if he was struggling that much against right-handed pitching, however.

Well, thanks to a little help from my friends, and more specifically from a reader named Matthew Namee (who just happens to be the great Bill James' assistant), I now have Kielty's minor league splits for 2000 and 2001.

"I will try not to sing out of key..."

vs RHP                                  vs LHP


AVG OBP SLG AVG OBP SLG
2000 .254 .402 .432 2000 .283 .368 .442
2001 .267 .392 .449 2001 .337 .356 .551

I said yesterday that I thought "his right-handed swing (against left-handed pitching) is a lot more consistent, a lot more natural, a lot more powerful." So, I guess I'm not surprised that his batting averages and slugging percentages were higher as a right-handed hitter in 2000 and 2001. At the same time, he was certainly still a very good hitter as a lefty, thanks in large part to a much better walk-rate than he had as a righty.

Instead of using simple OPS (on-base % + slugging %), I prefer to use OBP*1.7 + SLG, because it more correctly weighs on-base percentage. The only problem with using OBP*1.7 + SLG is that you end up with some big number that is tough to learn anything from.

For instance, let's say you've got a guy who hit .300/.400/.500 one year. You take his .400 OBP and multiply it by 1.7 and get .680. Then you add his .500 slugging percentage and you get 1.180. But really, if you asked how good someone hit in 2003 and you were told they had a 1.180 total for OBP*1.7 + SLG, would you know right away if that were good or bad? I know I wouldn't.

What I like to do is take that number and then divide it by four. That way, you get another number which looks an awful lot like a batting average. In this case, by dividing 1.180 by 4 you would get .295. It's not perfect, obviously, but at least you can get a feel that a guy checking in at .295 is a good hitter.

Just in case you got lost in all that babbling, here is the "formula":

((OBP*1.7) + SLG) / 4

Now, the only thing we need is a name for this stat. I tried to think of something really clever, but nothing came to me. So, for now at least, let's just call it the "Aaron's Baseball Blog Number." Or the "ABB#" for short. If you have a good suggestion for a better name, feel free to email me with it.

Anyway, here are Kielty's year-by-year numbers against righties, using the Aaron's Baseball Blog Number:

             ABB#

2000 .279
2001 .279
2002 .301
2003 .217

When you look at those numbers, which include two minor league seasons and two major league seasons, I think it's pretty clear that Kielty has a good chance to be much better against righties in the future than he was this season. He put up good numbers against righties in Double-A and Triple-A and he did very well against them in his rookie major league season.

Now, let's take a look at how he did against lefties:

             ABB#

2000 .267
2001 .289
2002 .278
2003 .315

Very nice.

In case you're wondering, American League hitters as a whole had an ABB# of .249 against right-handed pitching and an ABB# of .246 against left-handed pitching.

With that in mind, Kielty has been very good in each of the last four seasons against lefties and very good in three of the last four years against righties, with that one ugly .217 from this season ruining an otherwise beautiful set of numbers.

Kielty's hitting against right-handed pitching this year was horrible (.216/.318/.328) and it certainly calls into question his ability to be an everyday corner outfielder in the major leagues. At the same time, he has always done well against lefties and his past performances against righties prior to this year were very good as well.

Many people have looked at Kielty's abysmal numbers against righties this year and written him off as nothing more than a platoon-player. I think that's a possibility, but I also think it's foolish to ignore his success against righties in the past.

I still think Bobby Kielty will be very good everyday corner outfielder.

***********************************


In other news...

The Seattle Mariners signed free agent outfielder Raul Ibanez to a three-year deal earlier this week, providing us all with this off-season's first truly horrible signing.

Oh, let me count the ways...

First of all, they gave Ibanez three years and $13.25 million. Don't get me wrong, Raul Ibanez is a solid player. In fact, I said some nice things about him earlier this month, when I discussed this year's free agent outfielders:

"Raul Ibanez is an interesting player, because when he came to the Royals in 2001 he was 29 years old and a career .241/.295/.383 hitter. Over the next three years with Kansas City, he got 1,384 at bats and hit .291/.347/.492. My first reaction was that some of that comes from hitting in a very good hitter's park, but Ibanez hit .283/.345/.483 on the road during that span.

He struggles with left-handed pitching and probably needs a platoon partner, but he hits righties very well (.304/.364/.523 from 2001-2003) and he can play either corner outfield spot, as well as first base."

Okay, so you've got a LF/RF/1B who hits righties well and probably shouldn't be starting against lefties. Is that a player worth signing? Definitely. Is it a player worth giving a three-year deal for over $4 million a year? Um...no!

Beyond simply giving Ibanez too much money for too many years, the Mariners also made the mistake of signing him too early. By inking Ibanez before the deadline to offer players arbitration, they essentially just handed the Royals their first-round pick in next year's draft.

Had they waited, I think it's very possible that the Royals wouldn't have even offered Ibanez arbitration, which would mean they wouldn't have been given compensation by the team that signed him. But the Mariners acted quickly and now, in addition to paying Ibanez too much for too many years, they have to give Kansas City their first-round pick next year for the right to do so.

To make things even worse, had the Mariners waited a little while, the amount of corner outfielders on the free agent market would have been significantly increased, as teams started declining arbitration for players. In a few weeks there are going to be a dozen free agent outfielders available who can do the job just as well as Ibanez, and the Mariners could probably have signed two and maybe even three of them for the money they are going to be paying Ibanez in each of the next three seasons.

***********************************

That's all for this week, thanks for stopping by.

If you missed any of the entries from earlier in the week, here they are:

Monday: Pierzynski to the Giants

Tuesday: MVP! MVP! MVP!

Wednesday: Superman, again

Thursday: Bobby on the move, again

Also, for you Twins fans, I highly recommend you read "Dissecting Terry Ryan" by Will Young over at BaseballPrimer.com.

Just click on the following:

Dissecting Terry Ryan (by Will Young)

I have been devoting all of my baseball writing to AaronGleeman.com and haven't written anything for Baseball Primer in quite a while, so it's great to see another Twins fan doing good work over there.

See ya Monday.

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

November 19, 2003

Bobby on the move, again

Anchored by an incredible and ever-growing group of young, front-line starting pitchers, and aided by an excellent pitcher's ballpark and a good defense, the Oakland A's have been one of the best teams in the American League at preventing runs over the last five seasons.

Runs Allowed:


Year AL Rank
1999 5th
2000 4th
2001 2nd
2002 2nd
2003 2nd

I think it is pretty obvious that, no matter how much you hear about the A's employing sabermetric principles by valuing on-base percentages and power and not using the running-game, the biggest key to Oakland's success over the last several years is their ability to prevent runs as well as any team in baseball.

Of course, how much of the credit for that run preventing ability should go to the pitchers, the defense and the ballpark is highly debatable. What I do know for sure is that Oakland's defense, long talked about as a big weakness, has been one of the best in all of baseball at turning balls in play into outs over the last two seasons.

In 2002, they converted 71.9% of balls in play into outs, ranking third in the AL. This year, they turned 72.6% of the balls in play into outs, ranking second in the AL and second in all of baseball. I do think their ballpark, with its spacious foul territory and generous dimensions, lends itself to fielders being able to convert balls in play into outs easier than most parks, but the A's defense has been impressive regardless of that.

One of the biggest reasons for Oakland's improved defense is a fairly obvious shift in organizational philosophy. A few years ago, the A's were known as a slugging team with a lineup full a guys who looked perfect for a softball league. Matt Stairs, John Jaha, Jason Giambi, Olmedo Saenz, Ben Grieve, Jeremy Giambi. Not a single good glove among them, but they could all hit.

Somewhere along the line though, things changed drastically. The softball sluggers started leaving, some big-time pitchers started arriving, and the A's shifted their focus to more well-rounded players. In some cases, they even brought in guys who could be called "defensive specialists."

After starting Terrence Long in center field for the majority of the past three seasons, the A's finally decided that Long's defense was no longer acceptable. After playing all 162 games in center field in 2002, Long didn't play a single inning there in 2003.

The A's brought in Chris Singleton, who doesn't hit much, but who is widely regarded as a very good defensive centerfielder. Singleton logged 737.1 innings in center this year, while hitting just .245/.301/.340. At the same time, the A's shifted Long to left field and then later to right field, where his defensive skills were much better suited. They also played Eric Byrnes, a solid defensive outfielder, in both center and left field on a semi-everyday basis.

The result of this new outfield alignment, completely without guys like Stairs or Giambi or Grieve, had a big impact on Oakland's defense. At the same time, it effected their offense quite a bit too. The A's ranked 9th in the AL in runs scored this year and the production they got from their outfield was particularly bad.

Using OPS (on-base % + slugging %) as the measurement (I don't like to use OPS much, but it comes in handy in this sort of situation), here is how the A's outfielders ranked among the 14 AL teams last year:

           OPS     Rank

LF .805 6th
CF .638 12th
RF .632 14th

That's just awful.

Eric Byrnes started the season extremely hot and then went into an incredibly long tailspin, but his overall offensive production for the year was fairly good. He hit .263/.333/.459 in 460 plate appearances. The A's also got decent offense from Billy McMillon, who hit .268/.354/.458 in 175 plate appearances.

Other than that, it was pretty ugly. Terrence Long somehow managed to accumulate 522 plate appearances while hitting .245/.293/.385 as a corner outfielder. Jermaine Dye, who hasn't been the same player since breaking his leg in the post-season a couple years ago, hit an absolutely horrendous .172/.261/.253 in 65 games. As mentioned earlier, Singleton hit .245/.301/.340 in 341 plate appearances. Adam Piatt hit just .240/.280/.460 in 107 plate appearances and was let go. Even Ron Gant hit just .146/.182/.220 in 17 games before he was let go.

The A's acquired Jose Guillen from the Reds at mid-season and he hit just .265/.311/.459, which was sadly actually a huge improvement over the production they had been getting in right field.

Overall, Oakland's outfield just couldn't hit last year. Sure, they played good defense and that helped the A's win a lot of games, but I think Billy Beane, Paul DePodesta and company made it a priority to improve their outfield offense this off-season.

They made a couple of moves on Tuesday that should go a long way towards that goal. Well, actually they made one move and one other that isn't quite official as of this writing. The A's and Padres have agreed to a deal that will send Terrence Long and Ramon Hernandez to San Diego for Mark Kotsay. According to ESPN.com, the deal is official, but the A's want to check on Kotsay's health (he had back problems last year) before they pull the trigger.

Assuming that deal goes through, the A's have just acquired a starting centerfielder who is solid on both offense and defense. Kotsay isn't a great player, by any means, and there are some health concerns, but he is the type of guy who allows them to maintain their focus on pitching and defense while simultaneously improving the offense quite a bit.

Ramon Hernandez had a very good year for the A's and it's tough to give up a 27-year old catcher coming off a breakout-year. That said, the types of players the A's are now apparently targeting are a little tougher to find and a little more expensive to acquire than born-DHs like the guys the A's featured a few years ago.

I think a Hernandez for Kotsay swap is pretty fair. They are both 27 years old and they have both shown the ability to be assets on offense and defense. I don't think either of them are going to become superstars, but they should both be solid second-tier players at their position. Unloading Terrence Long and his contract on the Padres breaks the tie, in my opinion. It's an interesting trade, in that it is fairly even for both sides and also involves both teams dealing away players from a position where they seem to not have a whole bunch of other options.

Kotsay leaves center field open for San Diego, and the early things I have read seem to suggest that they may consider playing Brian Giles there full-time in 2004. That would likely mean a Ryan Klesko/Brian Giles/Xavier Nady outfield, which will probably give Jake Peavy nightmares for the rest of his life.

For the A's, they get rid of a guy who has been their starting catcher for the last four years. Hernandez has been a workhorse, playing 143, 136, 136 and 140 games in that span. Their best internal option to replace him right now seems to be Adam Melhuse, a minor league veteran who had a nice year in limited playing time as Hernandez's backup. Either Beane is extremely confident in Melhuse or he's got something else up his sleeve. I would guess the latter.

Assuming Kotsay is healthy, he should be a massive upgrade offensively over the guys who manned center field for the A's this year. And there shouldn't be much of a defensive drop-off, if any. With center field taken care of, the A's then turned their attention to the corner outfield and made a second deal, one that is actually official.

Oakland sent Ted Lilly to the Blue Jays for Bobby Kielty and a Player to be Named Later (PTBNL) or cash. All indications are that the "or cash" portion of the deal is for very little money, which leads me to believe the potential PTBNL is no one particularly significant.

If that is the case, it is essentially Ted Lilly for Bobby Kielty. Now, those of you who are long-time readers of this website know how much I love Bobby Kielty. I've written about him numerous times and I became pretty distraught when he was traded from Minnesota to Toronto this year. At the same time, I've also made it very clear on numerous occasions that I think Billy Beane is one of the top General Managers in baseball.

Those two facts, taken together, would probably lead you to believe that I think Beane committed highway robbery in this deal. Or, as Beane himself has been known to say, that he just made a "F---ing A Trade." You would think that, but you'd be wrong.

I actually think this deal works out well for both teams and, if anything, I would say the Blue Jays got the slightly better end of the deal (depending largely on who the PTBNL turns out to be, of course). It is really a classic case of teams dealing from strength to acquire something to help their main area of weakness.

The A's have a starting rotation that will almost certainly feature a front-four of Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Rich Harden next season. They also have a few interesting minor league options, including Justin Duchschrerer, whom I think can be a very successful major league pitcher. To them, Ted Lilly was nothing more than a #5 starter. And, as I already discussed, Oakland's offense, and particularly their outfield offense, was very sub par in 2003.

At the same time, the Blue Jays are definitely not hurting for hitters and they have plenty of good corner outfield options, both at the major league level and in the minors. Their pitching-staff, and particularly their starting rotation beyond Roy Halladay, is severely lacking however.

So, you've got one team with plenty of pitching that needs hitting and another team with plenty of hitting that needs pitching. Throw in the fact that the two GMs, Beane and J.P. Ricciardi, have worked together in the past and have a very good relationship, and it is basically a match made in sabermetric-heaven ("Where everyone walks and nobody runs").

After a very impressive rookie season in 2002, when he hit .291/.405/.484 in 348 plate appearances, Bobby Kielty's stock dropped quite a bit this season. He got off to a very hot start, hitting .324/.425/.588 in April, and then went into a prolonged slump, finishing the first-half at .252/.370/.420. He was then dealt to Toronto, where he hit just .164/.325/.284 in August, before ending the year with a decent September (.268/.337/.423).

Overall, here are how his numbers from his first two major league seasons compare:

Year      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     AB/HR     AB/2B     PA/BB     PA/SO

2002 348 .291 .405 .484 24.0 20.6 6.7 5.3
2003 509 .244 .358 .400 32.8 16.4 7.1 5.5

Kielty's overall numbers fell, across-the-board. His batting average and on-base percentage both fell 47 points and his slugging percentage dropped 84 points.

Looking a little deeper, you can see that Kielty walked and struck out at essentially the same rate in both years. In addition to that, his doubles-rate actually improved slightly in 2003. The two things that hurt him were that his home run-rate dropped significantly and he hit a whole lot less singles.

Kielty's overall extra-base hit-rate dropped 5.7%, while his singles-rate dropped 10.4%. Obviously any time someone loses that much total production from one year to the next it is troublesome, but the fact that singles are the biggest area of the drop-off is relatively good news.

One other interesting thing about Kielty's decline this season is that he struggled mightily against right-handed pitching, after doing very well against them in 2002.

vs RHP


AVG OBP SLG
2002 .303 .417 .495
2003 .216 .318 .328

Kielty's always present ability to draw walks stayed...well, always present. At the same time, his batting average fell off a cliff and took all of his power with it.

Making things even more interesting is that Kielty did better against left-handed pitching in 2003 than he did in 2002.

vs LHP


AVG OBP SLG
2002 .264 .380 .464
2003 .300 .417 .550

My observation from having watched Kielty, who is a switch-hitter, is that his right-handed swing (against left-handed pitching) is a lot more consistent, a lot more natural, a lot more powerful. His left-handed swing was very good in 2002, but it never looked to me to have been as easy or as natural. It got sort of long and loopy at times and I noticed that a lot more while he was struggling this past season. I also remember reading a few things near the end of the year where the Blue Jays were talking about trying to fix a problem with Kielty's left-handed swing.

As a switch-hitter, the determining factor for whether or not Kielty is going to be a good, everyday player is how he hits left-handed, simply because he is going to face far more right-handed pitchers than left-handed pitchers. What you think of Kielty's future is probably determined by which set of numbers against right-handers you trust the most.

I would definitely trust his 2003 numbers the most, not only because they are the most recent, but also because they are a slightly larger sample-size. At the same time, his good numbers against righties in 2002 weren't put up in 50 at bats, they were over the course of a full-season of playing on a semi-everyday basis. He had over 230 plate appearances batting left-handed in 2002.

In addition to that, Kielty's minor league "splits" are not widely available, so it's tough to say whether he struggled from the left-side in years past. It seems like it would have been very tough for him to hit as well as he did consistently throughout his minor league career if he was struggling that much against right-handed pitching, however.

If Kielty ever finds a way to combine what he did against righties in 2002 with what he did against lefties in 2003, he will be one of the best hitters in the league. If he continues to struggle against righties like he did this year, he is no longer more than a platoon-player. I think it is obvious by the fact that the A's gave up a pretty good pitcher for him that they believe, at the least, Kielty's future lies somewhere in-between those two options. I'm a little less sure of that than I was this time last year, but I still agree with them, and I think Oakland's outfield is going to be significantly improved in 2004.

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