Friday, February 20, 2004
Reader Mail (ARod to the Yankees Edition)But first, the Aaron's Baseball Blog Quote of the Week:
"I'll tell you, but it's off the record. I don't want to see this showing up in emails or on some blog."
--- A journalist/teacher, when asked yesterday for inside information on a local sports story by a certain baseball bloggerNow, the emails...
My entry from Monday discussing the Alex Rodriguez/Alfonso Soriano trade generated a ton of feedback from readers. There were way too many to print and reply to here, but I tried to pick a couple that were similar to ones I got from multiple people.
Like you, I am a fan of ARod's. However, the events of the past few days have left me exasperated for a very odd reason - the amount of times I have been forced to hear that the Yankees have acquired "the best player in baseball." I believe that I have heard that phrase 4,261 times since Saturday.Sure enough, I did a little searching and founds dozens and dozens of articles from the past week in which Alex Rodriguez was described, in one way or another, as "the best player in baseball." From Reuters and the New York Times to the New York Post and Sports Illustrated. Plus about 50 other various publications from across the country.
Since I have been nominated for the job, I'll try to answer this question as simply as possible: Basically, is Alex Rodriguez "the best player in baseball"?
This is a tough one to answer right off the bat for two reasons. First, are we talking about the past or are we simply speaking about going forward? In other words, does what a player did in the last three seasons impact this, or is it simply who the best player is likely to be in 2004 and beyond?
Second, the position Alex Rodriguez plays is very important here. He simply is not as valuable playing third base as he is playing shortstop.
I think the only way to really look at this in any sort of objective way is to figure out who the best player in baseball has been over the past few years. There are probably far more complicated ways of doing this, but for the purposes of this blog entry, let's just look at how Rodriguez and Barry Bonds compare in a couple of "all encompassing" stats.
(Yes, I realize there are other players beyond ARod and Bonds, but those two are clearly the top candidates for "best player in baseball" since 2001)
WIN SHARESFirst things first, Barry Bonds is shedding Win Shares like he's JLo and they're boyfriends. 54 to 49 to 39 in three years. Of course, he's also gone from 36 to 37 to 38 years old in that span, and the first two of those seasons were perhaps the two best offensive seasons any hitter has ever had.
Plus, even while dropping Win Shares left and right, Bonds' 39 Win Shares last year is a higher total than Alex Rodriguez has ever had in a season.
Now let's take a look at another good catch-all stat, Wins Above Replacement Position (WARP):
WARPBonds is once again shedding value, but he's still the king (although he and ARod were very close in 2003).
I'd say even at 39 years old, Barry Bonds is "the best player in baseball" until proven otherwise. He's got three straight NL MVPs and has been better than Alex Rodriguez in each of the past three seasons. That said, if ARod plays shortstop in 2004, I think he has a 50/50 shot of being more valuable than Bonds.
Nice article on Rodriguez v. Jeter. I have some questions that I'm not bright enough to figure out on my own. It is this:To be honest, I am simply not qualified to answer whether third base or shortstop is a more difficult position to "learn." I played quite a bit of third base in my playing days, but not much shortstop. And I certainly didn't play either at a level even remotely resembling the major leagues.
However, it would seem fairly obvious to me that, regardless of which position is harder to learn, shortstop requires more defensive ability to play. In other words, if you've got the greatest defensive infielder in the history of the world, his best position, the place where he can provide the most value to a team, is going to be shortstop, not third base.
So, in that sense, you simply want your best defensive infielder at shortstop. In the case of the Yankees, that would be Alex Rodriguez, who has shown himself to be a very good defensive shortstop, winning back-to-back AL Gold Gloves.
Would Derek Jeter, as Peter says, "bungle" third base? I doubt it, but who knows. It depends on your definition of bungle, I suppose. In my opinion (and in the opinion of most defensive metrics), Jeter has been "bungling" shortstop for years now.
However, baseball history is filled with quality defensive third basemen who were (or would have been) bad defensive shortstops, and Jeter could certainly join that list. Heck, even if Jeter is just as bad at third base as he is at shortstop (relative to others at the position), the impact of his struggles there would be much less than at shortstop, simply because he would have fewer chances in the field.
There are some that think Jeter might be better served for second base than third base. I'm not really sure which spot I would play him at (I think third, probably) but I'm confident he wouldn't be any more of a detriment to his team defensively at either spot than he is at shortstop.
I mean really, Dmitri Young played 129 innings at third base last year and, as bad as he was, he didn't exactly kill the Tigers...okay, so maybe that's a bad example. My point is that it is far easier to play a "passable" third base than it is to play a "passable" shortstop.
Either way, if you give me a good defensive shortstop (Rodriguez) and a bad defensive shortstop (Jeter) and tell me to pick one for third base and one for shortstop, the good defensive shortstop is going to be playing shortstop, no matter how extraordinarily horrendous Jeter might be at third base.
It's really matter of picking which of these two alignments you'd rather have:
#1 (ARod at SS, Jeter at 3B)The choice there is obvious, to me at least. And that is assuming ARod would be very good at third and completely ignoring the possibility that Jeter might actually be good at third himself. Neither of those two things are givens. In fact, the only given is that ARod is good at shortstop and Jeter isn't.
That's it for this week, thanks for stopping by. If you missed any of this week's entries (and you probably want to at least read Wednesday's, if you haven't already), here they are:
Monday: You're so vain, you probably think this blog is about you...
Tuesday: Three more years! Three more years! Three more years!
Wednesday: "Baseball people generally are allergic to new ideas"
Thursday: Not So Gleeman-Length Thoughts
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****
Thursday, February 19, 2004
Not So Gleeman-Length ThoughtsThe Anti-Plaschke
Yesterday's thrashing of Bill Plaschke's recent column in the Los Angeles Times appears to be one of the most popular entries in the history of this blog. When I write something critical of others like that, I am always scared that I've gone too far, been too negative. But the response I got yesterday from emailers, friends and other bloggers assured me that I was right on the mark in this case.
Anyway, for an article about Paul DePodesta becoming the new Dodgers GM that is about 1,000 times better than Plaschke's hack-job, I suggest everyone check out Rob Neyer's take on the whole thing from earlier this week on ESPN.com.
I've been a big fan of Rob's for years now (he and Baseball Prospectus are the two biggest reasons for me being the type of baseball fan I am) and I think that column was among his finest yet. Heck, it was so good that I felt the need to email Rob to say just how much I enjoyed it, which is something I almost never do with anyone.
Here's the link:
Moneyball goes Hollywood (by Rob Neyer)
There were all kinds of interesting responses to my ripping of Plaschke, both in emails and on other websites. Far too many to reprint here. This one, from the Rooftop Report ("A look at politics, gossip, and sports through the eyes of a Cubs fan") is one of my favorites:
Not funny? Check. Factually inaccurate? Check. Misleading? Check. Extremely open to criticism? Check.
I don't know about you, but I smell Pulitzer for Mr. Plaschke!
I would also like to point out that I got tons emails from people living in California who all said essentially the same thing. "Bill Plaschke is a joke" or "Bill Plaschke is horrible" or "I stopped reading Plaschke two years ago."
I find it funny that no one seems to like reading one of the most well-known sports columnists in the country, although perhaps that just means the people reading this blog (and thus sending me emails) are smarter than the average newspaper reader? Hey, I'm willing to buy into that theory if you are!
Welcome to The Jungle
The cool thing about having a website is that you never quite know when you're going to get a big surge of new visitors. On a whim, someone with a more popular website could decide to link to your website and suddenly you've got tons and tons of new people stopping by, unannounced.
That happened to this site yesterday. Aaron's Baseball Blog was the "Yahoo! Picks" website of the day.
Here's a link to the Yahoo! Picks page, which includes a picture of the blog and a nice review of it.
Here's a quote:
Baseball diehards would be well-served to slide safely into this comprehensive site every day of the upcoming season. Dissecting baseball news and offering opinion, this prolific college student turns out prose that goes into extra innings. A Minnesota Twins fan through and through, he nevertheless offers cogent thoughts on players and teams from all over the major leagues.Anyway, I thought it was pretty cool and I certainly appreciate the mass of new readers Yahoo! graciously sent my way. They were all treated to a nice scathing entry about Bill Plaschke, which is probably a fine introduction to Aaron's Baseball Blog.
500K for a Pinto
A hearty congratulations to David Pinto! His blog, Baseball Musings, reached 500,000 total visitors yesterday afternoon.
As I have said here before, David is literally the guy who caused me to start this blog. I was reading Baseball Musings on August 1, 2002, when I saw this entry from David about how much fun blogging was and about how he hoped some of his readers would start up blogs of their own.
So later that day I did. And now...well, now you're stuck with me.
Incidentally, it appears as though this blog will top 400,000 total visitors at some point this week. Not that it's a competition or anything. Although, I will say that David got a five-month head-start on me! Just remember the tortoise and the hare...
As many of you have noticed, my first two columns for Rotoworld.com are available for mass consumption.
Spring Training Position Battles: Outfield (by Aaron Gleeman)
Spring Training Position Battles: Infield (by Aaron Gleeman)
Make sure to go check them out, but not until you're done reading all you want to read on this blog, of course. There will be a new Rotoworld.com column written by me every week through the end of the 2004 season.
On a related note, thanks to everyone who emailed me last week saying they picked up Rotoworld's magazine at a local bookstore/newsstand. Some of you even said you were actually excited to see my name in the magazine, which I think is pretty cool. I, for one, was thrilled to see my name on a printed byline for the first time (not including my high school newspaper) and my family members seemed fairly impressed too.
Operation Tickle Ass: Phase Two
A while back I hinted at three announcements I had coming related to my writing. The first announcement, which I made here about two weeks ago, was that I would be writing the weekly column for Rotoworld.com this season and also that I had written a bunch of stuff for their aforementioned magazine.
I am now ready to spill the beans on the second announcement.
I am proud to announce that I will be writing not one, but two weekly columns for InsiderBaseball.com this upcoming season.
I wrote weekly prospect reports for InsiderBaseball.com last season and I will once again be doing that this year. In addition to that, I'll be penning a weekly column on various player news around baseball.
Like my work with Rotoworld, my writing at InsiderBaseball.com will have a slight fantasy baseball slant, but it'll be the same type of writing you've been getting here for the past 18 months or so.
Unfortunately, InsiderBaseball.com is a subscription-based website, which means to read all of my work there, you'll have to pay for it. It is well worth the money if you're a serious fantasy baseball player or just a big-time baseball junkie in general.
I heard Enrique Wilson had a couple write-in votes
ESPN.com recently ran a poll where they asked a series of questions related to Alex Rodriguez being traded to the Yankees. As of me writing this, 109,230 people had responded to the poll. I found the results of two questions particularly interesting.
Who is the better defensive shortstop?This is a surprising result, but definitely nice to see. I would say maybe all this talk guys like me are doing about Derek Jeter's horrible defense is actually making a difference, but I'm guessing the poll results have a lot more to do with Alex Rodriguez winning back-to-back Gold Gloves.
Either way, at least we know 72.3% of the people in this sample are not completely insane. And then there's this...
Who should the Yankees move to third base?So 72.3% of the people think ARod is a better defensive shortstop than Jeter, yet just 37.7% of them think ARod is the one who should be playing shortstop for the Yankees.
This is interesting to me, because from a purely on-field standpoint, the responses make absolutely zero sense.
On a related note, 100% of those replying to the survey in the McCarver household answered "Extremely" to the question, "Exactly how dreamy is Derek Jeter?"
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
"Baseball people generally are allergic to new ideas"As this blog has grown in popularity, I have gradually written fewer and fewer entries devoted to criticizing the work of others. The reason, I think, is that while it remains interesting to tear apart the writing of members of the mainstream sports media, it loses a little something when your audience is substantial enough to have your own work torn apart at times.
Plus really, if you're a writer (and I pretend to be one, at least), you want people to be reading your thoughts on a subject, not your thoughts on how dumb someone else's thoughts on a subject are.
With all that said, once in a great while there comes an article that is simply begging to be torn apart. It's almost like a sign from the Journalistic Gods. I call these the "Wow that's a piece of crap" articles.
I stumbled across one of these beauties yesterday afternoon. It appeared in the Los Angeles Times and was written by columnist Bill Plaschke.
With Luck, the Dodgers Won't Crash (by Bill Plaschke)
The article was of particular interest to me, because it dealt with the Dodgers hiring Oakland assistant GM Paul DePodesta as their new GM, a subject I discussed on Friday.
Let's just start right from the top...
The Dodgers have a new face, and it is dabbed in Clearasil.Before we go any further, let me just say that I have seen Bill Plaschke and I have heard Bill Plaschke speak. If there is anyone in this world who is unqualified to mock other people for their appearance or for their way of speaking, it is Bill Plaschke.
I wouldn't normally say something like that and I won't go into more details, but I think it is acceptable here, in response to what Plaschke wrote (even with it obviously being a joke).
Meet General Manager.Com, otherwise known as Paul DePodesta, a 31-year-old computer nerd who was hired Monday to rid the Dodgers of their, um, virus.Well, let's see...we are three sentences into the column and Plaschke has already talked about DePodesta needing Clearasil and speaking in megabytes, and now he is just flat-out saying the new Dodgers GM is a "computer nerd."
By the way, in case you're curious, here's a picture of this 31-year-old, Clearasil wearing, megabyte speaking computer nerd.
DePodesta played both football and baseball at Harvard University, where he graduated with honors. I certainly could be wrong, but I suspect that means DePodesta played two more collegiate sports than Plaschke did.
Of course, DePodesta is incredibly smart and utilizes a computer in his work, which apparently makes him a "computer nerd" to someone like Plaschke.
"I'll admit, there's some boldness to this," said owner Frank McCourt. "But that's exactly what we need to do to change things around here."The idea here is obviously that, by hiring DePodesta, the Dodgers are going from a history of "wise old men" like Branch Rickey to an equation-trusting computer nerd.
I'd like to tell you all something that Bill Plaschke obviously never knew and didn't bother to research, which is that Branch Rickey was one of the very first baseball men to incorporate baseball statistics into his job on a regular basis. I've even seen him called a "pioneer of baseball statistics" more than a few times.
In fact, Branch Rickey wrote an article for LIFE Magazine in 1954 entitled "Goodbye To Some Old Baseball Ideas."
The subtitle of the article could very well have been describing something written by Paul DePodesta himself: "The 'Brain' of the game unveils formula that statistically disproves cherished myths and demonstrates what really wins."
Here's how Rickey began his LIFE Magazine article:
Baseball people generally are allergic to new ideas. We are slow to change. For 51 years I have judged baseball by personal observation, by considered opinion and by accepted statistical methods. But recently I have come upon a device for measuring baseball which has compelled me to put different values on some of my oldest and most cherished theories.Oh yeah Plaschke, this Branch Rickey guy would have hated to see the Dodgers hire someone like Paul DePodesta.
Here are a few other interesting tidbits from Branch Rickey's article:
Batting average is only a partial means of determining a man's effectiveness on offense. It neglects a major factor, the base on balls, which is reflected only negatively in the batting average (by not counting it as a time at bat). Actually walks are extremely important.In those three snippets from an article written 50 years ago, Branch Rickey discusses why:
1) Batting average is overrated and walks and on-base percentage are important.
2) RBIs are a misleading statistic, dependent on several other factors beyond a player's control.
3) Errors are a useless stat and something that judges a player's range in the field is far more valuable.
Those are all things that are still being debated and studied today. They are staples of what is now called sabermetrics. Still, I would guess that the majority of baseball fans today would disagree with Rickey regarding all three things.
Try telling the average fan that he shouldn't judge a hitter by batting average and RBIs. Try telling someone that the best defensive team in the league isn't always the one that made the fewest errors. It is, at best, an uphill battle.
Yet Branch Rickey had those ideas (and many more) 50 years ago. He was Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta before there was a Billy Beane or Paul DePodesta. Branch Rickey was smart, he used statistics, he thought outside the box and he went against baseball's established ideas and rules. If he was around today, I'm sure Bill Plaschke would make some joke about his skin or his use of equations.
For Plaschke to compare Branch Rickey to Paul DePodesta in attempt to show how different they are, how nerdy DePodesta is compared to a great baseball man like Rickey, is absolutely ridiculous. The only thing it really shows is that Bill Plaschke is as clueless about baseball's history as he is about baseball's present.
As GM of the Dodgers, Rickey hired a statistician named Allan Roth to be his assistant.
As ESPN.com's Rob Neyer wrote last November:
It was likely Roth who convinced Rickey that on-base percentage was more important than batting average. It was likely Roth who invented "isolated power," hailed by Rickey as a better measure than slugging percentage of power (which, of course, it is). It was likely Roth who arrived at the inescapable conclusion that there's a clear relationship between a team's run differential and its record.In that same LIFE Magazine article from 1954, Rickey says about Roth:
To help assemble data that would lead to facts I brought in Allan Roth, who prepares and refines statistics for the Brooklyn Dodgers and who, in my opinion, is the top statistical specialist in baseball.Of course, none of this is of any importance to Bill Plaschke. He'd rather just make jokes about nerds and pimply faces and such. Still, the fact remains that Branch Rickey was very likely the first "baseball man" to involve himself in what is now referred to as sabermetrics, defined decades later by Bill James as "the search for objective knowledge about baseball."
If anything, Branch Rickey and Paul DePodesta are cut from the same cloth. DePodesta is essentially continuing something that was started by Rickey, with the benefit of about 50 years worth of technology and advancements in the field.
But okay, enough about Branch Rickey. Bill Plaschke still has plenty left to say...
I've eaten Dodger Dogs that were older than this kid.I think perhaps this says more about Bill Plaschke's eating habits and the Dodgers' lack of success lately than it does about Paul DePodesta's age. The Dodgers, by the way, haven't won a single playoff game in 15 years. That alone might suggest a need for change, or at least it does to me.
[Oakland's] method, which cost scouts jobs and lowered the A's payroll, resulted in a .606 winning percentage during that time, tied for the best in baseball.On one hand, Plaschke is giving DePodesta credit for the A's team that tied for the best record in baseball during the time he is discussing. Then he uses the A's lack of playoff success as a mark against DePodesta's method of doing things.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers haven't even been to the post-season since 1996. DePodesta's A's made the playoffs in each of the past four seasons, winning a total of eight playoff games. And they did that with about half the payroll the Dodgers had. The Dodgers, once again, haven't won a single playoff game in 15 years.
The thing about Kirk Gibson is simply stupid. Gibson is used by Plaschke as some sort of an example of the type of player DePodesta doesn't value. There are any number of things wrong with this assumption, chief among them the fact that Gibson was drafted out of Michigan State University by the Tigers in 1978.
DePodesta and the A's, as detailed in Moneyball, lean heavily toward drafting college players. This alone would have made Gibson, who dominated college baseball as a junior, someone DePodesta would have targeted, even before he played a single inning in the major leagues.
Plaschke says that "Gibson's unconventional numbers probably wouldn't have fit the A's system." I wonder exactly which unconventional numbers he is talking about?
Kirk Gibson had both power and plate discipline, two things the A's have always been after. Despite a career batting average of just .268 (only 2% better than the adjusted league-average), Gibson's career on-base percentage of .352 was 7% better than the league average.
Gibson often saw his seasons cut short due to injuries and played a total of just six seasons in which he accumulated at least 500 plate appearances. He still managed to rank among the top-10 in both slugging percentage and OPS (on-base % + slugging %) four times, while also making it into the top-10 for OPS+ in four seasons.
The year the Dodgers won their last World Series (and their last playoff game, period) was 1988. Kirk Gibson was the MVP of the National League that year, and hit .290/.377/.483 with 25 homers, 28 doubles and 73 walks.
Despite playing in Dodger Stadium, a major pitcher's ballpark, he ranked fourth in the NL in on-base percentage, fourth in OPS and ninth in slugging percentage. He also ranked third in OPS+, which adjusts for home ballparks, and second in Win Shares.
If there is something "unconventional" about those numbers that would make the A's not want him, I certainly don't see it.
Kirk Gibson was one hell of a baseball player. To reduce him to someone whose impact on the field stemmed from unconventional numbers and "leadership" is silly. The idea that Kirk Gibson is the type of player who Paul DePodesta would ignore is simply ridiculous, which, unfortunately, fits in very well with the general theme of ridiculousness that dominates Plaschke's column.
Despite writing an incredibly bad column in which he displays an embarrassing lack of knowledge about Branch Rickey, Bill Plaschke did inspire me to do something I have never done before, which is take advantage of my status as a University of Minnesota student to use an online publication search called "ProQuest."
Not having read much of Plaschke in the past, I wanted to at least get a feel for the type of stuff he usually writes. So, I searched for articles he had written about baseball within the last couple years. I found one entitled "Challenging Bonds Isn't Worth Risk" from September 18, 2002, and figured it was right up my alley.
It is essentially a column devoted to the greatness of Barry Bonds and Plaschke humorously writes "WALK HIM!" between just about every paragraph. Near the end of the column, I found a particularly interesting portion:
So even if it doesn't seem sporting to give a guy first base, if it helps your team, you swallow your pride and you do it."Last season, one study showed that Bonds reached base 1.1 times per plate appearance."
This is perhaps my favorite sentence ever written by a sports columnist. There are so many levels of fun wrapped up in that one little sentence.
For one thing, Bill Plaschke needed a "study" to tell him how many times per plate appearance Barry Bonds reached base in 2001. This is something that can be figured out in about 30 seconds at Baseball-Reference.com (or ESPN.com or wherever you want to get your baseball stats).
Beyond that is the fact that, if you walked Barry Bonds 1,000 times in 1,000 plate appearances, he would have reached base exactly 1.0 times per plate appearance. Thus, any "study" that shows he reached base 1.1 times per plate appearance is not only wrong, but physically impossible.
You might think that a long-time sports columnist who has written hundreds of articles on baseball during his career would realize that one can only reach base once per plate appearance, but apparently not. Perhaps that sort of math is something Plaschke should work on before the season starts, along with possibly doing some reading up on the life of Branch Rickey.
On second thought, better leave the equations to guys like Branch Rickey, Paul DePodesta and all nerds who speak in megabyte and wear Clearasil. I wouldn't want Mr. Plaschke to hurt himself.
*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****
Tuesday, February 17, 2004
Three more years! Three more years! Three more years!
The Twins agreed to a two-year contract with an option for a third year with first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz yesterday. The deal breaks down as follows:
2004 - $2.80 million
2005 - $3.75 million
2006 - $3.75 million (or $450,000 buyout)
The first two years of the deal take care of Mientkiewicz's remaining arbitration eligibility, while the third season, if the option is picked up, would take care of his first year of free agency.
This comes as quite a shock to me. To be quite honest, I didn't think signing Mientkiewicz past 2004 was even being considered. The Twins have Justin Morneau, one of the best hitting prospects in all of baseball, and I just assumed this entire time that Mientkiewicz would agree to a one-year deal for 2004 and then leave, allowing Morneau to take over at first base in 2005.
At the same, I have largely been on the fence about whether or not letting Mientkiewicz go after 2004 was a good idea. You see, Mientkiewicz is not a lot things. He is not a prototypical first baseman. He is not a power hitter. He is not a guy who drives in runs in bunches. Despite all that, Mientkiewicz was one of the best first basemen in all of baseball last year when you take into account both offense and defense.
Strictly going by offensive contributions, Mientkiewicz hit .300/.393/.450 in 142 games last year. That was good for ninth among all major league first basemen in Runs Above Replacement Position (RARP), 10th in Value Over Replacement Position (VORP), and eighth in Runs Created Above Position (RCAP)
Defensive contributions are much harder to quantify. Mientkiewicz is, according to just about anyone you could ask and any defensive metric you can find, a phenomenal defensive first baseman. In fact, in my opinion he is the best defensive first baseman I have ever seen.
- Diamond-Mind has given Mientkiewicz their highest possible rating - "Excellent" - for each of the past three seasons.
- Mitchel's Lichtman's Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) system ranks Mientkiewicz #2 among all first basemen since 2000, just slightly behind Todd Helton (another outstanding defender).
- David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range (it could use a catchier name, but it's a very good system) ranked Mientkiewicz #3 among everyday first basemen last season.
- Baseball Prospectus shows Mientkiewicz as 58 Fielding Runs Above Replacement (FRAR) over the last three years.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. If you have a top-10 offensive first baseman and he is an elite defensive first baseman, doesn't that make him a damn good player?
Bill James' Win Shares is one of the few metrics that attempts to put together both offense and defense. Using Win Shares, Mientkiewicz ranked third among AL first basemen (behind only Carlos Delgado and Jason Giambi) and eighth among all major league first basemen last year.
Using Dave Studemund of BaseballGraphs.com's Wins Shares Above Replacement (which I happen to think is an extremely good stat, much better than raw Win Shares), Mientkiewicz checks in at 11.6 WSAR. That once again ranks him third in the AL and eighth overall.
So, essentially, Mientkiewicz was probably about the eighth-best first baseman in all of baseball last year. Of course, he wasn't nearly as good in 2002, when he hit just .261/.365/.392. He was, however, similarly effective in 2001, hitting .306/.387/.464 while providing his always-outstanding defense.
Basically, Mientkiewicz has been a top-10 first baseman in two of the last three years, with a horrible offensive season sandwiched in-between.
Having watched him play nearly every game of his entire career, I feel confident that Mientkiewicz's true ability is a whole lot closer to his 2001 and 2003 numbers than his 2002 numbers. Which is another way of saying I feel like he's a legit top-10 first baseman.
Is a guy who hits .306/.387/.464 (in 2001) or .300/.393/.450 (in 2003) while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense worth $2.8 million in 2004 and $3.75 million in both 2005 and 2006? Even on a team with a payroll that will likely remain under $60 million for that entire time, I think the answer is yes.
I think $10.3 million over three years (or $7 million for two years, if they buy him out for 2006) for a top-10 first baseman who doesn't turn 30 until June is a damn good deal. At the same time, it means Justin Morneau, if he's going to establish himself as a premier offense player for the Twins, will have to do it as a designated hitter.
I know some people are against making young players full-time DHs, but I don't really have a problem with it. Plus, Morneau can work in practice to improve his defense at first base the entire time, and he'll certainly have plenty of chances to play the position in games, whether he's subbing for an injured Mientkiewicz or just giving him a day off in the field.
The other concern about retaining Mientkiewicz for the next 2-3 years is that it further complicates what is an already messy logjam of corner outfielders and first basemen in Minnesota's system. While I certainly agree that they have an abundance of such players, I don't see it as a huge problem in regard to Mientkiewicz.
If Mientkiewicz is playing first base for the Twins in 2005 and 2006, that means Morneau will likely be DHing. The guys that would impact are Matthew LeCroy, Michael Cuddyer and Michael Restovich.
I remain unconvinced that Restovich can become an impact player in the major leagues. He has huge power potential, but has hit .281/.350/.506 (with a 268/100 K/BB ratio) in 257 career games at Triple-A, which, while good, is nothing particularly impressive. Perhaps he can be a good DH or a decent corner outfielder, but I don't think the Twins should be clearing out starting spots for him at this point.
Cuddyer is a different story, because I think he can be a clear step up from Restovich as a player. The Twins could very easily make room for Cuddyer, either by trading (or not offering arbitration to) Jacque Jones at some point and sticking him in right field, or by letting Corey Koskie leave as a free agent after this season and plugging him in at third base.
Hell, if I were running things, I would give Cuddyer a serious look at second base. Of course, I'm not a big fan of their current second baseman and perhaps my Jeff Kent fantasies are wildly optimistic. Still, I don't think having Mientkiewicz around through 2006 means it's not possible to get Cuddyer everyday playing time.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger fan of Matthew LeCroy than me. He is someone whom I think can be a very solid DH, and I think he'll do very well in that role for the Twins in 2004. At the same time, if you told me I could have Morneau and LeCroy as my 1B/DH in 2005/2006 or Mientkiewicz and Morneau, I would take the latter in a heartbeat (even with the differences in salary).
Plus, even without a starting role, LeCroy could get a ton of playing time in 2005 and 2006. He could DH or play first base against tough lefties (both Mientkiewicz and Morneau are left-handed) and he could serve as Joe Mauer's backup behind the plate.
I think the Twins have done well locking Doug Mientkiewicz up for the next three seasons. He has been a very good player for two of the past three years and the contract is very reasonable, even for a small-market team. It does block some of their other hitters, but the only guy I'd be really worried about blocking is Cuddyer, and there are several other places he could play.
Plus, perhaps with Mientkiewicz under contract for the foreseeable future, the Twins could actually go out and try to trade someone like Restovich or LeCroy for a person who could play the middle infield without making me hate them. And, if all else fails and they suddenly feel compelled to give everyday jobs to Cuddyer, Restovich and LeCroy, they could always trade Mientkiewicz. I'm sure there are plenty of teams out there that would be interested and, as I said, his price-tag is very reasonable.
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Monday, February 16, 2004
You're so vain, you probably think this blog is about you...It appears as though my entry from Friday about Paul DePodesta becoming the new GM for the Dodgers was a tad premature. With that in mind, and at the risk of writing back-to-back entries that completely jump the gun, I have a few things to say about Alex Rodriguez joining the Yankees.
Basically, I don't like it.
I've been accused of being a "Yankee hater" before for things I've written here (mostly about Derek Jeter), but the fact is that I don't dislike the Yankees at all. In fact, if I sat down and listed all 30 major league teams in order of how much I like them, I think the Yankees would probably show up in the upper half.
I think they are a well-run ballclub. I like their uniforms. I like their ballpark. I like their former special assistant to the traveling secretary. I especially enjoy their incredible tradition and team history.
At the same time, there are certain aspects of the Yankees that I don't particularly enjoy. For one thing, the amount and type of media attention they get. I've written about this before, particularly in regard to things like Tim McCarver fawning over Derek Jeter or various announcers talking about things like "mystique and aura." For anyone who isn't a huge fan of the Yankees, this gets annoying before you can say "Mr. Clutch," and hearing it year after year after year makes you start to resent the team.
In addition to that, I don't like the fact that they can spend what seems like an endless amount of money on their team each year. I don't fault them for doing so, because if I were a team owner and I could spend five times as much as other teams, I would gladly do it. At the same time, sitting here in Minnesota, it's tough to look at a team with a payroll that is well over $100 million higher than the Twins' and feel any sort of warm and fuzzy feelings towards them.
Meanwhile, I have always been a big fan of Alex Rodriguez. He appears to me to be a nice if sometimes boring person, and his baseball talent it extraordinary. He finally won the MVP this past season, and part of the reason why I've become such a fan of his is that, prior to his winning the award, I spent a lot of time and effort trying to fight the non-sense about him not being valuable because of his team's struggles.
I suppose his joining the New York Yankees is going to end that whole Alex Rodriguez MVP/crappy team debate for good, which is certainly a positive thing. Still, something bugs me about ARod joining the Yankees. I have been trying to pinpoint it ever since I heard that he was possibly going there and I'm still not 100% sure of the source.
I think it has to do partly with the Yankees' massive payroll and how that makes me feel as a fan of a "small-market" team. I feel like there is an inherent unfairness in the vastly different payrolls and that leaves a very sour taste in my mouth, regardless of who is at "fault."
It's nice to talk about payrolls not making a difference if a team is smart and well-run, but money does make a difference. Just because teams like the Twins and the A's have been able to win recently with small payrolls doesn't mean they wouldn't have been able to win even more with big payrolls. Playing the underdog is fun too, but at some point that gets old, especially when the reason you're the underdog is that your team can't spend $100 million more on its players.
More than that though, I think my displeasure with the news of ARod going to the Yankees has to do with the fact that I am almost certain he will end up moving to third base in order to placate Derek Jeter.
You see, I actually like Jeter as a player and as a person. He seems to be much like Rodriguez, in that he's well-spoken and smart. Plus, Jeter occasionally makes the headlines off the field, which makes him more interesting than ARod.
At the same time, the media attention and exaggerated hero worship that comes with Jeter has always bugged me. It is exactly the sort of thing that makes me dislike the Yankees at times, despite actually liking the team and the players.
When Tim McCarver waxes poetic about Jeter every post-season and every announcer and newspaper writer refers to his greatness and magical abilities, it bugs me. Every time someone in a discussion of who the best shortstop in baseball is sees that there isn't much statistical evidence to support Jeter and pulls the "count the rings" card, it bugs me.
In short, I think Jeter is an excellent player, a Hall of Fame level player. I also think he is overrated and that his faults as a player are ignored while his strengths are magnified to epic proportions.
And now Alex Rodriguez, a superior player to Jeter on both offense and defense, is going to have to take a backseat to the Yankee captain. Rodriguez, in the middle of a career that has a chance of being the greatest ever for a shortstop in the history of baseball, is very likely going to change positions, so that Jeter can continue to play shortstop for the Yankees.
Derek Jeter is one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball and Alex Rodriguez is one of the best. However, that doesn't really bother me. If the Yankees want to hurt their defense because they can't find it in their hearts to tell Jeter to move over a spot, that's their problem.
What does bug me is that Rodriguez is very likely going to have his days as a starting shortstop cut short, not because he joins a team with a better shortstop (impossible, unless they dig up Honus Wagner and someone signs him), but because he joins a team with Derek Jeter.
If this were high school and we were putting Jeter and ARod through tryouts, Rodriguez would be the starting shortstop and Jeter would be playing somewhere else. Those are the facts, as I see them, and no amount of "count the rings" type arguments will change my mind.
Jeter's defense is bad, Rodriguez's defense is good. It's as simple as that. Yet I have a bad feeling that, should ARod join the Yankees as is being reported, he will be playing somewhere other than his best position. And it's almost assumed, like Jeter moving for ARod isn't even an option.
The ESPN.com front page story on the trade over the weekend included a line about how "The Yankees have found their third baseman" and how Alex Rodriguez, the greatest shortstop of this generation, was "their solution at the hot corner."
That's a testament to the power of Jeter's overratedness, it's a testament to the power of being the captain of the Yankees, and it's a damn shame. When the greatest shortstop of the last 90 years has to change positions, the reason should be a whole lot better than "that's Jeter's spot."
Here's hoping Joe Torre is smart enough to see who the best shortstop on the team is in spring training, and brave enough to actually play him there.
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