May 22, 2003

2 out of 3 aint bad

A few days ago I expressed a little concern about the next couple weeks of the Twins' schedule:

"This is where it gets really tough for the Twins. They have taken over first place, but their upcoming stretch of games is downright scary. Their next 15 games breakdown as follows:

3 at Oakland

3 at Seattle

2 vs Oakland

4 vs Seattle

3 at San Francisco

Ouch.

I think that the Twins can run away with the division, just like they did last year, if they can somehow manage to go 6-9 or 7-8 over the next 15 games. That's easier said than done, of course."

Much to my delight (and surprise), the Twins took 2 out of 3 in Oakland. Making things even better is that the two games they won came against Barry Zito and John Halama, two left-handed starters. The Twins had tons of problems with left-handed pitching last season, so it's always good to see them do okay against southpaws, especially Zito.

Twins hitting in 2002:

vs LHP - .252/.318/.413

vs RHP - .282/.339/.449

Prior to yesterday's win over Halama, the Twins were hitting .274/.325/.425 against lefties this season. That might not seem like a big improvement, and it's not, but it is 20 points of batting average and 12 points of slugging, which makes a difference. And they tagged Halama for 5 runs off of 8 hits and 4 walks yesterday - in only 6 innings.

There are a few reasons for the slight overall improvement against lefties: Jacque Jones has been mediocre against them (.288/.309/.404 this year), instead of completely awful (.213/.259/.331 last year). A.J. Pierzynski has been fantastic (.368/.405/.605). And Bobby Kielty has been incredible (.382/.500/.882).

Kielty had 4 plate appearances against a lefty yesterday:

1st inning - WALK

3rd inning - 2-RUN HOMER

4th inning - WALK (with the bases loaded)

6th inning - LINE OUT TO LF

Not a bad day. On base 3 times, with a homer and 3 runs batted in.

Here are Kielty's overall numbers this year, for no other reason than looking at them makes me happy:

 AB     PA     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B    BB    RBI    RUN

121 149 .289 .416 .521 7 7 25 24 23

Bobby started the season by playing in only 6 of Minnesota's first 13 games. Since then, he has played in 29 of their 31 games, including 20 in a row from April 16th to May 8th.

I have constantly talked about Kielty deserving everyday playing time and I have begged and pleaded with Ron Gardenhire to give it to him, so I think I should give Gardenhire some credit at this point, because it looks as though Kielty is now an everyday player for the near future. Good job Gardy, you managed to recognize who one of your best players is! Now, about that Santana guy...

Joe Mays continued his pattern of giving up a lot of runs, although the 4 he gave up yesterday weren't entirely his fault. With 1 out in the bottom of 3rd inning and 2 men on base, Eric Chavez hit a line-drive to centerfield. Torii Hunter started coming in to catch it and then, all of a sudden, started to change direction and go backward. He slipped and the ball went over his head. Both runners scored and Chavez ended up on 3rd base with a "triple."

Torii has been great defensively during this series and he made a game-saving catch when I was at the game last weekend, but even the best of the best have bad days. I think it is hard to remember (for me at least) that a centerfielder (or any position) doesn't have to make home run-robbing catches and diving grabs in order to be a good fielder. Making the routine plays are valuable to, and not making the routine plays can be very costly. I'd still take Torii over an awful lot of guys though, because I think he does a good job making the routine plays and a great job making the difficult/impossible ones.

The Twins did get a little bad news during the win. Matthew LeCroy hurt his knee running to first base on a ground out and the early word is that he has an "inflamed patella tendon." I don't exactly know what that means as far as the severity of the injury, but it doesn't sound particularly fun. The Twins have been racked with injuries recently and already have a hobbled Doug Mientkiewicz on the bench. Plus, LeCroy just came back from a broken nose that kept him out of action for a few games.

With Mientkiewicz hurting and Todd Sears sitting out the last couple of games with a sore back, LeCroy had been playing some first base and he has really started to catch fire offensively. He is hitting .353/.389/.794 in May and has raised his season numbers to .310/.348/.552. With Sears and Mientkiewicz unavailable, Denny Hocking replaced LeCroy at first base yesterday, which is just wrong on so many levels. Hopefully Matthew will be back soon, because he is quickly becoming my 2nd favorite Twin and a very valuable part of the team.

Oh, by the way, before the Oakland series, a bunch of A's were quoted all over the place saying how much they hated A.J. Pierzynski. Here's what Terrence Long said about A.J. "The Mouth" Pierzynski:

"We'll see how things are going to be. I'm not going to name names, but everyone in here knows the guy who was chirping...pretty much he'll get hit. And it will be very well deserving."

Pierzynski in the A's series:

At Bats: 7

Hits: 3

Hit by Pitch: 0

Um...Terrence?

It's very possible that A.J. Pierzynski is a colossal jerk and deserves to be hit with a pitch or two. However, as long as he keeps hitting, I'm fine with him making enemies all over the league (which he seems to be doing). Counting last year's post-season, Pierzynski has played 13 games against the A's since the start of last season. Here is what he's done:

AB     AVG     OBP     SLG

43 .395 .435 .581

Somehow I don't think the A's would be quite so annoyed if A.J. and the Twins weren't doing so well against them.

The A's are coming to the Dome in a few days and I am putting the chances of Pierzynski getting a fastball in back at 60% and rising. I'll be interested to see if Terrence Long has any more predictions...

If you are interested in some more on the Twins and also on the rest of the American League Central, check out my newest article for Baseball Primer:

Bi-Weekly Review: A.L. Central (by Aaron Gleeman)

It's chock full of interesting stats and updates on the 5 AL Central teams, so go check it out.

Meanwhile, over in the AL East...

The Yankees got some bad news yesterday with Bernie Williams possibly needing knee surgery, which would likely keep him out for a while. He's what the ESPN.com story said about it:

NEW YORK -- New York Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams has torn cartilage in his left knee and will likely need surgery that might keep him out of lineup for four-to-six weeks.

"Obviously, it is very disappointing," Williams said. "If there's any positive about this, it's that it's May. There's still the second half of the season to help the club."

I have this weird habit where players I feel are under-appreciated become favorites of mine. It's part of the reason I like Bobby Kielty so much, part of the reason I like Johan Santana so much and, believe it or not, part of the reason I like Barry Bonds so much (yes, I just implied he was under-appreciated).

At the same time, I tend to gradually begin to dislike players I feel are "overrated." I think that everytime I hear someone say how great Derek Jeter is or what a wonderful "RBI man" Juan Gonzalez is, the more I start to dislike them as players. It's weird, because Jeter and Juan Gonzalez are both good players and they personally don't have anything to do with people overrating them. I guess it is just in my blood or something, because I can't help it.

Anyway, I think Bernie Williams is a vastly underrated player and has been his entire career. So, despite my general ambivalence towards the Yankees, I have grown very fond of Bernie Williams as a player.

Why do I think he is underrated?

Check out the following career numbers of five anonymous players:

Player       AVG     OBP     SLG     OPS+

Player A .308 .392 .498 133
Player B .293 .373 .522 135
Player C .297 .350 .499 133
Player X .286 .380 .514 136
Player Z .279 .341 .463 122

As you can probably guess, one of those 5 lines belongs to Bernie Williams (prior to this year). Any guesses for owners of the other 4?

Well, two of them belong to Rafael Palmeiro and Fred McGriff, whom I discussed in some depth last week. The other two lines belong to two Hall of Famers, Orlando Cepeda and Tony Perez.

If you read the two entries I wrote on McGriff and Palmeiro, you know that I feel each of them will finish with a career that I feel is Hall of Fame worthy. So, what you've got there is 5 lines - 4 belonging to "Hall of Fame" first basemen, and the other belonging to a 4-time Gold Glove winner...in centerfield.

Can you distinguish the first basemen from the centerfielder?

A = Bernie Williams

B = Rafael Palmeiro

C = Orlando Cepeda

X = Fred McGriff

Z = Tony Perez

Now, obviously the stats I just showed don't tell the whole story. For one thing, Bernie Williams has only accumulated about 7,000 plate appearances in his career, while the other 4 guys are all over 8,500 and 3 of them have gone over 10,000.

Still, the fact that a centerfielder can match his hitting stats up against 2 Hall of Fame first basemen and 2 (likely) future Hall of Fame first basemen says, to me at least, that Bernie Williams is a Hall of Fame player - assuming he can come back from this knee problem and play a few more years at his established level.

If you want to compare him to a Hall of Fame centerfielder, how about Kirby Puckett?

Bernie and Kirby were very good defensive centerfielders in their primes, they both have plenty of post-season heroics and they both have around 7,000 plate appearances, spread over a dozen years or so.

Player       AVG     OBP     SLG     OPS+

Bernie .308 .392 .498 133
Kirby .318 .360 .477 124

Really, there is no comparison offensively. Kirby hit for a better average, but he hit for a better average than a lot of people. Bernie has gotten on base 10% more often and hit for more power. And, when you adjust their performances for the eras and environments they played in, Bernie's OPS+ is 9 points higher.

Here's another stat for you...

Bernie Williams ranks 7th all-time (or since 1900) in "Runs Created Above Position" for centerfielders:

                          RCAP       PA     

1 Ty Cobb 1135 13073
2 Mickey Mantle 1009 9909
3 Willie Mays 856 12492
4 Tris Speaker 830 11989
5 Joe DiMaggio 616 7671
6 Ken Griffey Jr. 521 7968
7 Bernie Williams 358 6873

That's a pretty impressive list. 5 Hall of Famers and Ken Griffey Jr.

(Thanks to Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Encyclopedia for the RCAP stats)

Not only is Bernie Williams a great player and not only is he a great player that is underappreciated - he is a great player that is underappreciated and has played his entire career for the New York Yankees. How that happened is beyond me.

Don't forget to check out my new article over at BaseballPrimer.com:

Bi-Weekly Review: A.L. Central (by Aaron Gleeman)

Today's picks:

Philadelphia (Millwood) -120 over Montreal (Day)

Chicago (Prior) -160 over Houston (Linebrink)

San Francisco (Moss) -140 over Colorado (Young)

Los Angeles (Perez) -155 over Milwaukee (Rusch)

Toronto (Escobar) +230 over New York (Mussina)

Texas (Valdes) -150 over Baltimore (Hentgen)

Seattle (Moyer) -165 over Minnesota (Radke)

Total to date: + $1,060

W/L record: 94-93 (2-4 yesterday for -285. I am slowly slipping...)

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

May 21, 2003

10 and 2

I'm writing this blog entry on Wednesday afternoon, as I wait for the air-conditioner repair guy to show up. My mom says she has been told he will arrive sometime "between 10 and 2."

I have a question: Why is it okay for certain service people to give you a window of time for arrival that stretches from 10 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon? Why is this accepted, when it would never be accepted at a dentist's office or a doctor's office or any other sort of appointment in the entire universe? Can you imagine calling up your dentist and them telling you to show up and wait in the waiting room, and that you'd be taken sometime between 9:30 and 1:30? Of course not.

Yet, every cable guy or plumber or air-conditioner repair guy gets to leave himself a nice 4-5 hour window in which he'll "probably show up."

Of course, it's not like I have anything else to do today. Although, if not for the "10 and 2" appointment, I'd definitely still be sleeping!

Since I appear to have some time to kill, let's take a little trip around the majors and see what's going on...

Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz sprained his ankle the other day against the White Sox. I was watching the game and he definitely "rolled it" pretty good, so I figured he would be headed for the 15-day disabled list. Then I read the next morning that he would likely be out for at least 10 days and I was sure he was going on the DL. Then I read this in the paper on Tuesday:

"Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz will undergo treatments for his sprained ankle in the Twin Cities, and is expected to meet the team in Seattle on Friday, a Twins spokesperson said Monday.

Mientkiewicz became a candidate for the disabled list when he sprained his ankle on Sunday. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire initially said he wanted to put Mientkiewicz on the DL, but Mientkiewicz argued he could quickly recover. He will miss the team's series in Oakland. The team hopes aggressive treatment of the injury will enable him to play in Seattle.

If Mientkiewicz suffers a setback, the team likely will place him on the DL and promote Michael Cuddyer from Class AAA Rochester."

This seems very strange to me. The Twins have had a ton of minor injuries to their hitters lately. Jacque Jones, Matthew LeCroy, Bobby Kielty and now Mientkiewicz have all missed several games with injuries and Kielty has been limited to DHing and pinch-hitting for at least a week now. All the injuries have caused some very "interesting" Twins lineups, including several games with Mientkiewicz out in right field and several more with Denny Hocking out there.

And yet, with all the injuries, none of those guys went on the DL. So, now that Mientkiewicz is going to be out for at least 4-5 days and probably closer to 10, why would you want to leave yourself short-handed yet again, just to avoid losing Mientkiewicz for a day or two more than he needs to be out? Would you rather play the next week or two with only 24 players or would you rather call Michael Cuddyer up, play with a full roster and let Mientkiewicz take his time recovering and bring him back into the lineup a couple days after he's 100%?

It seems like an obvious answer to me. Playing games with a short roster and then trying to rush a player back from an injury isn't worth it when all you get out of the deal is a couple extra games from Doug Mientkiewicz.

The Twins have made some interesting decisions in regard to player health recently and this certainly makes me wonder what's going on.

Pedro Martinez missed his start on Tuesday against the Yankees because of a "back strain." I am glad to see the Red Sox treat Pedro cautiously. In the past they have talked about being careful with him but, as I have pointed out on this blog, they haven't always actually done so. There is no reason to risk further problems to one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history over a single regular season game in May, Yankees or no Yankees.

Plus, the Sox won the game anyway. Who needs Pedro?!

One of the things that comes along with Pedro being so incredibly great and also incredible fragile is that I am always worrying about if he is pitching like Pedro Martinez or not. Every time he struggles or every time I am watching him and he stretches out his back or grimaches, I get worried that it is all about to come to an end.

For example, at the beginning of last year, he appeared to have completely lost it. Then, he turned it around and ended up having a very good season. Then, early this year, he appeared to have completely lost it against the Orioles, when he gave up 10 runs in 4 innings in his 3rd start of the year. And, a couple of weeks ago, my Twins knocked him around pretty well.

So, is Pedro being Pedro this year? Well, if you take out that disastrous start against the Orioles (it was cold that night, maybe Pedro got stiff or maybe he was sick or something...), here are his "new" 2003 stats:

GS     ERA    IP     K    BB     H    HR

8 1.50 54 57 13 36 3

Wow. That is definitely vintage Pedro.

Pedro has made a total of 9 starts this year (including the really bad one). Here are game-by-game performances:

Innings Pitched: 7 , 8 , 4.1 , 7 , 7 , 7 , 9 , 5 , 6

Earned Runs Allowed: 0 , 1 , 10 , 0 , 0 , 2 , 1 , 5 , 0

I'd say that's pretty impressive. He has allowed 2 or fewer earned runs in 7 of his 9 starts, including not giving up a single earned run in 4 of them. The fact that he has one completely awful start and one pretty bad one and still has a 2.83 ERA is amazing.

ESPN.com has this thing where they ask their "experts" a "Question of the Week." This week's question: Who has the better outfield, the Reds or Braves? Rob Neyer, Jayson Stark, Tom Candiotti and Rob Dibble were asked.

Here are some quotes from what they said:

Neyer: "The Braves have not only the best outfield in the National League, but the best outfield in the world."

Stark: "No matter how much you love where Dunn and Kearns are going, or how much you admire where Griffey has been, it isn't then. It's now. And right now, who has a better outfield than those three guys in Atlanta?"

Candiotti: "You can't go wrong with either outfield, but if I had to pick one, I'd take the Braves."

Okay, so all of these guys made an actual decision. And then you have "Dibs"...

Dibble: "I wouldn't give an edge to either outfield -- they're both awesome. So I say it's a push. I love 'em both."

Why? Why even act as though you are "answering" the question that was asked of you? Why would ESPN.com even ask him in the first place? I could have told you he wasn't going to give a real answer. The only active player he has ever spoken about in a less than a 100% favorable, wishy-washy way is Ichiro!, during his rookie year - and that was just because Ichiro! comes from another country and Dibble thought he wasn't "man enough" to handle the big leagues here in America.

Dibble is a main cast member on "Baseball Tonight" and I must say that, partly because of him, the show is now almost completely unwatchable.

A couple of years ago, I used to watch Baseball Tonight almost every single night. It had a lot of Peter Gammons and some Jayson Stark, a little Tim Kurkjian, some Dave Campbell and the occasional Harold Reynolds.

It was a good show. They showed all the highlights, added a few somewhat interesting comments, discussed the news of the day and occasionally did some interviews with players.

Now, all of a sudden, Karl Ravech (the main host) thinks he should be the one dispensing opinions, instead of just hosting the damn show. Karl Ravech!

The other night, when Mientkiewicz hurt his ankle, Karl Ravech started talking about how the injury was going to "seriously hurt the Twins because they don't have any depth." I wanted to punch him through my TV set. The Twins don't have any depth?! I don't think it is hyperbole to suggest that the Minnesota Twins have more hitting depth than any team in baseball right now.

Possible 1B/DH/LF/RF:

Doug Mientkiewicz

Todd Sears

Matthew LeCroy

Bobby Kielty

Michael Cuddyer

Jacque Jones

Michael Restovich

Justin Morneau

Dustan Mohr

Lew Ford

Mike Ryan

And I am probably forgetting someone too!

Please, just host the show Karl! If we wanted to hear all of your brilliant comments and opinions, why would ESPN bother with journalists like Gammons and Stark or ex-players like Reynolds and Dibble? Why not just make it "Baseball Tonight with Karl Ravech," since I'm sure everyone is dying to hear what some talking head that is really good at reading a teleprompter thinks.

And Harold Reynolds is just a walking, talking cliche. Everything is about "moving runners over" and "defense is 90% of the game" and all that other junk that I've heard 50,000 times.

I still really like Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark. They don't just rattle off cliche after cliche and they occasionally have some interesting information to pass along. Bobby Valentine is new to the show this year. He is interesting and definitely not 100% favorable to every player (which is great), but his voice makes me cringe a lot. Still, I would take him and his voice anytime over Rob Dibble, who is just completely awful.

I was watching the other night and Dibble was talking and he literally spit all over himself. In the middle of his little speech, stuff came flying out of his mouth and he stopped talking, wiped his lip with his hand and said, "Oops, sorry about that." I laughed for 10 straight minutes.

If the boys at Baseball Tonight want to learn how a great sports highlight/analysis show works, they should turn on TNT sometime and watch "Inside the NBA" with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley.

Ernie Johnson doesn't try to hog all the air-time and he doesn't try to editorialize or spew his opinions. Instead, he actually acts as the host of the show (what a concept!) and lets the "talent" do the talking. And Charles and Kenny are actually willing to express opinions on the show that are not cliche-ridden and 100% favorable to every single player who ever played the sport of basketball.

Here's my recipe for a better Baseball Tonight:

Less Karl Ravech. More Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark. Less cliches (Harold Reynolds). Less Rob Dibble spitting on himself. Seriously.

You know the show is getting bad when it is called "Baseball Tonight" and a person as completely obsessed with baseball as me can't stand to watch the damn thing. When there comes a point that someone is interested in watching the show but cannot do so because they can't stand to listen to the people on the actual show, there is something wrong with said show. How Karl Ravech turned into an authority on baseball is beyond me.

Incidentally, I know that at least one cast member of Baseball Tonight actually reads this blog, so I probably just cost myself a reader and probably any shot of a job at ESPN that I had! I can't help it though, it frustrates me that a show I used to love has changed so much and has become so bad. (By the way, to that BBTN cast-member, I did say that "I still really like" you on the show, it's the other guys that I could do without).

Oh, and don't get me started on "SportsCenter." Two words: Stuart Scott.

I think I am allergic to his voice. Booyah!

Today's picks:

Philadelphia (Padilla) -140 over New York (Astacio)

Atlanta (Reynolds) -140 over Cincinnati (Dempster)

St. Louis (Tomko) -100 over Houston (Robertson)

Texas (Lewis) -145 over Tampa Bay (McClung)

Oakland (Halama) -145 over Minnesota (Mays)

Kansas City (Affeldt) +170 over Seattle (Meche)

Total to date: + $1,345

W/L record: 92-89 (3-4 yesterday for -105)

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

May 20, 2003

"He's not Randy Johnson"

One of the cool things about having a blog that a lot of people like to read is that a lot of other bloggers read it too. And, when that happens, they tend to make posts on their blogs about what I say sometimes. The other day, Dan McLaughlin (aka "The Baseball Crank") made a post on his blog regarding my "Johan Santana Liberation Watch."

Here's what he said:

"Aaron Gleeman's Johan Santana Liberation Watch reads as follows:

Games/Starts: 14/1

ERA: 2.56

Innings: 31.2

Strikeouts: 35

Opponent AVG: .212

Is it rude of me to point out that this omits the inconvenient fact that Santana is walking 4.5 men per 9 innings?

I agree with Aaron's larger point - heck, I've got Santana on both of my rotisserie teams, myself - but he's not Randy Johnson, not yet at least."

First of all, it is obviously not rude to point out that the player I have been hyping like no other for the last year or so is currently doing something (walking lots of hitters) that isn't so good. It's just keeping me honest.

The "Johan Santan Liberation Watch" (JSLW) is intended partly as a joke and partly as me showing how great Johan Santana is doing this year in his quest for a bigger role on the team. The first part allows me (I think) to not be completely "unbiased" and thus not show every stat that is important, and the second part seems to suggest that the best way to show he is doing well is to not include something he isn't doing well. Makes sense, right? Another reason I don't list walks (or homers allowed or opponent's OBP or opponent's SLG) is that I don't want the "JSLW" to take up that much room.

But, the fact is, Johan Santana walks a lot of hitters at this stage of his career.

Santana pitched (and not all that well) last night, so his season totals have changed a little since Dan's post. He currently has 17 walks in 33 2/3 innings pitched, or 4.5 per 9 innings. Is that reason for concern? Well, no. Johan was brilliant last season, pitching 108 1/3 innings split between the bullpen and the rotation, winning 8 games with a 2.99 ERA. He walked 49 batters, or 4.1 per 9 innings.

So, he's right around the same walk rate that he was at last season and his performance last season is the reason why I am so damn excited about his future, so the walks don't exactly worry me at this point.

The larger, more interesting issue raised in Dan's post is that Johan is "not Randy Johnson, not yet at least."

I know that was just a casual remark and not meant to be taken 100% seriously. That said, it is obvious that Johan Santana - or any 24 year old pitcher - is not Randy Johnson. Heck, Randy Johnson wasn't even Randy Johnson at 24.

Also, while I think Johan Santana is one of the best young pitchers in baseball and on-track to having a wonderful career, not even I think he is going to turn into Randy Johnson. That's like saying a young hitter I like is going to turn into Ted Williams - it just aint gonna happen.

All that said, the comparison between Johan and Randy is an interesting one and, if you want to get technical about it, Johan Santana is way ahead of where Randy Johnson was at the same age. Let's take a closer look...

Age 21:

Randy Johnson (1985)     Johan Santana (2000)

Single-A Major Leagues
27 IP 86 IP
5.93 ERA 6.49 ERA
6.9 K/9 6.7 K/9
7.9 BB/9 5.7 BB/9

That was Randy Johnson's first professional season, after he was taken in the second round of the 1985 draft. He had a rough debut at Single-A Jamestown, walking nearly 8 batters per 9 innings and posting a 5.93 ERA.

While Johnson was struggling in his first taste of pro ball at 21, Johan Santana was pitching in his 4th professional season and his first season in the major leagues. At this point, Johan already had 294 minor league innings under his belt, although they were all in the low-minors.

The comparison between their age-21 seasons isn't even a comparison. Johan pitched better - similar K rate, half as many walks - and he did it in the major leagues, while Johnson was pitching to Single-A hitters.

Age 22:

Randy Johnson (1986)     Johan Santana (2001)

Single-A Major Leagues
120 IP 44 IP
3.16 ERA 4.74 ERA
10.0 K/9 5.8 K/9
7.1 BB/9 3.3 BB/9

This is Johnson's first "interesting" pro season. He shows the ability to dominate hitters by striking out more than one per inning, although he is still walking a ton of batters.

Meanwhile, Johan completes his second season in the major leagues, although it is an abbreviated one because he misses some time with an injury and only pitches 44 innings.

While Johnson's season was "better," it came against Single-A competition and I would take 44 innings of 4.74 ERA ball against major leaguers for a 22 year old pitcher over 120 innings of 3.16 ERA pitching against Single-A competition any day of the week, without question.

Age 23:

Randy Johnson (1987)     Johan Santana (2002)

Double-A Major Leagues Triple-A
140 IP 108 IP 49 IP
3.73 ERA 2.99 ERA 3.14 ERA
10.5 K/9 11.4 K/9 13.8 K/9
8.2 BB/9 4.1 BB/9 5.0 BB/9

This is why I think so much of Johan Santana's potential.

At age 23, Randy Johnson was at Double-A Jacksonville. He pitched 140 innings with a solid 3.73 ERA, striking out 10.5 per 9 innings, while walking 8.2 batters per game.

At the same age, Johan Santana began the season at Triple-A and pitched 49 innings with a 3.14 ERA. He struck out nearly 14 batters per 9 innings and walked 5. Then, Johan was promoted back to the majors. He pitched 108 innings with a 2.99 ERA, striking out 11.4 batters per 9 innings, while walking 4.1/9 IP.

Again, there is absolutely no comparison here. They both pitched in the minors at age 23 - Johnson at AA and Santana at AAA - and Johan Santana was much better than Johnson was. And then Johan was great in 108 major league innings!

Age 24:

Randy Johnson (1988)

Triple-A Major Leagues
113 IP 26 IP
3.26 ERA 2.42 ERA
8.8 K/9 8.7 K/9
5.9 BB/9 2.4 BB/9

That is what Randy Johnson did at age-24. He pitched at Triple-A Indianapolis, throwing 113 innings with a 3.26, while striking out 8.8 per 9 IP. He made the first meaningful progress of his career with his control, walking "only" 5.9 batters per game. Johnson got a late-season call-up with the Expos and pitched very well, going 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA, while striking out 8.7/9 IP and walking only 2.4.

At 24, Johan is currently in his 4th major league season. Through last night's appearance he has pitched 33 2/3 innings with a 2.67 ERA, striking out 9.9 per game, while walking 4.5

This is where the comparison has to stop, because, while Randy's career has plenty more to look at, Johan is in the middle of his age-24 season as I type this.

Through the age of 24, Randy Johnson had a total of 26 innings in the major leagues. Johan already had 238 career major league innings coming into this season and will likely have over 300 at the end of this, his age-24 season.

None of this is meant to suggest, in any way, that I think Johan Santana is going to become a better pitcher than Randy Johnson or even close to as good as Randy Johnson. It is, however, meant to suggest that he is much further along at this stage of his career and at this age than Randy Johnson was at the same time.

So, while the walks are certainly an issue for Johan, they definitely aren't what is keeping him from being Randy Johnson. Johan walked 4.1 per 9 innings last year and has walked 4.5 per 9 IP this year. Here are Randy Johnson's early major league walk rates:

1989 (age 25) - 5.4 per 9 IP

1990 (age 26) - 4.9

1991 (age 27) - 6.8

1992 (age 28) - 6.2

Randy Johnson had awful control until he was nearly 30 years old and, not coincidentally, that is right around the time he started being Randy Johnson.

Before Twenty Nine - 49-48 (.505), with a 3.95 ERA (1% worse than league-average)

Twenty Nine and Over - 175-58 (.751), with a 2.73 ERA (65% better than league-average)

So, I agree with Dan's statement that Johan Santana, at 24 years old, is "not Randy Johnson." Heck, I don't think he'll ever be Randy Johnson. Of course, Randy Johnson wasn't Randy Johnson until he was about 30 years old and, at 24, he wasn't even Johan Santana.

Today's picks:

San Diego (Peavy) +110 over Milwaukee (Franklin)

Philadelphia (Wolf) -105 over New York (Leiter)

St. Louis (Williams) -130 over Houston (Munro)

Colorado (Jennings) +165 over Los Angeles (Ishii)

Detroit (Bonderman) +170 over Cleveland (Sabathia)

Texas (Benes) -150 over Tampa Bay (Parque)

Chicago (Buehrle) -130 over Toronto (Hendrickson)

Total to date: + $1,450

W/L record: 89-85 (2-1 yesterday for +$100, with one pick canceled because of Pedro Martinez missing his start, which resulted in "no action.")

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

May 19, 2003

Moneyball



cover


"Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game"

I read "Moneyball" last Friday. Not like "I read it last Friday." I read it last Friday - in one sitting. Well, actually, in one lying down. I don't know that I have ever been able to read a non-school-related book while sitting. Anyway, it's freaking awesome!

You know how Ebert and the guy who took over for Siskel give "two thumbs up" when a movie is really good? My stamp of approval is saying it was "freaking awesome." That and reading the book in a single night, without stopping for so much as a bathroom break or to take my dog out (don't worry, we both have good bladders).

So, how good was it exactly? It's tough to say at this point. I think I will have to wait a little while to see if I get the urge to read it again. I feel confident in saying it is not as good as my all-time favorite book, sports and non-sports, "Ball Four." However, I have read Ball Four about 12 times over the last few years, so it would be tough for any book to be better than it in my mind, particularly after I've read it only once.

After "it's not better than Ball Four," I am not sure there is another qualifier to put on it - it's that good. For me, the ultimate test for how good a book was is the immediate reaction I get after reading the very last word on the last page. There seems to be three basic reactions that I have:

1) Boy that sucked, what a waste of time.

2) Wow, that was really good.

3) Why the hell is it only 288 pages?! I need more!

No doubt about it, Moneyball is a #3 book. Not only did I feel sad when the book was over, I felt sad when I knew I was getting close to the end of the book. I was on the second-to-last chapter and I started thinking, "There is only one more chapter that I get to read before I have finished this book!"

The book is an inside look at the Oakland A's, during the 2002 season. As the book's author, Michael Lewis says several times, the book looks to answer the question of how a team with one of the lowest payrolls in the league can win so many ballgames (the A's are 383-264, a .591 winning %, since 1999).

Without giving away too much of the book, here are some things I enjoyed:

1) The characters.

The author, Michael Lewis, is a phenomenal story-teller and, like any good story-teller, he does a fantastic job introducing the important characters to the audience. Whether it is (from left to right) Billy Beane, Bill James, Scott Hatteberg, Paul DePodesta, Chad Bradford or Jeremy Brown, Lewis makes the reader interested in what they say, what they do and what happens to them.

2) The story.

As good a story-teller as Lewis is, he wouldn't have a great book on his hands unless there was a great story to be told. The success of the A's is an interesting story, the man that runs the A's is an interesting story, the way the A's are run is an interesting story, the reactions of others to the way the A's are run is an interesting story - the list goes on and on and on. Of course, not everyone could tell the stories as interestingly as Lewis does.

3) The fly-on-the-wall moments.

As I am sure is the case with a lot of baseball nuts, I often dream about getting a chance to sit in a room with guys like Billy Beane and make decisions for a major league baseball team. I've said it many times before on this blog: Working in a front office is my #1 dream job. Always has been and always will be.

Moneyball is perfect for those of us with those dreams, because it has a ton of fly-on-the-wall moments. And they aren't G-rated or censored ones either. In other words, they are extremely interesting to read.

You get to be there to experience what goes on in the "draft room" prior to and during the draft. How do they rank players? What imput do the scouts have? Who makes the final decisions?

You'll also get to watch Billy Beane at his best, wheeling and dealing. He's shopping for Ray Durham and Ricky Rincon, he has a passing interest in Cliff Floyd, he's trying to unload Mike Venafro's salary, he's on the phone with Peter Gammons, he's trying to get his owner to open the purse-strings a little bit - it's all there to read.

You get to basically hang around in the A's front office, listening to the conversations.

4) The A's philosophy.

This is really the star of the book.

I think most people would agree that the A's are a low-budget team that has a unique, unorthodox organizational philosophy. They make lots of trades, they aren't worried when star players leave for free agency, they like to sign minor league veterans and give them a chance to play in the majors, they love walks, plate discipline and on-base %, and they like to draft college players.

Moneyball goes into why they do all those those things and why they have the beliefs they do.

I think the main thing I took away from from Moneyball is that the A's are operating under strict financial constraints and would love to be able to spend money on players that they find most attractive, like the Yankees or the Red Sox do. But they can't and they realize that trying to "play the same game" as the big budget teams is pointless. Instead, they look for players that are undervalued because of things they aren't.

Maybe Scott Hatteberg wasn't a particularly good defensive catcher and can't throw any more because of arm surgery. The A's see that, but they also see a guy who is always among the league leaders in pitches seen per plate appearances. They see a guy who has a career batting average of .270 and who likes to work long counts and take walks. And, most of all, they see a guy who not a whole lot of other teams want, but who can be a valuable piece of their team for a very limited amount of money.

And that is the key, finding valuable pieces for very little money. The A's simply cannot afford to acquire players that have all the skills a baseball player can have. They can't go out and trade for an Andruw Jones or sign Vladimir Guerrero as a free agent. Instead, they have decided that there are some skills that are both disproportionately valuable and disproportionately cheap. Specifically: Plate disicipline.

Speed costs money. Defense costs money. Power costs money. Batting average costs money. Athleticism costs money. The one thing that the A's believe doesn't cost as much as all the other things is a player with the ability to see lots of pitches, work lots of counts, draw lots of walks and get on-base. Getting on-base is also the most important skill for a hitter to have, or so the A's say.

Assuming you agree with the A's that on-base % is the single most important stat for a hitter (and many around baseball do not agree, obviously) then you can't see the way they are running their organization as anything but pure genius. They have a severe financial handicap, but have somehow found a way to acquire players that possess what they believe is the single most important skill, and they have done so at a reduced price and within their limited financial means.

I think Oakland's philosophy can be shown perfectly with the case of Scott Hatteberg.

Hatteberg hit .280/.374/.433 with 15 homers in 136 games for the A's last season, as their starting first baseman. Those aren't great numbers for sure. He doesn't hit for a great batting average and he doesn't hit for much power. What he does do is get on base. His OBP of .374 was about 11% better than the adjusted league-average in the AL last season (.337).

The A's can't afford to go out and get a Jim Thome and they can't even afford to keep the star first baseman they already had, Jason Giambi. No, they only have X amount of dollars to spend and spending a gigantic chunk of it on someone like Jason Giambi is just not an option. Giambi hit for average, he walked, he hit for huge power - he was a complete package at first base. Instead of him, the A's concede the downgrade at the position and attempt to find a player that can do the most important (in Oakland's mind) thing that Giambi was good at - get on base. In their quest to find someone like that, they come across a former catcher that can't throw and who has never had more than 400 at bats in his career and hasn't had even 300 in years. And they find him for less than a million dollars.

Scott Hatteberg did not have a great season by any means. He was basically a league-average first baseman. According to Baseball Prospectus' EqA and RARP stats, he was the 8th best starting first baseman in the American League. He is not a player that wins pennants for you, but he is a player that pushes you towards a pennant and he does it for only $900,000.

The A's succeed because they are able to identify players that other teams do not value highly, simply because of what those players cannot do and the A's recognize that there is value in what they can do.

Whether it is Scott Hatteberg, whom no one wanted and whom the A's turned into a league-average first baseman for less than a million bucks, or Chad Bradford, who was toiling away in Triple-A, before the A's traded for him and made them their ace reliever (112 innings and an ERA of 2.97 in 2001 and 2002). Or Jeremy Brown, an overweight college catcher, whom the A's drafted in the first round of the 2001 draft, as everyone laughed at them.

Baseball America, one of the most respected baseball publications out there, one of the leading "draft experts" and one of the only magazines that I subscribe to, did not have Jeremy Brown ranked among the top 25 catching prospects in the 2002 draft. Not the top 25 overall prospects, the top 25 catching prospects. BA also did not list Jeremy Brown among their "Top 250 Prospects" in the 2002 draft. 250! Heck, BA had Brown ranked as the 12th best player from the state of Alabama.

And yet, Billy Beane and the Oakland A's selected Jeremy Brown, the fat catcher from the U of Alabama that no one was even paying attention to and that most people probably didn't even have on their draft list, with the 35th pick in the entire draft. They then signed Brown for $350,000. The guy picked directly in front of him signed for $1,000,000 and the guy picked directly behind him signed for $1,050,000.

Brown hit .307/.451/.516 in his first pro season and Baseball America, the same people that did not rank him among the top 250 players in the 2002 draft, ranked him as the #4 prospect in the entire Oakland organization, and said:

"Brown's short, squat body turned off many scouts and doesn't fit the mold of the more athletic modern big league catcher. But the A's general manager Billy Beane said, 'We're not selling jeans here.' If [Brown] continues to perform well, he'll be on the fast track to the majors."

In the span of less than a year, Brown went from a guy they didn't think deserved to be picked in the first 10 rounds of a draft, to a guy "on the fast track to the majors." And that's no knock against Baseball America, it just tells you a little bit about Billy Beane and the A's.

Numerous times throughout the book, Billy Beane says that same line about the A's "not selling jeans." He often says it to his own scouts when they start talking about a baseball player not looking good in his uniform or another player having "a perfect baseball body." The point of the line is, I think, that Billy Beane cares solely about one thing: Winning baseball games.

He doesn't care if a guy runs fast or has six-pack abs. He doesn't care if the guy is a 5-tool player or a 0-tool player. He cares about whether or not the player can help the Oakland Athletics win baseball games. And not just win baseball games, but win baseball games under a strict financial budget that creates huge limitations in both player development and talent acquisition. The Jeremy Browns of the world are the players that can do that.

Oakland can't afford to go after the 5-tool hitters with blazing speed and the ability to fill out a uniform in a way that scouts like. Instead, they go after guys that have been overlooked because of their body or their footspeed or their lack whatever it is that most scouts are looking for.

They can't afford to take a risk on an 18 year old high school pitcher that is 6 foot 5 and throws 99 miles per hour. Instead, they go after a short right-hander from the the Auburn University and take him in the 6th round. Or they take a lefty from Southern Cal that most scouts see as a possible #4 or #5 starter because he doesn't throw hard, and they make him the 9th overall pick in the 1999 draft.

It is all about finding players that you can afford and minimizing risk. The A's have deemed high school players and 5-tool talents both too risky and much too expensive. Instead, they focus on the players that people say can't do this or can't do that, players that are missing a few of those tools or missing a few MPH on their fastballs. They don't care about all of that, because the only thing they care about is winning baseball games.

If someone where to ask me "what are the Oakland A's and Billy Beane doing?" I think I would be able to answer that question pretty well after reading Moneyball.

They are working with one of the tightest budgets in baseball and are, at the same time, creating a game winning machine. They win hundreds of baseball games and they do so, not only with less resources than other teams, but after losing players like Jason Giambi and Jason Isringhausen and Johnny Damon. And soon, they will be doing it without Miguel Tejada. But losing him will not matter (yes, I said will not matter) because he is simply a part of the machine.

When he leaves, the A's will fill his spot with a cheaper alternative that may not produce as much or be as valuable, but will be good nonetheless. Whether it is Mark Ellis sliding over to SS or Bobby Crosby being called up, or even a free agent being signed, the A's will find a way to fill that hole with a valuable player and they will do so with almost no money.

What Billy Beane has created, or is at least trying to create, is a neverending cycle of winning. It doesn't matter who leaves, because the system will always be able to replace parts within the financial restrictions. They draft college players because they are cheaper, less risky and a lot closer to contributing at the major league level. They sign players that other teams don't deem valuable because they are cheaper, less risky and fit the Oakland system.

In a few years, I am confident the A's will be without Zito (that lefty from Southern Cal) and Mulder and Tejada and Chavez and Hudson (the short righty from Auburn) and Durazo. But it won't matter, as long as Billy Beane (and Paul DePodesta) are running things. They will replace those players cheaply and efficiently and they will find new star players with which to build around. And when those new stars get to expensive to keep under their tight budget, they will repeat the process again.

The Oakland A's are a machine. One part leaves, it gets replaced with a cheaper, more efficient part. The winning continues.

You've gotta read the book.

Amazon.com - "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game"

Today's picks:

Montreal (Vazquez) -160 over Florida (Willis)

New York (Weaver) +185 over Boston (Martinez)

Detroit (Bernero) +140 over Cleveland (Westbrook)

Oakland (Hudson) -180 over Minnesota (Reed)

Total to date: + $1,350

W/L record: 87-84 (Still shell-shocked from my 0-5 Friday, I made only one pick yesterday and won $100.)

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

May 18, 2003

Sweeping up the weekend

I went to the Twins/White Sox game on Saturday night. Believe it or not, it was my first "live" game of the season.

Joe Mays (aka "Johan's Oppressor") started for the Twins and pitched very well. He cruised through the first 6 innings, allowing only 3 hits, two of which were the infield variety involving Luis Rivas (surprise, surprise). Mays ran into some trouble in the 7th, allowing another infield single (not involving Rivas) and then, with 2 outs in the inning, 3 straight singles, the third of which scored Chicago's first run.

And just like that, Joe Mays' day was over. Ron Gardenhire yanked him with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the 7th and brought in J.C. Romero, the Twins' any time, any place reliever. Romero needed only one pitch to get D'Angelo Jimenez to hit an inning-ending pop-up and the Twins were out of trouble in the 7th and still clinging to a 2-1 lead.

That was the last threat by the White Sox, as they went down 1-2-3 in the 8th and 1-2-3 in the 9th. The Twins added a run in the 8th and won the game 3-1.

Besides seeing the Twins beat the White Sox, I also got a chance to the see the greatest catch I have ever witnessed in person. In that troublesome 7th inning for Mays, Carlos Lee hit a deeeep drive to centerfield. As soon as it left the bat, a couple of White Sox fans sitting by me yelled out: "There it goes! Yeah baby!" It was high, it was deep and appeared to be heading way over the fence. Of course, I forgot we had Torii Hunter.

Quite frankly, that picture doesn't even do it justice. That yellow line is where the wall ends. As you can see, Torii was a good two feet above the wall when he made the grab. It wasn't one of those "he robbed him of a homer" balls that was probably going to bounce off the top of the wall anyway. It was one of those "he robbed him of a homer" balls that was going to land 10 feet beyond the fence in straightaway centerfield.

If there was such a defensive stat as "Home Runs Saved" I think Torii Hunter would lead all of baseball, and his save on Saturday night was the best of the many I have seen from him in his career. Torii got a standing ovation and the game actually was held up for several moments because no one would sit down and no one would stop clapping. Well, except for those White Sox fans sitting by me, they were sitting and definitely not clapping.

It really was quite incredible for Hunter to be able to not only sprint full-speed to the wall in centerfield, but to be able to then leap several feet into the air in the middle of a dead sprint. It's a catch that I think could only have been properly appreciated live and I'd say the 23,000 in attendance would probably agree.

While Minnesota's centerfielder was making a highlight-reel catch, Chicago's centerfielder was actually their all-star right fielder, Magglio Ordonez. Their normal centerfielder, Willie Harris, separated his shoulder making a diving catch in Friday's game, so Magglio slid one spot over and patrolled centerfield. This wasn't a completely new thing for Ordonez, who played 1 game in CF in 2001 and 22 games there in 1998. Plus, I am pretty sure he played a lot of centerfield in the minors. Still, it was interesting.

With Ordonez starting in centerfield, Armando Rios started in right field, which struck me as strange, since Rios has actually started 12 games in centerfield for the Sox this year. I wondered why, if the Sox thought Ordonez was better to handle centerfield than Rios Saturday night, they haven't been starting Ordonez in CF instead of Rios the whole year?

On that same note, if Ordonez is able to play at least an adequate CF, why not just forget about playing guys like Rios and Willie Harris out there at all, and stick Ordonez in CF full-time? This would allow them to get Brian Daubach's bat in the lineup in right field, which would be a huge boost over the contributions of Rios and Harris (and Aaron Rowand, before they sent him down to Triple-A).

Of course, after I thought that, the Sox did exactly what I had in mind during Sunday's game, starting Ordonez in CF and Daubach in RF. It'll be interesting to see if they continue to do this while Harris is out and perhaps even more interesting to see what they do once Harris is ready to return to the lineup. I don't know enough about Ordonez's defense in CF to say either way, but if the Sox feel he can handle the position, I'd run with it and get the offensive boost that would come with their new outfield alignment.

A few other notes from my trip to the Dome...

The Twins have got a great thing going before the game with their "plaza" outside the Dome. It feels sort of like the state fair, with games for kids to play, food to eat and beer to drink. Plus, they had a live band doing covers of "Creed," "Three Doors Down," "Nickelback" and some other modern rock bands before Saturday's game and they were really good (although, sadly, I can't remember their name). It was fun to just sit outside the ballpark, relax in the good weather and listen to some good music.

Speaking of good weather, how badly do I wish the Twins played in a different stadium?! It was perfect Saturday night. Mid-70s, not a cloud in the sky, no wind. Absolutely beautiful. Meanwhile, I was sitting inside a freaking dome! Ugh!

There is no food on this earth that can compete with a hot dog at a baseball game. I probably don't want to know what kind of meat is actually in them or what type of preparation goes into making them, but I'll gladly play naive and eat them every time I go to a game. I think the dogs at Twins' games are especially good, so I had two of them Saturday night.

One of my favorite things about going to a game at the Metrodome is the "Kiss Cam." The "Kiss Cam" is a thing the Twins do between innings, where they put various "couples" throughout the ballpark up on the Jumbotron, along with some heart graphics and the words "Kiss Cam" underneath them. The idea is that the people see themselves on the screen and are supposed to kiss. I wrote about one of my trips to the Dome for a game last season and had some thoughts on the "Kiss Cam":

You get the basic boyfriend/girlfriend kiss (they smile at each other and then do a medium length kiss on the lips).

The basic old married couple kiss (the husband is usually not aware they are on the screen, so the wife just grabs his face and kisses him on the cheek very quickly while the husband looks confused).

The newly married couple kiss (usually arms and tongues are involved, a Coke or Sprite is knocked over and the kiss takes a while).

The just friends/brother and sister non-kiss (the people try to pretend that they don't see themselves on screen and then try to play chicken with the camera, seeing if they can look like they are ignoring it longer than the camera can stay on them).

And finally you get the camera man's attempt at humor non-kiss (two big fat guys sitting next to each other or a couple of local sportswriters sitting in the press box - which is sometimes the same thing).

My favorite kiss from Saturday was when the camera focused on an elderly couple, probably in their 80s. The man noticed they were up on the screen and slowly started to move in on the woman, sort of like a guy trying to make the first move in a dark movie theatre or something. He just kept inching closer and closer and, just when the crowd thought it wasn't going to happen, the woman noticed she was on the screen, turned toward the guy and gave him a big smooch. They crowd loved it. Of course, the camera man thought it was a good idea to go back to the same couple a few seconds later, at which point the old guy repeated the same process of slowly and silently inching his way towards his bride. It was pretty funny.

With Friday night's 18-3 shellacking, Saturday's 3-1 win with me in attendance, and Sunday's come-from-behind win, the Twins swept the 3-game series against Chicago.

This brought to mind a little prediction I made way back on May 5th:

"Here's what the AL Central standings look like right now:

TEAM           W    L    GB

Kansas City 19 9 ---
Minnesota 15 15 5.0
Chicago 15 16 5.5

By the way, in case you are wondering, the Royals are just about done. I am predicting they will be out of 1st place by the middle of the month."

Well, yesterday was May 18th, so I missed "the middle of the month" by a couple of days. Still, here are the current standings in the AL Central:

TEAM           W    L    GB

Minnesota 25 18 ---
Kansas City 24 18 0.5
Chicago 20 23 5.0

Of course, this is where it gets really tough for the Twins. They have taken over first place, but their upcoming stretch of games is downright scary. Their next 15 games breakdown as follows:

3 at Oakland

3 at Seattle

2 vs Oakland

4 vs Seattle

3 at San Francisco

Ouch.

This may piss off some Royals fans, but I honestly don't see them as a threat anymore (and I really never did, which I've said before). With that in mind (and the way the White Sox are playing), I think that the Twins can run away with the division, just like they did last year, if they can somehow manage to go 6-9 or 7-8 over the next 15 games. That's easier said than done, of course.

By the way, the Twins are now 29-15 (.659) against the White Sox since 2001. Something to remember next time one of the boys in black starts running his mouth again.

Finally...

Every once in a while I like to give a little plug to a good new blog. I recently came across a new one called "Bryball." It's a little rough around the edges right now, but it's definitely worth checking out. So go head over there now (please)...

Bryball: Where Opinion Rounds the Bases

Today's picks:

Toronto (Lidle) -110 over Chicago (Wright)

Total to date: + $1,250

W/L record: 86-84 (Horrible, horrible day for picks on Friday. I went 0-5 and lost $565! Ouch.)

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

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