June 1, 2003

Wrapping up the weekend

So, did you have a good weekend? That's good, me too...

Usually, in the first entry of every month (which would be this entry), I give a little update on how this site's traffic was the month before. On May 1st, I talked about how nearly 15,000 people visited here in April, marking the 8th straight month the visitor total increased.

I also said:

My newest goal is a 20,000-visitor month and, since May has 31 days and the site seems to be picking up speed, I figure there is at least a chance of it happening this month.

My other goal, which I made back when I started to realize quite a few people were actually coming here, probably in October, is to reach 100,000 total visitors by the site's 1st anniversary, which is on August 1st. At the time, the goal was a pretty far-fetched one, but now I really do think it can happen.

Well, guess what?

This blog had 20,550 visitors in May!

In addition to that, it is only about 14,000 visitors short of 100,000 and getting there before August 1st (the site's one-year anniversary) should be a breeze.

Here are the month-by-month visitor totals:

Month         Visitors

August 2,800
September 3,200
October 4,200
November 4,400
December 6,600
January 7,800
February 10,100
March 11,500
April 14,900
May 20,550
TOTAL 86,050

If you were one of those 20,550 or are responsible for sending some of those 20,550 here, I want to really thank you. At this point, the amount of visitors have so far surpassed anything I could ever have expected when I started this blog that I don't really know what the next "goal" should be. I guess 25,000 in a month is a nice round number and looks somewhat reachable, although maybe not immediately.

For now, I think crossing the 100,000 mark sometime this month will be a pretty big deal and very exciting for me.

Okay, now that I am done talking about myself...

Joe Morgan does an ESPN.com chat every Friday afternoon and he seems to have gotten into a very strange pattern the past two weeks. Here's what I wrote about his chat from two weeks ago:

Hall of Fame second baseman and mediocre broadcaster Joe Morgan does a "chat" on ESPN.com every Friday. Over the years, Joe has become extraordinarily predictable in his opinions on things, to the point that I no longer read the majority of his chats (or listen to the majority of what he says).

Over the weekend though, I decided to check out what he had to say this week. As usual, most of the answers were what I would expect - cliches and old baseball knowledge. As he usually does, Joe provided one response that made me shake my head...

Maria (Wimberley, TX): Joe, enjoy your work. Have you read the new book "Moneyball" about Billy Beane? What do "insiders" such as yourself think about what the book says?

Joe Morgan: I read an excerpt in the NY Times. It's typical if you write a book, you want to be the hero. That is apparently what Beane has done. According to what I read in the Times, Beane is smarter than anyone else. I don't think it will make him popular with the other GMs or the other people in baseball.

"It's typical if you write a book, you want to be the hero. That is apparently what Beane has done."

There is, however, one slight problem with the above statement:


But okay, maybe Joe just made a mistake. After all, he said he's only read an excerpt. So, I went and checked out Joe's latest chat last Friday and here is what he said:

JB (Danville, CA): Joe - The A's offense is scuffling, Dye comes back this weekend and Tejada is starting to hit a little. If you're Billy Beane where do you look to add some pop? I'd love to see them go after a corner outfielder or even a move for Roberto Alomar (the Mets have to be looking to dump salary). Thoughts?

Joe Morgan: I wouldn't be Billy Beane first of all!! I wouldn't write the book Moneyball!

At what point is it okay to call Joe Morgan an idiot? I mean, it is obvious from listening to Joe that he is a fairly smart guy. He speaks well, he has quite a lot of intelligent thoughts and he generally comes off as a person of above-average intelligence. But c'mon Joe!

Not only does Joe have his facts wrong about Billy Beane and Moneyball, he is now making a big deal about the situation, based on his incorrect facts. It is to the point that Joe bashes the A's/Billy Beane/Moneyball at every possible opportunity he gets, whether it is on ESPN, ESPN.com, ESPN Radio, wherever. It is almost an obsession. And I think it is all based on Joe being incredibly offended by Billy Beane writing a book that Billy Beane didn't even write!

It really is quite incredible. I mean, Joe is doing a chat and someone asks him an innocent question about what he would do to improve the A's struggling offense "if he was Billy Beane." And Joe immediately takes that opportunity to bash Beane for writing Moneyball.

When I first started paying attention to baseball heavily in the early 90s, I thought Joe Morgan was awesome. He did national games and I thought he was really a great announcer. At this point, I think Joe is slowly becoming an angry old man, who seems to have latched onto the idea that any new baseball knowledge is bad baseball knowledge and the fact that the GM of a baseball team that uses some of that new knowledge would write a book and show himself as the genius behind the franchise really offends Joe Morgan. Never mind the fact that a person named Michael Lewis - an author with several best-selling books - actually wrote Moneyball and Billy Beane had absolutely nothing to do with the content that was in the book or the manner in which he was portrayed.

Someone needs to tell Joe that the subject of a book doesn't always write the book and they need to do it pretty fast, because Joe Morgan is starting to really look like an ass.

While I was counting to 20,000 and Joe Morgan was saying dumb things, some other interesting stuff happened over the weekend...

The Red Sox sent Shea Hillenbrand to the Diamondbacks in exchange for Byung-Hyun Kim.

This trade has already been discussed at great lengths elsewhere, so I'll try to keep my opinion of who "won" and who "lost" the deal somewhat short. Basically, I think this is a great deal for the Red Sox.

You tell me, which is the more valuable property:

Shea Hillenbrand | 3B/1B | 27 year old

  PA     AVG     OBP     SLG    HR    2B    BB

1369 .284 .317 .432 33 80 45

Byung-Hyun Kim | SP/RP | 24 years old

 IP     ERA     SO     BB     AVG     OBP     SLG

323 3.26 380 151 .197 .303 .316

This is a no-brainer if there ever was one.

On one hand, you have a third baseman who turns 28 next month and is a career .284/.317/.432 hitter, which is below-average for a third baseman.

On the other hand, you have a 24 year old pitcher who can start or relieve and has a career ERA of 3.26 and a career strikeout rate of 10.6 per 9 innings pitched.

At best, Shea Hillenbrand is an average third baseman. At worst, Byung-Hyun Kim is one of the best relief pitchers in baseball - he has proven he can be that. At best, Kim is a great starting pitcher and one who doesn't turn 25 years old until next January.

The interesting thing isn't so much the trade itself, but what the trade means for the Diamondbacks. First of all, they think enough of Shea Hillenbrand to trade a very good young pitcher for him. Beyond that, they feel Hillenbrand is not only worth dealing Kim for, but also worth them getting rid of Matt Williams, whom they "designated for assignment" almost immediately after the trade.

Matt Williams is 37 years old and is obviously no longer a great player. That said, you would think that, in order to not only lose Byung-Hyun Kim but also cut ties with Matt Williams, a player who has been with the organization from the outset, Shea Hillenbrand must be a massive upgrade over Williams at third base.

Well, he's not.


Player          AVG     OBP     SLG

Hillenbrand .303 .335 .443
Williams .246 .327 .403


Player          AVG     OBP     SLG

Hillenbrand .293 .330 .459
Williams .260 .324 .479

Now, they are very different players, but their overall value as hitters are very similar. Over the past season and a half or so, Hillenbrand and Williams have both gotten on-base about 32-33% of the time and they have both slugged around .440-.450.

I am not trying to imply Hillenbrand and Williams are similarly valuable properties at this point. Williams is 10 years older and much more injury-prone, and he has not been quite as good offensively as Hillenbrand has been. However, the fact is that Hillenbrand is simply not that big of an upgrade over Williams and certainly not big enough to part ways with a pitcher like Byung-Hyun Kim.

The added strangeness in all of this is that one of Arizona's top prospects is a third baseman who is just about ready for a major league job.

Chad Tracy was Arizona's 7th round pick in the 2000 draft. Check out his minor league stats:

Year    LVL     AVG     OBP     SLG

2001 A .340 .393 .447
2002 AA .344 .389 .486
2003 AAA .332 .387 .468

Arizona's minor league ballparks are very good places to hit in, so Tracy's lofty batting averages are a little less impressive than they appear. Still, the fact remains that he has hit .340, .344 and .332 in his last three stops. I don't think he's ever going to be a superstar player, but he is only 23 years old, has proven himself in the minor leagues and is quite capable of taking over as Arizona's third baseman.

In fact, Tracy hits for high batting averages and lots of doubles and doesn't hit many homers or walk a whole lot - sure sounds like a left-handed Shea Hillenbrand to. And he's 4 years younger and a whole lot cheaper, and the Diamondbacks already had him.

So, to recap: In order to acquire Shea Hillenbrand, a career .284/.317/.432 hitter who turns 28 in a month or so, the Diamondbacks...

-Traded away a 24 year old sidearmer who can start or relieve and has a career ERA of 3.26 and strikes out 10+ guys per game.

-Cut ties with a 37 year old third baseman who has been with the team ever since they literally became a team in 1998 and is actually a pretty comparable player to Hillenbrand at this point.

-Blocked one of their top prospects, a younger third baseman who appears to be a very similar hitter to Hillenbrand.

All for a guy who is an average third baseman. It's quite amazing on several levels really.

The biggest loser in all of this, besides the Diamondbacks, is probably Matt Williams. However, don't feel too bad for Matty, because he still gets his $10 million this year, whether he plays for the Diamondbacks or not. Still, he has been with the D-Backs since 1998 and it had to be a bit of shock to learn that he was being designated for assignment because the team acquired a new third baseman.

I can just see it now...

(Matt Williams knocks on Bob Brenly's door and walks into his office)

Matt Williams: Hi skip, you wanted to see me?

Bob Brenly: Yeah Matt, why don't you have a seat.

Williams: So, what did you want to tell me?

Brenly: Well Matt...this is really tough for me to say...we are letting you go...

Williams: What?! Why?!

Brenly: We...um...we just traded for a younger third baseman and he's going to be our starter...

Williams: Oh...who did you get? Troy Glaus?

Brenly: No...

Williams: Eric Chavez?

Brenly: No...

Williams: Hank Blalock? Scott Rolen? Mike Lowell? Who is it?

Brenly: Shea Hillenbrand.

Williams: Shea Hillenbrand?!

Hopefully, Matt Williams can catch on with another team, because he can definitely still be a valuable player. In fact, even with his diminished skills, he is still one of the best in baseball at one very important skill: Mashing left-handed pitching.

Check out his numbers against southpaws:

Year     AVG     OBP     SLG

1999 .333 .396 .610
2000 .311 .362 .472
2001 .313 .344 .591
2002 .289 .337 .651
2003 .302 .396 .581

There are 30 teams in major league baseball that could use that production against lefties from someone who can play third base (and first base too probably). There are very few players in baseball that can consistenly hit .300 and slug .550-.600 against left-handed pitching and Matt Williams has murdered them for years now, even through his overall decline as a player.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: One of the most important skills for a manager or general manager is the ability to look past what a player can't do and see what he can do. In this case, Matt Williams can longer be counted on to play 150-160 games a year at third base and he is no longer very good at hitting right-handed pitching, but if you put him in a platoon at third base, first base or DH, he can be an extremely valuable part of an offense.

Arizona would have been infinitely better off, both this year and in the future, if they had kept Kim, brought up Tracy from AAA and platooned him and Williams at third base. A Tracy/Williams platoon would most likely outproduce Hillenbrand by quite a bit, they would still have Kim, and Tracy wouldn't be stuck in Triple-A.

By the way, as soon as I heard about Williams getting let go by Arizona, I immediately thought about which teams would be interested in him and the very first one that came to mind was the Chicago Cubs. Sure enough, I see the following on ESPN.com:

Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker said he planned to call Williams, who played for Baker in San Francisco.

"Matt is one of my favorite guys. It's a matter of how he can play and how much he has left,'' Baker said.

I'm not saying Chicago signing Williams to be their third baseman would be a horrible thing, especially since I just got done talking about how Williams can still be a valuable member of a team. That said, the Cubs should probably be focusing on playing the best third baseman they already have.

Mark Bellhorn got semi-everyday playing time for the Cubs last year, at first base, second base, shortstop, third base and even the outfield. He had a breakout season and hit .258/.374/.512 with 27 homers and 24 doubles in 445 at bats.

He began this season as Chicago's starting third baseman and got off to a horrible start at the plate. After 10 games he was hitting .038/.235/.115. That is an absolutely horrendous start to a season, but it is still just that - a start to a season.

Over his next 10 games, Bellhorn hit .344/.487/.500, but his season line was still just .207/.377/.328, which tells you just how bad his first 10 games were.

But okay, here's a guy that was a very good hitter in 2002, got off to a slow start and was hitting .344/.487/.500 over his second 10-game stretch. He should continue to be the everyday third baseman, right? Well, no. Apparently one very good season followed by 10 bad games and 10 good games was enough to lose Bellhorn his "job."

Bellhorn started just 6 of the next 10 games for the Cubs and it has gotten much worse lately. Bellhorn has started just 3 of Chicago's last 13 games and hasn't even appeared as a pinch-hitter in 4 of them.

The worst part of all of this is not that Mark Bellhorn lost his starting job because of 10 bad games at the very start of the season, ignoring what he did for 445 at bats the year before or what he did after his poor start. No, the worst part of all of this is that Mark Bellhorn has lost his job as the Chicago Cubs' third baseman in favor of Lenny Harris.

Yes, Lenny Harris.

Lenny Harris has somehow accumulated over 4,000 plate appearances in his major league career. He has a .320 on-base percentage and a .352 slugging percentage. His career high in slugging percentage is .411.

Meanwhile, as I said, Mark Bellhorn hit .258/.374/.512 last season and smacked 27 homers. Lenny Harris has 35 homers in 3,681 career at bats.

But hey, Bellhorn has admittedly not done well in the playing time he has gotten this year. Guess what though? Lenny Harris has been much worse.


Bellhorn - .221/.357/.336

Harris - .209/.293/.284

Despite all of his struggles, Mark Bellhorn is still getting on base about 36% of the time, which is 3rd on the entire team among hitters with 100+ at bats. He's been much better than Harris at everything else too. He's out hitting him in batting average and has a 60+ point edge in OBP and 50 points in slugging.

The Chicago Cubs could use someone like Matt Williams, because he would be an upgrade over their current third base situation. However, the only reason he would be an upgrade is that the Cubs refuse to play their best third baseman, a player who is better than Lenny Harris and Matt Williams.

I think Dusty Baker is a very good manager and his won-loss record is evidence of that, but he has a huge weakness for bad "veteran" players, like Lenny Harris, Shawon Dunston, Tom Goodwin, etc.

Maybe this can turn out well for everyone involved. The Cubs can sign Matt Williams, Lenny Harris can go back to being wrongly proclaimed a great pinch-hitter, Dusty Baker can get that "veteran" at third base and Mark Bellhorn can either get cut by the Cubs and sign somewhere else or maybe even get traded to a team that recognizes him as a better player than Lenny Freaking Harris.

Now that I think about it, the Twins have this guy Rivas playing second base (poorly) and sucking up outs at the bottom of the lineup...

Ah nevermind. Whereas the Cubs are willing to give up on a guy who slugged .510 the year before after 10 bad games, the Twins will give a guy who is a career .264/.310/.371 hitter hundreds and hundreds of at bats at the major league level because he is "young."

Speaking of the Twins, they got swept in four straight games by the Mariners over the weekend (which I'm not worried about, since the Royals are officially back to being the Royals and the White Sox stink right now too). What happened in the first inning of yesterday's game was one of the most amazing and depressing things I have ever witnessed.

From ESPN.com's play-by-play:


-R Winn singled to left.

-C Guillen singled to left center, R Winn to third.

-B Boone singled to left, R Winn scored, C Guillen to second.

-E Martinez singled to center, C Guillen scored, B Boone to third.

-M Cameron singled to right, B Boone scored, E Martinez to second.

-G Colbrunn tripled to right, E Martinez and M Cameron scored.

-J Cirillo singled to right, G Colbrunn scored.

-D Wilson struck out swinging.

-W Bloomquist singled to center, J Cirillo to second.

-R Winn lined out to right center.

-C Guillen grounded into fielder's choice to shortstop, W Bloomquist out at second.

For those of you scoring at home (and even those of you by yourselves...), that went: single, single, single, single, single, triple, single - all to start the game.

At which point, if you had been in my house, you would have heard something along the lines of: @^$^%*&% Rogers $^%*^#^ Rivas $^$@#*&%^% Guzman *$&@%$&%^ Mariners $^#&*#*&%^%!!

Today's picks:

Arizona (Patterson) -110 over San Diego (Loewer)

Colorado (Chacon) +200 over San Francisco (Schmidt)

Chicago (Colon) -170 over Cleveland (Anderson)

Total to date: + $1,570

W/L record: 109-104 (3-1 on Friday for +210, with one game "no action" because the scheduled starter didn't pitch)

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

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