Mailing List

Sign up for email updates from Hot Corner Harbor any time there's a new post!

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    A Post in Which I Try and Emulate Ken Tremendous

    There are several articles I’ve been meaning to analyze. One’s older, but it’s about the MVP races. Those are coming up, so I think it’s still relevant. The other covers the recent World Series, but it’s fairly new, so I’m also calling that one relevant.

    We’ll start this week with the one that will become irrelevant sooner, and if I get time, go on to the MVP one later (or something else awards related; I’ll play it by ear). Bill Madden of the New York Daily News thinks there are too many teams in MLB right now, and the 2011 World Series showed why.

    “The hard truth for baseball is this just-completed World Series - which so many in the media have been eager to call a “classic” - was really a microcosm of the overall mediocrity that has pervaded the game, especially since the last expansion in 1995.”...

    Okay, first issue. There was an expansion in 1993, and another one in 1998. If you’re going to complain about baseball adding too many teams, at least figure out when they added said excessive teams.

    “Between Tony LaRussa’s gross mismanaging of his bullpen and the Cardinals’ hit-and-run fiascos in Game Five,”

    As a Cardinals fan, I would say over-managing is just par the course for La Russa. This isn’t really news; it's just something he does (or did, rather). And, even as someone who has criticized La Russa in the past, I actually thought his bullpen management throughout the entire playoffs was solid (with the exception of World Series Game 5, and possibly Game 2).

    “which begot Game 6, and the comedy of errors on both sides along with the monumental ineptitude of the Rangers’ relief corps, which begot Game 7, this World Series had all the air of an evolving train wreck - gruesome, horrifying but impossible to look away from.”

    The fielding was pretty bad on the Cardinals side, but that was sort of the problem for the year (after they fixed the bullpen). That’s what happens when you sign a guy with bad knees nicknamed Fat Elvis to play right field. That’s also what happens when you get Ryan Theriot to play anywhere. I mean, that’s just one of the trade-offs you have to make to get five starters with OPS+s of 120 or greater, right? You sacrifice defense for offense. But I guess you can look at it as some failing, too. Your call.

    As far as the Rangers, that was their weakness. The Cardinals overcame it with their high-power offense. It’s not like great teams can’t have weaknesses. I would say just about every team in history (including most World Series winners) has had some weakness.

    As far as the Rangers’ fielding issues, probably a fluke. It was only seven games after all. Weird stuff can happen.

    “This was perhaps most epitomized by Game 6 in which the Cardinals somehow emerged victorious after dropping two fairly routine pop-ups that led to runs and blunting a bases-loaded rally by getting a baserunner (Matt Holliday) picked off third base.”

    Matt Holliday gets a lot of flak for his fielding and base running. Would you believe that, for his career, Fangraphs has him as an above-average fielder AND base runner? His 0.8 UZR this season was his lowest since 2006. I feel like he gets underrated.

    Back on subject: because no team has ever required a mistake of any sort to win a game. Definitely. Any mistakes should instantly lose the game, with no chance to make up for it.

    “‘Holliday being picked off like that was emblematic of the lack of fundamentals you routinely see in baseball today,’ said another scout. ‘In that situation, you have to run back straight at the fielder so as to block the catcher’s view. Then he dove for the bag and gave the catcher a clean shot to throw him out. These are just basic fundamentals.’”

    I would have said it was a great, spot-on throw from Napoli and a good block by Adrian Beltre to keep Holliday from sliding in under the tag, but again, your description works, too.

    “For a lot more than just that, the scout was unimpressed with the Cardinals.

    ‘If it’s true that, in baseball you have to be strong up the middle - and I believe that - then just look at the Cardinals’ up the middle: (Rafael) Furcal is a past-his-prime stopgap at short, at second they’ve got (Nick)Punto, who can’t hit a lick and (Ryan) Theriot who’s really just a utility guy, and (Jon) Jay is a platoon player in center. They’ve got two quality starting pitchers in (Chris) Carpenter and (Jaime) Garcia but the rest of their rotation is average at best. You have to give (pitching coach Dave) Duncan credit for getting the most out of a very average pitching staff, but overall that’s not good team.’

    But it was good enough to win the World Series.”

    So, let me see if I follow this logic: “Everyone says that, to win in baseball, you need to be strong up the middle. The Cardinals were not strong up the middle. Therefore, they should not have won.”

    We can just ignore the fact that every other position was manned by All-Star caliber players, including the greatest player of the last decade at first. It all depends on short-stop, second base, and center field.

    Also, platoons are probably underused in today’s game. When used well, they can have great results. Observe:
    Nick Punto: 63 Games, 1.8 fWAR
    Ryan Theriot: 132 Games, 0.7 fWAR
    Skip Schumaker: 117 Games, 0.6 fWAR
    Rafael Furcal: 50 Games, 0.9 fWAR
    Jon Jay: 159 Games, 2.8 fWAR
    Colby Rasmus: 94 Games, 1.3 fWAR

    So, those three “unimpressive” positions, via well-deployed platoons, managed over 8.1 fWAR, or over 2.7 per position. For reference, 2.0 WAR is considered the average level of a starter. So, the three positions averaged out to above average for the Cardinals. Granted, it’s not like any of them are future Hall of Famers, but they were definitely solid up the middle to some extent.

    And teams can succeed with weak “up-the-middles”. In 3 minutes of searching, I found:
    1989 Oakland A’s (Tony Phillips/Mike Gallego/Dave Henderson, none of whom were setting the world on fire exactly...)
    1985 Kansas City Royals (Frank White/Onix Concepcion/Willie Wilson, all of whom were worth less than 2 bWAR, with special mention to Concepcion for actually costing his team wins)
    1980 Philadelphia Phillies (Manny Trillo/Larry Bowa/Garry Maddox, with Trillo leading the trio at 3.2 bWAR, followed by Maddox at 1.8)
    1979 Pittsburgh Pirates (Rennie Stennett/Tim Foli/Omar Moreno)

    Okay, I’m getting bored now.

    As for the pitchers, just for quick reference, they were missing their perennial Cy Young Candidate in Adam Wainwright, but got an All-Star (5.0 fWAR) season out of co-ace Chris Carpenter, a solid (3.6 fWAR) year out of number 2 Jaime Garcia, an above-average (2.5 fWAR) year out of number three starter Kyle Lohse... You know, suddenly, that rotation looks at the very least solid.

    “Then again, aside from the most productive top-to-bottom lineup in all of baseball,"

    "You know, when you ignore their strengths, they're pretty bad."

    the Rangers were even more flawed. They finished 12th out of 14 in the American League in team defense - a deficiency that showed up throughout the World Series when, with just about every ball hit to his infielders (the lone exception being third baseman Adrian Beltre), Texas manager Ron Washington had to hold his breath...”

    I’m not actually quite sure where he pulled the “12th out of 14” factoid from. Going by team defense efficiency (basically, what percentage of the balls in play did the Rangers turn into outs), though, the Rangers ranked second in the Majors, behind only Tampa Bay. So, yeah.

    Also, I’m seem to recall the Rangers’ middle infield going nuts fielding balls in the gap and turning double plays, and Adrian Beltre was his normal self. Even Mike Napoli was good. The only problems I can recall came from (catcher) Mike Napoli playing first base and (positional nomad) Michael Young playing first base.

    “You also had to pity him every time he had to go to his bullpen, summoning pitcher after pitcher who couldn’t throw strikes. The Ranger pitchers surrendered - walks over - innings in the Series”

    Which was actually really weird, because the Rangers were fourth in baseball this year in strikeout to walk ratio, and were tied for a respectable eighth in BB% at 7.7% (although the Cardinals were tied for third, at 7.2%).  Maybe it was just a fluke? Nah.

    “and, throughout the postseason, closer Neftali Perez [sic] literally walked a tightrope every time he was called in for a save. For all those disenfranchised Yankee fans this postseason, the specter of the Ranger relievers blowing the save three times in Game 6, was just a further reminder of the greatness of Mariano Rivera and what he meant to all those World Series championships.”

    I would just like to point out that, in all seven games, I never once noticed Neftali Feliz doing circus stunts on his way to the mound. That may explain some of his struggles though.

    I’m also slightly baffled at the out-of-place allusion to Rivera. Besides, it’s not like he’s immune to blowing postseason saves.

    “‘There just aren’t great teams in baseball anymore,’ the second scout said. ‘It all goes back to the expansion where the owners got so greedy and watered down the talent. What you have now is 50-60 ‘Four A’ players in the big leagues, many of them with starting jobs or in starting rotations. (Commissioner Bud) Selig talks about parity but what it is is inequity. I felt all year the Phillies were clearly the best team in baseball, but even they fell flat at the end of the year and between age and injuries they may have peaked.’”

    This is a rather inexplicable statement. What does he mean by “no great teams”? The Phillies were, in fact, pretty strong this year, as he mentions. We usually have a 100-game winner or two per season. The Mariners were doing pretty well back in 2001, and so on.

    Or does he mean that there are no more dynasties? I would argue that that’s a good thing. Does anyone really want to see the Yankees run off with the title five years in a row again? (other than their fans, of course).

    I’m not really sure what his point is with regards to the “Four A” players. I would argue that, as the game becomes more international, the league is getting filled with better and better players overall. I’m also confused as to why the Phillies matter in this equation. If they had won the series in the same way as the Cardinals (bad defense and whatever else Madden is complaining about), would that have made it instantly a better series? That doesn’t seem to be his point.

    “‘All you need to know is the Yankees, with a rotation that included (Bartolo) Colon, Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett ran away with the AL East.’”

    Perfectly serviceable years from Colon (2.9 fWAR), Garcia (2.2 fWAR), and Burnett (1.5 fWAR), I might add. And also a Cy Young-caliber year from CC Sabathia (7.0 fWAR). And also a Rookie of the Year-caliber season from Ivan Nova (2.7 fWAR). And also an incredible year from the bullpen, led by David Robertson (2.8 fWAR) and the ageless Mariano Rivera (2.4 fWAR). And also an offense that scored a bajillion runs (867, actually, second in MLB). Those helped a lot too.

    “The other problem, the scout said, is the expanded postseason that was the offshoot of expansion.

    ‘You could see it with both teams’ pitchers,’ the scout said. ‘By the time they got to the Series, they were all on fumes. It was sad. For all the extra revenue the extra tier of playoffs is bringing in, baseball’s paying a a dear price, both in the quality of play in the World Series and the toll on the pitchers’ arms.’”

    Chris Carpenter did awfully well in Game 7, for pitching on both fumes AND short rest.

    “Both scouts contended that baseball is suffering from an increasing absence of talent in the amateur levels.”

    It’s nice to know that he got the opinions of all of two (2!) scouts to confirm this consensus.

    “‘I maintain that you could drop into any place in America on July 8 and drive in a 400-mile radius and not find a single baseball field with a game going on,’ the first scout said.”

    I don’t actually want to waste time refuting this. Please just do yourself a favor and google “Baseball Summer Leagues” (feel free to throw in words like “college” or “high school” to further experiment). The point is, if this scout can’t find some game going on over the summer, he’s failing as a scout.

    “‘When I was growing up'"

    Oh, boy. That opening inspires a lot of confidence in me.

    "in the ‘50s and ‘60s that’s all we did all summer. Today, the kids are either working out for football, playing pick-up basketball in the inner cities or soccer. Go to the high school games and it’s frankly hard to watch - infielders throwing the ball around, pitchers who can’t throw strikes.’”

    I’m not actually sure what this scout is trying to say here. Athletes should commit to one sport and one sport only by high school? High school baseball players in the ’50’s and ’60’s didn’t make any mistakes, and were in fact perfectly-functioning baseball-playing robots?

    “‘Because of this,’ the other scout said, ‘we’re each paying for three or four minor league clubs we don’t need. Every organization has at least 100-150 players who will never get a sniff of the major leagues. I realize all those (lower) minor league cities cultivate the game, providing cheap entertainment and all, but, for the most part, the baseball sucks.’”

    What a truly inexplicable way to close out this article. If these 100-150 players will never get to the majors, why is their mere existence watering down MLB’s talent? And didn’t he complain about the game not being popular enough? Now having more minor league teams to grow interest is a bad thing? And cheap entertainment is similarly bad? Every game of baseball, major league or otherwise, must be perfectly played?

    Personally, I’m just going to have to concur with Brannon’s Law on this.

    No comments:

    Post a Comment