Archive for January, 2007

Somebody, Please Let in the Dog (The Bulldog)

Monday, January 8th, 2007

Soon we will know who the newest inductees of Baseballís Shrine in Cooperstown will be. Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn are shoe-ins and may be the only ones to receive 75% of the required votes by the Baseball Writers afforded the honor of choosing.

It is my hope that Andre Dawson and Lee Smith get their due this year as well.

OK having satisfied my Cubs quotient for this post, let me move swiftly to the real reason I have broken out of my hibernation here at VFTB. Let me suggest one more name for the Hall.

Orel Leonard Hershiser (IV).

DODGERS PADRES HERSHISER
Bulldog garnished but 11% last year, his first year of eligibility. If that figure doesnít increase significantly today, I have my doubts whether he will ever make it. But thinking like that would be counter-productive and it is certainly not the way Hershiser thinks.

The case for his inclusion is well documented by The Baseball Page.com as well as MLB.comís Ken Gurnick.
Hershiser was the unanimous winner of the National League Cy Young Award in 1988 after leading the Dodgers to a World Series title with an NL-best 23 wins, 267 innings, 15 complete games and eight shutouts. His biggest personal achievement was his incredible streak of 59 consecutive scoreless innings to end the regular season, a stretch that broke Don Drysdale’s 20-year record.

He was sixth in the voting for NL Most Valuable Player in 1988, when he was named Major League Baseball Player of the Year and the Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News. The awards kept coming in that spectacular 1988 season for a player who kept rising to the occasion, as he also was named Most Valuable Player of the NL Championship Series against the Mets and of the World Series against the Oakland A’s.

Against the Mets, Hershiser picked up a save on no days’ rest and threw a shutout in the Game 7 clincher. He also pitched the World Series clincher. In 12 career post season series, he was 8-3 with a 2.59 ERA.

A three-time All-Star, Hershiser led the NL in innings pitched three consecutive seasons. He finished among the top five in ERA five times. He also finished third in Cy Young voting in 1985 and fourth in both 1987 and 1989. His career mark was 204-150 with a 3.48 ERA, 2,014 strikeouts, 68 complete games and 25 shutouts. His 2.69 earned run average was second only to Dwight Gooden for the decade of the 80ís, besting the likes of Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan.

And Hershiser could do more than pitch. He won a Gold Glove in 1988 and a Silver Slugger Award in 1993.

“Being on the ballot is a lot different than getting in,” Hershiser said. “Only the cream of the crop gets in, and that’s the way it should be. It’s a special place for special accomplishments. It’s one of those places — like Augusta, with the Masters, or the Indy 500 Speedway — when you walk in, you can cut the air with a knife. You know there’s greatness in those places. I’m humbled and honored. It’s the kind of thing you can’t believe has happened to you.”

Faithful readers of this site know full well of my fondness for Greg Maddux. I feel that same affinity for Hershiser and hope some day he will have his plaque hanging in Cooperstown as well.

Note from Mastrick: CNN/SI has a poll today where you can vote for Hall of fame induction. Interestingly, only two players will be inducted if this straw poll matches the real vote.

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Did We Miss Our Chance?

Sunday, January 7th, 2007

Taking a break from the 2006 VORP numbers to compare the 2003 Chicago Cubs, a team that was the inspiration for this site, to the 2005 Chicago White Sox. The numbers may surprise you. Thanks to frequent reader and commenter Dick B for the idea. If you guys have an idea for a future post, be sure to use the contact us form and let us know.

Explanation of Lineups and Rotations
I took the lineups from the playoff lineups. The only exception is for the Cubs with Patterson and Lofton. Everyone knows that Patterson carried the offense when Sosa was injured for part of the season. When he went down with a bum leg, Hendry got Lofton, who filled in admirably. I weighted the average of their VORP’s based on plate appearance. It worked out that Patterson got 60% of the plate appearances, while Lofton had 40%. This was the only logical way I could think of to work a platoon.

For the rotations, I listed the top 4 pitchers for each staff in order of VORP to assume who was the ace of the staff on down.

Enjoy the results, but you have to wonder if the Cubs missed their shot at a title in 2003. Man, what could have been…

Edge VORP Player Position Player VORP Edge
  0.8 Miller C Pierzynski 12.1
  3.0 Simon 1b Konerko 46.1
28.1 Grudzielanek 2b Iguchi 23.8  
7.6 Gonzalez 3b Uribe 7.5  
11.5 Ramirez SS Crede 7.8  
20.6 Alou LF Podsednik 5.8  
20.6 Patterson / Lofton CF Rowand 14.7  
35.6 Sosa RF Dye 27.7  
10.0 Karros DH Everett 6.3  
66.9 Prior SP Buehrle 54.8  
55.9 Wood SP Garland 50.7  
47.6 Zambrano SP Garcia 45.7  
  27.0 Clement SP Contreras 42.1
  25.8 Average   Average 26.5

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Say it ain’t so, Mark!

Sunday, January 7th, 2007

Today’s Chicago Tribune featured the “picks” for nine of Chicago’s sportswriters, all of whom will have voted in this year’s Hall of Fame selection. I noticed with some degree of surprise that Mark McGwire was not listed on any of these writers’ straw ballots.

“Some degree of surprise” because not a single one of them chose McGwire – it seems like only yesterday that McGwire and Sosa captivated a nation with their histrionics. And it seems like only yesterday when Major League Baseball showed it’s fanny to the sports world with allegations and then further allegations of doping.

Very soon it appears that indictments will be handed down – the federal courts have ruled that the names and samples of about 100 players who tested positive in 2003 can be used by government investigators in their probe of steroids in baseball. It remains to be seen whether or not high profile players who have testified in front of Congress may have perjured themselves.

Perhaps we all feel worst about Mark McGwire – he was baseball’s fair-haired boy. We can be pious and indignant about Bonds and Palmiero – but we all respected and admired McGwire. He represented all that was good about baseball and perhaps even America. How could he have let us down?

Perhaps that is why history will be hardest on Mark McGwire. I can’t recall him ever lying about sterioids but he hurt us more than any of the others. We thought he was a hero but, in the end he was just one of us. A mere mortal, an imperfect man capable of making mistakes. Will Mark McGwire ever make the Hall? Perhaps, but there are also some mistakes you never stop paying for. Only time will tell.


Note From Joe:

I skipped a couple college classes and called in sick to work to watch this one…

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Gearing up for the season

Friday, January 5th, 2007

As most of you know, I also have a twice weekly podcast that I partner with Phil Zuber on. From now until opening day, we’re going to be joined by representative from each team for an interview about 20 to 30 minutes long. On Monday, we’ll be having Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts and on Thursday, we’ll be joined by Len Kasper, the Cubs play by play broadcaster.

We started on this past show and had Jon Wolfson from Rays of Light on the show to talk about the Devil Rays and what the season has in store for them. Jon had some great things to say, especially about why he feels the Rays can compete in the AL East, despite popular belief that says the Yankees and Red Sox will ALWAYS dominate.

If you’d like to listen to the show, our site makes it very easy. Just go to the site and click the play button. There is also options to be subscribed via E-mail and other RSS / Podcast readers.

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How Bad Were We? – First Base

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

If this was 2005, the title could have easily been “How GOOD were we?” As we all know, the Cubs had issues at first base due to injury and as a result, the numbers here are not representative of the Cubs talent at the position.

1. Albert Pujols – 85.4
National League pitchers find few ways to consistently retire Pujols. He can occasionally appear anxious on offspeed pitches away, a strategy Boston used with some success in the World Series. And it is sometimes possible to jam Pujols with high, hard stuff. However, he turns on the best hard stuff with amazing regularity, and pitching him away runs the risk of him using his remarkable power to the opposite field. Pujols has always been an outstanding breaking-ball hitter, and his mastery of the strike zone improves each year. ~ STATS Inc.

2. Ryan Howard – 81.5
Did Ryan Howard deserve the MVP over Albert Pujols? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this controversy that was the 2006 MVP race. Regardless of what your thoughts are, can you really argue against Howard becoming one of, if not the top hitter in the game very very soon? I can’t, so i’d like to hear your argument if you can.

3. Lance Berkman – 70.1
Berkman probably has the most raw power on the team and can swat home runs with a flick of his wrist. He also has exceptional hand-eye coordination, though it is much better lefthanded. He has a solid approach to hitting and usually doesn’t overthink it. He drives the ball to all fields well, hitting it the opposite way if you pitch him outside and cutting down on his swing if you pitch him inside. His weakness is hitting righthanded, and some wonder if he should stick strictly to lefthanded hitting. ~ STATS Inc.

4. Justin Morneau – 52
Morneau often took a big cut last season, making him susceptible to breaking pitches. By the end of the year, though, he was better at fouling off pitches that fooled him, which should make him a combative hitter who can draw walks when pitchers try to work around him. Morneau has tremendous power when he pulls the ball, but he can hit for average as well, and seems to be at his best when he waits on the ball and drives it to left-center and right-center. He showed a late-season tendency to cut down his swing with two strikes and serve the ball to the outfield to drive in runs. ~ STATS Inc.

5. Nick Johnson – 51
Johnson’s calling card is his understanding of the strike zone, but he does have decent home-run power. His problem has been staying healthy long enough for his power to fully develop. He’s been in the majors now for four years, and he finally topped 1,000 career at-bats just last year before his season ended. When healthy, he forces pitchers to throw strikes, smoking line drives to all fields when they do. He’s been used primarily as a No. 2 hitter because of his on-base skills and ability to make contact, but he should move down in the order as his power develops. ~ STATS Inc.

33. Derrek Lee – 7.5
Lee is a slashing, line drive hitter who hits the ball to all fields but was able to take advantage of Wrigley Field’s cozy left-center field power alley. He likes to get his arms extended, and he can be tied up inside and with high pitches. Manager Dusty Baker was able to use Lee as high as the No. 2 spot in the order because of his intelligent approach at the plate. ~ STATS Inc.

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How Bad Were We? – Shortstop

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

This was probably the weakest position for the Cubs in 2006. The VORP definitely suggests that as well. Here are the top five shortstops, with 500 plate appearances, followed by our very own shortstop.

1. Derek Jeter – 80.5
Jeter aggressively attacks pitches early in the count. His ability to stay inside the ball and let it get deep is well documented. Early-season struggles were blamed on his hands prematurely leaking forward, not letting the ball travel enough before he swung. Jeter will use the whole field, but his power stroke is the opposite way. Pitchers habitually challenge him on the inner half, trying to expose holes, especially down and in. He effectively inside-outs many of these pitches and is capable of getting the bat head out front when needed. ~ STATS Inc.

2. Carlos Guillen – 66.3
A switch-hitter, Guillen hits for much better average on the left side, although he has a bit more power from the right. Either way, he uses the whole field. If pitched away, he will take the ball to the opposite field. He is patient and will wait out the count. Guillen has gotten stronger to the point where he will turn on a mistake pitch and drive it out of the ballpark. ~ STATS Inc.

3. Miguel Tejada – 65.9
Tejada generates his home-run power to left and left-center field. His doubles power ranges from foul line to foul line. Tejada’s swing is more compact that it used to be, yet he struggles with soft-tossers. Finesse pitchers are able to keep him off stride and reduce his power. His slight uppercut swing allows groundball pitchers to keep the ball in the park and have success against him. Tejada remains one of the better hitters in the American League with runners in scoring position. He’s more productive batting fourth than in the No. 3 spot. ~ STATS Inc.

4. Jose Reyes – 58.8
The silver lining in Reyes’ otherwise-disappointing season was his gradual improvements. He displayed more aggressiveness by trying to bunt for base hits and employed his outstanding speed by stealing bases. His at-bats also improved when he showed the ability to drive the ball to the opposite field. With the assistance of former hitting coach Don Baylor, Reyes went to the plate with a game plan instead of relying exclusively on his natural abilities. He still lacks patience and needs to work the count in his favor, however. ~ STATS Inc.

5. Hanley Ramirez – 54.9
The Marlins get another bargain in the infield with Ramirez. He scored 119 runs and stole 51 bases and that’s not even taking into account the fact that he also hit 17 homeruns. He loves inside pitches that are high or low, hitting .387 and .500 respectively in those zones. On the other hand, you can get him out with the low and away pitch, where he hit just .224 last season.

19. Ronny Cedeno – (-17.8)
Before you get excited or relieved that Cedeno was ranked only 19th, that needs to be qualified. There were only 20 shortstops who had 500 or more plate appearances. Cedeno was the 2nd worst of them. Who did he beat out? Clint Barmes of the Rockies. What happened to that guy? He had a great season in 2005 before injuring himself in a grocery accident. Since then, he’s stunk the joint up.

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How Bad Were We? – Second Base

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

We’ve been taking a look over the last few days at how bad our team was by position when you look at VORP. Obviously this is not the end all tool for evaluation, but it is a cool way to compare guys to each other by position. For all summaries, I used a minimum of 500 plate appearances to qualify. For this position, the Cubs best player did not have the minimum, but I will show where he ranks among everyone. All scouting reports provided by STATS Inc.

1. Chase Utley – 65.2
Like many lefthanded hitters, Utley attacks low fastballs. He’s a line-drive gap hitter with enough strength to hit the ball over the fence. Utley can be fooled by veteran pitchers who change speeds and move the ball around in the strike zone, but he’s a smart hitter who should only get better as he gains experience. Utley’s biggest improvement last season was in the field, where he went from being below average to adequate. He has above-average speed and is aggressive on the bases.

2. Robinson Cano – 49.1
Cano has been great for the Yankees since coming up in 2005. A quick swing allows him to line fastballs around the field. He’s also got improving power and a good arm at second. However, he doesn’t run terribly well and could stand to improve his approach against southpaws and with runners in scoring position.

3. Ray Durham – 47.9
There’s no question about Durham’s hitting when he’s in the lineup. He hit the most homers since swatting 20 for the White Sox in 2001. Last year, he had a higher batting average from the right side, but more power from the left side. For a leadoff hitter, Durham strikes out too much. He struck out 60 times last year, three more than his walk total.

4. Dan Uggla – 39.1
It’s hard to believe that this guy was a rule 5 pick up from the Diamondbacks in 2005. He was drafted by the D-backs in 2001 in the 11th round. At $327,000 in 2006, Uggla was a huge bargain for the penny pinching Marlins. Now that the book is out on him as a hitter, I’m anxious to see what he can do next season. I’m guessing that there will be a lot of fantasy players who pick him WAY too high. If you do play fantasy, know this. In the 2nd half, he hit just .256 with an OBP just barely over .300. Seems like he got figured out.

5. Brian Roberts – 31.3
Roberts has a short, level swing that allows him to spray the ball to all fields. When he gets good wood on the ball, he can drive it into both gaps. He has the ability to coax a walk when he’s patient at the plate. Roberts struggles at times with low-and-outside breaking balls. He’ll also climb the ladder to chase a fastball. The switch-hitter struggles against southpaws who constantly pitch him away. He’s a good bunter but rarely is called on to sacrifice. When he does bunt for a base hit, he has good bat control and placement.

15. Ryan Theriot – 19.2
To me, there is no question that Ryan Theriot needs to get the shot at second base on opening day. He hit the ball well down in Iowa, posting .304 / .367 / .379. He hit even better in the majors by hitting more extra base hits, including three homeruns. His numbers for the Cubs were .328 / .412 / .522

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How Bad Were We? – Catcher Edition

Monday, January 1st, 2007

Recently, I made the case that Aramis Ramirez was a must sign third basemen based on the VORP numbers. If you don’t know much about VORP, a summary of it, found in Wikipedia says:

In baseball, value over replacement player (or VORP) is a statistic invented by Keith Woolner that demonstrates how much a hitter contributes offensively or how much a pitcher contributes to his team in comparison to a fictitious “replacement player,” who is an average fielder at his position and a below average hitter. A replacement player performs at “replacement level,” which is the level of performance an average team can expect when trying to replace a player at minimal cost, also known as “freely available talent.”

In other words, the higher the VORP, the more above average the player. Here is how our catching situation looked based on the VORP.

1. Joe Mauer – 66.9
What can you really say about Joe Mauer other than Wow!!! Oh yeah, how about good call by the Twins picking Mauer over Mark Prior. Many people felt that the only reason Prior went number two was due to signability issues. Mauer was a high school prospect and generally considered a few years away. Prior was considered MLB ready, which he proved by pitching the next year.

2. Brian McCann – 54.8
I think it’s safe to say that the Braves are not hurting since the loss of Javy Lopez. McCann has stepped into that role admirably in his second season in the Major Leagues. Not many people know about him since last year was his breakout year, but if he can repeat the numbers that he had last year, people will know his name very quickly. In 2006, McCann hit .333 with 24 homeruns and 93 RBI in 130 games behind the plate.

3. Victor Martinez – 47.8
The Indians were certain Martinez would hit for average in the big leagues based on his minor league track record, but they weren’t sure about his power. Martinez ended that debate when he was put in the cleanup spot May 3. He hit .286 with 19 homers and 99 RBI the rest of the season. The switch-hitting Martinez, with more power lefthanded, swings for contact and would just as soon get a runner home from third on a grounder as a hit. He has a quick, even swing from both sides of the plate, but can be beaten by splitters and sliders.

Controlling the running game is Martinez’ biggest weakness. He calls a good game and has soft hands, but his throws to the bases, especially second, are often high and off target. Martinez threw out only 22 percent of the basestealers he faced, though he improved after starting the season 1-for-21. Martinez blocks the plate well, but was charged with nine passed balls. He was slowed on the bases by hamstring and ankle problems. ~ STATS Inc

4. Jorge Posada – 38.0
Posada is a rarity as a switch-hitting catcher. He controls the strike zone with a more than functional plate discipline. Continually among the league leaders in walks, Posada is no easy out. From the right side he has more pop, a result of his pull conscious approach versus lefthanders. As a lefthanded hitter, he favors the ball just above the belt. Posada gets himself in trouble when he presses or attempts to do to much. This could help explain his postseason travails.

He has steadily improved his composite defense. He very seldom takes bad at-bats into the field anymore and by most accounts calls a good game. His rapport with the pitching staff is also noted, and this cannot be overlooked when assessing a catcher’s defense. Defensive measures like passed balls or stolen-base percentage place him somewhere in the middle of the catching spectrum. His arm is sometimes short, but accurate. Posada is a bad baserunner and paid the price by having his nose broken when he didn’t get out of the way of Angels shortstop Alfredo Amezaga’s throw on the back end of a double play in May. ~ STATS Inc

5. Michael Barrett – 31.3
Fifth in the Major Leagues is more than acceptable to me. Barrett, when you consider the shape he was in when Jim Hendry found him has turned into a great catcher for us and a very nice leader. Say what you want about his defense, which to me is fine when you factor in his bat, but the fact remains that he’s one of the top catchers in the game right now. That has to be a bright spot in a not so bright season last year.

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