Friday, September 16, 2011

In Defense of Ed Wade attempt to revive the blog didn't work. My bad. Maybe I'll follow up with a post about my experiment later. That's besides the point.

Rany Jazayerli over at Grantland wrote an article this week about the demise of the Houston Astros. Prominent in that piece was Ed Wade, easily the worst GM in baseball. As a Phillies fan, I suffered through Wade for far too long. I could go on about all of his shortcomings, but I won't. I, along with all other Phillies fans, am in a far better place now. Instead, I'm going to do something I never thought I'd do: defend Ed Wade.

In a line that is only tangentially related to the point of his story, Jazayerli writes, “Wade's tenure in Philadelphia was most notable for his apparent fetish for relievers. Of his several bullpen acquisitions, the most regrettable came in 2005, when he traded starting second baseman Placido Polanco for Ugueth Urbina.” I completely disagree with this statement; this was one of the few defensible trades Wade made in his tenure as Phillies GM. What follows is a very surface-level evaluation of the trade involving data on WAR. I'm not a sabremetrician, so go easy on me if you feel I overlooked or misinterpreted the stats.

This trade wasn't really about just acquiring Urbina - it was about opening up 2B for Chase Utley to be the full time starter. The Phillies weren't expecting to even have Polanco in 2005 - they offered him arbitration in hopes of getting draft picks, but he accepted it unexpectedly. He was a free agent after 2005, as was Urbina. The Phils weren't going to sign him - Chase was the 2B of the future, and they clearly were sticking with David Bell at 3B (that was the real failing of Ed Wade. He should have dropped Bell and moved Polanco to 3B a long time before). You can't evaluate the trade by noting how good Polanco was in later years with Detroit because that was on a 4 year extension he never would have signed with the Phils. Same goes for Urbina. He was a free agent after 2005 anyway, so the fact that he went and hacked someone up with a machete and went to jail is irrelevant. The trade was essentially 4 months of Polanco for 4 months of Urbina and Utley.

It's hard to exactly compare because doesn't break WAR down by months for individual years (at least that I can see) but Polanco put up 4.3 WAR in 2005, 1.7 with the Phils and 2.6 with the Tigers. Urbina put up a whopping 0.1 WAR in his time with the Phils. Utley had 6.2 WAR that year. Since I can't find a month by month breakdown for him, let's just prorate it, so he had about 4 WAR after Polanco was traded. 4 + 0.1 > 2.6. Yea, Urbina didn't perform, but the hope was that he would be able to duplicate his 2003 success after being traded to the Marlins at the deadline. He put up 1.9 WAR in half a season and was a big part of their World Series (for perspectives sake, Ryan Madson has never put up a 1.9 in an entire season, and Brad Lidge's perfect 2008 was worth 2.8). So considering the fact that the trade itself was based on a bad decision (David Bell had -0.5 WAR in 2005), Ed Wade probably acquitted himself as well as he possibly could have.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Reviving the Blog in the Most Unconventional Way

I couldn't sleep last night. Turns out sleeping in until noon on your last day of spring break isn't conducive to getting back on a normal sleep schedule. Naturally, my thoughts turned to baseball. The Phillies had just followed their four game sweep of the Padres with two dispiriting losses to the Diamondbacks. Lidge and Contreras are on the DL. So is Chase Utley, and who knows if he's going to play at all this year. The offense went two weeks without scoring more than four runs. Dom Brown is starting his rehab assignment, but Ben Francisco looks exposed as an everyday player and Raul Ibanez has turned into a black hole. Never has a 15-8 team with four aces looked so vulnerable. This wasn't helping my sleeplessness.

I took to Twitter to see what the scribes were saying. Unfounded speculation that Oswalt's back is hurting? Awesome. Now I'm concerned about our rotation. (Note: News broke this morning that Oswalt has left the team for personal reasons. Super.) What's that you say Matt Gelb? Harold Garcia tore his ACL and is out for the year? Uh-oh. He's never played a full season above A ball? I don't care, this is awful news! Now I'm curious and need to see who else we have in the minors could help. * * crickets * * Uh, that would be no one. Come to think about it, withholding judgment on Dom Brown, the organization hasn't developed an impact bat since Ryan Howard in 2005. We really have turned into the Yankees.

That's all tangential to my point though. I'm obsessed with this team, and I don't know if that's a good thing. You wouldn't think it'd be like this though. 2008 exorcised Joe Carter crapping on my seven year old heart. Everything else should be icing on the cake. That didn't happen though. Maybe I felt like I had to escalate my commitment to the team to prove I was better than the bandwagon fans, I don't know. Why should this even be necessary? Bandwagon fans don't remember such luminaries as Wendell Magee, Jr., Desi Relaford, or Wayne Gomes. They didn't go to the Vet enough to be recognized by ushers. Yet I still need to justify my fandom. I need to read more blogs, know the farm system better, travel farther to see them play.

I feel like Bill Simmons' father, or at least the character Simmons has created to feed into his schtick. I need to talk it out with someone after a tough loss. Why though? Even the best baseball team is going to lose at least 60 games each year. There is literally no reason to overanalyze any individual loss. It's tiring. I was burned out like this once before. In 2006, I had a perfect out though. I studied abroad in New Zealand for the second half of the season. Taking into account the time difference and the slow internet connections there at the time, following was nearly impossible. I watched one game on ESPN International and remember reading about Howard's three home run game against Tim Hudson in a backpacking hostel in Melbourne. That's it. It was awesome.

So I'm going to try instituting a forced hiatus from my uber-fandom. Step 1: Twitter disconnection. I'm going to unfollow all my favorite beat writers and bloggers. Step 2: Cutting out the blogs. No Fightins. No 700 Level. No Zoo With Roy. If I want news, I'll have to read stories published in the newspaper. Step 3: This is the big one. I am going to pretend I live in a pre-internet era. I will only listen to the radio broadcasts of games, with the exception of nationally televised games of the week.

Will I really lose anything by not knowing what the latest meme is or not understanding the newest ZWR shirt? I don't think so. How long will I last? Not sure. Is blogging about my disconnect a contradiction? You bet. Game on.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Nolan Reimold Bobblehead Night

I had some down time this afternoon at work and took a moment to do some quick staring at the Orioles schedule I keep pinned on my cubicle wall. Yesterday's magical Orioles triumph over the Mariners (more on that later) which i watched from amazing behind home plate seats (more on those later) revived to a degree my desire to make the journey from DC to Baltimore for the purpose of watching baseball. In scanning the list of promotional dates listed on the schedule, I had to laugh. Later this month the Orioles will unveil the first of this season's set of player bobbleheads. The player? Nolan Reimold.

Great, right? Reimold had a very promising 2009 campaign and most reputable baseball publications predicted more of the same from the Orioles' young left-fielder. He is expected to join Adam Jones and Nick Markakis for years to come to terrorize American Leage pitching. A trio of young talented outfielders. Orioles Magic. Feel it happen!

Theres a problem. Reimold has been a combination of hurt and awful so far in 2010. Last week, he was demoted to Triple-A Norfolk in favor of a ghost from Baltimore's losing past, Corey Patterson (more on him to come, he has earned a proper welcome back. Really. He's earning my warmest praise.) Which leaves me wondering...what happens later this month on Mr. Reimold's big night? Cancel the promotion? That will make the 3 piece set with the other 2 previously mentioned outfielders kind of awkward. Do they scramble and construct a Corey Patterson bobblehead? Or, do they give out a bobblehead of a player who has been demoted (he's not rehabbing) to the minor leagues? If that is the chosen course of action, where will that rank in the all-time order or awkward baseball promotions?

Now to what happened yesterday which shook me out of a brief torpor and once again inspired me to stare into my computer screen and type up a blog post.

Thanks to 13 seasons of spectacular inepptitude on the part of the Orioles, very good seats for games at Camden Yards can be had online at very low prices. At about a 60% discount, I found tickets behind the visiting team on-deck circle. Thank you unholy streak of losing seasons.

The events of the game don't really merit discussion until we reach what transpired in the bottom of the 8th inning. Well, one quick thing. Watching Ichiro bat remains one of my all-time favorite pastimes. He did not disappoint on Wednesday, notching 3 hits including a homerun to right-center field. As angry as I was about the Orioles surrendering yet another homerun, its near impossible not to appreciate the grace with which Ichiro swings, runs, stretches, and heck, he looks good cursing.

In the bottom of the 8th with the Orioles trailing 5-1, Corey Patterson, playing in his 2nd game of the season since the Orioles took a low-cost flier on him, lined what looked like a meaningless homerun to right field. 5-2. After a wild pitch negated an Adam Jones strikeout (when will that boy learn that the strikezone has a southern border?), Nick Markakis lined a single to center. Markakis then broke up a Miguel Tejada double play ball, leaving the Orioles with runners on 1st and 3rd and one out. Ty Wigginton walked. And then Luke Scott wasted no time in lining a Brandon League fastball barely over the left field wall. At first glance I thought the Mariners' leftfielder had caught the ball, but, 20,000 fans cheering convinced me otherwise. With that one swing of his bat, Scott turned a 5-2 deficit into a 6-5 lead.

After the inning, a Luke Scott montage played on the centerfield screen depicting the Orioles DH as a Jedi knight. They even used James Earl Jones' lines from The Sandlot as a voiceover to give Darth Vadar a baseball-y feel.

My fiancee's father is a good sport attending baseball games but his true interests in life lie elsewhere, and, he has a strong fear of any game he attends going extra innings. So, although a somewhat neutral bystander for 8 innings, in the top of the 9th, with the Orioles leading 6-5, he joined me in rooting for the Orioles closer-du-jour Alfredo Simon. I issued a warning that the mere sight of Simon makes me nervous. And after retiring Ryan Langerhans to start the inning, Simon justified my nervousness by hitting Jack Wilson and then walking pinch hitter Ken Griffey Jr. With two outs and two men on base, Simon served up a single to the aforementioned Ichiro, Wilson sprinted around 3rd base racing for the plate, Corey Patterson fielded the ball, cocked, fired, and threw Wilson out at home plate. An excellent tag by Matt Wieters and the game ended.

Easily the best ending to a baseball game that I have witnessed in many, many years.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

April Orioles Haiku

The bullpen blows it
Runners die at second base
Woe to be an O

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Comedy and Tragedy at the Small Sample Size Theater

Ridiculous fluctuations in rate stats are one of my favorite parts of the first month of the baseball season. Yes, the numbers are entirely meaningless but that doesn't make it any less hilarious to look at the stats page on and see leaderboard-toppers like Vernon Wells for AL home runs (5), or Livan Hernandez (!) and his shiny 0.00 ERA.

That said, a common theme of this offseason with regard to the Seattle Mariners was their focus on building another elite defense while attempting to augment 2009's offense, which oscillated between mediocre and occasionally painful to watch. The condemnation of the Mariners' offensive prowess came with some significant provisos: namely the team's poor performance with runners in scoring position (.235/.312/.358) and the complete lack of offensive production from C (.224/.282/.354, 77 sOPS+*), 3B (.247/.294/.349, 71 sOPS+), SS (.231/.262/.335, 65 sOPS+), and LF (a truly repugnant .219/.276/.333, 57 sOPS+).

Building in some regression toward the mean in the team's hitting with RISP, replacing the truly horrific Yuniesky Betancourt with a full season of Jack Wilson at SS, and deploying actual major-league bats Milton Bradley and Eric Byrnes in LF should improve the club's performance in 2010. Indeed it seemed that anemic as the offense may be, they were bound to improve on the 640 runs they scored last year.

Through eight games, oh man it looks like we were hilariously wrong. I wrote some context at the top of the post, but I should probably state it explicitly here: None of the following numbers mean anything this early in the season. That said, they are hilarious.

After being two-hit by Oakland in a 4-0 loss that dropped the team to 2-6 on the year, the Mariners as a team are posting a laughable .212/.287/.286 line.** I started looking through old leaderboards yesterday for the following thought experiment: Which pitcher/year combo posted an OPS-against as low as the current Mariners squad? Put another way, the 2010 Mariners are making pitchers they have faced collectively look like [Pitcher X] in [Year Y].

The comparables are not particularly uplifting.

Before yesterday's "effort," the Mariners had a .612 team OPS. Pitchers facing the Mariners had performed like 2009 Javier Vasquez or 2008 Tim Lincecum. The Mariners are turning pitchers like Justin Duchscherer into Cy Young-caliber performers.

I re-ran the numbers through the 7th inning of yesterday's game, because (a) I'm apparently both masochistic and easily distracted at work and (b) sabrmetrics has taught me to seek out new and exciting ways to quantify suck.

A team OPS of .582 at that point meant that new comparables included 2009 Chris Carpenter and 2001 Randy Johnson, a Cy Young winner and a close second.

After the merciful end of last night's game, the Mariners' OPS stands at .573. I don't have a comparison here because only 12 pitchers in the last 10 years (min. 100 IP) have posted season OPS-against figures lower than that. We're getting into early-2000s Pedro territory here, one of the most dominant pitching performances ever. A Mariners fan friend of mine suggested that any pitcher looking to bolster his Cy Young credentials should demand a trade every fifth day so that he can join his new team just in time to make a scheduled start against the Mariners. Eight games in, with meaningless numbers, it wouldn't be the worst idea.

The Mariners will start hitting. They won't hit particularly well, but they won't be this hilariously inept for long. Their 2010 success, fortunately, does not require them to mash the ball, and a season of 3-2 games is all I ask for as long as they come out on the right end the majority of the time. But thus far the offense has performed at an epically poor clip. If this continues, I'm going to keep the "Pitchers facing the Mariners are performing at a level like [Pitcher X] in [Year Y]" feature going throughout the year.

Because all baseball fans should get reacquainted with the pitching legends of the deadball era.

*split-OPS+, i.e. compared to league average=100, the Mariners' catchers were a collective 23% below the league average for catchers.

**It bears mentioning that their BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is an unsustainably low .254. Even last year's team, as anemic as it was, posted a BABIP of .293.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

George Sherrill and the Heartbreakers

The blown save is quite possibly the most infuriating single act which can occur on a baseball field. At least from a fan's perspective. There are all sorts of emotion that run through me as I'm watching a team I care about implode in the 9th inning. Theres a sense of betrayal at having believed for 8 innings that a win was possible. Theres anger at the closer and contempt for the manager who put said closer into the game. Then theres something akin to sadness as I realize that the once promising game has turned sour before my eyes.

The Orioles are incredibly skilled at making me feel all of the above between the months of April and October each year. Its a stupid tradition that I would like to see concluded. But, sadly, I have very little say in these matters.

Remember the rants that Randy Quaid's character would go on in Major League II? "You overpaid weenies!", "You no good piece of cow flop!" Those are the only say that fans get to pretend they have in these things. And those rants accomplish very little. For an example of how little anti-closer outbursts accomplish, did anyone notice that the chorus of 48,000 boos which serenaded Mike Gonzalez during his trip from the mound to the dugout on Friday accomplished absolutely nothing?

But, without apologizing for the Bronx-like behavior on Friday of Orioles fans, let me explain the 12 year volcano that finally erupted on Friday in the form of a triumph of the Boo-Birds.

In 1997, Randall K. Myers saved an impressive 45 games, ran up a 1.51 ERA, and allowed a grand total of 12 runs for the entire season. The Orioles, oddly enough, won 98 games that year and were wire-to-wire champions of the American League's Eastern Division. When the Orioles had a 9th inning lead, the game was as good as in the books.

Myers left after the 97 season.

The Orioles have been engaged in a heartbreaking, maddening, and utterly Hiroshima-esque search for a 9th inning man ever since.

Armando Benitez

Following Myers, the Orioles turned to hard-throwing set-up man Armando Benitez. In his most memorable moment on the mound Benitez touched off the above brawl by drilling Yankee 1st Baseman Tino Martinez. He saved 22 games in 1998 but ran up an ERA barely under 4.00. The Orioles let him fly from the nest following the season.

Mike Timlin

Timlin (bottom right in the above photo) lasted about two years closing games in Charm City. 1999 wasn't terrible, a 3.57 ERA with 27 saves, but 2000 was a disaster. About halfway through the season, Timlin was demoted to middle relief in favor of rookie Ryan Kohlmeier.

Ryan Kohlmeier

A 2.39 ERA from your rookie closer. Great, right? In Kohlmeier's case, not so much. A 1.71 WHIP in 2000 revealed that though he did an alright job of keeping runners from crossing home plate, Kohlmeier had an unfortunate proclivity for surrounding himself in the middle of the diamond with opposing baserunners. 2001 saw Kohlmeier's ERA balloon to 7.30 and he never pitched in a major league game again.

Jorge Julio

I am convinced that Jorge Julio was placed on this earth to punish me for some sort of severe transgression. After finishing 2001 by employing a motley mix of Buddy Groom, Mike Trombley, and combustible Willis Roberts to close games, the Orioles settled on young flame-thrower Jorge Julio in 2002. And he wasn't half bad. 25 saves and a 1.99 ERA in his first year. 36 saves in 2003, but a 4.38 ERA should have caused some concern within the Orioles' offices, but, back Julio went to the mound in 2004 for more maddening erratic pitching and another 4-something ERA. The folks in the B&O Warehouse got wise to Julio's incompetence and demoted him to set-up work in 2005, and how did he perform? A gut-wrenching 5.90 ERA with 14 homers allowed. Tie game in the 8th or 9th? Want to be certain you'll lose? Just call Jorge Julio. 1-800-HIGHERA.

BJ Ryan

By far the best of the post-Myers bunch up to 2005. Ryan dazzled for much of his one season of closing games in Baltimore (with a few memorable blown saves which unfortunately occurred in my presence, making each one count as three blown saves in the crooked calculus of fandom). He finished with 36 saves and a 2.43 ERA, enough to make him a hot item on the free agent market. Toronto gave him a big contract, and he flew the coup.

Chris Ray

With Ryan north of the border, hard-throwing almost side-armer Chris Ray assumed closer duties in 2006, holding the 9th inning role until an arm injury ended his 2007 prematurely. Prior to his DL sojourn, Ray showed signs of promise. He saved 33 games on a 2006 Orioles team which didn't win many games. He kept his ERA under 3.00. He saved 16 more games early in 2007, but his 4.46 ERA showed that all was not right. His career as an Oriole effectively ended with that 2007 injury. When he came back in 2009, he was AWFUL and was dealt to Texas for Kevin Millwood.

George Sherrill

Ray's injury forced the Orioles to go with a closer by committee system for half of 2007. In the offseason, the Orioles mugged the Mariners in a dark alley and stole, inter alia, a lefty reliever with a penchant for flat-brimmed hats, George Sherrill. Though he had been exclusively a setup guy for his big league career to that point, Dave Trembley gave him the keys to the 9th inning. And he shined. Almost always. He earned an All-Star game nod in his first season in Baltimore. He was prone to tight-rope walking, but what closer isn't?!? As the 2009 trading deadline approached, the last place Orioles dealt George to the Dodgers for a 3rd baseman prospect who projects to start at the hot corner by 2011. Thus, even in his departure, Sherrill helped.

Mike Gonzalez

What can one say about this poor fellow? He looked off all Spring. He blows a save on Opening Day. Very nearly blows another in the 3rd game of the year. Blows the Orioles' Home Opener. Gets booed off of the field. And, a day afterwards, Dave Trembley subtly tells reporters that Gonzalez will be working out some mechanical flaws in low-pressure middle relief situations before getting another chance to close. Talk about a quick hook. Assuming he's a professional and works out his issues soon enough to reclaim closer duties, Gonzalez's rough start becomes a blip on the radar screen. But, if he keeps setting himself on fire, Mike Gonzalez has just set a record for saddest cameo appearance in the back of the Orioles' pen.

While all of this has been going on in Baltimore, the New York Yankees have had to turn to a grand total of one man to close games. Mariano Rivera has been the stopper in the Yankees' pen for 4 World Series titles since 1997. 13 tough years in Baltimore have been anything but tough in the Bronx. Is it a coincidence that the team with the stable and reliable closer is the one that has been successful?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Good Ol' Cowboy Joe West

I went to my first baseball game of the year last Saturday. Granted it was only an exhibition between the Phils and Pirates, but pitches were thrown and uniforms got dirty, so it counts for something. As they are wont to do in exhibitions, both managers emptied out their benches and bullpens. The game never really got into a flow and it lasted a solid three hours. Coming off college basketball season and being spoiled by the beauty of a two hour game, I was worn out by the ninth inning. I'm out of baseball watching shape and I admit that three hours of exhibition was pushing my attention span.

I don't know how Yankees and Red Sox fans do it. Their first three games, respectively, lasted 3:46, 3:48, and 3:21. And finally, FINALLY, someone in a position of power has called them on it. Joe West, crew chief for that series, exhorted both teams to pick up the pace. Not holding back, he said, "It's pathetic and embarrassing" and called the pace of their games "a disgrace to baseball." Bravo, Joe, bravo. It's a shame that West will likely be fined and perhaps even suspended by Major League Baseball for his comments, because he hit the nail right on the head. Think about it for a second - a baseball game lasting longer than four hours. That's twice the length of a college basketball or soccer game. An above average runner can run a marathon in that time. Or you could watch 1/6th of a season of 24, enough for Jack Bauer to kill at least 5 terrorists and one government agent to be compromised.

I'll spare you my commentary on the designated hitter. As a National League fan, you can safely assume I disagree with George Steinbrenner. The DH is naturally going to lengthen AL games a little bit. There's no need for Jorge Posade to make EIGHT trips to the mound in an inning as he did in the World Series. You're a major league catcher. They're called signs. Use them. Jonathan Papelbon, who is one of baseball's most frequent time violators was quoted as saying a Yankees - Red Sox game is like a movie you never want to see end. You know what Jonathan? I do want to see it end. No one wants to be stuck in the same seat for four hours. In fact, I get to see the same movie seventeen more times over the course of the regular season, and most likely, another five or six during the playoffs.

Four hours is simply too long for a baseball game. With all of our blogs and ESPN round the clock coverage we forget that baseball, more than any other sport, is a game for kids. Writers make this argument every fall, and it applies here too. How are little kids supposed to get into baseball when games start at 8 and end at midnight? Just play ball guys.

An Apology on Behalf of the City of Philadelphia

TQ gave the fans of Philadelphia a yellow card in the post below, and quite frankly, it's deserved. There's a line between being ultra supportive of your team and being a detriment to others enjoyment of the game. On behalf of the city of Philadelphia and the true fans (I swear, we do exist), I apologize for the boorish behavior of our fan-base. There is nothing I want less than to be lumped in with pink hatted Red Sox fans.