Juan Castro Is Kind Of Amazing

  • Thursday, May 26, 2011 5:42 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Lots of major league baseball players possess the ability to amaze. You watch Mike Stanton launch a home run, Peter Bourjos chase down a fly ball or Roy Halladay carve up the strike zone, and it fills you with a sense of wonderment.

Juan Castro, in his own way, kind of amazes me, too. He does it by, well, his simple presence. That comes off sounding extremely impressive, but what I mean is that the current Dodgers backup infielder amazes by his very existence on a big league roster, a phenomenon that stretches back as early as 1995.

It is now 2011, and Juan Castro is 38 years old. He will turn 39 in June. His offensive production, accumulated over a rather astonishing 2,847 plate appearances (through May 25) is historically poor. And yet, when I tuned into the Dodgers-Giants game last Thursday, there he was playing second base and batting second for L.A.

Speaking to ESPN Los Angeles’ Tony Jackson during spring training, Castro said, "I have always said they'll have to take my jersey away from me,” to get him to retire.

Amazingly, nobody has.

Let me be clear right now. This is not a snark-infused post making fun of Juan Castro for being a terrible baseball player. This is a sincere post, figuratively gazing in awe at the career Juan Castro has managed to build despite tangibly contributing so little. Sure, at any given moment, many guys are hanging on at the fringes of MLB rosters who are better at baseball than 99.99 percent of the general population but worse at it than almost any of their peers. But often, if these guys do not improve quickly, they disappear.

When players manage to persevere for a long time in the big leagues, there tends to be an easily identifiable reason for it. For example, they are a left-handed relief specialist; they are a backup catcher; or they have one very useful tool such as power, speed or great defense.

If we were to shoehorn Juan Castro into one of those categories, it would be the latter. From Jackson’s article:

Although Castro carries a career batting average of .228 and an on-base percentage of .268, his selling points are enough versatility to play all four infield spots and a well-earned reputation for being a strong clubhouse presence -- as much of a veteran leader as a part-time player can be.

Starting with the "strong clubhouse presence," obviously I can’t speak to it, but I am sure Castro is a great guy to have around. That said, major league baseball is a meritocracy. I don't doubt that leadership is a desired quality, but it's not going to keep you in the big leagues on its own.

As for defensive value, Castro indeed has been versatile. He has played at least 250 games at shortstop (571), third base (264) and second base (251) and made very brief cameos at first base and in the outfield. On the other hand, Baseball Reference has Castro at 12 runs below average in his career as a shortstop, 11 below average as a third baseman and three above average as a second baseman, with a total for all positions of minus-21. (To be fair, FanGraphs likes him more as a fielder, grading him out at a total of three runs above average, although he’s been in the negative numbers every year since 2007).

While defensive metrics can be unreliable, it seems unlikely that Castro actually is a terrific fielder. And then there is his offense.

Yikes. A career line of .229/.268/.326, roughly three times as many strikeouts as walks, 36 home runs and five stolen bases in 14 attempts.

Using Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, I searched for players with at least 2,500 career plate appearances, sorting by lowest OPS+. Since 1901, Castro is fifth, with a mark of 55 (where 100 is average). Of the four players ahead of him, two played before World War II and only one (Rafael Belliard) has played in the last 35 years.

If you search by wins above replacement (WAR), Castro’s minus-10.7 puts him third behind Bill Bergen and Doug Flynn. So over the years, playing for the Dodgers (four stints), Reds (two stints), Twins, Orioles and Phillies, Castro has cost his teams almost 11 wins. And yet he almost always has been on an MLB roster, playing just 72 minor league games since 2000.

Eight of those came with Triple-A Albuquerque at the beginning of this season. On May 13, the Dodgers purchased his contract. Last Friday, he entered a game against the White Sox, replacing an injured Juan Uribe. In the eighth inning, with the Dodgers down a run, he struck out with the bases loaded. Then in the 10th, with the game tied, he slapped the go-ahead RBI single to right field, spurring a 6-3 victory.

It was kind of amazing.

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Which MLB Coaching Staff Has The Best Players?

  • Friday, April 22, 2011 6:15 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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An arms race has broken out in the NL West, and this one has nothing to do with Clayton Kershaw, Ubaldo Jimenez or Tim Lincecum.

No, this has to do with men who write lineup cards, flash signs, hit fungoes and toss batting practice. This has to do with coaches, not in terms of coaching ability, but in terms of former playing ability. Having a successful big league career has never been a prerequisite for landing a job as a coach or manager, not should it be, but coincidentally or not (OK, almost certainly coincidentally), the NL West is leading the charge of teams hiring former MLB regulars.

Here are the top coaching staffs in terms of playing ability, based on Baseball Reference’s wins above replacement (WAR). Only coaches assigned a uniform number were considered.

1. Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-backs might not be a very good team, but if the players didn’t show up one day and an old-timers’ game broke out instead, I would like their chances. Manager Kirk Gibson hit one of the most memorable home runs in baseball history and won an MVP award. Don Baylor also was an MVP. Matt Williams produced six 30-homer seasons and made five All-Star teams. Eric Young stole 465 bases, and Charles Nagy had a decent 14-year career outside of allowing the winning hit in the 1997 World Series. And last but certainly not least, Alan Trammell has been vastly overlooked as a Hall of Fame candidate after a terrific 20-year run as a shortstop with the Tigers. (Total WAR: 217.0)

2. Los Angeles Dodgers
With Bud Selig now stepping in to put the organization under league control and Juan Uribe signed to a three-year deal, first-year manager Don Mattingly is probably thinking, “What did I get myself into?” The good news for Donnie Baseball, other than being able to write Matt Kemp’s name in the lineup every day, is that he leads the second-most-talented coaching staff in MLB. Mattingly, of course, was a phenomenal hitter who won an MVP award and retired with a .307 batting average, his career cut short by injury. Davey Lopes was a rookie of the year who made four All-Star teams in a 16-year career. Tim Wallach made five All-Star teams, while Rick Honeycutt made two and won an ERA title. (Total WAR: 153.5)

3. Colorado Rockies
Yes, another NL West team. Skipper Jim Tracy managed only 213 mildly productive big league plate appearances, but his staff is solid. Carney Lansford was a rookie of the year who went on to become a key contributor on the great Athletics teams of the late 80s and top 2,000 hits for his career. Vinny Castilla, one of the original Blake Street Bombers, hit a Coors Field-aided 320 home runs, including three straight 40-homer seasons. Glenallen Hill combined a sweet name with big-time power, once crushing a home run that flew out of Wrigley Field and landed on a rooftop across Waveland Avenue, about 500 feet away. (Total WAR: 79.7)

4. Cincinnati Reds
Yes, there was a day when Dusty Baker taxed pitchers' arms from the batter's box rather than the dugout. A lot of days, actually, as Baker played 19 seasons while posting a solid 116 OPS+ and 242 home runs. Chris Speier faded after a solid first five seasons during which he made three all-star teams but went on to stick around for 14 more years. Brook Jacoby made a couple of All-Star teams and in 1987 managed to hit 32 homers while driving in just 69 runs. (Total WAR: 76.2)

5. St. Louis Cardinals
For some reason, the top five teams are all in the NL. In the case of the Cardinals, that is almost entirely due to home run king turned PED exile turned hitting coach Mark McGwire. I guess you could say McGwire's numbers should be discounted, in which case you would look to the Blue Jays (with Pat Hentgen and Dwayne Murphy) or White Sox (with Harold Baines and of course, Ozzie Guillen). Otherwise, McGwire's prolific career, combined with jack-of-all-defensive-trades Jose Oquendo, is enough to overcome the mediocrity of Tony LaRussa, Dave Duncan and company. (Total WAR: 75.7)

30. Florida Marlins
Skipping to the end of the line, several teams have little in the way of coaches who enjoyed big league success. But nobody can match the Marlins in that regard. Only three staff members, Edwin Rodriguez, Randy St. Claire and Reid Cornelius, ever made The Show. Rodriguez had 25 plate appearances, while St. Claire and Cornelius combined for fewer than 500 innings pitched. Only Cornelius generated positive value. (Total WAR: 0.2)

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How To Make The Perfect Closer (A Recipe)

  • Monday, April 18, 2011 8:17 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Torn from the pages of Bon Appetit

The Closer

Introduction
Every chef needs The Closer, that dish that takes a winning meal and seals the deal. Do not confuse The Closer with “a closer.” The latter is anything that comes at the end of your menu. The former is special. It is not to be used under just any circumstances, but The Closer, deployed with discretion, is the secret to any chef’s arsenal. Just make sure you firmly establish The Closer’s place on the menu, as any confusion can result in unsatisfactory results.

Ingredients
1 small pen (or pan, if you will)
2 jumbo huevos
1/2 cup hot sauce (the hotter the better; The Closer must be able to dial up the flames)
1 beef slider, cut sharply
1 cup grated cheese (a finely aged cheese provides more confidence)

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees or highest available setting. The Closer cooks under extreme conditions.
2. Combine ingredients in bowl and mix. Leave lumpy and uneven – The Closer should give off a feeling of untamed aggression.
3. Pour mixture into pen, put in oven.
4. Cook for approximately 1 inning.

Serving
1. Make sure guests are properly prepared for The Closer by preceding it with The Set-Up (see previous page).
2. There might be situations earlier in the meal when you sense your guests’ enjoyment slipping away and feel tempted to bring out The Closer. Cooking nerds might try to convince you this is a good approach, saying your best dish should be employed during a meal’s most crucial moment. Do not listen. There is a reason you are a chef and they are playing on the Easy-Bake Ovens in their mothers’ basements. A closer must be saved for the final course, even if all of your guests are already full by that time.
3. Before bringing The Closer to the table, crank up some hard rock (pretty much anything by AC/DC works great). Play it while entering the dining room.
4. Once The Closer is on the table, the meal is out of your hands! Of course, you will nervously await its completion, but otherwise, sit back and watch.


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The Great AL East Panic Of 2011

  • Thursday, April 7, 2011 10:05 PM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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On Thursday afternoon, the Red Sox and Rays both lost and moved to 0-6. Coupled with the Astros’ win over the Reds, this left the two AL East would-be contenders as the last teams standing – in only the loss column.

Of course, everyone is debating what these slow starts mean, particularly when it comes to the Sawx, a popular World Series pick just a week ago.

In Boston, panic has gripped the streets like in no other time since the Revolutionary War. When Darnell McDonald’s baserunning blunder accounted for the final out in Thursday’s loss to the Indians, I kind of imagined Paul Revere putting the butt of his musket through the TV, mounting his horse and galloping off to warn everyone of impending doom.

Now, the logic-inclined sector of the Internet baseball-following community has mostly refrained from stocking-up-on-canned-goods-level apocalypse angst. And not just because most moms’ basements already feature a nice stash of canned goods.

Look at it at this way: The Red Sox and Rays both have played slightly less than 4 percent of their schedules. And while both teams are now clearly in a hole, the situation is really not that dire.

In terms of the division, the Yankees are four games ahead, but Boston and Tampa each get 19 head-to-head matchups included in the remaining schedule. That’s a lot of opportunities to gain ground. And then think in terms of the wildcard. If we assume teams like Baltimore, Toronto, Kansas City and Cleveland are not serious playoff contenders – a fairly safe assumption – Boston and Tampa are right in the mix. The Twins, Tigers and Athletics are all 2-4, while the Angels are 3-3.

Just out of curiosity, I went back to the start of the six-division, wildcard format and looked at the teams with the longest season-opening losing streaks each season. Here are the results, listed with the streak, the overall season record and the finish in the division.

2010: Astros, 0-8, 76-86, 4th
2009: Nationals, 0-7, 59-103, 5th
2008: Tigers, 0-7, 74-88, 5th
2007: Astros, 0-4, 73-89, 4th
2006: Pirates, 0-6, 67-95, 5th
2005: Mets, 0-5, 83-79, 3rd
2004: Mariners, 0-5, 63-99, 4th
2003: Tigers, 0-9, 43-119, 5th
2002: Tigers, 0-11, 55-106, 5th
2001: Brewers, 0-4, 68-94, 4th / Marlins, 0-4, 76-86, 4th / Royals, 0-4, 65-97, 5th
2000: Phillies, 0-3, 65-97, 5th
1999: D-backs, 0-4, 100-62, 1st
1998: Expos, 0-7, 65-97, 4th
1997: Cubs, 0-14, 68-94, 5th
1996: Red Sox, 0-5, 85-77, 3rd
1995: Reds, 0-6, 85-59, 1st

With three teams tying in 2001, that gives us a pool of 18 teams, which averaged a 6.3-game losing streak to begin the year. These clubs went on to win an average of 70.6 games (71.1 if you account for the ’95 Reds’ strike-shortened season).

Seven of the 18 finished in last place, two finished third, none second and two first.

The 1999 Diamondbacks, in the franchise’s second year of existence and coming off a 65-win campaign, started 0-4. By May 18, they were 23-17 and leading the NL West. They took the lead for good on July 24 and went on to win the division by 14 games

The 1995 season was delayed due to the strike. The Reds played their first game on April 26, lost, then lost five more in a row. They then went 12-5 to get over .500 and were leading the division for good by June 5, going on to take it by nine games.

Of course, neither of these teams were dealing with anything like the present-day AL East, but the main point holds: Hope is not lost.

Unless you lose again today. Then you’re definitely screwed.

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MLB Predictions: What WON'T Happen In 2011

  • Wednesday, March 30, 2011 5:02 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Months of waiting are finally over, and the 2011 season has arrived. To mark the occasion, everyone is making their predictions, saying what they think will happen this season.

What a boring, glass-half-full approach. Here is what WON’T happen in MLB in 2011.*

* To answer your first question, yes, I hate your favorite team and am out to get them, and no, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Just wanted to be upfront about that.

Last year’s World Series participants get back to the playoffs.
Since the six-division wildcard format was introduced in 1995, 19 of 30 World Series teams have returned to the postseason the next year, with five returning to the championship round. This will not be one of those years. Rather, this will be like 2006 or 2007, when neither World Series participant from the year prior played extra ballgames.

To be clear, I don’t think what the Giants or Rangers accomplished last season was a mirage. Those were both talented clubs, and they certainly have a good shot to reproduce their success. But a lot of things – not everything, of course – broke right for both teams last year, and that rarely happens twice in a row. Both San Francisco and Texas are flawed teams, flawed enough that I have them being overtaken this year by Colorado and Oakland, respectively, and finishing behind the second-place team from the East for the wild card.

The Yankees and Red Sox both make the postseason.
Sorry, TV network executives! For the seventh straight year, your dream ALCS will not come to fruition. Now, you certainly could argue that the Yankees and Sox look like the two best teams in baseball, and that would be hard to dispute. There are concerns with both, but you also know they will do what is necessary to address any issues with in-season trades.

That said, whether it’s my NY-BOS fatigue or the fact I’m currently reading Jonah Keri’s fascinating The Extra 2%, I’m going to say the Rays find a way to steal one of the two playoff spots that will almost certainly go to the AL East. Losing Carl Crawford to Boston and the whole bullpen to various other teams were tough pills to swallow for Tampa, but I think additions like Manny Ramirez and Jeremy Hellickson will push the Rays through.

The Phillies starting rotation proves to be the greatest of all time.
No, I’m not invoking the SI cover jinx. And I do believe the quartet of Halladay-Lee-Hamels-Oswalt is good enough to drag the Phillies’ wounded lineup into the playoffs and maybe even the World Series. That said, I think expectations probably have gotten a bit outlandish in the off-season.

The Big Four have been a pretty durable bunch in recent years, but of course it’s not hard to imagine one of them going down with an injury somewhere along the line. Pitching is a tough business. And consider this: The 1997 Braves had four starters with an ERA+ of at least 138 (100 is league average). The Phillies’ four have combined to reach that number in 15 of 29 seasons in which they made at least 20 starts. So while it’s certainly possible all four will enjoy great years, I think it’s pretty reasonable to believe at least one will get hurt or have a down season. And I’m not convinced run support will be in abundance, which means that those paying attention to pitcher wins might be disappointed.

The Reds take the next step toward building an NL Central power.
Those were heady days in Cincy last season. Joey Votto was NL MVP, Jay Bruce took a step forward, Scott Rolen managed 537 productive plate appearances, and Dusty Baker and company cobbled together a decent pitching staff. The result was a division title and the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 1995.

Granted, the Reds played as well as their record indicated last year, based on run differential. And they are a young club with room for growth. But as we’ve seen in recent seasons with teams like Arizona, young and talented teams can hit some speed bumps after initially finding success, and I think that happens with the Reds in 2011. The rotation in particular has some blow-up potential with Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey likely starting the year on the DL, Edinson Volquez not too far removed from major arm surgery and the rest of the bunch awfully short on big league credentials. With the Brewers improved, the Cardinals still dangerous and the Cubs likely to be better, I think someone overtakes Dusty’s crew this time around.

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Anonymous Opening Day Starters (Of The 2000s)

  • Sunday, March 27, 2011 5:00 PM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Making it to the major leagues is an outstanding accomplishment. Earning a start on Opening Day, a sacred occasion in baseball and now just a week away, is a distinct honor. That being said, not everyone whose name is scrawled on the first lineup card of the season is a legend, a known commodity or even someone people will remember five years later.

Using Baseball-Reference’s catalogue of Opening Day lineups, I went back to the turn of the century and picked out the guys whose careers included the celebrated start – but not too much else. Let’s give ‘em another moment in the sun below.

Starting Pitcher: Dewon Brazelton, 2005 Devil Rays
Brazelton apparently went through a lot just to get to majors. Once there, the third pick of the 2001 draft out of Middle Tennessee State made just 43 starts, but one of them came on Opening Day 2005, when he pitched decently in a loss to the Blue Jays. Brazelton finished that season 1-8 with a 7.61 ERA, was traded in the offseason to the Padres and has not appeared in MLB since May 11, 2006. Last season he was pitching for the Kansas City T-Bones of the independent Northern League.
Honorable Mentions: Runelvys Hernandez (’03 Royals), Ryan Drese (’05 Rangers).

Catcher: Hector Ortiz, 2001 Royals
The ’01 Royals gave at least 100 plate appearances to four different catchers on their way to losing 97 games. One of those backstops was Ortiz, a 35th-round pick of the Dodgers in 1988 who had appeared in 30 games for the Royals over the previous three seasons. In spring training that year, Gregg Zaun tore a muscle in his calf, opening up the Day 1 start for Ortiz, who collected one of his 75 big-league hits that afternoon. Ortiz played seven games for the Rangers the next year and hung around the minors through 2005.
Honorable Mentions: Danny Ardoin (’06 Rockies), Ken Huckaby (’03 Blue Jays)

First Base: Scott Thorman, 2007 Braves
The Braves selected Thorman in the first round of the 2000 draft out of Ontario, Canada, brought him to the majors in 2006 and handed the 25-year-old the starting job the following season after dealing Adam LaRoche to the Pirates. Thorman went 0-for-4 in the opener against the Phillies and never found his way at the plate at the big league level, hitting .216/.258/.394 in 307 plate appearances in ‘07. He has been stuck in the minors ever since, playing last season for the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate.
Honorable Mentions: Kevin Barker (’00 Brewers), Lance Niekro (’06 Giants)

Check out the full lineup at ThePostGame.com.

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Putting The Spotlight, For Once, On The MLB Journeyman

  • Monday, March 14, 2011 8:11 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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“He’s a true baseball vagabond, and with his thick horseshoe mustache and accompanying soul patch, you could almost picture him riding a Harley from one stop to the next, wandering into a new parking lot each night, offering his services for the game."

-- NBCSports.com’s Bob Harkins on Reds catcher Corky Miller, in one part of a recent six-article series about players’ roads to the big leagues.

“Baseball vagabond” is an awesome term and a cooler way of describing someone as a journeyman – a guy who has hung around on the fringes of the major leagues for a long time, for many different teams, without really establishing himself.

In fact, Miller is probably the exemplar of this category of ballplayer, considering that he has appeared in just 199 games since making his MLB debut in 2001. But even if nobody else can match Miller’s potent combination of awesome name, awesome facial hair and eternal 25th-man ceiling, baseball is loaded with similar types.

Here is a look at MLB’s journeymen, a group I defined as active players who are at least 10 years removed from their debuts, have played for at least five teams, have never made an all-star team and have a little je ne sais quoi.

The sturdy backstops
There is a reason Crash Davis was a catcher. Same goes for Miller. Because of the emphasis on skills like throwing out base-stealers, blocking balls in the dirt and working with pitchers, guys who can’t hit a lick can hang around forever as backups at the position.

Miller is the ultimate journeyman catcher, but props also go to Henry Blanco, aka Hank White, who got up for a brief cup of coffee with the Dodgers in 1997 and has since played for seven other teams. He can make it eight this season assuming he sticks with the Diamondbacks. Blanco sports a career OPS+ of 67 but has made a living on his sterling defensive reputation.

The Swiss Army knives
Catchers are not the only players who can survive on the margins of big-league rosters without the benefit of generating offense. Guys who can fill in around the diamond, especially in the middle infield, are in the same camp.

Look no further than someone like Miguel Cairo, who has played for nine clubs since debuting in 1996 without staying put for more than three years at a time. A classic Tony La Russa favorite for his versatility while with the Cardinals, Cairo has played everywhere except centerfield and catcher in his career while averaging 264 plate appearances per year. Cairo has posted a 77 OPS+ but enjoyed one of his better campaigns last season, at age 36, for the Reds.

Other players in this group include Juan Castro, Chris Woodward, Alex Cora and Jerry Hairston, Jr.

The Corner Bats
There are a handful of corner infield/outfield types who fit the journeyman label, but it’s a bit of a heterogeneous group. You’ve got the ultimate journeyman (in terms of career travels) in professional hitter Matt Stairs, who is on his record 13th team this season. Stairs has a career OPS+ of 118 and five seasons of at least 450 plate appearances but has been mostly a part-time player and pinch-hitter despite his enduring ability to hit the cover off the ball.

Nobody else in this group can match Stairs’ quantity (of uniforms) or quality (of play). Fernando Tatis gave me my coolest I-saw-it-in-person baseball moment when he hit a record two grand slams in one inning off Chan Ho Park at a game at Dodger Stadium in 1999. That was his only season with both 400 plate appearances and a 100 OPS+, and he didn’t play in the majors in 2004, 2005 or 2007. Ross Gload has -0.3 career WAR. Xavier Nady only technically belongs on this list, having made one MLB plate appearance in 2000 after being drafted out of Cal-Berkeley and not appearing in another game until 2003.

The Big-Time Prospect Who Turned Out Not To Be Nothing At All Like The Next Griffey But Who Has Managed To Cling To A Career Anyways
Corey Patterson

The Crafty Lefties
It is well known that after the apocalypse comes and wipes us all from this mortal coil, all that will remain will be the cockroach and the LOOGY. These guys manage to find a job every year (often with a new team) because everyone needs an antidote to all of the hard-hitting lefty batters out there. Will Ohman, Ron Mahay, Joe Beimel, Ron Villone, Dennys Reyes, Trever Miller and Darren Oliver all fit the journeyman label. In the realm of starters, ageless wonder Jamie Moyer probably has too accomplished a career to be a journeyman, but Bruce Chen has managed to pitch for 10 big-league clubs since 1998 while excelling at being extremely forgettable.

The Guys Who Keep Going Despite Throwing From The Not-So-Sinister Side
Octavio Dotel and LaTroy Hawkins (a combined 192 for 289 or 66.4% in save opportunities) stick around as set-up guys/closer fallback plans. I can’t really think of anything to say about David Riske or Scott Linebrink. Guys like Rodrigo Lopez, Nelson Figueroa and the incomparable Elmer Dessens always make you go, “That guy is STILL playing?!” And somehow, they are.

Their journey continues …

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Baseball Codes Musings: Examining Big League Big-Lead Etiquette

  • Monday, March 7, 2011 5:24 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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As a manager, what do you do when your team builds a huge lead? Do you put in some bench players? Do you order runners not to steal or take extra bases? Do you tell your hitters not to swing on 3-0 counts?

These are delicate questions for two reasons. 1) You don’t want to be viewed as running up the score or showing up the other team and possibly incur retribution, but, 2) You can never be sure your lead is safe.

I recently read Jason Turbow’s The Baseball Codes, an entertaining look at the game’s unwritten rules. Turbow delves into the etiquette of hitting batters, doctoring balls, stealing signs and many other things, but to me, an early section about the “proper” way to play with a significant advantage on the scoreboard was one of the most compelling topics.

It’s something that speaks to baseball’s lack of a clock. There are seemingly miraculous comebacks in every sport, but the specter of them looms larger in baseball. For a basketball team down by 15 points with a minute left, a rally is almost physically impossible. The same goes for a football team down by three scores or a hockey team down by three goals near the end of a game.

A baseball team that enters its final at-bat trailing by five runs faces overwhelming odds (a home team’s chance of winning in this situation is about 0.9 percent, according to The Hardball Times’ win probability calculator). But the chance is still there. As long as you keep hitting, the game keeps going.

As the book details, people in baseball possess an array of opinions about the “proper” way to play with a big lead. Some feel it’s disrespectful to keep the foot on the gas with anything more than a four-run lead after the sixth inning. Others take a more lenient approach, while some feel entitled to going full throttle until the point they feel completely comfortable.

Turbow brings up a bizarre game from 2001, when the Mariners led the Indians 12-0 in the fourth inning and 14-2 at the seventh-inning stretch. Both managers took some of their best players out of the lineup, but the Indians scored three runs in the seventh, four in the eighth and five in the ninth to tie the game, then won in the 11th.

It should be noted that this was the biggest comeback in the major leagues in 75 years. Going into the bottom of the seventh, the Mariners had a 99.9 percent chance of winning.

Is it wise for a manager to base strategy decisions on the chance that the other team could make a 1-in-1,000 comeback? Probably not. What about a 1-in-100 comeback? When you consider the relatively small degree to which making a couple of lineup changes and/or altering your baserunning style affects the course of a game over a few innings, it’s hard to get too worked up about it either way. Of course, players and coaches often do get very worked up about it.

At the least, it’s something to keep you interested the next time you’re watching a blowout.

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Baseball Players vs. Baseball Players: Analyzing A Great Cliché

  • Tuesday, February 22, 2011 6:05 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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“He’s a baseball player.”

It is a statement that means both nothing and everything when those inside the game utter it.

In a literal sense, it states the obvious. But when a player, coach or front office type puts that little emphasis on it -- “That guy, he’s a baseball player” -- it becomes the ultimate compliment.

I was thinking about this Sunday when Buster Olney tweeted this: Dustin Pedroia to a friend about Robinson Cano, with respect: “He's become a (bleepin') baseball player.” pedroia likes cano's passion 4 game.

If you follow baseball, you read and hear comments like this all the time. It’s one of those cliches that baseball people toss about frequently. It’s not “one day at a time,” but it’s certainly a go-to way to express your appreciation for a guy.

But what does it really mean? Beyond the very, very obvious, that is.

To help answer this question, I spent about an hour on Google tracking down all of the instances I could find in which someone bestowed this highest of compliments or its simplified relative, “He’s a ballplayer.” (No, I didn’t have anything better to do. Why do you ask?)

First, I will share with you the list I compiled of baseball players/ballplayers to see if there are any clear conclusions to draw. Obviously this list is not exhaustive, but it should provide a solid sampling. It includes any current or recent major leaguers I found.

Derek Jeter, David Murphy, David Eckstein, Sam Fuld, Mitch Moreland, Ryan Kalish, Hideki Matsui, Gordon Beckham, Kevin Millar, Chris Coghlan, Tim Hudson, Edgar Martinez, Blake DeWitt, Michael Brantley, Russell Martin, Kenji Johjima, Michael Young, Jayson Werth, Mark Teixeira, Evan Longoria, Placido Polanco, Dustin Pedroia, Matt Wieters, A.J. Pierzynski, Eric Hinske, Micah Owings, Ryan Freel, Adrian Beltre, Alexei Ramirez, Nick Swisher, Nick Punto, Mark DeRosa, Brady Clark, Noah Lowry, Matt Joyce, Ian Kinsler, Joe Randa, George Sherrill, Reid Brignac, Jorge Posada, Alex Cora, Marco Scutaro, Josh Hamilton, Will Rhymes, Miguel Tejada, Mark Teahen, Marcus Giles, Pedro Feliz, Tony Giarratano, Ben Zobrist, Asdrubal Cabrera, Vladimir Guerrero, Dan Uggla, Augie Ojeda, Jack Wilson, Oscar Robles, Mike Leake, Daniel Nava, Reed Johnson, Jeff Kent, Zack Greinke, Brad Wilkerson, Freddy Sanchez, Ian Desmond, Greg Maddux, Mike Aviles, Albert Pujols, Aaron Cook, Nick Markakis, Orlando Cabrera, Nomar Garciaparra, Carlos Zambrano, Angel Pagan, Andy Dominique, Robert Fick, Paul McAnulty, Khalil Greene, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Mark Grudzielanek, Ronny Cedeno, Jamey Carroll.*

There aren’t a ton of obvious lessons here. We’ve got stars, regulars and scrubs. We’ve got mostly hitters but a sprinkling of pitchers. We’ve got youngsters and veterans. Scrappy white dudes are well represented, but there is at least some diversity.

So with a strong definition still out of reach, let’s dip into the case files.

First of all, there is an important distinction that must be made. Let’s let Gary Cathcart, manager of the Class-A Potomac Nationals, draw that line for us in talking about Washington prospect Steve Lombardozzi: “He's a baseball player. There's a difference between a baseball player and a guy who plays baseball. He's prepared for anything that happens in the field."

At face value, this sounds ridiculous. If you heard someone say, “There’s a difference between a construction worker and someone who works in construction,” or “There’s a difference between a pizza delivery boy and a boy who delivers pizza,” you would stare at them blankly. But when it comes to baseball, there seems to be an understanding about players vs. guys who play.

There also seems to be another important distinction, this one between a ballplayer and an “athlete.” I saw at least four examples of this, including the following quote from Kevin Youkilis about Pedroia and the Red Sox: “He’s not 6-4, (doesn’t run) fast, but he’s a baseball player. We have baseball players here, and not 6-2 athletes. That’s why we’re a good team. We have the guys that are good baseball players.”

OK, so now we know that a baseball player is not a guy who plays baseball, and he’s not a tall athlete. But what is he, then?

Since we all presumably have lives to get on with, I’ve separated the supposed qualities of these very special individuals into five broad categories, each of which I will address briefly.

1. The Cliché Clusterf*ck
The most common explanation for what makes a ballplayer a ballplayer is some other trite saying commonly used in major league clubhouses. Descriptors include: scrappy, hard-nosed, throwback, old-fashioned, a grinder, always dirty, a dirtball, a dirtbag, maximum effort and blue-collar.

2. The Inspector Gadgets
Inflexible players need not apply, as versatility seems to be a critical component of a ballplayer. This was presented as versatility in terms of position, spot in the batting order or skill set. It’s like what Dusty Baker said about Angel Pagan when both were Cubs: “He’s a ballplayer. These are things a ballplayer does – they run the bases well, they hit well, they throw, they throw to the right base, they steal a base.”

There is also a subset within this group that consists of pitchers who can do more than pitch. One such hurler is Tim Hudson, of whom a scout said: “It goes straight to being athletic. He can field his position, get a timely hit or lay down a bunt against a real tough pitcher. He’s a baseball player.”

3. Brains Over Brawn
When they both were on the Red Sox together, Jason Varitek described Alex Cora as a baseball player, saying, “His wits on the field are phenomenal. Even if he doesn’t hit, there isn’t a situation that doesn’t go by that he’s not aware of.” I’m not sure that last sentence makes any sense, but the quote nonetheless encapsulates a central tenet of baseball playerdom. This can be intelligence but is more often described as being alert or heads-up or possessing a good “feel for the game,” or baseball instincts.

4. Self-improvement
If a baseball player is struggling, he does not give up. That is because he is a being characterized by a supreme will and a never-say-die attitude. He will learn and grow and figure things out. Former Mets manager Jerry Manuel summed up this quality last season in talking about David Murphy. “He’s a baseball player,” Manuel said. “I wouldn’t put anything past him as far as adjusting.”

5. The Right Stuff
You know how there are those guys on major league teams who do things the wrong way? Maybe they don’t run out ground balls; maybe they admire their home runs for too long; maybe they forget their place and get all uppity with the manager or an esteemed veteran. Whatever the case may be, these guys aren’t baseball players in the true sense of the term. That classification is reserved for those who play with pride and respect, like Ben Zobrist. “He’s a baseball player, and I mean that obviously as a big compliment,” (Rays) executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. “He plays the game the right way.”

So there you have it. Now the next time someone tells you he is a baseball player, you can ask, “Yeah, but are you a baseball player?”

* You can read all of the quotes I found in this Google document.

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Fun With Alternate Reality: Albert Pujols And The 1999 Draft

  • Friday, February 18, 2011 4:47 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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All 30 MLB teams would love to have Albert Pujols, and with El Hombre's negotiating deadline with the Cardinals coming and going Wednesday, it now seems likely that all 30 teams will have a chance to get him.

Well, not really. That's not how things work, of course. The economics of the game dictate that probably no more than a few teams could launch themselves into the payroll stratosphere a Pujols deal would require.

But there was a time when all 30 teams did have a basically equal shot of landing this generation's greatest player. The year was 1999, and Pujols entered the June amateur draft out of a Missouri junior college. And as most people know by now, everyone passed on him -- and passed on him again, and again, and again, and again, and so on.

It wasn't until the 13th round and the 402nd overall pick that the Cardinals selected Pujols.

While nobody would argue Pujols did not turn out to be by far the best pick in the draft, it is stunning to actually go back and look nearly 12 years later.

Here is the clearest way to illustrate the big man's impact: Pujols arrived in the big leagues in 2001 and in 10 seasons has racked up 83.8 wins above replacement (WAR), the second-largest total for a player's first 10 seasons, behind only Ted Williams.

I looked at every team's 1999 draft on Baseball Reference and found that, even including players who have accrued most or all of their value with other organizations, no team came anywhere close to matching Pujols' worth through all their picks combined. The closest was the then-Devil Rays, whose selections (including the now-departed Carl Crawford and since-born-again Josh Hamilton) have accumulated 50.8 WAR in the big leagues.

There are even three teams, including the arch-rival Cubs, whose picks actually have earned negative value in limited MLB action (Cheers, Steve Smyth).

This Joba Chamberlain-sized chasm between the Cardinals' 1999 draft and everyone else's brings up an interesting opportunity for some counterfactual history. In other words, what if one of the 29 other teams took one of its dozen-plus chances to draft Pujols before the Cards did? How would that alter our current reality?

Anyone who has watched Back to the Future knows that changing the past can trigger an unexpected chain reaction of consequences beyond what you could imagine. Maybe if the Orioles had drafted Pujols, he would have torn up his knee in the minors and never been the same. Maybe the Royals would have converted him to pitching.

But the chances seem good Pujols still would have turned out to be Pujols. Talent like that is a bit like a cockroach -- it can thrive pretty much anywhere. What would the effect have been though?

Even historically excellent players cannot will a franchise to glory on their own, but maybe drafting Pujols would have been the boost the Pirates needed to turn the ship around. Or maybe he would have put up five Pujolsian seasons for a fifth- or sixth-place team and bolted for greener pastures at his first opening. It's impossible to know.

Maybe with the Cubs, Pujols, still playing either left field or third base in 2003, would have out-fought Steve Bartman for a foul ball at Wrigley Field, then hit five home runs against the Yankees in the World Series to snap the famous championship drought at 95 years.

The possibilities are endless, and you could tie your brain in knots trying to calculate all of the implications. But what else are you going to do on a warm February afternoon with Spring Training getting underway -- work?

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The MLB Optimist Club: Looking At The Bright Side For All 30 Teams

  • Thursday, February 17, 2011 3:16 PM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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The sky is blue, the grass is green, the uniforms are spotless and everyone is tied for first place. Yes, pitchers and catchers are reporting to Spring Training, and rosy outlooks are at their annual high.

But just in case you're one of those glass-half-empty kind of fans who can't seem to get into the hope-springs-eternal spirit of the season, here is my handy primer for what each team has to feel optimistic about this season. Onward!

AL East
Baltimore Orioles: Luke Scott does not believe President Obama was born in the United States. It’s this kind of utter disregard for facts that will keep him thinking positively even after his team is mathematically eliminated from playoff contention in August.

Boston Red Sox: With free agent signings like Matt Albers, they might finally be able to compete in the rough-and-tumble AL East.

New York Yankees: The new Orville Redenbacher sponsorship deal takes some of the sting out of the money still left on A-Rod’s contract.

Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria finally got his cap back, so he’s good to go.

Toronto Blue Jays: GM Alex Anthopoulos actually has a second set of incriminating photographs of Angels GM Tony Reagins that he didn’t bring up during the Vernon Wells negotiations.

Click here for all 30 teams.

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It Takes Two: A Look At MLB Duos

  • Thursday, February 3, 2011 10:36 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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SI.com’s Joe Lemire had a fun piece the other day about ballplayers’ at-bat music that naturally got me to daydreaming about my own hypothetical walkup tune for my professional baseball career. It’s a no-doubter for me:



Just one great song in a brilliant catalogue, which is why yesterday’s news is such a disappointment.

But this is a baseball blog, not a music blog, so in honor of The White Stripes, here is a little something on duos in baseball.

Duos in history
There are so many good ones. Gehrig and Ruth. Koufax and Drysdale. Mays and McCovey. Trammell and Whitaker. Bagwell and Biggio. Those are just a handful. And then there were the pairs whose actions went above and beyond the game, like Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson.

That new/old duo down in Florida
The Rays recently signed former Red Sox Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. You may remember them from such hits as, “Unnecessary but oh-so-awesome diving cutoff of a throw from left field.” Their introductory press conference indicated this could be a fun year to follow the Rays, for reasons other than the AL East pennant race.

The duo that makes the mute button your best friend
There are lots of terrible baseball announcers out there, but there is something special about Joe Buck’s mayonnaisesque style combined with Tim McCarver’s complete lack of insight and special ability to talk to you like this is your first baseball game.



The double duo
The 1-2 starting rotation punch is a valued commodity, and the Phillies got one at the 2009 trade deadline when they acquired Cliff Lee to pair with Cole Hamels. Then in the offseason they changed duos, swapping Lee for Roy Halladay. The duo became a trio at the 2010 deadline with the acquisition of Roy Oswalt, and then in this offseason, the team resigned Lee as a free agent. Most franchises would be thrilled to have a duo made up of any two of those four pitchers, but the Phillies don’t have to chose. Much has been made about where this rotation will stack up historically, and it’s certainly one of the big storylines of the upcoming season.

The duo that thankfully does not exist
Vin Scully and …. anyone else. The one-man broadcast booth is a thing of the past, but fortunately not in LA, where Scully continues to be the best. And he doesn’t need some mouth-breathing former player to sit next to him reliving his glory days and criticizing the guys today for not being “gamers.”

The duo that should be readily available in every baseball stadium
There are certain distasteful truths you must accept when attending a baseball game. You are going to have to take out a second mortgage if you want to buy a beer. At some point, the PA is going to start blasting Ke$ha or some other form of lyrical diarrhea. There might be some idiot behind you yelling in your ear, and he might even blow chunks all over you. I don’t like it, obviously, but it’s the price of spending a day at the ballpark. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask for every stadium to carry grilled Hebrew National hot dogs (the best) and deli-style brown mustard (not that neon yellow crap). If I’ve got a quality, appropriately condiment-topped meal, I can deal with everything else -- except maybe the vomiting.

The most entertaining duo in baseball
This is a tie between Ozzie Guillen and a microphone, Ozzie Guillen and a video camera, and Ozzie Guillen and a tape recorder.

A duo that doesn’t make much sense
It’s a famous one from the famous song that happens during every seventh-inning stretch. But why do you say, “Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,” when cracker jack already include peanuts? Why would you want both? This has always puzzled me.

The duo that is a godsend for any baseball fan
An RSS feed and Twitter. No more having to filter through junk looking for pearls of baseball wisdom. Technology gives the baseball hype a needle of the pure stuff straight into the veins.

Duo that needs to shut up and go away The McCourts. We’ll let the Stripes speak for Los Angeles … play ‘em out, guys.



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The 10 Worst MLB Seasons By Good Players

  • Thursday, January 27, 2011 6:12 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Kent Bottenfield pitched nine largely forgettable seasons in the big leagues as a starter and reliever but stumbled on some pixie dust in 1999, when he had an 18-win all-star season that accounted for slightly more than half of his career value. A classic one-hit wonder, Bottenfield was never much good before that season – or after.

This list, however, is about the reverse-Bottenfields, players with stellar careers who suffered through a severely sub-replacement level season. Using Baseball-Reference, I looked at the worst seasons by wins above replacement (WAR) in baseball history, then picked out guys who I considered “good.” This obviously is subjective to some degree, but my standards were a sizable career (10-plus years) and solidly above average performance (OPS+ of at least 110; ERA+ of at least 110).

Here’s the list, ranked in descending order of WAR during the nightmare season.

10. Ken Singleton, 1984 Baltimore Orioles
Singleton was the third overall pick of the 1967 amateur draft, made his big league debut with the Mets in 1970 and went on to play 15 seasons in the majors. He collected 2,029 hits, 246 home runs, a 132 OPS+ and 40.6 WAR. Singleton enjoyed several terrific seasons, including in 1979, when he finished second in AL MVP voting. In 1983 he was a well above average hitter who helped the Orioles win the World Series, but he fell off a cliff the next season, hitting .215/.286/.289 for a 62 OPS+ in 403 plate appearances – all as a designated hitter. That performance resulted in -2.3 WAR and Singleton’s retirement after the season.

9. Andruw Jones, 2008 Los Angeles Dodgers
Jones, who just signed with the Yankees for his 16th big league season, burst onto the scene at age 19 in the 1996 playoffs. Since then he’s racked up 59.9 WAR on the basis of superb fielding in centerfield (third all-time in fielding WAR) and some very good offensive seasons (such as 2005, when he hit 51 HR). But after signing with the Dodgers as a free agent before the ’08 season, he showed up built like a marshmallow, batted an astounding .158/.256/.249 in 238 plate appearances, played subpar defense and hurt his knee. The end result: -2.3 WAR and his release.

8. George Bell, 1993 Chicago White Sox
Bell was a fearsome slugger for the Blue Jays in the late 80s, winning the AL MVP in 1987 and finishing fourth two other times. He moved from the Blue Jays to the Cubs in 1991, then was sent to the South Side before the 1992 season in a deal for some guy named Sammy Sosa. By 1993, Bell was a fulltime DH and was suffering from knee problems. He hit .217/.243/.363, accounted for -2.4 WAR and was released after the season, ending his career.

7. Hippo Vaughn, 1921 Chicago Cubs
James Leslie “Hippo” Vaughn was a big southpaw for the Cubs during the dead-ball era who recorded some fantastic seasons, including 1918, when he led the NL in wins, ERA, strikeouts and shutouts. He also has the distinction of throwing one half of the famous “double no-hitter” against the Reds and Fred Toney in 1917, in a game in which neither team had a hit through nine innings. He was still good in 1920, but his career ended bizarrely in 1921, when he was rocked for a 6.01 ERA in 109.1 innings and was worth -2.7 WAR. After a bad outing on July 9, he went AWOL from the team, and his family, and would up being stabbed by his father-in-law. He survived, and while a major league comeback never worked out, Hippo pitched effectively in minor and semi-pro leagues until he was 49.

6. George Scott, 1968 Boston Red Sox
Boomer made the AL All-Star team as a rookie in 1966 and was 10th in MVP voting in 1967. He went on to play 14 seasons in the big leagues with a 114 OPS+ and accumulated 30.9 WAR. Scott also possessed a good sense of humor, once responding to a reporter’s question about his shell necklace by saying it was made of second basemen’s teeth. But there was nothing vaguely funny about Scott’s 1968 season. That was one of the most pitching-heavy seasons in baseball history, but even considering offense was tremendously depressed, Scott’s output was anemic. He hit .171/.236/.237 in 387 plate appearances, good for a 39 OPS+. He actually won a gold glove at first base that season but still collected -2.9 WAR.

5. Ted Simmons, 1984 Milwaukee Brewers
Simmons was an excellent player and probably a borderline Hall of Fame candidate who never got the consideration he deserved for said honor. He certainly was one of the most productive offensive catchers of all time, although he migrated to first base and other positions later in his career. In 21 seasons, Simmons posted a 117 OPS+ and 50.4 WAR. But in 1984, he cost the Brewers 2.9 WAR. Playing DH, first base and a little third base, Simmons got 532 plate appearances and hit .221/.269/.300 for an OPS+ of 61. Surprisingly, at age 35, Simmons actually bounced back to play decently for the Brewers in ’85, then spent three more seasons as a part-time player with the Braves.

4. Roy Halladay, 2000 Toronto Blue Jays
Doc has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past 10 seasons – look no further than 2010, when he won his second Cy Young and threw a perfect game and a postseason no hitter. But 11 seasons ago, he was one of the worst pitchers in baseball history. The Blue Jays’ first-round pick in 1995 had tasted a little success in his 1999 rookie season but in 2000, he posted a 10.64 ERA in 13 starts and six relief appearances. Halladay gave up 14.2 hits per nine innings and walked 42 batters while striking out 44. He was so bad the Blue Jays sent him all the way down to Class A to start 2001, before pitching instructor Mel Queen revamped his approach and resurrected his career. Halladay has collected 54.3 WAR in his career, but in 2000, he was worth -3.2.

3. Bob Feller, 1952 Cleveland Indians
Rapid Robert enjoyed a Hall of Fame career (66.0 WAR) that would have been even greater had he not missed almost four full seasons of his prime fighting in World War II. In 1940, Feller won 27 games, completed 31 of his 37 starts, led the league in strikeouts and ERA and racked up 9.4 WAR. In his first full season back in 1946, he collected 10.1 WAR, making it one of the 20 best seasons for a pitcher ever. But Feller was fading by 1948, and in 1952 he turned in a -3.5 WAR campaign. Feller made 30 starts for the Indians that season and finished last among qualified pitchers in the AL in ERA, last in hits per nine innings and sixth-worst in K/BB ratio.

2. Jack Chesbro, 1909 New York Highlanders/ Boston Red Sox
Happy Jack pitched in an era that bears little resemblance to today. For one, the Highlanders had not yet become the Yankees. For another, take a look at his 1904 stat line: 55 games, 51 starts, 48 complete games, 454.2 innings, 41 wins. The wins total is the most by a pitcher since the turn of the 20th Century, and certainly is unrepeatable considering pitchers don’t even start 41 games in a season anymore. Chesbro was good for 8.8 WAR in ’04 and 33.2 in his career, but he didn’t exactly ride into the sunset gracefully. In 1909, he made 10 appearances (five starts) for New York and was rocked for 70 hits in 49.2 innings. He was waived and picked up by Boston but pitched just one game. Overall, he posted an ERA+ of 42 for the season and -3.6 WAR.

1. Brian Giles, 2009 San Diego Padres
Giles never was a great outfielder, that one tremendous home-run robbing catch in the left field corner in Pittsburgh notwithstanding. But he possessed an excellent blend of power and patience as a hitter, posting at least a 120 OPS+ every season from 1998-2005. In 2002 for the Pirates, he hit .298/.450/.622, and for his 15-season career, he accumulated 42.7 WAR. He was still going strong in 2008, when he hit for a 137 OPS+ and collected 3.9 WAR for the Padres. But in 2009, his age 38 season, Giles fell into that cave I’ve seen in the trailers for Sanctum. Perhaps due largely to an arthritic knee that ended his season in June, Giles posted the third-worst season by a position player in baseball history, with -3.9 WAR. His defense in right field was poor, but Giles also hit .191/.277/.271 for a 52 OPS+. He went to camp with the Dodgers the next spring but quickly retired.

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Vernon Wells Trade Shows That For Some Teams, It's 'Mo Money, Mo Problems'

  • Saturday, January 22, 2011 11:20 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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To switch musical gears and quote The Beatles, money can't buy you love.

But a lot of it can buy you a mediocre, past-his-prime outfielder with four years left on his albatross contract.

Unlike an attempt to purchase "love," however, swapping a lot of currency for the services of a vastly overpaid player is not illegal. Angels fans probably wish it were, though.

On Friday, the Halos traded two useful pieces -- Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli -- to the Blue Jays for Vernon Wells and the $86 million left on his contract. For Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos, it was a brilliant move to get out from the under the mistakes of his predecessor. For Angels GM Tony Reagins, it was a deal that reeked of desperation after his team failed to sign free agents like Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre.

Whatever the Angels' reasoning for the trade, it was an example of the downside of having a big budget. We've seen this in the past with the Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs and other major market clubs that spent money because they could and with the discretion of a drunk.

The Yankees eventually figured out how to make it rain in a somewhat more sensible fashion and are the better for it. The Red Sox have become a power because they are as shrewd as they are rich.

A fool and his money are soon parted, but that's assuming said fool has money in the first place. If the Angels had the payroll of AL West rival Oakland, they wouldn't have acquired Wells because they couldn't have.

Minimal resources don't always engender creativity and brilliance -- just ask Pirates fans. But they can have that effect. We saw it with the A's when Billy Beane took over and we've been seeing it the past few years with the Rays. In fact, the same day the Angels saddled themselves with Wells, the Rays adroitly picked up Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon on one-year deals worth a combined $7.25 million.

Given the choice, I think any fans would prefer their team have as much money to spend as possible, and that's sensible. But fans also should hope their team's front office takes some other Beatles lyrics to heart.

Help, I need somebody,
Help, not just anybody ...


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Rawhide Or Pigskin? Dual Threats Like Matt Szczur Face A Decision

  • Wednesday, January 19, 2011 6:10 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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Back in December, I happened to be at an FCS playoff game between Villanova and Appalachian State, and watched as the Wildcats' Matt Szczur torched the Mountaineers for five touchdowns. It was the kind of performance that certainly would have gotten the attention of any NFL scouts in attendance.

As it turns out, those scouts would have been wasting their time. Szczur, a fast, elusive wide receiver/running back, turned down a chance at the NFL Draft, and has chosen a career in pro baseball. The Cubs' fifth-round pick in 2010 played well in his first minor league season last summer, and Baseball America recently ranked him as the Cubs' seventh-best prospect and their system's fastest baserunner and best athlete. By committing to baseball ahead of the team's Feb. 10 deadline, Szczur gets an extra $500,000 payment but forfeits the chance to play in the upcoming Senior Bowl and get a better sense of his NFL Draft stock.

Szczur's choice is one that is hardly unique. Every year high school kids choose between pro baseball and college football, and college kids choose between pro baseball and the NFL. Occasionally someone will try to do both, and more often, someone will try one, flame out, then go back to the other.

In some cases, the choice is heavily tilted in one direction based on talent. If you're much better at one sport than the other, there's probably not much of a choice to be made.

But what if your talents are roughly equal? Here is a list of the advantages of each of the two choices, as I see it.

Football
-- Immediate gratification: I think this is a huge one. If you choose football out of high school, you've got three or four years of college -- and college football has a much higher profile than minor league baseball -- and then you enter the NFL Draft. If you choose football out of college, you go right to the pros. With baseball, you're looking at a few years riding buses in the minors, except in rare cases of extremely polished college players. And the vast majority of minor league players never make it to The Show.

-- The "Cool Factor": Although I enjoy the NFL and college football, I'm a baseball guy at heart. But that doesn't mean I have my head in the sand and can't see that football clearly has eclipsed baseball as the national sport. The players making these decisions are of a generation that, in general, finds football much more appealing.

-- Fame: A big-market star like Derek Jeter is extremely famous, and a transcendent player like Albert Pujols can haul in his share of endorsements. But in general, I think NFL stars are better known these days despite playing under a helmet and behind a facemask.

Baseball
-- Career length: Making it to the big leagues is difficult. But once you make it, you're likely to have a longer career than if you made it into the NFL. Recent studies have pegged the average NFL career at about 3.5 years and the average MLB career at about 5.6 years.

-- $$$: While you're playing longer, you'll probably be making more money, too. The NFL has a minimum salary of about $300,000 and an average salary of $770,000. In MLB, the minimum is about $400,000 and the average is better than $3.3 million.

-- Job Security: Once you sign a major league contract, that money is yours, unless you do something extreme and bizarre enough to have it voided. NFL players, on the other hand, are disposable. You get your signing bonus, but if you're cut, the team avoids paying most of the rest of your contract.

-- Post-career quality of life: Obviously, you can get hurt playing baseball. There are a lot of former players walking around with bum knees or arms they can't lift above their shoulder. Even concussions have become more of a known issue in the last year or two. But just as obviously, serious injuries are much more of an issue in a contact sport like football. Guys who play a long time in the NFL, particularly at positions like running back that require frequent collisions, often end up incapacitated at frighteningly young ages. And you don't have to look far to find horror stories involving the repercussions of head injuries.

There might be more factors at play, but I think these are the significant ones. Personally I would make the same choice as Szczur, but what about you?

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