Calculated Omissions

Free Agents, Media, Spring Training

There’s a case for C.C. Sabathia to opt out of his contract following the 2011 season.

There’s a case for the Yankees to let Sabathia leave if he does so.

There’s even a case—however rickety—to hope that Sabathia opts out and leaves after the 2011 season.

But the two columns to this end, published this week, make an incomplete, twisted and omission-laden case for the positions of the authors.

Dave Cameron of the Wall Street Journal and Fangraphs published a piece on ESPN.com saying that Sabathia’s opt out could be a “blessing” for the Yankees. (I can’t link it because it’s Insider access, but I’ll print the relevant snippets.)

Joe Sheehan of Sports Illustrated said something similar—you can read his column here.

Both pieces, as is customary, take information and analysis out of context to fit into their purposes. Having heard ad nauseam how the stats-obsessed prefer objective analysis to the capricious judgment of those who use aspects other than pure numbers, it’s glaring in its hypocrisy that both Sheehan (who I don’t know to be a stat guy or non-stat guy) and Cameron (who’s an original and hard core stat zombie still clinging to the Moneyball farce) are writing these pieces without adding in the underlying caveats.

These caveats are clear if you know what to look for.

First Cameron’s title “Sabathia opt out a blessing for Yanks” is somewhat different from the body of the posting where he says it “wouldn’t be the worst thing for New York”.

There’s a big difference between the two assertions. One would imply the Yankees are sitting in their offices and quietly hoping Sabathia leaves; the other is having a contingency plan in place if he does leave.

Cameron suggests that Sabathia’s declining strikeout numbers from his days with the Indians is a conscious choice to cut down on the number of pitches he throws; that his ERA is likely to rise as a result of this strategy.

An increase in Sabathia’s walk and ground ball rates combined with a diminishing strikeout rate do not bode well for his future.

YEAR BB/9 K/9 GB% xFIP
2008 2.10 8.93 46.6 3.10
2009 2.62 7.71 42.9 3.82
2010 2.80 7.46 50.7 3.78

Pitching to contact is often encouraged as a way to reduce the number of pitches thrown and to save wear and tear on a pitcher’s arm. Indeed, if Sabathia has felt the effects of aging begin to kick in, it would be understandable that he would shift back toward a philosophy that offered the potential of quicker outs and less-stressful innings. The problem for the Yankees is that this approach is also less likely to be successful.

Fair enough, but what’s ignored is the way Sabathia altered his approach midway in his first year with the Yankees as he changed the grip on his fastball to encourage more movement and went on a tear thereafter; that the Yankees—regardless of their pitching woes—have an offense that is going to put up runs in bunches and a bullpen which will also diminish the number of innings and pitches Sabathia needs to throw to get through games and accumulate wins.

There are various ways to reduce innings pitched.

In my eyes, whether he throws 250 innings or 220 is relatively meaningless because the games from which he’s removed will be in favor of Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera; not Joe Borowski with the Indians or Salomon Torres with the Brewers. Important games won’t dictate that Sabathia stay in and keep pitching due to a faulty bullpen.

The defense is also mentioned. It’s a valid point to wonder how much Sabathia’s “pitching to contact” will be affected by the declining range of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez on the left side of the infield, but this is a massive assumption that both will still be playing shortstop and third base going forward in Sabathia’s Yankees career.

It’s already being speculated as to where Jeter is going to play if and when he can no longer handle shortstop; A-Rod is about 2 years away from being a primary DH. Cameron mentions Sabathia’s xFIP with the Indians from 2005 when his SS/3B combo were Jhonny Peralta and Aaron Boone—both average defensively at best.

In examining the hit locations from 2005, Sabathia got ripped when he allowed right-handed bats to pull the ball; this is more due to location execution than stuff—link.

His control is something to watch, but was his improved walk/strikeout ratio in prior years due, in part, to having pitched in a weaker division with less patience than he does now in the AL East? The Rays and Red Sox especially make the pitchers sing for their supper—has this been taken into account?

Because Cameron can’t know who’s going to be playing third and short behind Sabathia, to say that he’s going to be pitching “worse” in the upcoming years is presumptuous at best—something the stat people are supposedly dead-set against.

If Sabathia is trying to let the hitters hit the ball earlier in the count and it’s not because of declining or even drastically altered stuff, one would be safe in thinking that he can—if necessary—go back to looking for strikeouts.

The strategy-argument works both ways.

Sheehan’s column is deeper strange speculation than Cameron’s.

He mentions Sabathia’s size and weight:

This situation may be different because of the risks presented by the 6’7″, 290-pound Sabathia. This week’s news about his weight loss aside, Sabathia is a big guy who puts strain on his back and legs with each pitch. As he said this week, even leaving 25 pounds behind just gets him to his listed weight of 290 to start the spring. There have been precious few pitchers with Sabathia’s size in baseball history. Just 30 pitchers since 1901 have come in at at least 6’4″ and at least 260 pounds, and of that group, Sabathia is far and away the career leader in everything. Just three pitchers meeting those criteria have ever thrown a thousand innings in the majors, with active hurlers Carlos Zambrano and Aaron Harang joining Sabathia. Take away the height requirement and drop the standard to 250 pounds, and you still see Sabathia at the head of a group that includes just seven who pitched one thousand innings.

Okay.

Um, but wait…where’s the list of the other pitchers that were of that massive size and pitched in the big leagues?

Cameron—to his credit—mentions this plot hole as well.

I sent a couple of emails to people who would have access to such information to possibly get an outlet for an easy list of these mysterious entities that Sheehan alludes to without naming names.

Once I hear back, I’ll publish it.

But here’s what I suspect: Sheehan’s size-based argument against Sabathia was hindered by the pitchers who inhabited said list since they weren’t on a level with C.C. Sabathia; nor were they on a level with Harang or Zambrano.

If he listed them, I’m betting the prevailing response would be, “Who?!? You’re putting him in a category with Sabathia based on what? Because he’s big?”

Then you get to the “strain on (Sabathia’s) back and legs”.

Is Sheehan a physiologist? A pitching expert? Does he have encompassing knowledge of the history of injuries to pitchers who’ve been that big and thrown that many innings or was it something he threw into the pot to fool the reader into believing what he’s saying?

If Sabathia had a history of injuries to his knees and back, I’d say there’s a basis for this idea; but Sabathia has been amazingly durable during his career and his few injuries that have cost him time have been a strained oblique, a strained abdominal and a hyper-extended elbow.

No back problems; no knee problems. In fact, Cliff Lee—much smaller than Sabathia—has a far longer injury rap sheet than Sabathia and missed time this past season because of his back.

Is this a viable reason for the Yankees to hope Sabathia opts out? Or is it a baseless, groundless assertion to provide an underpinning—spindly though it may be—for a wobbly table of hoarded “facts” to prove a nonexistent set of tenets?

For all the stat people’s reliance on “objectivity”, they abandon the fealty to “truth” when it suits them. I’m reminded of an insinuation years ago—in fact, I think it was Cameron who made it—that Garrett Olson of the Mariners had shown evidence of being a useful reliever.

Where?

He can’t throw strikes, gives up a lot of homers and is an equal opportunity punching bag getting blasted by both righties and lefties.

What evidence was there that Olson could be “useful” apart from having nothing else to say about him?

There was none.

Finally, both Cameron and Sheehan say that Sabathia is replaceable.

By whom?

If the argument is based on finances and long-term cost control, then yes, the Yankees would be better off if Sabathia left and found cogs—from inside and outside the organization—to take his place in the rotation.

But this is reality.

What are the Yankees going to do next winter if Sabathia opts out and they let him leave?

Sheehan postulates that they could go for a 1000 run offense by signing Albert Pujols and shifting Mark Teixeira to DH. Not only would this clog up the DH spot for…well…forever, but they’re supposed to pay Pujols an A-Rod contract for the rest of his career? Wouldn’t they be better off simply extending Sabathia for half of what Pujols would cost?

And let me say right now that Albert Pujols, at his age and with his ties to the Cardinals, doesn’t want any part of New York as anything other than a lever to increase his paycheck with someone else.

Does Sheehan really believe that the Yankees front office—independent of GM Brian Cashman’s desires and fresh off of ownership overruling him on Soriano—will try and sell Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos—as a replacement for Sabathia even for one year? And after the way Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy of the vaunted “young core” of starting pitchers flamed out?

Really?

Then he names possible targets Matt Cain (the Giants aren’t letting him leave); Cole Hamels (given the age of the other pitchers, they’re going to lock him up); Jered Weaver (after Jeff Weaver‘s experience in New York, is he going to want to go to the Yankees?); and Zack Greinke (good luck with all of that baggage).

The only way the Yankees could conceivably “replace” Sabathia in 2012 would be to trade for Chris Carpenter. As great a pitcher as Carpenter is, his injury history is like the medieval Wound Man charts favored by Dr. Hannibal Lecter for his basement amusements; and he’s 5-years older than Sabathia.

So then what?

Of course, with the supposedly bursting farm system, they could make a trade for a young pitcher like Ubaldo Jimenez should he come available, but that’s a major risk for a team to let Sabathia walk and hope that Jimenez comes available; and if you believe that the trading team isn’t going to hold the Yankees desperation in that instance to extract a more significant portion of the farm system to fill that hole, you’re dreaming.

If it were any team other than the Yankees—a team with payroll constraints; with a patient fan base; with less of an imperative to win immediately and, more importantly, sell tickets; and to have that star power that a Sabathia brings—I’d say yes, these thoughts make sense.

But it’s not.

And they don’t.

It’s the Yankees.

They need Sabathia. They have the money to pay him if he does opt out. And they don’t have any viable options to fill that hole in the rotation with a pitcher of commensurate star power and on-field accomplishments.

Cameron’s and Sheehen’s columns are not manuals of evenhanded and intelligent ways to build an organization. They’re tricks designed to mislead—calculated omissions—because the facts don’t bolster the arguments. When that happens, it’s best to leave said facts out and hope no one notices.

You’re smart enough to see through the puffery disguised as well-thought-out and objective analysis because it’s anything but.

Confusing those who are afraid to protest diminishes credibility. Credibility that isn’t really there to begin with as long as convenience is placed before intellectual honesty.

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Viewer Mail 2.19.2011

Fantasy/Roto, Media, Spring Training

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE WAR:

Great take on WAR.

(Personally, I feel it’s just a way for stat zombies to think they sound cool when they talk)

So, looking forward to your take on the Pujols sitch… on Jon Heyman’s “reports” and Ken Rosenthal’s “reports”, etc.

It’s mind-boggling that there’s an ever-growing faction of individuals who feel their ability to calculate a faulty formula constitutes expertise.

I continually go back to the Jason Bay/UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) controversy. Bay’s “inferior” defense was referenced so often that it became an accepted “fact” when in reality, it was little more than a factoid. Anyone who’d watched Bay handle the Green Monster and play at cavernous Citi Field could see that he was actually an above-average defender with speed.

But that mattered little to those with their complicated formulas to determine Bay’s “true” defensive abilities.

So it was laughable and eerily appropriate when UZR’s calculations were altered at mid-season last year to reflect that—wait a minute!!—Bay’s not that bad!!

They disguise their misplaced assertions as evolution in the calculations.

Oh. I see.

All winter long we were inundated with stories of Bay’s inadequacies in the outfield and how he didn’t fit into the Red Sox 2009-2010 decision to focus on pitching and defense rather than power; that Bay was a candidate for injury that made signing him to a long-term deal a too great a risk.

It turned out that Bay didn’t play well for the Mets, but it had nothing to do with his glove nor his knees or shoulders; it had to do with the whole aura of being a Met in transitioning to New York and the inherent dysfunction; with the big ballpark; and with a concussion he sustained at mid-season.

But his poor UZR number followed him around like a leeching greenfly.

Two things: one, having watched Bay play the outfield, it was clear he wasn’t a bad defender; and two, there’s a difference between handling the Green Monster and any other left field. The Green Monster is nuance and knowing caroms; other outfields and the defensive metrics aren’t limited to UZR; the center fielder’s range; positional placement; and the pitching staff all need to be accounted for.

But it’s a number and if one understands it, they have an “expertise”; except they don’t. They’re parroting and spouting regurgitated nonsense disguised as analysis.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Joba Chamberlain:

Nobody said Joba came to camp fat. And there’s certainly no evidence of a “spiral.” Sorry if it ruins your theory/spin/etc.

He’s fat, Jane.

The “spiral” is connected more to his perception than his performance which was only worthy of the heights his reputation dictated for a month in 2007. Apart from that, he’s been a mediocre pitcher at best whose press was always light years ahead of his accomplishments.

It wasn’t all his fault back then, but that he showed up to camp out of shape is indicative of his immaturity and either giving up or a sense of entitlement that came with the accolades he received as a “star” based on nothing other than idolatry or organizational babying.

Much like the Lenny Dykstra-steroids allegations from 25 years ago when the skinny speedster arrived at Mets camp with 20 pounds of muscle added to his frame, think about the likelihood of someone with Chamberlain’s lack of discipline spending a week—let alone a winter—pumping iron.

It wouldn’t happen.

If he pitches well, the weight is meaningless; but it’s not meaningless in the way the club views him. Baseball players need not look like bodybuilders—it probably does more harm than good—but his place in the Yankees universe is increasingly tenuous. The notion of being “in shape” is different for a baseball player, but Chamberlain could not arrive looking like he spent the winter lying on the couch eating pork rinds.

And that’s what he did.

Pattie writes RE Joba:

Thank you for articulating the responsibility and putting it where it belongs. I am no Joba fan, but, as my dad used to say (endlessly): “as the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” Yankees management bent Joba the Twig into the gnarly mess he is now. Seriously bad handling of what used to be a potentially great asset.

I can’t take the excuses anymore. I wish they’d come out and say, “we mishandled him; we’re responsible”; but they’re still offering up silliness like it was the shoulder injury or proffering the “guidelines” as justification for what they did to him.

If they’d let him pitch and he’d gotten hurt, so be it; but this is worse—everything was designed to have a justification for his failure if it happened as if they somehow expected it.

Maybe they did.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE Joba:

Joba and I have the same birthday. Same day, same year. Beyond that, I find nothing about him interesting.

He is obnoxious and overblown. Unfortunately, I can’t just unlearn who he is. He is trapped in my brain forever and his added girth means he’s taking up a lot more room than most.

As sad as it is, the story of a failed prospect or person is interesting in the “watching a train wreck” sort of way.

I genuinely think certain individuals are salvageable, but only if they go to the right people; people that can and will help them; but they have to make the effort too.

And the sand in the hourglass is dangerously low.

Lower than they realize.

Mike the Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE Joba:

Sorry Jane; Brian Cashman flat out broke Joba Chamberlain and rendered him inconsequential. The Yankees don’t know how to groom pitchers and never have in 38 years since BOSS bought the team. They buy other team’s pitchers instead. I’ll be generous and say Guidry; Righetti; Pettitte; and Wang (don’t make me laugh) were the only starting pitchers to do anything worthy of discussion that came from within. Ian Kennedy, Hughes and Joba were All Hurt at one point. Outside of Hughes, the most recent attempt to groom a pitcher is A BIG FAIL, and adds to the Yankees’ woeful history of not farming up pitchers under the Stienbrenner’s. To dispute this you must come up with names. Drabek and Rijo did nothing in a Yankee uniform. Other than who I mentioned, who else did? There are none and don’t even try to insult Guidry; Righetti or Andy by naming someone who is very ordinary.
The JOBA RUSE is over people.
I blogged about this very topic Tuesday before he even showed up fat. The writing has been on the wall for all to read. There’s no denying, Brian Cashman broke it.
….Hey Prince, can we by-pass Spring Training and get right to it?

I can’t argue with any of the points. I’d have to examine the Yankees pitchers who’ve made it as Yankees. Ted Lilly and others made it, but did it elsewhere; how much credit should go to the Yankees for development needs to be determined.

Because the big club was impatient doesn’t mean they didn’t have a hand in the success of said pitchers.

Impatience and the “name” players took precedence over giving the youngsters a chance. We’ll get a clearer view this year as Ivan Nova will be a necessity and not a luxury; Dellin Betances could also play a part this season.

Will there be rules and regulations? Due to the situational immediacy and club desperation, probably not.

If anyone has access to ESPN Insider, please send me the Dave Cameron posting on why letting C.C. Sabathia walk if he opts out of his contract is a good move for the Yankees.

He might have solid points; he might be writing stat zombie, blockheaded idiocy. I need to see what he says before retorting one way or the other.

Hedging

Free Agents, Media, Spring Training
  • Mutual risk/reward:

Certain subjects present the conundrum of which side to take.

Much like life, there’s a wide gray area between “right” and “wrong” and it’s open to interpretation and argument.

Such is the case with the Blue Jays and Jose Bautista agreeing to a 5-year, $64 million contract extension to preclude Bautista’s arbitration hearing this year and free agency following the season—MLB Trade Rumors Story.

There’s a case to say the Blue Jays jumped the gun on for a 30-year-0ld journeyman who might have had that one magical season that was a result of a confluence of events—events that he never before reached and likely never will again.

The other side can suggest that they believe Bautista is for real; that 2010 was the first season that he knew he was in the lineup every day and more importantly, knew that he was on the big league roster in the same city without the threat of trade or demotion hovering over his head. Functioning without one’s bags packed at a moment’s notice, he relaxed and played up to his potential.

Granted, 54 homers is a pretty massive potential.

Much like the constant references to Jayson Werth having never driven in 100 runs and receiving that lunatic contract he did from the Nationals, everything needs to be placed in the proper context.

Werth drove in 99 one year and and has only been an every-single-day player for two years—are you telling me that the 1 RBI between 99 and 100 would’ve been enough to shield him from that specious ridicule?

There’s no connection.

Bautista hit 54 homers last year and his previous career high was 16, but before the 161 games in which he played last year, his prior high was 142 games for the Pirates in 2007 and he hit 15 homers; apart from that, he was never a regular player and he bounced from the Orioles to the Devil Rays to the Royals to the Mets to the Pirates to the Blue Jays.

There’s something to be said for opportunity. A major part of success is simply showing up and getting a chance—Bautista got his chance in 2010 and took advantage of it.

This payday is far more than anything Bautista could’ve expected while he was with the Pirates.

The Blue Jays aren’t stupid; they know that Bautista’s sudden burst of power could’ve come from illicit means or that it was a freak occurrence. I doubt it was a “freak” thing and the Blue Jays—judging from this contract—agree.

No one aside from Bautista can know if he had chemical help—but if the team took the player to arbitration and let him play out this year as a pending free agent and he hit the way he did last season, there was no way they were going to be able to keep him. Bautista knows that if he put up another big year and with his versatility in the field, he’d make a fortune on the market.

Both sides are hedging their bets that Bautista is the real deal.

There’s no “right” nor is there a “wrong” in this case. It’s a risk for both ends; it’s a reward for both ends.

My feeling is that while Bautista will be hard-pressed to hit 50 homers again, he is a legitimate slugger and will hit at least 30. Is that worth the money the Blue Jays paid him?

As long as he doesn’t get busted in an HGH investigation nor fall flat on his face, then it is absolutely a smart risk even if it fails.

  • As funny as Adam Sandler and Dane Cook:

No, I don’t find Adam Sander or Dane Cook funny.

That’s the point.

During the desperate-for-stories days of spring training in February/March, how much of the reporting involves actual “stories” and how much is stuff to get people to read and talk?

Whether or not they’re fair has little relation to the stories themselves; of course there are the editors who are cajoling or outright demanding that certain nuggets be placed into a column.

You have to read between the lines.

Such was the case when I read this teaser line on ESPN.com—A’s Harden to miss 2 weeks with still lat muscle—although it’s irrelevant, you can read the story here.

It’s irrelevant not because it’s not newsworthy—of course it is—but because it’s being used as a hammer to: A) get a story where there are few to be found; and B) to get a laugh at the expense of someone else.

Rich Harden‘s career has been decimated by injuries to every part of his body. He’s had one season in which he was completely healthy and made 31 starts (2004); he had another in which he made 25 (2008); in both years, his numbers make one salivate as to how dominant he can be.

But he’s always hurt.

The aspect of spring training that’s conveniently ignored is that aches and pains are part of the deal.

If it was a historically durable pitcher like C.C. Sabathia who tweaked a muscle and needed to rest, there wouldn’t be an article specifically dedicated and tag-lined to highlight the injury as a means of supplementary laughter. It would be chalked up to a return to physical activity after a few months off and nothing more.

With Harden, there’s that eye-rolling, “here we go again” when he has an injury, major or minor.

Harden’s in camp with the Athletics and trying to make it in their starting rotation, but this might be a blessing in disguise; I’ve long said that Harden, with his 95 mph fastball, good changeup and slider, should be a reliever. He doesn’t have the stamina nor the constitution to stay healthy over the long season pitching 150-200 innings, but as a reliever? Maybe he’d be able to stay out on the mound, go all-out for an inning or two and take his leave.

If he can’t make the rotation perhaps, like Dennis Eckersley, necessity will force him into a situation he and the club wouldn’t prefer, but will be better for all in the long run.

This is only a story for the underlying joke his repeated trips to the disabled list imply; but it’s not an actual story as it’s presented; it’s spring training and players get hurt.

Today, writers/editors/bloggers exploit such things for their ends.

You can see the difference in tone if you squint hard enough.

The Fat Lies Not In Their Fallen Star…

Spring Training

…but in themselves.

The Joba Chamberlain saga appears to be nearing its end—at least with the Yankees.

The signing of Rafael Soriano to such a lucrative contract demoted Chamberlain from primary set-up man to someone “in the mix” for the innings prior to the eighth and ninth.

The Chamberlain spiral—crafted by years of systematic misuse and abuse—is now a plummet and the crash will be ugly.

From phenomenon, media darling and fan favorite; to hotly debated (bordering on deranged) role from reliever to starter to reliever to starter; and now to mop-up man, Chamberlain’s value to the Yankees and for the Yankees is extinguished.

And he showed up in camp, fighting for his job on the roster, looking like John Belushi.

It’s not good.

The most disturbing aspect is the continued spin the organization is putting on the Joba Ruination—an eventuality that I predicted from the start of this tale as they perpetrated developmental malpractice on an arm—if not a person—that deserved better.

As evidenced by the headline on Yankees.com—“Added muscle has Joba eager to throw”—the weight gain isn’t classified as what it is (he’s fat), it’s “added muscle”. If that’s added muscle, I need to get back into personal training because all I’d have to do is drop a client at the nearest McDonald’s/Dunkin’ Donuts and pick them up after they’re finished eating.

“Eager to throw” doesn’t specify if that means he’s eager to throw a baseball or throw up in some desperate and unhealthy attempt to drop some of that weight.

The propaganda surrounding Chamberlain from his arrival in 2007 to now is indicative of perception being ahead of practicality, of truth.

Fabricating a monster through judicious presentation and usage guidelines was a carefully thought-out and preordained decision on the club’s part to shield themselves from the responsibility and possibility that Chamberlain would self-destruct; but what they failed to realize is that by refusing to deploy their weapon correctly or to make a concrete plan, stick to it, live and die with it, the failure is exacerbated.

Despite all the charts, graphs and medicals that can be referenced to defend the way Chamberlain was used, there was never a coherent, actionable and effective strategy to develop him on the field; the babying and special treatment might well have contributed to his sense of entitlement, poor behavior and attitude off the field.

Winking and nodding at the fist pumping; the rude comments; the immaturity—all have shades of the ends justifying the means.

“We put up with it from David Wells, we’ll put up with it from Joba”.

But Joba Chamberlain is not David Wells. He’s not even Randy Wells.

The old-school veterans didn’t like the antics; Chamberlain clashed with Jorge Posada when Posada was catching him; Derek Jeter appeared to want to apologize to opposing hitters when Chamberlain struck them out in an 8-2 game (with either team ahead) and felt it appropriate to shake his fist and bellow as if it was game 6 of the World Series.

Chamberlain is making his station worse with his decision to show up to camp fat, but the Yankees are still maintaining this veneer of blamelessness. From the constant allusions to the statistics of pitcher injuries derived from too rapid a jump in innings pitched; to the fluctuating roles and mishandling; to the newest excuses—his shoulder never recovered from the injury in Texas in 2008; and now the simultaneous admission by Brian Cashman that Chamberlain is “obviously heavier” while the club’s web entity publishes idiotic headlines like the one above—they’re repeating the “obvious process” (to quote Cashman).

But it’s a process to take a great talent and systematically render him irrelevant and disposable.

Chamberlain is nothing now.

He’s fat; he’s got a bad reputation; he’s not a starter nor is he an integral reliever; he’s tradeable because someone will take a chance on him, but the Yankees will get very little back in comparison to what they could’ve gotten two years ago.

Maybe this is the way it had to end. Maybe the only way for Chamberlain to rebuild himself is to do it elsewhere; for the Yankees to look at their organizational schemes in developing pitchers and realize that they’re faulty not on paper, but in practice and not let it happen again.

It’s not going to be a happy ending in the widened pinstripes Chamberlain now inhabits. Because no one wants to accept responsibility for this disaster doesn’t make it any less tragic in a baseball sense.

They destroyed him whether they admit it or not.

Short of divine intervention, the play has entered its final act.

Get your seat in the front row of you can stand to watch it.

There will be blood.

Viewer Mail 2.16.2011

Spring Training

Joe writes RE WAR:

The way you look at WAR is wrong. It is a statistic trying to tell us how good a player is, taking into account all facets of the game. You don’t bring in “team” just like you shouldn’t in MVP discussions, etc. It is all opportunity driven.


James K also writes RE WAR:

Yeah, you’re misunderstanding WAR. Check out WAR primers from FanGraphs and Yahoo!

Now, now…coming at me with a condescending pat on the head—no matter how slight—will not be met with a positive response.

Um…yes, I do understand WAR; but the way it’s presented is of little use to me because I don’t need to have a starting point of zero to get a grasp on the value of a player.

It may sound egotistical, but I don’t care; I can judge a player without a baseline number comparing him to some generic “Triple A player” who’s available, replaceable and negligible in performance to the next guy.

In a team sport, how do you not bring team into the discussion? Would Jayson Werth have accumulated his 5.2 WAR from 2010 had he not been in the Phillies lineup? What’s his individual value going to be with a rotten team in 2011, the Nationals?

My guess is that it’ll go down; and even if it doesn’t, so what? What good does this do if one component of the unit is head-and-shoulders above his counterparts on his and other teams and the team is still terrible?

Let’s have a look at an example different from Werth; a cog in the machine if there ever was one: Scott Brosius.

With the Athletics in 1996 and the Yankees in 1998, Brosius had a similar WAR of 5.3 (1996), and 5.7 (1998). The 1996 A’s went 78-84; the 1998 Yankees 114-48.

If either team had Brosius or didn’t have Brosius the results would’ve been close to what they were; as a part of the group he was an important part, but that had little to do with the end results positively or negatively.

How do you remove the team aspect in judging a player in a team sport?

Baseball is a sport of freedom within structure; of individual within a team concept; you can succeed individually as much as you want, but without the team you’re nothing.

The number assigned to the player based on WAR has nothing to do with winning in that team concept especially when it’s interpreted wrongly and treated as a final answer in judging a player who might put up big numbers because he’s part of a great team and in an advantageous situation.

According to the suggested links of WAR explanation, this is not taken into account.

Maybe this will, er, slam my point home in a clearer fashion:

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE Zack Greinke:

But, his ERA last year was 4.17, which is more par for the course for Greinke.

I can’t believe in the guy when he follows up his Cy Young campaign by reverting to such pedestriocity.

Pedestriocity?

The rule here is that no one uses words that I don’t understand.

Actually his 2.16 ERA in 2009 was more out of line with his career than was the 4.17 in 2010.

Check his Gamelogs and you get a clearer picture of how he pitched. Looking beneath the vanilla result presented by ERA, you can conclude that the increased walks and homers emanated from poor location; Greinke wasn’t hitting his spots as he was in 2009 and he gave up more walks and homers which led to the repeated crooked numbers he allowed.

Objectively, the Brewers didn’t give up that much to get Greinke and it was a no-brainer for them to make the move whether it works or not; my main question with him is his emotions and how he’ll react to expectations that were previously—again to the WAR debate— individual and non-team related; no one expects anything from the Royals in a team concept (at least, apparently, until 2013 when the prospects supposedly arrive); the Brewers are supposed to contend now and without a big performance from Greinke, they won’t.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE C.C. Sabathia:

Yeah, I don’t see him opting out… but, Bengie Molina hit for the cycle so anything is possible I suppose.


Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan also writes RE Sabathia:

CC can certainly test the open market after this season, but as you say – Who will pay him more than the Yankees will/can? Meanwhile, he had knee surgery and has to prove he can bounce back THIS season.

The opt-out is put into the contract for a reason and with the way Sabathia’s pitched, the market and his durability, he’d be foolish not to consider it. Much like the Yankees exposed themselves stupidly with their public disagreement, Sabathia and his agent are leaving that door open so it’s known he might be available after the season.

It’s in his mind that no one can outspend the Yankees; but the chasm between Brian Cashman and his bosses regarding Rafael Soriano, plus the clear desperation inherent with the club considering Carl Pavano and signing the retreads they have clearly have emboldened Sabathia to make let it be known that he has the choice at his disposal.

Norm writes RE Mike Francesa and Bernie Madoff:

Francesa still taking calls on Madoff…and still revealing ignorance…this is what happens when you are surrounded by lackeys and yes-men; no one has the temerity to tell him he should shut up and not embarrass himself.

I didn’t mention it when it happened, but you reminded me of the recent show dedicated to the 2000 Mets-Yankees World Series and his interview with Don Zimmer; Francesa went to great lengths to praise Evan Longoria and, without saying it specifically, there were the ever-present shots at David Wright because he’s Wright and not Longoria.

The familiar themes—egomania, omnipotence, expertise not just in sports but in everything—have rendered Francesa transparent to the newer listeners as well as the old. It’s tiresome.

Reverberations And Cracks

Spring Training

Long-term damage was done with the open interference perpetrated by the Yankees top-tier hierarchy—Randy Levine, Hank and Hal Steinbrenner—on GM Brian Cashman in the Rafael Soriano negotiations and it’s going to harm the Yankees. The dispute influenced and emboldened C.C. Sabathia in his decision and open flirtation to void his contract after the 2011 season.

On the surface, the decision will have more to do with Sabathia’s earning potential on the open market plus the risk/reward of going for a new deal; but the weakness in the command structure is a factor that can’t be ignored.

You can read the NY Daily News story here.

I’m not prepared to put overwhelming credence on this headline-making suggestion that Sabathia might opt out; it’s February; there are few stories to write about and this is juicy; but you can account for circumstances and speculate the hows, wheres and whys.

Let’s do that.

An absence of unity cracks the foundation.

The lack of communication and cohesion with the Yankees has crafted the appearance of fissures in the command structure. The participants were foolish in their own right.

Cashman should’ve kept his mouth shut regarding his personal feelings of the value of Soriano vs the draft picks he’d need to surrender to sign him; the Steinbrenners and Levine need to make it clear to Cashman privately that Soriano was a fallback option in the event they were spurned by Cliff Lee; and all had to abstain from comment for fear of perception of fissure and dysfunction.

They didn’t.

A chain-of-command in any business must be adhered to for fear of the enemy (and in this case, Sabathia and his agent are the enemy) exploiting weakness.

The way Alex Rodriguez and Scott Boras opted out of their contract during the 2007 World Series and the resulting turf war that ended with A-Rod firing Boras and groveling to return to the Yankees—and still getting a raise—prompted Cashman to demand and supposedly receive full autonomy in baseball matters.

We all know said autonomy is relative to the amount the owners are willing to give, but the players don’t know that for sure.

This opt out would not have been as great a possibility if there was still the perception of the brutal Cashman who told Derek Jeter to shop his offer around if he felt he could do better; if Sabathia examined the circumstances—circumstances that were all to clear to A-Rod in the aftermath of his mistake—that the Yankees are the only team who can afford to pay him what he wants; that he’d have nowhere else to go to gain that financial windfall—and kept his plans to himself without the saber rattling.

Cashman has been stripped of the aura of being in charge by that overrule by Levine and the Steinbrenners and it cracked the structure of who’s really running things with expensive long-term ramifications.

The market and the panic will dictate the decision.

This past winter the market consisted of Cliff Lee…and Carl Pavano.

Because the marketable pitchers like Hiroki Kuroda and Jorge de la Rosa signed early in the process and Lee made the rounds; because Pavano was laying in wait to see what happened with Lee and how it could improve his paycheck, there wasn’t much of a backup plan barring a trade. Once Zack Greinke was dealt, the Yankees had no choice—in the minds of the people above Cashman—but to go for a devastating bullpen to account for a questionable starting rotation.

Such is not the case next year.

Roy Oswalt, Ryan Dempster, Kuroda, Jon Garland, Edwin Jackson, Joel Pineiro, Scott Kazmir and C.J. Wilson are all available or probably available after the season. Then there’s Chris Carpenter who has a $15 million option, but might be obtainable in a trade.

None of these pitchers have the cachet of Sabathia, but they’re cheaper and some are quite good.

Who’s going to pay him?

The Yankees can. The Mets and Dodgers have ownership issues; the Cubs presumably could, but does he want to go to the Cubs and are they going to pay another pitcher a massive amount of money after the way Carlos Zambrano has been an enigma?

The Nationals? Really?

The Angels could pay him and he’d be heading back to California.

But no one, nowhere can reach the financial heights of the Yankees and there’s every chance that the other clubs might look at Sabathia and the way he walked away from a guaranteed $92 million as nothing more than a ploy to extract more money from the Yankees and, knowing they probably won’t get him, will offer a perfunctory amount of money to raise the cost to the Yankees.

Sabathia might even wind up with less!!

Let’s play chicken.

Cashman has been smart to keep his feelings to himself this time. Whereas he set lines in the dirt with A-Rod and saw his “decision” reversed by the ultimate judges in the matter—his bosses—he’s not saying what he’ll do if Sabathia does look for a new deal.

Maybe the confidence in his station has been diminished; or maybe he’s decided it’s better for him and the organization to not speak out as he did in the cases of Soriano and Jeter; or maybe he knows that if he makes a comment one way or the other, it will be seen as meaningless because he’s been overruled in the past and will be so again if the desperation hits.

The Yankees could go the route they did with Jeter and tell Sabathia that there’s no more water from the well and if he’s under the impression that the failure to get Lee and resulting fracture in the monolithic front office previously presented is going to be exploited, then he’s welcome to try his luck, but the gamble is too massive for it to be worthwhile.

Desperation led them to this point.

Lee went to the Phillies and Andy Pettitte didn’t waver in his decision to retire, they made a stupid attempt at Carl Pavano and called about Felix Hernandez. They got neither. With nothing else available, they publicized a split and signed Soriano, castrating their GM in the process.

Sabathia might have done this anyway, but the uncertainty isn’t helping.

And it’s either going to cost them a lot more money or C.C. Sabathia.

The Soriano and A-Rod aftershocks are still being felt and will be so all season long.

And they’re not going to stop.

And When I Slam Down The Hammer…

Spring Training

…can you feel it in your heart?

Much appreciation for the title to the patron saint of the misérables, Morrissey.

Being it’s simultaneously Valentine’s Day and the opening of spring training camps all over baseball, it’s time for me to do what I do best—yank the hearts out of the collective chests of overly-enthusiastic (in some cases delusional; in some cases addled) fans and media members, give them a brutal dose of reality and show them their still beating hearts before they hit the ground.

As teams outlooks evolve, there will undoubtedly be others added to this list to shatter their myths, but pitchers and catchers have just reported; the spring is still young!!

Give it time.

The “gurus” don’t have all the answers:

Dave Duncan is quite possibly the best pitching coach ever and he’s had his failures. Rick Ankiel and Todd Van Poppel come immediately to mind. Both had their own issues that couldn’t be solved by a simple tweak here and there. Ankiel was a time bomb and even though Tony La Russa and Duncan played a part in the expedited explosion in the 2000 playoffs, it was going to happen regardless; Van Poppel’s stuff wasn’t that good.

Duncan’s work with so many pitchers gives him the cachet to be anointed as the best at what he does, but it’s not as if he never misses.

Larry Rothschild is being doled similar accolades as a pitching coach now; the Yankees are pinning their hopes on him “straightening out” A.J. Burnett more than anyone else.

Here’s a flash: no matter how well Burnett and Rothschild “connected” when they met after Rothschild was hired, the only person who can straighten out Burnett is Burnett; and if you think that the pitcher Burnett has been since he arrived in the big leagues—oft-injured; running the gamut between unhittable and awful with little in-between deviation—is “fixed” because of a new pitching coach, forget it.

The pitching coach can only do so much and one has to wonder how much front office interference he was willing to accept when he took the job. It’s not Rothschild’s decision as to how many innings Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova are going to pitch; it’s GM Brian Cashman and his charts, graphs and medical reports used as a basis to “protect” their young arms that will determine how they’re deployed. Rothschild will have a say, but Cashman has become so wood-headed and invested in the organizational edicts and adherence to numbers that he’s got the last word.

Presumably an old-school pitching coach like Rothschild wouldn’t be totally on board with it, but sometimes one has to go along to get along.

Rick Peterson’s status as a “fixer” wore out with the Mets and was inconsistent with the Brewers; Leo Mazzone—supposedly the architect of the great Braves staffs in the 1990s—can’t find a job. You can list the names and question their results because the only way you know whether something worked is when it actually does work.

If Burnett pitches well, Rothschild will get the credit; if he doesn’t, who gets the blame? It won’t be the pitching coach because the history with Burnett is right there in black and white—he is what he is whether he wins 18 games or goes 12-16.

Place the responsibility where it belongs—on the individual—and we won’t know until we know.

A means to an end:

Orioles fans who are excited over their improved lineup and the full-season presence of Buck Showalter had better understand that: A) they don’t have enough pitching to compete; B) the division they’re in is an utter nightmare; and C) while Vladimir Guerrero‘s contribution to the team will reverberate for years to come, it won’t help them much in 2011.

Showalter’s history of turning his clubs around in his second year on the job aside, you can’t deny the facts.

Much like a hitter can make a “productive out” with a sacrifice fly or ground ball to the right side of the infield to advance a baserunner, the Orioles can have a productive season despite losing 95 games.

If the young players are taught to respect the game and play it in a fundamentally sound, team-oriented fashion, this will be something to build on in years to come when they are ready to take that next step.

Guerrero, with his leadership and positive attitude, can greatly assist in this as a conduit between the manager and the players on how they should comport themselves on and off the field.

The talk from the likes of Keith Law that Guerrero is “in the toaster” if not already “toast” is all well and good (and I don’t agree with it), but the team would lose 95 games without him; they’re probably going to lose 95 games with him.

That’s irrelevant in the long-term. If some of the younger players learn something about winning from Guerrero and it helps them in 2014, then it was a worthwhile signing.

Albert Pujols is not going to the Cubs:

MLB Trade Rumors has this rundown of the increasingly contentious Pujols negotiations here.

Joel Sherman of the NY Post chimes in that an executive told him that Pujols could go to the Cubs.

Did Sherman write that thing on a napkin at Michael Kay’s wedding? Stuffed with plentiful portions of chicken parm? Shocked by the fact that someone is marrying Michael Kay without a shotgun to her head?

It’s almost to the point that the only time Sherman writes something intelligent is when he’s repeating something I’d said days earlier.

Here’s a flash: Albert Pujols is not going to the Cubs.

No way.

No how.

This would be tantamount to Derek Jeter going to the Mets or Willie Mays to the Dodgers.

Money aside, Pujols would never be able to return to St. Louis. Ever.

The betrayal would be so profound; so ingrained that even the instinctively supportive Cardinals fans—for whom memories of their stars are part of the organizational fabric and inherent to the rapport between club and fan—would turn on him.

The Cubs?

Really?

If—if—things go terribly for the Cardinals and Pujols, there are much more appealing options for him and for fans of the Cardinals. The Dodgers, if they get their ownership straightened out; the Mets, if they get their ownership straightened out; the Angels; the Tigers; the Nationals—all are more agreeable locales for Pujols to land than the Cardinals most despised rivals, the Cubs.

Plus if you add in the histories of the respective franchises and how many times the Cubs have made that one move that was supposed to spur them to break the hex that has relegated them to a running joke for 100 years, not even Pujols can cure them.

If he wants to get paid above anything else, I suppose that it’s possible; but isn’t the team-oriented concept why Pujols is so respected whereas Alex Rodriguez was always seen as a mercenary who was only interested in himself?

There never appeared to be a pretense with Pujols; but now that the media is running with the stories of how poorly the negotiations are going; that the club and player are far apart; that there won’t be any talks after the player-imposed deadline and a refusal to allow any talk of a mid-season trade, it’s spiraling out of control.

I still believe, ultimately, he’ll stay with the Cardinals; but if he leaves it won’t be for the Cubs.

If your heart is still safe in your chest, beating as normally because your team wasn’t included in this missive, rest assured I may have something coming very, very soon to drive the electric current of Force Lightning through your entire body.

It’s spring training.

And I’m getting ready for the season too.

Sunday Lightning 2.13.2011

Fantasy/Roto, Hot Stove

I can see it.

Pitchers and catchers are reporting; the sun in Florida and Arizona is warm; hope abounds for every team in baseball that good things are going to happen in 2011.

Regardless of history, off and on-field drama and perception, all—however briefly—can believe.

There’s such a thing as the “best case scenario”; and there’s such a thing as an editor demanding a spin be placed on the Mets prospects for the season.

In reading this piece by Dan Rosenheck in the New York Times, I can’t help but envision the latter.

I can see the editors telling Rosenheck that it’s spring training, we all know the reality the Mets face in 2011 as they’re trapped in the same division with two top teams in the National League (the Phillies and Braves); and another with a load of young talent (the Marlins); but hope springs eternal and the spring begets hope. So, presumably, they told him to say something positive.

I can also see Rosenheck examining the circumstances surrounding the Mets, widening his eyes, puffing his cheeks and exhaling heavily…then hammering away with what amounts to a dream.

The title—If the Stars Align, the Mets Could Surprise. Really.—is an indicator of where the piece was going before reading the first sentence.

As justification for the thought of a Mets surprise, examples presented are the Giants from 2010; the overly enthusiastic suggestion that the Mets might—might—get production close to that which they achieved three years ago from their remaining stars; their young players; and the statistic WAR.

Let’s look at it realistically.

First, is anyone, anywhere thinking that Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana—coming off injuries and aging—are going to be a shell of what they once were?

Beltran is determined to get himself another big contract, but the fact is that the tools have been compromised by his badly damaged knee. He can’t run as well; he doesn’t have the leg drive to hit for power from the left side of the plate; his defense is compromised; and he’s going to need frequent rest days.

Santana is only now starting to soft toss. If he returns in the summer, his already declining velocity is likely to be worse than it was. He can still win, but the dominant pitcher the Mets thought they were getting from the Twins is gone forever.

David Wright is still one of the top third basemen in baseball; Jose Reyes is looking to get paid, so he’ll be healthy and have a great year; Jason Bay will be back to normal after his acclimating year in New York. But before last year, Angel Pagan had never played a full season without injury—he was a pleasant surprise as was R.A. Dickey—now there are expectations in not outright reliance.

The odds against this are great.

Then we get to the statistic WAR (Wins Above Replacement).

The stat is designed to simplify “value” for the masses by equating a player with a Triple A replacement. So if Wright gets hurt, a baseline minor league replacement would diminish the Mets number of wins by “X” amount.

It’s absurd to take a complicated issue and make it into an abridged, out of context number to give “value” to said player’s contribution.

No one is replacing David Wright on the Mets; no one is replacing Albert Pujols on the Cardinals; no one is replacing Felix Hernandez on the Mariners.

It’s an attempt to explain encompassing issues to those who does not understand the intricacies of the game and make it more comprehensible; but those who actually know the game numerically and practically can see that the true contribution of said player is not easily bundled into a number detailing what would happen if he were replaced by Cody Ransom.

The idea that the best case scenario laid out by Rosenheck is a possibility is the same thing as saying the Mets could also bring Tom Seaver out of retirement and for one year and one year only, he’d be back to the Tom Seaver of 1969.

How many games would they win then?

Or if they had Pujols? Or King Felix? Or an in-his-prime Ken Griffey, Jr.

What’s it mean?

Nothing.

To me, the whole concept of WAR is boiled down to the statements, “if we lose him we’re screwed”; or “we’ll live without him”.

No kidding. If the Mets lose Wright or Reyes, they’re screwed. Is this news? Do you need a stat to tell you this? And what team is going to account for losing a player of that magnitude? The higher salaried teams might have a super-utility player who will fill in adequately for such a devastating loss; other clubs might discover some young player who can fill in for bursts, thereby rendering WAR meaningless because he’s not a borderline big leaguer who hadn’t gotten a chance to play—he’s a useful component.

There were a limitless number of plays on words I could’ve made with Rosenheck. “Rosenheck Needs A Reality Check”; “What The (Rosen)heck?”

But no. I prefer to inject some objectivity into this.

The best case scenario for the Mets is if they do get big performances from the players who are still capable of delivering them—Francisco Rodriguez, Wright, Reyes and Bay; get improvement from Ike Davis, Jonathon Niese and Mike Pelfrey; have Dickey and Pagan come close to what they did last season; have Beltran healthy and able to contribute; and get Santana back with some semblance of effectiveness.

If these things happen, they’ll be over .500; if the Wild Card is limited to 88 or so wins (highly unlikely with the strength of numerous clubs), the Mets can hang around into September and hope to steal a playoff spot.

But even if they are contending, will they be able to add that big bat or arm at mid-season? While other clubs like the Yankees, Phillies and Cardinals will be looking to do the same thing? Do the Mets have the money? Are they willing to surrender the prospects? Would it be worth it?

You can come up with a number to explain any assertion and make it so complex with twisted verbiage as a means of confusion, but that’s not real. It’s not accurate. It’s not the truth. It’s brainwashing the masses who don’t have the capacity to analyze without fear of criticism or numerical “proof”.

The Times editors got what I presume they wanted—hope for the Mets where there is a limited supply for 2011.

  • Viewer Mail 2.13.2011:

Liz writes RE Fantasy Baseball:

Wow, there’s an actual strategy to fantasy baseball?  I used to pick the best-looking players for my team… I was under the impression that’s what “fantasy” was referring to?

All silliness (or seriousness) aside, I may just choose some of these players and see how your predictions play out.  I never win anything, so what have I got to lose?  However, I don’t know about Berkman – I think his heavy hitting days might be numbered.

I often joke about my fantasies having literally nothing to do with baseball!! (Don’t ask.)

I don’t know the strategies—that’s the thing. I’ve never even thought about playing. I’m sticking to my statement—swiped from Whitey Herzog—when I stopped physically playing the game (again, don’t ask): “Baseball has been very, very good to me since I quit trying to play it.”

Why muck with a good thing?

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE my Fantasy Baseball lists of whom to consider:

Nice list! I went with the Pineiro pick VERY late last year and it did benefit me until he went down for the season. I like the Javi Vazquez pick this year. He’ll be undervalued and there late… AND it’s clear he’s better suited to pitching in the NL (and NOT in Yankee pinstripes).

The Javier Vazquez case is interesting in that the Yankees continually look at the numbers and ignore the human being. Bringing him back was a mistake they were prepared to make again with, unbelievably(!)—Carl Pavano.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Fantasy Baseball:

I don’t play fantasy baseball. I have enough trouble keeping up with players on my own team. But thanks for the rundown.

We’re old school, Jane.

You and me.

Pam writes RE Fantasy Baseball:

As a fervent fantasy baseball player, I thank you for this from the bottom of my heart!  The reason that I enjoy playing is because since I’m constantly poring over player information, I find myself enjoying players that might have otherwise slipped under my radar.  Last year, as I was looking for another C to add to my line up, I noticed some kid named Buster Posey who seemed to be surging.  I locked him up on my fantasy team before he became a big name, and I had the pleasure of watching him blossom.  If not for playing FF, I probably wouldn’t have been as acutely aware of him until the playoffs.

Plus, I’m a nerd.

Ain’t nothing wrong with being a nerd. Within reason. And Posey was a great pick.

Mike Fierman writes RE Fantasy Baseball:

A worthy effort from someone who claims not to know the rules. actually the “rules” and strategies vary wildly from league to league…I like having a few sleeper picks that I get in late rounds that give me great rewards. Ibanez the year he went to the phils, 2008 I believe was a steal. i knew him going from safeco to the bandbox was a match made in heaven. i was an early Bell , Wilson and Broxton guy. My late closer pick this year is Kimbrel. Last year I had Wagner on all of my teams..No one was picking him.

There are way too many good pitching options to go with javy and his nothingball. must disagree there. I always have my eye on Gregerson. he gave me many holds last year. not sold on Yunel. I think he’s a flameout type. I don’t see Hinske being drafted by many people except in a VERY deep offense only league. I had Morse and Niese on a couple of different teams at point or another last year and was very happy with what they did for me.

Quote from The Dark Knight (twisted for my nefarious purposes): “You got rules. The Prince? He’s got no rules!! Nobody’s gonna cross him for you!!!”

When you get into the “deep offense league” my eyes glaze like a monkey staring at a bright red ball.

My analysis of Luke Gregerson expands beyond the numbers and whether “holds” are applicable. It’s an examination of the Padres; the type of year I think they’ll have; that Heath Bell is a free agent at the end of the year and since their GM Jed Hoyer came from the Red Sox, he’s not paying big money for a closer; and that Gregerson is the likely replacement if and when Bell is traded. You’ll get your saves then.

Gabriel writes RE Fantasy Baseball:

I play Fantasy Baseball in the MLB.com site, and it’s fun. Last year I noticed José Bautista‘s sudden rise and it paid off.

I agree with you about Billy Butler and Yunel Escobar (I believe the Blue Jays’ season depends on whether Adam Lind and Aaron Hill bounce back).

I used to pick Lance Berkman a lot, but last year I put Paul Konerko instead, and it paid off too.

I’m 100% with you on Lind and Hill.

Berkman is similar to my selection of Gregerson; it’s circumstantial. In that lineup with Pujols and Matt Holliday, he’ll see pitches to hit and his defensive limitations will mean nothing on the fantasy stat sheet. (They don’t count defense, do they?)

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE Zack Greinke:

I’m glad somebody else thinks Zack Greinke is being overrated and overstated. You should have heard all the moaning and groaning from the Dallas media when the Brewers got him.

He was going to be Plan B if Cliff Lee left, but I never wanted any part of him and his lifetime 4.23 ERA, which includes every year but one.

The bad ERA is misleading because of his early-career struggles; but the Brewers getting a Roy Halladay-type year in Greinke’s move to the National League is highly presumptuous.

The Brewers defense is terrible. They made two flashy moves in getting Greinke and Shaun Marcum, but I’m looking at them with a tilted head and an “I dunno” countenance.

Duck And Cover

Fantasy/Roto, Hot Stove

Or cover and duck.

One of those.

Yesterday, in all my roto-innocence, I listed a few names that might help you in your fantasy baseball drafts, picks, trades, acquisitions, wheelings, dealings, healings and feelings.

Today, here are players you should avoid like the plague; or like Jose Canseco when he’s on Twitter and/or off his meds.

If you see these names available? Run.

But the strange part is that while some of them aren’t “numbers” players, they likely have use to their clubs on the field which, in part, proves my point of the need to place stats into their proper context; why being a numbers cruncher does not automatically imply a baseball expertise that takes years of watching, analyzing and participating to be able to come to a reasonable and educated conclusion.

Let’s have a look.

B.J. Upton, CF—Tampa Bay Rays

If you pick him up during one of his hot streaks, then fine, but too often Upton doesn’t look like he wants to play. He has barely evolved from the 2008 World Series when he grounded into a double play because he wasn’t running hard. Upton plays hard when he feels like it and this is not a positive attribute on the field or stat sheet.

He’ll steal you some bases, hit a homer here and there; but he strikes out a lot, doesn’t hit for average and doesn’t get on base. His terrible attitude shows in the numbers if you read between the columns.

Russell Martin, C—New York Yankees

He’s coming off numerous injuries and his offense has declined drastically in the past three years.

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF—Boston Red Sox

He’s listed as the center fielder on the Red Sox depth chart and even if he’s healthy I think he’s going to share time with Mike Cameron and lose the full-time job by May. If anything, the Red Sox might play him regularly to bolster his trade value.

Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of Ellsbury; he’s more of a product of the Red Sox PR machine than actual use on the field; he’s not a good defensive center fielder; he doesn’t hit the ball out of the park; and his stolen bases and triples aren’t worth the trouble of picking him when he’s not going to play regularly and there are many other options available.

Speaking of options available, I forgot to mention Josh Willingham in my list of players to pick up. Grab him. He can hit.

Jose Bautista, INF/OF—Toronto Blue Jays

This has nothing to do with any allegations of impropriety on his part to achieve the *absurd* heights he did last season. We don’t know whether it was due to the first chance he’s gotten to play every day; the approach advocated by Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy to look for a fastball and try to hit it into space; illicit means; or a fluke.

No.

He’ll be very expensive because people will recognize his name and while I do think he’ll hit his homers (I’ll say 30+), he’s not worth the presumptive cost.

J.J. Hardy, SS—Baltimore Orioles

Hardy’s never gotten on base at an impressive rate and he’s been injured and awful  in the past two years. He’s a good fielder, but I don’t think you get credit for that in your fantasy leagues.

In reality, he’s a giant upgrade from Cesar Izturis for the Orioles, but because what a club now has is better than what they had previously, it doesn’t mean he’s necessarily “good”.

Carl Pavano, RHP—Minnesota Twins

I’m sure there will be those who look at his 17 wins last season and say, “well, he won 17 games,” but I wouldn’t touch him.

I’m cognizant of the “relaxation factor” where he’ll have his contract in hand and want to go to the beach. I doubt that’s going to happen again, but I didn’t expect the ludicrousness of his time with the Yankees; nor did I expect Yankees GM Brian Cashman to make an offer to bring him back(?!?).

With Pavano, there’s a vortex of unreality that I want no part of. If you get sucked into someone else’s madness, it infects you fast.

And his numbers, apart from the wins and innings, were not impressive. The Twins defense is worse than last year and, as a club, they’ve got some major issues.

Mark Buehrle, LHP—Chicago White Sox

Here is the epitome of a player you want on your team when you’re actually playing the game of baseball, but do not want in a fantasy league.

Buehrle is the guy you want at your back in a dark alley. If White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen walks up to him and says, “we need a compete game from you today,” or, in Ozzie-speak, “Compleh gah today babeh, huh?” Buehrle would not question nor complain; he’d stay on the mound for 140 pitches and if he allowed 10+ runs; he wouldn’t worry about how it blew up his ERA or hits/innings pitched ratio because it helps his team.

If you do pick him up, you have to be lucky in getting a “good Buehrle” day as opposed to “bad Buehrle”. The good one pitches a perfect game; the bad one gives up 7 runs in the first inning.

Stats do not adequately define a player and Buehrle is proof of that.

Grady Sizemore, CF—Cleveland Indians

People might remember what he was before micro-fracture surgery and he’ll be in demand; I’d expect absolutely nothing and wouldn’t waste my time.

The one saving grace is the fear that he won’t be able to come back and his availability/upside—it depends on whether he’s cheap or not.

Brandon Webb, RHP—Texas Rangers

More name recognition and remembrances of greatness; considering that he’s missed two years and his fastball was reportedly puttering in at 82-mph last summer, he’s going to be picked because he’s known for what he was.

There’s a big difference between a bowling ball sinker at 90+ and at 84; and he’s pitching in Texas in a ballpark highly conducive to hitters.

Carlos Ruiz, C—Philadelphia Phillies

A career .260 hitter batting .302 with a .400 on base? Are you buying that? I’m not.

Craig Kimbrel, LHP—Atlanta Braves

Because he racks up the strikeouts and has been anointed as the Braves closer entering spring training, he’ll attract interest; he has has trouble throwing strikes and will be closing for a team with playoff expectations. He’s only 23.

It’s a shaky combination.

I have no clue how it works with 40-man rosters and fantasy drafts, but here’s what I would do if he’s available—take Billy Wagner.

He’s still on the Braves 40-man. Pick him late and hope he possibly comes back at mid-season.

Angel Pagan, OF—New York Mets

I’m hesitant to believe in a player when he has his first full season as a regular and puts up the numbers Pagan did last season; plus he’s got a history of injuries that can’t be ignored—that would be my biggest concern.

Jayson Werth, OF—Washington Nationals

How is he going to fare as the focal point? As the highest paid player? With a long-term contract in hand?

Out of the cocoon of the Phillies lineup and into the wasteland of Washington, I wonder whether he’s going to fall on his face.

Probably not, but if you think you’re getting huge numbers from him, think again.

Scott Rolen, 3B—Cincinnati Reds

At age 36 and after two mostly healthy seasons, he’s due for an injury.

Zack Greinke, RHP—Milwaukee Brewers

Amid all the talk that a move to the National League will inspire a Roy Halladay-style dominance, it has to be remembered that mentally, Greinke is no Halladay.

Having taken time to learn to deal with high expectations pitching for a team with no chance at contention with the Royals, how’s he going to react as he’s picked to win the Cy Young Award and an entire organization is pinning their hopes for contention on him?

Brett Myers, RHP—Houston Astros

He was excellent last season and got paid.

That’s what worries me.

He’s emotional and has had injury issues in recent years; the Astros defense is awful and Myers is a contact pitcher.

Carlos Zambrano, RHP—Chicago Cubs

Since you don’t know which Zambrano is going to show up, he’s a dart flung at a dartboard while wearing a blindfold.

There will be those who believe his renaissance in September is a portent of turning the corner, but how many times has that been said of Zambrano?

I’ll believe it when I see it…and still be dubious after I see it.

Brian Wilson, RHP—San Francisco Giants

Tim Kurkjian wrote an article for ESPN that looked into the workloads of pitchers in the post-season and their results in the following season—link.

I haven’t torn it apart yet (I intend to), but after a quick glance, it’s a simplistic and broad-based way of analysis.

But one pitcher for whom it might be a problem is Giants closer Brian Wilson.

He’s tough, durable and willing to take the ball whenever, wherever and for however long he’s needed. The aftereffects of the long playoff run and intense innings are cumulative and the slightest downgrade in Wilson’s velocity/movement will give the hitters that extra split second to react to his power pitches; plus his control might not be as good.

It’s imperceptible but real.

Jason Bartlett, SS—San Diego Padres

People think he can hit after his 2009 career year, but he’s moving into a rotten lineup and a giant ballpark. He is what he is as a hitter and that’s not much.

Cameron Maybin, CF—San Diego Padres

With Maybin, you’re waiting until his rough edges are smoothed; he’ll be a good player one day, he’s not yet. Horribly inconsistent, strikeout prone and still learning the game, Maybin has a lot of expectations in his third big league stop and that’s a bad combination for a young player.

Ian Kennedy, RHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

Kennedy was impressive for the Diamondbacks last season and let his pitching do the talking as opposed to the constant yapping, tweaking and ignoring he did with the Yankees. Away from the hype and in an atmosphere with limited expectations, he pitched well.

It’s still not enough to take a chance on him yet. He’s the type to think he’s “made” it and relax. This is not good.

Buyer beware.

I’ll do the mail tomorrow.

Fantasy Man

Fantasy/Roto

Regarding the title, I mean that in all possible connotations in relation to me.

I don’t play fantasy sports. I don’t get it. People tell me they make money at it, but I prefer watching and analyzing the game for the actual play, strategy and drama; not to interpret the numbers so I can make my own lineups, pitching staffs and whatevers.

Whether or not I’d be any good at it if I did play is hard to determine. I don’t really know the rules; apparently they vary from league to league with certain stats more important than others among many other factors.

With that in mind, here’s a non-partisan list of names who might help you in your baseball fantasy leagues.

And no, I’m not naming Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer, C.C. Sabathia or any of the in-demand players who everyone knows are going to put up numbers.

I’m digging through the muck.

Yunel Escobar, SS—Toronto Blue Jays

It’s not a good sign when the former teammates on the club that traded you—the Braves—stood up and applauded when your replacement Alex Gonzalez walked through the clubhouse doors.

No, Escobar wasn’t popular in the Braves no-nonsense clubhouse and Bobby Cox wanted to murder him; but his talent is unmistakable. He played reasonably well after joining the Blue Jays, but nowhere close to what he was in 2009 when he looked to be an emerging star.

Perhaps the presence of Jose Bautista mentoring him will have a positive affect.

Kyle Farnsworth, RHP—Tampa Bay Rays

You read that right.

It may sound insane, but think about it.

He’s always racked up the strikeouts; he still throws very, very hard; the Rays don’t have a defined closer and a history of rehabilitating failed talents like Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit.

Because of the absence of an ironclad “known” closer, there’s a chance that Farnsworth will get a chance to rack up some saves.

Matt Thornton, LHP—Chicago White Sox

He throws gas; like the Rays, the White Sox don’t have a defined closer and Thornton’s a likely candidate. The White Sox don’t have a fear of trying a youngster like Chris Sale in the role, but Thornton, now, is the better option and he handles both lefties and righties.

Billy Butler, 1B/DH—Kansas City Royals

His full name is “Billy Ray Butler”; can he sing?

He doesn’t need to. At least until after his career’s over and he decides to write and record a song like Bobby Murcer did with his “Skoal Dippin’ Man”. Somehow I doubt that would play well today in our politically correct society.

Butler has gotten better every single season he’s been in the big leagues, racks up the doubles, has 15-20 homer power, hits over .300 and gets on base.

The right-handed Butler was far better hitter vs righties than lefties, but that was probably a freak thing for one year and all the more reason he’s going to have a massive season in 2011.

Dallas Braden, LHP—Oakland Athletics

The team behind him is better both offensively and defensively. Just make sure you stay off his mound and remember the way they roll in the 209.

Joel Pineiro, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

I’m going there again.

Much was made of how I told people how Pineiro’s success with the Cardinals was going to translate to the American League and the Angels. The thought was that switching leagues and being away from the protective nuzzle of Dave Duncan and Tony La Russa would revert Pineiro to the pitcher he was late in his time with the Mariners and brief days with the Red Sox.

It was nonsense.

Surface-wise, the numbers back up that claim. In truth, Pineiro’s ERA was blown up by starts in which he got blasted; before an oblique injury sabotaged him, he was on his way to a very solid season. When his sinker’s not sinking, he gets rocked; but if his time with Duncan taught him anything, it’s how to battle his way through when he doesn’t have his best stuff.

He’s a free agent at the end of the year too, which should inspire a healthy, productive season; you just have to be careful which teams you use him against. (That’s how Roto works, right?)

Raul Ibanez, LF—Philadelphia Phillies

Amid all the talk that Ibanez was “done”, it was conveniently missed that for a player who’s “done”, he had 58 extra base hits!

Assisted by a better Jimmy Rollins and healthier supporting cast, he’ll give you your .800 OPS.

Eric Hinske, INF/OF—Atlanta Braves

He might have to play more than is expected. The Braves are going with a rookie first baseman, Freddie Freeman; don’t know whether Chipper Jones will be able to come back and it’s certain he’ll need frequent rest days; they don’t have competent big league backups besides Hinske. When he’s given a chance to play regularly, he always hits the ball out of the park.

Javier Vazquez, RHP—Florida Marlins

Back in the National League and freed from his prison Pinstripes, Vazquez is still young enough that a big year will get him a substantial payday. In a world where Carl Pavano was in demand after everything he pulled, Vazquez will want to have a similar renaissance. And his stuff is far better than Pavano’s.

Jonathon Niese, LHP—New York Mets

With Johan Santana out until the summer and the sudden rise of R.A. Dickey still in doubt, the Mets will need to lean heavily on Niese. Mike Francesa’s expert scouting report that he’s not all that impressed with Niese aside, I am impressed with Niese in stuff and competitiveness.

Mike Morse, OF/1B—Washington Nationals

With the Nationals lack of offense, I have a feeling we’re going to see Jayson Werth playing a lot of center field and Morse in right. Morse is a huge man (6’5″, 230) and had 15 homers in 293 plate appearances last season in his first legitimate chance to play semi-regularly. The Nationals haven’t shown the intelligence with Morse-type players as they repeatedly underestimated the value of Josh Willingham, but they might not have a choice in 2011.

Lance Berkman, RF—St. Louis Cardinals

He’ll be an adventure in right field, but in the Cardinals lineup with Pujols and Matt Holliday, plus looking at another chance at free agency a year from now, he’s going to hit.

Joel Hanrahan, RHP—Pittsburgh Pirates

He’ll get the chance to close and throws bullets. Naturally, being a Pirate, it begs the question as to how many save opportunities he’s going to get, but he strikes out a lot of hitters (100 in 69 innings last season).

Luke Gregerson, RHP—San Diego Padres

I said this a year ago and those who got credit for “holds” thanked me. If the Padres fall from contention this year, Heath Bell is going to get traded and Gregerson will presumably take over as the closer and you’ll get your saves.

Brad Hawpe, 1B/OF—San Diego Padres

He was horrible last year with both the Rockies and Rays, but he consistently batted over .280 with a .380 on base and 20+ homers in the three seasons prior to 2010.

Kenley Jansen, RHP—Los Angeles Dodgers

Barely a year removed from being a minor league catcher with no future in the big leagues, the 6’6″, 220 pound Jansen made it to the big leagues and was lights out with a blazing and moving fastball. Hitters looked frightened when he was on the mound and he’s going to be a key to the Dodgers season.

Brandon Allen, 1B—Arizona Diamondbacks

Allen has put up power/on base numbers at every level in the minors; the Diamondbacks are going to be terrible and have Juan Miranda and Xavier Nady as the first basemen ahead of Allen.

By May, it’s not going to make sense for Allen to be sitting on the bench in the majors or playing in the minors; the Diamondbacks should just play him every day and see what they have.

Tomorrow I’ll have a look at players from whom you should run like infected zombies from 28 Days Later for fear that they infect you with their dreaded disease!!