The Votto/Cain Contract Extensions

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All winter long we heard two consistent storylines regarding Joey Votto and Matt Cain. Votto, due to be a free agent after 2013, was going to cost $200+ million and the Reds wouldn’t be able to keep him. Cain was a free agent after 2012 and the Giants’ finances were tight enough that they might not be able to retain him and other key players.

Suggestions were made that the Reds trade Votto. GM Walt Jocketty said he wasn’t trading Votto; wasn’t interested in trading Votto; wasn’t listening to offers on Votto.

But it went on and on.

The most ludicrous suggestion came from Dave Cameron who wanted the Reds to trade Votto and Yasmani Grandal to the Mariners for a package that included Michael Pineda, Brandon League and Chone Figgins.

I said at the time that the only thing the Mariners could do to get Jocketty to accept that package for Votto is to put a gun to his head.

There were other trade scenarios for Votto presented in print and online; this in spite of Jocketty’s increasingly flustered protestations that he had zero interest in moving his star first baseman.

Now Votto is close to an extension and, at age 28, has a better chance to be productive and healthy for the duration of the contract than the other two first basemen who signed similar deals—Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols.

Votto is in better shape than Fielder and younger than Pujols; he hits the ball out of the park, puts up huge on-base numbers, is a good fielder and can run.

The Giants were facing the reality of having to pay Cain after this season and then pay Tim Lincecum after next season—a daunting prospect.

But they signed Cain today and his agreement—said to guarantee $127.5 million over 5 years—is for less than what he’d get if he were to go out on the free agent market.

The salary and length are reasonable in comparison to what other pitchers are getting. CC Sabathia, at age 31, signed a 5-year extension with the Yankees that guarantees him $122 million; Cliff Lee, at age 32, signed a 5-year, $120 million contract with the Phillies.

Cain is 27 and has pitched at least 190 innings in each of his six full big league seasons and 217+ in each of the past four.

His won/lost record is an unimpressive 69-73, but getting past the most simplistic of simplistic numbers, he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball whose results—low ERAs, home run numbers and hits allowed—are not a creation of a pitcher-friendly home park. If he were pitching for a team that scored in bunches, he’d have a gaudy won/lost record.

He’s big, durable and tough.

In a team sense, the Giants were staring at either keeping Cain and trying to keep Lincecum; keeping one and letting the other one leave; letting either/or leave and then replacing him with someone who’s not going to be anywhere near as good and probably not all that much cheaper; or trying to alter the template from what they’ve been a successful with over the past several years by seeking run producing bats to replace the departed arms.

Like all long-term contracts, of course there’s a possibility of injury; but with these two players, it’s not as glaring because of their history. Team circumstances were going to be worse if they traded them or let them leave.

The Giants and Reds shunned the supposed wisdom from the self-proclaimed experts and did the right thing by keeping their star players.

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Coco Crisp Takes His Talents Back To Oakland

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When MLB Trade Rumors published the posting that Coco Crisp had made his decision as to which club he wanted to sign with, many things ran through my head to solve the cryptic mystery of the unnamed team’s identity.

Was the team that he’d chosen aware that Crisp wanted to sign with them?

Did they want him?

Was he in the midst of negotiations—albeit on a smaller scale—with ESPN to broadcast The Decision in a similar way to LeBron James’s taking his talents to Miami?

Or was Crisp purchasing time on cable access channels nationwide befitting his somewhat lower level of fame in comparison to James?

Where was Crisp taking his talents?

Where?

Where?!?

WHERE?!?!?!?

As it turned out, Crisp re-signed with the Athletics for 2-years and a guaranteed $14 million.

There was no fizzle; no wild celebration; just a blank stare.

The most interesting aspects to this bit of news were the reactions of the Billy Beane defenders. Rather than accurately gauge the signing for what it is—pointless—they found ways to continue defending the indefensible “genius” for doing things that make absolutely no sense.

Dave Cameron summed up the Beane-defenders’ reaction with the following on Twitter:

Whether A’s should be team paying for 32-year-old CF is another story. But Crisp is a solid average player, easily worth $7M per year.

Would those who aren’t sacred cows in the stat revolution have gotten this pass? What if it was Royals GM Dayton Moore, Giants GM Brian Sabean or Phillies GM Ruben Amaro who had made this decision?

If they’d made suspicious trades of young pitchers who should be the foundation of a rebuild, there would certainly be multiple articles, blogs and comments tearing into the haphazard maneuvers being made. But because it’s Beane, there’s a desperate search for justification and a reluctance to criticize him in anything other than the most wishy-washy and general terms.

The money is irrelevant and the justifications flawed.

My theory has always been that teams should overpay for what they need and set a line—based on a myriad of factors—for what they want.

The Athletics don’t need Crisp.

Can they use Crisp?

Why not? He’s a good outfielder; has some pop and speed; and appears to be well liked by the media, teammates and fans.

But did they need him?

You tell me.

The A’s are in a nightmarish division with two powerhouses, the Rangers and Angels; they just traded their top two starting pitchers for packages of youngsters and are starting over in anticipation of a new stadium in San Jose that may never come.

What do they need a veteran center fielder like Crisp for? They’re going to lose 90 games with him; they’ll lose 90 games without him.

If Beane were the “genius” and ruthless, fearless corporate titan his fictional biography portrayed him as being, he’d have found a center fielder on someone’s bench or Triple A roster, traded for him and installed him as the new center fielder giving him a chance to play every day—sort of like he did with Scott Hatteberg at first base in 2002.

Teams are no longer fearful of doing business with Beane because the perception that he’s picking their pockets has been destroyed by reality, randomness and consistent mediocrity.

Would the Giants be willing to deal Darren Ford? The Astros J.B. Shuck? The Blue Jays Darin Mastroianni?

The “who” isn’t the point, but the “why” is.

Why do they need Crisp?

They don’t.

Technically, based on ability and markets, they didn’t overpay for him; but overpaying isn’t only about giving a player too much money, it’s also about signing him at all.

Either Beane’s running the team with a plan or he’s not; what the Crisp signing signifies is that there is no plan. He’s just “doing stuff” like so many other executives do, except they’re not relentlessly defended for it, nor are they doing it with the appellation of “genius” hovering over them and placing everything they do under the microscope of a fictional tale.

And the microscope is telling all.

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Stat Guy Strong Arm

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Dave Cameron of USS Mariner and Fangraphs provides this prescription to begin fixing the Mariners woes for 2012.

Here’s the clip from the above link:

Transactions

Trade RHP Michael Pineda, RHP Brandon League, OF Greg Halman, 3B Chone Figgins (with Seattle absorbing $16 of remaining $17 million on Figgins’ contract), and SS Carlos Triunfel to Cincinnati for 1B Joey Votto and C Yasmani Grandal.

Trade 1B Mike Carp to Milwaukee for 3B Casey McGehee and RHP Marco Estrada.

Trade OF Michael Saunders and RHP Dan Cortes to Florida for RHP Chris Volstad.

Trade LHP Cesar Jimenez to New York for OF Angel Pagan.

Sign Chris Snyder to a 1 year, $3 million contract.

Sign Erik Bedard to a 1 year, $4 million contract.

Sign Jamie Moyer to a 1 year, $500,000 contract.

That’s only part one; I can’t wait for part two. Maybe there he’ll send Miguel Olivo and Brendan Ryan to the Yankees for Jesus Montero.

This thinking epitomizes what one William Lamar Beane—aka Billy Beane—said to Tom Verducci in one of the “it’s not Billy’s fault” pieces that came out to defend Beane (in advance of the homage known as Moneyball, THE MOVIE) for putting together a bad Athletics team; a team that Verducci himself picked to win the AL West before the season.

Beane’s argument was that the new breed of GMs have burst into baseball and are doing essentially what Cameron is doing; they’re saying “here’s what we’ll give you and if you’re smart, you’ll take it” in a Luca Brasi (or Frank Wren) sort of way.

Short of kidnapping his family or putting a gun to his head, I don’t know what Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik could do to Reds GM Walt Jocketty to get him to accept the above package for Votto.

Though I see Tommy John in his future, Pineda’s very good; League is a guy you can find very cheaply on the market; Halman strikes out too much, doesn’t walk and from his numbers is a bad outfielder; Triunfel hasn’t shown he can hit in the minors; and you can have Chone Figgins and we’ll pay him. For that, you can give us a top catching prospect and one of the best hitters in baseball. We all done? Okay. Good.

The other deals are just as delusional.

What is this obsession with Erik Bedard and the Mariners? Haven’t they had enough?

Moyer? Again? He’s had a wonderful career, but he’s almost 50. Move on.

You want Pagan? He’s yours.

Why the Marlins would take Cortes and Saunders at all, least of all for Volstad, is unclear and unexplained.

Without getting into a long-winded “my way’s better” critique of Cameron’s plan, how about—before anything else—Zduriencik walking into ownership on hands and knees and begging to let him get rid of Ichiro Suzuki? Signing Josh Willingham? Pursuing Jose Reyes or Prince Fielder? Making a major bid for Yu Darvish? Jim Thome? David Ortiz?

Wouldn’t these be preferable options than making a lunatic proposal for Votto that would be rejected?

These deals are typical of the concept that outsiders with a forum and a stat sheet envision as the simplicity as to how deals are made. We call you, you accept and we’re done.

Much like the same people have the audacity to say—in a grudging tribute to Tony LaRussa on the day of his retirement and immediately after he wins a World Series—“I didn’t always agree with his strategies, but…” they have this vision of innate knowledge that doesn’t exist; of what they’d do.

They cling.

They cling to Moneyball being “real”; cling to the likes of Charlie Haeger, R.J. Swindle and Dale Thayer; and cling to a so-called revolution that was self-serving from the start.

It’s fine to print an off-season prescription of a scenario that could only exist in Tolkien, but this is reality; you’re not getting Votto for that package even if you do put a gun to Jocketty’s head and/or kidnap his family.

Jocketty would say, “kill me first”.

And I would say that too.

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Myth Becomes Myth In The Re-Telling

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Stories tend to fluctutate.

As does analysis regardless of how the stories are formulated.

It’s with that in mind that the “free agent year myth” is a worthwhile topic.

With this column from ESPN.com stat people like Dave Cameron say that there’s no evidence of a contract year boost.

Cameron’s points are propped up by reality…sort of; but just like anything else, you can find examples of players who have had it “kick in” at contract time.

That might be staying healthy in an injury-riddled career (Carl Pavano); it could be having their career-year at the right time (Brad Lidge); and there are those who made sure they were healthy and their stats were top notch with free agency beckoning even at the expense of team needs (Rafael Soriano).

No one is suggesting that Albert Pujols is going to be “better” than he’s been his entire career because of the money he’s set to make at the end of the season; in fact, if any player was a prime candidate to have an “off” year in his free agent year, it’s someone like Pujols who’s set a standard of excellence so ridiculous that even a great year for a normal player would be seen as a fall for Pujols.

And Pujols’s numbers will be somewhere in line with what they’ve been in the past by the time the 2011 season is over.

Cameron brings up familiar “walk year” names like Adrian Beltre. Beltre is much appreciated in stat circles because of his superior defense; he’s been assisted by two massive years as he was heading for free agency; but he also had several mediocre seasons with the Mariners before his free agent year of 2009 in which he got hurt and wasn’t particularly good at all.

That winter, the Red Sox signed Beltre to a 1-year, $9 million deal. This was an situation in which the stat person’s template to building a team cheaply and efficiently and a player’s motivation worked for both sides; Beltre and the Red Sox maximized assets and found value. This is an unassailable tenet of stat based theory.

It was a mutually beneficial contract. Sometimes they work as was the case with the Red Sox and Beltre; sometimes they don’t as appears to be happening now with the Rangers and Brandon Webb.

The Rays, Athletics, Marlins and even the Red Sox and Yankees have gotten great value from players who either had nowhere else to go or were, yes, looking to have a good year for a good team and cash in.

The Marlins in particular have found scrapheap pickups like Jorge CantuCody RossJohn Baker and Brendan Donnelly, gotten use from them and discarded them when they grew too expensive or were no longer producing.

In fact, I don’t believe a team can win under a budget unless they find these types of players.

It’s not a matter of simplistic “free agent year=big year”; it’s a myriad of factors that could advantage the player, team, both or neither.

To simplify it in terms of “no evidence” is just as bad as the all-encompassing implication that the promise of free agent riches is the impetus to the big year in the first place.

It’s not one thing that spurs a player. It could be anything; the promise of money is part of that “anything” as a motivating force with a great many players.

Truthfully, it’s nothing to be ashamed of; nor is it something to dismiss out-of-hand based on out-of-context statistical analysis.

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.

****

Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

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If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

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//

Prospects

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Hyperbolic? Check.

Ignorant of a full historical perspective? Check.

Accumulating the necessary ingredients in this recipe for disaster? Check.

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs came up with this little nugget about 18-year-old Nationals phenom Bryce HarperBryce Harper-Best Prospect Ever?

Once you get past the sheer lunacy of the title itself, the content is worse.

Not because it’s wrong—who knows?—but because it’s ignoring reality, history and the human nature of a game that can humble even the most talented player within a millisecond.

Cameron references some of the best prospects in baseball history in comparing Harper’s professional start. Such luminaries who, in retrospect, fulfilled their promise. Alex Rodriguez; Chipper Jones; Ken Griffey, Jr.; and Josh Hamilton are all mentioned.

Fair enough, but where are the rest of their stories?

The diversity of success, injuries, off-field issues and PED use should be accounted for when discussing Harper and making over-the-top equivalencies.

But Cameron fails to do so; instead he focuses on these players who, at the same ages as Harper, put up lesser stats.

Stats.

That’s the basis of the analysis.

But, as usual, they ignore other necessary aspects in the creation of a player.

Harper is a human being. He’s 18. And he’s already got a reputation as an immature and obnoxious jerk.

Had I been managing Harper when he first broke into pro ball, before anything else, I’d have told him to lose the warpaint on his face that’s little more than a means to draw attention to himself; whether he listened or gave me a problem would’ve indicated where the relationship was going to go; in addition to that, the support of the organization in reining in such a player could make or break his development.

Did Cameron’s salivating consider the injuries that hindered Jones’s early career? A-Rod’s PED use? Hamilton’s drug problems?

Cameron picks and chooses to bolster his point without factoring in such important pieces of information like the level of competition each player faced; instead he chooses to focus on pure numbers and level of play without the insight provided by including full disclosure of how those numbers were achieved.

And what about top prospects who were supposed to rock the baseball world, but didn’t such as Shawon Dunston?

Or others who did make it and never fulfilled their promise because of similar allegations of poor behavior (which were conveniently ignored for expediency) like Darryl Strawberry?

Or players who are doing well now as big leaguers like Justin Upton?

Where’s Joe Mauer? Mauer, whose drafting by the Twins was seen at the time—in part—as a bow to the hometown hero when the “better” choice was supposedly Mark Prior?

How’d that work out?

Personality has to be examined.

There’s having an attitude of confidence and maturity as Jones did. It wore on the veterans when he got to the big leagues and definitely irritated opponents, but he backed it all up and is now respected throughout baseball.

There are players who have cultivated a somewhat likable bluster based on prior insults as is the case of Dustin Pedroia; Pedroia has a chip on his shoulder the size of Mount Everest, but that’s more in part to his size and naysayers than it is a byproduct of him being a jerk. Had there been people telling him how wonderful he is and catering to his every whim because he was a “prodigy”, would Pedroia have become what he is? Maybe not.

Harper is being enabled by everyone.

It’s going to be a problem.

This type of column by Cameron certainly won’t help.

Plus it’s ridiculous.

Speaking of ridiculous…

Why are people discussing a long-term contract extension for Eric Hosmer and worrying about Scott Boras’s posturing about his player’s potential free agency?

You can read about this strangeness here on MLBTradeRumors.

Hosmer just got to the big leagues. How about having a look at him to see how he handles the circumstances before signing him long-term and locking him through arbitration/free agency? Maybe give him a chance to succeed or fail on his own?

There are so many inconsistencies and easily batted down arguments to the concept of signing him long-term immediately.

Boras is anything but stupid. Do you really believe that he’s going to allow another team to sign a contract like that which was signed by Evan Longoria right after he got to the big leagues? Longoria’s contract has been called the most value-laden in history in terms of money saved and performance; but it was still a risk for both sides. It turns out the Rays made out like bandits in the deal and Longoria—while securing long-term security for himself—cost himself a ton of cash.

Them’s the breaks.

Simply because Longoria chose the extension rather than playing it out; that the Rays made such a gutsy and retrospectively brilliant move (and it could’ve failed had Longoria faltered), doesn’t provide a template for the future of every player. Boras won’t advise his players to do such a deal. If they hire Boras to begin with, that means they want to get paid, period.

As teams have signed their young stars to long-term deals, some have chosen to tear up said deals repeatedly—as the Rockies did with Troy Tulowitzki—and extend the extensions on top of the extensions. If Hosmer signed a deal now, what difference would that make? A contract is relatively meaningless if a motivated player decides he wants to be traded as Zack Greinke did this past winter to Hosmer’s team, the Royals.

Why should the Royals and their fans even be concerned about this now and why would there be the suggestion that they won’t have the money to sign Hosmer when the time comes?

Hosmer’s years away from free agency and the Royals have been mentioned as a possible destination for Albert Pujols if he leaves the Cardinals. They’ll have the money to pay Pujols but not to keep a homegrown star?

There’s mathematical formulas and objective analysis; then there’s realistic logic and common sense.

Guess where I stand in that battle for baseball’s soul.

****

Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.

//

Stereotypes, Safe And Detrimental

Books, Management, Media, Players

Dave Cameron of Fangraphs discusses the stereotypical “types” teams search for in filling positions—link.

I disagree with much of what Cameron says and, more importantly, why he says it; I detect an agenda that he and other stat people maintain to “prove” their way is best.

In this case, the premise is somewhat sound.

I can quibble with the assertion that it’s “harder to find a good hitting shortstop than any other position on the diamond”, but it’s the battle against stereotypes that—presumably—we can agree on.

I loathe the concept that a third baseman and first baseman both have to be sluggers; plodding, immobile, two-fisted maulers can be hidden in left field or first base; that the closer has to throw very, very hard; or that immutable “rules” must be adhered to when building a club.

It’s an old-school, ignorant and safety-first method of running a team.

There are so many factors in a team’s construction that holding onto any one sacrosanct concept is ruinous. What does the club need? Do they have a pitching staff that requires solid defenders? Will the player inserted at third base or first base cost the club more runs defensively than he’d provide offensively? Can the offense carry a non-existent bat?

These are not meaningless questions and they can’t be answered with the simplistic, primordial and inane “third baseman must hit homers”.

30 years ago, shortstop was a defense-first position. Before Earl Weaver shifted Cal Ripken from third base to shortstop, the position was relegated to the Bucky Dent, Mark Belanger, Larry Bowa, Ozzie Smith-type player who was in the lineup for defense and defense alone.

Look at some of the names that played shortstop regularly back in 1982 as Ripken became a shortstop who could actually hit and hit for power: Glenn Hoffman; Alfredo Griffin; Tim Foli. Apart from Robin Yount and Alan Trammell and a few that could hit a bit like U.L. Washington, Rafael Ramirez and Bill Russell, they were primarily no-hit glovemen.

Another interesting note in Ripken’s 1982 shift to shortstop was who replaced him as the primary third baseman for those Orioles. It was a minor league journeyman named Glenn Gulliver. Gulliver couldn’t hit (.200 average with no power that year), but he could walk (his OBP was .363) and field the ball at third base.

This was the ahead-of-his-time genius of Weaver—he didn’t care about perception; he inserted Gulliver into the lineup, batted him second and took advantage of what he had: a big third baseman superstar in Ripken who was quick enough and smart enough to play shortstop and a third baseman who had attributes he could take advantage of to make the team better.

It had nothing to do with clinging to stereotypes of “how things have always been”; it had to do with the hand he was holding and how best to take advantage of it.

Be wary of anything that subverts your will like the “sposdas” because it’s those who grasp frantically at the way things are “sposda” be who sabotage and ignore the obvious even if it’s right in front of their faces.

It’s the safe and stupid option.

I published a full excerpt of my book on Wednesday here.

The book is available  now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.


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Clarifications And Rhetoric

Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Media, Spring Training

Let’s start with a comment from Joe regarding yesterday’s posting.

I enjoyed this post. The one thing you could have left out was taking a shot at Dave Cameron by saying he is a stat-zombie, and is still clinging to the Moneyball-farce. Whether you think he is, is besides the point. It took away from respectually-disagreeing, which is fine. The rest of the post was really just you disagreeing with these two opinions. And was well-written and well-thought out. I would be a little concerned with his weight, and declining K rate. But I hardly think he is going to become an albatross if he doesn’t opt-out. And even if he did, this is the one organization best-suited to take that hit. Josh Beckett isn’t the same body-type. But I would feel more comfortable moving forward with Sabathia for the next five, than I would with Beckett or Lackey the next four years (And I am actually confident that Beckett and Lackey bounce back). Five years, $115 million is certainly risky for a pitcher that is going to be on the wrong side of 30, but sometimes I think it can be overblown. If this were a mid-market team, then I would hope for the opt-out to be exercised. But it isn’t a mid-market team, it’s the Yankees. However, if CC DOES opt-out, and wants an even longer deal — which he obviously will. Then I would let him walk. The deal getting even riskier, does not help the Yankees. Also, Joe Sheehan used to work for BP. So yes, he enjoys the numbers.

Joe straddles my line between remarkably useful and strangleworthy; or at least a conk on the head when he aggravates my admittedly irascible temperament.

Respectually is not a word.

Apart from that, maybe Joe’s right.

As much as the term “stat zombie” has served my purposes, perhaps it’s time to abandon it for a more inclusive discussion on what I believe and why I believe it.

In order to engage rather than immediately incite a reaction from the stat inclined to think I’m attacking them with a fighter’s stance, I’m taking a step back from the mentality of hitting first and asking questions later.

I never saw the term “stat zombie” as a negative along the lines of “stat geek” which I would find a thousand times more offensive. A geek is inept, clumsy and socially clueless; a zombie is the walking undead functioning without a conscious mind.

There’s a big difference.

Mindless adherence to numbers without room for nuance is the essence of being a zombie.

I used the term occasionally in my upcoming book and I’m not changing it now. But it’s not fostering debate. It’s inspiring an immediately contentious atmosphere and while I’m essentially unbeatable in such a circumstance, I’ll step back from it in favor of less incendiary terminology.

As for Sabathia, he did have a knee problem last season; this can be viewed in a couple of ways that bolster mine and Sheehan’s positions.

Sabathia admitted that his right knee was bothering him last season and he had a “clean-up” surgery to repair it—NY Post Story.

Since it was his right knee—his landing leg—it wouldn’t be as much of a concern were it his left leg; the dominant side is far more important to a pitcher to balance in the leg lift and explode off the rubber. The left leg holds up the entire body as Sabathia loads up to throw; this would be of greater concern to me.

The pain clearly didn’t affect his performance, nor his durability. But it’s not something to dismiss. Since he’s lost weight and had the issue repaired, it’s all the more reason to discount it as a reason not to bring him back if he does opt out.

His performance in 2010 with a knee problem and the steps to ease the pressure are bigger indications that he’s going to do everything he can to live up to his salary and importance to the club independent of salary and contract length.

But Sheehan’s suggestion of knee problems is not so easily ignored.

Here’s what I would do if I were the Yankees; if Sabathia has another Cy Young Award-caliber year and opts out—I’d give him a raise and do everything I could to keep the years at five.

Hypothetically, with his current deal, a raise from 4 remaining years at $92 million to 5 years at $130 million isn’t out of line for either side. Sabathia’s not getting that money anywhere else; presumably the only way he’d leave the Yankees would be to head back to Northern California. The Athletics can’t pay him; the Giants are going to have to lock up both Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum and are still under the Barry Zito albatross through 2013.

He’s got nowhere to go for a raise.

With the Yankees sudden interest in fiscal restraint, it has to be taken into consideration how much money they’ve wasted in the past. This year alone they’re paying Damaso Marte and Kei Igawa a combined $8 million and tried to bring back Carl Pavano.

Carl.

Pavano.

Are they going to explain away letting Sabathia walk over an extra year and $30 million? The Yankees?

He won’t leave whether he opts out or not. They won’t let him leave because he’s got nowhere to go and they can’t let him leave.

Finally, I received the list that Sheehan alluded to in comparing Sabathia to other pitchers of similarly grand stature.

Special shout-out to Baseball-Reference for the information.

The lists are available here for the height requirement and weight of above 260 pounds; and here for 270 pounds-plus.

Here’s what I wrote yesterday before having the lists:

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?”

I was right.

Here are some of the more recognizable names; you be the judge: Chris Young, Daniel Cabrera, Armando Benitez, Jon Rauch, Seth McClung, Jonathan Albaladejo, Andy Sisco…do I need to go on?

Young was an All Star; I always loved Cabrera’s talent; Benitez was a good closer; Rauch is useful; Mike Francesa had a man-crush on Sisco; but are any of the names on that list in a category with Sabathia?

No.

Not even close.

It ‘s a reflection on the twisted nature of such an argument that the names were left out. If they’d been added, the disclosure would’ve been full and while it might have watered down Sheehan’s hypothesis, at least he’d have been on the high ground and not appeared to have been hiding facts for convenience sake.

These…stat….people (there, I said it) have something to say.

If they want a debate, it works both ways. I’ve made my way to the bargaining table sans the high intensity of unrestrained rage (yet still armed with Force Lightning if anyone still wants to scrap—and lose).

If they want a meeting of the minds, I’ll listen. Attentively and with my guard still up to an acceptable level.

Joe (StatMagician on Twitter) is a peacemaker—the ambassador to the stat people.

We’ll see where this goes…

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.