Precision Strikes 5.12.2011

Books, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

Let’s try some short bursts of….stuff.

More Mets-style bad luck in Anaheim.

I said at the time of Angels first baseman Kendry Morales‘s ankle injury (incurred when leaping onto home plate to celebrate a game-winning homer) that it was the type of thing that heretofore only happened to the Mets.

Now it’s gotten worse as Morales’s ankle isn’t healing sufficiently and he needs season-ending surgery to repair it.

It was a stupid injury in an innocuous situation and it might have ruined Morales’s career. There’s no lamentation necessary. It happened and not much can be done other than hope this new surgery works to fix Morales.

This is slightly out of context.

Mets GM Sandy Alderson discounted the notion that the Mets would trade Jose Reyes and then try to re-sign him as a free agent after the season—MLBTradeRumors.

One of the reasons Alderson mentions is the lack of history of teams trading a player and then re-signing him as a free agent.

What’s missed is how many teams actually even attempted to re-sign a player they traded immediately following the season.

Austin Kearns returned to the Indians after last season; Jim Thome was ready to return to the White Sox after 2009; but apart from that, how often has there been an avid pursuit of a player like Reyes who’s in his prime and set to go for a Carl Crawford-style payday?

I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

Bartolo Colon‘s succes “explained”?

Bartolo Colon’s treatment in coming back from injuries is detailed here in this NY Times Story.

What this means is anyone’s guess. It seems to be working for now. I’m highly dubious about Colon for the long term and I’m guessing reality will hit within the next month.

The doctor in question looks like he wants attention and/or clients; MLB is “investigating”, which shouldn’t inspire much confidence considering history and the “don’t ask/don’t tell” nature of prior PED “investigations”.

What I find most striking in the Times piece is the following:

Colon, whose English is limited, answered only, “I don’t know, I don’t know,” in Spanish when asked last week about his medical treatment in the Dominican Republic.

Bartolo Colon has been in the big leagues since 1997.

He still doesn’t speak English?

Really?

****

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.

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//

Viewer Mail 4.9.2011

Books, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

Peter Van Markwyk writes RE Rafael Soriano:

Doesn’t Soriano have some access to a PR company to give him a few sound bites? He could have headed off the media and taken the issue on straight with a few sound bites that said things like, “I just didn’t have the control I usually have,” or “I misjudged the Twins patience at the plate,” or something simple like, “I am disappointed in my performance today.” Anything along those lines would have been enough to squeak by, and following up with a solid performance next time would put the issue to bed.

Instead, this will now be a focus, and put pressure on Soriano to do well every time. Not a well thought out plan for him.

The Yankees provide the PR assistance. Soriano ran out.

He could’ve stood there, uttered three or four cliches and been done with it. The media would’ve respected him for standing there and not given him such a hard time.

Now when he blows another game there will be the anticipation to see if he’ll speak, what he’ll say and some will give him an even harder time for payback or to see if they can get a rise out of him for a juicier story.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Soriano:

Why aren’t Jeter and A-Rod and whoever else coming to Soriano and guiding him in the right New York direction? With all the ice-veined vets on that team, one would think ONE of them would befriend this dude and set him straight with how to go about his business. They’ve had plenty of time to prep him for this sorta thing.

From what I understand, Soriano doesn’t socialize much with teammates and never has; he does his own thing and disappears. Barry Bonds could get away with being mercurial; Rafael Soriano can’t.

When he was signed, it was said that the influence of Mariano Rivera would be a boon to Soriano’s reputation and he’d learn how to comport himself appropriately.

It hasn’t taken hold yet.

Sarge writes RE Scott Kazmir:

As an Angels fan, all I’ve heard for a year and a half is that Kazmir just “needs to put it all together”, “find his consistent release point”, blah blah, and that he’s always content with his start no matter how badly he gets creamed. Sorry – time’s up! Best case scenario for Kazmir this year is 7-15, and that’s with the Angels scoring a ton of runs when he starts, like they did vs the Royals on Sunday (when Kaz couldn’t get out of the third ining). Surely to God someone in Salt Lake can do better than that!! Even if a Bee came up and went 10-15 those extra 3 wins might be what’s needed to reclaim the division. But I’d never thought of putting Kaz in the bullpen .. interesting idea. We need a mop up man … maybe that’s a role in which he can “find himself” without consistently turning a potential victory into a defeat.

The Angels are slowly becoming the Mets.

I said at the time that the Kendry Morales injury happened in a way that could heretofore only happen to the Mets; now the Angels have placed Kazmir on the disabled list with a “lower back strain”—ESPN Story.

Oliver Perez mysteriously injured his knee after the club tried to send him for a rehab stint in the minors and he refused; the “injury” conveniently got everyone on the same page. Perez was able to go down to the minors for a few rehab starts without actually going down to the minors as a demotion.

The Angels have been willful in sticking to “their” way of doing things in the past. I question whether they’ll put Kazmir in the bullpen and leave him there when his “lower back strain” is better.

He’s still on the roster and getting a chance to pitch because of what he was 3-4 years ago and that he’s making a lot of money. He’ll get another chance due to those reasons as well.

Franklin Rabon writes RE the Red Sox start:

For a sport so obsessed with statistics, I’m always dumbfounded by how fundamentally terribly most sportswriters understand statistics. Statistics are supposed to be about expanding the information we have on a topic by giving a perhaps underappreciated angle on some phenomenon, then analyzing the phenomenon under the light of the maximum amount of the most informative information you have.

The Red Sox 0-6 start is mostly meaningless. It does perhaps blunt expectations for the team ,by maybe 4 games, so instead of thinking they’ll win 103 games, maybe they just win 97. In focusing on the 0-6 start writers are lazily focusing on one stat with extremely limited informational value. And worse than that, equivocating this team with extraordinarily different teams.

My problem with the way the 0-6 start was the catalyst for references to history is that they were taking it grossly out of context by not divulging (or looking for) information about the other teams that had started so poorly.

Here’s the list again—teams that started off 0-6.

Most of them were terrible!!

The media is picking and choosing numbers and dissemination of information to bolster their argument; all that does—when it’s discovered—is sabotage their credibility by making them appear shady or reluctant to provide full disclosure. Giving all the relevant information may water down the argument, but it also induces an aura of honesty.

Joe Sheehan did this with his piece about the Yankees, CC Sabathia, and the durability questions of pitchers who were at or around the size of Sabathia. I suspected strongly that most of the pitchers weren’t any good; weren’t in a talent class with Sabathia; and when I saw the list, I was right.

Hiding things is not a good policy.

The Red Sox will be fine.

Pam writes RE the Red Sox:

I have to be honest and say that I’m experiencing a bit of Schadenfreude as a result of the Red Sox’s woes. However, it is foolish for anyone to be dancing on their graves or predicting that they’re going to miss the playoffs.

The 2011 Red Sox are a really good team. One of the all-time greatest? I’m not so sure; that remains to be seen. But it’s ridiculous to think that these guys aren’t going to figure it out. They’re just too good. Every team has losing streaks during the season; it’s unfortunate for the Sox that their’s started on Opening Day. The Yankees will eventually have one, too, and I’ll have to grin and bear it (and will need comforting).

Chill out, Red Sox Nation.

The derangement is exemplified by the same individual who wrote the article comparing the 2011 Red Sox to the 1927 Yankees—Eric Ortiz of NESN—in his latest bit of, um, hyperbole.

At least I hope it’s simple hyperbole.

Ortiz wrote the following piece with the title: Red Sox Return to Underdog Role With Opportunity to Make History Like They Did in 2004.

He’s comparing an 0-6 record in April to falling behind 3 games to 0 in the ALCS?

Certain factions of Red Sox fandom have developed the bizarre combination of arrogance over the team’s success over the past 10 or so years and combined it with the paranoia and doubt that built up over the prior 86 years. It’s almost as if they can’t believe their good fortune and are worried about having won the lottery and someone pinching them to wake them up.

I hope Ortiz is an intentional shill for the Red Sox on NESN.

I’d hate to hope someone gets paid for writing the stuff he does and truly believes it, but considering the things people say, write, read and purchase nowadays, I fear the convictions are strong and unmatched with reality or any true understanding of baseball.

****

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available and will be useful for your fantasy leagues all season long. It’s not a “preview”; it’s a 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 also 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. We’ll hash out the details.

I’ve started a Facebook fan page if you’d like to be my fan.


//

Mania

Hot Stove

The speed with which we get information today can be a good or bad thing. Many times it’s positive as in cases of Amber Alerts and dangerous occurrences; other times it’s not. From the premature reports of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’s death to the comparatively trivial injury to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in which he was accused of giving up and begging out of the NFC Championship on Sunday when he was really hurt, people’s lives and reputations are affected.

It’s reactionary and ill-thought out.

Now we’re seeing the same thing with the Los Angeles Angels and their so-called “desperation” trade for Vernon Wells.

In the immediate aftermath of the deal’s announcement, I too was bewildered at why any team would want to take Wells’s contract from the Blue Jays with negligible relief (said to be $5 million) on the remaining $86 million guaranteed. That the Angels gave up two productive and cheap pieces in Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera made it all the more confusing.

But then I looked at it more deeply.

The trade, after cursory internet reaction, was awful. When examined closely, it made a certain amount of sense. Now, after studying the Angels; their situation; their division; their needs; and what Wells and subsequent additions will provide, it could get them back into the playoffs.

The Angels faded out last season for three reasons: a lack of scoring; injuries; and a bad bullpen.

If the Angels make one more acquisition to bolster the lineup, the scoring problem will be mitigated. The negatives of Wells—apart from his salary—are known and accurate: he’s streaky, doesn’t get on base and is overrated defensively. But for the Angels, he fits into what they want to do.

Affording them the option of not having to rely on a 24-year-old Peter Bourjos to save their season, they can play Wells in center field if necessary. This would free them to do a couple of things. They’re pursuing Scott Podsednik or Vladimir Guerrero.

The Podsednik talk elicits ridicule in stat zombie circles, but isn’t a terrible idea at all. He can still run and play solid defense in left; with a career .340 on base percentage, he’d give RBI chances to the bats behind him. Plus he’d be cheap.

I’d go after Guerrero before Podsednik. Guerrero’s rejuvenation in Texas was not due simply to him being in a hitter’s heaven of a ballpark at home; I think he was healthy again. Guerrero hit well on the road last season and if he returned to Anaheim and provided 25 homers and 90-100 RBI—not absurd requests—the Angels offensive woes at DH are solved.

In addition to that, who can tell how much Guerrero’s absence as a father figure to Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis contributed to their poor seasons? If Aybar and Izturis hit somewhere close to the way they did in 2009, the Angels will have far more scoring opportunities.

The offensive woes were evident in greater detail after Kendry Morales‘s season-ending ankle injury. Right there, the Angels went from having a power hitting first baseman and a rightfully part-time power hitting catcher in Napoli to having Napoli playing every day at first base and the no-hit Jeff Mathis catching.

Losing the big power threat affects everything. Napoli was admirable in an unfamiliar role, but it meant that he was playing every day; that Mathis was playing regularly; and that Bobby Abreu was relied on more than was feasible given his age.

Certain players are better off not playing every day because once they play every day, they’re exposed. This is what happened to Napoli playing first base in place of Morales.

With Wells in and Napoli and Rivera out, the Angels not only have another power bat in their lineup, they’re free to address other needs at either DH or left field.

The Angels troubles were exacerbated by Howie Kendrick‘s poor year accompanying the down seasons from Aybar, Izturis and Abreu. Was Kendrick exposed like Napoli after he was forced to play every day following the free agent departure of Chone Figgins? Considering his career in the majors and minors, I’d say no; he’s been a .300 hitter at every level.

Abreu, despite his age, has been too good for too long to have another down year like he had in 2010. Being left alone in the lineup didn’t help Abreu either. The lineup’s better, Abreu will be better.

So let’s say Abreu gets back to 20 homers, and a .370 on base percentage; that Wells hits 25 homers and drives in 90; that Morales bats .300, has 25 homers and 100 RBI; that they get either Guerrero or Podsednik; that Kendrick, Aybar and Izturis have better seasons—don’t you see how much that will improve their offense?

In addition to losing Morales, the injuries to Joel Pineiro and Scott Kazmir sabotaged the Angels badly in 2010. Pineiro was on his way to a fine season before a strained oblique landed him on the disabled list. Kazmir hadn’t pitched all that well, but he provided innings at the back of the rotation.

Amid all the stories of the failed pursuits this winter—most notably Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre—it’s forgotten that the Angels made a significant mid-season upgrade in their starting rotation when they got Dan Haren from the Diamondbacks. Replacing the hittable Joe Saunders with Haren gives the Angels two top-tier starters fronting their rotation with Jered Weaver and Haren; right behind them is another very good pitcher, Ervin Santana; then you have Pineiro and Kazmir.

That’s one of the top rotations in baseball.

The bullpen?

Even if you don’t trust Fernando Rodney as closer, they acquired lefties Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi. Downs—durable, underrated and able to get out hitters from both sides of the plate—will help a lot. Takahashi was invaluable to the Mets in a variety of roles from starter to long reliever to set up man to closer. He’s fearless and the Angels are presumably going to use him in a similar way as the Mets did. There were many games that Takahashi entered with the Mets trailing by multiple runs; he quieted things down and gave the club time to chip away. The work he did as a closer was impressive.

The Angels have a slight hole behind the plate with the departure of Napoli, but they do have a prospect in Hank Conger to share time with Mathis and Bobby Wilson. Conger has hit at every minor league level—minor league stats.

Manager Mike Scioscia—a tough as nails, defensive-minded catcher as a player—likes his catchers to be able to handle the pitching staff first and foremost. If Conger can do that, he’s an under-the-radar Rookie of the Year candidate.

I’d shut my eyes and play Conger.

As for their competition in the AL West, is it so crazy to think the Angels could emerge from the three team scrum with the Rangers and Athletics?

The Rangers can really hit, but have questions in their starting rotation; their bullpen won’t be as good as it was last season; and their manager Ron Washington is a walking strategic gaffe waiting to happen. They’re the American League champs and will be so until they’re knocked off the perch, but they’re beatable.

The Athletics are a trendy pick (again) because of the aggressive acquisitions of David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui in the their lineup; Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour for the bullpen. But their starting rotation is very, very young; young pitchers tend to fluctuate in performance as they’re establishing themselves. It’s not an automatic that Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden will repeat their work from last season.

There’s an eagerness to leap back onto the Billy Beane bandwagon—an overeagerness based on the desire to “prove” Moneyball as having been accurate in advance of the movie even though there’s no connection to what Beane did this winter to Moneyball the book or film.

But I digress. I’ll swing that hammer when the time comes.

Are the Angels, with their success over the past decade, suddenly fodder for ridicule? Isn’t it possible that they calculated the pros and cons of taking Wells’s contract for Napoli and Rivera and decided it was worth it?

Regarding the money, what’s a reasonable amount to pay for the top earners on a club? How much of a percentage is doable? For the Blue Jays, with an $80 million payroll, Wells’s onerous deal, with $23 million coming to him this season, had to go; for the Angels, with a $120 million payroll and substantial money coming off the books after this season, it’s not crazy to handle Wells’s deal without complaint. How much is a viable percentage for a team’s big money players in relation to the club’s payroll? For the Blue Jays, Wells didn’t make sense; for the Angels, he does.

The key for the Angels in 2011 is that they score enough runs to support that starting rotation. With Wells and one more offensive player added, they’ll have achieved that end. In the final analysis, that’s all that really matters in making them a legitimate playoff contender again; and no matter what print and online criticism they receive, they are contenders again because of the acquisition of Vernon Wells.