Armchair Analysis from Earth to Jupiter

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To highlight the madness surrounding the pigeonholing of players based on factors that have nothing to do with anything, below is a clip from this Joe Sheehan posting on Baseball Prospectus in 2004:

The Joe Mauer Express appears to be steaming down the tracks right now. The 21-year-old Twin has been named the game’s top prospect by both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America, one of those rare confluences of agreement between the two that mark a player as a future star. ESPN.com had him on their main baseball page on Tuesday, and Peter Gammons wrote glowingly not only of Mauer’s skill, but of the high opinion in which the young catcher is held.

I think Mauer is currently a good baseball player. He’s shown offensive and defensive development in his three professional seasons, and while I still think the Twins should have taken Mark Prior in 2001–how different might their two playoff losses have gone with the big right-hander?–clearly it’s not like they ended up with a bum. Mauer is going to eventually be a productive left-handed hitter; comparable to Mike Sweeney, with maybe a bit more power and patience.

I just don’t agree that Mauer is a future star behind the plate, and it has everything to do with his height. Mauer is listed at 6’4″, and people that height or taller just don’t have long, successful careers at the catching position.

With the freedom of retrospection I can write pages and pages as to why Sheehan’s Mauer projection was ridiculous. Mike Sweeney? Mauer’s height? Mark Prior?

But I’m not referencing this to ridicule Sheehan. Instead, I want to highlight why the Mets’ new catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud shouldn’t be placed into a category due to discriminatory history or his height of 6’2”.

Joel Sherman makes a similarly broadbased statement regarding former Cy Young Award winners—like R.A. Dickey—who were traded for packages of prospects as if the past is a prologue to the future when developing baseball players who come in different shapes, sizes and ability levels. Matt LaPorta headlined the package the Brewers sent to the Indians for CC Sabathia. Justin Smoak was the main ingredient that led the Mariners to walk away from the Yankees’ offer for Cliff Lee and send the pitcher to the Rangers. The Zack Greinke return to the Royals from the Brewers has done little of note.

What this has to do with Dickey, d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard is a mystery.

Or maybe it’s not a mystery. Maybe this type of questioning is undertaken to blur the lines of critique and credit and provide the individual making the distinction some form of credibility for these judgments. This is not to undermine the factual nature of what Sheehan and Sherman wrote, but to show the flaws in the foundation upon which they’re built and the intentions of those who wrote them. Do they really believe this nonsense to be valid or are they appealing to a constituency by being contrary.

I’d hate to think they believe it, but considering their histories, I have a hunch they do. Unable as they are to provide analysis stemming from their own assessments, they have to find “things” like height and “comparable” deals that aren’t relevant or comparable at all. Theoretical science can make a case for anything if one chooses to search for individual occurrences or cherrypicked stereotypes to support it, but use your intelligence and decide on your own whether this makes sense or it’s outsiders digging through the trash for self-aggrandizing purposes.

In what other industry is such a negligible and disconnected set of principles taken as a portent of what’s to come? Sherman’s and Sheehan’s logic is akin to saying that because the Rangers made one of the worst trades in the history of baseball when they sent Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka that GM Jon Daniels is a bumbling idiot; or that because Daniels made up for that horrific gaffe by trading Mark Teixeira to the Braves for a package that included Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Elvis Andrus that he deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. Or that because James Shields was drafted in the 16th round by the Rays in 2000 means that the Rays’ 16th round pick last season, shortstop Brett McAfee, will turn into a breakout star as Shields did. Or that trading X first baseman for Y relief pitcher and Z young starter will turn into a Keith Hernandez for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey heist for the Mets and dreadful mistake for the Cardinals.

Or that Mauer shouldn’t have made it as an All-Star catcher and MVP because he’s “too” tall. The same height argument is being made about d’Arnaud now and it’s pointless.

This is why armchair experts are sitting in the armchair and clicking away at their laptops and smartphones making snide comments without consequences simultaneously to experienced baseball people running clubs and determining the value of players; whether they’re worth a certain amount of money; deciding to keep or trade them in the real world. You can’t cover up a lack of in-the-trenches work and knowledge accumulated over the decades with random numbers and baseless statistics. It’s called scouting and it can’t be done with the above attempts to connect the dots, especially when one dot is on Earth and the other on Jupiter.

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The Tigers Go Big Ticket; the Indians Go Smart

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The Tigers spent $214 million to create a mess with their manager insisting he’s going to harm their defense in the face of reality and, by extension, harm their pitching staff by shifting Miguel Cabrera to third base to accommodate Prince Fielder.

This was in response to the season-ending knee injury to DH Victor Martinez.

Logic would dictate that the best course of action would be to have Fielder and Cabrera share first base and DH duties and to play the defensively minded Brandon Inge and Don Kelly at third base.

But logic has little to do with a stubborn, old-school baseball guy like manager Jim Leyland whose hardline statement that Cabrera is going to play third base appears, for now, as if it’s going to result in Cabrera actually playing third base.

To compound matters, Leyland has also said he’s not going to pull Cabrera for defense late in games.

Whether or not it’s bluster on the part of the manager to get his star player’s ego in check and wait until spring training to talk him and Fielder into sharing DH duties is the question. Will the sight of balls bouncing through the infield at a ridiculous rate and the pitchers’ collective anger trump Leyland’s, Cabrera’s and Fielder’s individual desires and self-interests?

In the normal world, the answer would be yes.

But this isn’t the normal world. It’s baseball.

The Tigers’ biggest rivals in the AL Central, the Indians, made a smart signing for $211 million less than what the Tigers guaranteed for Fielder when they signed veteran Casey Kotchman to a 1-year, $3 million contract.

No one is going to compare Kotchman to Fielder offensively, but defensively, he’s far superior to the immobile Fielder/Cabrera and, if last season is any indication, he’s no longer a liability at the plate as he was in the two seasons prior to 2011.

Because Kotchman fits into the Indians lineup and they’re not creating a redundancy by putting any player out of position to stuff him in, it’s a more reasonable signing than the Tigers’ decision to buy a Lamborghini (Fielder) to replace their damaged Porsche (Martinez) with the lack of space in the garage to make it sensible.

The Indians had been facing the prospect of playing the disappointing Matt LaPorta at first base with catcher Carlos Santana also seeing time at the position. Now they can play Kotchman relatively regularly.

As long as the Tigers don’t move forward with the charade of playing Cabrera at third base, then the Fielder signing is going to help them a great deal; but if they insist on implementing such a defensive catastrophe and do so because of Leyland’s obstinate nature, then it’s a disaster waiting to happen no matter how many homers and massive OPS numbers Fielder and Cabrera combine to provide.

The Tigers are going to disrupt their contact-based pitching staff by hardheadedly concerning themselves more with Cabrera’s and Fielder’s happiness and Leyland’s contrarian nature. The Indians are adhering to their needs by signing a player who slides neatly into their on-field and financial structure.

It can be argued that the Indians made a better overall signing with Kotchman.

Believe it or not.

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Sith Lord Saturday 2.26.2011

Free Agents, Media, Spring Training

You’ve heard of Sunday Lightning, well then welcome to Sith Lord Saturday—to be utilized when there’s a load of stuff to address on a Saturday.

  • The Mets, Madoff, MLB and money:

The Mets are starting to look like something out of The Producers.

Is it possible that the annual screw-ups are a matter of design? That the way the club is spiraling into the depths—first on the field and now off—is part of some grand scheme hatched by an amoral puppeteer?

No. It’s not me.

I say it’s probably not a plot. They mean well but aren’t that clever.

The latest in the Mets-Bernie Madoff saga is that the club received what amounts to being a “bridge loan” for liquidity in November; the loan, $25 million, was provided by MLB itself and was not revealed until yesterday—NY Times Story.

This story is ever-evolving and doesn’t have a clear end in sight in time or result. I’m not convinced that the Wilpons won’t be able to wriggle their way out of it; much depends, of course, on how long the lawsuit drags and whether or not it can be settled; the easy answer—that I too have been saying—is that they’ll have no choice but to sell the team.

Just yesterday I suggested that the reluctance to sell now is due, in part, to not wanting to have the profit that would accompany such a full blown sale left sitting there for the plaintiffs to take immediately.

But the more I think about it, the less appropriate is for a still-developing story to be analyzed on the fly.

People have criticized Mike Francesa for his attempts to clarify the saga by speaking to experts and taking calls from people with knowledge of the law, stocks and banking. After the first few days of the usual Francesa self-proclaimed expertise, he showed deference and admitted that he doesn’t know much about this as he tried to sift through the information he was getting.

That’s the point.

We only have bits and pieces of information and there are very few people with the breadth of knowledge and experience to interpret what’s happening to come to a reasonable and well-thought-out conclusion.

It’s all chatter now. Small, isolated jagged shards of information that, left alone, don’t tell the whole tale. But that’s all we’re getting.

It’s irresponsible for people to be predicting a sale; a bankruptcy; or vindication when few know or comprehend the scope of the situation.

We won’t know until we know. It has to play itself out completely.

  • In Brown we do not trust:

I’m not sure why the Phillies didn’t take a chance on Manny Ramirez.

They clearly don’t trust Domonic Brown as their everyday right fielder and are looking for a competent, “just-in-case” veteran who can play right. They looked into Jeff Francoeur before he signed with the Royals; and have asked the Nationals about Mike Morse.

Morse would be a fine pickup for the Phillies—a Jayson Werth-type gamble of a player who’s never gotten a chance—if the Nats are dealing him.

I doubt they will. The Nats offense is weak and I sense that Werth will be playing a lot of center this season with Morse in right to boost the offense.

The Phillies have a tendency to make absolutely sure their in-house products are ready before letting them play full time in the big leagues. They did so with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and J.A. Happ—all three of whom could’ve been productive big leaguers before they got the chance.

In fairness to the Howard situation, his way was blocked by Jim Thome and they had nowhere to put him.

The others were held back until their mid-20s.

You can’t argue with the Phillies development apparatus, but Brown is the one player they refused to trade in the flurry of deals for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, et, al. They can’t give him a legitimate chance to play?

One could argue that the decision to hold said players back is financial; that they want to get full production from them in their prime years before having to pay them big money. You could blow the financial sanity argument away by looking at the lunatic contract they gave to Howard to preclude his free agency.

I can’t escape the fact that the Phillies are looking for a right field bat; that Manny signed for nothing with the Rays; Charlie Manuel was a father-figure to Manny; in the Phillies offense, he’d be an ancillary piece; and in the ballpark, he’d hit his homers.

They put up with Werth’s attitude, could Manny have been much worse?

  • Slow and steady editing; thinking before hitting publish:

Some people shouldn’t indulge in stream-of-consciousness reactions before commenting.

Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated is one such person.

He appears to have deleted the tweets, but I know he said them because I saw them and commented on them as they happened. It’s not a big deal, but Heyman said something to the tune of the Indians were making nice under-the-radar signings to improve.

Chad Durbin and Orlando Cabrera might be nice signings for a team like the Yankees as veterans to bolster to the current roster, but the Indians?

At risk of betraying the mysteryyyy of my upcoming book, the signings of Durbin and Cabrera are likely to spur the Indians from a record of 67-95 to a record of….67-95.

The Indians could be slightly better than that if a vast array of “ifs” come to pass.

If Travis Hafner stays healthy…

If Grady Sizemore recovers from micro-fracture surgery…

If Carlos Santana develops into the Victor Martinez-type hitter he’s shown minor league evidence of being…

If Carlos Carrasco and Justin Masterson show anything as starters behind Fausto Carmona

If Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta hit…

If, if, if…

These tweets were following the criticism of Luis Castillo for not showing up to Mets camp early; then Heyman made snide comments about being “sick” of Castillo and that the club should release him and sign David Eckstein.

Thanks for the input and idiocy after: A) Castillo wasn’t required to arrive early; and B) the player’s brother was having surgery.

There are clever analytical responses that are inherent to credibility—this is required for an outlet like Twitter.

Heyman’s missing it.

There’s being witty without being mean.

He’s missing that too.

Not only is he weak (he blocked me on said apparatus known as Twitter—literally for nothing other than pointing out that he’s got no sense of humor); and he’s somewhat vicious in a wimpy, passive-aggressive sort of way.

It’s not a positive trait to have especially if he can dish it out and not take it.