Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Not As Strange As It Seemed For Sox and Yankees

So in reading Aviv's piece about all the problems the Yankees have going into 2014, it was cool to see him work the old Strat-o-Matic game into the piece. I had a copy as well when I was younger. It's collecting dust in my parents' attic, next to my old Commodore 64.

Yes, I am old.

Anyway, it got me to thinking. One of the things that news organizations and/or websites like to do on the verge of a new season or major sporting event is to simulate the possible outcome. The NFL did this back in September (and refused to tell who won). For the World Cup next June, the Daily Mirror in the UK has predicted yet another win for Brazil. And you can find it for just about any event.

But what about simulating something that already happened? To see if the reality of a season matches up to what the computer program thought would happen.


Spoilers.


Basically, I wanted to see if Boston's triumph and the Yankees descent to mediocrity would also play out on my computer screen. So, to that end I went online and purchased Out of the Park Baseball '14, which is about the best baseball simulator you can get on a PC. If you love stats and getting into the weeds when it comes to baseball, it's right up your alley.

I have seen predictions based on doing over 100 simulations of a season's possible outcome. I, sadly, do not have that kind of time. And if I did, I'd likely be doing something else with said time (tasting whisky in Scotland would be a much better endeavor). But I felt like doing only one simulation allowed for wild inaccuracies. So I compromised and simulated the 2013 season 10 times.

Emails Don't Clear A-Rod, But Put Levine In Hot Seat

None of it exonerates Alex Rodriguez. None of it takes the Yankees' embattled slugger off the hook. None of it makes A-Rod look any better.

The only thing it does is raise serious questions about Yankees president Randy Levine.

Over the weekend, New York magazine published a series of email exchanges between Rodriguez and Levine. It is fascinating reading, but lacking in anything close to clearing A-Rod.

During the climax of the arbitration hearing in front of arbitrator Fredric Horowitz in November, Rodriguez stormed out the hearing and his legal and public relations team then threatened show everything it had to the public. Among the things they said they were going to show was a series of email exchanges with Levine.

While we don't know for sure that these emails were leaked by Team A-Rod, if these are the messages Rodriguez wanted to make public, then he needs better representation.

Simply put, there is nothing there to show that A-Rod was not using performance enhancing drugs. There is nothing there to show A-Rod is the victim of a witch hunt. There is nothing there to show that A-Rod is a victim of anyone besides himself.

If anything, these emails would have been better served as leverage to gain some sort of plea bargain with MLB for a reduced suspension.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Yankees Still 'Asking All The Wrong Questions'

I wish I could say Grantland's Rany Jazaleri and Dave are wrong.*

But I can't

I wish I could show the combination of Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian Roberts give the Yankees a better lineup than the combination of Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Chris Stewart, and likely Vernon Wells, who somehow played 130 games last season.

But they don't.

In 2009, I was able to show Dave how the signings of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett would reverse a trend of declining innings out of the Yankees' starting pitchers and end what had become an over-reliance on their bullpen. The Yankees won the World Series that year.

But this is not 2009. We're heading into the 2014 season and the Yankees have not come close to addressing their needs.

And sadly, as I was introducing my son to Strat-O-Matic Baseball while we were snowed in last weekend, it occurred to me why the Yankees are in such trouble.

To borrow a quote from "Moneyball," the Yankees' "thinking is medieval." They still "are asking all the wrong questions."



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Why the Yankees Won't be Competitive Going Forward...Why Boston Will

There is an excellent, excellent piece at Grantland by Rany Jazaleri that covers why the most successful franchise in the history of Major League Baseball will be distinctly mediocre in the future.

Rany goes into deep detail about why this is. How the Yankees over-performed last season. How paying hundreds of millions of dollars for Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury almost makes up for losing Robinson Cano. How this Yankee team is amazingly, amazingly old. In fact, they were the only team in MLB last season with a roster than had an average age of 31 or higher. Signing a 30-year-old Ellsbury actually makes the Yankees younger.


Members of the Yankees' 2014 lineup


But the biggest reasons lie in two areas. First, the well-known Yankee penchant for signing or trading for big-name players. When they sign them as free agents, they lose draft picks. When they trade for them, the Yankees give up whomever happens to be the best players in their farm system at that time. The result is a barren farm system that cannot supplement an aging team with any comparable level of talent. As Rany points out:

There also isn't enough talent on the way. You'll notice that, in this entire article, I've yet to mention a single prospect or rookie who's ready to step in for the Yankees, giving them upside and youth in a nice, payroll-cleansing package. That's because they don't have any. While the Red Sox have Bogaerts and Bradley ready, the Rays have a full season of Wil Myers in store, the Blue Jays have Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, and the Orioles have the electric Manny Machado along with pitchers Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, the Yankees have … bubkes. No rookies, no second-year players who might take a step forward. Their farm system is terribly weak; Jason Parks, the chief prospect guru for Baseball Prospectus, recently described it as "[Double-A catcher] Gary Sanchez and a list of interchangeable prospects with reliever profiles or bench futures." By comparison, the Red Sox's farm system is so deep that, according to Baseball America's Ben Badler, they may have as many as 10 of the top 100 prospects in baseball.


And he isn't wrong about the Boston system. Living outside of Portland, ME I get to see these guys. And there is some major talent that will be hitting Boston in the next couple of years.

And that leads the the second reason why the Yankees are going to slide and slide hard. And it's almost easy to miss. Rany mentions it towards the end of his piece but it is important and I think is the over-arching reason why this is happening. Again, from Rany:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Year Ago

A year ago I was sitting at my desk at work when the first alert came across for an active shooter situation in Newtown, Conn.

Wait! What? Newtown? My colleagues and I were just at a restaurant there the night before for a surprise birthday party for our boss.

A short time later, the bulletin flashed. Shots had been fired at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Could this really be happening less than 15 miles from where I work? From where I grew up? It didn't seem possible. Still doesn't. Stuff like that doesn't happen in towns like Newtown. The news reports had to be wrong. It must have been the work of the overzealous media, all too eager to break the story first, facts be damned.

It just couldn't be real.

Except it was.

Slowly the details filtered out ... and the e-mails, texts, Facebook messages came in. Multiple dead. Teachers. Children.

By the time it was time to go home, the timeline of events of that dark, awful morning had been put together. Six brave educators and 20 innocent children slain at the hand of a mentally ill man who had gotten his hands on a small arsenal of guns.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Top Five Trades for the Red Sox

As the Winter Meetings come to an end with the Red Sox standing pat (which is a good thing), why not look back on what I think are the top five trades the Red Sox have made. This is, of course, a subjective list and your opinions may differ.

I tried to weigh impact and individual performance, which is why Joe Cronin and Lefty Grove aren't on the list. As good as they were, Grove's best years were already behind him and Cronin made more of an impact as a manager than as a player. And yes, this list is very top heavy with moves within the last 20 years or so. That is a reflection of just how piss-poor this team was at trading for players over most of it's existence. Hell, the entire 1920s is an apocalypse.

Honorable Mention. Red Sox trade Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto and cash to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Ivan De Jesus, James Loney, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa and Jerry Sands (August 25, 2012): Who the Sox got back in this deal wasn't the big win (although Webster and De La Rosa have some upside). It was dumping over $270M worth of contracts on the Dodgers to get into a position to improve the team. Without this trade, the Sox never sign Victorino, Napoli and Gomes, let alone win the World Series. They don't get to where they are today. They would be, and it may hurt someone else who writes here to hear it, the Yankees. Weighed down with players past their prime getting too much money.

5. Red Sox trade Gordon Rhodes, George Savino and $150,00 to the Philadelphia A's for Jimmy Foxx and Johnny Marcum(December 10, 1935): Rhodes would go 9-20 for the A's in 1936 and then drop out of the league while Savino never made it to the best of my knowledge. Marcum went 26-30 over three years for the Sox, but obviously this trade was all about Double-X. Foxx was a six-time All-Star in his tenure with the Sox, and won the MVP award in 1938. If it wasn't for the ridiculous talent level of the Yankees, Foxx and Williams likely would've gotten the Sox into the World Series in 1939. He was a phenomenal ballplayer and the Sox got him for nothing.

4. Red Sox trade Reggie Smith and Ken Tatum to the St. Louis Cardinals for Rick Wise and Bernie Carbo (October 26, 1973): Without this trade, who knows if 1975 holds as much meaning for Sox fans as it does today. Both Wise and Carbo would play a huge role in Boston's fortunes that year; Wise went 19-12 and Carbo knocked in 50 RBIs with an .891 OPS. And both played critical roles in Game Six of the World Series; Wise got the win that night and Carbo hit the three-run shot in the 8th that set the stage for Fisk's iconic blast in the 12th. What about Smith and Tatum, you ask? Reggie Smith went on to a pretty successful career. He went to five more All-Star games and won a title with the Dodgers in 1981. Ken Tatum? He was out of the game after the '74 season.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hey Grandy! I Got Your 'True New Yorker' Right Here!

I was going to opine about Joe Torre's election to the Hall of Fame, but then a certain former New York Yankee outfielder had to open his mouth and talk some smack.

Torre certainly is a worthy selection for the Hall, and the decision by the Veterans' Committee to elect Torre along with Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa was a stroke of genius. The induction of the that trio of the greatest managers in the history of the game is going to make for a special day in Cooperstown next summer.

But then Curtis Granderson decided to a shot across the bow of Yankee Universe during his introductory news conference with the crosstown New York Mets.

Associated Press
Addressing the media at baseball's Winter Meetings on Tuesday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Granderson said:

"A lot of people I've met in New York have always said that true New Yorkers are Mets fans. So I'm excited to get a chance to see them all out there."

Oh, really? True New Yorkers are Mets fans? And, what? Yankees fans are imported from Hop Bottom, Pa.? C'mon!

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Winter Wonderland For Cherington and the Sox

Going into the winter meetings last year, Boston had numerous holes to fill. Having gotten out from paying over a quarter of a billion dollars worth of contracts (thanks to the Dodgers' largess), they had the flexibility to look around and target key players.

Over the next few weeks, they would sign a few guys named Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino. They picked up a reliever by the name of Uehara.

I think they did pretty well last year for Boston.

This year Boston is in a much better position. Not only are they coming off a World Series championship, but they won that title in what many considered a "bridge" year. Their player contracts are well-structured, keeping them from having another Carl Crawford-esque albatross around their neck. Young players came up and contributed, making a case to be regulars going into 2014.

So Boston enters these winter meetings looking to tweak the roster rather than rework it. That allows them to deal from a position of strength; if they don't want to give away the farm to get one player, they don't have to. And they don't have to sign a pricey free agent to fill a position if the financials don't work.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Yankees Have Become MLB's Version Of Florida

Jerry Seinfeld once said that "Florida is where old people go to die." (No, Mom, I'm not saying you're old. Dad, maybe, but not you.)

But if that's the case, does that mean the Yankees are where old baseball players go to squeeze out the last days of their playing careers?

Have the New York Yankees become the Florida of Major League baseball?


With Friday's signing Carlos Beltran, who will turn 37 in April, and the re-signing of 38-year-old Hiroki Kuroda, it sure is starting to look that way.

Friday, December 6, 2013

For Cashman, Yanks, an #EPICFAIL

If there was one thing that was an absolutely must for Brian Cashman and the New York Yankees this offseason, it was to re-sign Robinson Cano.

Not only was Cano the Yankees' best player, he is one of the best players in the game ... and he also happened to be the best player on the free agent market this offseason.

And on a gray, rainy Friday in the Northeast that turned very black, Cano agreed to a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners.

Whenever your team loses it's best player, it hurts. It especially hurts coming off a year in which your offense struggled to score runs and your minor league system failed to produce anyone capable of helping Cano.

And that's not the biggest problem. Last season, the Yankees' infield was decimated by injuries, leaving Cano as the only infielder capable of producing at a high level. Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter should be back and healthy next season, but no one can be sure that they will return to pre-injury production. And there there's Alex Rodriguez, who may not even see the field this season if his 211-game suspension is upheld.

But we'll deal with what it will take to replace to Cano on another day. Today is about how the Yankees failed to keep their best player. How they utterly botched this negotiation.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Fare Thee Well, Ellsbury

So it's official. Jacoby Ellsbury will be wearing pinstripes. The Yankees have signed him to a seven-year, $153M deal with an eighth-year option.

It's not surprising that Ellsbury has left. The vibe that Ellsbury would be looking for the best deal has been around the past couple of years. Boras as his agent only reinforced that. And for various reasons I laid out last November, I never really expected the Sox to pay out over $20M a year to keep him in Boston.

I should also point out here that I don't blame Ellsbury at all for taking this deal. He's a free agent and he wants to get the most money that he can. And if a team is crazy enough to give him over $20M a year, he should grab that deal with both hands.

What I didn't expect was for the Yankees to be the team that signed him. If only because center field isn't a particular hole they need to fill. And that signing a 30-year-old position player to that long a deal is the kind of mistake they've already made.

To make this point, here are two players and their 2013 stats:
Player A: 134 Games Played | 172 H | 53 RBI | .781 OPS | 246 TB | 5.8 WAR | .992 Fielding Percentage | 347 Putouts


Player B: 145 Games Played | 147 H | 52 RBI | .759 OPS | 224 TB | 4.2 WAR | .991 Fielding Percentage | 327 Putouts


A is, of course, Jacoby Ellsbury. B is Yankees center-fielder Brett Gardner. Ellsbury is a better player...but not by much. And he isn't $17M+ better, which is the gap between the paycheck each man gets. Essentially, the Yankees just paid out over $150M for a player they already have.

And What About Cano?

So let's the this straight.

Brian Cashman and the New York Yankees have no problems giving a soon-to-be 30-year-old, injury-prone catcher whose offensive production has been in decline and has an average WAR of 1.9 over the last three years a five-year, $85 million contract with a vesting option for a sixth year. But it's Brian McCann, so it's OK to give him a bad contract.

Then on Monday the Yankees had no problems giving a 30-year-old, injury-prone outfielder whose game is based on speed and who has failed to play in even 75 games in two of the last four years a seven-year, $153 million contract, surpassing the disastrous seven-year, $142 million deal that the Red Sox gave Carl Crawford. But it's Jacoby Ellsbury, and even though he's had only one season in which he's even cracked double digit homers, it's perfectly fine to give him a contract that has nuclear meltdown written all over it.

But when it comes to Robinson Cano, the Yankees' own player who just happens to be by far the best player on the free agent market, Cashman claims to have found religion, and is holding a firm line at seven year at $25 million per year. Despite the fact that Cano has had no injury issues and has maintained his production at age 31, the Yankees have decided that it's not OK to overspend on arguably the best second baseman of this generation. It's not OK give him a contract that will turn bad in the end.

Seriously? If there is one free agent on the market who is worthy of a mega-deal, it's Cano, but all the Yankees can do is play a dangerous game with him.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

So Long, Salty. Say Hi to A.J.

The news is that the Red Sox have signed A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year/$8.25M deal.

This, as opposed to the Yankees signing Brian McCann to a 6-year/$waytoomany contract, is a good deal.

Here is the blunt truth about Saltalamacchia: he is a serviceable catcher. His average WAR over the last three years is 1.8: that is on the cusp of the substitute/starter divide. Last year he was paid $4.5M. He wants a minimum three year deal, which the Sox don't want to do (more on why in a second). And thanks to the McCann deal, he'd likely want double what he got last year over those years. The latest rumor has Miami looking to ink Salty to a four-year deal. Now, do you think he is worth four years and $36M? Me neither.

Pierzynski has averaged a 1.7 WAR over the last three years. And while Salty's bat has been better, A.J. has the better glove behind the plate. So you get essentially the same player for fewer years and less money. Not bad. But the other question is why? Why move Salty along and bring in Pierzynski for just a year.

The answer: to not block the position for up-and-coming youngsters.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Schilling for the HOF?

This year's ballot for the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame is going to be crowded. There are three first-timers that are all but guaranteed admittance to the Hall:
  • Greg Maddux
  • Frank Thomas
  • Tom Glavine
If any of those three men don't make it in the first ballot, it would make a mockery of the voting process. Two 300+ win pitchers and one of the greatest hitters in recent memory.

Then there are the guys who didn't make it in last year who should make it. Craig Biggio almost made it (68.2% of the vote last year). Jeff Bagwell has to be in there; even though suspicions of PED use exist he was never caught up in any scandal and never tested positive. Other players like Mike Piazza and Tim Raines will likely make it in at some point, if not this year.

And you have the guys coming to the end of their rope. The debate about whether Jack Morris is HOF-worthy has raged for years. Well, this is it unless the veterans put him on a future ballot. Mattingly is on his 14th ballot. My guess is neither of these guys make it in.

And let's not get started on the PED Brigade of Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and McGwire.

All this noise will likely keep two more deserving players out of the Hall for at least this year. Aviv rightly noted that Mike Mussina's numbers are good enough to make it. And I think it is worth noting that Curt Schilling should also be there at some point.

Last year Schilling received 38.8% on the ballot - a solid first year performance. And while that kind of base is no guarantee of entry (Lee Smith is still waiting on his 12th ballot), he should see that number go up.

Schilling does have a couple of things going against him. He never won a Cy Young award, despite finishing twice in the voting three times. He never had a sustained period of dominance over a number of years like Pedro did from 1997-2000, or Maddux's four straight (!) Cy Young wins from 1992-95. His 216 wins place him only 82nd on the all-time win list. And his .597 career win-loss percentage ranks him 128th all-time.

But that can be deceiving. His win percentage is still above Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton and Nolan Ryan, amongst others. Those 216 wins still put him ahead of HOFers like Bob Lemon, Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean.

Eventually Hall Will Make Moose Call

Of all the players who are on the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot, which was unveiled last week, there is no one more intriguing than Mike Mussina.

Among the players not tainted by the stain of PEDs on this ballot, there is perhaps no player who sits more firmly of the bubble between the Hall of Very Good and the Hall of Fame than Mussina.

Joining Mussina as first-timers on the ballot are Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who both should be locks to be elected this year, as well as Jeff Kent and Frank Thomas. Other candidates who received a high percent of votes last year are Craig Biggio (68.2 percent), Jack Morris (67.7 percent), Jeff Bagwell (59.6 percent) and Mike Piazza (57.8 percent). Also on the ballot are PED lepers Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro.

A player needs 75 percent of the vote cast by voting members of BBWAA to receive enshrinement.

Now Mussina is not a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Mussina getting on the first ballot is about as likely to happen as Fox News coming to understand that it's not really all that "Fair and Balanced."

In other words, it's not going to happen.