BDD: Youk Bites the Hand That Feeds

At Baseball Daily Digest, I explain why Kevin Youkilis should be more accepting of Sabermetrics.

However, if any professional baseball player should be supporting the use of Sabermetrics, it’s Youkilis. These stats have done for him what skinny mirrors do for fat people. What the movie Superbad has done for nerds. What online file-sharing has done for underground musicians. I digress — you get the point. Stats have done that body good!

Announcement

I am happy to announce that my online baseball writing will expand to yet another platform. Along with my writing here (for ESPN), at Baseball Daily Digest, and at Heater Magazine, I will now be joining Baseball Prospectus (via Heater Magazine) as well.

There’s more to it than simple statistic sharing though, as we will also feature a piece of content written by a Heater author daily here at BP, via the fantasy blog.  The plan is to give a rundown of players to look at or avoid at all positions over the course of the week, so that way you always have updated information for your roster, rather than having to wait for me to get around to that sort of thing in a twice-per-week column format.

Mondays, Michael Street, who writes on Asian-American sports and culture for Examiner.com, in addition to Heater, will cover 1B, 3B and DH.  On Tuesdays, Michael Jong, who you may know from Marlin Maniac as well as my old stomping grounds, Beyond the Box Score, will write about 2B, SS and catchers. Rob McQuown from Baseball Daily Digest and our own Unfiltered will cover Wednesdays, taking a look at outfielders. Thursdays will bring you Lee Panas, author of Detroit Tiger Tales, and our coverage of relievers. Finally, on Fridays, Bill Baer from Crashburn Alley will write about starting pitching, because if there is one thing we lack here at BP, it’s Phillies fans that are also writers.
The columns will start in March and end at the conclusion of the regular season.
I am looking forward to this new opportunity. I can’t wait to dive in.

Why A Ryan Howard Trade Makes Sense

Ruben Amaro did all of his chores this off-season. Maybe he didn’t do them as satisfactorily as we would have preferred, but he did them, damn it. He signed a third baseman, acquired an ace starter he could sign to a multi-year extension, bolstered the bench, and added depth to the bullpen. He also avoided going to arbitration with Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, Carlos Ruiz, and Chad Durbin.

The only chore left on the list is to determine the fate of right fielder — and cultivator of the beard that fried the Interwebs — Jayson Werth.

On Twitter, I briefly jawed with @Phylan of Fire Ruben Amaro and @Phrontiersman of Phillies Nation, discussing the possibility that Placido Polanco will only be the Phillies’ third baseman for the duration of the 2010 season, and then will move to second for 2011-12 following a trade of Ryan Howard and a shift to first base for Chase Utley. In my hypothetical, the trade of Howard would allow the Phillies to clear enough payroll space to re-sign Werth.

Phylan and Phrontiersman, rightly so, questioned if it was worth moving Utley’s bat and glove to a lesser position. Is it worth it? Let’s find out.

Placido Polanco

CHONE projects Polanco to be worth about 4 batting runs in 2010.

Additionally, CHONE projects Polanco to be worth about 6 fielding runs (obviously not from softball bats), but it’s based on his previous playing time at second base. As you know, Polanco will be manning the hot corner in Philadelphia, a position he hasn’t played full-time since 2002. Projecting him to be average (0 fielding runs) is optimistic, but let’s use it — again, for simplicity.

Polanco would get about 21.5 replacement-level runs if he were to accrue 650 PA. And then to adjust for position, we would give Polanco 2.5 runs (second and third base, as well as center field, add 2.5 runs).

All told, Polanco the third baseman is worth 4+ 0 + 21.5 + 2.5 = 28 runs above replacement, which roughly translates into 2.8 wins above replacement.

Polanco the second baseman is worth 4 + 6 + 21.5 + 2.5 = 34 runs above replacement, or about 3.4 WAR.

Going forward, the calculations will follow the same formula, so I won’t spell them out every step of the way. The positional adjustments are found here.

Chase Utley

Would Chase Utley be as good a defender at first base as he is at second? In a sample size roughly 36 times smaller, Chase has put up a 16.2 UZR/150 at first base (200 defensive innings) compared to a 15.5 at second (7200 defensive innings).

Most of his defensive value at second base stems from his range. On average, he’s good for about 14.5 range runs per 1,350 defensive innings, compared to 0.2 double play runs and 0.2 error runs. Utley’s performance in a very limited sample has shown that he has similar range at first base, but it needs to be regressed to the mean.

  • Double play runs: -0.2
  • Range runs: 1.8
  • Error runs: 0.5
  • Total: 2.1

CHONE projects him to provide about 4 fielding runs at second base.

Chase the second baseman: 33 + 4 + 21.5 + 2.5 = 61 RAR, 6.1 WAR

Chase the first baseman: 33 + 2 + 21.5 – 12.5 = 44 RAR, 4.4 WAR

We have to figure the value of Jayson Werth, Ryan Howard, and replacements at RF and 3B for 2011 and 1B for 2012. For the sake of argument, we’ll use CHONE’s WAR projection for 2010.

  • Werth: 4.7 WAR
  • Howard: 4.4 WAR

Again, for the sake of argument, we’ll assume the Phillies find an average player to fill in at right field, third base, and first base.

  • Average RF: 0 + 0 + 21.5 – 7.5 = 14 RAR, 1.4 WAR
  • Average 3B: 0 + 0 + 21.5 + 2.5 = 24 RAR, 2.4 WAR
  • Average 1B: 0 + 0 + 21.5 – 12.5 = 9 RAR, 0.9 WAR

Now we add it all up:

  • Utley, 1B: 4.4 WAR
  • Polanco, 2B: 3.4 WAR
  • Replacement 3B: 2.4 WAR
  • Werth: 4.7 WAR
  • Total: 14.9 WAR

The status quo:

  • Howard, 1B: 4.4 WAR
  • Utley, 2B: 6.1 WAR
  • Polanco, 3B: 2.8 WAR
  • Replacement RF: 1.4 WAR
  • Total: 14.7 WAR

Making the trade would cost the Phillies roughly one-fifth of a win above replacement. Of course, trading Howard with one year left on his contract would allow the Phillies the flexibility to sign Werth for several years (three + option most likely). In 2012, the Phillies would be getting about 15 WAR if they trade Howard, while getting only 11.2 WAR if Werth leaves after 2010 and let Howard leaves after 2011.

Plus, a Howard trade could net them prospects and some players who can help out at the big league level, perhaps someone who could contribute at an above-average level at third base. The Phillies’ Minor League system at present has only two prospects whom Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus ranks as four-star or better: Domonic Brown and Phillippe Aumont.

Like the trade of Cliff Lee, the short-term benefits of a Ryan Howard trade are marginal at best, but down the road such a maneuver would have benefits. In fact, the Lee trade is a perfect analogy: trading a star player with just one year remaining before free agency to acquire/retain someone else (Roy Halladay/Jayson Werth) who is locked up for a longer period of time.

I think that, based on the data, the domino effect of trading Ryan Howard is worth starting, but only if it was a lock that Werth would re-sign at a reasonable price. The Phillies could trade Howard and escape from his entire $20 million salary in 2011 (the more money they want to clear, the less they get back in terms of talent. Then they would re-sign Jayson Werth to a three-year, $50 million deal that is backloaded, paying him $13 million in ’11 and $18.5 million each in ’12 and ’13.

That would save the Phillies $7 million in 2011, with $125 million committed to 17 players. The top 17 Phillies this year are making a combined $136 million, so the team would actually be in better financial shape next year to round out the roster.

In short, trading Ryan Howard after the 2010 season allows the Phillies to:

  • Clear payroll space
  • Retain Jayson Werth
  • Replenish the farm system and/or acquire a productive third baseman
  • Stay competitive in 2012 and beyond, when the Phillies can lose as many as eight other players to free agency

As for caveats, there are a few. My methods for deriving the players’ level of production is somewhat arbitrary. For specificity, you would want to account for aging for all parties involved. Also excluded was base running which adds even more to the case to trade Howard, who is not a productive runner. I used CHONE projections; others may prefer another system such as PECOTA. There is also scarcity to account for, as it’s easier to find average first basemen than third basemen. Lastly, there are other scenarios in which Ryan Howard is traded that don’t involve moving Utley to first base.

Overall, though, I think I touched the most important bases. Feel free to comment and add to my case or to present a counter-argument.

Jimmy’s Got His Head in the Clouds

In previous years, when Jimmy Rollins has spoken in Clearwater, he has proven to be prescient.

Prior to the 2007 season, Rollins declared that the Phillies — not the New York Mets — were “the team to beat”. That year, Rollins became one of four players in baseball history to have a 20 double, 20 triple, 20 home run, and 20 stolen base season en route to winning the National League MVP award, and the Phillies won the NL East on the last day of the regular season.

Going into the 2008 season, Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran opened fire on Rollins, declaring that the Mets were the team to beat. Rollins responded by calling Beltran a plagiarist and declaring that the Phillies would win 100 games. The Phillies won 92 regular season games and another 11 in the playoffs, resulting in the franchise’s second World Series championship.

Last season, the Phillies once again made it to the Fall Classic. Rollins had kept his predictions to himself all season long. It was a good decision as Rollins had a disappointing year both offensively and defensively and thus unable to back up his talk as he had in previous years. However, as the Phillies were getting ready to face the New York Yankees in the World Series, Rollins took out his crystal ball on “The Jay Leno Show” and predicted the Phillies would win it all in five games, six “if we’re nice”. He was wrong as the Phillies lost in six.

Perhaps clairvoyance rises and falls with age just like physical skills like swinging a bat. Rollins will be 31 and a half years old when the regular season starts and presumably his best years are behind him. J-Roll disagrees.

Scott Lauber:

On the one-month anniversary of his wedding, Jimmy Rollins spoke to the media for nearly 20 minutes after today’s workout. Among the highlights were Rollins’ individual goals for 2010: Steal 50 bases, score 150 runs, bat .300 and make fewer than three errors.

I wanted to see in which echelon of baseball players Rollins saw himself, so I went to Baseball Reference and used their Play Index to find how many players have stolen 50 bases, scored 150 runs, and hit .300. My findings (click to enlarge):

No one has performed that well in 110 years.

I lowered the criteria to 45 stolen bases, 140 runs, and a .300 batting average. Only six players have done it:

  • Ty Cobb, 1911 Detroit Tigers: 83 SB, 147 R, .420 AVG
  • Ty Cobb, 1915 Detroit Tigers: 96 SB, 144 R, .369 AVG
  • Max Carey, 1922 Pittsburgh Pirates: 51 SB, 140 R, .329 AVG
  • Rickey Henderson, 1985 New York Yankees: 80 SB, 146 R, .314 AVG
  • Chuck Knoblauch, 1996 Minnesota Twins: 45 SB, 140 R, .341 AVG
  • Craig Biggio, 1997 Houston Astros: 47 SB, 146 R, .309 AVG

Cobb, Carey, and Henderson are Hall of Famers and Biggio will be soon enough. Just three players since 1985 have accomplished this feat out of the tens of thousands of players who have put on a Major League uniform.

The projections see Rollins stealing between 29-35 bases, scoring 87-104 runs, and hitting .265-.272. PECOTA, not included on FanGraphs for obvious reasons, has Rollins at 31 SB, 91 R, and a .281 AVG. Just as the computer models don’t see Rollins recapturing his age 28-29 baseball skills, it doesn’t look like he’ll recapture his age 28-29 acumen either.

Jayson Werth Sets Twitter on Fire

Todd Zolecki provides the goods:

No, that’s not Jesus; that’s Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth sporting a beard that can only be described as glorious. He claims to have grown it naturally, but sources at WPTcasino.com say it was the jackpot prize that was awarded last week. You decide.

The Twitterverse reaction:

@LONG_DRIVE:

  • Please inform him that we are all counting on him to maintain that beard for opening day.
  • Obviously Werth knew the team’s facial hair quota was in jeopardy after Bruntlett left and stepped it up.

@BigLeagueStew: “I didn’t kill my wife.”

@PhilliesNation: Eric Bruntlett is back?

@Tommy_Bennett: If you asked me yesterday, I would’ve said it was impossible for me to appreciate Jayson Werth more. And of course I would’ve been wrong.

@Petzrawr: Starting in left, number 66, Charles Manson!

@DJShort: Looks like Goat Boy.

@Beerleaguer: Werth spent winter lost in the Alaskan wilderness.

@Jay_Jaffe: Piling on Chan Ho Park, or auditioning to play bass?

@OfficialReview: The Phillies signed the guy on the BRAWNY paper towels label? Oh wait, that’s Jayson Werth.

@Meechone: Move over guy in Oakland who knocked out the dude on the bus, there’s a new Epic Beard Man and his name is Jayson Werth.

Chan Ho Plays Waiting Game, Loses

Early in the off-season, the Phillies offered Chan Ho Park a one-year, $3 million deal to pitch exclusively out of the bullpen. Park is represented by super agent Scott Boras [EDIT: No he's not; he's represented by Jeff Borris, whose last name sounds the same], so it was no surprise when the Phils’ offer was turned down. Park wanted to start and he thought he could get more money elsewhere.

[Cue the cliche "pages flying off of a page-a-day calendar"]

As the winter grew older, the phones of Park and Boras Borris stayed silent. The Phillies did not increase their offer or give him an incentive to re-sign by promising him the chance to win the #5 spot. Instead, the Phillies moved on and signed another pitcher in Park’s mold in Jose Contreras for one year and $1.5 million.

The Phillies were right to do so. Park hasn’t pitched effectively as a starter since 2001, the end of his first stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers. During his second stint, in ’08, the Dodgers used him as a reliever with great success. Park put up a 3.84 ERA in over 70 innings of work. Last year, after a horrible seven starts to open the season, the Phillies moved him back to the bullpen where he compiled a 2.52 ERA in 50 innings.

Park’s waiting game did not pay off. After generating just a faint buzz of interest, the Chicago Cubs pondered adding him to their revamped roster, even offering him the chance to start. The New York Yankees threw their hat in the ring, sans a promise to pitch out of the back of the starting rotation, and won the bidding war.

Yankees and Cubs… bidding war… Scott Boras… how much money is Chan Ho swimming in now?

$1.2 million, with an additional $300,000 available in incentives.

That would be $1.5-1.8 million less than the Phillies’ initial offer this winter, and Park won’t even be realizing his dream of starting again.

“I have chosen the Yankees,” Park said. “A prestigious team that can advance to the World Series again.”

For the second straight year, Park has signed with the defending World Series champions. Cue Dash Treyhorn of The Fightins:

Does he realize that he doesn’t get grandfathered in to the championship team?

Park is yet another example of why the waiting game, in this economy, isn’t beneficial. The following table shows the types of free agent contracts signed this off-season.

Pitchers % Hitters %
1 Year 12 71% 30 71%
2 Year 2 12% 7 17%
3 Year 2 12% 2 5%
4+ Year 1 6% 3 7%
TOTAL 17 42

Of the 59 total contracts signed, 42 have been one-year deals. Clearly the economy along with a shift in philosophy has contributed to lesser players finding themselves unable to strike gold in the free agent market.

After Matt Holliday and Jason Bay signed their multi-year deals on January 5, the largest free agent contract signed was that of Ben Sheets for one year and $10 million with the Oakland Athletics. Joel Pineiro was the only one, out of 26 players, to sign a multi-year deal in that span of time.

Once again, GM Ruben Amaro is vindicated by the market. Many of us Phillies fans were hoping he would simply bite the bullet and sign Chan Ho Park for $4-5 million, money the Phillies simply couldn’t afford with their self-imposed $140 million payroll benchmark. If Amaro had listened to us, he would have overpaid by three to four times what Park eventually signed for with the Yankees. In the meantime, he signed a pitcher with a similar skillset and more upside in Jose Contreras.

Well played, Rube.

BDD: The Sun Also Rises in D.C.

At Baseball Daily Digest, I discover that there is optimism to be found in Washington, D.C. believe it or not.

[Bryce] Harper will likely join [Stephen] Strasburg in the Nationals organization. With a core that already includes third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, slugger Adam Dunn — only 30 and likely to be signed to an extension — and John Lannan and Jordan Zimmermann still with youth on their side, the Nationals could dig themselves out of this hole in the very near future.

Your Quote of the Year

If you’re looking to get pumped up about the 2010 season, look no further. Todd Zolecki provides the goods:

[Roy Halladay] On Johan Santana’s comments that he is the best pitcher in the NL East:

[...]

“I think it was a Lou Holtz quote, ‘Well done is always more important than well said.'”

Some Tweets to show you how pumped up the blogosphere is:

“I love Roy Halladay.” — @Phrontiersman

“I love this man.” — @TimothyMalcolm

We all knew Roy was good…we didn’t know that he was THIS good. — @DashTreyhorn

“Roy Halladay’s Lou Holtz quote solidifies that he’s the most popular #Phillies player in the history of earth. And all before first pitch.” — @HeelsontheField

If you have a Twitter, make sure to follow them as well as @CrashburnAlley!

Faith and Fear in Flushing

The title is a nod to a Mets blog of the same name, which is unrelated to what will follow. I think it captures the issue perfectly, though.

News flash: Phillies fan criticizes Mets organization; Mets fans recoil.

Denis Leary, captured above, perfectly sums up the situation.

Disclaimer: What will follow will likely be boring to read, as it’s yet another response to an SB Nation blogger that felt personally insulted by something I wrote about his team. This is your opportunity to click your way out of here before you get swept up in blog drama.

Initially, I wasn’t going to respond to it because the author of the latest response, James Kannengieser, appears to be trolling. After he read my article at Baseball Daily Digest about the Mets’ lack of leadership, James sent me an e-mail informing me that he was, in fact, personally offended by my thoughts. He went as far as to call it, “an ignorant writeup I would expect to read at The Fightins‘ or Beer Leaguer or some other mongo Phillies blog,” and “the biggest turd of a piece you’ve ever written.”

I regret to send page views to Amazin’ Avenue for what clearly amounts to trolling, but I don’t want to show only one side of the argument. So if you want to read James’ full argument, instead of what I will selectively quote here, then click here to go to Amazin’ Avenue. I also recommend reading my BDD article that inspired James’ rebuttal.

James’ thoughts will be quoted in bold and my responses will follow in regular typeface.

Let’s just ignore the lame Phillie fan throwaway line about All-Star Jose Reyes being known more for celebrations than on-field performance. Although it does provide a backdrop for the (usually objective) writer’s perspective.

Perception is a funny thing. Human beings are egotistical beings, they really are. James accuses me of not being objective in my BDD article, and I don’t particularly disagree. I said as much prior to going into my argument:

Before I introduce my theory, in the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to put out there that I’m a die-hard Phillies fan with a blog about them. I’m sure there’s bias in my perception, so feel free to comment below and steer the ship back to center if you feel I’ve gone adrift.

But James, of course, is totally objective, right?. He…

  • …is a Mets fan;
  • …writes for a Mets-based blog;
  • …is on the Internet

In other words, he’s not impartial as he seems to think he is and just as biased as I am. I pointed this out in our back-and-forth via e-mail, saying that the crux of our argument hinges on perception; that there’s no one correct perception. It’s like saying, “You don’t have the right taste in music; there’s way too much country filling up your iTunes.”

If James had said, “I disagree, I think Jose Reyes showed leadership,” that would have been fine. That wouldn’t have merited his blog entry, of course, but it would have been fine. But James went the extra step in saying, “I think…” and indicting my opinions in the same breath. He wrote via e-mail, “don’t write about shit you don’t know about (the Mets).”

Reyes is selfish for wanting to come back from injury and do his job? Come again? Pushing his body to rehab from injury, in order to better his team, seems like the very opposite of “selfish”.

Selfish is defined as “Holding one’s self-interest as the standard for decision making”.

I linked to sources in the BDD article describing the Mets’ front office and the Mets fan base questioning Reyes’ toughness. I also linked to an article with quotes Reyes’ mindfulness of these criticisms. He attempted to return from a hamstring injury prematurely in an attempt to silence his critics. That is blatantly obvious.

Believe it or not, James agrees, he just doesn’t realize it. A couple months ago, he wrote:

It’s this foolishly negative perception that may have driven him too hard to try to come back this season from injury.

He completely agrees with my statement; he was just upset that the criticism of Reyes was coming from a Phillies fan, which is why he had the knee-jerk reaction. It’s akin to a brother picking on his sister at home, but standing up for her when she is picked on by someone else at the playground.

He pushed himself to come back and was bizarrely called selfish. If he didn’t come back, he’d be labeled “soft” and “not a gamer”.

Kannengieser seems to think that I’m in the business of bashing Jose Reyes, but I’m not. I recognize Reyes as one of the premier players in baseball when he’s healthy, and I admire his work ethic and loyalty to the Mets organization. I simply said it was a selfish decision to come back prematurely from a serious injury just to protect his public image. That is the very definition of selfish.

This revelation doesn’t mean Reyes is a selfish person, just that he made a selfish decision. It’s not exactly breaking news, as people make selfish decisions on a daily basis. When you’re on a team, though, selfish decisions are not good.

Mets management and players have made numerous embarrassing blunders the last few seasons — let’s not fabricate more for the sake of a tidy narrative.

Nothing was fabricated, as my thoughts on Reyes were preceded by the thoughts, directly quoted above, of Kannengieser himself.

Next, James doesn’t like my criticism of Johan Santana…

I tried to come up with reasons why a fun, harmless handshake exercise would be portrayed as a negative. The potential argument that Santana should be preparing for the game instead of wasting time with handshakes is a poor one — by my count the whole process took 1 minute, 24 seconds.

I think it’s funny that James took the time to e-mail me and to have a debate about this, yet posted this flawed argument anyway. I debunked this criticism by the time we got to the 20’s in our e-mails. It’s like Bill O’Reilly saying Richard Nixon never met Chairman Mao (true story), showing him video evidence of Nixon meeting Mao, and then O’Reilly arguing on his next show that Nixon never met Mao.

Anyway, my point about the handshakes is that Santana designed close to, if not more than, 25 unique handshakes for each of his teammates. In the video, it takes him about a minute and a half, as James mentions, to make his way through the dugout going through each unique gesture. That would be a solid debunking of my argument… if it were my argument.

I told James several times that that was not my argument. Yet he completely ignored that and used the strawman argument anyway.

My point is that it takes a lot of time to come up with, edit, and practice/memorize each of these unique handshakes. I challenged James to prove me wrong, telling him I’d donate $25 to a charity of his choice if he could come up with 25 reasonable and unique handshakes himself by the end of the night (it was about 6 PM when I wrote it, giving him six hours). He did not even acknowledge this (I challenged him at least twice), knowing full well he couldn’t and that my point was valid. I realize it’s a stupid challenge but it very well illustrates my point and, hey, it benefits a charity.

In the time Santana used to come up with those handshakes, he could have been doing something much more productive, such as working with his catcher, or pitching coach, or infield; poring over video tape; going over scouting reports, etc.

If Santana had just a few of those handshakes, that would be fine, but it’s clearly a hobby and an unproductive one at that.

Also, listen to Ron Darling describe Santana as a leader of the ballclub towards the end of the clip. Maybe Baer had his speakers on mute.

Because what Ron Darling says is gold. Let’s say a video exists of Gary “Sarge” Matthews (Phillies color broadcaster for you out-of-towners) in which he says Santana is not a leader. What happens? A stalemate?

It’s just an appeal to authority; just because Ron Darling says something doesn’t mean it is a fact.

What business is it of anyone how he spends his free time? More importantly, what in the name of Zeus’s butthole does this have to do with not exhibiting leadership?

I believe the concept of leadership is to set an example for younger or newer teammates. Correct me if I’m wrong. What if everyone on the Mets followed Johan’s lead and spent a lot of time working on handshakes when they could be going over scouting reports or something more productive?

In our e-mail conversation, I did admit to James that citing this probably did more to harm my point than to help it. However, that’s not because my point is flawed but because my point requires a bit more than the passive examination James gave it.

Hypothetically, if I were a 22 year-old rookie who made the Opening Day roster and Johan Santana approached me about creating a secret handshake, I’d be ecstatic. One of the best players in baseball wants to connect with me? Wow — I’d really feel like a part of the team.

As would I. I don’t deny there may be some positive effects from Johan’s handshake routines. However, the utility calculus doesn’t favor spending so much time on these handshakes. Others may calculate the utility differently; there’s no one correct calculus, hence why we perceive the same issue in different ways.

Maybe it’s a waste of time, but that lies in the eye of the beholder and has absolutely nothing to do with team leadership.

In this statement, James a) agrees with my entire point once again, rendering his rebuttal moot; and b) contradicts his previous point: “One of the best players in baseball wants to connect with me? Wow — I’d really feel like a part of the team.”

A classic myth propagated by the New York mainstream media is that of the 3 AM “middle of the night” firing of Willie Randolph.

[...]

Saying it happened at 3 AM is exaggeration in an attempt to make Mets management look as inept as possible.

James is absolutely correct that the firing took place shortly after midnight in Pacific Standard Time, which would be about 3 AM on the East coast. However, this is mere nitpicking on James’ part as he completely ignores the fact that Minaya waited to fire Randolph:

  • After he and the team flew out to the West coast on a six-game road trip
  • After the Mets won the opener in Los Angeles against the Angels
  • After midnight

The situation was totally botched and it was completely embarrassing for Mets fans everywhere. The only thing that would have made it worse is if Minaya fired Randolph via text message.

In closing, SB Nation blogs don’t really like me too much it appears. I don’t know what it is but while some of their blogs and their respective communities are outstanding (Lookout Landing and Beyond the Box Score, among others), others are the equivalent of YouTube commenters (Halos Heaven and Amazin’ Avenue).

I think it says a lot about human nature that I left an open invitation for dissenters to comment on the article to point out where I erred, and no one used the opportunity. Instead, they stayed inside their gated communities and left snide comments such as:

  • Boy, that Baseball Daily Digest article really brought the stupid
  • those guys are douches
  • that’s the worst article I’ve ever read like, literally ever.
  • haha this is just comically bad writing
  • Why are people so stupid????
  • I really hope that, that guy is not paid to write, because oh my was that ridiculous.

People, for the most part, want to have their beliefs reinforced. When their sheltered beliefs are challenged by an outsider, they feel threatened and react accordingly. Looking through Amazin’ Avenue’s archives, claims very similar to mine have been made; the Mets organization and the players have been thoroughly roasted by their very own writers.When a Phillies fan does it, however, suddenly those points are immediately wrong and he is clearly “stupid”, a “douche”, “comically bad”, and “ridiculous”.

James’ trolling is simple preaching to the converted, a rallying of his base. It’s no different than Glenn Beck calling President Barack Obama a socialist. (In the interest of fairness, an equivalent analogy will be made. It’s like Keith Olbermann calling former President George W. Bush a war criminal.) In the end, we all like to feel that what we know and believe is true, and if we can push out the outsiders to keep our gated communities sterile, that’s what we’ll do.

Blogs should not be in the business of suppressing thought, but encouraging it. It is a disservice to the baseball (and Sabermetric) community to try and squelch opposing opinions. Blogs are at their best when they freely welcome in dissent and at their worst when a conscious effort is made to homogenize the community.

“The most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.” — George Orwell

Cole’s New Wrinkle

Scott Lauber, a member of the army of Phillies scribes camping in Clearwater for spring training, blogged about the new and improved Cole Hamels. Detailed is the off-season training regimen he followed, his reflection on the struggles he endured in 2009, and a talk with Rich Dubee.

Something caught my eye, though:

Dubee said Hamels may spend more time developing a cutter/slider. Hamels said he has spoken with Cliff Lee, Steve Carlton and John Wetteland about their cutter. “Hitters made the adjustment, and now, it’s my time to make the adjustment,” Hamels said.

I have an urge to purchase a plane ticket and fly down to Clearwater, just to run up to Cole and yell, “Be yourself!” As we found out a week and a half ago, the same Cole Hamels from 2008 showed up in ’09 but experienced vastly different results, mostly attributable to luck. Changing his stripes seems reactionary and somewhat foolish. He has dominated at every level of baseball he’s played — why switch horses mid-stream?

Upon further review, however, it does make sense. Consider the Nash equilibrium:

Amy and Bill are in Nash equilibrium if Amy is making the best decision she can, taking into account Bill’s decision, and Bill is making the best decision he can, taking into account Amy’s decision.

To relate that to Hamels, he has to mix up his pitch repertoire to keep the hitters honest so that they can’t sit on any one particular pitch. The more he relies solely on his fastball and change-up (and a very ineffective and rarely used curveball), the more he will develop trends that the hitter will spot. Thus, the hitter will change his approach to suit.

Hamels faced 814 batters in 2009 and threw 3,116 pitches, an average of about 4 pitches per batter. With two types of pitches and four balls to throw, there are 16 possible combinations. With three types and four balls to throw, there are 64 possible combinations. With four pitches, there are 256 possible combinations. You can imagine why adding another effective pitch to the arsenal would be a plus for any pitcher, especially a starting pitcher who has to face the same hitters multiple times.

The caveat, of course, is that the new pitch has to be thrown effectively. As we have seen throughout his Major League career, Hamels has thrown a curveball but it hasn’t been a boon to his repertoire. Last year, FanGraphs valued his curve at -1.37 runs per 100 and Cole threw 327 of them for a total of about -4.5 runs.

Cole’s new pitch needs to be one that will complement his current repertoire. A change-up thrown by a left-hander is most effective against right-handed hitters as it will break down and away. To left-handed hitters, the change-up will break down and in, which is normally a bad area in which to loiter. Click here and watch the change-ups that Eugenio Velez and Ryan Garko swing at for examples of its effectiveness against opposite-handed hitters.

This holds up to statistical inquiry as Hamels has a reverse platoon split, which means Hamels pitches better against opposite-handed hitters. He has a career 3.67 FIP against right-handers and a 4.29 FIP against left-handers. Additionally, he allows about 6.5% more home runs per fly ball (17.1% to 10.5%) to left-handers.

As such, this new pitch should be one that neutralizes left-handed hitters. A slider or a cutter, which he may work on as described above, would suffice. The cutter is a hybrid of a slider and a fastball and is frequently utilized by pitchers such as Roy Halladay and Andy Pettitte.

If Cole ditches his curve, a slider would be a better pitch to develop since he would still have a pitch with significant lateral movement. If he sticks with the curve, then the cutter would be a welcome addition.

In the end, it’s all about minimizing the ability for opposing hitters to guess what’s coming. He has essentially been a two-pitch pitcher but with some hard work and dedication can become a four-pitch pitcher, making him exponentially more unpredictable.