STFU, Carlos Delgado

New York Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado must be getting antsy during the off-season, because he’s opening his mouth seemingly just to hear himself talk.

Via Yahoo:

“It was very disappointing because we know that we had the best team. And I believe that we still have a great team,” the first baseman said Thursday on a conference call.

Granted, the difference between the Phillies and Mets in the standings was one game, and it took an historic collapse from the Mets to push the Phillies into the playoffs, but the Phillies did have the best team, and I’ll prove that in several different ways.

First, the rough team-vs.-team comparisons.

Offense

Phillies: 5.51 runs per game

Mets: 4.96 runs per game (-.55)

Pitching

Mets: 4.63 runs per game

Phillies: 5.07 runs per game (-.44)

The teams are close when you add it up, with the Phillies having a .11 overall advantage in runs per game. Even the Pythagorean records have the Phillies one game better than the Mets, though each team is two games worse.

Now, let’s look at it position-by-position.

Catcher

Phillies

Carlos Ruiz: 429 PA, .736 OPS

Rod Barajas: 147 PA, .745 OPS

Chris Coste: 137 PA, .730 OPS

Mets

Paul Lo Duca: 488 PA, .689 OPS

Ramon Castro: 157 PA, .887 OPS

Mike DiFelice: 47 PA, .661 OPS

Sandy Alomar, Jr.: 22 PA, .318 OPS

The edge here goes to the Phillies. The production from their catchers was pretty much steady, while the Mets gave 68% of their catcher plate appearances to someone who just produced a .689 OPS. Castro was very productive but only got 22% of the catcher plate appearances.

First Base

Before the statistics are even laid out, you know who is going to win this one. Phillies in a landslide.

Phillies

Ryan Howard: 648 PA, .976 OPS

Mets

Carlos Delgado: 607 AB, .781 OPS

Second Base

Another Phillies landslide.

Phillies

Chase Utley: 613 PA, .976 OPS

Tadahito Iguchi: 156 PA, .803 OPS

Mets

Luis Castillo: 231 PA, .742 OPS

Damion Easley: 218 PA, .824 OPS

Ruben Gotay: 211 PA, .772 OPS

Jose Valentin: 183 PA, .676 OPS

Third Base

Finally, a victory for the Mets. You also don’t need statistics to decipher this one, but we’ll do it anyway.

Phillies

Greg Dobbs: 358 PA, .780 OPS

Wes Helms: 308 PA, .665 OPS

Abraham Nunez: 287 PA, .600 OPS

Mets

David Wright: 711 PA, .963 OPS

Shortstop

Phillies

Jimmy Rollins: 778 PA, .875 OPS

Mets

Jose Reyes: 765 PA, .775 OPS

Advantage Phillies.

Left Field

Phillies

Pat Burrell: 598 PA, .902 OPS

Michael Bourn: 133 PA, .727 OPS

Mets

Moises Alou: 360 PA, .916 OPS

Endy Chavez: 165 PA, .705 OPS

Carlos Gomez: 139 PA, .592 OPS

Marlon Anderson: 77 PA, .906 OPS

Edge goes to the Phillies here, since 82% of their left field at-bats went towards a .902 OPS, while the Mets only had 48.5% of their at-bats go towards Alou’s .916 OPS and 10% towards Anderson’s .906 OPS. The Mets also had a bunch of other nobodies but they logged less than 100 defensive innings, so I didn’t include them, actually benefiting the Mets. Those “nobodies” include Ricky Ledee, David Newhan, Ben Johnson, and Jeff Conine.

Center Field

Phillies

Aaron Rowand: 684 PA, .889 OPS

Mets

Carlos Beltran: 636 PA, .878 OPS

Very slight advantage to the Phillies here, since they had more plate appearances at a higher OPS from their center fielder.

Right Field

Phillies

Shane Victorino: 510 PA, .770 OPS

Jayson Werth: 304 PA, .863 OPS

Mets

Shawn Green: 491 PA, .782 OPS

Lastings Milledge: 206 PA, .787 OPS

This is another close one, but the Phillies get the edge here since 37% of their right field plate appearances went to solid .863 OPS production, while the Mets gave 697 place appearances to approximately .784 production between Green and Milledge. Victorino produced slightly below this but only took up 63% of the Phillies’ right field at-bats.

If you’re one of those people who can take advantage from a weight loss drug like cialis, you’ll likely have to take it for an indefinite period. When you stop drug cure, conversely, much or all of the lost weight usually returns with bad health symptoms. So it’s better to use fitness equipment and avoid pharmacies to buy drugs as much as possible.

Draw the tallies up and the Mets only have one starting position player advantage offensively, and that’s David Wright at third base.

If we included defense, it would slightly hurt the Phillies in left and center field. The Mets then might have gotten the nod in center field.

Starting Pitching

Phillies

The Phillies had four pitchers — Fabio Castro, John Ennis, Zack Segovia, and J.A. Happ — make one start apiece, and Brett Myers made three starts at the beginning of the season before he was converted to a relief pitcher.

The pitchers I will be looking at on the Phillies have made at least 10 starts. Likewise when I analyze the Mets’ starting pitching.

I’ll be using ERA+, so there is no room for discrepancy in regards to park effects (Shea Stadium is pro-pitching; Citizens Bank Park is pro-hitting).

Jamie Moyer: 199.1 IP, 92 ERA+

Cole Hamels: 183.1 IP, 136 ERA+

Adam Eaton: 167.2 IP, 73 ERA+

Kyle Kendrick: 121.0 IP, 119 ERA+

Jon Lieber*: 78.0 IP, 98 ERA+

J.D. Durbin*: 64.2 IP, 90 ERA+

Kyle Lohse*: 61.0 IP, 98 ERA+

Freddy Garcia: 58.0 IP, 78 ERA+

Mets

Tom Glavine: 200.1 IP, 96 ERA+

John Maine: 191.0 IP, 109 ERA+

Oliver Perez: 177.0 IP, 120 ERA+

Orlando Hernandez*: 147.2 IP, 115 ERA+

Jorge Sosa*: 112.2 IP, 95 ERA+

Mike Pelfrey*: 72.2 IP, 76 ERA+

*Pitched both as a starter and as a reliever. Statistics not adjusted for this.

Definitely a Mets advantage here.

Bullpen

The criteria here is at least 30 innings pitched out of the bullpen.

Phillies

Geoff Geary: 67.1 IP, 105 ERA+

Brett Myers*: 53.1 IP, 2.87 ERA (ERA+ not available)

Ryan Madson: 56.0 IP, 151 ERA+

Clay Condrey: 50.0 IP, 92 ERA+

Antonio Alfonseca: 49.2 IP, 85 ERA+

Tom Gordon: 40.0 IP, 98 ERA+

Jose Mesa: 39.0 IP, 83 ERA+

J.C. Romero: 36.1 IP, 373 ERA+

Mets

Aaron Heilman: 86.0 IP, 140 ERA+

Billy Wagner: 68.1 IP, 162 ERA+

Pedro Feliciano: 64.0 IP, 138 ERA+

Guillermo Mota: 59.1 IP, 74 ERA+

Scott Schoenweis: 59.0 IP, 85 ERA+

Aaron Sele: 53.2 IP, 79 ERA+

Joe Smith: 44.1 IP, 123 ERA+

Even though Myers’ ERA+ as a reliever isn’t available, I think it’s safe to say that he was pretty close to Billy Wagner’s level as a closer. The Phillies’ equivalent to Pedro Feliciano is J.C. Romero, but he logged 28 less innings, which is significant. Same deal with the Phillies’ equivalent to Aaron Heilman being Ryan Madson — he pitched 30 less innings. Otherwise, the Mets’ bullpen was nearly equally as bad as the Phillies.

However, the 58 innings that Feliciano and Heilman logged with well-above-average production gives the Mets the slight advantage.

Bench

I’m only counting players who got at least 100 plate appearances.

Phillies

Greg Dobbs: 358 PA, .780 OPS

Wes Helms: 308 PA, .665 OPS

Jayson Werth: 304 PA, .863 OPS

Tadahito Iguchi: 156 PA, .803 OPS

Rod Barajas: 147 PA, .745 OPS

Chris Coste: 137 PA, .730 OPS

Mets

Damion Easley: 218 PA, .824 OPS

Ruben Gotay: 211 PA, .772 OPS

Lastings Milledge: 206 PA, .787 OPS

Jose Valentin: 183 PA, .676 OPS

Endy Chavez: 165 PA, .705 OPS

Ramon Castro: 157 PA, .887 OPS

Carlos Gomez: 139 PA, .592 OPS

Pretty close, but the slight edge goes to the Phillies.

If you tally it up, the Phillies win 7 out of the 8 positions for offensive starting position players, and with the bench. The Mets have the better starting and bullpen pitching.

And as we showed in the beginning, the Phillies offense and pitching compared to that of the Mets’ leaves them with a .11 runs per game advantage.

The statistics show that the Phillies were the slightly better team.

As for the current situation on who’s better, let’s take a look at who both teams have gained and lost. OPS+ and ERA+ refer to the player’s career average. A player’s name has been bolded if he was traded.

Philadelphia Phillies

Lost

Aaron Rowand (106 OPS+); Abraham Nunez (62 OPS+); Tadahito Iguchi (98 OPS+); Rod Barajas (75 OPS+); Michael Bourn (79 OPS+); Kyle Lohse (95 ERA+); Jon Lieber (103 ERA+); Freddy Garcia (111 ERA+); Antonio Alfonseca (104 ERA+); Geoff Geary (116 ERA+).

5 average or above-average players lost. Consider that Lieber and Garcia both had mediocre, injury-laden stints with the Phillies.

One can also make the case that the Phillies gained a pretty good starting pitcher by moving Brett Myers (118 and 120 ERA+ in 2005 and ’06 as a starter) back to the starting rotation from the bullpen.

Gained

Chad Durbin (82 ERA+); Brad Lidge (132 ERA+); Shane Youman (85 ERA+); Eric Bruntlett (78 OPS+); Geoff Jenkins (116 OPS+); Chris Snelling (97 OPS+); So Taguchi (89 OPS+).

2 average or above-average players gained.

New York Mets

Lost

Paul Lo Duca (99 OPS+); Shawn Green (120 OPS+); Lastings Milledge (92 OPS+); Jose Valentin (96 OPS+); Tom Glavine (119 ERA+); Guillermo Mota (107 ERA+); Aaron Sele (100 ERA+).

4 average or above-average players lost. Consider that Mota and Green did not live up to their abilities with the Mets.

Gained

Matt Wise (108 ERA+); Brian Schneider (82 OPS+); Ryan Church (113 OPS+); Angel Pagan (81 OPS+).

2 average or above-average players gained.

The Phillies have improved their team well by flushing out a lot of sub-par players like Abraham Nunez, Michael Bourn, and Rod Barajas. The Mets lost a lot of players either close to, at, or above league-average, and replaced them with two above-average players and two-below average players.

So, Delgado is wrong in saying that the Mets were the best team last season, even though they were close. And the Mets definitely aren’t as good as the Phillies going into 2008.

Well, Why Not?

It’s the baseball offseason, and that means for me, a lack of interesting topics on which to opine.

Nick Swisher got traded to the Chicago White Sox yesterday. In return, the Oakland Athletics got a few good prospects (Ryan Sweeney, Gio Gonzalez, and Fautino De Los Santos) that should help speed along their rebuilding process. And the A’s have a few Swisher-types already (Dan Johnson, Travis Buck, Daric Barton), so he was expendable, albeit relatively cheap in his prime years.

In Phillies news, Chris Roberson was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for a scratch-off lottery ticket. Thanks for the .515 OPS in 69 Major League at-bats, I guess.

I’ve got a couple ideas floating in my head for an article on Babe Ruth, but I want to research it well, so it might be a bit until that hits the Internets.
I’ve also signed up to assist Nick Underhill of I’m Writing Sports with a new project he’s working on. To what extent I’ll be needed, I don’t know, but he’s a solid guy and I’m glad to help (though I hope it’s not helping him in the sense that he’ll look better hanging with uglier people).

So, that’s the agenda here, and I wanted to write something to push that holiday top-ten list off the top.

As a reward for reading this mindless drivel, you may watch this milk commercial starring basketball phenom Yi Jianlian.

Top 10 Holiday-Themed Items Bloggers Should Discuss

Given that it’s the festive holiday season where giving is en vogue, I thought I’d help out my fellow bloggers with some creative, original ideas for a post. I know lots of bloggers have been and still are busy traveling and visiting family, so the time to brainstorm ideas is significantly shortened. You’ll thank me later.

10. Dayn Perry’s attempt to father the Jesus incarnate.

9. Take a popular holiday song and change the words around to make fun of athletes and coaches.

8. Write or even just joke about how awful those family get-togethers are. Bonus points if you have a drunk and/or creepy uncle.

7. Write a blog about what kinds of presents or cards well-known athletes, coaches, and fans would enjoy giving or receiving.

6. Write a faux letter to Santa in which you describe how bad some team needs whatever it is they need.

5. Write a themed recap of 2007.

4. Make a list of New Year’s resolutions for newsworthy athletes, coaches, and teams.

3. Use the fact that they are wearing holiday-themed clothing to post pictures of attractive women.

2. Mention Festivus from Seinfeld.

1. Make a top-ten list.

Gerry Fraley, You Can Not Be Serious

As promised, I am going to delve into the new look of the Phillies’ outfield, and I also want to criticize Gerry Fraley for a ridiculous article he wrote for The Sporting News. Being the lazy person that I am, I’d like to kill two birds with one stone. I’m going to break it down Fire Joe Morgan-style (his words in bold; mine will follow in regular typeface).

In two seasons without center fielder Aaron Rowand, the Chicago White Sox are a .500 team and heading south.

You know this is going to be a pro-Rowand article based on the title, so let me just get this out of the way right off the bat: the White Sox are not bad because Aaron Rowand left. In 2007, they had the league’s worst offense, and the third-worst pitching. Rowand can’t pitch and I’m pretty sure he’s not potent enough to bring his team from a 4.28 runs per game average to around 5 per game, which would put them slightly behind sixth place. Barry Bonds might have been able to do that, but certainly not Aaron Rowand.

The White Sox were bad in ’07 because Paul Konerko had a .091 point decline in OPS from the previous season, Jermaine Dye had a .204 decline in OPS, and Jim Thome was the only potent offensive force in the lineup. Jon Garland has been decidedly mediocre, and the back of their starting rotation was about as unproductive as it could have been. And aside from Bobby Jenks, their bullpen was nearly as bad as the Phillies’.

After saying he wanted to stay with the Phillies, Rowand swerved and signed a five-year, $60-million deal with San Francisco. His change of heart puts the Phillies in a bind.

“Bind” is hyperbole. The Phillies would have preferred to keep Rowand in his age 30-32 years, but he wanted five years at $12 million, which is what he got from the Giants. He simply wasn’t worth it.

Jayson Werth isn’t a terrible Plan B, and Rowand’s departure simply made the Phillies look for a Plan B2 and B3, which was searching for either another regular center fielder (Cameron), or moving Victorino to center and finding a platoon partner for Werth (Geoff Jenkins).

Look at it this way, using simple OPS:

Aaron Rowand: .779 OPS vs. RHP (68% of career PA); .862 vs. LHP (32%); .805 vs. both.

Shane Victorino: .741 OPS vs. both.

Mike Cameron: .767 OPS vs. RHP (75% of career PA); .843 OPS vs. LHP (25%); .786 vs. both.

Geoff Jenkins: .883 OPS vs. RHP (76% of career PA)

Jayson Werth: .864 OPS vs. LHP (29% of career PA)

Here are the expected OPS, based on career averages, out of the possible CF and RF combinations:

Rowand/Victorino: .773 OPS

Cameron/Victorino: .764

Victorino/(Werth+Jenkins): .787*

* Because Jenkins will face RHP, and batters see RHP about 3 times more than LHP, I weighted Jenkins and Werth’s OPS to reflect this. I assumed that the two will combine for 625 at-bats (which is generous considering how potent the Phillies’ lineup is and how adept they are at getting on base).

Jenkins: Averages 1 base every 2.0 at-bats. With 75% of 625 at-bats, that’s 469 at-bats, giving him about 235 total bases, and a slugging percentage of .501.

Werth: Averages 1 base every 2.3 at-bats. With 25% of 625 at-bats, that’s 156 at-bats, giving him about 68 total bases, and a slugging percentage of .436.

(.501 * .75) + (.436 * .25) = (.376 + .109) = .485 SLG

Then we’ll just weigh their career OBP’s.

(.347 * .75) + (.352 * .25) = (.260 + 088) = .348 OBP

Add ’em together (.485 + .348 ) and you have an expected .833 OPS out of right field. *

Phew.

Even if you have your home by the beachside throughout your life, possibly you never had the time to travel around all the beaches even if there is a chance to get your hands on cheap flights. One of the best cheap vacation ideas is to discover about a remote beach and rent a hut there that is close to car rental. Feel the sand, go bring together seashells and look at the sunset from the hotels windows. This won’t charge you a penny and absolutely these are some fine things that are open out there for everyone who loves cruises!

They previously traded center-fielder-in-waiting Michael Bourn to Houston in the Brad Lidge deal. Plan C for the Phillies calls for moving Shane Victorino, whose durability is in question, to center and going with a platoon of Jayson Werth and Geoff Jenkins in right.

While the Phillies had some expectations of Bourn when he was considered a top prospect in their farm system (not hard to be, actually), he only showed Juan Pierre-esque ability: great speed, ability to bunt, and above-average range in the outfield. They already have a guy like that (but better) in Shane Victorino. Bourn simply didn’t fit and was thusly expendable.

And Fraley has the plans all messed up! Bourn is Plan B? Any team who has a Plan B as replacing a center fielder with decent defense and some power potential with a slap-hitter is clearly a team general-managed by Ned Colletti.

Shame on this guy also for not tiering the Plan B’s.

The Phillies will also learn what the White Sox now know. Rowand is harder to replace in the clubhouse than on the field.

Whenever sports journalists wax romantic on intangibles, the cholesterol lining my arteries gets a little bit harder. But I should know — intangibles have been tangiblized (hat tip to FJM).

Rowand is an NFL free safety masquerading as a center fielder. He plays relentlessly, a style the Phillies privately feared may shorten his career, and that rubs off on teammates. He is a leader in the true sense of the word.

First, I don’t see how being akin to an NFL free safety makes you a valuable baseball player. Then Gerry contradicts himself by saying the Phillies didn’t like his balls-out style of play because it increases his risk of injury and a “shortened career.”

Gerry, however, rebounds by saying that this career-shortening style of play is rubbing off on teammates! Hopefully not in the way it rubbed off on Chase Utley.

That is why the White Sox and the Phillies both wanted to sign Rowand. They have seen first-hand how valuable he is to the dynamic of a winning team.

Phillies players as or more important to the NL East pennant than Rowand: Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, J.C. Romero (arguably).

I get it: take Rowand away and the Phillies don’t win the East. But that can also be said of Russell Branyan, who was with the Phillies for all of 9 at-bats, one of which won them a game in Washington. And the Phillies won the East by one game.

Seasons of catering to Barry Bonds turned their clubhouse into a nest of apathy. Near the end of the season, manager Bruce Bochy said the last-place club lacked “a warrior spirit.”

The king of the team lacking “a warrior spirit” put up an OPS+ 170 with a knee that gets regular fluid injections at age forty-two. Forty-two. Save his injury-plagued 2005 season, Bonds has led the National League in on-base percentage every season since 2001.

The Giants were bad last year because, aside from Bonds and Randy Winn (barely), no one in the lineup was hitting at or above the league average, which makes it easy to believe that they had the league’s second-worst offense. They had a good, but not great starting rotation, and a decent bullpen. Blaming Bonds for the Giants’ failures last season (or in any season) is beyond reprehensible and downright ignorant.

San Francisco may remain stuck in last in the demanding National League West, but the Giants will not go quietly.

Earlier in the article, Fraley contends that teams that have Aaron Rowand win, and teams that lose him end up losing. Now Fraley says that the Giants get Rowand… but they “may remain stuck in last”?

In explaining the signing, general manager Brian Sabean said Rowand was “far and away a plus” in the areas of concern for the Giants.

“His no-nonsense approach is known throughout the game,” Sabean said. “Including inside the clubhouse.”

So, the areas of concern for the Giants aren’t offense, starting pitching, and the bullpen? It’s a no-nonsense approach? No wonder they haven’t reached 77 wins in three seasons.

At least Rowand can barbecue.

Who Is Really to Blame for the Drug Issues in Sports

As the 15 millionth blogger with an opinion on the Mitchell report and drug use in baseball, I believe I get a congratulatory fruit basket, right?

Instead of rehashing what was explained in that report, I’d like to address the philosophical and political side of the drug issue with baseball and sports in general. Former Senator (and pro-tobacco lobbyist) George Mitchell referred to steroid use in baseball as an “epidemic.” Ignoring the obvious hyperbole with that statement (malaria is an epidemic, steroid use is not even close), what makes it an epidemic?

As many anti-steroids people will tell you, Major League Baseball turned a blind eye to the steroid “issue.” It wasn’t a major concern with anyone, including the millions of fans who adored Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa during the 1998 season. The mercurial whispers were there, but nothing at all about how inept Selig has been or how baseball players are cheating not only the clean players, but the fans as well.

Steroids have been against MLB rules since 1991, but it wasn’t taken too seriously, especially since the new drug regulations were enforced via memo. According to Tom Farrey of ESPN:

Steroids had been banned in baseball since 1991, although few players knew about the policy. But there was no drug-testing agreement in place between ownership and the union providing the mechanism to catch cheaters.

So, since at least the early 1990’s, they had the thought of sweeping steroids out of baseball, but it wasn’t until recently that anyone got serious about it. What made them become serious? Was it the ’98 home run chase between Big Mac and Slammin’ Sammy? Was it Barry Bonds’ 73 dingers in 2003? Was it the (misguided) fear of early death, as was the fate of former NFL defensive lineman Lyle Alzado, an admitted steroid user? What was the cause of the sudden distaste for steroids?

The world of sports is where intellectually honest discussion of morality goes to die. Sports are home to the biggest collection of “unwritten rules,” such as not stealing bases when you’re beating your opponent by 8 runs or so in the 7th inning, or not using trick plays in football when you’re beating your opponent by about 4 touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

It’s not surprising that there’s many indirect references to morality when the topic is steroid use. Many feel that regardless of what MLB rules have stated, any use of performance-enhancing substances is cheating. And to these people, I always ask, “Where do you draw the line?”

Is it just anabolic steroids and human growth hormone? If so, why not include Cortisone shots, which are bad for the same reasons as anabolic steroids (in fact, Cortisone is a steroid): they enhance an athlete’s performance and/or allow him to recover from injuries faster, and they are potentially harmful to his health.

Are we concerned with just the performance-enhancing aspect, rather than the health aspect? If so, why are we not concerned about over-the-counter painkillers? Or coffee, Red Bull, or other substances that provide a boost of energy?

Is it the health aspect that scares us? Why, then, are we not concerned about athletes smoking and chewing tobacco (the latter is still practiced by players and coaches, though the sheer number has shrunk significantly as the years have gone by), drinking alcohol (a tradition practiced whenever a team wins a clinching game), eating unhealthy food, or engaging in dangerous hobbies (was anyone concerned with Ben Roethlisberger’s motorcycling hobby until his accident?)?

After hashing out all of these possible reasons to get upset about steroids, it’s actually clear to see that none of these issues are significant enough to warrant the sudden public outrage, without, of course, being hypocritical.

The drug issue as it concerns MLB and the U.S. is a subject I’ve dealt with fervently, as you can see here, but I cannot stress enough how greatly the American public is being duped when it comes to the drug issues. From my previous article on this subject, I cited the following ties between U.S. politicians and those involved with the pharmaceutical industry:

[…]Drugmakers and HMOs hired 952 individual lobbyists in 2003 – nearly half of whom had “revolving door” connections to Congress, the White House or the executive branch. That’s nearly 10 lobbyists for every U.S. senator.

[…]In 2003, the drug industry spent a record $108.6 million on federal lobbying activities and hired 824 individual lobbyists – both all-time highs. In 2002, based on a more narrowly defined survey, the drug industry spent $91.4 million and hired 675 lobbyists.

[…]In all, 431 lobbyists employed by the drug industry or HMOs – or 45 percent of all their lobbyists – previously worked for the federal government. Among them were 30 ex-U.S. senators and representatives – 18 Republicans and 12 Democrats.

[…]At least 11 top staffers who left the Bush administration lobbied for the drug industry and HMOs in 2003. White House and administration insiders working as lobbyists on the Medicare bill included several former top advisers to Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson.

The source for those facts is Public Citizen. You can read their agenda here.

Shortly after Major League Baseball enacted tougher steroid restrictions, the U.S. passed the Steroid Control Act of 2004, which added prohormones to the list of controlled substances. And hey, guess what is a precursor? Androstenedione, the drug that was found in Mark McGwire’s locker in 1998.

It’s undeniable that the politicians’ distaste for steroids has had an effect on steroid use in baseball, especially since Major League Baseball must follow U.S. law, obviously. What is also undeniable is how much of an agenda these politicians have for making anti-steroid laws, since they are paid off by pharmaceutical lobbyists to vote in favor of anti-steroid legislation (as steroids, which cure a wide variety of ailments, are competition for the pharmaceutical industry’s more lucrative “one pill per symptom” scheme).

The biggest culprit in all of this is not our highly corrupt politicians, or Bud Selig, or the MLBPA; it’s the American public for being so easily led into this anti-steroid furor. If American citizens were into holding politicians responsible; if American journalists were into asking the necessary questions, none of this would be an issue. The reality is that steroid use in baseball is not an issue. It has become an issue because you have been told that it is an issue.

Ask yourself why you don’t like steroids. Then apply those reasons to the numerous legal substances that are sold on the shelves and behind counters of every convenience and drug store in this country.

Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) had a problem when he was on two prescription drugs, Ambien and Phenergan, as well as alcohol, all legal drugs.

On May 4, 2006, Kennedy crashed his 1997 Ford Mustang convertible into a barricade on Capitol Hill at 2:45AM. He had been operating his vehicle with the lights off in the early morning darkness. Officers at the scene said that Kennedy appeared intoxicated, smelled of alcohol and was visibly staggering, but Kennedy claimed that he was merely disoriented from prescription medications Ambien and Phenergan.

Right there, you have a U.S. politician putting not only his own life at risk, but potentially the lives of others, as well. But it’s just A-okay because he’s using substances approved by other U.S. politicians and the industries that own them.

Then there was the Vioxx issue. The risks of the drug were known beforehand, but was allowed to be prescribed anyway because it’d make mega-billions for the pharmaceutical industry. After the drug had caused many problems in its users, the chiefest of which were cardiovascular problems, and was estimated to have caused nearly 28,000 deaths, they recalled the drug, but only after it had created a great profit for, well, you know who.

In not-so-hilarious irony, the anti-steroids crowd tried to use the Chris Benoit double-murder and suicide as a blade against steroids, as he was found to have steroids in his home. Putting aside the obvious logic that rules out “‘roid rage” (premeditation, no steroids found in his urine), it was actually prescription drugs that were near the center of the issue: Xanax and hydrocodone. But you don’t hear anyone calling for the criminalization of Xanax or hydrocodone (known most prominently as Vicodin), because the American public hasn’t been told that those two substances are bad, since they make such a profit for the pharmaceutical industry.

Until spring training begins, the hot topic in baseball will continue to be steroids, and the American public will continue to do as they’re told — they will demonize Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada, and the numerous other big names listed in the Mitchell Report. For public backlash, you need at least one figurehead. Mitchell has provided many with his report.

This steroid craze very closely mimics the anti-terrorism craze following 9/11. There’s a disaster (in MLB’s case, it’s a perceived disaster), a threat of a large problem (hence Mitchell’s use of the hyperbolic “steroid epidemic”), and the finger-pointing at the people most responsible (never themselves).

Following 9/11, it was Osama bin Laden to whom we were instructed to direct our anger. The Bush administration promised us they’d capture him and his henchmen, and bring justice to them. Five years and just over three months since that tragic day, Osama bin Laden is still uncaptured, and has been literally forgotten about (in fact, Bush disbanded the CIA unit dedicated to finding him).

Six months after 9/11, Bush said the following:

So I don’t know where he is. You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you.

That was said on March 13, 2002. One year and one week later, the War in Iraq was started, and the American public was given a new figurehead to spew vitriol at: Saddam Hussein. And now that we’re nearing the five-year anniversary of the Iraq War, the Bush administration is preparing to give us another figurehead to dislike: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran.

This is how the steroid issue will go both in sports and in the United States as a whole. The sports world’s Osama bin Laden was Barry Bonds, its Saddam Hussein is Roger Clemens, and we’ll have to wait and see who will fill the role of Ahmadinejad. One thing is for sure: the American public will continue to do its part by being willfully ignorant, excessively suggestive, and unconcerned with anything other than how their favorite teams are doing and which celebrities are sleeping together.

Just listen to President Bush (why is he commenting on the steroid issue as it pertains to baseball, again?):

“The players and the owners must take the Mitchell Report seriously,” Bush said. “I’m confident they will.”

Dumpster Diving

No, I’m not talking about Rosie O’Donnell’s favorite pastime. I am talking about what Phillies GM Pat Gillick should be doing now that there are non-tendered players out there, waiting to be plucked up by another team.

I mean, look at this list! I think these guys might be better than the actual free agent market!

I’d like to highlight a few of the players on that list the Phillies should be interested in picking up.

Dallas McPherson

Formerly a top prospect, third baseman Dallas McPherson battled injuries in 2007 and never caught fire in the Major Leagues in his 360 at-bats between 2004 and 2006.

The Phillies, having just traded “third baseman of the future” Mike Costanzo to the Astros (who just traded him to the Orioles in the Miguel Tejada package), are in need of a third baseman now, next year, the year after that, the year after that…

A Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs platoon at third base likely isn’t going to cut it unless Helms can revert to his second-half of ’06 ways. Let McPherson rehab in the Minor Leagues, hope he gets healthy, and call him up. It’s a win-win situation — a cheap roll of the dice that can result in big winnings. After all, McPherson hit 40 HR, drove in 126 runs, and put up a 1.054 OPS between AA and AAA in 2004.

2007 salary: $382,500

Josh Towers

The Phillies were interested in pitcher Josh Towers at one point. What’s easy to dislike about the guy — his career ERA of almost 5.00 — is offset by what you really like about him, which is his ability to throw ground balls, a must in a hitter-friendly stadium such as Citizens Bank Park. In 2007, 43.9% of Towers’ batted balls were of the ground ball variety, just one whole percent over his career average, so it’s not an aberration.

His BABIP has been a bit higher than the league average throughout his career (.314), and his WHIP isn’t awful (1.38). With exceptional defense in the middle infield with Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, Towers would thrive in Philadelphia.

Go get him, Pat.

2007 salary: $2.9 million

Emil Brown

After getting regular at-bats in Kansas City starting in 2005, outfielder Emil Brown showed that he can put up above-average production. In ’05, he put up an OPS of .804, .051 points above the league average. In ’06, he improved to an .815 OPS, but that was .034 points above the league average.

Brown would be a sturdy addition to the Phillies’ bench, which, as it stands currently, is weak. Said bench includes Chris Coste, Eric Bruntlett, Greg Dobbs, Chris Snelling, and T.J. Bohn.

2007 salary: $3.45 million

Chad Durbin

Durbin, a pitcher released by the Detroit Tigers, is another ground ball-prone pitcher. He would be an excellent low-cost, high-reward chance to take. 44% of Durbin’s batted balls were ground balls, slightly higher than his career average (40.3%), but good nonetheless.

Besides, wouldn’t you rather have Chad Durbin than J.D. Durbin?

If he can’t make the rotation, he could serve a purpose in the bullpen.

2007 salary: $385,000

Mark Prior

Maybe it was the Cubs system of developing pitchers that has tarnished his arm health, and maybe another organization can halt his D.L. stints. It’s the epitome of the low-risk, high-reward move.

Sign Prior to a multi-million, but incentive-laden contract. If he gets hurt again, meh, the Phillies wasted a few million with a potential right-handed Cole Hamels. I’d certainly prefer an injury-prone ace push an injury-prone Adam Eaton out of the starting rotation, than actually have to watch Adam Eaton attempt to make 33 starts in 2008.

Prior also throws a decent amount of ground balls (40.3% over his career), strikes out a lot of hitters, and doesn’t walk too many.

If there’s one player on this list that I would suggest Pat Gillick to sign, it’s Prior, without question.

2007 salary: $3.575 million

Morgan Ensberg

When I said that Mark Prior should be #1 on this list for Pat Gillick, Ensberg is #2. As mentioned, the Phillies have no legitimate third baseman now or in the future, and Ensberg could fill that void at least for a couple years.

For starters, he plays excellent defense. In 2006, he was second behind Scott Rolen in RZR, and 7th in plays made out of his zone. In 2005, he led all NL third basemen in RZR, and was a short second (80-to-79) to then-Phillie David Bell in plays made out of his zone.

Then you get to his offense, which nowadays is merely referred to as potential. In 2005, he put up a 144 OPS+ with 36 HR and 101 RBI and he was envisioned as one of the top third basemen in baseball for years to come. His power has waned as he’s battled injuries, but when he’s healthy, he gets on base at a great rate (nearly 37% of the time he’s at the plate).

If Phillies fans were ever allowed to have their cake and eat it, too, we’d see both Prior and Ensberg in Phillies pinstripes in 2008.

2007 salary: $4.35 million

While these kind of players come with risks, such as injury histories and downward trends in production, they are risks worth taking when your other option is marching forward with the status quo. The Phillies are oh-so-close to being a powerhouse in Major League Baseball. They already boast the National League’s best offense. Small tweaks to the pitching, and keeping the 6-7-8 part of the lineup afloat offensively will ensure the Phillies are playing October baseball once again.

BBWAA Fails to Gain Credibility

On the Internets, this is being discussed in great detail, but I just had to scribble something about it. Baseball Analysts has the story: 18 nominees for BBWAA membership, 16 make it. Those are:

Scott Miller from CBS Sportsline; Jim Caple, Jerry Crasnick, Peter Gammons, Tim Kurkjian, Amy Nelson, Buster Olney, and Jayson Stark from ESPN; Ken Rosenthal from FoxSports; John Donovan, Jon Heyman, and Tom Verducci from SI; and Tim Brown, Steve Henson, Jeff Passan, and Dan Wetzel from Yahoo.

The two that are left out? Rob Neyer and Keith Law.

I’m going to ask you to join me in doing a little police work, and connect the dots. What do those that got BBWAA membership, and those that didn’t, have in common?

The 16 that got in make little to no use of Sabermetrics.

The two that missed out make heavy use of Sabermetrics. Neyer, a demigod to some of us Saber-heads, worked for the great Bill James (read Neyer’s interview at The Hardball Times). Law used to write for Baseball Prospectus, essentially a one-stop shop for all things Sabermetric.

It’s an injustice that Neyer and Law didn’t get eligibility. I have no connection to anyone involved in this matter, but it seems to me that there is some discrimination afoot. Let’s look at a hypothetical: of the 18 candidates, the 16 that get in are all Caucasian, and the two that are left out are African-American. Think there’d be accusations of discrimination if that had been the case?

Of course, I am merely assuming that their Sabermetric tendencies are the reasons behind their being locked out. There could very well be a legitimate reason that Neyer and Law were denied. I would be very interested in hearing it and await an official response from the Baseball Writers Association of America. Ahem. On official letterhead.

Maybe it’s all for the best. It’s the BBWAA’s loss for not getting two of the sharpest baseball minds in their club, and we can only hope that their “mistake” leaves them begging for credibility in years to come. We’ve seen some of the poor decisions they’ve made when it comes to voting, just in the past few years (see: 2006 AL MVP; 2006 NL MVP; 2007 NL MVP; keeping Bert Blyleven out of the Hall of Fame), and we’ve seen how one of their members acts when urged to open his mind.

In impugning the BBWAA as a whole, I do want to clarify that the writers recently inducted, regardless of their use of Sabermetrics, are blameless. From the list above, I really have no qualms with anyone there except for Jon Heyman, who has been politely close-minded to advanced methods of statistics in baseball. I’ve never read the work of Miller, Caple, Nelson, or Henson, so I can’t say anything either way about them.

To Neyer’s credit, he’s handled his rejection with class. You can read his reaction in the comments at Baseball Think Factory. I’m sure he’s talked about it on his ESPN blog, but I’m not an Insider, so I wouldn’t know. An interesting thing to note from Neyer via a comment on BBTF:

According to BBWAA president Bob Dutton, my membership was rejected because I don’t go to the ballpark often enough (not that anybody really knows how often I’m at ballpark).

It seems like the BBWAA just randomly reached in the barrel of excuses and used the first one they drew. I can only imagine how humorous their excuse for excluding Law is.

Since the BBWAA is blatantly going to continue with the status quo, why don’t all of the Sabermetric sluggers band together, vote, and hand out their own post-season awards (I imagine it’d be nothing more than a token to elect players to the SABR Hall of Fame)? It seems like most of them hand them out individually themselves (via an article or blog), or at least have an opinion on the matter. If they have dunce awards like the “Pepsi Clutch Performer of the Year,” they should have “SABR Most Marginal Lineup Valuable Player of the Year.”

Crashburn Crapshoot

The Tigers/Marlins Trade

There’s no doubt that the acquisition of Miguel Cabrera alone makes the Tigers instant World Series contenders. Then you factor in that they also got Dontrelle Willis, whose 2007 season might have just been a fluke (though it’s not hard to fathom that, given his irregular mechanics, he’s lost his touch).

In return for a top-three third baseman and a #2-esque left-handed starting pitcher, the Tigers had to give up six — count ’em, six — prospects including Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller.

Frankly, I’m surprised that the Tigers got them that cheaply. Think about it — the Tigers get four collective arbitration-eligible years with Cabrera and Willis, and if they walk to free agency afterwards, they get four high draft picks as compensation, basically recouping what they gave up to get them in the first place.

As for the Marlins, well, what reasons do they have left to convince Floridians to show up to their games? For the team’s sake, I hope this trade precedes a move out of Miami to somewhere where they get more than a handful of fans per game and can afford to keep their star players for more than a few years.

They are getting some good prospects in return, though, and could be contenders as soon as 2009. Of course, they could also pull a 2006 and contend in ’08 (am I being confusing here?).

The Inge Effect

Now that Miguel Cabrera is taking over third base for the Tigers, that likely makes Brandon Inge available. He’s owed about $17 million over the next three years, which is affordable when you think about the contracts that have been offered both this off-season and last. With Pat Gillick urging Tadahito Iguchi (a second baseman) to re-sign with the Phillies as their regular third baseman, he should take a look at trying to acquire Inge instead.

Inge is exceptional with the glove and isn’t too shabby with the bat. Rather than have Iguchi play a position he’s unfamiliar with and might not be able to play, just trade a mid-level prospect to the Tigers and third base is a problem solved. The only advantage Iguchi has over Inge is his ability to get on base.

Body Image

With the controversy over some pictures of Jennifer Love Hewitt resulting in her concern about other girls’ body images, I thought it’d be funny to apply it to the one player in baseball that gets a lot of heat about his weight: Miguel Cabrera.

As you may recall, ESPN ran a column in mid-July about Miguel Cabrera’s weight. The author, Jorge Aranguire Jr., said:

Florida fans from Hialeah to Homestead are wondering if he’s eating his way out of an all-time great career.

I’m going to make a much-belated response to that on the behalf of Cabrera.

This is the last time I will address this subject.

I’ve sat by in silence for a long time now about the way baseball players’ bodies are constantly scrutinized. To set the record straight, I’m not upset for me, but for all of the baseball players out there that are struggling with their body image.

250 pounds is not fat! Nor will it ever be. And being 222 pounds doesn’t make you beautiful.

What I should be doing is celebrating some of the best days of my career and my fresh start in Detroit, instead of having to deal with sports journalists writing invasive articles from bad angles. I know what I look like, and so do my teammates and coaches. And like all baseball players out there should, I love my body.

To all baseball players with butts, beer guts, flab and a waist, put on a uniform — put it on and stay strong.

Try Again, Mutts

The rumors have the New York Mets offering Phil Humber, Aaron Heilman, and Carlos Gomez to the Baltimore Orioles. MLB.com‘s Jim Molony said that offer was “politely declined.”

That may be putting it nicely.

Given that Bedard is in demand, if I’m the Orioles, I’m asking the Mets for Gomez (who compares to Willy Taveras), Pedro Feliciano (same ceiling as Heilman but he’s left-handed), Humber, and Mike Pelfrey (who looks like a #4 pitcher at best). Still, that might not even be worth it.

Regardless, adding Bedard doesn’t really push the Mets too far in the proverbial power rankings. They’ll need not only Bedard, but another pitcher as well, to have a rotation that compares favorably to that of the Phillies.

Those Crazy Zebras

The Baltimore Ravens have only themselves to blame for their last-minute loss to the still-unbeaten New England Patriots. That was a hold on fourth down by Jamaine Winborne. And that was unsportsmanlike conduct by Bart Scott.

But yes, it is questionable whether Jabar Gaffney had control of the ball or not. Even if he didn’t, it still benefited the Ravens to get the ball back with around 45 seconds left. If it’s second and goal, assume another 8 seconds or so gets ticked off. Third and goal, another 8 seconds. Fourth and goal, another 8 seconds.

Now, it’s beneficial to the Ravens assuming the Patriots do get that touchdown. Granted, the Ravens played decent defense on the Patriots all night, but the only reason the Patriots were even behind with one minute to go in the fourth quarter is because of so many dropped passes by Patriots receivers. Given the Pats’ offensive proficiency, they’d get that touchdown more often than not.

So, it was better for the Ravens to get it back with 45 seconds or so instead of, perhaps, 20. It didn’t work out for them anyway, but the ability to throw over the middle and subsequently call a time-out or spike the ball was there, adding to the chance to score.

The referees did not cost the Ravens the game. And no, Tim Dahlberg and other conspiracy theorists, the NFL is not fixing games in the Patriots’ favor.

The Anthem (Warning: Soapbox)

There was some unrest as a result of Pittsburgh’s failure to play the national anthem before their rain- and mud-soaked fultili-fest with the Miami Dolphins on November 26.

Can we please stop being so concerned with symbolism and ritual? The national anthem has been played so much it has lost any meaning it may have had, especially post-9/11. It’s simple economics, the more of something you have, the less valuable it becomes.

I’m willing to compromise. Just play the anthem before the Super Bowl, and cut it out of every other game. In baseball, play it on Opening Day and before the first game of the World Series. Other sports can follow suit. And for all sports, play the anthem on holidays like Memorial Day.

As for the article I linked to concerning this subject, notice the bad logic used:

Bad enough football has taken away all our free time in the fall and early winter. Now, it’s going to take away our patriotism?

Now it’s unpatriotic to not play the national anthem? Sorry, you’re not patriotic because you have an affection for a song, adhere “Rah-rah, America!” bumper stickers to the back of your car, and fly a flag in front of your house. True patriots don’t need quasi-religious jingoism to reassure them of their allegiance to this country. True patriots don’t follow the pack; true patriots question and hold accountable those in charge instead of accepting the status quo in a false hope that this makes them “real Americans.”

And personally, I refuse to honor The Star-Spangled Banner while this current administration is in power (and probably the next, given the dearth of good candidates running for the ’08 presidency). Am I unpatriotic for that — for not supporting the un-American, unconstitutional, and inhumane policies of the Bush administration?

Pardon.

D-Rays, Twins Swap Young, Garza, and more

With trade propositions swirling around the New York Yankees and Mets for left-hander Johan Santana of the Minnesota Twins, the deal that is “close” to being completed between the Twins and Tampa Bay Rays looks tame. However, it could very well end up as the loudest trade of the off-season when all is said and done.

The six-player swap has the Rays exporting outfielder Delmon Young, second baseman Brendan Harris, and outfielder Jason Pridie. The Twins are exporting starting pitcher Matt Garza, shortstop Jason Bartlett, and relief pitcher Juan Rincon.

It sounds cliche, but the trade does benefit both teams.

The Twins will fill Bartlett’s spot at shortstop with Alexi Casilla, who was at second base mostly last season, but that will be Harris’ spot in ’08. Most importantly, however, the Twins recoup a good portion of the production they got from Torii Hunter, now an Angel, with Delmon Young.

The Rays ship out one of their better outfielders, but they are always well-stocked when it comes to outfielders — not so much so when it comes to pitching. They bolster an already good-looking rotation (Scott Kazmir, James Shields, possibly David Price) with the addition of Garza. Their infield is fine on the corners (Carlos Pena at first base, Akinori Iwamura at third), but in-between it is rather unimpressive, and swapping Harris for Bartlett doesn’t help that. Juan Rincon bolsters what was a horrible Rays bullpen in ’07.

Let’s break down the trade, looking at each player individually.

Delmon Young

Young has a high ceiling. He hits line drives, has power potential and above-average speed, and plays good defense. As Torii Hunter’s replacement, at least in the lineup, don’t be surprised if he actually outproduces Hunter in ’08.

Out of 11 qualified AL right fielders, Young had the fifth-best RZR. In addition, he was third among AL RF with 16 assists, and had the sixth-most plays made out of his zone. He’s moving from FieldTurf to FieldTurf, so he won’t have any unfamiliarity with defending against batted balls hit his way.

Offensively, he didn’t blow anyone away in his first full season (42nd among MLB rookies in VORP), and he hasn’t shown patience at the plate (26 walks in 681 plate appearances; 144th out of 162 with an average of 3.51 pitches per plate appearance). However, he does have a ton of potential, and his percentages on batted balls speak in his favor (22% of his batted balls are line drives). Expect that .343 BABIP to drop, though.

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Brendan Harris

In 2008, Harris will put on his fifth different MLB uniform in as many seasons. He’d previously been with the Chicago Cubs, Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, the Rays, and now, the Twins.

Unlike Young, Harris did impress offensively in his first full season as a Major Leaguer, ranking 7th overall in VORP. Although his offensive production isn’t eye-popping, when you compare it to the typical AL second baseman, it’s above-average (Robinson Cano, Brian Roberts, Placido Polanco, and Ian Kinsler are the cream of the offensive crop in the AL and Harris doesn’t fall too far behind them). However, like Young, Harris showed a lack of patience at the plate, drawing only 42 walks in 576 PA, and only saw an average of 3.59 pitches per PA.

Harris doesn’t have quite the potential that Young has (Bill James projects him to slightly regress in ’08), but should be a nice complement to what should be a balanced Twins offense centered around Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

Jason Pridie

Pridie, a six-year Minor League veteran, might have finally put it together in ’07 with AAA Durham. Since 2004, he has significantly regressed from a .794 OPS with A Charleston, to a .675 OPS in ’05 between A+ Visalia and AA Montgomery, to a .585 OPS in ’06 with Montgomery.

In ’07, however, he put up a total .839 OPS between Montgomery and Durham, with the better part of it coming in AAA against tougher competition (10 HR and 39 RBI in 245 AB).

In addition to his batting, he can also steal bases — he stole 26 last season, though he did get thrown out 10 times (72% success rate). If he can be coached into a .254 swing in OPS, he can be coached into smarter baserunning. His speed also contributed to his 11 triples and 32 doubles (for those of you counting, that makes 57 extra-base hits out of 159 total hits — almost one out of every three hits is going for extra bases).

Matt Garza

One of the only things you couldn’t like about Garza last season was how many baserunners he allowed (1.542 WHIP). However, some of that was due to a high .345 BABIP.

Otherwise, there was a ton to like about the now-24-year-old. He put up a 118 ERA+ and 67 strikeouts in 83 innings, and almost 48% of his batted balls were grounders. Aside from Johan Santana, understandably, he was the most reliable starter for the Twins last season.

Jason Bartlett

He doesn’t pack much offensive firepower, but he will play good defense. He ranked second among AL SS last season in plays made out of his zone, and ranked sixth among 11 qualified AL SS in RZR, though he was only five-thousandths of a point behind third-place Michael Young (.809 to .804).

Offensively, he gets on base slightly higher than the league average (.341 to .335 over his career) but doesn’t have any power (career .362 SLG to league-average .425). He does have good speed and baserunning smarts, stealing 23 of 26 bases (88% success rate) last season.

UPDATE: The original deal originally had Juan Rincon heading to the Rays, but concerns about his elbow led to Minor League pitcher Eduardo Morlan being shipped out instead. Source: The Heater.So, if this deal actually goes through, it works out nicely for both teams and it might be the the noisiest the off-season gets. Here’s hoping the Mets don’t pull off a miracle and put together a package that appeals to the Twins and lands them Johan Santana, or appeals to the Oakland Athletics and lands them Rich Harden or Joe Blanton.

Completely Unrelated

I was trying to fool around with the MLB Gameday Pitch F/X data in Microsoft Excel (2000), but I couldn’t get it to work. I followed the directions from Friar Watch, but when I imported the data, it simply went into Row 1, Column A as XML code.

Can any of my readers assist me with this?

Dangerous Free Agent Market for CF

The marquee market in this year’s version of free agency is center fielders. Third baseman Alex Rodriguez excluded, there is no glitz and glamor available at any other position on the baseball diamond, talking strictly about free agency.

Not surprisingly, the people in charge of human perception have botched the project again. For some reason, not only was Torii Hunter the first big name — not named A-rod — to sign, but he was signed before Andruw Jones. Usually, the best player is signed first, for logical reasons.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim signed Hunter to a five-year, $90 million contract recently. The rationality of that move aside, Hunter is A) not worth that money and B) not in the same class as Andruw Jones.

You know what? I’m not going to put the rationality of that move aside. The Angels’ outfield now consists of Vladimir Guerrero ($14.5 million in ’08), Gary Matthews, Jr. ($9 million), Garrett Anderson ($12 million), and Hunter ($18 million). They’re paying their outfield $53.5 million, or slightly less than half of their 2007 payroll. And don’t forget about Juan Rivera, who will probably be making another $2 million or so as their 4th or 5th outfielder.

According to the Angels’ website:

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Hunter would be the regular center fielder, with Matthews providing depth at all three outfield spots. Anderson and Guerrero are expected to spend more time in the designated-hitter role in 2008, giving Matthews plenty of opportunities to play left and right.

That’s right, the Angels are paying two of their outfielders almost $27 million combined to be occasional offense-only players. Matthews is getting $9 million to be a utility outfielder.

Anyway, back to free agency. Andruw Jones is perceived to have lost value because of his poor 2007 showing. He put up only an 88 OPS+ despite hitting 26 HR and driving in 94 runs. His walks and doubles were around his career average, he just didn’t get too many hits, despite a .283 BABIP (a bit less than average).

However, Jones is only 31 and the chances of him returning to being a top-tier offensive center fielder are highly likely. Jones’ other poor season, 2001, was followed by some of the best years of his career, though they were in his prime years (ages 25-29). And despite common perception, Jones’ hasn’t lost much, if anything, on defense, as he led the National League in both RZR and OOZ.

A quick glance of Andruw Jones’ statistics tells you that he has been and still can be the best center fielder in baseball. The common perception around baseball disagrees. Jayson Stark, for instance, called him the most overrated center fielder of all time. In Stark’s article, he states about Jones’ defense:

[…]while most of us weren’t paying attention, Andruw was slowly, apparently imperceptibly, losing the part of that gift that made him special.

[…]

I thought: that can’t be right. A friend suggested maybe it was a function of the Braves’ pitching staff. Maybe they were just throwing fewer fly balls than they used to. Great point. So I checked. Fortunately, there’s a stat that measures that, too — zone rating (the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical zone).

So I called up the 2006 zone rating of all qualifying major league center fielders on ESPN.com. Guess who was last on the list? Yessir, Andruw. He also finished last in 2004. And fifth from the bottom in 2005. I kept checking. As recently as 2001, he led his league in zone rating. So obviously, we had a definitive trend on our hands.

However, using the Revised Zone Rating (RZR), we find that Andruw’s defense only slipped in one season: 2004 (8th out of 11 NL CF in RZR; tied-first in OOZ). His OOZ shows that he was still able to get to balls most CF weren’t able to get. But in 2005, he was third among 9 qualified NL CF in RZR and second in OOZ. 2006? 4th of 11 in RZR, 2nd in OOZ. And, as mentioned, he led in both categories in 2007.

So, his defense hasn’t slipped nearly as much as Stark thinks.

Sticking with Sabermetrics — in such a lousy year for Jones, he still managed to add almost six and a half wins to his team. Guess how many Hunter added in one of his best seasons of his career? Eight. The difference between Jones at his worst and Hunter at his best is one and a half wins.

Jones’ worst WARP-3 prior to 2007 was 7.9. Hunter’s best was 8.3. Just a half a win difference there.

The other misconception is that Hunter’s defense is impeccable.

YEAR: RZR, RANK; OOZ, RANK

2007: .891 RZR, 7th out of 10; 47 OOZ, 5th in AL

2006: .894 RZR, 8th out of 10; 48 OOZ, 6th in AL

2005: Not enough defensive innings

2004: .822 RZR, 3rd out of 8; 65 OOZ, 1st in AL

Even Hunter’s “good” defensive season in 2004 is mediocre compared to the seasons after.

Offensively, Hunter is good, but isn’t anything truly special. In his nine full seasons, his career average OPS+ is 104. League-average is always 100. His last two seasons, though, have been among the best in his career, so there’s hope for a trend there if you’re the Angels. Overall, Hunter is the overrated center fielder, not Jones. The Angels will likely end up regretting giving Hunter such a large contract. A player that produces on average only slightly better than the league average doesn’t deserve $18 million per season.

Another center fielder looking for a big contract is Aaron Rowand. In his 5 seasons of 300 or more at-bats, two have been below-average, two have been above-average, and one has been average. So, he’s an average center fielder coming off of a career season in his walk year. That has warning labels stuck all over it.

Rowand, perhaps more so than Hunter, is noted for his grit and disregard for his own safety, as evidenced by his face-plant into the Citizens Bank Park center field fence in 2006 that earned him a broken nose.

Aaron Rowand post-face-plant

Beware of Rowand. Compare his career .343 OBP to the .342 league average. Or his career .462 slugging to the league average .439. He averages 5.75 wins per season to his team, which isn’t bad, but doesn’t place him among the elite in center field.

You never know with his defense, either. In 2006, the year he busted his face, his RZR was 9th among 11 qualified NL CF. He was 10th in OOZ plays, but OOZ is a counting statistic and Rowand missed time twice with injuries in 2006. However, his teammate Shane Victorino had one more OOZ and a .902 RZR (to Rowand’s .882) in 343 fewer defensive innings in 2006.

Realistically, only Jones deserves to be paid highly, but the prices aren’t dictated like that. The market for any good player is remarkably high, since the free agent class has been so weak not just this off-season, but last off-season as well — remember Adam Eaton and Gil Meche’s contracts?

Hunter and Rowand will be sought after highly not only because they’re perceived (wrongly) to be great players, but because they’re the best among what little is available. Who would you want: Aaron Rowand or Corey Patterson? Torii Hunter or Jeff DaVanon?