Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dan Haren to the Bullpen

With the score tied 4-4 after the Arizona Diamondbacks rallied back in the bottom of the eighth, Bob Howry and Chad Qualls gave up five runs in the top of the ninth as the Diamondbacks fall to the St. Louis Cardinals 9-5.

Howry, Qualls, Aaron Heilman and Juan Gutierrez have been miserable to start the year. All have an ERA above 6.43. As of this point, I do not have a strong opinion on Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch, but I am glad that Lou Piniella is not the coach of the Diamondbacks. If he was, would we be talking about Dan Haren, who like Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano is off to a slow start, going to the bullpen?

The Sean Berry and Bill Spiers Platoon

Before the Houston Astros were wasting money on Brandon Lyon, they were a forward thinking team. General manager Gerry Hunsicker and head coach Larry Dierker employed a platoon of Sean Berry and Bill Spiers during the 1998 season.

The right-handed Sean Berry started 76 games and posted a .320/.390/.511 line in those games. Against right-handed pitchers in 222 plate appearances, he had a nice .276/.365/.458 line, but in 120 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers, he posted an outstanding .383/.429/.598 line. The left-handed Bill Spiers started 89 games and posted a .291/.373/.422 line in those games. Against right-handed pitchers in 396 plate appearances, he had a solid .287/.370/.415 line. In contrast, he had 41 plate appearances (which was 41 plate appearances too many) against left-handed pitchers and put up a measly .143/.220/.200 line.

Combined as third basemen, they put up a .303/.380/.461 in 708 plate appearances line with 43 doubles, 5 triples and 15 home runs. They were also both 32 years old. For comparison Cal Ripken Jr. posted a .257/.329/.420 line in 718 plate appearances with 26 doubles, 3 triples and 24 home runs during his age 32 season.

What does this all mean? Sean Berry and Bill Spiers are not name-recognition baseball players. By themselves, they were okay hitters but nothing too spectacular. Spiers was atrocious against left handers while Berry was decent against right handers. Combined they put up all-star caliber numbers. The teams that can't field a great player without a platoon split at every position have to be creative with their rosters to get great season-long production.

For those keeping tabs, last year general manager Ed Wade employed Geoff Blum and Jeff Keppinger as their primary third basemen. The switch-hitting Blum posted a .252/.316/.368 line in 386 plate appearances over 100 games as a third baseman. The right-handed Keppinger posted a .243/.319/.374 line in 244 plate appearances over 65 games as a third baseman.

Combined as third basemen, they put up a .249/.317/.370 line in 630 plate appearances with 21 doubles, one triple and 15 home runs.

Carlos Zambrano Will Pitch in the Eight Inning

It's about time that Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano will pitch in the eighth inning. Unfortunately for Cubs fans, we're talking about as a relief pitcher as the Cubs announced his move to the bullpen today.

In 2006, Barry Zito signed a $126 million, seven-year deal with the San Francisco Giants. This contract, rightly so, was outrageous as he was not an elite starting pitcher. While he has struggled at times, he has still given the Giants some good to great games and an okay performance overall.

In the summer of 2007, Zambrano signed a $91.5 million, five-year contract extension (with optional sixth season) with the Cubs. This contract probably should have received the same treatment as the Zito contract. Zambrano has struggled sometimes, save for one game and hasn't topped 200 innings pitched since 2007.

Zito and Zambrano are strangely similar besides the fact that their last names begin with Z. Zito's career pitcher slash stats are .9 hr/9, 3.7 bb/9, 6.7 so/9 and 1.82 so/bb. Zambrano's career slash stats are .7 hr/9, 4.1 bb/9, 7.7 so/9 and 1.91 so/bb. In the two seasons prior to signing his big contract, Zito had a 4.37 FIP in 2005 and a 4.94 FIP in 2006. In the two seasons prior to signing his big contract extension, Zambrano had a 3.62 FIP in 2005 and a 4.15 FIP in 2006. He signed the contract extension in the middle of posting a 4.55 FIP in 2007. Clearly, both pitchers were treading downward and didn't have the stuff to warrant the high contract. Somehow Giants GM Brian Sabean and Cubs GM Jim Hendry are still employed despite these outrageous signings among other horrible signings.

A couple of quotes to take away from the article:

"I told him we really needed him in the bullpen," [Lou] Piniella told reporters in New York before facing the Mets, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "We felt he could do a really nice job for us there."

And then later:

The Cubs' bullpen ERA entering action Wednesday was 6.15 with a 1-6 record. The bullpen has blown 4-of-7 save opportunities this season.

"I'm confident this will help our situation out," Piniella said, according to the Tribune. "This makes all the sense in the world. This is a significant move, not a panic move."

I realize that Zambrano has struggled, but we're talking about a $91.5 million relief pitcher. He's still one of the top five starting pitchers on the team. Also, I'm not sure a guy who has a career 4.4 walks per 9 innings would make for a good relief pitcher.

The other problem is that we are talking about four starts. Sure, they were bad starts, but the only number that jumps out in these four starts that is different than in the past is the 1.9 home runs allowed per 9 innings. His walks per 9 innings are slightly up, but his strikeouts per 9 innings are really up. Those numbers should balance out to something similar to last year's numbers and his home run rate should also go down.

Relief pitchers are a dime a dozen--unless they are Mariano Rivera and a couple others. They struggle, they dominate and ultimately they are replaceable. They shouldn't be making $91.5 million. As long as Zambrano, who never deserved that contract to begin with, is one of the five best starting pitchers, the Cubs should throw him out there like the Giants did with Zito. And if he's not, look to trade him or just swallow some pride and try to buy out his contract.

Finally, here are a couple of links and tweets regarding the situation:

I read this Jack Moore story after writing my post and reading Rob Neyer's blog. Moore emphasizes the same points about Zambrano and brings in the Carlos Silva angle. Interesting enough Silva pitched 6 innings of 2 hit, 1 run, 2 walk and 4 strikeout baseball tonight against the New York Mets. Personally I would think Tom Gorzelanny would be the odd man out. But really, any start now Carlos Silva should turn back into Livan Hernandez.

Jonah Keri tweeted: "The Cubs are paying Lou Piniella $3.75 million/yr to decide that Carlos Silva deserves a starting job over Carlos Zambrano. That's special."

Dave Cameron tweeted: "Cubs moving Carlos Zambrano to bullpen, leaving Carlos Silva in rotation. #CarlosFail"

Keith Law tweeted: "Uh ... got nothin'. RT @sitrick2: @keithlaw Please, if possible, explain the logic of moving Zambrano to the bullpen."

And the best one. williamnyy23 tweeted: "@keithlaw It's obvious. The Cubs keep blowing leads, so Lou thinks it would be easier if the team never had any to begin with."

My First Kiss

I haven't written a creative story since the spring of 2008 when I was still at ASU. I've been wanting to write a story about a first kiss because I thought it could be funny. When I was searching through my computer, I still have a folder saved for my old Web site that I had with about 20 other writes from back in 2007. I browsed through some of the stories, and well, I already wrote about this topic. Below is the story. A couple things to note: the original version was kinda skeleton-y, so I added some content. This has not been through any editing, so we're looking at rough draft material. But the message and humor is there. When someone kidnaps me and takes me to Flagstaff and I enroll in NAU's creative writing Master's program, I'll use this as part of a bigger piece that I will want to write chronicling awkward experiences.

Before I post the story, I should say that this is one of the rare completely creative stories that has no influence on me or anyone I know. My real first kiss resembled mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (I played the role of drowning swimmer) with the girl's dad catching us. I strangely miss those days. Anyway, on to the story!

I was totally unprepared for the voicemail greeting when I called that girl so I just hung up. Fortunately, she had caller ID, and she called me back. We had a good conversation, and we planned for a date that night to meet up at an outdoor mall.

Everything was moving so fast for me. I just got through the telephone call, and now I have to go on a date. Couldn’t I get a week to take a breath? I knew I needed some advice on dates, so I went over to my friend’s house for some consultation.

We sat at the kitchen table and went over everything. We discussed compliments, holding hands and the kiss. I wasn’t sure about the kiss. Obviously this being my first date meant that this would be my first kiss.

“How do I kiss?” I asked, slightly embarrassed by the unusual question.

“You look her in the eyes, you keep your mouth open a little, and you aim for her upper or lower lip,” he said.

“That’s it?” I asked.

“Yeah, and use your hands to make sure her face is positioned at the right angle,” he said.

“I have to use my hands?”

“Yeah, and you can also use your hands to maybe tug her hair or something.”

“Wow, I didn’t even know girls liked that.”

“Some girls do but don’t forget to use your tongue.”

“This is way too much for me to handle.”

“Then just go for a small open mouth kiss on her lips.”

“I think I can handle that.”

“And hey, if the date is going bad, excuse yourself and give me a call and I will call you back to save you.”

I left my friend’s house feeling really confident. I met my date at the mall. We decided to get some dinner first at this Italian restaurant--Fazoli’s.

“These breadsticks are amazing, right?” I asked.

“Yeah, I mean, they are buttery or something,” she said.

God this was awkward. I was thinking really hard for conversation topics, but she was no help. Hmm, legoes.

“You know, I always wanted to make a giant lego fort. Not to like live in, but to have in the backyard. Just kind of chill,” I said.

“Would you have a bed or kitchen?” she asked.

“No, but I think I would have a desk. It could be my area where I would do a lot of writing: journal writing and maybe greeting card writing.”

“People still write greeting cards?” she asked.

“Oh, of course. Who doesn’t like getting something in a carnation colored envelope? Man, so you gotta check this out. I wrote a birthday card to a female friend in felt-tip pen last week. The ink ran so much that the wrong message was written.”

“That’s funny. I need to go use the bathroom”

Why do people say that’s funny when they don’t laugh? Anyway, I used this opportunity to call my friend for some last minute advice.

“Hey, I think the date is going well,” I said.

“Great! Now take her to that fireplace area and give her a kiss,” he said.

“I think I might tug her hair.”

“Umm, okay.”

I hung up the phone, and she returned a couple minutes later. I took her on a walk to the fireplace area. I was thinking about all the advice my friend gave me. Suddenly, we were standing in front of the fireplace looking at each other.

I looked into her eyes, and all my worries went away. I felt confident, like I’ve been there before. I leaned in. This was going to be magical. I parted my lips a little. This was going to be my first kiss! And her cell phone rang.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

R. Ortiz is in the game

I had a new game: it was called figure out which R. Ortiz is pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles. How it was played was I would go on my blackberry and check out the Dodgers box scores. When checking out the box scores, the blackberry wouldn't have their full name (both pitchers were labeled R. Ortiz), thus giving the suspense. Since Joe Torre seemingly loves using the same relief pitchers every game, there would be at least one R. Ortiz (maybe both) pitching. I had to guess which R. Ortiz played. It was fun. Sadly, that game is now over. The Dodgers designated Russ Ortiz for assignment.

The Mustached GM never fails to amaze me. He signed Russ Ortiz and Ramon Ortiz. What does The Mustached GM* like about these guys?

Russ Ortiz got the game ball during a World Series (despite the Giants losing the game in the end). He also won 21 games in a year and playing in an All-Star game. And he turns 36 years old this season.

Ramon Ortiz has a less impressive resume. He did actually win a World Series ring. In fact, Ramon's Angels played Russ's Giants in 2002. He won 15 and 16 games in back to back years in 2002 and 2003. He turns 37 years old this season.

Anyone who actually went to baseball-reference would predict that these were horrible signings. Russ Ortiz has a career 1.39 so/bb line, and he hasn't been adequate since his overrated 2003 season, in which he finished 4th in Cy Young balloting despite 4.3 bb/9 and meh 6/3 so/9 lines. Ramon Ortiz hadn't pitched since the 2007 season. He has a career 1.82 so/bb line, and he hasn't been adequate since 2002--his only okay season. Even in that year, he served up a league high 40 home runs to average 1.7 hr/9.

Of course it's not surprising that these two pitchers have struggled so far. Take a glance at Russ Ortiz's box score and Ramon Ortiz's box score. I was hoping that this game would last until at least the All-Star break, but even the Dodgers figured out that Russ Ortiz was horrible. When will they figure out that Ramon Ortiz is horrible?

*The Mustached GM also signed Garret Anderson

What does The Mustached GM like about Garret Anderson?

Anderson was a three time All-Star, won a home run derby, won a World Series with Ramon Ortiz in 2002 and he turns 38 years old this season.

Of course he is a guy who has never been a great on base guy. On top of that, he has little power these days. He hasn't been a good hitter since 2003. Any guess how this one will turn out?

Analyzing the Milton Bradley and Carlos Silva Trade

When the Seattle Mariners traded never-used overpaid starting pitcher Carlos Silva to the Chicago Cubs for troubled, kinda underachieving but talented Milton Bradley, I thought Jack Z stole a solid hitter away from the Cubs.

I never had the opportunity to fully analyze the trade, but I did mention that as a positive move for Jack Z in my Jack Z vs. Brian Sabean piece. I didn't believe that Bradley would be playing left field a majority of the time with the Mariners as I thought he would be primarily a designated hitter with Ken Griffey Jr. playing the role of "face of the franchise" on the bench.

Due to injuries and ineffectiveness, Silva managed to pitch 183 2/3 innings in his two seasons with the Mariners. It's unfair to completely evaluate his 2009 season since he only pitched 30 1/3 innings, but 2008 was pretty bad. He struck out 4.1 batters per 9 innings, walked 1.9 batters per 9 innings and gave up 1.2 home runs per 9 innings. As a result, it shouldn't shock anyone that his ERA+ was 66 with a WHIP of 1.598. Perhaps his ERA of 6.69 was a little bloated due to bad fielding (remember they didn't put emphasis in fielding until 2009) as indicated by his FIP of 4.69, but let's face it, the guy wasn't worth more than $20 million he received in his two years with the Mariners.

The fact that they traded him at all, let alone, for a productive player was an amazing feat. They traded him for Milton Bradley, who was one year removed of leading the American League in OBP, OPS and OPS+. In 2009 Bradley was disappointing, relatively speaking, with the Cubs. With the Cubs, he had .257/.378/.397 slash stats. His power was down, but he was getting on base. Silva, in comparison, couldn't keep guys off base.

It was a steal for the Mariners.

In two starts and 13 innings pitched, Silva has a 0.69 ERA, 0 walks and 5.5 strikeouts per 9 innings.

In 11 games and 43 plate appearances, Bradley has .139/.279/.333 slash stats.

In two weeks, it's been a steal for the Cubs.

I'm posting this now because it looks bad. But ah, the power of small sample sizes. Keep in mind, that Silva pitched against the Houston Astros and Cincinnati Reds in his two starts. While Silva, who went from the American League to the National League, won't be as bad as he was in 2008 (even his FIP indicates he wasn't as bad), this will still end up being a trade in favor of the Mariners. Whether I'm right or wrong, I will write up another story at the end of the season. At this point, to be continued...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Preseason Predictions One Week Later

I know I'm a good two weeks late to the party, but I did proclaim my preseason predictions and awards before the season started. I swear!

Even though it is one week into the season and my predictions look decent, it is after all, one week into the season. Way to be redundant and state the obvious, right? But it is safe to put these predictions out now because we have a long season ahead and, of course, anything bla bla can happen.

The American League playoff spots: New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox. The National League playoff spots: Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks. In the World Series, the Yankees will beat the Braves. My surprise AL team is the Oakland Athletics. In fact, I think they will be battling it out with the Rangers for the AL West crown. My surprise NL team is the Arizona Diamondbacks. They will go down to the wire with the Colorado Rockies. I feel that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Seattle Mariners will be disappointments in the American League as well as the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Giants will disappoint in the National League.


AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander

NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay

AL MVP: Joe Mauer

NL MVP: Chase Utley

AL ROY: Brian Matusz

NL ROY: Jason Heyward

So far, the A's and Rangers are good. The Giants and Diamondbacks are good while the Dodgers are not good. The Blue Jays have a nice record, but it is not sustainable. The Red Sox and Yankees had to play each other so their records aren't indicative of their talent. The big thing that has caught my eye is how bad the Angels and Mariners have started this season. Again, one week in and things will look very different. It's not that I thought these teams would lose 90 games necessarily. The AL West shapes up to be a very competitive division with all four teams hovering around the 80 win mark. My thing is many experts and/or fans predicted those two teams to be on top because: the Angels always win and the Mariners had a great year and a good offseason.

Last year, the Mariners were 85-77. Look closely though. They scored 640 runs and allowed 692 runs. Yes, they had a nice record and added Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins and a bunch of platoon-type players, but those additions aren't being added to an "85 win" team. For a team that is built around solid defense, they have a designated hitter playing left field and a an old guy and a pinch hitter splitting time as designated hitters. The other thing is, Lee is out till May.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were a better team last year, but they lost ace John Lackey, Chone Figgins to rival Mariners and the corpse of Vladimir Guerrero to division rivals. In place, they get a full season of Scott Kazmir, Hideki Matsui, Joel Pinero and Fernando Rodney. Guerrero should be better as a Designated Hitter for the Texas Rangers and Matsui will be good in the Designated Hitter role for the Angels. The Angels should be right there with the Athletics and Rangers at the end of the season, but the Rangers are stacked at pitching and hitting. Figgins and Lackey were huge losses, and that will be the difference. When I say disappointment, I don't mean they will be awful. It will be disappointing that the Angels do not make the playoffs as the young, emerging Rangers overtake the Angels' division reign.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Barry Bonds Still a Free Agent

In a year where the Seattle Mariners employ Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Sweeney as Designated Hitters, fellow old slugger Barry Bonds remains a free agent.

ESPN posts an odd story that briefly glazes over the fact that Bonds isn't retired and highlights how "proud" Bonds is of Mark McGwire and his steroids admission.

Whatever Bonds did or didn't do, he still was a great hitter the last year he played. A quick glance at his stats:

2007: .276/.480/.565 in 126 games

2006: .270/.454/.545 in 130 games

I get that he hasn't played the last two seasons, but why was he unemployed the last two seasons? He was still getting on base and mashing the ball.

For comparison, here are Ken Griffey Jr.'s slash stats:

2009: .214/.324/.411 in 117 games

2008: .249/.353/.424 in 143 games

For those who say that this is a steroid thing, keep in mind that Jason Giambi and Gregg Zaun are still employed.