Sunday, January 30, 2011

MLB Should Copy the NHL

I have no idea how many people out there are Hockey fans, I myself follow hockey at a minimal level, but I was intrigued when I read this. This year, the NHL tried something a little different and used a fantasy-type system in selecting the rosters for the annual All-Star game. I haven't heard of another major sport attempting this and it definitely got me thinking.

The NHL, along with the NFL and NBA seem to get it. Their all-star games are, at their base, talent showcases. The outcome of the game is essentially meaningless and both sides are more interested in obtaining bragging rights than anything else. After a few debacles, the MLB decided a few years back to make their All-Star game count for something, namely home-field advantage in the World Series. This isn't new news, obviously, and the merits of this system have been debated from both sides. Those in favor of it say that it adds some intrigue to the game and suggest that the players play harder because the outcome of that game may determine if their team or league gets an advantage in the World Series. Those against it argue that a mid-season, one-game event shouldn't hold that much importance, particularly when every team is allowed a representative, including teams who are essentially out of the playoff picture come mid-July. I tend to be torn, I like that the game has some extra intrigue, but I also see the other side; I find it ridiculous that a one-game "series" determines has such weighty outcome. In other words, I'd be in favor of a change to something else, namely something that keeps the intrigue but reduces the influence of that one game on other parts of the baseball season.

Enter...All-Star Fantasy Draft. Selection systems would remain the same, the fan voting and coaches/players selections, I wouldn't change any of that. The two captains would consist of the highest vote getter the AL against the highest vote getter in the NL...and an all-out fantasy draft would ensue. Do away with the game determining anything, let end-of-season record determine home-field advantage for the World Series.

Seriously, how cool would that be? They could hold the draft right before the Homerun Derby (or after, doesn't matter) which would give the respective managers a day to set their lineups and determine their starting pitchers. Imagine, Pujols and Mauer on the field at the same time,...or a Jeter/Utley SS/2B duo, it would lead to combinations of players that we would never otherwise have a chance to see. That alone would add the intrigue for true baseball fans.

I'm sure there are some logistics that would need to be worked out, but I think the NHL might be on to something here. It's a really interesting idea and it's application to MLB is obvious and exciting. So, Mr. Selig, what do you think, I think it would be a lot of fun!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Meeting Expectations: Kevin Slowey

The Twins and Kevin Slowey agreed to a 1-year, $2.7M deal Tuesday, avoiding arbitration in Slowey's first year of arbitration eligibility. A few others have written about the deal, including a good piece by Nick Nelson for TwinsCentric. I'd also like to take a look at Kevin Slowey and see what we might be able to expect from the 26-year-old right-hander going forward.

Slowey has about as impressive a minor-league track record as anyone has had in the Twins organization. In 367.1 minor league innings, he compiled a 1.94 ERA, a 0.849 WHIP and an eye-popping 6.94 K/BB ratio. His Major League success has been much more tempered, though Slowey has continued to exhibit fantastic command throughout.

Kevin is entering his prime years, the period from 27-32 when a pitcher should (*) have his most productive seasons. Slowey's had a couple of injuries so far in 3 full seasons though one of them was more of the accident variety (getting hit in the wrist by a batted ball), so I hesitate to label him "injury prone." In those three seasons, he's started 71 games which is an average of almost 24 starts per year...not bad. I think if Slowey is going to have that "breakout" year, this might be it.

In 2009, Slowey had a rough April before settling down and putting together a nice string of starts. In 12 starts between April 18th and June 19th, Slowey averaged about 6 innings per start and only allowed more than 3 runs in 2 of those 12 starts. Things got rough again after that, with Slowey complaining of wrist pain (likely from his batted ball incident the prior year), which led to season-ending wrist surgery. In 2010, Slowey was back in the starting rotation and started the year nicely, allowing more than 3 runs only 2 times in his first 12 starts of the year. Things took a turn in mid-June and Slowey was held out of a few starts due to right-elbow pain, including being pulled in the 7th inning of a no-hitter (which I was at). His innings through the end of the season were pretty limited, though he did finish the year with a tidy 13-6 record and serviceable 4.45 ERA.

In comparing Slowey's 2008 and 2010 seasons, I noticed a couple of things (he pitched 160.1 innings in 2008 and 155.2 in 2010 so the sample size is comparable). In 2008, Slowey induced GBs at a much higher percentage (36.1%) than in 2010 (28.3%). Meanwhile his LD% stayed about the same (19.1% in 2008 vs. 21.1% in 2010) while his FB% went from 44.8% to 50.6%, good for an increase of almost 13%. Over the course of 3 full seasons, his GB rate has dropped every season while his FB rate has increased. This isn't overly concerning since Slowey now pitches in a spacious ballpark half the time, but it's certainly not the direction you'd like to see him headed in.

In looking at his swing statistics, another pattern emerges...

Thanks to FanGraphs

Between 2008 and 2010, Slowey's O-Contact% (percentage of times a batter makes contact on a pitch thrown outside of the strikezone) went from 70.1% to 77.6%. His Z-Contact% (percentage of times a batter makes contact on a pitch thrown inside the strikezone) went from 85.7% to 90.2%. In short, batters are simply making contact with Slowey's pitches at a higher rate, and when they are making contact on over 90% of pitches in the're gonna give up some runs, especially when you don't have overpowering stuff (for comparison, Liriano's Z-Contact% was 85.8% in 2010, and is at 83% for his career). On top of all of this, Slowey's BB/9 was higher in 2010 (1.68) than it was in 2008 (1.35), and his K/9 was lower in 2010 (6.71) versus 2008 (6.90).

Curiously, Slowey's FIP in 2008 vs. 2010 is not much different, 3.91 vs. 3.98 respectively. So why a 4.45ERA in 2010 vs. a 3.99 mark in 2008? It's hard to put a finger in it exactly, yes the walk rate was up and the K-rate down, but Slowey's strand-rate was almost identical and his HR/9 was nearly identical as well. More than likely a combination of more base-runners (1.15WHIP in 2008, 1.29WHIP in 2010) and a slightly higher BABIP, .307 in 2010 vs. .290 in 2008, added up to the extra 1/2 run on the ERA (maybe throw poor outfield D in there?).

So, all that said, what can we expect from a healthy (hopefully) Slowey in 2011? I would take an average of 2008 and 2010, depending on luck of course, which we can't really account for. What is going to prevent Slowey from really being dominant in the Majors is the fact that he relies so much on location. In the minors, pinpoint control goes a long way because a lot of the hitters don't have well-developed plate discipline. In the Majors it's a different story and history bears out the truth. You can certainly be a good location pitcher in the Majors, people like Moyer, Maddux (later-years), Radke, Glavine (later-years), Buerhle, etc. have had great careers. Slowey doesn't have a bad fastball (90-91mph) and his sinker (90-92mph) is a good pitch too, but they aren't blow-you-away pitches.

Slowey's game is limiting base-runners and insofar as he can do that, it will determine how much success he has. My guess on the numbers we can expect from Slowey are as follows:

180 IP
1.20 WHIP
13-16 Wins
2.0-3.0 WAR

For $2.7M, that's a pretty good deal. Fortunately, the Twins aren't relying on Slowey to be a #1 or even a #2 starter. He makes a very good #3 or #4 (depending on where you slot Baker) and should be in line for a bounce-back season of sorts.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


It's been reported by various sources that Carl Pavano has re-signed for the Twins for ... wait for it ... $16.5M. Now that is what I'm talkin' about! Pavano was reportedly offered a deal by the Yankees for one-year and $10M. TwinsGeek said it first, but Pavano probably signed for half to three-quarters of his market value at the beginning of the off-season. There are probably many theories out there on why this deal was so long in the making and why few other clubs were interested in Pavano, but it can't be ignored that Pavano is 35-years-old and has had only a few seasons during his career in which made it through an entire season without injury.

I think this deal is good for the Twins on a number of fronts. First and foremost, the deal provides the Twins some insurance in the event that Pavano does experience injury over the next two seasons. Yes, they are still on the hook for $8.25M per, but that's vastly less than Pavano was expected to sign for. Secondly, this provides the Twins with some extra cash to spend on the bullpen in the last couple months of the off-season. That is huge. For a team with such a void to fill, any wiggle-room is big. Thirdly, Pavano is back with the Twins for two years. He is a veteran presence, by all accounts a good clubhouse guy, and so far with the Twins, he's been consistent and effective. Even if his production declines a little over the next year or two, the Twins will still have guy who can go out there every 5 days (again, if he stays healthy) and give them 5-7 serviceable innings. TwinkieTown had an excellent piece today looking ahead to next year's off-season, paying special attention to the fact that the Twins may very well have $20-$30M to spend. With Pavano locked up beyond next year, he's one less guy they will have to think about, giving them an opportunity to be a major player in the free-agent market in 2012. Who knows what this year will bring, but there is optimism for the Twins beyond this season.

Welcome back 'stash!

Twins 2011 Starting Rotation: New Season, Familiar Faces

So I've been away from blogging for a while, part of it being due to a longer-than-usual post-playoff slump, part of it being due to a much busier work schedule, and part of it being due to an offseason that hasn't thus far provided much to write about (although that should be something we're used to, last winter notwithstanding). Regardless of the reasons, my contributions to this site have been lacking (or nonexistent), leaving AK to shoulder the load, which he has done with his usual excellence. I have to admit that my mind hasn't yet fully shifted into Twins mode, but with the first workout for pitchers and catchers exactly a month away, it's time.

We've already covered the presumptive starting lineup, so now let's take a look at the starting rotation, leaving the biggest questions on the team (the bullpen) for last. Regarding stats, it's still a little early for a lot of projection systems; I don't think PECOTA is out yet and apparently CHONE is deceased, so I'll throw in the recently-released (and notably regression-heavy) ZiPS projections as a point of comparison. Jesse over at Twinkie Town has done some nice work with the offensive numbers, but I'm only looking at the pitchers here. I'm also going to assume that Carl Pavano will be re-signed, which Joe C thinks will be done later this week. I think I'm still generally in favor of a two-year deal depending on the terms, but I'd wager some regression is in the cards for Pavstache.

1. Francisco Liriano

2010 14-10 3.62 2.66 3.06 1.26 9.44 3.47
2011 ZiPS 14-9 3.92

1.33 8.68 2.72

Last season, if perhaps not regaining his untouchable 2006 form (complete with the arm-straining mechanics that produced the filthiest slider in the league but probably weren't sustainable in the long run), Liriano took strides towards becoming the legitimate ace the Twins had been lacking for years. His ability to miss bats and limit walks produced a FIP of 2.66, good for third in all of baseball. Perhaps more importantly, he was able to avoid injury, eating 191 innings, by far his most in a major league season (although in 2008 he threw almost 200, with the bulk of those coming at the AAA level). Projections have his HR total nearly doubling, as he allowed only 9 all of last season for a below-average HR/FB rate of 6.3%. Even with some normalization in that regard, however, the flip side of that coin is the .340 BABIP that ranked as the second-unluckiest mark in the league that should certainly correct downward. There's no reason that Liriano shouldn't be one of the top pitchers in the AL if he can stay healthy, continue to generate strikeouts, and keep the ball on the ground. The bottom line is that the Twins will need Liriano to continue his development into a true staff ace if they want to contend or make any sort of deep playoff run this season.

2. Scott Baker

2010 12-9 4.49 3.96 4.02 1.34 7.82 3.44
2011 ZiPS 13-9 4.02

1.24 7.79 3.58

Is there any pitcher on the staff that is more frustrating than Scott Baker? I should clarify- this isn't meant to be a knock on Baker. He's been the epitome of "solid but not spectacular" the last few seasons, posting a FIP under 4 in three of four recent campaigns. It's the "spectacular" part that gets me, namely Baker's flashes of absolute brilliance that are often followed up by a huge dud. Case in point: June 16th vs Colorado last year, Baker looks completely dominant, striking out 12 in 7 innings and walking only one. A week and a half later, he gives up three home runs to the Mets and barely makes it out of the fourth inning. The long ball is certainly one of Baker's weak spots, given that he's an extreme fly ball pitcher. His HR/FB rate of 10.2% last year was right around average, but the fact that Baker has one of the highest fly ball percentages in the AL means that there are more opportunities for those flies to turn into homers. With the way Target Field plays, one would think that would play to Baker's advantage, but I'm not sure the stats are there to support that yet (in a small sample size, Baker's home HR total total decreased from 12 in 2009 to 8 in 2010, but there's no way of knowing how much of that was due to Target Field). I'd expect some BABIP correction to benefit Baker, as his mark of .329 last year was a little high, and there's a positive trend in that his strikeout rate has trended upwards every year he's been in the league. Baker turns 30 next season, and the true "breakout" year that some of us have predicted in the past maybe isn't likely, but there's no reason we shouldn't expect at least modest improvement for an already solid starter.

3. Carl Pavano

2010 17-11 3.75 4.02 4.01 1.19 4.76 3.16
2011 ZiPS 11-10 4.47

1.29 5.62 3.32

Here's the wild card. While he's not officially signed yet, what should we expect from the recently-turned-35 Carl Pavano in 2011? Pavano proved a key part of the Twins rotation last year, gobbling up 221 innings with a tidy ERA of 3.75, which only marginally exceeded his peripherals. His strikeout rate was certainly unspectacular and represented a marked decrease from 2009, but Pavano was able to make up for it by limiting walks. If you buy into FanGraphs' WAR values, his 2010 performance was worth $12.6 MM. And hey, in honor of Gardy, I'll mention that it certainly seems like Pavano is a "great clubhouse guy" and veteran presence in a young rotation. The computers, however, seem to be taking note of his veteran status. Of the currently-released projections, ZiPS is certainly the hardest on Pavano in terms of ERA (Bill James has him at 4.16), and it has him pegged for only 165 innings in 2011, meaning it thinks some time on the DL is likely. Oddly, though, ZiPS predicts an improvement in K rate and K/BB ratio. I'm a glass-is-half-full kinda guy, so I'll take the over on innings pitched, and I don't see anything glaring in last year's peripherals that would suggest a major statistical correction is in order. However, there's no way around the fact that Pavano is aging. He's never had overpowering raw stuff, and he'll need to rely on his ability to keep the ball on the ground, which he did at career-high clip of 51.2% last season. If you want a statistical reference point for crafy veteran-ness, though, it's pretty interesting that Pavano led all of the majors last season by inducing a 35.9% swing rate on balls outside the zone, a category in which he also led the league in 2009. I'll keep mentioning the holes in the bullpen because that is this team's glaring weakness, and much of Pavano's value is tied up in his ability to eat innings and pitch deep into games, which will take on even more important with the current lack of late-inning options. If (and this is potentially a big if) Pavano can avoid missing significant time for injury, I think he'll once again be a valuable part of this rotation if the price is right.

4. Kevin Slowey

2010 13-6 4.45 3.98 4.48 1.29 6.71 4.00
2011 ZiPS 11-9 4.33

1.25 7.25 4.25

If not a carbon copy of Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey certainly exhibits a fair number of similarities. Both strike out a fairly respectable number of batters, and while both exhibit excellent control, Slowey is Exhibit A of the Twins' emphasis on limiting free passes. K/BB rate isn't necessarily the best predictor of success, but in that regard, Slowey shines; his mark of 4.60 from 2007-2010 is sandwiched right in second place between Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Pretty good company. It's this talent that had some fans, like myself, anticipating much more out of Slowey after what looked to be a pre-breakout 2008 season. But 2009 was cut short by a wrist injury, and in 2010, Slowey never seemed to quite find his groove (a seven-inning no-hitter notwithstanding). His 3.98 FIP was respectable enough, but there were a few worrying signs that will need to turn around if Slowey is to improve in 2011. Back to the Baker analogy, Slowey surpasses his counterpart in his extreme fly ball tendencies. Among pitchers with 150 IP, only Ted Lilly allowed more fly balls and induced fewer grounders, and in fact, Slowey's GB rate of 28.3% was his lowest season mark yet and represents a downward trend over the last three seasons. That's not a recipe for becoming better then a league-average pitcher, even if Slowey may have the K/BB numbers to hang with the big boys. The projections seem to agree, thinking he's in for no more than modest improvements. Slowey's numbers certainly aren't bad for a fourth starter, but I've been hoping for more. Let's hope he proves me wrong.

5. Nick Blackburn

2010 10-12 5.42 5.07 4.62 1.45 3.8 1.70
2011 ZiPS 10-11 4.88

1.41 4.42 2.1

Brian Duensing

2010 10-3 2.62 3.85 4.1 1.2 5.37 2.23
2011 ZiPS 8-7 4.46

1.43 5.06 1.72

I've included both players here because this is likely to be one of the battles to watch in Spring Training. After pitching extremely well out of the bullpen for the much of the season last year, Duensing was called upon to take Blackburn's rotation slot after the latter's historically bad (read our post about it here) June and July. It appeared that Blackburn's extreme pitch-to-contact ways (91% of his pitches were put in play last season) had finally caught up with him. Taken as a whole, his 2010 numbers are putrid. To Blackburn's credit, though, after getting busted to the minors he came back and pitched well in the last few games of the season. He misses hardly any bats, but what Blackburn does have going for him is the ability to induce ground ball outs, something he absolutely must do to have any chance and which he did more than 50% of the time last season. Duensing, however, killed even more worms than Blackburn last season (52.9% GB rate) and has proven he's a generally more effective starter when given the opportunity. Duensing's sparkling numbers last season are partly mitigated by the fact that he spent much of the year as a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen, allowing him to face mostly lefty hitters (which he excels at). He also benefited from a significantly below average BABIP of .254. ZiPS has Duensing with better numbers across the board in 2011, but if I had to bet on it, I'd have to say the job is probably Blackburn's to lose, if only for the fact that Duensing is actually a valuable commodity in the bullpen, whereas Blackburn probably is not. I'd like to see Duensing get the nod from the outset, but if I'm honest I'd say he probably starts 2011 where he started 2010.

Although the Twins' 2011 rotation essentially resembles last year's model, the biggest questions will be whether Liriano continues his ascent to elite status, whether Baker and Slowey can stay solid and find even small ways to get better, whether Pavano can hold off the effects of age and once again reach or surpass 200 innings, and whether Blackburn or Duensing will get the nod in the fifth slot. We'll certainly be paying attention to Kyle Gibson's rise through the minors, but at this point, it looks like things are pretty much set. Neither the White Sox or Tigers made any significant changes to their respective rotations either, so the same cast of characters will be left to duke it out once again for the AL Central title. I can't say I fault the Twins for not making any moves, as there weren't many moves to be made here. We'll have to wait and see if the Twins do anything else to shore up the other side of the pitching equation, which is a much more pressing concern. But that's another story for another day.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Infield/Outfield Set, Bullpen Needs Help

I can't wait for this.
With the news coming yesterday that Alexi Casilla and the Twins avoided arbitration with a one-year, $865K deal, and with last week's re-signing of Jim Thome, the Twins have pretty much filled every infield and outfield position, the only question-mark remaining is the bullpen (!). Let's take a look: 

Catcher: Joe Mauer ($23.00M)
This is the first year of Mauer's new deal and the main question revolving around Joe will be, "can he stay healthy?" When he's played, the production has been there and he's about as consistent as it gets in that department. Mauer will again have a fairly young rotation to work with, but they are all guys he knows well. With Kyle Gibson possibly getting a crack at the Bigs and a bunch of new arms in the 'pen, Mauer will have some new faces, but he's proven a good leader so it's nothing he won't be able to handle. 

1st Base: Justin Morneau - hopefully - ($15.00M)
So the Twins felt it necessary to announce that they think Justin will be ready for Spring Training...and in my book that's a bad sign. If things were going well, why would they have to announce anything, and how many times last year were we told, "oh, things are getting better" only for that to be followed up by a setback? I REALLY hope Morneau isn't another Corey Koskie, but the way this thing is dragging on, it has me concerned. The Twins have shown they can win without Morneau, but their offense is much better with him and he gives the Twins way more options when he's manning 1st base. Here's to hoping Morneau is back playing at the start of this season.
2nd Base: Tsuyoshi Nishioka ($3.00M)
It will be interesting to see what this kid can do. Along with many other Twins bloggers, I wrote about him a couple of months ago and he definitely has potential, both defensively and offensively. I hope that he shows up to Spring Training early and is able to spend a lot of time working with Gardenhire and other Twins coaches because he is going to be an integral part of this year's team. Last year, the Twins had a middle-infield battery of JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson and that defense was good. This year they have two new faces at very important positions and it's going to be imperative that Casilla and Nishioka work well together.

Shortstop: Alexi Casilla ($865K)
Along with Nishioka, Casilla will also be playing an integral part on this year's team as the Twins will be relying on Casilla to produce, both offensively and defensively, on a day-in, day-out basis. Casilla and Nishioka are going to be relied upon not only because of the positions they play, but also because the back-up options behind them are, well, not good ones. Casilla has speed and a good glove, where he has the potential to struggle is at the plate. Like Nishioka, I hope Casilla shows up at Spring Training early to prepare for his new full-time gig.

3rd Base: Danny Valencia (I have no idea what his salary is, $400K?)
I may be in the minority, I don't know, but I think Valencia is in for a disappointing season. His .345 overall BABIP and .416 home BABIP are both unsustainable and Valencia's minor league track record suggests that he is not quite the player that last season's production might suggest. Who knows, maybe he's one of very few players who outperform their minor-league track record. More than likely, though, we're looking at a .280-.290 hitter with a decent .350-something on-base percentage and some power potential. Defensively Valencia was pretty solid last year and I think that bodes well for the Twins. I'm hopeful that Valencia continues to thrive in the Majors, but I think 2011 will be a rougher ride.

Left-Field: Delmon Young (~$3.5M?)
Delmon had somewhat of a break-out year last year and the Twins will be looking for him to continue that trend. Young cut way down on the Ks last year while raising his BB% and that patience at the plate paid off with Young having the best offensive season of his career. Young is still only 25-years old and is just now entering the "power years." He's still a liability defensively, but that bat can negate many of those issues. I'm looking for Delmon to have a fantastic 2011 season.

Center Field: Denard Span ($1.00M)
D-Span followed up two .800+ OPS seasons with a stinker last year, finishing with a paltry line of .264/.331/.348. I think of all of the Twins players, D-Span seemed most affected by Target Field, but hopefully he can turn it around this season. Even if he was able to find a middle ground between last season and the two seasons prior, he would be ok. He's the best OF fielding option the Twins have, by far, and he has pretty good speed on the bases as well. Hopefully some off-season work with the hitting coaches will make D-Span's 2011 season a bit more productive.

Right-Field: Michael Cuddyer ($10.50M) / Jason Kubel ($5.25M)
Provided Morneau is healthy (please God), Cuddyer will be able to resume his normal right-field position, and will be an automatic defensive upgrade over Jason Kubel. With Cuddyer, I have no doubts, he's very consistent both defensively and offensively for the Twins and has been a down-the-stretch catalyst for them the past two seasons. Kubel is going to have to prove himself yet again this season after a very disappointing season, his worst in the past 4 seasons. Kubel will have to work to get regular playing time, especially considering Thome is likely to receive a fair-amount of the DH duties. If Morneau is still down come Opening Day, Kubel will see more time, but that's a less-than-desirable scenario given Kubel's poor defensive skills.

Designated Hitter: Jim Thome ($3M + incentives) / Jason Kubel / Delmon Young
I like the re-signing of Thome not only for his presence with the team which is positive and upbeat, but also for his potential ROI, which I would have to say is high considering the cost. Earlier in the off-season, I was against re-signing Jimbo, particularly because of the track record of over-40 sluggers, but Jim brings more than just a bat to the team, he brings experience and that attitude that is infectious in the clubhouse. I don't expect he'll hit 25 HRs again this year, but for $3M, even if he hits 15-20 he'd be worth the money.

Barring injury or unforeseen trade, those are your likely starters at each position for the 2011 season. I think it will be pretty obvious in Spring Training how the Casilla/Nishioka experiment is going to go, but again, the Twins don't exactly have many alternatives if it turns out to be a disaster. Top to bottom the lineup looks solid, particularly if Morneau is back. Here's my projected 2011 Minnesota Twins lineup:

1. Denard Span (L)
2. Tsuyoshi Nishioka (S)
3. Joe Mauer (L)
4. Justin Morneau (L)
5. Delmon Young (R)
6. Jim Thome (L) /Jason Kubel (L)
7. Michael Cuddyer (R)
8. Danny Valencia (R)
9. Alexi Casilla (S)

That seems like a lot from the left-side in the middle of the lineup, but I don't see many other ways to stack it, particularly if you want your power in the middle. Anyway, I like the way it looks, something tells me Nishioka is going to benefit greatly from having Mauer behind him. The middle looks fearsome with legit power in the 4, 5, 6, and 7 holes. I like Casilla batting 9th because with D-Span and T-Nish following, you will have some legit speed in front of Mauer/Morneau. Those are my thoughts, what do you think?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Despite Steroids, McGwire Doesn't Belong

The Hall of Fame voting provides fodder for endless discussion at work with fellow baseball fans and one thing I keep hearing around the water cooler AND among the bloggers/articles is this notion that McGwire is somehow being denied a shot at the Hall of Fame. The din regarding this subject was less this year than last, but I'm still hearing it. I'm here to say that even with steroids, McGwire's numbers were not Hall of Fame caliber. He stands out as a player in your mind because of a couple of magical seasons in the late '90s, but aside from that brief period, his stats are underwhelming.

Here are the numbers (click the pic for a larger view or visit here):
Alright, so obviously the 583 career HRs pop out. The .982 career OPS is not bad either. McGwire was clearly a HR hitter from the very start of his career and, in fact, his rookie record of 49 homeruns remains the record to this day. I suspect (and McGwire has said as much) that he started taking steroids as a result of injury-riddled seasons from 1993-95 in attempts to heal his body more quickly. It worked because he played in almost every game from '96 to '99.

For the sake of my argument, I'm going to lead you through an exercise. From 1987 to 1992 McGwire played in most of the games during those seasons and averaged 36.16 HRs and 99.8 RBIs per year. From 1996 to 1999, McGwire again played in a vast majority of the games in those seasons but his averages went up to 61.25 HRs and 132.5 RBIs. So, let us assume that steroids accounted for that increase in production (even though I'm not entirely sold on that idea). That's ~25 less HRs per year and ~32.7 less RBIs per year. If you make those adjustments to McGwire's career numbers, 100 less HRs and 130 less RBIs, McGwire's numbers, though still admirable, do not look Hall worthy.

483 HRs, 1,067 Rs, and 1,284 RBIs aren't nearly the eye-popping numbers we see now on the stat sheet. Not only that, you'd have to make subsequent adjustments to the SLG% and OPS numbers. Towards the bottom of the Baseball-Reference page is a short summary of a given player's HOF credentials. Among the 4 categories, McGwire's numbers as they stand make him a pretty average HOFer, but if you take away some of the possibly enhanced figures, I bet his credentials would be a little more shaky, especially since the HOF monitor takes into account things like, "leading the league in HRs" and other similar "stats." The bottomline for me is that none of the numbers I quoted above (483/1067/1284) are HOF worthy, especially given the inflation some of those numbers have gone through over the past several years. The bar is generally thought to be 500 HRs, 1200Rs or 1500 RBIs and even with some inflated numbers, McGwire only meets the standard in one of those categories.

I think until Cooperstown itself comes out with a statement on the Steroid Era, there will continue to be this divide amongst the writers. Even if Cooperstown comes out with something there will still be a divide, but it will be lessened. The issue is going to come to a head here within a few years because eventually we're going to have the likes of Bonds and A-Rod on the ballot and it will be impossible to keep them out of the Hall (not they should be kept out anyway). So if some known Steroid users are allowed in the Hall but others are not because of Steroid use, there is going to be this very odd double-standard which creates a big mess. The Hall should nip this all in the bud and address it now.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Future HOFer?: Carlos Delgado

I didn't intend to take 2-3 weeks off of blogging about the Twins, but to be honest, there hasn't been much of anything to talk about. I could do a Top 20 Prospect list like many others out there, or a Top 40 Twins of All-Time like Gleeman, but that sort of thing is basically a blogging euphemism for "nothing is happening." No offense to anyone who puts those together, I really enjoy reading the lists, but that's not for me.

One thing I like to do from time to time is take a look at certain players who may be on the cusp of having potential Hall of Fame stats and speculate on their chances. I've done it with Johnny Damon, Todd Helton and Bobby Abreu and the Damon piece actually got a fair amount of play. Today's candidate is Carlos Delgado.

Delgado was signed, at age 17, by the Toronto Blue Jays as an amateur free-agent in 1988, right out of high-school. Between 1989 and 1995, Delgado spent a significant amount of time in the minors, though he did make his Major League debut in 1993, playing in 2 game during a year in which the Blue Jays won the World Series (Delgado didn't play in the post-season). With a .302/.403/.520 career minor league hitting line, it was clear that Delgado had the bat to make it in the Majors. In 1996, he became a full-time Major Leaguer, splitting time between 1st base and DH.

From the time Delgado had a full-time spot in the Bigs, he didn't disappoint. Starting in 1996, he ripped off 13 consecutive seasons with at least 24HRs and 91RBIs. Over that period he had over 35HRs seven times (including over 30 in ten consecutive years) and knocked in over 100 nine times. He finished in the top-10 in the MVP voting 4 times during his career, won the Silver Slugger Award 3 times, and was elected to the All-Star team 2 times (2000 and 2003).

Delgado's career triple-slash is an impressive .280/.383/.546, and if he doesn't play again, he'll finish his career with 1,512 RBIs (49th All-Time), 473 HRs (30th All-Time), and 1,241 Rs. His career 138 OPS+ ranked 83rd All-Time which puts him ahead of HOFers such as George Brett, Ken Griffey Jr. (sure-fire HOFer), Larry Doby and Al Kaline. As far as Puerto Rican players go, he ranks #1 all-time in HRs and RBIs.

At 38, it appears that Delgado's career is very near the end, if not already over. After playing only 26 games in the 2009 season, Delgado managed only 5 minor league games last season and has been battling hip issues over that period. Unless a team takes a flier on him, it's doubtful we'll see him in a Major League uniform again, though it's not entirely out of the question. On the strength of Delgado's HR and RBI numbers alone he looks Hall worthy. His 15,144 putouts at 1st base ranks him 42nd All-Time and he showed some durability during his prime. He had the misfortune of playing during the Steroid era so the question will probably hang over him. I would assert that Delgado is definitely in the discussion for the Hall of Fame, but he is by no means a 1st ballot, no-doubter. He was a very good player during his time and one of the best in Jays history, but offensively talented 1st basemen aren't exactly rare making the competition steep.

As a side note, CONGRATS TO BERT BLYLEVEN. Dozens of other Twins blogs have written about it so I won't over-saturate the market, but he's been waiting a long time, it's good to see him finally get the nod.