Saturday, February 19, 2011

Albert Pujols: The LeBron James of Baseball?

I have seen a lot of comparisons on the internet, and heard some of them in person, of LeBron James and Albert Pujols. Of course, these comparisons hinge on the fact that Pujols and the Cardinals did not come to an agreement before the end of Pujols' self-imposed deadline. I am here to refute the fact that Pujols is anything like LeBron James, even if Pujols does end up leaving the Cardinals for the Cubs or some other team.

1. Pujols hasn't even left yet, and he may not.

He imposed his deadline because now he just wants to focus on playing, something that is certainly respectable. There is still some chance that Pujols gets signed during the exclusive free agency period where the Cardinals can be the only team to talk to him. It's also possbile the Cardinals could retain him after he can talk to anyone. So, obviously, the fact that Pujols hasn't even left and spurned the team he spent years with, is a pretty big difference. Granted, it could be a temporary difference.

2. The Cardinals did not offer him anything close to market value.

Now, I'm not anywhere close to being an expert on basketball, but as I recall the Cavaliers actually offered James MORE money than the Heat did, making this comparison less valid. If you believe the reports, the Cardinals offered Pujols something like 8 years at $21m a year. Now, this sounds like a lot of money to you and me, but it's important to note what lesser (but still clearly very good) First Basemen are being paid right now:
Mark Teixeira - 22.5m/year
Ryan Howard - $25m/year

Who in their right mind, would give Pujols a serious offer that makes him only the third highest player at his position? I have a serious feeling that if Pujols were just offered market value ($26m/year, which would still be a home town discount) as the best first basemen in the game, he would probably take the deal. The reason this varies so much from LeBron James, is that it is not as if Pujols was offered an extremely fair deal for his "talents" like LeBron was, the Cardinals were trying to severely underpay him.

3. Pujols helped the Cardinals win a championship.

Clearly something LeBron James never did for the Cavaliers. Unlike with James, it is not as if Pujols did not bring his city greatest reward in all of his respective sport. It stands to reason, similarly, that Cardinals fans will not be nearly as vociferous towards Pujols as Cavaliers fans are towards LeBron, given this fact. I am not saying they won't be hostile -- they probably will be if he leaves, just not AS hostile.

4. The Cardinals before Pujols were not perennial losers.

The Cavaliers, throughout NBA history before LeBron James, were a horrible team. The St. Louis Cardinals are far from it. If you didn't know, the Cardinals have the second most championships of any MLB team with 10 World Series Championships. They won 9 of those without Pujols. The fact that the Cardinals are known for winning also makes the comparison difficult. Pujols is not the one bright light in the history of the franchise that everyone hopes will win them a championship some day. As I stated earlier, Pujols already helped them win one championship, and they won many more without him.

5. Pujols is not the only superstar on the team

In case you forgot, the Cardinals also have Matt Holliday and an extremely good starting rotation. Not to mention a steadily rising star in Colby Rasmus. The Cardinals would certainly be able to reload if they lost Pujols -- they do not have all of their eggs in one basket like the Cavaliers did.

Anyway, that's it for now. It will be interesting to see where Pujols lands next witner.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Biggest Winners of the Offseason

Since nothing of great magnitude is going on in the baseball world, except for the ongoing Michael Young situation and the Albert Pujols contract negotation -- both of which may be worth writing a blog about if they ever develop into anything, I figured I'd use this week's post to talk the teams who I feel are the top 5 winners of the offseason.

It should be noted that I consider a team "winners" if they see needs on their team and effectively address them, this may lead to my results being a little bit different than you would expect. For instance, up front I am going to state that I did not include the Philadelphia Phillies as "winners", for the fact that they lost an important part of their line-up in Jayson Werth, and now have a left-handed heavy lineup with absolutely no right-handed pop -- Cliff Lee or no Cliff Lee. Also, it's important to note that whoever the "winners" are of the offseason may not be the winners of the regular season. Things on paper frequently appear better than the real thing.

Top 5 Winners
5. Chicago White Sox
Biggest Offseason moves:
-Signed Adam Dunn 1B/OF/DH to 4 year/$56 million contract.
-Signed 1B Paul Konerko to a 3 year/$37 million contract
-Signed 2B/SS Alexei Ramirez to a 4 year/$32.5 million extension.

Why they are winners: While it's true alot of what the White Sox did tihs off-season was simply make sure a couple of their cornerstone players were locked up for a while, that in itself can be a big move. Ramirez is one of the better infielders in baseball, and has the ability to play 2B or SS. While he has not quite had a 20-20 season, there seems to be one in his near future. It's true that Konerko is aging, but chances are he will outperform a countract that really does not overpay him. He is essentially a lock for 28+ homers, and is a force in the middle of that line-up, and he will probably benefit to some degree from the addition of Adam Dunn. Dunn is the type of power threat that is becoming increasingly rare in major league baseball, being a lock for homers in the upper 30s. While Dunn is certainly a liability in the field, he will benefit from playing the majority of his games at DH. In short, the White Sox have not lost anyone from their fairly effective team last year, and have strengthened their line-up greatly with the addition of Dunn.

4. Detroit Tigers
Biggest Offseason Moves:
-Signed C/1B Victor Martinez to a 4 year/$50m contract.
-Signed RP Joaquin Benoit to a 3 year/$15m contract.
-Signed SP Brad Penny to a 1 year/$3m contract

Why they are winners: The Tigers were in desperate need of someone in the line-up who can hit who is not named Miguel Cabrera, some depth in their bullpen, and some depth in their starting rotation. Clearly, these three signings address those issues. Martinez is one of the best hitting catchers in baseball -- though it seems likely the Tigers will have him spend at least one-third of his time at DH or first base. The addition of Martinez takes some pressure off of Miguel Cabrera (not that he doesn't thrive under it), and also gives him at least some degree of protection in the line-up. On the whole, the Tigers line-up will be much better with the Switch-hitting Martinez in the line-up. While I kind of feel like the Tigers gave Benoit more years than they should given, given the volatility of relief pitchers, Benoit has for the most part been an effective relief pitcher in his career, and will help their bullpen. Brad Penny is clearly a low-risk high-reward type of player given his recent injury history and ineffectiveness at times, but while he was healthy last year, he pitched very well for the Cardinals. If he can make 30 starts this year, he will be a big help to the rotation.

3. Oakland Athletics
Biggest Offseason Moves:
-Traded for OF Josh Willingham
-Signed DH Hideki Matsui to a 1 year/4.25m contract.
-Traded for OF David DeJesus.
-Signed Brian Fuentes to a 2 year/$10.5m contract.

Why they are winners: The Oakland Athletics, believe it or not, had the best starting rotation in baseball last year as far as ERA goes, but they still didn't come close to making the postseason. It seems that Billy Beane has responded by adding some undervalued players that could really contribute to their extremely weak line-up from last year. Willingham, Matsui, and DeJesus all represent significant upgrades to their line-up. Willingham and Matsui's power may suffer a little bit given the dimensions that theyw ill now be playing in, but despite that, they should contribute a fair percentage of the home runs that this team has come season's end. DeJesus is a classic example of a player who does everything well, but is not outstanding in any aspect of his game, and his numbers should not suffer at all from moving.
Brian Fuentes strengthens their bullpen with a veteran pitcher, and he could also close if the situation calls for it, something that is not completely out of the question given Andrew Bailey's injuries last year.
Given their upgrades, the Oakland Athletics stand to be this year's San Francisco Giants.

2. Milwaukee Brewers
Biggest Offseason Moves:
-Trading Prospects for SP Zack Greinke.
-Trading Prospects for SP Shaun Marcum

Why they are winners: The Brewers have gotten a lot of criticism for not extening Prince Fielder this offseason, but to some degree I feel it is a good move on their part. Fielder is goign to ask for a Ryan Howard-sized deal, and the Brewers can simply not afford that. Additionally, Fielder is not a player who projects to be great for a long period of time.
So, the Brewers, knowing they cannot afford to extend Fielder, decided to try to contend this year in the last year that Fielder will be no the team. The Brewers had an awful starting rotation last year, so they have added a legitimate number 1 and number 2 starter to the mix. Both Marcum and Greinke have good track records, and should perform well for the Brewers. The Brewers stand to have an excellent bounceback year if their line-up performs as it did last year and their revamped rotation pitches up to expectations.

1. Boston Red Sox
-Traded for 1B Adrian Gonzalez, with a long-term extension all but signed according to reports.
-Signed Carl Crawford to a 7 year/$142m contract.
-Signed Bobby Jenks to a 2 year/$12m contract.

Why they are winners: Almost everyone agrees the Red Sox won the offseason, so this should come as no surprise. The Red Sox had to fill the voids left by Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez, and they did so admirably. Talks of the Red Sox trading for Adrian Gonzalez had been literally going on for two years, and it finally happened. The Red Sox also shocked everyone by signing Carl Crawford. The Red Sox line-up should be at least as good as it was last year, despite the losses of Beltre and Martinez. The Red Sox, in addition to Bobby Jenks, signed a number of bullpen arms (Dan Wheeler, etc,.) having effectively reconstructed what was one of the worst bullpens in the major leagues last year. Jenks can also close if Papelbon gets injured or continues to slide towards ineffectiveness, though it seems likely the Red Sox would give Daniel Bard a shot at closing first.

On paper, it is arguable that the Red Sox are the best team in the American League. But as I stated at the beginning of this, there are still 162 games for the Red Sox, and all of these other offseason "winners" to play.

I figure I will also post my list of offseason "losers", albeit without analysis. Leave a comment if you are interested as to why certain teams made the list:

5. San Francisco Giants
4. Seattle Mariners
3. Cleveland Indians
2. New York Yankees
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Have a good week everyone, Spring Training is almost here!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Andy Pettitte: Hall of Famer?

As most of you have probably heard by now, Andy Pettitte has officially declared his retirement. This is going to cause a lot of problems for the Yankees rotation this year, but that is not really the topic of this post. As is frequently the case when a player with a lengthy and effective career retires, the debates have begun as to whether Andy Pettite should be in the Hall of Fame in 5 years when he is eligible. I am going to join that debate.

To start off, I am simply going to state that I do not believe Andy Pettitte belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Those who believe he should be in the Hall of Fame cite his impressive post-season statistics as the primary reason. If you didn’t know, Pettitte holds the record for the most wins in the post-season. This is no doubt impressive, but also something that should probably be taken with a grain of salt. Pettitte plays in an era where the postseason is set up in such a way that there are many chances for a pitcher on a very good team to get postseason wins. Great pitchers from the past have absolutely no chance to rank anywhere near the top of such a list, meaning that saying “Pettitte has the most postseason wins of all time” is kind of a hollow statement in that the current post-season format, as compared to the past, makes it much easier for him to accrue wins.

If you look at the list of the most postseason wins, everyone on the list is a modern pitcher. Now, it’s true that Pettitte has more wins than guys from his era who are known for their postseason ability like John Smoltz and Curt Schilling, but a comparison of their other stats shows that Pettitte was not the best postseason starter of all time, and simply benefitted from better run support and more appearances in the postseason. Here are those three pitcher’s postseason stats:

Pettitte: 19-10, 3.83 ERA, 5.9 K/9, 1.304 WHIP.

Smoltz: 15-4, 2.67 ERA, 8.6 K/9, 1.144 WHIP.

Schilling: 11-2, 2.23 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 1.125 WHIP

It should be fairly clear from those statistics that despite having fewer wins, Smoltz and Schilling are in fact in a higher class than Pettitte as far as their post-season performances go. They won a lot of games in a lot fewer appearances, and put up much more dominant numbers than Pettitte ever did. I chose Smoltz and Schilling because they are both guys who are often cited as future Hall of Famers in part because of their post-season stats, so I thought it necessary to show what more legitimate Hall of Fame candidates had done in the postseason.

The other argument people tend to make is simply stating that Pettitte’s regular season statistics are good enough, combined with his postseason success, to get him into the Hall of Fame. Once again, I disagree.

Here is Pettitte’s career line: 240-138, 3.88 ERA, 1.357 WHIP, 9.4 H/9, 6.6 K/9.

Here is Pedro Martinez’s career line: 219-100, 2.93 ERA, 1.054 WHIP, 7.1 H/9, 10.0 K/9.

Once again, for comparison’s sake, I am using someone who is typically considered a future Hall of Famer to compare Pettitte’s numbers too, just to indicate how far off the pace he is in everything but Wins. While Pettitte’s career winning percentage is fairly impressive – No one who is 102 games over the .500 mark for Wins has ever NOT made it in into the hall of fame. The rest of Pettitte’s numbers are not anywhere near that elite. His ERA, WHIP, and Hits and Strikeouts per nine innings are all fairly solid, and fairly typical for a Number 3 starter. How many pitchers in the Hall of Fame have given up more than one hit per inning in their career? The answer is one, and he got in 65 years ago. How many Number 3 starters make the Hall of Fame? Only the ones who have the longevity to win 300 games, which Pettitte has not done. Once again, Pettitte’s win total is inflated by the great offenses he pitched for.

There may have been a time where Win Percentage MIGHT have been enough to get Pettitte into the Hall of Fame, but if the last two American League Cy Young Award winners, who were not even in the top 10 in Wins in their respective years (Zach Greinke, 16-8 in 2009 and Felix Hernandez, 13-12 in 2010) indicate anything, it is that voters are starting to look at more than just Wins.

Now, I feel it necessary to post a disclaimer in saying that I think Andy Pettitte is certainly a very good pitcher. If I did not think so, I would not have begun this article by stating that the Yankees rotation is going to miss him. However, being in the Hall of Fame means being MORE than very good. It means being among the best of your era. Something that Andy Pettitte certainly is not. It should be noted that I did not even bring up pitchers like Randy Johnson and other pitchers who seem to be a lock for first ballot on the Hall of Fame. Pettitte will forever be remembered as a good player with multiple World Series wins and rings, especially because he plays for the biggest team in the sport, but this does not make him a Hall of Famer.