Monday, April 21, 2008

If I was the owner of the Toronto Blue Jays, I'd have already called GM J.P. Ricciardi into my office for a bit of a screaming session, starting out with "Why the hell did you throw away $8 million on Frank Thomas?"

During the offseason, the Blue Jays re-signed future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. The contract called for Thomas to make $8 million in 2008 and contained a $10 million option for 2009 that would automatically vest if Thomas amassed 304 plate appearances this year. This past weekend, the Blue Jays released Frank Thomas. They're still on the hook for the full $8 million, but no longer have to worry about him playing enough to earn the 2009 salary.

There are three possible explanations for this situation:

1. J.P. Ricciardi made a stupid decision during the offseason.
2. J.P. Ricciardi made a stupid decision this weekend.
3. Something significant happened in between those two points in time so that the contract made sense in the first place, but now seems so bad that it's not even worth giving Thomas a little more time to turn around his season.

And if I'm the Blue Jays owner and I'm out $8 million, I need to hear Ricciardi make a convincing case for #3. I don't see it. Was Thomas bad over his first 16 games? Definitely. But, Thomas has always been a slow starter; his career stats in April are significantly worse than for any other month. Over the last few years, he's been particularly bad. Before his release, Thomas had 72 plate appearances this season. Here are his stats through his first 72 plate appearances of each of the last three years:

year H 2B HR BB SO avg obp slg ops
2008 10 1   3 11 13 .167 .306 .333 .639
2007 12 2   2 10 13 .197 .319 .328 .647
2006 11 2   4   7 10 .169 .250 .385 .635

Those three lines are virtually identical. After a horrible start in 2006, he went on to have a very productive season, finishing with a .926 OPS and 39 homers, good enough for fourth place in the MVP voting and a contract from J.P. Ricciardi. After that horrible start in 2007, he went on to have another productive season, finishing with a .377 obp and a .480 slugging percentage, good enough for a new $8 million contract from J.P. Ricciardi. Now, after a virtually identical start, that same J.P. Ricciardi has decided that Frank Thomas is worthless?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

This article on Slate makes it clear that the only reason I'm not in the major leagues is because I was born in May instead of August.

Jokes aside, this article actually contains some really interesting findings.
"Since 1950, a baby born in the United States in August has had a 50 percent to 60 percent better chance of making the big leagues than a baby born in July."
The reason for this is that July 31 has been the cutoff for "age" in little league, so kids born in August are the oldest in their leagues. It makes sense, but I'm surprised. I assumed that all future major leaguers would've dominated in little league even if they were a little young for their "age."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

There's an article on CBSSports about how amazing Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA in 1968 was.

Don't get me wrong, it was a great season. One of the best in the modern era, maybe the best. Gibson had a 1.12 ERA. He pitched over 300 innings. If he had thrown 1.3 more innings, he would have averaged 9 per start (he went over 9 on multiple occasions).

But, the 1.12 ERA mostly looks so amazing because of the depressed offensive levels that year. In the NL that year, the entire league had a 2.99 ERA; the AL had a 2.98 ERA. Just for a point of reference, the league ERAs last year were 4.43 and 4.50. If you make a list of the top ERA seasons since 1920, 9 of the top 50 seasons occurred in 1968, maxing out with Bob Veale and Stan Bahnsen at 2.05.

Baseball Reference has a statistic called ERA+, which adjusts ERA for league conditions and park effects. Gibson's season only ranks 4th in the modern era. Here's the top 6:

Pedro 2000 - 291
Maddux 1994 - 271
Maddux 1995 - 262
Gibson 1968 - 258
Pedro 1999 - 243
Gooden 1985 - 228

Pedro tops the list. In 2000, he had a 1.74 ERA. The league ERA was 4.91. Adjusted for Fenway, it's 5.07.

Gibson supporters will point out that he pitched far more innings than those other pitchers. But, he pitched in an era when everyone pitched more innings. In 1968, the average NL starter pitched 6.8 innings per game. In 2000, the average AL starter pitched 5.8 innings per game. Here's how the pitchers above did compared to their league (and how many games they started):

Pedro 2000 - 29 gs, 29% better than average ip/gs
Maddux 1994 - 25 gs, 33%
Maddux 1995 - 28 gs, 26%
Gibson 1968 - 34 gs, 32%
Pedro 1999 - 30 gs*, 23%
Gooden 1985 - 35 gs, 26%

Gibson does well here, the only pitcher who beats him on ip/gs% is 1994 Maddux, and it's very close. But, his edge against the rest of the pack seems a lot less significant than it does when you just look at the raw totals. Pedro also deserves to be knocked down a notch for his lack of durability. He only started 29 games in 2000, and had 29 starts and 2 relief appearances in 1999. Maddux's GS look low, but those were strike-shortened seasons. Does he deserve less credit? It's hard to say. It's not his fault that the seasons were shorter, but it's somewhat easier to deviate from the norm over shorter periods (in other words, if the season was only 1 day long, someone could have a 0.00 era).

In conclusion, Gibson clearly had one of the greatest pitching seasons of all time. There's a very good argument that it was the best. But, there's also an argument for 2000 Pedro or 1994 Maddux. Gibson had one of the best seasons ever; he was also lucky enough to have it during an incredibly favorable year for pitching statistics.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Why No Pedro?
I realize part of the blame goes to Delgado for his error, but what the hell was Willie thinking in the 7th inning? Why is Scott Schoeneweis his go-to lefty specialist? Where's Feliciano?
Then in the 8th, Utley and Howard came up again in a critical spot, this time against a struggling Heilman. And Willie still doesn't use Feliciano?

Here's everyone's OPS against left-handed hitters along with K/BB ratio over the last 2 years:

Feliciano ----- .541 - 74/16
Schoeneweis - .659 - 36/22
Heilman ----- .698 - 67/33

Feliciano has clearly been better against lefties. Why isn't he the one to face Utley & Howard in a critical spot? Isn't it an obvious decision?

[UPDATE - as indicated in the comments, it turns out that Feliciano went to PR on Monday to attend to a family emergency and a delay on his return flight caused him to miss the game. Sorry Willie, all is forgiven.]

Friday, April 04, 2008

This doesn't solve the short-term pitching problem, but I'm still glad to hear this news from Ken Rosenthal:

Come June or July, the Mets still figure to be the No. 1 choice of free-agent right-hander Freddy Garcia, who is recovering from major shoulder surgery. Garcia is good friends with Santana, a fellow Venezuelan, and they share the same agents. When Garcia visited the Mets camp this spring, Pedro Martinez grabbed a piece of paper, waved to Garcia and jokingly demanded that Mets GM Omar Minaya give him a pen, saying, "Here's the contract, here's the contract."

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Credit to The MZA for finding this gem from 2001, in which Mets pitching coach Charlie Hough lavishes some- in hindsight- outrageous praise:
Bill James answers (lots of) questions at Freakonomics.
He made an interesting proposal:

My pet project is a rule to limit pitching changes in the late innings. My rule, specifically, would be this:
1) Each team is entitled to one unrestricted pitching change per game.
2) With the exception of that one unrestricted change, no pitcher may be removed from the game in mid-inning unless he has been charged with allowing a run in that inning. With an exception for injuries, of course.

When you propose a rules change like that, people say, "Oh, you’re changing the way the game has always been." That’s nonsense. In 1970 major league teams used 1.75 relievers per game. In 1990 they used 2.02 relievers per game, and in 2007 they used 2.97 per game — and the rate of increase in this area is still accelerating.

I'm generally wary of any rules changes, but this would be a way of speeding up games a little and would merely be combating a very recent innovation in the game that is generally annoying. I think it's probably a little too restrictive, but some limitation on reliever substitution would probably benefit the game, even something as simple as requiring that a reliever face at least 2 batters (unless the inning ends).

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Cool feature on Baseball Reference that lets you look at the year-by-year Opening Day lineups for any team.

I realize a lot of fans aren't excited about Ryan Church being our right fielder, but here's the bunch of clowns that have manned the position on Opening Day over the last 14 years, along with their OPS+ for the season (100 = league average, and a starting right fielder should really be above average):

1994 Jeromy Burnitz 79
1995 Carl Everett 110
1996 Butch Huskey 101
1997 Carl Everett 91
1998 Butch Huskey 85
1999 Bobby Bonilla 48
2000 Derek Bell 98
2001 Darryl Hamilton 68
2002 Jeromy Burnitz 80
2003 Jeromy Burnitz 105
2004 Karim Garcia 68
2005 Eric Valent 50
2006 Xavier Nady 102
2007 Shawn Green 104
1 Down, 161 To Go

What more could we ask for on Opening Day? Johan delivers seven strong innings. David Wright hits a 3-run double. Mets win 7-2.

Can Pedro get the job done tonight?