Seven offseason questions for baseball executives

November 10, 2011

Jerry Crasnick* wrote an interesting article over on today about seven major questions facing teams this offseason. He asked 28 baseball executives their thoughts. It’s a good read; I encourage you to go check it out.

* The most underrated writer on ESPN, and it’s not even all that close.

As always, Crasnick’s article gives me a great starting point for my own post. Here are my thoughts on each of the seven questions he raised:

1. Which free-agent first baseman, Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, will provide the best value over the life of his next contract?

20 votes for Fielder, 3 votes for Pujols, and five abstentions.

Um, what?

There was on point that was lost in the shuffle with all the talk of Albert Pujols having a bad season last year: Albert Pujols didn’t have a bad season last year. He had an ugly .245/.305/.453 line through April, but that was mostly because of a ridiculous .211 BABIP. That won’t happen again. Pujols will be Pujols.

And I get all the talk – Pujols is 32 and he might actually be older, because he was born in the Dominican Republic. Sure, Pujols may be older than 32. But Prince Fielder actually is fat.

Which leads me to the real inspiration for this post: a quote from an anonymous AL scout, dismissing concerns over Fielder’s weight: Fielder has “been fat since he was born, so he knows how to play with fat.”

Not only is that a dumb, meaningless thing to say, but that is some seriously dangerous logic coming from a scout. Let’s count down the ways that this quote is insanely stupid:

1. At first I thought that quote has meaning. It was certainly presented as a coherent thought. Don’t be fooled: of course he knows how to play with fat. He is either the first or second most coveted free agent on the market, and there really is no third place. But what in the world does that have to do with a free agent contract?

2. How exactly does someone play fat? The argument against being fat is that your joints wear down faster because you are carrying weight. Maybe Prince knows some sort of magical way to think the joint pain away. If so, I hope he reads this and calls me, because every day I age, I get a little sorer climbing out of bed.

3. Let’s play with that quote a little bit. If I’m missing something logically, let me know, but these all seem to be the same:

  • Mark Prior has been throwing in that motion since he was born, so he knows how to throw in that motion;
  • Rocco Baldelli has been playing with mitochondrial abnormalities since he was born, so he knows how to play with mitochondrial abnormalities; and most importantly
  • Cecil Fielder has been fat since he was born, so he knows how to play with fat.
Which leads me to my final point:
4. Krasnick points out that Fielder is durable: “since his rookie year, Fielder has appeared in 157, 158, 159, 162, 161 and 162 games.” Prince turns 29 this year.
Cecil Fielder was a part-time player until he turned 24. He played a full season in Japan at age 25 before the Tigers signed him. In the following four seasons, he played in 159, 162, 155, and 154 games.
In 1993, at age 29 just like Prince, he signed a 5-year, $36 million dollar contract with the Tigers. The contract made him he highest paid player in baseball in 1994 and 1995. Number of games per season from 1994 (when he turned 30) through the end of his career: 109, 136, 160, 98, and 117.
He had eaten himself out of the league by age 34 and inspired this magnificent quote on his baseball-reference page:
“If you’re ever running low on inspiration during your physical rehab, just think of Cecil Fielder and the endless hours he put in at the gym to become one of the best power-eaters of the 90s.”
So yeah, you might want to think twice about giving the already fat guy a boatload of guaranteed money. I take Pujols any day of the week.
2. Which free-agent closer, Joe Nathan or Frankie Rodriguez, has a better chance of regaining his former glory?
Um, neither. Have you seen these guys pitch lately? 13 scouts picked Nathan, 12 picked Rodriguez, with three undecided. I think we can assume the three undecided said something close to “Um, neither.” Perhaps Crasnick would have received more neithers/honest answers if he framed the question this way:
Which free-agent closer, the 37-year old who lost several miles off his fastball after Tommy John surgery or the headcase whose most notable accomplishment in the last two years was getting arrested for fighting with his own teammate, has a better chance of regaining his former glory?
Yeah, that sounds way better.
3. Which 2011 free-agent signee has the best chance of rebounding next season? Adam Dunn (.159 with 11 home runs), Carl Crawford (.255 BA, .289 OBP, 18 stolen bases) or Jayson Werth (.232, 69 runs scored, 58 RBIs)?
22 scouts went with Crawford, 5 with Werth, and one with Dunn. This seems easy – how can it be anyone but Crawford?
I don’t recall Werth ever being a very good player. Other than the Nationals front office, I don’t recall anyone else thinking Werth was a very good player. I’m just not entirely sure what Werth would rebound from, so he’s out.
Dunn built a career on two things and two things only: walks and home runs. He can’t hit home runs any more, so that leaves walks. He did walk last year – he somehow drew 75 while hitting .159 – but eventually pitchers are going to stop pitching around him. Home run hitters simply don’t have much value once they can’t hit home runs any more.* One scout compared Dunn’s potential 2012 season to Lance Berkman’s 2011 season, but I don’t see it. Berkman was a solid all-around hitter before a bad 2010 season; Dunn was not.
* See McGwire, Mark.
That leaves Carl Crawford by default. Crawford earned a spot on my fantasy baseball shit list after I wasted the ninth overall pick on him this season, but I still have to pick him for this question. I don’t know if he will rebound, but he is the only one of those three who has a chance to rebound.

4. Which vacant managerial job poses the toughest challenge: Boston, St. Louis or the Chicago Cubs?

Responses from the scouts: Boston 20, St. Louis 5, Chicago 3. I get the argument: Boston has a far more intense fanbase, while St. Louis will be less anxious after their World Series win and the Cubs are the Cubs – but I disagree. For me, it has to be the Cubs.

The Red Sox are still insanely talented. The manager doesn’t have that hard of a job. Besides, there’s a reason why managers tend to last five years or less: sometimes a team just needs a new leader. The circle of baseball life, if you will. It doesn’t even matter who the leader is.

Unlike the Cardinals and Red Sox, the Cubs suck. They had the sixth highest payroll in baseball last year and I couldn’t begin to tell you how that happened. I look at their lineup and it looks like the lineup of a team that would finish 71-91. They didn’t underachieve.

Then there’s the Theo Epstein issue. I like Theo and I hope he does well. But he came right out and told Ryne Sandberg that he wasn’t a candidate for the job. Cubs fans flat-out LOVE Sandberg. No other manager would draw anywhere close to as much fan enthusiasm.

So why didn’t Theo consider him? It has to be ego. I can’t think of any other rational explanation. Theo simply doesn’t want a manager overshadowing the work he intends to do to turn around the Cubs. And that is why the Cubs’ job will be the toughest.

5. Which lefty starter, 31-year-old C.J. Wilson or 32-year-old Mark Buehrle, is the better bet to perform over the course of his free-agent deal?

14 scouts voted for Buehrle, eight for Wilson, and six undecided.

Tough call. Buehrle’s the sure thing, while Wilson could be anywhere from great to terrible. I’d take Buerhle, but I could also see an argument either way.

With Buerhle, you know you’re getting a solid number two starter, nothing more, nothing less. And given that the Yankees lost Games 2 and 5 in the ALDS, I’d take the sure thing.

6. Which 2011 September-collapse team has a better chance of making the playoffs next year: Boston or Atlanta?

The scouts picked Boston and I’d agree. This team had no business missing the playoffs this year and they shouldn’t miss it next year. Furthermore, I don’t think Atlanta can win the NL East over the Phillies, so they’d have to rely on the Wild Card. The Red Sox, on the other hand, can win the AL East. Advantage: Boston.

7. Which young pitching phenom would you rather have: Yu Darvish, Stephen Strasburg or Matt Moore?

The respondents gave the slight edge to Moore with 13 votes to Strasburg’s 12. The other three respondents called it a coin flip between Moore and Strasburg.

Poor Yu Darvish. This is completely Dice-K’s fault. Dice-K flames out, and all of a sudden people forget how great Darvish is. Here’s a little secret: whoever gets Darvish is going to get a ridiculous bargain.

Now I’m not going to pretend that Dice-K wasn’t a really, really good Japan League pitcher. But in his best season, he finished with a 2.13 ERA and 200 strikeouts in 186.1 innings pitched. Darvish’s highest season ERA in the last five years was 1.88 ERA. Last season, he finished with 276 strikeouts and a 1.44 ERA in 232 innings. That’s insane.

I think Moore is going to be great. I hope Strasburg will be great, because he was awesome to watch before Tommy John surgery. But I’m going to be contrarian here and go with Yu Darvish. I think he’s being unfairly dismissed because of past Japanese flameouts. I have faith in the Yu!

Recapping my Predictions for the 2011 MLB Season

October 24, 2011

October 24, 2011, 6:15 PM CST, Minneapolis, Minnesota. The sun has set and the streetlights are on.

That can only mean one thing: it’s time to start blogging again.

What better way to start than to check how I did with my 2011 MLB season predictions. Presumably you care far less about this than you do about actual expert predictions. Don’t worry – I’ll get to those in a couple days. In the meantime, it’s only fair for me to critique my own ten preseason predictions.

1. The Yankees will win the AL East.

Spot on. Too bad I made nine other predictions. In the preseason, I was astounded that all 45 of ESPN’s baseball experts picked the Red Sox to win the division. This made little sense at the time and makes even less sense now. I argued that Adrian Gonzalez, while immensely talented, would not make the Red Sox appreciably better (correct) even if Carl Crawford would make the Red Sox better (good god).* My bigger issue was with the lackluster Red Sox pitching staff. Fried chicken and beer aside, it was the awful, awful pitching down the stretch that doomed the Sox.

* There isn’t much to say about Carl Crawford that has not been said already, so I’ll take this asterisk to brag about my immense fantasy baseball skills. My first three picks this season were Crawford, Buster Posey, and Josh Johnson. Posey and Johnson were done for the season by May. I only wish Crawford was done by May so I could have given up on him three months before I actually pulled the trigger. Despite all that, I finished third and in the money. Well done, me.

Meanwhile, here are the Yankees win totals for each season since 2001: 95, 103, 101, 101, 95, 97, 94, 89, 103, 95, 97. None of the ESPN experts picked the Yankees. Another fascinating wrinkle on the expert groupthink I love to make fun of: even when the pundits think outside of the box, they can’t help but think outside the box together. Before the season I took my chances with the Yankees, figuring that Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson were due for big seasons (75% true for Teixeira; 125% true for Granderson) and that Russell Martin would help the team out (he did until mid-summer).

2. The Rays will be better than people think…or not.

So close. I was ready to pull the trigger on the Rays over the Red Sox for the AL Wild Card before the Rays were swept by the Orioles in the first week of the season. I also had a write-up ready to go that described the Rays’ record-setting comeback for the Wild Card, but decided not to publish it. Alas.

3. The AL Central will again be the worst division in the majors.

I think I got this one right, although not for the reasons I expected. The Tigers were a pleasant surprise, finishing 95-67 and reaching the ALCS. But man was the rest of that division bad. The remaining four teams finished with a losing record. Cleveland finished 80-82 – the only runner-up with less than 86 wins.* And I’ve chronicled before how bad the Twins were. I don’t even have the heart to link to the articles. Let’s just put it this way: the Twins finished 63-99 and that was three wins BETTER than they were expected to based on runs scored and runs allowed.

* In fairness, the Indians performed way better than expected. I picked them to finish with the worst record in the majors. See number five below.

4. The Rangers will be really, really good.

I did pick the Rangers to earn the #1 seed in the AL. I was off by a game and four games on my 100 win prediction. Still, this was pretty close to true. The Rangers were exactly as good as I thought they would be – I was more surprised that the Angels performed as well as they did.

The Angels finished 86-76, 10 games behind the Rangers. Even that’s a little deceptive, as the Rangers finished 16-2 down the stretch while the Angels limped to a 6-10 finish. I thought the Angels would struggle to finish .500 and the A’s and Mariners would be the A’s and Mariners. Two out of three ain’t bad.

5. Indians and Pirates battle for the worst record in the majors; the Rust Belt weeps.

A swing and a miss. Even if the Rust Belt cried for different reasons.

July 18.

The Pirates lead the NL Central by a half game. The Indians lead the AL Central by one game. The first time since 1921 that had happened this late in the season.

They finished a staggering 39 combined games back.

6. The Phillies will be the best team in the majors.

Done and done. Sometimes these things are too easy. The Phils brought in the best rotation since the 1990s Braves teams and cruised to a 102-60 finish…and they were probably even better than that. They were 98-52 before they stopped caring in baseball’s equivalent to the 13-0 NFL team that gives up on the perfect season after clinching the #1 seed.

Of course my fault came later, when I picked the Phillies to win the World Series. Only twice in the last twelve years has the team with the best regular season record won the World Series.*

* And we wonder why Game 4 of the World Series can barely beat a 62-7 NFL blowout in the ratings.

7. Five teams will be within eight games of the NL Central title. Nobody will care.

A miss. Flashback to the aforementioned July 18 day: the Pirates, Cardinals, Brewers, and Reds were all within four games of the division lead.

That worked out well for two of those teams.

Records after July 18 for the four teams: Milwaukee 45-20; St. Louis 40-27; Cincinnati 32-34; Pittsburgh 22-46. I give myself one-third of a point for having the right idea through July.

8. The Giants won’t make the playoffs.

I’m much smarter than I look apparently…although it’s much easier to predict a team won’t make the playoffs than they will make the playoffs.

Prior to the season, pretty much everyone was on board either the Colorado or San Francisco bandwagon for the West crown. 43 of 45 ESPN experts pick one of those two teams to win the division. I went with the Dodgers on a hunch.

Whoops. McCourts one, me zero. They need a win more than I do though.

9. The Phillies and the Rangers meet in the World Series.

One out of two ain’t bad.

Of my playoff teams, I picked the Rangers, Yankees, Phillies, and Cardinals (good), the Red Sox (meh), the Rockies and Dodgers (not even close), and the Twins (only off by a measly 33 games).

On an unrelated note, two records I didn’t realize until I looked up the standings now: the Nationals finished 80-81 and the Rockies finished 73-89. Two thoughts on those records: first, how in the world did the Rockies only win 73 games? And second, it’s probably not a good sign for your organization if you spent a bajillion  dollars in the offseason and I am surprised at the end of the season that you actually won 80 games.

10. The Phillies win the World Series.

I was bummed when I read this back – I could have sworn I picked the Rangers. Alas.

Bonus: Award winners.

Just for kicks, here are my picks for award winners. I suspect none of these will be anywhere close to correct at the end of the season; I will consider it a victory if any of these players picks up votes for their respective awards.

AL MVP: Mark Teixeira, Yankees
NL MVP: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
AL Cy Young: CC Sabathia, Yankees
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
AL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon, Rays
NL Manager of the Year: Don Mattingly, Dodgers
AL Rookie of the Year: Kyle Drabek, Blue Jays
NL Rookie of the Year: Brandon Belt, Giants

These were mostly for fun: award winners are pretty much a shot in the dark. A couple comments:

I picked the wrong Yankee to bounce back, although it’s unclear if Granderson will win anyway.

If it weren’t for Verlander turning into a demigod during the season, I would have nailed Sabathia. I did nail Kershaw – I think he wins the Cy Young. Also, allow me to be the 568,321st person to point out that the Dodgers are in the second biggest media market, have the NL MVP shoo-in (Kemp) and likely Cy Young winner (Kershaw) and virtually no one cared. Well done again McCourts.

Maddon has to win the AL Manager of the Year, right? As for Mattingly’s chances, see the previous paragraph.