Monthly Archives: November, 2012

Where to Sit When You Head to the Ballpark

One of the more important decisions to make as a baseball fan is where to sit when you attend a game in person. This is a critical decision as you plan to maximize your enjoyment, even if the worst seat in the house is still better than every other geographic location on Planet Earth.

With that said, it will always come down to a matter of opinion (and also cost), but there are advantages and disadvantage to each vantage point. I’ve included a seating chart of Comerica Park for reference, but recognize that all stadiums are different. Later in the offseason, I’ll run a series ranking the MLB parks I’ve been to, so I can give you specific advice at that point, but this is a general overview.

Let’s assume that funds aren’t an issue here, but if they are, just eliminate any options that are out of your price range, and voila, this will still work for you!

Most people assume close proximity to the playing field is the most desirable aspect of your seating choice, but this is a fallacy. You actually don’t want to be too close because it will throw off your perspective. While sitting directly behind home plate in the first row seems cool, it’s actually not a great view unless you like nodding approvingly at the player near the on-deck circle.

In this instance, however, the umpire obstructs your view of balls and strikes, you have a bad angle on plays at first and third and won’t be able to judge the distance of fly balls. If you want to sit near the plate, you want to sit many rows back. This will give you a better view of the strikezone and will improve your ability to judge batted balls. Your views of the bases are still not ideal, but they are better.

A much better choice if you like to sit facing the field in a similar way is the first row of the upper deck. Here, you’ve improved your view of the strikezone, you’re in a better position to judge batted balls, and the bases are less obstructed. It’s still not an ideal seat because of the angle, but if you like the view from behind the field of play, this is my recommendation.

If you’re looking to improve on your view, the best thing you can do is move down the line. You don’t want to go too far and lose your view of the zone, but swinging around to first or third base will really help you judge batted balls. You’ll still be close enough to see the zone, but you will give up some of your inside-outside judgment.

Here, you’re also going to give yourself a good angle on most of the bases too. If you move toward first, you will have a good view of forces at first (important), tags at third, and tags at home while losing tags at first (coming back to the bag), and tags at second. Forces at second will vary. If you slide toward third, you can see tags at first, everything at second and everything at home. You surrender a lot of action at third and forces at first. If I have to choose, the profile of sitting on first base is a little better.

So far, we want to sit on the first base side, but not too close to the action. We also don’t want to sit so far that we can’t see either. The sweetspot, as indicated in this diagram, is probably about even with first base and above two thirds of the way up the section. This will give you optimum viewing and will put you in foul ball range. This is where I’d tell you to sit.

But there are advantages to other spots. It’s always nice to be in the first row under an overhang because it protects you from the elements during April and October (and also rain delays in the summer). The first few rows of the outfield seats can be fun too, if you like watching the game unfold from a player’s point of view.

If you’re cost conscious, another smart move is to sit on the infield side of the first section after a price change (117, 138). This offers a more expensive view at a lower price.

Another trick is to sit with the nearest aisle to you on the outfield side of you. In other words, be far away from the nearest aisle that might block your view of the plate.

If you’re still deciding between or among some choices, think about the geography of the stadium. Are there particular areas you like to see when looking around? Do you want to be close to a particular concession stand, bathroom, or apparel shop?

You could also choose to sit close to your favorite player. I knew a girl in high school who always sat near Inge because she loves him and I have a feeling a former co-host of mine likes standing in right center field so he can get a nice view of Josh Hamilton when he comes to town. In my case, I’m not sure if they’ll let me sit in the dugout, as my favorite players are usually utility guys.

So while it’s a matter of opinion, there is a right method for picking your seats. Some people value different things at a ballpark, but you should know what you’re choosing when you make the call. Don’t worry though, if you screw it up, you’ll still be spending three hours watching baseball.

2012 Season in Review: Pittsburgh Pirates

79-83, 4th in the NL Central

They almost ended the torture that is baseball’s longest losing season streak. Almost. After pulling even with .500 on May 30th, they held at or above .500 until September 20th.

For some of the season, they were sitting in a playoff position. The Pirates were a relevant baseball team in 2012 even if they faded down the stretch and ended up posting another losing season.

The story of the Pirates’ strength was pitching and Andrew McCutchen, but only one of those held up down the stretch. McCutchen’s 7.4 WAR and 158 wRC+ were the best numbers from a Pirates positions player since Barry Bonds in the early 1990s.

Problem was, he didn’t get much help. Neil Walker (3.3) and Pedro Alvarez (2.9) were the only position players to post starter level WARs this season, and the club as a whole was 10% below average offensively and didn’t make up for it on defense.

After a strong start, the pitching faded too. A.J. Burnett had a fine year (3.4 WAR, 3.51 ERA), but James MacDonald was the only other starter to combine innings with any kind of effectiveness. Burnett was the only Pirates arm to top 1.7 WAR. That’s not a good formula.

But the Pirates shouldn’t fear because they have a lot to look forward too. They have one of the best stadiums in the game in a great part of the city and they also have some exciting young arms coming up through the system. With McCutchen locked up and some interesting complimentary pieces in-house, the Pirates might not be that far away from being true contenders.

I wouldn’t start buying 2013 playoff tickets just yet, but I would plan to have a “We’re Over .500” party next September.

2012 Grade: C

Early 2013 Projection: 84-78

Baseball and Culture: A Great Baseball Quotation

Baseball, as it’s said, is our national pastime. It’s part of the story of America. Its history is our history. And to that end, baseball permeates beyond the lines and into our culture. From time to time here at STT, we’ll cover baseball as a social phenomenon through television, movies, music, and literature.

To leadoff the series, I thought I’d discuss one of my favorite baseball quotations.

 

“You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out it was the other way around all the time.”

-Jim Bouton, Ball Four (1970)

 

Ball Four is best known for its description of the less than glamorous side of our athletic heroes, but this line should be viewed apart from that controversy.

Bouton’s words here best capture the romanticism of the game. You quite literally grip a baseball, but the game grips you. It holds onto you. A baseball season is frequently Oscar worthy drama and Emmy worthy comedy. The characters are vivid, but also mysterious. It’s like a really long episode of Homeland.

For six months we’re hopeful, optimistic, joyful, and in love. We’re scared and beaten, depressed and anxious.

We just can’t look away.

There’s so much packed into a single game. A single inning. A single pitch.

For true fans, there isn’t anything quite like the fraction of a second between the pitcher letting go of the pitch until the batter makes contact, or doesn’t. Everything hangs in the balance. We subconsciously lean forward like we’re willing our guy to win the battle. Our reward is a satisfying “pop” or an endorphin generating “crack.”

The game has a hold over you, one that you can never really shake. It’s a microcosm of our lives. Of everything. A million tiny moments building to one amazing finish. It’s a story of coming of age and a story of growing old. It’s about love and heartbreak, pride and disappointment.

It’s just, gripping. It’s a game about everything, and we just can’t look away.

Goofy Leaderboards: Opposite Field

The opposite field is well respected in baseball. Complete hitters “go the other way” and do so with authority.

Whether it’s a lefty going to left field or a righty going to right field, it’s an important part of a balanced hitter. But who did it best in 2012?

Among qualified hitters, Carlos Gonzalez had the highest average the opposite way, .536, but that doesn’t really tell the whole story. That just tells you that when he hit the ball to left field, he got a high percentage of hits.

The most opposite field hits belong to Derek Jeter by a whole lot. He had 86 opposite field hits which was 25 hits better than the players (Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez) who tied for second. But Jeter also had the most balls in play hit the opposite way, so you’d expect him to have a high number of hits to right.

Carlos Gonzalez leads in efficiency the other way, Jeter leads in chances and raw number.

Adrian Gonzalez leads if we’re looking for two base hits the other way with 25 and Elvis Andrus claims a league leading 6 triples to the opposite field.

Three hitters led the league with 10 opposite field homeruns and none of them were named Miguel Cabrera (he hit 9). Michael Morse, Andrew McCutchen, and Russell Martin hold that honor.

Michael Morse, not too surprisingly, slugged the highest the other way, posting a gaudy .913 mark when he hit the ball to right field. He can also claim the highest wRC+ (273) while CarGo grabs the highest wOBA (.586).

If we want to go farther, which we obviously must, Greg Dobbs led the league with a 41.0% line drive rate the other way. While Ben Revere hit the most grounders, 47.9%. Fly balls are Adam LaRoche’s game, as he hit 76.1% of his opposite field contact in the air.

Ichiro and Norichika Aoki each had 11 infield hits the other way, but Colby Rasmus and Erick Aybar each dropped down 8 successful bunt hits to the opposite field.

All this is well and good, but who was the worst? Who had the fewer hits the other way in 2012?

That honor goes to Mr. Aaron Hill from the Arizona Diamondbacks with a whopping 15! Now that could be poor contact or bad luck, but it’s hard to ignore the 6 MLB hitters who only hit the ball to the opposite field 81 times in 2012.

Each of these men; Ryan Doumit, Everth Cabrera, Will Venable, Drew Stubbs, Adam Dunn, and Chipper Jones, can claim to have made contact the other way the fewest times of anyone.

If we sum it all together and ask wRC+, the worst opposite field hitter of 2012 was Phillies SS Jimmy Rollins with a wonderful -16 wRC+. That’s 8% worse than the second worst guy!

Opposite field hitting is a key piece of any hitter’s game, but it’s clearly a bigger piece for some. Certain hitters like Cabrera, CarGo, and Adrian Gonzalez like to go the other way with authority, and some just like doing it period like Jeter.

Others aren’t so skillful, like Hill and Rollins, and probably should just stick to the pull field.

2012 Season in Review: Chicago Cubs

61-101, 5th in the NL Central

The best thing you can say about the 2012 Chicago Cubs is that they weren’t the 2012 Houston Astros. It was a rough season for the North Siders as they lost over 100 games for just the third time in franchise history. Given the bad news bears-ish-ness of the Cubs over the years, that’s actually kind of surprising.

The Cubs had a few solid position player contributors, but those contributions dropped off well before you got down the lineup and onto the bench. Alfonso Soriano (4.0), Starlin Castro (3.3), Darwin Barney (2.5), and Anthony Rizzo (1.8 in half a season) all posted starter worthy WARs, but no one else made the cut. On top of that, a lot of Soriano and Barney’s value came on defense, which is somewhat questionable given the Cubs level of shifting.

The long and short of it is they weren’t good enough on offense. Only the Mariners got on base less in 2012 than the Cubs. That’s just not a winning formula.

On defense, they were a respectable 9th in the league according to UZR, but they were still a step or two behind the truly elite clubs.

As a staff, they were 27th in baseball with a 7.7 WAR, but 9.9 WAR came from the starters. That is not a mistake. Their relievers were the worst in baseball at -1.5 WAR (cumulative difference varies because of innings).

Jeff Samardjiza had a strong year (3.3) and Dempster (2.1) and Maholm (1.4) each did well in their partial seasons with the club and Garza (1.2) was good enough in his 18 starts.

Collectively, this just wasn’t a good team. They can’t hit, they can’t pitch, and their fielding wasn’t good enough to overcome those two problems. Their total WAR actually over estimates their 2012 win total, but you would expect it to given how bad the bullpen was.

The immediate future doesn’t look too bright, but Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein are at the helm now, so the long term prospects are much brighter. With the fan base and the resources of the Cubs, those two guys should be able to turn things around if they’re given time.

The 2012 Cubs were one of the worst teams in the league and they look to stay there in 2013. Anybody can have a bad year, and as Cubs fans like to say, anybody can have a bad century too.

2012 Grade: F

Early 2013 Projection: 69-93

Memorable Moments: The Scott Baker Game

Every once in a while here at STT, I plan to write about personal baseball experiences I’ve had.  Memorable games, moments, seasons, etc that have a great deal of personal significance to me will be on display in order to balance out some of the more technical analysis you’ll find on the site.

These come in no particular order other than the given post is the one I chose to write about that day. Please feel free to comment about your own take on the given topic or suggest others you’d like to see, such as “What were you thinking during Game 163 in 2009?”

Full disclosure, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write about that. That’s the most crushed I’ve ever been, ever. Bar none. Crushed. Not just about sports, at all.

Today, I want to share with you one of the greatest regular season games I’ve ever attended. It took place at Comerica Park on a warm July night in 2006.

July 1st, 2006 to be precise. It was Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN and my dad, brother, and I were sitting in Section 140B of Comerica Park. That’s The Terrace down the LF line for those of you who don’t have that kind of thing memorized.

It was a clear night and the first pitch was scheduled for 8:09pm to accommodate the national telecast. The Tigers trailed the Tribe by 1.5 games in the standings and another late season pennant chase was coming on after the magic of 2006. Tigers fans packed the house, 41, 708 strong, and were ready to catapult ourselves into prominence.

This was the year we were going to show that 2006 wasn’t luck, it was the beginning of something (it was!). So the park filled quickly and the game got underway.

Jeremy Bonderman took the hill for the hometown team against Twins hurler Scott Baker. Bonderman was having a respectable follow up to his masterful 2006 campaign and was 9-5 with a 3.90 ERA entering the night. Baker wasn’t much at this point in his career with a 5-2 record to match his 5.77 ERA through a few starts in 2007.

This figured to be a fair match, but what unfolded was one of the more magical nights in my baseball life to date.

The two men who had league average or worse ERAs twirled a collected gem unmatched by anything I’d seen before or since. I’ve been to brilliantly pitched games, but most of that came from one side of the other. I’ve been to Verlander near no-hitters and gems by individual pitchers, but as far as mastery on both sides is concerned, this is the gold standard.

Bonderman gave up five hits, but no runs through three innings. He was doing fine, but he wasn’t dominating. Then it clicked and he blew through the next five innings, allowing just one more hit, which came as a double in the sixth. His final line would read 8IP, 6H, 0R, 1BB, 7K. It took 110 pitches.

That’s a really good night for anyone, even if your name is Verlander. But his counterpart didn’t disappoint either. Scott Baker retired the first nine Tigers in order ahead of a leadoff triple by Curtis Granderson in the 4th. He erased a leadoff walk in the 5th on a double play and allowed a two out single to Magglio Ordonez in the 7th that wouldn’t lead to anything.

Baker was in control. After 7 ½ innings, Bonderman had thrown 110 pitches and kept the Twins of the board. Baker had countered with his own 7 innings of shutout ball. He took the hill in the bottom of the eighth in great shape and looked to give his team a shot to win it against the Tigers bullpen in the 9th.

Baker missed on the first pitch of the inning to Pudge Rodriguez and got him to pop up to RF on pitch number two. Craig Monroe came to the plate next and ripped a line drive right to the left fielder’s glove.

Bottom of the 8th. Two outs. Tied at 0. Baker cruising.

Marcus Thames strode to the plate. He was 0-2 and had made two outs on four pitches so far. The Tigers DH had entered the day hitting .232 on the season with 7 HR. His prodigious power wasn’t enough to keep him behind everyone in the lineup except Brandon Inge.

But then something awesome happened. Thames crushed the first pitch. It sailed high and deep to left field. Jason Kubel was tracking it, but before long, he started to run out of room. The ball passed above our heads and it cleared the fence into a pile of screaming Tigers fans.

Homerun. 1-0 Tigers.

Baker got Inge to flyout on the second pitch to deep center field and the inning was over, but not before the damage was done. His final line was 8IP, 3H, 1R, 1BB, 3K. It took 79 pitches.

Both starters had gone 8 innings and the only blemish was a towering fly ball into the LF seats from Thames.

Todd Jones, who was famous for tightrope saves, set the Twins down in order in the 9th inning on seven pitches. The crowd went crazy. Tigers win 1-0.

The punch line of this game? It took 2 hours and 7 minutes. It was a masterpiece in every way.

Both starters threw 8 brilliant innings and Baker only needed 79 pitches for a complete game loss than included one bad pitch. Jones shut the door.

A game that started at 8pm because of the national broadcast was over before most 7pm starts during the season. At 10:17pm, we were already heading for our car.

Pitching duels are my favorite games to watch and everyone loves late inning homeruns. It was textbook efficiency by both starters and it turned on a long fly ball in the 8th inning.

This wasn’t the best baseball game I ever attended, but it was certainly close. In the Weinberg household, we refer to this as the Scott Baker Game after the starting pitcher who managed to average fewer than ten pitches an inning and still lose.

I think we all have certain moments in our lives as fans that stand out in our minds, and this is one of them. Bonderman-Baker-Thames sounds like a law firm or a John le Carre novel, but for me, it will always be the story of one of the best baseball games I ever attended.

Goofy Leaderboards: Pitch Type and Velocity

Every pitcher has a go to pitch. That pitch they go to when the need a big out in a tight game. The pitch they aren’t afraid to throw with the season on the line.

A lot of guys who with the heater, some with the hook. But who goes with each pitch the most. In other words, who leads the league in throwing certain pitches?

For qualified starting pitchers, Mr. Fastball is Indians righthander Justin Masterson who went to the fastball 80.7% of the time in 2012. His only other pitch was his slider, which accounted for the rest. Certainly sounds like someone who should be facing righties out the pen, but the Indians don’t have a lot of options.

Madison Bumgarner is the man to know if you like sliders, as he throws them a whopping 39.0% of the time. He matches that with a fastball and the very occasional curve and changeup.

The cutter belongs to Dan Haren who goes to that pitch 35.6% of the time. No one else even tops 30.0%.

34.1% is the top mark for curveballs and that belongs to the Pirates’ AJ Burnett who sets the pace by more than 3.0%.

James Shields topped teammate Jeremy Hellickson in a close race, 28.9% to 28.3%, when it comes to throwing changeups in 2012. Maybe the Rays catchers just like calling them.

Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardjiza is the man to know if you like splitters as he goes to that pitch 18.6% of the time.

You’ll never guess who owns the knuckleball category. It’s a guy named R.A. Dickey, who floated a knuckler 85.4% of the time. The story here is that no other qualified starter threw one at all.

If you like velocity, here are the average highs/lows for each pitch:

FB: David Price 95.5, R.A. Dickey 83.4

SL: Madison Bumgarner 87.5, Bronson Arroyo 76.1

CT: Edwin Jackson 92.6, Mark Buehrle 82.9

CB: Lucas Harrell 83.1, Bronson Arroyo 71.2

CH: Felix Hernandez 88.7, Barry Zito 75.0

SF: Yu Darvish 87.7, Ricky Nolasco 80.8

This doesn’t tell us who has the best of each pitch, but it tells us something. And that’s all we try to do here at STT, give you more information about the game we all love.

Only 134 days until Opening Day.

The Book on Austin Jackson

Starting today and carrying on indefinitely, we’ll be posting a series on the Detroit Tigers known as “The Book on…” This series will combine a lot of different types of analysis to give a comprehensive overview on a given player. 

This is essentially our way of profiling Tigers players and should give you a background on what to expect from a given member of the squad. Each piece will draw on my own observations, statistical data, and information I’ve gleaned listening to scouts and commentators whose opinions I trust on the matter.

I thought I’d start with Austin Jackson because he deserves more credit than he got in the MVP vote last night (i.e. more than none) and he’s also the Tigers leadoff hitter. Without further ado…

What People Think:

Austin Jackson was certainly a well thought of prospect in the Yankees system when he was traded to Detroit after the 2009 season, but there was always some debate about just how good he would be.

The sense in around the league is that he’ll grow into his power and the 16 homeruns he hit in 2012 were the norm and not an aberration. His defense is widely respected even if he gets poor marks for never diving and most seemed to really like the new batting stance he unveiled in 2012.

Generally speaking, I think the conventional wisdom on Jackson is that he’s a solid regular with some shot at becoming an occasional All-Star.

What the Numbers Say:

Jackson’s spent three seasons in the majors and he’s walked more and more every season and in 2012, his strikeouts fell substantially. It appears as if his plate discipline is improving, which is almost always a good indicator that a player will be successful.

He’s also hit for more power every year and has shown the ability to maintain a high BABIP. The baserunning numbers appear to be getting worse, but I think that could be a function of him becoming a better hitter, meaning he doesn’t need to add as much value with his legs. It also seems as if the Tigers are staying away from the stolen base as an organization, so Jackson’s speed is rarely on display.

On defense, the metrics like him, but they probably don’t like him as much as the naked eye does. The measures are imperfect, but they all say he’s above average to great.

On the whole, if you look at his statistical profile, Jackson appears to be heading into his peak after a 5.5 WAR season in 2012.

What My Eyes Tell Me:

I will admit that I was very skeptical of trading for Jackson at the time. It felt like a salary dump that didn’t make the team better, but it’s actually turned out to be a shrewd move.

I saw Jackson play in the minors once in 2009 while he was hitting third for the SWB Yankees and I can’t say I was tremendously impressed. Granted, it was four at bats and a couple chances in the field, but nothing about him jumped out at me. I had heard the buzz from the scouting community and Yankees fans, but I hadn’t really seen much to excite me.

The minor league numbers were there to predict this, but I didn’t really see it at the time. Perhaps I was blinded by fury at the Granderson deal (Love you, Curtis!).

At any rate, Jackson has delivered on his promise. He put up solid numbers in his rookie season, but I still was not impressed in the way that I am now. He was a high BABIP guy who struckout a lot. His range in the outfield was good, but I didn’t think his reads or arm were that good and he never dove.

I expected a decline in 2011 and made it one of my The Guy Show predictions before the season. I nailed it, but not for the right reasons. He regressed in 2011, but it wasn’t for good. I thought it was for good. I believed he’d settle in as a .260 type hitter who struckout too much and walked too little. I thought he’d be a 10 HR guy with 20 SB and respectable defense.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s a useful MLB player, but it wasn’t enough to fill the Granderson void who was having a 40 HR season at the time.

Then he went to work after the 2011 season and came to spring training in 2012 ready to break out.

He changed his swing, getting rid of the leg kick, and the strikeouts came down. He added power to his stroke and walked a lot more. He stole fewer bases, but he didn’t need to. He was one of the better offensive pieces in the game for most of the first half and certainly led the Tigers offense until Cabrera’s midseason charge.

Jackson’s injury during late May was a big drag on the club and he really got the team going when he came back. It’s very clear his success at the top of the order contributed in a big way to their strong season.

I also think his defense has gotten a lot better, even if everyone loved it before. The little things are improving a lot, as you would expect them to. The range is still excellent, but the reads are better too. His arm is still just okay in my book, but he can unleash some great throws every now and then.

He still won’t dive, except for that one time this season, but hopefully that will come now that he’s got a mentor in Torii Hunter flanking him in RF.

My favorite thing about Jackson is that I can always tell when he’s going to catch the ball from the moment it’s hit. You can tell by the way he moves. If he’s not running top speed, he’ll catch it. It’s comforting for a fan to see someone and know the ball’s going to land in his glove.

All in all, I’m now on board with Jackson as a potential All-Star. He should have easily made the team this year, but got bounced because Ron Washington is silly. Jackson had an awesome 2012 and I think he’ll repeat it and maybe get better. He could be a 4.0-5.0 win player for years to come and maybe have a 6.0 win season in him in the next couple years. I think Hunter will be a big help and we could really see Jackson mature into a top flight all-around player.

The Dotted Line:

Everyone loves contract speculation, so I will have to oblige. Jackson will be arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason, so he’s due a raise for the first time. MLB Trade Rumors projects he’ll make $3.1 million in 2013, but the Tigers never actually go through the arbitration process, so it’s an inexact science.

He’s a good candidate for a contract extension and it’s something I think the Tigers would like to explore, but they have pressing concerns on different fronts. Jackson is under control through 2015, and Verlander, Scherzer, and Porcello come due after 2014 so they may take precedent this offseason.

If the Tigers explored a contract extension with Jackson, I think something like 5 years, $54 million would make sense. $4m in 2013, $6m in 2014, $10m in 2015, $12m in 2016-17. That buys out his remaining arbitration years and two free agent seasons, which accounts for his ages 26-30 seasons, also known as a player’s prime.

If Jackson is willing to sign for anything less, I’d pull the trigger today.

Fantasy-land:

For those of you who play fantasy baseball, Jackson is a good bet, but don’t go crazy. In a standard league (BA/R/HR/RBI/SB), he’ll help in average, runs, and give a decent showing in homeruns, but the RBI will be low and the steals don’t look to ever get above 20. A lot of his value is tied to his walks and defense, so he’s worth less in fantasy-land than he is in the real world.

That said, he’s a good player to have behind your stars because he gives you at least something in every category.

The Lead:

This section is buried ironically, but it’s the basic summation of all the information presented above. Austin Jackson is a talented player heading into his prime and I think he’s got a lot of good baseball ahead of him. He’s a good target for a contract extension and he’s a nice piece of a winning fantasy baseball team.

Jackson was one of the top players in baseball in 2012 and doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

Blue Jays Take a Smart Risk, Sign Melky Cabrera

For most of the day I stewed over Mitch Albom’s silly defense of Cabrera as MVP and wanted to write about how ridiculous it was, but then lots of other smart people rushed in to fill that void. I decided to let it go and get back to legitimate baseball discussion, and once again, the Toronto Blue Jays are driving the day’s story.

News broke this afternoon that the Jays and GM Alex Anthopolous had inked Melky Cabrera to a 2 year, $16 million deal. To be clear, this is the switch hitting steroid suspended OF, not the other M. Cabrera that is getting all the attention today.

To me, this is a great sign by one of the game’s better front offices. They bought low on an undervalued player.

But the Melky saga is quite complex. He’s had three bad seasons, two solid seasons, and two great seasons. The two great seasons have been the last two, but the most recent one ended with a 50 game suspension for testing positive for steroids (which he admitted to).

How should we value a player like this? What is he worth and what is the risk?

First, it should be noted that he’s only 28, which means his two great seasons came between ages 26-28, which is exactly when you would expect a player to peak. In other words, there is a very logical explanation for his breakout other than steroids.

We also can’t assume he was using prior to this season, because we would expect that he would have taken 1-3 tests during 2011 as well. None of this is perfectly certain, but it is fair to say that Melky is probably better than the very bad seasons and not quite as good as the very good seasons.

It’s very possible that steroids aided his improvement, but there is still a lot of scientific debate about how steroids help baseball players. Some say power, some say endurance, some say there is no real effect.

So assuming he doesn’t get suspended again and is on the field for the next two years, let’s evaluate this for the Jays.

The Free Agent market is set somewhere around 1.0 WAR per $5-6 million. This is an average, but over two seasons, for Melky to earn $16 million he needs to be worth somewhere between 3.0 and 4.0 WAR in my book if we want to account for a range given imperfect modeling.

Over the last two seasons, 34 MLB hitters fell between 3.0 and 4.0 WAR regardless of how many plate appearance they had. In other words, these are the hitters who ended up being worth about what Melky is going to make regardless of how they were used.

I averaged their production and then divided it into two seasons to get an idea of what Melky needs to look like in order to be worth this deal. I should note this is all hitters, not just OF and there is plenty of variation.

Per Season Stat Line:

113 G, 436 PA, 101 H, 11 HR, 49 R, 46 RBI, 8 SB

.260/.329/.414

8% BB, 19% K

(League average defense and baserunning)

That looks extremely doable for Melky in the next two seasons. He needs to hit .260, walk at a league average rate and hit 11 HR per season to earn this contract. He doesn’t need to be the player he was last year, he needs to be respectable.

To give you a sense of this, let’s consider the players in 2012 who hit between .250 and .270 and slugged between .400 and .420.

A.J. Ellis, Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, and Delmon Young. Those players aren’t good defense comparisons to the player Melky needs to be, but he can certainly hit like those guys and be average in the other aspects of baseball if he stays reasonably healthy.

The Blue Jays were willing to bet on Melky not using PEDs again and certainly willing to pay $8 million a season for a player who could easily be worth close to $12 or $15 million if he’s really who he’s been the last two seasons.

This is a solid deal for the Blue Jays and good chance for Melky to repair his image and still have some good years left when he’s ready to hit the market again after the 2014 season.

Cabrera Wins MVP and a Brilliant Drama Concludes

Tonight, Mike Trout lost the MVP race to Miguel Cabrera. We expected as much. Traditional thinking that favors team success in the MVP voting won out and Trout, who had the better season, came in second.

A lot of other weird things happened in the full balloting. Like the couple people who left Cano off the ballot. Or how no one put Torii Hunter, Alex Gordon, or Austin Jackson on their ballots anywhere from 1-10. And how Jim Johnson (who is a great reliever) was anywhere near the voting.

But we should probably take stock of our lives at this point and realize these awards don’t matter at all. The BBWAA hands out these awards based on the preferences of their members. Sporting News does the same thing. Other smaller groups hand out their own. (SABR Toothed Tigers included and the vote was unanimous!)

BBWAA has prominence because they are the oldest. There is history attached, but that’s all. Mike Trout’s season is no less impressive or memorable because he didn’t win the MVP. Neither was Verlander’s because he lost the Cy Young

We get caught up in these races because we like talking about sports, but the actual consequences are very small unless you’re one of the players involved. So while I think a lot of the voting this year and in past years is garbage, it doesn’t really affect my life or yours and I’m not going to bed angry.

Things don’t always happen the way they should. That’s part of life. Mike Trout will wake up tomorrow as the best player from 2012 whether or not he has a plaque to show it. Miguel Cabrera will clear room on his mantle.

While a lot of the conversation surrounding this award was toxic, I think the race was great for the game. Cabrera supporters acted silly by dismissing sabermetrics, but not because they don’t like sabermetrics, but because the only reason they don’t like them is they don’t like what sabermetrics told them.

Sabermetrics are great. They give you a lot of information. It’s silly to dismiss them because you don’t like what they tell you. The people wanted Cabrera to win, so they attacked the method of the people supporting Trout. That’s what I didn’t like.

The Trout crew was also at fault. Honestly, we walked around like the Cabrera supports needed their mittens pinned to their jackets like four year olds. We lost sight of the fact that Cabrera had a great season and deserved to be near the top of the ballot.

We shouldn’t dismiss the human element of the game so quickly just because we think it’s silly. Most valuable player means best player to us in the sabermetric community, but a lot of people think and vote with their gut. MVP is about the story. It is about the narrative. Just because we don’t like that, doesn’t mean that isn’t okay. Narratives are fun.

I didn’t like that this became about stats and tradition, because it was really about evidence and instinct. We who supported Trout like tangible evidence. Those who backed Cabrera care about weaving the evidence together in a way that feels right and exciting.

It’s totally okay that people supported Cabrera for that reason, but they should say so. It should be about liking him or liking the idea of a power hitter or liking the idea of carrying a team to the postseason. But all of those are stories we tell ourselves. It’s baseball mythology and it’s great, but admit that’s what it was and I’ll be fine.

So while I don’t like how angry this got, I love that we were in this position. We watched phenomenal baseball in 2012. Trout versus Cabrera wasn’t a close race for most people (because they strongly favored one or the other), but man was it a fun one. Trout being an all-around star while Cabrera mashed.

It was one for the ages. So was the Cy Young race. And the NL race was awesome two, we just forgot to look. The AL Manager of the Year was razor thin and we got to witness the Year of Mike Trout and the beginning of Bryce Harper.

The Dodgers bought a team and the Red Sox started over. The A’s came from nowhere and the Orioles wouldn’t go away. The Cardinals kept the magic alive and the Rangers crumbled.

Phil Humber threw a perfect game. So did Matt Cain and King Felix, but my god, Phil Humber threw a perfect game. I’ll never forget that. It was during my bachelor party.

Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw pitched brilliantly. R.A. Dickey for crying out loud.

The Pirates had something to say and the Nationals built a winner. Fernando Rodney was a shutdown reliever. Fernando. Rodney.

Bret Lawrie fell six feet onto concrete to catch a baseball and Chris Sale didn’t need surgery.

Baseball was awesome in 2012. It was beautiful and unpredictable and wonderfully cruel.

The Infield Fly Rule Game in Atlanta broke hearts and made dreams come true. Chipper Jones and Omar Vizquel retired, leaving the five year old in me a little confused about where baseball went.

So while this feels like the end of a bitter civil war, it’s really the end of a great chapter in a supremely thrilling novel. On April 1st, 30 teams clung to the hope that this would, in fact, be the year. Only one held on all season.

So we’ll follow trades and free agents and we’ll prepare for fantasy drafts and cactus league games. We’ll stare out the window and wait for spring.

It was a fun season and now it’s really over. Miguel Cabrera won the MVP over Mike Trout, but the real winner was us. We got to sit on our coaches, in our cars, and in our seats and watch this spectacular drama unfold.

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