Monday, December 27, 2010

Random Winter Thoughts: Schilling and Brown, Sabathia and Cain

Last week, I tweeted that if voters plan to cast a Hall of Fame ballot for Curt Schilling when he is eligible, they should do the same for Kevin Brown this year. Thanks to a retweet by the great Keith Law, I got a lot of responses to this. Most of them cited the fact that Schilling had many impressive postseasons, memorably beating the Yankees with both the Diamondbacks and the Red Sox (it seemed to be that not only was his playoff performance stellar, but the fact that it came against the Yankees made it even more so, a sentiment that really makes me cringe). I don't think that postseason performance should factor much into Hall of Fame worthiness. I especially don't think a great pitcher should be penalized because of poor postseason starts. But I can appreciate the position of giving credit to a pitcher for outstanding pitching in the games that matter most. However, this only applies to the Schilling/Brown situation if you believe that Curt Schilling is not already a Hall of Famer, independent of his playoff heroics. I think Schilling is a Hall of Famer just based on his regular season performance, and to my surprise, a lot of the people on Twitter did not. So I forgot about Brown almost immediately, and started thinking about Schilling.

I could understand keeping Curt Schilling out of the Hall of Fame if you believed in the idea of a "Small Hall", where only the most excellent players of all time would be. This concept is attractive, but unrealistic, because the Hall of Fame is what it already is. You can think that certain players don't belong there, but once they are in, the standards have somewhat changed. I don't think because Andre Dawson is in that every player who compares favorably to Andre Dawson should be in as well. But to some extent, the "if ___ is in, then ____ should be" is a valid argument. And there are a number of worse pitchers than Curt Schilling in the Hall of Fame. He had a long career, and a good peak, not as dominant a peak as some peers, but extended enough to make up for that. He was never the best pitcher in baseball, but that was because 4 of the greatest pitchers ever (Clemens, RJ, Maddux, Pedro) were pitching at the same time. Strikeout-to-walk-ratio isn't a perfect statistic at all, but it is still useful, and Schilling has the 2nd best K/BB ratio of all time, 4.38. In the "Big Hall", he's a clear Hall of Famer to me.

I think baseball fans who are continually learning about sabermetrics and advanced statistics forget just how large a large portion of the baseball community still judges a pitcher by his W-L record. And this must be the explanation for fans thinking Schilling may not be a Hall of Famer, because he has "only" 216 career wins. There's no need for me to explain why wins and losses are irrelevent; it's been talked about forever, and you either get it or you're just stubborn and don't care about the objective analysis of baseball. Just looking at one season, wins are quite useless. A career is different: wins and losses won't tell us anything that important, but the length of time in a career pretty much guarantees that a "bad" pitcher won't end up with 300 wins. But does that mean a pitcher with 300 wins is definitively better than one with 216? Absolutely not. But the road to 300 wins is a strange one.

People wonder if we will ever see a 300 win pitcher again. It shouldn't matter, but it would be kinda cool. I think we will, and I think the pitcher currently who has the best shot at it is CC Sabathia. Consider this: Sabathia will be 30 next year, and he already has 157 wins. He will likely be pitching the majority of his remaining career with the Yankees, a team we expect to provide good offense every season. He appears to have a durable body. And he's a great pitcher right now, in his prime. All of those factors demonstrate how CC can get to 300 wins. Most of all, it's that high win total, 157, at 30 years old, very rare for pitchers these days.

From 2001-2005, the start of his career, Sabathia went 69-45, a .605 winning percentage. Yet, he was only an above average to good pitcher. His ERA+ was 107 over that period. By logging many innings, his overall value was good (14.4 rWAR, 17.9 fWAR). But not good enough to post a .605 winning percentage over a 5 year period, at least, not without some very good fortune. Sabathia has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since 2006, but it was his ability to start a career earlier and stock up on many wins at a young age that puts him in position to win 300 games. And it could have been very different. He could have been Matt Cain.

Whether Matt Cain will ever reach the level Sabathia is at right now remains to be seen. But I think comparing Sabathia and Cain in their first 5 seasons is fascinating (I leave out Cain's 2005 season, because he only pitched 46 innings). Sabathia's first full season was at age 20, Cain at age 21. Here are the stats they put up:

Sabathia: 972.2 IP, 4.10 ERA, 107 ERA+, 14.4 rWAR, 17.9 fWAR, 69-45 (.605%) W-L Record

Cain: 1049.1 IP, 3.50 ERA, 124 ERA+, 15.4 rWAR, 18.7 fWAR, 55-61 (.474%) W-L Record

The WAR numbers are pretty close, but Cain is slightly ahead in both. He also threw more innings. And the adjusted ERA isn't that close, relatively speaking. Yet look at those W-L records.

There's no reason really to compare Cain and Sabathia; all pitchers are different, and whether Sabathia "deserves" all that great fortune early in his career is nullified by his now long held status as one of the best in baseball (he currently has 4 straight seasons of 230 or more IP, and his ERA+ over that period is 142) . Cain has yet to reach those heights, and he might never. I said I wouldn't even go into how pitcher wins are useless, but this side by side comparison says it all. They are very close in performance, and Cain is better. Looking at the W-L records, you'd think think the exact opposite. And you'd be so completely, utterly wrong.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rowand for Fukudome? Yes, Please.

First of all, I'm gonna apologize for not posting anything over the last couple of weeks. With finals going on for both of us, we decided to take a break. But we're back and ready to go with the news this morning that the Giants and Cubs have discussed an Aaron Rowand-Kosuke Fukudome trade, according to Jerry Crasnick of

It's no surprise that Rowand is being shopped - he has a huge contract, isn't good, and as the roster currently stands, it doesn't seem like there is room for him. And this particular rumor is especially appealing because almost everything about Fukudome is better than Rowand. His 2010, which wasn't too far off his career numbers (.259/.368/.410/.778), looked like this: .263/.371/.439/.810 in 429 PAs. Fukudome strikes out quite a bit (20.8% career) but his career walk rate (14.7%) is very good. Rowand had an OBP under .300 last year and has a career walk rate of 5.6%. It's pretty clear who the better offensive player is.

I've always assumed that when getting rid of Rowand, the Giants would have to pay most of the salary and get nothing back in return besides a crappy reliever. As I mentioned above, Rowand pretty much has to go because the Giants have too many outfielders - Burrell, Torres, Ross, Schierholtz, Rowand, DeRosa, Huff/Belt. Getting rid of Rowand for nothing would solve the outfield overcrowding problem. But adding another OF like Fukudome means another outfielder would have to go, most likely Schierholtz. Luckily, Fukudome isn't terrible on defense and defense is really the only reason Nate is still around. As a right fielder, he's fared pretty well according to UZR, with scores of 6.0 in 2008, 7.8 in 2009, and dropping off a bit in 2010 at -4.4. He is 33 and isn't likely to improve much on defense, but he won't clog up the outfield either.

I thought maybe the only other player the Giants could get in return for Rowand would be one with a bad contract. While Fukudome does make $13.5 million (way too much), it's only for one more year and his contract is actually better than Rowand's, which has 2 years and $24 million left. For this reason, I can't understand why the Cubs would do the deal. Crasnick does say the trade is a long shot. Maybe the Cubs want to save money this year? The Giants would probably throw some money into the deal, but it still seems weird. In the end, all the evaluations of Fukudome as a player don't matter because we know these two things: he's a better player with a better contract. And Rowand would finally be gone. Please make it happen, Sabez.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Giants Sign Miguel Tejada

Although it isn't official until his physical, we can safely say that former MVP Miguel Tejada will be the Giants starting shortstop for 2011. Tejada's deal is for 1 year, $6 million. In essence, he'll be replacing Juan Uribe, and when you look at the 2 players and the contracts they each got, the Giants situation appears quite favorable. Before Uribe joined the Giants in 2009, he had just had 4 seasons with an average OPS+ of 77. He may not be that bad ever again, but giving him a 3 year contract is pretty foolish. Meanwhile, Tejada will only be with the Giants for 1 year, and isn't costing a lot. Looking at it purely from that perspective, the move isn't bad at all. Also, there are a lot of positive things to say about Miguel Tejada.

He was one of the better shortstops in baseball most of this decade, thanks to his ability to make hard contact and hit for power from the weakest (or 2nd weakest) offensive position on the diamond. His career defensive numbers aren't pretty, but they aren't atrocious either. He is considered a great clubhouse leader and continually competitive, motivated player, who even at 36 is in better shape than many major leaguers. All those qualities are impressive and admirable. So, having established that Tejada for 1 year is "okay" (because it's more favorable than keeping the current SS, Uribe), and going over what his reputation is as a player and teammate, you might wonder why I dislike this signing as much as I do.

It isn't nearly as popular to criticize Brian Sabean these days as it was a mere, oh, 5 months ago. A World Series trophy, somewhat rightly, buys a lot of credibility. But I think the Tejada signing represents just another uncreative move by Sabean to fill a position with an aging veteran. And just because we all hated the Aubrey Huff signing last year, and he succeeded beyond anyone's expectations, doesn't mean the Giants should AIM to spend the offseason picking up the players no one else really wants. You can only get lucky like that so many times. And there's really no reason to refrain from fair criticism of Sabean simply because the team just won the World Series. This offseason is now about winning it in 2011. 2010, as magical a year as it was, has nothing to do with that.

So why do I think the Tejada signing is uncreative and disappointing? Simply because it appears that better shortstop options are in fact out there to be had. JJ Hardy (#JJHardyorGTFO) could be available, either in a trade or simply as a free agent if the Twins non-tender him (this might be less likely than I hope; the Twins seem to have ideas of other options at SS, but all analysis points to Hardy being their best option). Marco Scutaro and Jason Bartlett are both trade options, and the Red Sox and Rays want middle relief in return, something the Giants have. If you were to go just by last year's performance, Tejada is very close to all 3 of these guys, or better. I think you could reasonably expect that all of them might end up giving the same production in 2011 (1.5-2.5 WAR). But the other 3 possible SS all have something that I believe Tejada lacks: the potential to have a big year. Hardy had 4.3 and 4.9 WAR seasons in 2007 and 2008 (and positive UZR numbers in every season of his career; how the hell could the Twins not want to keep this guy? I think maybe they will keep him). Bartlett had a huge offensive season in 2009, then a total dropoff in 2010. The same for Scutaro, on a smaller scale. Now, of course, Tejada has had a much more productive career than any of these guys. But Miguel Tejada is going to be 37 next season. His skills have been diminishing every season. His power is mostly gone. His defense is not good. And he'll be playing one of the most demanding defensive positions, everyday. He doesn't strike out a lot; he never has. Going hand in hand with that, he doesn't walk much either (never has). Although Tejada doesn't make as much contact as he used to, he will still hit his share of singles and doubles, and most of his offense comes from that. But his age and free swinging tendencies also means lots of double plays. Tejada has led the league in double plays 5 times. Yeah. I've come to the conclusion that Tejada isn't actually a disaster. But it remains to be seen if the Giants could have done a lot better.

Speaking of double plays, I want to end the post with a word on Pablo Sandoval. When we first heard about the Tejada signing, there was talk that perhaps he was being signed to play 3rd base, or to at least pressure Pablo into performing well, because Tejada would be waiting to take over. This I hate. It's truly amazing how our expectations shape our perceptions and observations. We can all agree that Sandoval had a bad 2010 season. But it was still better and more productive than Tejada's in nearly every way (I tweeted the numbers that support this, you can find them by simply comparing their 2010 slashlines, wOBA, and WAR on fangraphs). I fully expect Sandoval to rebound in 2011, but even if he barely did so, he would be better than Tejada. Perhaps we'll need to write a full post on Sandoval this offseason. I am truly mystified how so many fans have given up on a young player so quickly, especially when you consider what he did so recently in 2009 at the age of 22.