The State of Baseball April 28th Edition – Part One

April 28, 2010 at 4:42 pm Leave a comment

On this fine Wednesday, I find it imperative to examine the state of baseball as it stands right now.

On Tuesday Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, he of the incompetent rhetoric behind picking up TWO washed up Ortizes, declared that perhaps his best player, outfielder Matt Kemp, is dogging it on defense and on the basepaths.

“Why is it? Because he got a new deal? Can’t tell you. But you know, it’s below-average. If this is the last day of the season and people are voting for the Gold Glove, his name is not even on the ballot. It’s a shame that he would go from where he was a year ago to revert back to when the ball goes up in the air and you’re not sure where it’s going, or if it’s going to get caught…As frustrating as 18 games is, there’s 140-some games left to play here, I’m not trying to jump to conclusions.”

Yes yes this is how you run a baseball franchise! With your owners in utter turmoil, the team in last place, and everyone in the greater L.A area questioning your sanity amid the flurry of confusing pickups you made this offseason (And your entire tenure as GM*), you go out and criticize your best player. For something completely unproven beyond a few isolated incidents (A couple misplayed fly balls and one or two instances of running to third on a groundball hit to the left side). The worst part, of course is that Colletti made his criticisms so glaringly public. David Pinto of Baseballmusings got it right in my opinion, when he contrasted Colletti’s handling of the situation with Brian Cashman’s situation with Derek Jeter. While new measures of defensive capability were coming out and showing Jeter to be a pretty bad shortstop, Cashman dismissed these claims in defense of his shortstop. In private, however, he talked to Jeter about improving. Not only did Jeter work on his defense and get better, but Cashman never looked like the bad guy. Colletti looks like the bad guy.

*Giving up on Jason Werth, Cody Ross, Dioner Navarro. The contracts of Juan Pierre, Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Schmidt, Andruw Jones (for 36.3M AFTER he hit .222 the year before), Esteban Loaiza and so on. All GMs have these sorts of lists, and they all make mistakes, but all of these transactions occurred in the past few years and are quite pronounced in their awfulness.

Then we have the new Ryan Howard contract, which seems to be reaffirming the divide between the statheads and the mainstream journalists. This divide appeared to have gotten fuzzier lately, with most people at least giving some credence to, if not UZR or FIP, at least OPS and and OBP. But all that progress gets thrown out the window when a 30 year old man with already possibly declining skills gets a 5 year contract paying him 25M per.. and that contract doesn’t even kick in for two more years.

Yes it’s nice to keep your hometown stars. There was no bigger proponent of the Twins keeping Joseph Mauer than I. But this almost seems like Bill Smith is the smart kid in his class, and he’s always coming up with these great ideas like locking in his superstar who is in his prime and shows superhuman athletic ability to a megadeal, and then his kid brother Ruben Amaro tries to copy him and the results are just sloppy. He got the superstar part down, but missed on the athletic ability and prime part. He got the megadeal part right, but in contrast to the Mauer deal, he got hardcore swindled. Mauer would have cost the Twins millions and millions more on the open market, and Smith preempted that with a cost conscious signing that nonetheless represented a decent bargain. All of those who praised Smith come down on Amaro for being completely stupid. Except his metaphorical mother, the Philadelphia media, who nurtures Amaro’s ability to “Have the right idea.”

It’s like Bill Smith was at an auction, and got into an endless bidding war with Ron Shapiro, Mauer’s agent. They would bid higher and higher, sweating, seething. They never bid what they couldn’t afford and only went up in the smallest of increments. They were skilled bidders at their finest. When it was over, both men more or less got what they wanted, and they felt good knowing they had fought tooth and nail for it.

Ruben Amaro walked up and bid 125M dollars, even though his glasses were foggy and he couldn’t tell if he was signing Howard or Albert Pujols. So he figured he’d split the difference.

That said I kind of feel like this won’t be the catastrophic deal that most baseball pundits will, and have, assessed it as. Sure, Howard is getting old and has a huge, bulky frame. But as Joe Posnanski points out, there is precedent for Howard’s type of body* holding up over time, Jim Thome and Fred McGriff being notable examples. I just look at how, ever since his MVP season in 2006, Howard has been at odds with the sabermetric community. They would point out how he struck out a ton, and couldn’t sustain a decent batting average. That he didn’t walk enough to offset that. That his defense sucked. That he couldn’t hit lefties enough to be considered a force in the game. Well today, Howard has improved his average, his walk rate, his defense and his ability to hit lefties. Not to levels that are good, but which are marked improvements. And every year when Howard is hitting .210 in June and people are complaining about how he’s done for, he comes back and ends up with almost 50 home runs.

*I’m reading this everywhere. What is meant by Howard’s body type? Because Howard is a large black man, he is expected to decline? I think the intended meaning for this generalization is that Howard has old player skills, meaning he excels at walking, hitting for power and striking out while being quite bad at speed and hitting for average. I’m not sure this quite suits Howard, who has had plate discipline problems his whole career, isn’t as slow as his size suggests, and has actually never had an awful batting average. He bottomed out at .251 in 2008, but other than that has managed lines of .313 and .279, which, given his prolific strikeout tendency (Meaning poor contact rate) is actually really really good. He’s not Adam Dunn, in other words, and he might not qualify for the broad definition of what it means to have ‘old player skills.’ So just because previous large black men such as Mo Vaughn and Cecil Fielder have flamed out doesn’t necessarily mean that Ryan Howard will, because he does have a distinct set of skills that can’t be broadly generalized into the concept of the ‘old player.’

Maybe that’s how this contract plays out. Maybe he turns into David Ortiz. You can’t know. And although Amaro should’ve been able to slice 30-40% off of Howard’s ultimate price tag, he made his fans happy. And Philly fans are fairly volatile. The team looks great this year, however, so it will be a few years before Amaro gets officially burned at the stake.

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Finding it Hard to Not Get Ahead of Myself The State of Baseball April 28th Edition – Part Two

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