Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Base Number III: The Search For Adequacy
Now that Feliz is hitting at the bottom of a great lineup and is now moving into a very homer-friendly ballpark, I'd be willing to bet that he smacks 30 homers and knocks in 110 runs. This wouldn't mean he would be any better, obviously, as his OBP would still surely suck. However, I'd bet that if Feliz does bust out those artificially good counting stats, myriad sportswriters who don't understand Park Factors and lineup context will ream the Giants for letting Feliz go. Meanwhile, us Giants fans who know better will just lean back and chuckle softly to ourselves.
So it seems that this deal works out for all involved. Feliz gets to go to greener pastures playing for a contending team, and the Giants get to be rid of Pedro Feliz. All is well. Meanwhile, the Phils get the best fielding third baseman in the majors, and his horrid plate discipline will be sort of hidden by all the runs being produced by guys like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. I'm not sure why they felt they had to tack on a second year for the honor, though.
So with Feliz gone, the Giants would seem to have a hole at third base. Or do they? The in-house option is Kevin Frandsen, who used to be regarded as the heir apparent to Ray Durham at second base, but who is now stuck between a rock and a hard place after the Giants re-upped Durham after the 2006 season. I used to be a big disbeliever in Frandsen's usefulness at third, but now that I think about it...why not?
Frandsen's defense isn't going to match Pedro's, but his ability to get on base is almost certain to be light years better. Frandsen is also criticized for being a slap hitter without much power, but, as I've mentioned on this blog before, his career slugging percentage in the minors is .458. That might not translate to a .450 slugging rate in the majors, but for the sake of comparison, Feliz hasn't topped .430 since 2004, and he'll be 33. Frandsen will be 26 and has room for improvement. Frandsen also turned it on in a big way at the end of last year, posting a .906 OPS in September in 73 at-bats.
So, really, it's worth the Giants' time to see what Frandsen can do, especially since 2008 should be regarded as a learning year, of sorts. I think a reasonable expectation would be for Frandsen to turn into Bill Mueller, and we all loved Mueller for a very long time. I'd much rather give Frandsen 300 at-bats, find out he can't play, and then move on to something else rather than go out and pick up some crappy veteran who we know can't play, and then watch Brian Sabean bitch some more when the guy sucks and the fans get testy.
Speaking of crappy veterans, here are some other third base options, in order of the level of rumor buzz surrounding them and the Giants:
Joe Crede: Word was abuzz this morning that the Giants had a deal in place for Crede, the White Sox third baseman, to be made when Crede proves he's healthy in the spring. If the Giants give up anything valuable (like, say, Jonathan Sanchez) for Crede they should be ashamed of themselves. Crede is a terrific fielder, but he's also a terrible hitter who has had one good full season (2006) in his entire career, and even then he put up a poor .323 OBP.
So the equation becomes good glove + bad bat= Feliz part deux? Kind of, but what's scarier is that from 2003-2005 Crede was putting up sub-Felizian numbers while playing in a hitter's park. At least Feliz had the excuse that Mays Field squashes home run numbers. Add in the fact that Crede missed almost all of last year with a back injury, and back injuries for players turning 30 tend to not really go away, and this just seems like the worst possible solution. Why let the cure for third base be worse than the disease?
OT Stupid Side Note: Did you realize that Crede won the Silver Slugger Award in 2006...ahead of ARod? Yeah, that's right. I mean, Crede had a pretty good year, hitting .283/.323/.506 with 30 home runs. ARod hit .290/.392/.523, though, with 35 homers. Yes, that's a bad year by ARod standards, but that still beats Crede's production, especially in OBP. I doubt anybody pays attention to Silver Sluggers anyway, and nor should they, so I guess I shouldn't get too worked up, but sheesh.
Also, did you know that Crede has a cousin who closed for a short period of time in the late-60's? Add that to your collection of useless info to bore people at parties with.
Morgan Ensberg: I love the huge 2005 and I love the 101 walks in 2006, but at this point he's pretty much a train wreck. He'll still draw a walk, but his power seems to be completely gone and a lot of that may have been aided by Houston's short left field porch. As a cheap one-year flyer, he's a better option than Crede, but that's not saying much.
Dallas McPherson: He's completely dropped off of the face of the rumor planet, which is interesting because he'd seem to garner a lot of interest from young, rebuilding teams. Or teams that should be rebuilding, like, say, the Giants. McPherson put up monster numbers in the minor leagues, but his performance in the majors has left a lot to be desired, and now he's an injury-riddled former phenom trying to find his way again. As a spring training invitee battling for a job, he'd be a wonderful guy to give a shot to, because the power potential that made the Angels go gaga once upon a time is likely still there.
Sadly, his agent is Scott Boras, which probably means he's looking for a major league deal, perhaps even for more than one year. Guaranteed money for a guy who is coming off back surgery and who couldn't break a .300 OBP in three major league tryouts? No thanks.
Justin Leone: I've been curious to see what this guy could do if given a real chance in the majors, but it looks like he's destined to go the way of Roberto Petagine. He hit .269/.383/.498 at AAA Fresno last year and the Giants threw him a spring training invite for 2008. He'll be 30 and his ZiPS projections (.233/.319/.375) are totally uninspiring, but he's never been given a good chance and he'd cost virtually nothing to take up a roster spot. His career batting line in the minors is .260/.363/.480, so it seems like he's got something to offer. If the Giants aren't going to give Frandsen a shot, then Leone is my guy.
--It's probably a sad attempt at patting myself on the back, but at least give me some credit for correctly predicting where Feliz would go, sort of.
--One more thing. Bold prediction for 2008: Feliz leads the majors in GIDPs. It would seem to make sense with Pedro's lack of patience and all of the runners he'll have on base for him. You heard it here first.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Connect the Dots
Now look and see how it relates to this link right here...
Friday, January 25, 2008
Every Good Friday Deserves Links
--Chris at Bay City Ball provides a neat breakdown of Barry Zito's hugely disappointing 2007 season using Pitchf/x data. The coolest part? Rob Neyer linked to the article on his ESPN blog, which is pretty awesome.
For the layman, Pitchf/x is a means of tracking the flight path and velocity of every pitch thrown by a pitcher on the season. It can give us an approximate idea of how well a pitcher's pitches are breaking, how often batters are swinging and missing, and the location of each pitch relative to the strike zone, among other things. Unfortunately, not every ballpark utilizes the technology, so, as the article acknowledges, this is sort of an incomplete sample, but for the sake of quick and dirty analysis, it'll do just fine.
So, does Pitchf/x predict any improvement from Zito in '08? Does it provide any sort of justification for my purchase of a Zito jersey last spring, when I was six beers deep at Mays Field with a pocket full of twenties just begging me to do something stupid with them? Well, read the BCB article and judge for yourself, but I'd have to say no.
It seems that the reason that Zito can still get batters out (somewhat) is that his fastball, even with its precipitous drop in miles per hour, has so much separation in velocity from his curveball (which is still a plus-plus pitch), that hitters still have a tough time picking his offerings up. With that said, Zito's walk rate continues to be unacceptable and that, combined with decreasing velocity and strikeout rates, never portends good times.
Anyway, the article is the first in a series over at BCB, and I'm very interested to see what Pitchf/x has to say about Noah Lowry and his magic act last year.
--Speaking of Zito and Rob Neyer, Neyer talks about a deal the Twins are proposing to Johan Santana in relation to the Zito contract, and finds the time to rip all over the Giants some more. Salt on the wound, my friends, salt on the friggin' wound.
--The Tampa Bay Rays (is it me or does that new, exorcised name just not ring true?) have signed former Giants sinkerballing reliever Scott Munter to a minor league deal. Munter was one curiosity that I'm glad we don't have to deal with anymore. He had one legitimate major league pitch, his sinker, which was nigh-impossible to hit in the air. So the idea, then, was that in tight spots with runners on and less than two out, the team could bring in Munter and his sinker and, voila, inning-ending double play.
It was a great plan, except for the wee problem that Munter had no control whatsoever and would instead exacerbate the problem by walking everybody and their mom's dog. He had a decent run in limited action in 2005, but his K:BB ratio was horrible and it caught up to him in a bad way in 2006. Eventually everybody realized that no matter how great your one freak pitch may be, you still have to strike some batters out with it (Munter struck out just 14 batters in 58 AAA innings last year...egads!) and so off he went into the wilderness of non-tendered-dom.
I'd say that this is probably the last we'll hear of Munter, but given the Giants' history of bad luck in letting go of young relievers (think Joe Nathan, Scott Linebrink, Jeremy Accardo), it wouldn't surprise me to see Munter somehow turn into a halfway-decent reliever.
--Speaking of ex-Giant relievers, David Aardsma was DFA'd by the White Sox the other day, and I'm going to start the campaign right now for the Giants to grab him. Aardsma, a former Giants number one pick, was traded to the Cubs along with Jerome Williams in 2005 for LaTroy Hawkins in one of the most idiotic trades of Brian Sabean's tenure. He was okay with the Cubs in 2006, but flamed out after being traded to the White Sox.
Since the Giants should be in rebuild mode and should be looking for any good arms they can find on the cheap, I think Aardsma would be a great pickup, if only to see if Dave Righetti can get hold of him and work some magic. Aardsma's undoing last year was his control, but he still struck out more than a batter an inning, and that indicates the stuff is still there. If he can get his control problems ironed out then there's a pretty good pitcher lurking there. Remember, guys like Feliz Rodriguez and John Johnstone were sucky relievers who had lost their way, then they came to the Giants and turned it around. It could happen.
The White Sox have another couple of days to trade Aardsma or else he becomes a free agent. I think the Giants would do well to take a flyer on him if he slips through, not that they should have given up on him so easily in the first place.
--Joe Posnanski's wonderful The Soul of Baseball was named as the best baseball book of 2007. I just did get the book this past Christmas, and I can say that it is easily one of my favorite baseball books, right behind Lords of the Realm and Fantasyland. What makes it so great, in my opinion, is that it tells wonderful baseball stories and revels in the greatness of the game while never, not for one second, presenting the players and those involved in the game as anything more than simple human beings, as flawed and rife with self-doubt as the rest of us.
I think a lot of baseball writers fall into the trap of presenting baseball history, which is long and rich, with a sort of whimsy or mysticism, and then begin to deify their old heroes as if these players were pure souls who could do nothing wrong. I find that crap unreadable. It's why I find books like Moneyball and Lords of the Realm so fascinating, and books like Shoeless Joe so interminable. I enjoy books that cut through the bullshit and present baseball for what it is: a cutthroat industry with a long, crooked history.
What is great about Posnanski's book is that it doesn't deny any of that, and yet it still provides us with the sense of wonder that we felt as little kids when watching baseball. The book's subject, Buck O'Neil (one of the game's great personalities and ambassadors) tells one great story after another, about how much he loved the game, about how baseball was his life, about how he played for so little, and he never, ever wanders into treacle territory. He tells wonderful stories, stories that inspire, and it never turns into one of those mushy ruminations on how baseball is America or some other gobbledegook. It's a great read, and highly recommended even for the non-baseball fans amongst you.
--TGIF vid. Modest Mouse, one of the best contemporary bands around, and my favorite song of theirs. The sound quality sucks, but it's the best I could find, so apologies in advance.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Terror At 6'8''
Tony Clark, 2007: .249/.310/.511
Not bad, and a definite improvement over whatever the Giants have had at first base since 2004. But wait, is that an extreme home/road split I see?
2007 Home: .291/.331/.684
2007 Road: .202/.288/.317
Oh, boy. Obviously we can't just completely disregard Clark's home performance, but what we do know is that Chase Field is an extreme hitter's park and that when Clark stepped into a batter's box anywhere else he hit like Neifi Perez with one hand tied behind his back.
Clark is 36 and he's had one good season since 2001. Can we move on to the next retread, please? If the Giants are going to bring a veteran in, why not go with Brad Wilkerson, who is still young enough to regain his past greatness? Plus, Wilkerson is a good defensive player who can play the outfield when needed. I've made a case for him already.
Whatever Clark would sign for, it's likely to be one year or something, so it wouldn't be a complete debacle, but what's the point? I'd rather just let Dan Ortmeier play, to see if his .497 slugging percentage can stand up for a whole season. I'm not too bullish on the Ort, but I'd wager he'd be just as good as Clark, and what reason do the Giants have to not give him a try? So they can squash another young player's career beneath a crappy veteran some more? That's worked out soooo well for them already, don'tcha know.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Taking it as a given that Ray Durham is going to start the season as the Giants' regular second baseman (veteran-ness and salary-ness should be enough), I'd like to explore whether or not there is any chance of a rebound year from Ray-Ray. It's silly to expect a return to his 2006 levels of greatness, but I also just can't believe his 2007 train wreck is now his established level of performance. He's just simply been too good for too long.
First of all, I'm on the record as being in full favor of the Durham re-signing when it happened, and I still staunchly defend it. I thought then, and still believe, that it was a smart little gambit to make, a two-year deal worth a not-unreasonable amount of cash spent on a player who had been one of the best second baseman in the NL for the entirety of his Giants contract. Again, there was no reason to think Durham would repeat the glory of 2006, but there was every reason to think he'd still maintain the kind of .280/.360/.440 baseline that he'd established with the Giants from 2003-05. That, in my opinion, is definitely worth $14 million over two years.
It just didn't work out. Nobody, even with Durham's age and all of his nagging injuries, could have predicted that he'd fall off a cliff as abruptly as he did. His .218/.295/.343 season was like a C4-loaded bullet train crashing full throttle into the Giants championship run of my dreams. Of all the questionable moves Brian Sabean has made in the past few years, the Durham signing is one that I absolutely won't give him flak for. It was a sound decision, based on Durham's previous productive four years, and any nay-saying is essentially "hindsight-is-20/20" BS.
So with that all said, can Durham pull himself out of the muck and back to respectability? Well, I went to Baseball Reference and checked out a list of the most comparable players to Durham, and, well, it doesn't look good. Durham's most similar player is Jay Bell, the former Arizona middle infielder who in 1999 fluked his way to 38 desert-addled home runs, and otherwise was a pretty good hitter for most of his career. Durham will be 36 this year, and Bell, at that age, was done, offering up a .163/.250/.306 line in a miserable, injury-plagued season. Two years later he'd be gone for good.
Durham's top ten most similar players through the age of 35 is an impressive list, and includes Hall of Famers Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg, and borderline HOF candidates like Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Barry Larkin, and Craig Biggio. Unfortunately, of all the guys on that list, only Morgan and Whitaker did anything after turning 36, and Whitaker mostly because he was in a strict platoon. Biggio was okay after he turned 36, but a lot of his power numbers are a Crawford Box-induced mirage.
So, looking at similar players, it seems as though the writing is on the wall. Even if Durham doesn't stink like he did last season, even a moderate improvement would still be a drain on the lineup. I guess the situation the Giants are looking at now is to just hope and pray that Durham rebounds to a modicum of his former self, then try to pawn him off at the deadline. Or, at the very least, keep him and have adequate production at second base.
On the plus side, Durham's walk rate held steady, and his strikeout rate didn't skyrocket (though it did climb a bit), so maybe there was some bad luck involved. Still, the prospects of a bounceback don't look good, and to make matters even more horrifying, as Grant at McCovey Chronicles points out, it may not be a choice between Durham and Frandsen, but between Durham and Pedro Feliz, because if Frandsen beats Durham for the second base job and Durham is jettisoned...Heeeeere's Happy! Yeah, now you see the gravity of the situation. So, please, Ray, have a rebound year for all of us.
--On Martin Luther King Day, a lovely little tribute, courtesy of U2...
Labels: ray durham
Friday, January 18, 2008
It's Urkel Day!
--Today on ESPN.com, Rob Neyer chatted with fans about which pitcher would be better, our own wunderkind Tim Lincecum, or Brewer uberprospect Yovani Gallardo. Lincecum has hellacious stuff and destroyed everything in his path in the minors, but Gallardo is younger and has shown better control. The answer of who will be better isn't exactly as clear-cut as we Giants fans might like.
It makes for an interesting read, and some good points are made, especially in counter to all the people freaking out about Lincecum's small frame, and the injury risk involved, and also just about the general unpredictability of pitchers. He's a pitcher and he exists, therefore he's an injury risk. It happens. Some chatters brought up the example of Mark Prior, who was considered a brilliant physical specimen who could never get hurt, then...got hurt.
Another point raised is that just because Lincecum's delivery is bizarre doesn't mean it's dangerous. It seems like most of his power comes from his lower body, which would take a lot of strain off of the arm. Power pitchers like Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens had notoriously strong legs, which enabled them to throw hard as hell, and both those guys pitcher forever.
I also realize from reading this chat that some fans just don't live in reality. A majority of the people submitting questions come from the Bay Area, understandably, and some think Lincecum is a top ten pitcher right now. I'm just as excited about Timmy as anybody else, but let's get a hold of ourselves here. He's still young and he's thrown just 146 major league innings. Given the adjustments hitters are likely to make against him, and again given that pesky (knock on wood) injury risk just by him being a pitcher, there are bound to be some bumps in the road before true greatness.
--I try to stay away from Baseball Think Factory, really I do. It's not because the site has a bunch of bad baseball writing or anything. Au contrere, BTF is home to some of the richest baseball analysis out there by some of the most amazing fans of the game. It constantly blows my mind how smart a lot of these guys are.
No, I try to stay away because once I get on, I can't get off. First there are the front page articles, then there are Dan Szymborski's ZiPs projections, then there's the News Blog, which points out some really crappy articles from around the country, then skewers them. One interesting baseball thread leads to another, and before I know it, I've wasted away five hours, my complexion has developed that pasty-white sheen, and when I go outside I hiss at the sun like the Nosferatu or some other denizen of the night. For the sake of a healthy dating life, I try to stay off.
So I basically take it in small steps, kind of the Atkins Diet of baseball stat nerdery. During my 12-step BTF recovery process, I came across this writeup by Chris Dial, where he presents his choices for who should have won the NL Gold Gloves (because the real GG voting is a joke), using a number of (confusing) defensive metrics.
According to his analysis, Pedro Feliz was 2007's best defensive third baseman, which comes as no surprise. I've harped about that before. No, the real shocker is that he rates Omar Vizquel as the best shortstop. We all know Omar is still pretty good, but it seemed like common wisdom that he was declining rapidly. Not so, says Dial. In fact, check out this quote:
>That (outstanding defense) could have been enough to make Omar an average player in 2007, shocking as that sounds.>
Whoah. Omar must have been one hell of a wizard with the glove to make him average, as his bat reached Neifi depths of putridness. I'm not sure I agree, as this is the only bit of analysis that I've seen that rates Vizquel as the best (whereas just about every defensive metric has Feliz as the top 3B), but if true, it gives his re-signing a more positive outlook.
--There was an article today on the Giants official website about the Giants apparently letting Ray Durham and Kevin Frandsen fight it out for the second base job, but I think Chris Haft is just scratching for things to write about. When is the last time the Giants actually let a young player compete, fair and square, for an everyday job against a veteran? Remember the Jamey Wright vs. Brad Hennessey "contest" that really wasn't a fight at all, because Wright had the job as long as he didn't completely mess himself in the spring. Same with Russ Ortiz this past season. Do you really think the Giants are going to give Frandsen a fair shot at taking the starting job from the savvy veteran making $7 million? Please.
For the record, though, I do want to see Frandsen start at third base (assuming the Giants don't upgrade that position in the interrim), and I expect Durham to be considerably better this year. His track record is is just too good for him to fall apart this much, this fast. Plus, how could he be any worse?
--I discussed the lunacy that can go hand-in-hand with Hall of Fame arguments last week, especially involving Jim Rice, but if you want to take a head-long plunge into the darkest depths of the stark-raving-mad HOF argument, I direct you to this bit of wisdom from everybody's favorite Curly-Haired Boyfriend. FJM tears into poor Dan quite nicely here.
--Ten years after my Freshman English teacher in high school sent the class into a baffled stupor by citing it, I think I finally get this joke. Or do I?
--Ah, TGIF video, how I've missed ye. I'm not sure I can really explain this, but...just check it out.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
A Gander At the Goose, Part 2
1981: Unfazed by the previous October's disappointment, Gossage returned to post maybe his most dominant season ever. In a season torn apart by labor strife, Gossage posted an incredible 0.77 ERA (for a 465 ERA+!!!!). He also saved 20 games, yet only finished 5th in the Cy Young voting. Who did win the Cy? Another reliever, Rollie Fingers, who won not only the Cy Young but the league MVP as well.
Bill James somewhat famously pondered in his New Historical Abstract why Rollie Fingers won the MVP award that year over Gossage, who had the more dominant ERA. Fingers posted a 1.04 ERA (332 ERA+) while saving 28 games, and won MVP and CY honors for a Brewers team making the playoffs for the first time ever. Fingers had the higher ERA, and pitched in a friendlier pitcher's park, but he also pitched in 78 innings, compared to Gossage's (relatively meager) 46 2/3. Fingers had 70 Pitching Runs Above Replacement (uh...just read this) that year, while Gossage had 44.
So it seems the voters got it right, as Fingers's huge lead in innings made him more valuable. Still, it's hard to see why Fingers was given the MVP when guys like Eddie Murray and Bobby Grich were tearing the AL apart that year. I guess it wasn't the most absurd MVP vote, though.
For the record, Gossage made eight playoff appearances that year (there were three playoff rounds in the 1981 postseason) and didn't allow a single run. It'd be his last postseason with the Yankees.
1983: It would have been a good yet nondescript year for Gossage and the Yanks, except for that little incident with George Brett and the pine tar bat. It's one of the most notorious (and hilarious) games in major league history. Long story short: Yankee manager Billy Martin was sick of Brett killing his team. Martin knew that Brett was using too much pine tar on his bat (pretty much every player did), so he decided that the next time Brett hurt the Yankees, which inevitably he would, Martin was going to point out Brett's illegal bat to the umps. Yeah, Martin was one conniving son of a bitch.
Sure enough, in a game on July 24, with the Royals down a run, Brett hit a go-ahead, ninth-inning, two-run home run off of Gossage. Out came Martin, pointing at Brett's bat. The umpires inspected it, determined that there was indeed an illegal amount of pine tar on it, ejected Brett, and nullified the home run, giving the Yankees the victory.
Brett's reaction when he realized he had been ejected is one of the all-time great blowups in professional sports history. He stormed out of the dugout like a rabid wolverine, spitting, cussing, and having to be restrained by teammates. I don't think I've seen an angrier human being in my life, and who could blame him, really? I can't find video of this anywhere, so if somebody has a link, please clue me in.
Anyway, the game was played under protest by the Royals, and eventually MLB allowed the home run to stand, and the game was finished that August. Poor Goose was stuck with the loss, although he still enjoyed a fine season, winning 13 games and saving 22 with his usual super ERA.
1984: Gossage packed his bags and left for the warm climate of San Diego, helping a one-hit wonder Padres team win the NL West and the pennant by saving 25 games with 102 stellar relief innings. Gossage made the final postseason appearance of his career in Game 5 of the World Series, and it was pretty ugly.
As the Padres were in the midst of getting trounced by a powerhouse Tiger team, Gossage was brought in to start the seventh inning of the deciding Game 5, with the Pads trailing 4-3. He promptly gave up a home run to Lance Parrish, and it would only go straight downhill from there. "Dirty" Kurt Bevacqua, enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame (check out his line from the Series!), homered for the Padres in the top of the eighth to bring San Diego back to within a run.
Already down one run and facing elimination against Detroit's dominant closer, Willie Hernandez, Gossage came out for the eighth with one order: hold the Tigers without a run. He couldn't do it. The Tigers put runners on second and third with one out, and Kirk Gibson was coming up.
San Diego manager Dick Williams came out to the mound to ask if Gossage wanted to walk Gibson and face Parrish with the bases loaded (Parrish had homered earlier off of Goose, but he was a weaker hitter, and he was also right-handed; Gibson was a lefty swinger). Gossage, whether out of some sense of bravado or overconfidence (he had struck out Gibson an inning earlier), waved his manager back to the dugout and dug in to face Gibby. Gossage's second pitch sailed into Tiger Stadium's upper deck, cementing Detroit's World Championship and leaving Gossage stewing on the mound. Hey, at least he wasn't the one to give up the timeless World Series homer that Gibson would hit four years later.
1989: Does anybody remember Goose's time with the Giants? I sure don't, but then again, I was only six years old. On the surface, Gossage's tenure with the Giants seems pretty good, as he made 31 appearances and saved four games with a 2.68 ERA. Looking closer, though, you can see why the Giants eventually ended up waiving him. In 43 and 2/3 innings, he had a K:BB ratio of 24:27, so while his ERA looks nice, he must have had runners all over the bases. Picture an Armando Benitez kind of walking-on-broken-glass act. Then again, maybe we shouldn't be thinking of Armando Benitez at all.
Gossage finished that season back with the Yankees, and thus wasn't with the Giants for their World Series run. Gossage, incredibly, hung on until 1994, enjoying a few good years, including one with the A's in 1992, when they won their division. His career lasted an impressive 22 seasons and he racked up 310 saves, 17th all-time.
My take on relievers has been well-documented on this blog. I'm a little skeptical about their value, and I think the save is a complete junk stat that should really be ignored. A vast majority of the best relievers were essentially starters who crapped out, guys like Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith, and Eric Gagne, so I question how good they really are, as pitchers. Even Dennis Eckersley, the quintessential great starter-turned-reliever, only became a bullpen ace because he completely lost his way as a starting pitcher.
That doesn't take anything away from the Goose's Hall of Fame credentials, though. Relief pitchers were more valuable in his day, because they threw way more innings. The one-inning model of closer didn't come along until about 1988, with Tony LaRussa and Eck. In his prime, Gossage would usually come in around the seventh inning and stay in to close out the game, which essentially made it a six-inning ballgame for the opponent. Looking at those kinds of workloads, it's amazing that his arm held up for so long, and so well.
Lastly, if baseball writers are going to put relief pitchers, and their contributions to the game, on such a high pedestal, then it only makes sense to establish a place in the Hall of Fame for them. And if you're going to put relievers in the Hall of Fame, you've gotta have the Goose, who is probably the best relief pitcher of all time.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
A Gander At the Goose, Part 1
Gossage was originally drafted by and came up with the White Sox. For his first three seasons, he dabbled around in mediocrity for some uninspiring ChiSock teams, until...
1975: Gossage's first brilliant relief season. He posted a 1.84 ERA in a whopping 141 innings in relief, which would be unheard of these days. His 26 saves led the league, which would probably also be unheard of in today's game.
1976: Perhaps the Red Sox looked at Gossage's 1976 season when they were deciding whether or not to make Jon Papelbon a starter before the start of last year. Few people remember this, but Chicago manager Paul Richards inexplicably decided to make Gossage a starter, something that didn't go particularly well. Gossage wasn't terrible, but he was obviously more suited to a role in the bullpen, as he made 29 starts (completing 15 of them) and threw 224 innings while putting up a 9-17 record with a 3.94 ERA (91 ERA+) for a horrible team.
In this day and age, it would take some serious cojones to take a guy who had just put up a monstrous season as a closer and put him in the rotation, just due to the media backlash alone. Back then, though, I think teams' utilization of the bullpen ace sort of role was still in its infancy, and I doubt many people cared. Maybe Richards saw a great pitcher and wanted to maximize his innings. In that light, it doesn't seem too crazy, I suppose, but why fix it if it ain't broke? Needless to say, Goose never started another game in his career.
1977: Ah, back to the bully and back to brilliance, as the Goose put up a ridiculous 243 ERA+ and saved 26 games in 133 innings. Unfortunately, it wasn't for the White Sox. Gossage was traded to the Pirates before the season for Richie Zisk, as beloved White Sox owner Bill Veeck was in the midst of acquiring every pending free agent slugger he could find in a last-ditch effort to contend. The Pirates, meanwhile, won 96 games, yet still fell five games short of a great Phillies team.
I'd argue that everything up to this point in Gossage's career is moot, though, because by this time he still hadn't grown that awesome mustache.
1978: Gossage converted to the dark side by signing a free agent deal with the Yankees, and it was in New York where he would cement his legend status. In his first season under Big Stein, Gossage was again practically unhittable, putting up a 2.01 ERA in 134 innings (he also factored into 21 decisions!), while again leading the league in saves. He also pitched six innings in the World Series without giving up a run.
And because it's mandatory for all fearsome closers to have goofy facial hair...yes, there it is.
1980: Another great year, one in which he posted the highest save total of his career (33), but one marred by playoff disaster. Goose had been pretty much the scariest dude on the mound for the past few seasons, but that all changed when he met up with George Brett that October.
You see, from 1976-1978, the Yankees and Royals squared off in three straight ALCS, and the Yankees won all of them, often in heartbreaking fashion. They were taut, hard-fought battles in which players left all their blood and sweat on the field (literally; one year Reggie Jackson hideously spiked Royals shortstop Freddie Patek, but Patek was amazingly able to make it out for the rest of the series, despite nearly having his leg taken off). Always, however, it was the Yankees who came away victorious.
In 1980, though, the Royals found themselves up two games to none on their long-time nemesis (back then the LCS was a 3 of 5 contest), and the Yanks were clawing against the wall. In Game Three, the Yankees clung to a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning. Gossage came on to close out the game, and it started to look bleak for Kansas City. Gossage was essentially unhittable, and many of the Royal players later voiced that had the Yankees won that game, they'd have likely won the series (the last two games were in New York, and these teams were basically the same from those '76-'78 contests, so there was some domage going on here).
Yankee starter Tommy John retired the first two hitter easily, but then he allowed a double to Willie Wilson. That brought in Gossage, who came riding in on one of those goofy little carts they had in the bullpens in those days. Gossage looked as fearsome as ever, stomping off the mound, breathing fire, looking like a crazed biker...doing what he usually did. The first batter he faced, U.L. Washington, singled, putting two runners on base for George Brett.
Brett was himself a Hall of Famer and was coming off arguably the best year of his career, one in which he batted a blistering .390/.454/.664 (and speaking of blisters, it was in this series that Brett would begin suffering from a crippling case of hemorrhoids that nearly took him out of a few World Series games...ouch!) . He had been unstoppable in the teams' previous playoff meetings, and this year it was no different. The only change: he was freaking sick of losing.
Gossage's first pitch was a 100 mph fastball which Brett sent about 120 mph into Yankee Stadium's upper deck, silencing the Bronx crowd and effectively killing the Yankees' season. By this point Gossage had been so dominant and so blown up by the New York media that his mound exploits were approaching deity status. This was the first hint that he might have been human, after all. Just picture him as Xerxes, and Brett as Leonidas.
All right, I didn't start this until the wee hours (damn you, Sarah Connor Chronicles!), and I'm dangerously close to passing out on my keyboard, so we're going to make this a two-parter. Join me tomorrow as I look at the Goose's final Yankee years and his descent into journeyman status, which included a stint with the Giants.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Everybody voted in Goose Gossage, which I guess makes sense, because if you have Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers in the Hall, you have to have the Goose, who mops the floor with both of them. Andre Dawson and Jim Rice are the only other two who would theoretically be elected by this group (you need 75% of the vote to make it). Dawson's .323 career OBP is pretty bad, but he was a very good player for a long time, and I guess he wouldn't be the worst pick for Cooperstown.
The real idiocy starts, though, when these writers start voting for Jim Rice instead of Tim Raines, and Jack Morris instead of Bert Blyleven. Seven voters voted for Rice over Raines. I detailed yesterday how I don't really see how Rice has the credentials, but if you want to vote for him, fine. However, I just don't see how anybody with a brain can vote for Rice and not Raines, who was a better player over a longer period of time, had a career OBP more than 30 points higher, and has the highest stolen base percentage of any player in history with as many attempts. Raines had five seasons where he was arguably the best player in the National League. Rice had one season where he was the best in the AL, and even that's up for debate.
They're different types of players, obviously, but Raines created more runs per game than Rice (6.6 to 6.0) and when you add the defensive value and the fact that Raines wasn't helped susbstantially by his home ballpark, like Rice was, it seems like it should be a no-brainer. I think the fact that Raines had his best years toiling in Canada and that he was overshadowed by Ricky Henderson is going to kill his Hall chances.
As for Blyleven v. Morris, only Buster Olney voted for Jack and not Bert, which I guess makes it less of an outrage. Still, I can't see how the two are even comparable. Blyleven's win-loss percentage suffers because he played for a lot of bad teams, but his ERA+ (118) is better than Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan (111), Don Sutton (108), Phil Neikro (115), Steve Carlton (115), and it absolutely kicks Morris's (105) butt all over the place. What's the difference between Blyleven and those four I mentioned there? He didn't reach the magical 300 win mark, except that he would have if he hadn't spent most of his career pitching for awful teams.
I think what really hurts Blyleven is that he didn't have any kind of famous feat or some kind of feature that would make him especially memorable for HOF voters. Nolan Ryan, of course, had the strikeouts and the no-hitters. Sutton was on good teams all of his career and thus was always on TV in October. Carlton was also on good teams for most of his career, and he also had one of the greatest pitching seasons of all time, in 1972, when he won 27 games for a Phillies team that won 59. Neikro had that lovable knuckleball. Morris was also on good teams basically forever and his ten-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series was one of the greatest single-game pitching performances ever, so a lot of voters think he's qualified simply from memory of that one game (conveniently forgetting that he got shat on in two starts in the very next World Series by those very same Braves).
Blyleven, however, didn't really have any kind of feat or gimmick that really stuck out, and thus I think he was kind of overlooked. He was just consistently great for his entire career, but his greatness came in the shadows. It didn't help that he was rarely in the playoffs (he did pitch in two World Series, in 1979 and 1987), and that his crappy teams always dragged down his win totals, thus killing his Cy Young chances. When Carlton was racking up Cys for the Phillies and facing Tommy Lasorda's Dodgers every postseason, Blyleven was quietly dominating hitters in the then-baseball hell that was Cleveland.
The support for Blyleven these days is so strong that I think it's inevitable that he'll get voted in in the next few years. The sad thing is, I think Morris will get voted in as well, maybe before Bert, and that's a crying shame.
--Side note: How the hell did Pedro Gomez get a Hall vote? Isn't this the guy who was basically assigned by ESPN to sift through Barry Bonds's leavings for like three years? The fact that this guy has a vote (he voted for Lee Smith over Raines and Blyleven, for fuck's sake!), and the fact that the BBWAA felt it necessary to deny Rob Neyer (only one of the best in the biz) and Keith Law (not too far behind, but he's kind of a jerk) HOF votes just indicates how seriously you should really be taking the Hall of Fame these days.
Labels: Hall of Fame
Monday, January 07, 2008
Hall Of Fame Hissy Fits
It absolutely amazes me how venomous these HOF debates can get. The problem is, many fans have pet players or players who were on their favorite team growing up, and they'll concoct as many convoluted arguments as they can to try to validate their player's HOF credentials. If you dare, dare, try to present evidence that proves they don't belong, God help you.
We're all guilty of it, to some extent. Once upon a time, being a huge Giants fan, I was ready to make a huge Hall of Fame case for Matt Williams. Obviously Williams, as much as we all love the guy, is no HOFer. I also think that Ted Simmons* should be in. Actually, I'll go one further. I think it's an effing travesty that Simmons isn't in, and even worse that he barely got a sniff from the voters. I can make a pretty good case for him (and this being Hall of Fame week, essentially, I just might do that later), and I'm just a nerd with Baseball Reference and the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract to go on.
Fortunately for my sanity and my social life, I don't really care enough to get worked up over it. If Simmons never gets elected, I'll survive and go about my life as a disgruntled Giants fan. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for a lot of these chat forum posters. You'd think some people would have better things to do than try all day to convince Internet denizens who have no HOF vote that their man is Cooperstown material, but you'd be wrong. It can get very emotional, and sometimes I wonder, if you actually do win an argument on a chat board, and the other guy says, like, "whoah, dude, you convinced me, Buddy Biancalana should totally be elected", what do you win? Some sense of self-satisfaction? I guess I'll never know.
The whole thing has a sort of Fox News Channel effect. It's loud, obnoxious, mostly counterfactual, and about 95% of the arguments made are completely asinine, but dammit, I just can't turn away, no matter how pissed off I get. I guess it's just fun to get really mad disagreeing with blowhards who have no clue what they're talking about, whether that be Sean Hannity or "ArodgotpwnedbyurMom6969" on the ESPN forums.
The player drawing the most heated discussion this go-round is probably Jim Rice, the Boston left fielder who played from 1975 to 1989. If you have about two hours to kill, go here, read Rob Neyer's argument for why Rice is not a HOFer, then read the comments section, which is rife with Bostonians and Rice sycophants skewering Neyer as if he spit on the Bible. It should give you some impression of the kind of hurt feelings these debates bring out.
For the record, I think Neyer and the other anti-Rice people (for lack of a better term) make a good case. He was a good hitter and an underrated fielder, but he was one-dimensional, he was helped a lot by Fenway Park, and really only had like three stellar years. Plus, his teammate for many years, Dwight Evans, was just as good of a hitter, for a longer timespan, and was a terrific fielder (remember the Game 6 catch?), and yet he gets zero HOF support. Does this make any sense to anyone?
Most of Rice's proponents will say he was "the most feared hitter of his era", which is not only hogwash (Mike Schmidt or Reggie Jackson, anyone?) but a completely ridiculous point to make in an intelligent debate. You can't really prove or refute it, it's just something you pull out of your ass when all the numbers prove that you just might be totally wrong. And, as Neyer showed, Rice was never, ever near the top of the pack in intentional walks, which would kind of seem to indicate that he probably wasn't really that feared after all.
Another claim trotted out by Rice's supporters is that he led the AL in home runs or total bases or whatever in (insert completely arbitrary span of years). This might be true (I think Rice did lead the majors in total bases from 1975-1986), but you can cherry pick stats like that to prove that anybody is great.
When Neyer or any of the other stat nerds refute this point, the pro-Rice side see their argument essentially boil down to "well, if you don't think Rice is a Hall of Famer, you don't know baseball! Get your head out of the trig book and get your ass in the stands!" That's a generalization, but a fair one given the goofiness of a lot of the comments on that Neyer writeup.
One more thing about Rice, too. Is it just me, or does he seem to be getting a lot of love from sportswriters when he was roundly regarded as a complete prick in his playing days? Maybe Barry Bonds shouldn't be so worried after all.
Anyway, since we find out who gets the Cooperstown call on Thursday, and since January is the most boring baseball month, we'll talk Hall of Fame in the coming days, including who'd be on my ballot (given my stathead inclinations, it shouldn't be much of a shock).
*Why do I care one bit about Simmons, a player who had essentially all of his peak years in the decade before I was born? Two words: Harvey's Wallbangers.