Friday, November 21, 2003
The 2003 MLB free agent season is officially underway (and has been for a few weeks now), and with it comes the inevitable barrage of bad signings. While these signings are usually perpetrated by my Mets, I'm happy to say that the first couple belong to other unfortunate teams. That's not to say the Mets won't make their own share, as their laundry list of rumored has-beens and never-will-bes includes the likes of Pokey Reese, Todd Walker, Luis Castillo, etc.
The first bad signing, and by "bad" I really mean "inexcusable" or "criminal", was the Astros inking Brad Ausmus to a two-year deal worth $4 million.
I'm having a difficult time deciding which is more insipid: the fact that Ausmus made $5.5 million this year or, after his sub-replacement-level performance these past few seasons, that someone, namely the team that suffered through those seasons, would decide that $2 million per year is a good investment in him.
I have heard that he is a good "character" guy which, while I can't quantify, I would imagine is much like saying a girl has a great personality in lieu of just calling her "ugly".
In an era where batting statistics are through the roof, we still don't expect much offensive output from the catching position. Never has this been more true than in Houston. Among major league catchers with 250 or more at-bats last season (of which there were 30), Ausmus ranked dead last in SLG and OPS (OBP % plus SLG %) and next-to-last in AVG (Brandon Inge).
Having lousy production at catcher is not a crime. However, having arguably the worst offensive catcher in the league while paying him like the seventh-best catcher in the league is ludicrous.
He did manage to draw 46 walks in 450 at-bats, which isn't half-bad. His .229 AVG and *gag* .291 SLG would give me nightmares if I were a fan in Houston. Well, the nightmares are going to last for another two years it would seem.
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The other bad move was Raul Ibanez signing a three-year deal with the Mariners worth $13 million. Not bad for Raul, mind you. Aaron of Aaron's Baseball Blog has already covered this topic, so I will just make a few points.
Ibanez was a 36th round pick by the M's in 1992 and played small parts of five seasons before signing with the Royals as a free agent in 2001. After playing part-time in 2001, he got 497 at-bats in 2002 and put together a fine season: 24 homeruns, 103 RBI, .883 OPS, .294 AVG.
A big concern is that he's going from an extreme hitter's park (Kauffman Stadium) to an extreme pitcher's park (Safeco Field), which typically doesn't favor batters who rely on slugging percentage to pad their OPS (as opposed to on-base percentage, which translates much better from park-to-park).
He's gotten on base consistently around 35% of the time over the past three seasons, and his slugging has fluctuated from .495 (2001) to .537 (2002) to .454 (2003). He's hit surprisingly well at Safeco over the past three seasons, posting a 1.316 OPS in 42 at-bats. It's a small sample size, so it's difficult to draw any meaningful information from it.
One can reasonably expect his power numbers to drop off in his new surroundings, though his on-base percentage shouldn't drift too far one way or the other. Ibanez is a fairly productive player, but is roughly league-average (or slightly better) for an outfielder/first-baseman type. He ranked 22nd in the AL among outfielders in Win Shares with 15, just ahead of Frank Catalanotto and just behind Eric Byrnes, two nice players who aren't going to see $4 million per-year anytime soon.
Plus, as Aaron points out, since the Mariner's signed Ibanez before the Royals had a chance to offer him arbitration, they automatically forfeit their first-round pick in next year's draft. Not a great way to kick off the Bill Bavasi regime.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
Jayson Stark is totally clueless. In his latest nonsensical diatribe, Jayson pleads his case to the masses regarding what true "value" is. Not unexpectedly, he carts out the old standbys when suggesting how everyone should quantify this "value":
1) How have all the other voters defined it over the last 70 years? and
2) Where would this player's team have finished without him?
Jayson is not an old-timer, but he subscribes to oh-so-many of the old-timer baseball adages. I'm not saying he's wrong in his thinking because his opinion differs from my own. He's wrong for any number of other reasons, so why single one out? Here's an analogy that I just conjured up:
Let us suppose there are two men: one wealthy, one not so. The wealthy man is worth $1,000,000, while the poor man is worth a mere $1,000. Walking along one day, the wealthy man finds $90 on the sidewalk, and picks it up. Across town, the poor man finds $100 on the sidewalk, and picks it up. By Jayson's logic, the $90 is more valuable to the wealthy man than the $100 is to the poor man because, after all, he would still be poor without that extra $100. As we all know, the $100 is, at its simplest, more valuable by $10 than the $90. One might even argue that, on a different level, it's significantly more valuable, with the importance that it holds in the hands of the poor man. Why, the wealthy man has $90 many times over, while the $100 truly makes a world of difference to the poor man.
Wealthy Man - First Place Minnesota Twins
Poor Man - Last Place Texas Rangers
$90 - would-be MVP candidate Shannon Stewart (though it's probably more like $50)
$100 - Alex Rodriguez
Hopefully it's starting to sink in. I generally enjoy Jayson's writing, but his current agenda leaves me scratching my head. He even rips his ESPN.com co-columnist Peter Gammons (amongst others) for not knowing "...what "valuable" means in this goofy world we live in." He goes on to use loaded arguments, such as this gem:
It tells us that hundreds of voters, over more than seven decades, almost always thought "valuable," as it applied to this award, meant a player's team at least won more games than it lost. Ideally, it contended for or finished first.
If we're wrong about that, then how come the voters for this award defined it that way for just about everyone else in the American League?
Of the 26 players besides A-Rod who got a vote, only two -- Anaheim's Garret Anderson and (hold your chuckles, please) Tampa Bay's Aubrey Huff -- played for teams with losing records.
Of course he doesn't mention that the main reason teams lose more games than they win is because they don't have very good players. This fact eludes Stark (or at least it eludes his argument), who is still campaigning door-to-door for Shannon Stewart. That he would take a cheap shot at Aubrey Huff like this ("...hold your chuckles...") is not only foolish, but misplaced. He fails to mention that Huff bested his choice, Stewart, in almost every conceivable category. He had a 3 point edge in OBP, a 96 point edge in SLG, a 99 point edge in OPS, a 4 point edge in AVG, 21 more homeruns, 34 more RBI, and an extra run. His RARP was a whopping 27 runs higher and he had 3 more Win Shares.
He concludes his sermon with this:
He won because nobody had any idea who to vote for. So they handed the best player in the league a consolation prize, a career-achievement award, a picturesque-numbers trophy, a We're Sorry You Never Won Before award. It was a magnanimous gesture and a fine little tip of the cap to a great, great player. Except that's not what the MVP award is. It's supposed to be about this year, about which team won and which teams didn't and about which player had the most to do with that.
Much as the two writers who left Hideki Matsui off of their ROY ballots because they felt the need to redefine the criteria for the award, Stark seems to want to re-christen this award the MVPWT, or Most Valuable Player on a Winning Team, which it is clearly not intended to be. As Rob Neyer points out in his rebuttal:
The Rangers finished in fourth place, which happens to be last place in the American League West. If they'd played in the American League Central, they'd probably have finished third, ahead of two or three other teams. Would that change Jayson's opinion of Alex Rodriguez's "value?" And if it would, then I submit that this house of cards, atop which Jayson's definition of "value" rests, has just collapsed under its own illogical weight.
That's better than I could have said it.
Just announced, Barry Bonds is once again the National league MVP. Not only was he the best player in the league, but I think he had the following going for him:
1) Many writers who had soured on Bonds in the past because of his stoic demeanor with the media may have softened their opinions of him, personally, with the recent passing of his father, Bobby Bonds.
2) He played for a first place (playoff) team, who some people still think means a damned thing.
Regardless, he was the 2003 Sabey Award winner, and now has the less-coveted NL MVP award to go with it. Better make room on the mantel.
Monday, November 17, 2003
And so we come to the final day of the 2003 Sabey Awards. To recap:
The 2003 Sabey Awards Part 1: Rookie of the Year
The 2003 Sabey Awards Part 2: AL Cy Young
The 2003 Sabey Awards Part 3: NL Cy Young
The 2003 Sabey Awards Part 4: AL MVP
Player Age AVG OBP SLG BB K XBH HR AB R RBI Win Shares EqA RARP
Barry Bonds 39 341 529 749 148 58 68 45 390 111 90 39.21 (2) 420 106.5
Todd Helton 30 358 458 630 111 72 87 33 583 135 117 33.52 (4) 345 73.3
Javy Lopez 33 328 378 687 33 90 75 43 457 89 109 29.73 (6) 337 64.4
Mike Lowell 29 276 350 530 56 78 60 32 492 76 105 23.04 (21) 299 41.7
Albert Pujols 23 359 439 667 79 65 95 43 591 137 124 41.13 (1) 362 90.8
Gary Sheffield 34 330 419 604 86 55 78 39 576 126 132 34.51 (3) 341 73.9
Sammy Sosa 35 279 358 553 62 143 62 40 517 99 103 21.77 (30) 303 38.3
Jim Thome 33 266 385 573 111 182 80 47 578 111 131 30.00 (5) 321 58.3
Preston Wilson 29 282 343 537 54 139 80 36 600 94 141 19.92 (39) 279 30.4
Okay, so I left Eric Gagne off the list. This was more out of laziness than any lack of merit on Gagne's part. He did put up more Win Shares (24.98) than three of the hitters here, but lets not kid ourselves, he wasn't going to win this award.
Here's a short list of others who won't be winning this award:
Javy Lopez - He broke the single-season record for most homers by a catcher, just edging out my drinking buddy Todd Hundley. This was an uncharacteristically productive season for Javier, who is usually just this side of worthless at the plate. His career year also came at a most opportune time, considering this was his walk year.
Mike Lowell - He had a very nice season, but wasn't even the best third baseman in the league (Scott Rolen), and might not have been the best player on his own team (Pudge Rodriguez).
Sammy Sosa - Come on. The guy was 30th in Win Shares, and only put up a .358 OBP. Great player, but didn't have a great season. Plus he missed some time RE: Corked Bat.
Jim Thome - Great pickup by the Phillies. The AVG was a twenty point drop from his career mark, but you can't complain about a .958 OPS in his first year in the league.
Preston Wilson - Nuff said.
While this is really a two horse race, I need to at least mention Todd Helton and player/agent Gary Sheffield. These guys actually put up very similar seasons in terms of Win Shares, EqA, and RARP. Sheff would probably get the nod because he doesn't play half of his games in a Batting Cage and he plays a (slightly) more demanding defensive position.
Poor Albert Pujols. The man is only (allegedly) 23 years old, and has already put up three MVP-caliber seasons. And, thanks to MLB's indentured servant rules, he only made $900k this year, and will continue to make chicken feed for the next three seasons. Unless he gets indicted on cocaine charges in the Dominican Republic or we find out he's actually 42, he stands to see a hefty raise come 2007. If he played in the American League, he'd run away with the award this year. Unfortunately for him, God happens to play in the National League.
Barry Bonds put up his worst year since 2000, when he posted a Neifi Perez-esque 1.128 OPS. He still managed to put up an otherworldly 1.278. Barry Bonds' production continues to boggle the mind. He led the league in OBP, SLG, OPS (duh), walks, intentional walks, BB/PA, BB/K, groundball-to-flyball ratio (not sure how impressive this is, but he led the league in it nonetheless), RC/27 (runs created per 27 outs), isolated power, secondary average (I'm just going through ESPN.com's sortable statistics at this point), etc. The only knock against him this year is that he played only 130 games. This explains why Pujols held a slight edge in Win Shares, but it won't be enough to deny Bonds his third straight (sixth overall) MVP award.
2003 Sabey Choice: Barry Bonds
Predicted MLB Winner: Barry Bonds