Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Fire Jim Tracy - April 1st Edition

Fire Jim Tracy – April 1st Edition

Dusty Baker – 1st infraction

Infraction – Bunting
When – Bottom of the 8th
Score – Game tied 1-1
Situation – 0 out, Runners on 1st and 2nd

With the Angels & Reds deadlocked at 1 in the bottom of the 8th they had their first two batters reach base, pinch hitter Xavier Paul on an error by Howard Kendrick error, and a single by Shin-Soo Choo.  This meant that on a base hit by Brandon Phillips the Reds almost certainly would’ve given scored the go ahead run. 
However, Dusty Baker instead decided it was time to call for the bunt.

This is incorrect for numerous reasons, lets count them.

1 – Bunting is almost always a poor decision.  However, its even worse when you are bunting a base runner to third base.  When the go-ahead run is already on 2nd baes a hit is going to score him already. 
Lets take a look at Tom Tango’s great Run Expectancy chart to see what happened to the probability of scoring…
With a runner on 1st and 2nd and none out, you can expect to score at least one run 64% of the time.
With a runner on 2nd and 3rd and one out, that number stays fairly constant, only raising to just a shade under 70%.  However that is just referring to the likelihood of scoring 1 run.  The chances of scoring multiple runs drop precipitously. 
However, those numbers are in the average situation.  This certainly wasn’t that.
2 – Brandon Phillips is a good hitter.  Since 2007, 5 of those 6 years he’s posted a wRC+ of 100 or more.  Meaning he’s been better than average almost every year.  These aren’t the guys you should be calling to bunt. 
3 – Joey Votto was on deck.  In case you don’t know, Joey Votto is very good.  Votto, in my opinion, is the best hitter in the National League.  By bunting Phillips, all Baker did was open first base, and invite Votto to be intentionally walked.  Of course that’s indeed what happened.  This took the bat out of the team MVP’s hands.

Result –
Votto was intentionally walked.  Chris Heisey struck out.  Jay Bruce struck out.
Zero runs scored.

Dusty Baker – 2nd infraction

Infraction – Bunting
When – Bottom of the 11th
Score –Game tied 1-1
Situation – 0 out, Runner on 1st.

Leading off the 11th inning, Joey Votto reached first on an error by shortstop Erick Aybar.  With Chris Heisey at the plate, Baker again called for him to bunt.  Going back to the Run Expectancy chart, by calling for this bunt, the expectation dropped from 44% to 41%.  However, much like the last time all this did was invite yet another intentional walk to a dangerous hitter.  This time it was Jay Bruce who was walked, bringing 2nd year 3rd baseman Todd Frazier to the plate.  Now, while Frazier had an excellent rookie season, undoubtedly he’s a worse hitter Bruce.

-Jay Bruce was intentionally walked.
-Todd Frazier struck out.
-Pinch hitter Jack Hannahan grounded out.
-Zero runs scored
Dusty Baker – 3rd infraction

Infraction – Inept Bullpen Usage
When – Top of the 13th
Score – Game tied 1-1
Situation – 2 out, Bases Loaded

Dusty Baker, decided that he hadn’t done enough with the two previous bunts to ruin the game.  In the 13th, reliever JJ Hoover was pitching his 2nd inning of the game.  The question you may be asking is…
Don’t the Reds have a great bullpen? 
Why is JJ Hoover pitching important innings when the game is on the line? 
Well, it’s the 13th inning, so they must’ve run out of relievers right?
No, that’s not the case at all.  Remaining in the bullpen was primary left handed setup man Sean Marshall, as well as right handers Logan Ondrusek, & Jose Arredondo.  Hoover had walked two batters (one intentionally), and hit another to load the bases, but Baker left Hoover in the game regardless.  Sigh.

-Chris Iannetta singled in the winning run. 
-The Reds lost

Bud Black – 1st Infraction

Infraction – Bunting
When – Top of the 1st
Score – Tied at zero
Situation – Runner on first, zero out.

While there are more damaging errors that I’ll detail over the course of the year, I don’t think I’ll find one more frustrating than this.  The first batter of the Padres season Chris Denorfia led of with a single.  The second batter of the game Evereth Cabrera was called on to sacrifice bunt him to 2nd base.  If this was the 9th inning of a tie game, I’m all for it.  At that point, you should be playing for one run.  However in this situation, you’re essentially killing any chance you have of setting up a mutli-run inning, and not really increasing your chance of scoring that one run by all that much.
This decision shows no awareness of game situation, nor the math that’s been done on the effectiveness of bunting in general.  Also, it tells your #2 hitter, in his first at bat of the year that you have no confidence in his ability to get a hit.  Just a terrible decision.

-Yonder Alonso grounded out.
-Carlos Quentin walked.
-Jedd Gyorko grounded out.
-Zero runs scord

Walt Weiss – 1st Infraction

Infraction – Inept Bullpen Usage
When – Bottom of the 10th
Score – 4-4 Tie
Situation – Bases Loaded, 1 out

Its nice to see Walt Weiss picking up where Jim Tracy left off. 
Weiss fell into one of the classic managerial traps you will see through the year.  In a home game, he refused to use his closer in a tie game.  In the 10th inning, instead of turning to closer Rafael Betancourt, Weiss opted instead to go with Adam Ottavino.  After Ottavino struck out Norichika Aoki, but then hit Rickie Weeks, intentionally walked Ryan Braun, and then unintentionally walked Aramis Ramirez to load the bases. 
Now, its one thing to not use your closer to start the inning, but now once your pitcher has loaded the bases without giving up a hit.  At this point, you have to go to Betancourt.  Weiss didn’t do that, and shockingly the Rockies lost.

-Jonathan Lucroy hit a sacrifice fly
-Rockies lose

Ron Gardenhire – 1st Infraction

Infraction – Inept Bullpen Usage
When Top of the 8th
Score – Twins trailing 3-2
Situation – Bases loaded, 2 out

Left handed reliever Brian Duensing had loaded the bases in the top of the 8th inning, on a single, a walk, and an intentional walk surrounding a sacrifice bunt by Andy Dirks.  At this point, Ron Gardenhire decided to pull Duensing, and go back to the bullpen.  Since it’s the 8th inning, and it was an incredibly high leverage situation, you’d expect he’d turn to his setup man Jared Burton. 
Instead, for no reason he turned to Josh Roenicke.  Objectively, there is zero case that can be made that Roenicke is better than Burton.  I don’t know what Gardenhire was saving him for.  The game had just 1 out left in the 8th, so even if you thought you’d take the lead, the closer Glen Perkins would be coming in from the bullpen.  I don’t understand why this happened.  It’s a real head scratcher.

- Josh Roenicke threw a wild pitch, a run scored

Monday, 1 April 2013

Hire Manny Acta - March, 31st Edition

Hire Manny Acta

This is the flipside of the Fire Jim Tracy series.  Fire Jim Tracy is focused on all the terrible managerial moves made by the field bosses around baseball, while Hire Manny Acta is the exact opposite.  Its a lot harder to come up with good managerial moves, since managers in baseball are so bad.  As a result, this one might appear less frequently, but I figure if I’m spending time tearing down questionable moves, I need to highlight positive moves when they are made as well.

Its key to note here, that these plaudits (and infractions in the Fire Jim Tracy series), are not based on the outcome of the decision, rather the process that has gone into the decision making.  Its quite possible that many of the decisions I highlight will have worked out poorly for the manager in question (or well in the case of the FJM series).  However, that is because no decision is 100% correct, or incorrect.  Just that some decisions are MORE correct than others. 

That being said, in his first game rookie Astros manager Bo Porter covered himself in glory with not one, but two plaudits I’m going to give out. 

Bo Porter – First time of the Year

Plaudit – Creative Bullpen Usage
When – Top of the 6th
Game Score – Ahead by 2 runs
Game Situation – 2 out; Runners on 1st and 2nd

Starter Bud Norris had been cruising through the first 5 innings of shutout baseball.  However, in the top of the 6th inning he ran into trouble.  He walked leadoff man Ian Kinsler, then gave up a base hit to Lance Berkman, and back to back run scoring singles to David Murphy and Nelson Cruz.  Since, he was approaching 100 pitches, it was clearly time to turn this game over to the bullpen, and see if they could lock down the remaining 10 outs left in the game. 

However, Mr. Porter, who was managing his first major league game, did some very out of the box thinking in selecting the reliever he turned to.  With left handed batter AJ Pierzynski due up, it was clearly the spot to use a left handed reliever.  The conventional options that Mr. Porter had were, like much of his roster, highly unproven youngsters in Wesley Wright, and Xavier Cedeno.  Knowing that this was likely to be the highest leverage situation of the game, and also knowing that his 5th starter wouldn’t be needed the first time through the rotation, Mr. Porter decided it was time to use his 5th starter Erik Bedard here.

Most of the time, managers would be worried about extra strain on a starters arm (especially someone with as many injury concerns that Bedard has had in his career).  In general, managers would be reluctant to turn to a starter mid-inning, since that’s so against the routine their used to.  Porter didn’t give a damn about any of that, and went with a starter, who hadn’t been used out of the bullpen since his rookie season in 2004.  Despite all these conventional reasons not to, Porter’s went with his best pitcher in this spot, and his creative usage worked very effectively.

Result – Bedard induced a fly ball from Pierzynski to get out of the tough jam.

Bo Porter – Second Time of the Year

When – Top of the 6th til Top of the 9th
Game Score – Ahead by 2 runs
Game Situation – N/A

Here’s where my love for rookie manager Bo Porter truly grows.  Not only did he decide to turn to Bedard in the 6th inning, he left him in for the rest of the game.  For those unaware, the concept of the super reliever (that being a relief pitcher who is used for multiple innings) is one of the tactical roles that members of the SABRmetric community has been advocating for quite some time.  

This isn’t a new idea, in fact it’s a very old one.  This is how relievers were used throughout baseball history until the increased specialization that was ushered in by Tony LaRussa and the Oakland Athletics during the late 1980s.  Look back to the careers of relief pitchers before the 1980s.  Dan Quisenberry & Rich “Goose” Gossage would scoff at modern day one inning relievers.  They would come in whenever the game was on the line, even as early as the 6th inning, and usually remain in the game til it was finished.

There are many reasons why I believe this is a preferable way to run a bullpen. 
First, it reduces the number of pitchers that you are forced to carry on the roster.  As a result that allows you carry a more productive bench.  Since so many teams have decided to gain the platoon advantage from the pitching side, this will give teams going in the opposite direction a distinct tactical advantage.  Also, for a team like the Astros who lack overall talent, there are more opportunities to utilize pinch hitters than other teams would.

Second, it saves the other members of the bullpen from having to pitch in games they otherwise would’ve been used in.  For instance, had Porter turned to Xavier Cedeno in the 6th inning last night, he likely would’ve needed to use 3 other relievers to close out the game.  This means those pitchers may not have been available for up coming games. 

This doesnt seem like it is a permanent role for Bedard, since he'll be shifting back to the #5 spot once his turn in the rotation comes up.  However, it wouldn't shock me if the Astros might decide after seeing how effective he was, to instead call up one of their many options in the minor leagues, and transition Bedard full time to being a super reliever.

You may be thinking that I've just given Porter credit twice for the same move, however I'm not.  These are two very distinct decisions.  First the decision to turn to Bedard in the first place.  The second, not to take him out of the game.  Both deserve to be credited.

Result – Erik Bedard’s first career Save, and the Astros first win as a member of the American League

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Fire Jim Tracy - March 31st Edition

Fire Jim Tracy – March 31st

I was concerned that the first edition of this series would be difficult to do tonight, since there was just one game on the schedule.  However, I failed to notice that Ron Washington was managing the first game of the year.  This may be the first time we see Wash appear in these electronic pages this year, but it won't be the last.  You can take that to the bank.

Ron Washington – First time of the year

Infraction – Inept Bullpen usage
When – Bottom of the 6th
Game Score – Down by 2 runs
Game Situation – 2 out, Runner on 1st and 2nd.
With starter Matt Harrison having walked two batters earlier in the inning, and showing fatigue as hit pitch count tipped over the 100 mark, Ron Washington decided it was time to go to the bullpen.  Now I’m aware that its just the 6th inning, but this was an incredibly high leverage situation.  At this point, the Astros were already 85% likely to win the game, and a base hit would put the game out of reach. 

Now was the time to go to one of your higher quality relievers, whether that was Tanner Scheppers, or Jason Frasor against righties, or Robbie Ross vs. lefties.  I’m not being so aggressive to ask that he goes to the closer here, but Washington opted to turn to the 12th man on his pitching staff Derek Lowe.

This is wrong for a myriad of reasons.  First Lowe isn’t very good.  The past two years his ERA has been north of 5. Secondly, had there been less than two out, I could’ve understood this, because Lowe’s main asset is his sinker generates groundballs better than almost anyone in baseball.  But when you don’t need a double play, his lack of strikeout ability is a huge problem.  In this situation the last thing you want is to have balls put in play, so turning to a pitcher who strikes out less than 9% of the batters he faces, is just asking for trouble.

This got even worse, when Houston manager Bo Porter turned to his bench to call on left handed bat Rick Ankiel to hit for .  This is something that Washington should’ve been anticipating, since Brandon Barnes is a platoon outfielder, and with left handed Ankiel waiting this was push button managing at its finest. 

Result – Shockingly Rick Ankiel didn’t put the ball in play against Lowe.  Unfortunately for the Rangers, that’s because it sailed into the outfield bleachers, and gave the Astros a 5 run lead that they’d never look back from.  Lets all credit Ron Washington for helping give Houston their first win as an American League franchise.

I'll likely be back with my first "Hire Manny Acta" of the season, focusing Bo Porter later tonight.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter @Mentoch, and read my Blue Jays related content at www.BlueJaysPlus.com

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Yasiel Puig, and Intentional Walks in the Arizona Rookie League

            On Tuesdays episode of Effectively Wild, hosts Ben Lindberg, & Sam Miller brought up the fact that Yasiel Puig was one of the 21 intentional walks issued in the Arizona Rookie League last season, and posited that a blog post about who the others were would be a good idea.  Well, ask and ye shall receive.  I had planed to go through and find the game situations where these walks were issued, but due to a time crunch, that isn’t possible at this point.  I may go back and further look up these, but at this time that just won’t be happening.

Without further ado, here are the players who were got issued free passes, sorted by team.

Texas Rangers
Joey Gallo – Age 18 – 3B – 1st Round Pick – #10 rated prospect by BP
Janluis Castro – Age 18 – 2B/3B – 16th Round Pick
David Lyon – Age 22 – C – 34th Round Pick
Nick Williams – Age 18 – OF – 2nd Round Pick

Arizona Diamondbacks
Stryker Trahan – Age 18 – C – 1st Round Pick – #6 rated prospect by BP
Phildrick Llewellyn – Age 18 – 1B – 13th Round Pick
William Castillo – Age 19 – 2B/3B –
Anderson Bolivar – Age 19 – C –

Los Angeles Dodgers
Yasiel Puig – Age 21 – OF – International Signing – #1 rated prospect by BP
Justin Chigbogu – Age 17 – 1B – 4th Round Pick
Sean O’Connell – Age 20 – C/P – 15th Round Pick

We’re going pause for a moment, because Sean O’Connell’s 2012 batting line is really something to behold. 

            If you click the above Baseball Reference page you’ll see that Mr. O’Connell is a catcher who has converted to pitching this season.  However he received one plate appearance all season, and was intentionally walked in the single plate appearance. I'm guessing that has to be the first time in baseball history someone has been intentionally walked the one time he picked up a bat.  Very odd.

            Above is said game where he got the plate appearance.  The starting catcher was pinch run for in the 9th, so O’Connell came in defensively, and was then intentionally walked in the 10th.  Really strange.

            This game gets even stranger, if that’s possible.  The intentional walk to Justin Chigbogu listed directly above also occurred in this game, in the top of the 9th.  Go read through the play-by-play of the last couple innings of that game.  It’s a very odd game indeed.

Cleveland Indians
Dorssys Paulino – Age 17 – SS – International Signing – #2 Prospect by BP
Tyler Booth – Age 19 – OF – 13th Round Pick
Nelson Rodriguez – Age 18 – 1B – 15th Round Pick

San Francisco Giants
Shilo McCall – Age 18 – OF – 9th Round Pick
Hector Mercedes – Age 20 – OF – International Signing (Non-prospect)
Randy Ortiz – Age 19 – OF – International Signing (Non-Prospect)

Oakland Athletics
Matt Olson – Age 18 – 1B – Supplemental 1st Round Pick
Luis Baez – Age 21 – 3B/OF – International Signing (Non-Prospect)

Seatle Mariners
Rich Poythress – Age 24 – 1B – 2nd Round Pick (On a Rehab Assignment)

Cincinnati Reds
Ronald Bueno – Age 19 – SS – International Signing

This is presented without any analysis.  Just it was a piece that was requested by a show that I enjoy, so I figured I'd pitch in.  There may be more added to this project in the future, or this could be it.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter @Mentoch.  

Monday, 25 March 2013

Danny Knobler (or how to write a shitty article in 5 easy steps)

One of the reasons I started this blog, was to emulate my favourite site in the history of the internet in Fire Joe Morgan (helmed by the brilliant Mike "Ken Tremendous" Schur, of Parks & Rec fame).  They made their mark by pointing out some of the terrible work being done in the broadcast booth and in journalism.  I hope to do the same, if a much inferior version to what they managed to accomplish.  The first target is CBS "expert" columnist (their words, not mine), Danny Knobler, who was in Astros camp today, so he felt the need to dig back up the age old Blogger vs. Mainstream argument.  Take it away Mr. Knobler.
Someone's going to be wrong about the Astros. Someone's going to be very wrong.
Maybe it's us. Maybe it's them.
Maybe it's the baseball bloggers who love them. Maybe it's the traditional baseball men who hate them.
A nice start here by Knobler.  Good to see that he's not falling into the old Us vs. Them mantra.  

Also here's a newsflash for Danny Knobler, this article I'm reading of his is a blog, at least in the traditional sense of the word.  This article didnt appear in any print publication, and just like how I disagree with Mr. Knobler, "bloggers" arent this monolithic institution where everyone agrees with each other.  
The scouts who have watched them all spring take turns predicting how bad it will get.
"I have them winning three games the first month of the season," one says.
"The over-under on wins is 40," says another. "And I actually raised that, from 35."

Any Sportsbook I've seen has the Astros over/under line at 59.5 wins.  I'm thinking this line might've been said with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, or is maybe exaggerating for effect
The blogger-types take turns predicting how soon it will get to be good.
"It bears repeating," our own Dayn Perry wrote last week. "Three or four years from now, no one's going to be laughing at the Astros any longer."

Here we come to the biggest disconnect in this article.  Mr. Knobler goes from a quote about how bad the Astros will be this season from the "scout", into a quote from the "blogger" where they talk about how the Astros are going to be good in the future.  

These arent the same thing.  

I'm fairly confident if you'd pressed the scout quoted up above, he would be fairly positive on the future of the Astros, and likewise I'm confident that Dayn Perry doesnt have the Astros finishing anywhere near .500 this year.  

Mr. Knobler paints this massive divide, but I'm pretty sure its all him just misunderstanding what the actual thoughts are from both sides.

The anti-Astros crowd so badly wants to see them fail that they're no doubt exaggerating how bad it is (and how little chance it has to get better anytime soon). But the pro-Astros crowd so badly wants them to succeed that they're no doubt being too optimistic about how good it will get (and how soon it will happen).
1 - I dont think either of these Anti- or Pro- camps actually "wants" the Astros to be good/bad.  They are saying what they THINK will happen, not what they WANT to happen.  Big distintion.

2 - The quote he used by the both the blogger and scout mentioned nothing about how quickly they expect the turn around to be.  Dayn Perry talked about them being good in 3 or 4 years, and I dont know anyone who doesnt think any team in baseball will be hopeless for that long a stretch.  The unnamed scout only talked about this year. 

What's happening here is either the start of something really exciting, or a disaster so bad the commissioner should have stepped in to stop it. Either the Astros are embarrassing the game by trying to lose, or they're finally going through a logical process of building a winner.
No one thinks the Astros are "embarrassing the game by trying to lose".  NO ONE.  They might not be actively trying to win THIS SEASON, but there is an ocean of difference between those two statements.  If anyone does think that you'd think he might've been able to find a quote suggesting it.  Knobler is creating a strawman argument on both sides here, and then pitting them against each other.

Luhnow deserves some benefit of the doubt, because his track record is better than his doubters would like to admit. Plenty of people ripped the players Luhnow drafted when he was with the Cardinals, but some of those same players (Allen CraigJon Jay, to name two) have already won a World Series.

Again quotes please?  If people ripped Luhnow's tenure as the Cardinals scouting director, I'd like to see them, because everything I've read about Luhnow has nothing but praise for both building the Cardinals into the perennial contender they were during the aughts, but also how well set up they are for the future with guys like Shelby Miller, Oscar Taveras, Carlos Martinez, etc.  

Goldstein came to the Astros from Baseball Prospectus, and there were certainly eyebrows raised when he was named the team's pro scouting coordinator. But in his first seven months on the job, Goldstein has proven to be a lot more scout-friendly than some in baseball (and in the blogger world) would have expected.
Here's where I start to get very frustrated with this article.  Yes, Kevin Goldstein is coming from the bastion of statistical analysis that is Baseball Prospectus, but anyone who's read anything Goldstein has ever written, or listened to the hundreds of hours that was the Up and In podcast, knows that his basis had nothing to do with stats.  In fact when Goldstein was hired by Baseball Prospectus, he was coming from the most respected scouting organization not affiliated with a club, Baseball America (the same place our esteemed Mr. Knobler came from).  Many times during he course of the Up & In podcast (which I was a gigantic fan of, and have probably listened to every episode at least twice), Goldstein would belittle the conventional wisdom being passed around the "blog" community.  

This shows that all Knobler did for this article was see "baseball prospectus" and made assumptions about the Kevin Goldstein's role in that organization.  Just so damn lazy, and misleading.

Not only that, but there is a perfect example in the Houston front office that could've been used to illustrate their shift towards advanced analytics, and he comes from Baseball Prospectus as well.  That would be Pitch f/x expert Mike Fast.  He doesnt have the scouting background, and  most of the work he was doing before he joined the Astros was very ground breaking.  That tid-bit would've informed his readers to some of the actual change that's going on there, but CBS readers aren't getting that type of information.

"I know we're going to break people's hearts by saying this," Goldstein said. "We have a scouting staff. We care about scouts. We have crazy-great scouts. It's important that we have a big scouting staff."
The scouting community isn't impressed. Stories abound about former scouts the Astros let go, and some rival scouts refer to holdover Paul Ricciarini as "a dinosaur -- the last Astros scout."

Wait, so Goldstein says that they do have a scouting staff, that their scouts are "crazy-great", and that they have a "big" scouting staff.  Yet Paul Ricciarini is the "last Astros scout"?  


That makes no sense.
For now, the Astros are happy their offense has looked somewhat powerful this spring (40 home runs in the first 27 games). 
No one gives a shit about spring stats.  No one.

The scouts who watch say they just don't see it. 
"I don't see how," said one scout who has followed the team. "I haven't seen one player with the status of [Eric] Hosmer or [Mike] Moustakas or that type of guy. They've added all these former No. 1 picks, but the reason those guys were traded is they didn't perform for the team that had them.

Just curious, where does Mr. Knobler expect these super stud prospects to come from?  Are they supposed to emerge from thin air?  Jeff Luhnow took over a club that's farm system was totally bereft of talent, so no, those guys arent there.  Again, "bloggers" dont think that their system is teeming with elite top end talent (beyond 1st overall pick Carlos Correa).  However what he's done is improve their depth from top to bottom in the 12 months he's now been running the club.  Another quote that either intentionally, or otherwise totally mis-represents what's going on in Houston.

All in all this article is just atrocious.  It doesnt tell you anything about the talent coming through in Houston, doesn't tell you where the author stands in this "blogger" vs. "mainstream" divide that he's created in his head, and misrepresents much of the process actually going on in the Astros front office.

This is the first time I'm writing about Danny Knobler's writing, but I doubt it will be the last.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Mentoch The Bet Taker... MLB Future Bets

MLB Future Best Bets

Every year some of my favourite bets to make are the season long over/under bets on team win totals, and hence it seems like a good place to start my planned regular gambling column. 
As with any bets I recommend during the season, these are all purely hypothetical. I’d of course never actually place any illegal bets.  (Wink)
Unfortunately, the team which I thought would be the surest bet on the board (the Yankees), I cant find a line anywhere online.  Presumably, with all the injuries they’ve sustained during spring training, the books have taken them down.  It’s a real shame, because I was hoping to absolutely hammer the under, because I think they are in a for a huge fall this year.
San Diego Padres – 74.5 - OVER

            The Padres are probably the team where my opinion differs the most from the conventional wisdom in the baseball community.  I have the Padres in the mid-80s when it comes to wins.  Their pitching staff is one of the deepest in the league, featuring at least 10 starting pitchers who I see as MLB quality.  To go along with that, their lineup should finally feature some power bats if Jedd Gyorko emerges at 2nd base, and once Yasmani Grandal returns from his suspension. 
            To further read my thoughts on the Padres, I wrote an entire team preview (which is extensive, and very thorough) over at Blue Jays Plus. 
            The Padres spring training hasn’t been what one would hope for.  Their star Chase Headley is doubtful for opening day, and starter Casey Kelly could be headed towards major arm surgery.  However, even despite these setbacks, I am still very bullish on them heading into the season.  Their strong depth allows them overcome these type of injuries more readily than others.  Even if the poor spring might have tempered my expectations somewhat, it hasn’t gone far enough to drop them lower than 80 wins. 
            Another reason that has made me even more confident about the Padres, was hearing Joe Sheehan agree with me that he was taking the Padres to win the West on the most recent version of the Rany & Joe Podcast.  Knowing that one of the leading lights of the SABRmetric movement has my back is very reassuring.  
            While I may be out on a limb here, this is the one of my bets that I feel the most confident about.

Philadelphia Phillies – 84.5 - UNDER

            I find this line VERY puzzling.  The Phillies were a huge disappointment last season, plummeting 21 wins down to 81.  While its easy to say that last season was a fluke, specifically because of injuries, but I don’t see many reasons for optimism.  During the hot stove season, they added two of the worst starting players in the majors in the brothers Young (Delmon & Michael)*, as well as trading for CF Ben Revere, and signing John Lannan to patch over their pitching staff. 
*Note, may not actually be brothers. 
None of those players inspires a lot of confidence in me, and when you couple those less than stellar signings with spring struggles from Roy Halladay, and a 50 game suspension to backstop Carlos Ruiz, I see even more misery in store for the aging Phils. 
For the Phillies to bounce back, they would need full seasons from perennially injured Ryan Howard & Chase Utley, but also a breakthrough from failed prospect Domonic Brown.  That’s a very big longshot.  Take the under.

Toronto Blue Jays - 88.5 - OVER
            Full disclosure here, I’m a diehard Blue Jays fan, but I don’t believe this prediction has anything to do with me being a homer.  Frankly, this prediction has less to do with the Jays, and as much to do with how down I am on the Yankees, and to a lesser extent the Red Sox.  Unlike past seasons where the AL East was seen as far and away the best division in baseball.  I don’t see that being the case this year, where its occupied by a regressing Orioles squad, an injured and aging Yankees team, a highly unpredictable Red Sox, & even a Rays team always looking ahead to the future more than maximizing this year’s win total.
            In addition to a weaker than normal division, you cant look past the oodles and oodles of talent they’ve added this offseason.  By adding the likes of Reyes, Johnson, Buehrle, Dickey, Cabrera, Bonifacio, & Izturis, the Jays have added more than 20 wins to their bottom line (using Fangraphs WAR).  Couple that with the possibility of full seasons from Brett Lawrie, & Jose Bautista, I’m more than confident in using 90 wins as their baseline.  Since 90 is higher than 88, I’m betting on my Blue Jays to actually give me something to cheer for this year.

Minnesota Twins – 68.5 - UNDER

            After a decade of over achieving, and punching above their small market weight, things have come crashing down in the twin cities.  The past two seasons, they’ve roared past 90 losses, and despite having an offseason that I like in the long run, should do absolutely nothing to improve their team short term.
            Last year, the Twins were dead last in FIP, in strikeout rate, and in pitching WAR.  In order to fix this problem, GM Terry Ryan decided to sign the worst contract of the off-season in the 2 year, 10 million dollar contract to Kevin Correia.  That isn’t going to fix any problems what-so-ever.  To go with their lacklustre collection of pitching talent, they also have what looks to be a deficient offence this year as well.  They have a rookie penciled in CF (Aaron Hicks), a glove only shortstop (Pedro Florimon), a AAAA players at both 2nd (Brian Dozier), and right field (Chris Parmelee). 
Even despite all those factors I might still be tempted to take the over. However the other factor that isn’t being included here, is that I see the Twins selling off even more talent than they did this winter.  I think that by mid-season both Justin Morneau, and Josh Willingham will be wearing a different uniform, and that is enough for me to expect yet another 90 loss season.

Future Bets
Oakland A’s to win the AL West - +580

            I’m not very confident that the Athletics will win the division, however I do see the West as a wide open 3 team race, and given that situation the chance to get almost 6/1 that looks like an excellent bet to me.  The Athletics are not only the defending West division champions, but I think they’ve improved from the squad they were at the end of last season. 
The biggest flaw on their team in 2012 was their deficient infield, this year they’ve changed their mix by adding a wide collection of talent, from all different areas.  First they acquired Hiroyuki Nakajima from the Seibu Lions, then they traded for Jed Lowrie from the Astros, and also has Scott Sizemore returning from the disabled list.  I think that some combination of those 3 should boost the their biggest weakness, but those are the only moves that I like.  They also made two excellent trades to acquire the underrated John Jaso, and also toolsy centerfielder Chris Young. 
If I can get a defending division champion, who I think has improved over the off-season at over 6/1 then I cant pass that up.

San Diego Padres to win the NL West - +1500

For all the same logic that I listed for taking the Padres as an over, I’m also going out on a limb and saying that they may win the NL West.  This here, is nothing but a pure value bet.  I don’t believe that the Padres are the best team in their division, however I see it as a fairly even 4 horse race between every team that isn’t based in Denver, and since that’s the case, getting 15/1 odds means I cant possibly turn that down.  

Those are my recommended bets from on the future market.  My plan for the season is to have a daily list of bets which are mostly based on the starting pitchers starting that day.  Anyway, this is just a start, and I hope you enjoyed it.

Of course, you can always follow me on Twitter (@Mentoch), and find the rest of my writing over at www.bluejaysplus.com

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Josh Lueke and Defending the Indefensible

          For years since I found out about the situation involving current Rays relief pitcher Josh Lueke, I’ve found it incredibly upsetting that someone who committed such an awful crime was still being allowed to pursue his dream of being a major league pitcher.  However, someone out there seems to view the situation in a very different light, and that would be Robbie Knopf from the Rays Colored Glasses blog (a Tampa Bay Rays blog in the Sports Illustrated network). 


For those of you unaware with the details of the Lueke sexual assault case, allow me to quote from a Bakersfield Now article from 2009 when Lueke pled guilty to false imprisonment.

“The woman told police she remembered vomiting into the toilet at the apartment. While doing so, the woman told police someone she could not identify was standing at her side masturbating on her.She said she passed out, and when she awoke at around 8:45 a.m., she told police she was lying on a couch with her pants down and other parts of her clothing were missing.A report from the Kern County Crime Lab states, "Josh Lueke matches this DNA" from the anal swab, tank top strap and hair of the alleged victim.

While there appear to be a lot of evidence that Lueke was indeed guilty of rape, the reluctance of the victim to testify in the case forced the State to plea bargain down to a false imprisonment charge, which Lueke pled guilty to. 

          Now onto this horseshit article penned by Mr. Knopf, which I’ll be Fire Joe Morganing…
“It’s controversial enough that a player with Lueke’s past made it onto a big league roster and while Lueke has stayed out of trouble since then, the controversy has only been amplified by how badly he has pitched.
          While I understand that Lueke’s lack of success has prevented him from maintaining a big league career, I don’t think that the controversy surrounding him has been effected by that one bit.  In my mind, regardless of whether he pitches as well as a prime Mariano Rivera, or as poorly as Kevin Gregg, the fact of the matter is that he is a rapist*.  Results on the field don’t impact my view of someone who committed a crime as horrific as what Lueke did.
“The Rays traded a player who was about to break out for a reliever who couldn’t get anyone out- and his criminal record only exacerbates the situation. But in reality, the situation is far better than it appears.
Nope.  This situation is still as bad as it looked when they made the ill conceived trade.  But I’m sure you’ll open my eyes with some facts to change my mind…
“You can hate Josh Lueke’s guts, but you have to appreciate the way he has persevered through the critical mistake he made and all the opportunities that have passed him by.
I “have to” now do I?  Again, I don’t have to appreciate anything that sexual criminals have done post-crime. 
Next, Mr. Knopf refers to this incident as a “mistake”.  There are a lot of incidents that I could dismiss as a mistake made by a young kid.  Rape, or other sexual assaults aren’t one of them.  He knew what he was doing when he was masturbating on a vomiting girl, and also knew what he was doing when his DNA wound up inside the girl’s vagina.  This wasn’t a mistake, this was a decision that he paid for with a 6 week jail sentence, but the girl will have to live with for the rest of her life.
Finally from that piece, he references “all the opportunities that have passed him by”.  Curious as to what those opportunities those were?  He was never sanctioned by Major League Baseball, nor by the Rangers (the organization he was with at the time).  Since this incident that he’s had two separate chances to pitch in the major leagues.  Professionally Mr. Lueke hasn’t missed any opportunities whatsoever.
“Since his arrest, Lueke has stayed out of trouble and has never been regarded as a problem in any clubhouse he has been in.
          This quote reminds me of the Chris Rock bit about the deadbeat father who brags about never going to prison.  You aren’t supposed to get into trouble, and no, he doesn’t get any sort of credit for not committing a second crime since his last stint behind bars.
          The second part of this is what really interests me.  How does this author have any idea how Lueke is regarded in the clubhouse?  Especially when dealing with a team as tight lipped as the Rays are, even if there was an incident in the clubhouse, they almost certainly would go out of their way to not publicize these problems.  If Lueke has changed his personality, and his clubhouse perception has changed, I’d have thought Mr. Knopf could’ve at least found one quote to back up this point. 
And even as his ERA has reached scary heights of late, he has continued to head to the mound and find a way around his struggles.
          Seriously?  I’m supposed to give Mr. Lueke credit for not quitting and continuing to pitch?  Give me a break.
“And not only does he has great stuff, but his results have actually been much better than they have appeared. In 2011 for the Mariners, Lueke’s ERA was 6.06 in 24 games, but it was 3.42 in his final 17 appearances and his FIP on the season was actually 3.32 as his strikeout to walk ratio was 29-13 in 32.2 innings pitched and he allowed only 2 home runs. Lueke did have an 18.90 ERA in the majors in 2012, but it was an exceedingly small sample size he actually struck out 2 in a perfect inning in his final appearance. And most impressive was Lueke’s Triple-A numbers. Lueke’s ERA may have been 5.59, but he managed a 9.4 K/9, a 2.3 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 in 67.2 IP on his way to an outstanding 3.01 FIP. The past couple years, Lueke really hasn’t been that bad at all and the major reason for his struggles has been terrible luck. At least on the baseball diamond, Lueke was always better than he appeared and this spring training he has continued to prove exactly that.
          There’s so much fail in this analysis I don’t even know where to start.   The only way that this author can find to compliment Lueke’s awful stat line the past couple years is to slice it up into smaller and smaller pieces. The 17 appearances he refers to in 2011 was a whopping 26 innings, hardly enough to make any sort of determination on his ability. 
          While he tries to pass off Lueke as being unlucky, he completely ignores the reason why Lueke’s FIP has been high is that he gives up a crap load of line drives, at least at the major league level.  When you give up rocket line drives, less will turn into outs.  This is either incredibly poor analysis, or wilful ignorance to make his point.  I’m siding with the latter.
          Nice to see that not only does the author of this poor piece have a terrible moral compass, but he also is very poor at statistical analysis as well.

“And as Lueke finds success for the first time at the major level, we’ll be captivated by his dominating arsenal, and justifiably or not, his past will be forgotten as Rays fans watch him help their team win games.

          Maybe Mr. Knopf will be captivated by his arsenal of pitches, and forget his past, but I for one certainly won’t.  I’ll never get out of my mind the crime that this reprehensible human being committed in a Bakersfield hotel room in 2008.