Think Blue

Obsessing over the Dodgers' minor league system so you don't have to.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The MVP, the Cy Young, and the All Star Game

Popularity. Isn't that what it all comes down to? When you don't have a method in place, and depend solely on votes from either the public or beat writers, you're going to get opinions that are generally not based entirely on fact or evidence, but on preference. I've posted on this subject on message boards before, but now I think I'll go into it here as well.

The MVP Award.

Just the name gives me chills. Most Valuable Player. It couldn't be "Best" or "Outstanding," but "Valuable." So the subjectivity begins. What is the definition of valuable? A glance at an online dictionary says "of great importance or use or service." Well that settles it. Not really. The great thing about Baseball is there are so many stats, you can just pick and choose which ones to like and which to ignore. The problem becomes which ones should be valued and which ones should be ignored? Yes, some stats are better than others. The world isn't fair. Get over it.

As some of you may know, I follow sabermetric statistics. And as some of you may not know, I follow sabermetric statistics. I'm not great a math, and I've never created a stat, but I trust that guys like MGL and Voros McCracken know what they're talking about. I've read their articles and it makes sense to me. Now, the old schoolers will tell you that only three statistics matter for hitters, and since we're talking about the MVP Award as well as the Cy Young Award, let's focus on hitters for the MVP. The big three stats are batting average, homeruns and runs batted in. Hell, there's an award for just those three (The Triple Crown; last winner Carl Yastrzemski in 1967). Now, I'll admit that leading the league in BA, HR and RBI in the same season is an impressive feat. But there's more to Baseball than just those three stats. Far more.

Batting Average vs On-base Percentage

This one's pretty obvious. Batting average is (Hits / At Bats). Pretty straight forward. But as Crash Davis pointed out in "Bull Durham," one hit a week is all that separates a .250 hitter from a .300 hitter. Nevertheless, the stat has its place. And that place is included in On-base Percentage. On-base Percentage or OBP is (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch) divided by (At Bats + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Sacrifice Flies). You can see it in there, can't you? Good class. Now, the most common misconception about OBP is doubters are under the belief that walks replace hits. Not so. Walks replace outs. If you see four balls in one plate apperance, chances are you didn't see a hittable strike. But if you want to claim that a hitter must pass up on at least one "good pitch" to take a walk, then you could do that for every plate appearance of every hitter and die alone.

So why is OBP better than BA? Aside from the fact that OBP includes BA, it adds another dimension to the value of a hitter: purely getting on base. It's funny how many times I've talked about OBP with those who don't believe in the stat. They say "sometimes you need to get a hit, like when a guy is on base." Well, isn't the fact that someone's on base important? Is that guy more valuable because he got a hit instead of a walk? Of course, walks rarely drive in runs. But walked batters are driven in all the time. Trotting to first doesn't seem like a big deal and isn't as sexy as slapping a line drive to the outfield, but Baseball is a boring game. I'll say it again. Getting on base is important.

Homeruns vs Slugging Percentage

Chicks dig the longball. There's nothing more exciting than a guy hitting a 90mph fastball 400 feet. And the greatest moment in the history of sports involves a gimpy southpaw slugging a backdoor slider into the rightfield pavillion to win the game. But is there more to power hitting than the homerun? Souces who have asked not to be identified have informed me that batters can hit for extra bases without hitting a homerun.

Are doubles and triples meaningless? I think not! I, for one, like it when a player puts himself in scoring position. And anyone who doesn't should be flogged with a big freakin' stick. Doubles almost always drive in runs, as do triples. And some hitters are more prone to driving balls into the gaps instead of over the wall. Does that mean that they aren't helping?

But the best part of Slugging Percentage or SLG (TB / AB) is this: it puts the power a batter hits for into context. Two batters hit 20 Homeruns in a season. One did it in 600 at bats, the other did it in 400. Purely evaluating by the total of homeruns would suggest they're equal, but slugging says different. Slugging says the guy who did the same in less time is better. And slugging is right. It's pretty self-evident.

RBI vs Situational Hitting

You probably thought I was going to compare RBI to OPS, but you were wrong! That's not really an accurate or pertinent comparison. OPS is OBP and SLG added together. Anywho, RBI are my least favorite offensive stat. It goes along with the misconception that driving in runs is the most important thing a hitter can do. But more than that, it's often taken out of context and expected of players who hit at the very top of a lineup.

Now, I'll give you an example: Who's better at driving in runs: The guy with 90 RBI or the guy with 83 RBI? Most of you would say "Oh oh! Pick me!" And I'd tell you to shut up because you're talking to a computer screen and I can't hear you. If you managed to yell loud enough for me to hear you say the dude with 90 RBI is better, then I'd laugh at you! Like this! Ha! What if I told you that the guy who had 90 RBI put up an .809 OPS with Runners in Scoring Position? And the guy with 83 RBI put up an OPS of .993 with RISP? Now who's better at driving in runs? Huh? Tough guy?

The bottom line is this: Ask questions. Don't arbitrarily follow something or believe in what your buddies believe in. At first I had no clue what to think about Sabermetrics. Now I'm addicted, like a coke fiend. Put stats into context. Evaluate them. Question the people who provide them. Ask as many questions as you need to. Don't be afraid to look stupid. Don't wear white shoes after Labor Day....

Now back to the topic at hand. What does this have to do with the MVP Award? Very little, since I predicted the winners of the award for last season without looking too hard at their stats. After all, it's a stupid popularity contest, remember? But here's what chaps my ass. People say that a player can't be valuable to a bad team. Case in point: The 2002 MVP race. The A's were surging, they won a bunch of games in a row and Mr Miguel Odalis Tejada Martinez was collecting some clutch hits. Good for him. He's a good player. I like him. But in Texas, there was this dude who was flat out owning the league. Dude was playing Gold Glove defense at shortstop and slugging 57 Homeruns. Awesome right? But his team was in last place. And when it came time to vote, the moronic writers looked at the TEAM when voting for an INDIVIDUAL award. They saw a pitching staff that compiled a 5.15 ERA, compared it to a pitching staff that compiled an ERA of 3.68, and decided that those numbers somehow meant Miguel Tejada was more valuable to his team than Alex Rodriguez. That makes sense right? Anyone? Bueller? I didn't think so.

A player's value should not be influenced by the talent around him. A guy who hits 57 Homeruns is helping his team more than a guy who hits 34. A gold glover is more valuable than a guy who is not. Switch their jerseys and I'd bet the Rangers would have lost a few more games. The A's would likely have been better. The point is A Rod was more valuable to his team than Tejada, even though A Rod's team as a whole was worse. Is that really hard to understand? I hope not. Well, it's late and I'm tired. I'll post the rest later.

The Cy Young Award

I know it's been a while, but seeing the revised 30-man USA roster for the WBC sparked something inside me to comment on this joke of an award. Now, sometimes the writers get it right, like 2004 when Roger Clemens and Johan Santana were selected as the best pitchers in their respective leagues. But in 2005, ignorance reered its ugly head and the two who had won the award a year previous were snubbed. Why? Because people just dont know how to think.

Johan Santana vs Bartolo Colon and Roger Clemens vs Chris Carpenter

Santana was the winner in 2004, after posting a masterful 2.61 ERA even though he'd been pitching in a dome that's conducive to allowing runs. His K rate was excellent (Just under 10.5 per 9) and he even won 20 games, not like that matters. Well, apparently, it does. At least in 2005 it did. The Angels won the AL West in 2005 and posted an impressive aggregate ERA that was Top 5 in all of MLB. Jarrod Washburn put up an ERA of 3.20. But Bartolo Colon got 21 wins. Whoopty doo. His ERA was higher than Washburn's at 3.48 and his K/9 was 3rd on the staff (Behind John Lackey and Ervin Santana). So what does that get him? A Cy Young award? Huh? There was this guy in Minny that posted a 2.87 ERA, struck out over a batter an inning and allowed less homeruns in more innings. You might have heard of him; his name is Johan Santana. So why in any universe would Colon win the award for best pitcher over a guy who was clearly superior? Wins. While Johan Santana was a one-hundredth of a point from tying Kevin Millwood for the ERA title, Colon was assigned more wins than any other pitcher in the AL. So let's look at Wins for a second.

Pitcher A strikes out 10 batters in 7 innings. He leaves the game with a 2-0 lead. But Pitcher B allows 3 runs in the top of the 8th. In the bottom of the eighth, the opposing team's setup man allows 2 runs and the home team takes the lead 4-3. Closer comes in to "Welcome to the Jungle," locks down the Save and the game is over. Now, who is assigned the win? Is it Pitcher A who pitched 7 shutout innings? No, it's the bonehead Pitcher B who blew the lead and almost cost his team the game. Did the Win go to the best pitcher? No, it went to the guy who just so happened to have been the last pitcher before the team took the lead. Wins are not about ability, they are about run support. Perfect example: 2004 Dodgers. Odalis Perez came off a lousy 2003 campaign to post a 3.26 ERA. But due to a lack of run support, he only won 7 games that year. Kaz Ishii, whose ERA was nearly a run and a half higher at 4.71, ended up with 13 wins. Now class, who was the better pitcher? If anyone says Kaz, I'll mistake you for a bird and shoot you.

Back to the topic at hand. Since Wins are based mostly on run support and have little to do with actual ability, people would wise up to the fact that Wins are a terrible indicator of how much a pitcher helped a team right? Wrong. And it was even more obvious in the NL, where Roger Clemens posted the first sub-2.00 ERA in the majors by a starter since Pedro did it in 2000. Was he awarded with the hardware? No, it went to Chris Carpenter, who was assigned 21 wins. But wait, there was a pitcher in the NL who had more wins AND a lower ERA than Carpenter. Wouldnt he be the perfect candidate? Of course not! Why? Because his team didnt make the playoffs. This goes back to the MVP award, where a single player is punished because his TEAM had lesser talent. Doesnt make sense, does it?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Grading Colletti

Well I'm 22 today...not really that big a deal. In light of recent events I've decided to evaluate the Dodgers' offseason so flame away.

The Good
It might be just me, but I actually liked the signing of Brett Tomko. Less than $5 million a year for a pitcher whose DIPS was lower than Weaver's last year. And I welcome all Anti-Saber flames. He's an underachiever who's never performed up to what his stuff would indicate he's capable of. The mid 90s fastball and killer slider seem like an arsenal for an ace, but he's been produced pedestrian numbers over the course of his career. Though he's on the wrong side of 30, he'll benefit from a much smaller outfield and a much better outfield defense, though I wouldnt be surprised to see his HR increase given his G:F tendencies. Overall, I think it was not only the Dodgers' best signing, but one of the best signings of the offseason.

Tommy John surgery for a position player is rare, and given the history of position players recovering (Or not) from the procedure, a potential replacement for Izturis had to be found. Enter Rafael Furcal. The contract is bloated, no doubt, but Colletti wasnt working with a small market budget, as had been speculated prior to his plethora of moves. His defense has progressed, the steals have increased and hopefully the DUI's wont show up anymore (Care service provided in his contract?). Of course $13 million a year is too much for a leadoff man, but that aint all he does.

Sanchez for Seo. At first I was angry, since I think Sanchez has a tremendous future ahead of him. But then I remember Seo. I went to a Dodgers/Mets game last year and Seo pitched. Though the lineup Tracy trotted out wasnt exactly murderer's row, Seo completely shut them down. Reports and fans say Seo learned a new pitch in the minors and came back up and dominated. Hopefully Jae will only get hotter.

Going into the offseason there were a handful of prospects I identified as being "untouchable," and after all the activity, they're still here. Chad Billingsley is said to be the prospect Colletti has identified untouchable, Broxton may still win a spot in the pen, and Guzman, LaRoche and Martin are slated to begin the season in Vegas. While there have been casualties, the best of the best passed the test.

The Bad
Now I'm not going to pretend that everything the Dodgers do is right. While I accept the moves, I will critique them for the benefit of my fellow Dodger fans' reading pleasure. The first I have to identify is Bill Mueller. I would be happy with Aybar or Perez at 3B, although Mueller is a better bet to produce offensively. But two years? Why two years? LaRoche could be ready by midseason. Guzman could be ready sooner than that. Clogging the infield with what is, in my opinion, an unnecessary signing makes little sense to me.

Then there's Nomar, who I actually like. I've always been a fan of his. But in the spirit of objectivity, I have to question the signing. Not because of his injury history or his ability to hit, but because of his position. If he was playing 3B or LF, I'd be fine. But I am a Choi believer and wish he could've gotten some real playing time this season. He still could, with Nomar's likely trip to the DL. Nevertheless, I hope Nomar does well.

Holy shit, Bynum just faked Shaq outta his shoes and threw it down. WOW! Actually, that belongs under "The Good."

Back to Baseball. Colletti seems intent on getting players playing time in Vegas. The rotation is set, so Billingsley's on his way to Triple A. Guzy, Roche and Russ Martin are headed that way too. Broxton may get a shot in ST but will most likely join the other in Nevada. If the park didnt favor hitters so much, it wouldnt be a problem. They really need to move their Triple A affiliate to somewhere that at least moderately replicates the conditions of Dodger Stadium.

The Ugly
The Baez trade. This was Ned's big SNAFU. I'm sorry, but you don't trade strong pitching prospects for a reliever who could be lured away to free agency the following offseason. I'd rather overpay Gagne to make sure he ends his career as a Dodger (And if you remember my username on you probably understand why). While Edwin Jackson has floundered over the past few years, he's still 22, he still throws in the mid 90s and he still has promise due to the messed up situations he's been placed in. It started with that moron Tracy annointing him as having the 5th starter's job to lose. Joe Thurston, anyone? And while Chuck Tiffany is an extreme flyball pitcher, his K/9 is pretty impressive for someone who's billed as a finesse lefty. Lance Carter is absolute trash. Dont give me the All Star BS. LoDuca over Beltre? I rest my case.

Overall, despite the amount of moves, I really dont see this team being much better than DePo's 2005 machination. Health is the key; the return of Gagne, the amount of games missed by Drew, the continued success of Jeff "Ageless Wonder" Kent. The dismissal of DePodesta was pointless, especially since after this offseason the team comes out looking quite similar.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New year

After watching a giant ball glide down a pole in a pre-recorded telecast and recovering from some really bad champagne, I've decided to do something new. I'll be sharing my thoughts on the Dodgers, focusing heavily on prospects. So to get things started, I'll post my Top 10 list...

1. Joel Guzman, SS
His numbers werent as good as his breakout season in 2004, but the immense raw power is still there. And while the safe bet is he'll move off shortstop in the near future, he can hold it down defensively.

2. Chad Billingsley, RHP
The potential ace the Dodgers have been looking for, Chad has pure power stuff with an explosive mid 90's fastball, two plus breaking balls and a strong build. Look for C Bill to come out of Spring Training with the #5 starting job under his belt.

3. Andy LaRoche, 3B
LaRoche broke out in a big way in '05, smacking 30 Homeruns overall between Vero Beach and Jacksonville. Dont let the signing of Bill Mueller fool you; Andy is the 3B of the future.

4. Jon Broxton, RHP
After a strong first half spent in the rotation, "The Bull" moved to the bullpen and started touching triple digits with his heater. As a starter, he profiles as a strong #2 or #3, but as a closer, he could turn into one of the best in the game.

5. Russ Martin, C
Scouts and coaches love his patience at the plate and leadership qualities. The Dodgers will have a delightful dilemna on their hands when Russ joins Dioner Navarro in LA.

6. Greg Miller, LHP
Sure he hasnt been healthy, but mid 90s fastballs dont lie. If he can find a consistent and painless arm slot, he should be back to his dominant form of 2003.

7. Matt Kemp, OF
Along with Vero Beach teammate Andy LaRoche, Kemp broke onto the prospect scene in 2005 with his impressive power displays. Kemp's 20 HR / 20 SB season shows a promising future for this potential 5 tool star.

8. Scott Elbert, LHP
Elbert's easy arm action and low 90s fastball led him to an impressive season at Low A Columbus. Though he walked nearly 4.5 batters per 9 innings, you cant ignore his 2.66 ERA and 10 strikeouts per 9.

9. Chin Lung Hu, SS
The Taiwanese signee has shown the ability to hit while playing potential gold glove defense. His 23 Steals tied him for team lead and he was alone at the top with 29 Doubles.

10. Justin Orenduff, RHP
The 2004 Supplemental First Rounder posted a miniscule 2.24 ERA in Vero Beach before heading up to Jacksonville. He was also the winning pitcher when the Suns took the Southern League Championship.