Tag Archive | "Gold Glove"

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Washington Nationals: Not buying the hype

Posted on 04 April 2012 by Graham Womack

A couple of years ago, Sports Illustrated ran a preseason story hyping the Seattle Mariners on the strength of the defensive metric, Ultimate Zone Rating. I remember reading the article and wondering if I was behind the times, especially since I’d never heard of UZR (and truth be told, I still don’t really understand fielding stats.) The piece seemed a little odd since the Mariners didn’t look to have much offense or many big names, but I gave SI the benefit the doubt because, well, it’s SI. From there, the Mariners proceeded to go 61-101 and score 513 runs, the kind of numbers Gold Glove fielders and Cy Young hurlers curse silently. Heck, even the Hitless Wonder 1906 Chicago White Sox scored 570 runs.

This year’s version of the 2010 Mariners might  be the Washington Nationals. All winter, I’ve heard writers saying this will be the year the Nationals break through. They point to Washington’s young talent, to splashy pickups like Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson. They say that Jayson Werth will bounce back after a disappointing first year in town, they hint at the possibilities if Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann can stay healthy, if super prospect Bryce Harper can get a full year in the majors. Manager Davey Johnson has called for his firing if Washington misses the playoffs, and on Monday, two SI.com writers predicted the Nationals would nab a wild card spot.

Suffice it to say, I’m not buying the hype. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nationals finish below .500 and end the season with a different manager. As a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and a blogger, I try to embrace sabermetrics and new ideas in baseball, but this is one time I’m not ashamed to fall back on my traditionalist roots. And by various traditional measures, the coming season doesn’t bode well for the Nationals.

Where do I see Washington running into trouble? Let’s start with the Nationals’ division, one of the toughest in baseball. If Washington was in the National League Central rather than the NL East, I’d have no problem predicting good things for them. I’ve spent a lot of the winter doing as much for the Pittsburgh Pirates, with their division in a state of flux and looking to be a crap shoot. Like the Nationals, the Pirates are young and offensively-challenged. Put them in the NL East, and I’d count on them to lose 90 games. It’s simply too tough to contend, what with the Phillies’ window of opportunity still open, the Braves retooled, and Miami Marlins management suddenly doing its best to end the recession.

From there, I look down the Nationals roster and see mostly a collection of young ballplayers and second-rate veterans, no batter besides Ryan Zimmerman striking much fear and Zimmerman himself coming off an injury-shortened, 101-game season. I see several players that might shine if things go well, from Gonzalez to Strasburg to Werth, though it seems they could just as easily struggle mightily in 2012. Mostly, I see a club that looks hard-pressed to improve on the 624 runs it scored in 2011, and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that scoring a lot of runs and having a positive run differential are a one-two punch for success in baseball. The Nationals did neither of these things last year and have applied no sure remedy for this year.

Could I be wrong? Of course, and it’d be nice to see the Nationals thrive. They’re using a model similar to how the Braves became a force 20 years ago, assembling a slew of solid young pieces, and I believe it’s a matter of when, not if the Nationals become relevant again. I just doubt it will be this year. The 2010 Mariners taught me as much.

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Go to Your Corners and Keep Your Gloves Up

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Go to Your Corners and Keep Your Gloves Up

Posted on 22 March 2012 by Dennis Lawson

Cabrera, assisted by BInge

In this corner wearing the colors of the Detroit Tigers….standing 5’11″ and weighing 275+ pounds, I give to you Prince Fielder “of Dreams”!  And in the opposite corner also wearing the Detroit Tigers colors….standing 6’4″ and weighing 240+ pounds, I present Miguel “Hands of Stone” Cabrera.  (You may stand and applaud now.)  Combined, the duo could account for 80 home runs, 240 rbi, and more errors than you can count in a month of Sundays.

Of course, the Tigers could conceivably score 850 or more runs this season.  That same Detroit team could also allow 750 or more runs despite having a pitching staff led by all-world ace Justin Verlander.  The run differential may be the product of a very good season, but it may not be especially pretty to watch.  Newly planted third baseman Miguel Cabrera unintentionally provided what amounts to a microcosmic preview of what Detroit fans may be subjected to all season long.

Watching Miguel Cabrera take one off of his face for the team was almost painful to watch.  By about the 20th replay, it was not nearly as bad.  No, the lack of compassion has nothing to do with any personal animus directed at Miggy.  The change was simply due to a replay that clearly showed the ball glancing off of the lens of Cabrera’s sunglasses.  While the ball did make short work of the glasses, it may have been the glasses that caused most of the really obvious damage and bleeding.

Hunter Pence certainly struck the ball forcefully enough to do damage, and the ball absolutely appeared to take a bad hop when it hit the ground.  Most importantly, Cabrera looked like a grizzly bear hunting moths with chopsticks trying to make the necessary adjustment on the ball.  Most experts agree that Cabrera probably will not turn into a Gold Glove caliber defensive stalwart, but he has yet to show the potential to be even an average fielder at the position.  Technically, he was not spectacular flashing the leather at first base either, but that is a story for another paragraph.  Even “below average” would probably be perfectly acceptable to the Detroit Tigers, but his short tenure at the 6 spot has me pondering just how bad this could get.

Could the “Miggy Experience” be bad enough to be considered epically bad?  If you find that question worth pondering for a moment, then maybe you can define what exactly constitutes “epically bad”.  If you would rather use the definition I provide, then that works as well.  Consider the ultimate zone rating (UZR) and ultimate zone rating per 150 innings (UZR/150) for players who spent a significant number of innings playing 3rd in 2011.  Since I am the captain of this vessel, I chose 750 innings as the minimum threshold for qualifying for this extremely unscientific “study”.  Also, a bit of on-the-napkin math shows that playing 9 innings a game for half of a season would total 729 innings.

In all of MLB in 2011, there were 22 different players who accumulated 750+ innings at third base.  Placido Polanco had the highest UZR at 14.0, and Alex Rodriguez had the highest UZR/150 at 20.2.  Perhaps not all that surprisingly, the player with the lowest UZR (-22.8) and the lowest UZR/150 (-30.3) was Mark Reynolds.  Admittedly, Reynolds fields the position like a gorilla dodging ping pong balls shot out of an air cannon.  In his defense, he can also lift heavy things and knock the cover off of a baseball.  Sound like anybody else you know?  Maybe Miggy will find his inner Polanco and float like a butterfly at the hot corner, but I am more inclined to believe that he will wobble like a Butter Bean.

Lest you begin to think that Prince Fielder will be spared the UZR treatment, please think again.  To add a certain element of credibility to this study, I searched Fangraphs for all the players who had played 750+ innings in a season at 1st base.  This time the search included all players from 1966 to the present.  Why 1966?  Well, that was the year that the Houston Astros first started playing on Astroturf, and it seemed sensible to divide baseball into a pre-turf era and a turf era.

During the turf era, the highest UZR for a season belongs to Albert Pujols who played 1324 2/3 innings at 1B in 2007 and finished with a UZR of 24.7 (21.7 UZR/150).  The worst season during that period belongs to Adam LaRoche who managed a whopping -18.2 UZR for Atlanta in 2005.  The worst UZR/150 went to Mike Jacobs who cranked out -24.7 UZR/150 in 927 1/3 innings for Florida in 2005.  Cabrera’s worst year at first base was 2010, and he struggled to a -6.2 UZR and -6.1 UZR/150.  That may not sound too bad until you learn that his UZR placed 32nd lowest of over 200 player seasons that qualified.  In other words, there were only 31 player seasons worse than his between 1966 and 2011.  The good news or bad news, depending on how you look at it is that 4 of the seasons worse than Cabrera’s are owned by Prince Fielder.

At the sound of the bell, come out swinging with your gloves up.  Protect yourselves at all times.  No, really.

FYI:  3 seasons worse than Cabrera’s were produced by baseball “analyst” Kevin Millar.

FYI Part Deux:  The lowest UZR of anybody who played 3rd base from 1966-2011…….-27.7 (Ryan Braun).  #MVPee

NOTE:  Alex Rodriguez was listed as 6’3″, 230 pounds.  If Cabrera is 240 pounds, then he must be playing with a hollow leg.

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Why the A’s should trade for Ichiro Suzuki

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Why the A’s should trade for Ichiro Suzuki

Posted on 22 February 2012 by Graham Womack

Last year, Ichiro Suzuki had his worst season. The Seattle Mariners right fielder and future Hall of Famer hit .272, 54 points below his lifetime average. He also had an OPS+ of 84 and -0.4 WAR and failed to win a Gold Glove or top 200 hits for the first time in his career, the ageless wonder finally starting to look like a player pushing 40. The Mariners have been through this before with Ken Griffey Jr., and if past experience holds, this only gets worse for Seattle.

There are two options for the Mariners. They can hold onto Ichiro and keep paying him $17 million a season until the franchise icon retires– in fact, there’s talk of him hitting third for Seattle this year. But there’s a better option, one I wouldn’t hesitate on if I was the Mariners general manager. If I’m Jack Zduriencik, I call the Athletics and swing a deal.

Sounds impossible and illogical for Oakland, I’m sure, a team seemingly in a holding pattern while it awaits approval to move to San Jose. The A’s have a projected $38 million budget for Opening Day, little hope of contending with the Rangers and Angels this year in the American League West, and as a kicker, no less than seven outfielders that could see playing time. Then there’s Manny Ramirez who could join the A’s lineup as a 40-year-old designated hitter in late May after he serves a 50-game suspension for his second positive test for performance enhancing drugs. There’s a definite logjam in Oakland, but nothing’s set in stone, either. Nothing in Oakland ever is, really, with Billy Beane baseball’s version of that neighbor who manages to hold a garage sale every weekend.

Certainly, the A’s would need to clear roster space and make the dollars work in a trade for Ichiro, perhaps cribbing off the deal the Pittsburgh Pirates recently pulled to get A.J. Burnett and have the Yankees pay roughly 60 percent of the $31 million he’s owed. But there’s incentive for the A’s here. In the offensive wasteland that is Oakland Coliseum, Ichiro owns a .364 lifetime batting average in 418 at-bats, compared to .326 at Safeco Field in Seattle. Even last year in the midst of epic struggles, Ichiro hit .351 in Oakland while batting just .261 at home. Playing a full season with the A’s, Ichiro could be a .300 hitter for a team that’s had just two the past six years.

Then there are the fan implications. I attended an early season game in Oakland last year on Japanese Heritage Day (which happened to come against the Mariners, coincidentally.) The amount of Asian fans in the stands there to cheer A’s designated hitter Hideki Matsui was stark. Matsui was on and off with his play in his only year in Oakland, yet another left-handed power hitter not ideally suited for the vast confines of the Coliseum, and while it doesn’t make sense to bring him back, the A’s could use another drawing card. Enter Ichiro having a resurgent, All Star season. Depending on how much of Ichiro’s contract the Mariners are willing to eat for the right assortment of prospects, the A’s might even turn a profit in this arrangement.

Oakland could get a boost in the standings as well, perhaps enough to hang as a dark horse wild card contender. Even now, the team has more depth and talent than may be available at quick glance, with Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden, and Brandon McCarthy potential keys to an experienced, capable starting rotation, and Cliff Pennington and Jemille Weeks the core of perhaps the most underrated infield in baseball. Were Ichiro to start in right field, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that he, Coco Crisp, and Yoenis Cespedes might comprise one of the best outfields in the majors, at least defensively.

The question may arise why Seattle would be willing to part with Ichiro, potentially the first Hall of Famer to spend his entire career with the Mariners. Simply, it comes down to dollars and the logic, or lack thereof, of paying $17 million to a player who’s sub-replacement level at this point playing in Seattle. Everyone wins in this arrangement. The Mariners get something for a player they’d otherwise get nothing for, the A’s get a boost, and for Ichiro, there could be new life in Oakland. Left unsaid in all of this is that playing for the A’s, the man currently at 2,428 hits might have a shot at 3,000.

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