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Derek Norris: A Great Prospect for the Nationals

Right, it’s playoff time, and I’m making a quick post about a single-A catcher—deal with it. I made my Division Series picks at the final hour over on my twitter page (yea, I “tweet”) and also promised a post that evening—best unemployed writer, ever!

Anyway, there have been a fair number of negative things written about Nationals catching prospect Derek Norris. Here are comments by two of the industry’s most well-known prospect authors:

  • Kevin Goldstein stated, “[Norris] became an on-base machine with little power” while giving him a mulligan due to injuries (I’ll touch on these later).
  • Jason Gray wrote, “Norris will look to rebound from a subpar season in the Carolina League, where he hit .235 and slugged just .419.”

Truth be told, I actually thought there was more negative press about the 21-year-old. However, we still have two authors who walked away unimpressed with the power that Norris displayed in 2010.

Quick explanation: Keith Law wrote in a recent chat transcript that it isn’t uncommon for hitters to take a year to a year-and-a-half to recover their power stroke after a hamate injury. I have read that similar power-sapping can occur with wrist injuries. The hamate bone is, from my non-medical opinion, a part of the wrist, and as such, Derek Norris’ power-sapping should not have been too much of a surprise.

Norris also suffered a minor concussion when he was hit in the head by a “96 mph fastball,” which Norris admitted took him a fair amount of plate appearances to bounce back from. This is something his month-by-month statistics show as this was the only full month where Norris posted an OPS under .830 (keep this number in mind for later). Even his playoff-shortened month of September had Norris posting an OPS of .865 (if my math is correct).

Of course, we don’t want to eliminate Norris’ month of June all together, but we can see that something might not have been right that month—and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that it had to do with his having just taken a fastball to the head.

Neither of which is the point. The point here is that Norris didn’t really have that bad a season. In fact, his power numbers as they are would suffice in the big leagues.

Consider where he would stand with those numbers at the show. These numbers I am speaking of are the end of season line of an .838 OPS and an ISO of .184.

Among catchers with 390 plate appearances (Norris had 387) there are 20 qualified catchers, five of whom posted an OPS higher then Norris’ .838, while six put up an ISO over Norris’ .184.

In other words, if Norris’ numbers translated cleanly to major league baseball, he suffered a serious hand injury and a concussion, and we’re still looking at a top-five or top-six hitting catcher in baseball. Keep in mind Norris is also putting in a conscious effort to be a better defensive catcher, something we all know a guy like Jorge Posada could care less about.

Derek Norris is one of my favorite prospects and should be one of yours, as well. Keep his name in mind over the next 20 months or so because he’ll be making a splash in Washington while Stephen Strasberg is making a push for his first Cy Young award.

Quick question, is the catcher position getting “deep?” There are a fair number of highly regarded youngsters that are already in the majors, and we should see another handful or so in the next year.

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Major League Baseball: All About the Playoffs

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs keeps the playoff story alive in proposing yet another idea for “improving” baseball down the stretch. Honestly, it’s not a terrible idea, although I’m not sure it will solve any current “problems” while not annoying certain fan bases.

To me, the bigger issue is that we are rewarding teams for winning their division under any circumstance. Take the Texas Rangers, for example. Here’s a team that if divisional winners weren’t given the golden ticket (a mistake in my opinion) would have JUST made it into the playoffs. They finished one game above the Red Sox and two ahead of the ChiSox, two teams that were eliminated with more then a week left.

One has to wonder what kind of “extra effort” those teams put in if they knew it was about win number 90 (a foreseeable goal with the Red Sox needing 15 and the Chi Sox needing 17 as of Sept. 1) instead of win number 95 (based on the Yankees and Rays pace as of Sept. 1).

Likewise, authors have made a stink about a lack of drama in the American League East, but what about the lack of drama in the American League West?

Sadly the 2010 season didn’t offer a lot of last week entertainment. Most teams were more concerned about setting up their rotations for the playoffs and wondering where they would play their first round of golf rather then digging deep and making a run of things. But keep in mind that the 2009 season had a division winner crowned on day No. 163.

Wait, let’s look at 2009 again.

Wow, if teams weren’t put into the playoffs based on geographical boundaries, we could have has a VERY exciting end to the season. While the Yankees, Angels, and Red Sox were all locks to make the playoffs and had things all but wrapped up a week in advanced, look at all the teams that come into contention if they are shooting for the 86 wins that both the Tigers and Twins settled in with.

We’d have the Rays, who finished with 84 and had the two best teams in the American League in their division (can’t blame a team for packing that in). We’d also have the Rangers, who with 87 wins would have been the class of the final playoff spot, possibly providing a little more oomph with leading a race rather then trailing by 10 games. And we’d also have the Mariners, who with 85 wins might have had a shot.

2009 offered a little bit of drama with the Tigers and Twins fighting it out and needing an extra game, but imagine if those imaginary geographic lines didn’t exist? There would have been five teams fighting the last days of the season for one playoff spot.

Maybe 2009 was a special case, how about 2008? Same thing, the American League Central went down to game No. 163 while two nearly equal teams, the Yankees and Jays were out with plenty of time left in the season.

What about 2007? Not too much excitement. Although having 88 wins and chasing two 94-win teams has got to look a lot nicer then chasing a single 94 and another with 96 as the Mariners and Tigers had to do respectively.

Then there is 2006, where a 90-win team didn’t make the playoffs, while in the National League, an 83-win team made the playoffs with an 85-win team dusting off their fairway woods.

All of this is to say that the wild card isn’t the issue. The wild card is predominantly rewarding one of the top teams in the league for being a top team. Is it taking some drama out? Certainly! But think how ridiculous the old system was where a team like the 2009 Red Sox, the team with the third most wins in the American League, would have been sitting at home.

The system, as is, works. It’s not perfect, but it works. I would get rid of the geographical lines altogether, as it isn’t as if the players are riding buses or non-chartered airplanes.

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Nick Markakis’ Doubles Feat All for Naught for Baltimore Orioles

During last night’s Jays-O’s radio broadcast, I heard a “record” that hasn’t been getting any press and also one that drew me to an even more startling conclusion.

Baltimore Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis became the third (yes, the THIRD) major leaguer in history to have four straight seasons of 43 or more doubles. Wow, really? Ever? That’s quite impressive, well done Nick!

However, what really stuck out to me as the Jays announcers were talking about Markakis was that Nick has more extra base hits (56) then runs batted in (54). While Nick has been hitting in the two hole for a good chunk of the season, having fewer many runs batted in as extra base hits is disastrous!

Possibly that is somewhat of an overstatement. However, how disheartening does it have to be for Markakis to be hitting the ball so well, yet offering so little production for his club?

I suppose this simply highlights the fact that the Orioles have been terrible at creating runs this season. So bad, that they need to have one of their best hitters hitting second as things rapidly go downhill after that point.

The team has three hitters with an on-base percentage above league average. Their first basemen have the second-lowest combined OPS in the league and it can’t be chalked up to Justin Smoak (who has played for both the worst and third-worst teams in terms of team first base OPS).

With as much young pitching depth as the Orioles have, their lack of hitting both at the major league and minor league levels make it increasingly less likely that this team turns around any time soon. We may not be looking at the Pirates, but I’m not sure we are too far off given the depth of the systems and deep pockets of the Yankees and Red Sox.

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Expanding MLB’s Playoff Format

Mmm, I don’t like it.


Here’s the basis; Tom Verducci at writes an article suggesting a way to improve Major League Baseball’s playoff format and add some revenue. He has an excellent point that recent “win or go home” games have drawn outstanding viewership and the lack of these nail biters have hurt baseball.

Although the former has evidence only in that the National Football League is a behemoth and Major League Baseball is simply puttering along. I’m not sure if Verducci follows the National Hockey League or not, but the Stanley Cup has went the distance in four of the last seven seasons, yet they aren’t doing too hot.

In fact, the NHL Finals have gained little (if any) ground on the NBA Finals despite being drastically more dramatic (the NBA Finals have went seven games only four times since 1988).

Verducci states that teams are content simply making the playoffs in Major League Baseball. Whether factual or not, this is not really a big deal in my opinion given the home field advantages (albeit small) provided to teams.

While Verducci points out that the Rays may sit their staff ace in a potential division winning game at the end of the season, it’s tough to blame the Rays for wanting David Price available to pitch at least twice in the first round of the playoffs.

Further, with injuries being apart of any sport, it’s smarter to keep your best pitcher available for the playoffs rather then risk him getting hurt for home field advantage.

Verducci suggests an idea which I totally disagree with. He suggests that MLB open up two wild card spots instead of the current set up of one per league. He sets up a situation where the two wild card teams play a play-in game, where the winner goes onto the playoffs and the loser goes home.

What this would do is create more meaningful games as teams further down the pecking order would still have a shot at the playoffs. To me, there isn’t anything really wrong with this basis and it’s tough to argue against making baseball more competitive in September. But that’s it.

Verducci writes, “I have a hard time thinking of a down side to this system.” His rationale for said statement is, “It rewards division winners and penalizes second-place teams.

Okay, that is fair, and Verducci brings up an example of the 2005 Houston Astros who were far out of contention as early as May 7th.

But here is where I disagree. We are giving lesser teams a ridiculous breath of air. Anything can happen in a single game and while this game may have encouraged a few better games on the last day of the season, we could conceivably hurt the playoffs by allowing, for example, the Boston Red Sox (leaving history out of the picture) into the playoffs.

That is, the Yankees and Rays are the two best teams in baseball by a fairly significant margin.

I’m sure the Rays would prefer to win the division, but they certainly aren’t going to kill themselves to get in. They are currently seven games ahead of the Sox and a vastly superior team (owning a +123 run differential to the Sox +68).

Verducci is then suggesting that we potentially kick the second best team in all of baseball (inexcusable) out of the playoffs for a good, not great team in the Sox.

Worse yet, while this system would give the Rays something to play for if they were tied with the Yankees on the final day of the season, what does this do to the fifth ranked team?

A team like the current White Sox, who are out of the playoffs but if the season were to end today would have nothing to play for on the last day, win and they are in, lose and they are in (the wildcard playoff that is).

In fact, I would argue that the Rays would be likely to sit Price on the last day of the season anyways, as they would want him for the more meaningful game against the ChiSox. That is, on the last day of the season, if tied with the Yanks, their destiny isn’t even in their own hands. Whereas against the ChiSox, it would be.

Verducci isn’t wrong to ask the question of how we can improve the playoff format and the last week of the season. He is wrong, however, to suggest a one game playoff. Using the NFL as a barometer in this scenario is not appropriate as the sport is vastly different. The NFL, for example, never uses a “best of” playoff format.

This then leads to the question of how MLB can improve the playoffs and the end of the season. One area I have always been a proponent of is not allowing any division winners into the playoffs based solely on their standings in the division.

Some years this may be unfair as one division may be particularly strong, but even in that scenario, if we go by Verducci’s logic, “just win” and you have nothing to complain about.

For example, this season the American League would be represented by the Yanks, the Rays, the Twins, and the ChiSox, the four best teams in the league. This would satisfy Verducci’s desire for more meaningful and competitive games.

It would make more teams eligible down the stretch as we would have a team like the Jays sitting six games out of the playoffs instead of 12. That would give us four teams fighting to make the American League bracket instead of one.

In the National League, things get even better, where we have three exciting races only involving two teams. My suggested playoff format would invite an additional two teams into the playoff picture.

How would you change Major League Baseball’s playoff format without watering down the competition? Keep in mind, making more teams eligible, while adding the excitement of March Madness, doesn’t always add excitement to the final and could potentially water it down.

That is, while the wildcard has been a good addition, remember the throttling the ChiSox gave the ‘Stros in the 2005 World Series.

I personally like the way things are, I would just like to see an additional bonus for the best team in the league. For example, in Japan, the best team only has to win three games to win the series whereas the underdog has to win four. In Korea, the league winner sits out the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Verducci, you have some good intentions, but your comparisons aren’t accurate. Baseball is not football, and nothing is the NCAA Tournament. Don’t waste your time trying to make baseball like those two events.

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MLB: A Case for Felix Hernandez for the Cy Young Award

The Cy Young Award is one of many awards that typically sparks debate over whether or not the right player won; think back to when Bartolo Colon won the award in 2005, a year when he led the league in essentially one statistical category, wins.

This insight (read: tangent) came from my perusing of Baseball Prospectus’ On the Beat series, where author John Perrotto provides us with a handful of scout reactions to some Major League players. On August 9th, Perrotto had this tidbit about sure-thing non-Cy Young contender Felix Hernandez,

“The fact that this guy is 7-9 is just further proof that you can’t judge a pitcher solely on his win-loss record. He was 19-5 last season and his stuff is basically the same and he’s pitching almost as well. Believe me, there’s nothing wrong with him that some run support wouldn’t help. He’s still as nasty as ever.”

And really, once you look deeper, Felix truly is having the same season as last year, with an argument that he’s performing better. That is, his strikeouts are up (career high), and his walks are down (career low). In fact, Felix is performing at the best level of his career across the board.

Felix is currently tied with CC Sabathia for the highest WPA in the American League. His 3.27 mark is higher then the total he put up in 2009 and the highest mark of his career.

I suppose what this post boils down to is A Case for Felix, as there is a legitimate chance that despite his mound heroics, Felix won’t come home with the Cy Young this year. It wouldn’t surprise me if his potentially sub .500 record leaves him off the ballot of most BBWA despite being among the most valuable and dominant in the American League.

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Jose Bautista’s Accuser Deserves the Penalty Box

I won’t link you to the article which is the basis for this article, but I will give you a brief summary:

A hockey writer and self proclaimed pot stirrer, decided to take his turn writing about baseball—after all, hockey season is just around the corner and he wouldn’t want his readers to forget he exists. Short story even shorter, the writer asks if Jose Bautista is juiced.

Well, that’s unfair. He never directly asked the question, simply alluded to the possibility of bringing up said question.

There is so much to cover here, I’m having a difficult time figuring out where to start.

First, the allegation.

I’m not going to speculate whether the Toronto Blue Jays’ slugger is juiced. All we can go on is that he hasn’t failed a test, so as far as the public knows, Bautista is clean.

Is there a chance he is doing something that isn’t being detected? Sure.

But asking a question for which we we already have an answer isn’t really journalism, is it?

That is, over a decade ago, the question was asked if players were using something to aid their performance. The question was answered, and as such, baseball was slagged with this imaginary line denoting when players began using “something to aid their performance.”

That leads to my second point. Damian Cox writes,

For the following unpopular question, blame Major League baseball and all the nonsense it has spewed over the past decade.

Don’t blame me.

No, I’m going to blame you. I’m going to blame you for a lack of journalistic integrity. I’m going to blame you for being a lazy journalist. I’m going to blame you for simply being you, a “pot stirrer.”

I wouldn’t expect Cox to know of a statistic such as isolated power (ISO), which gives a legitimate understanding of a player’s power. Similarly, I wouldn’t expect Cox to know about Park Factors.

However, if one is going to “ask a question,” shouldn’t they at least know what they are talking about?

Let’s do the hard work for Cox.

Yes, Bautista’s ISO has increased. In fact, it has doubled. Okay, case closed. Evidence in the bag. No, no, Cox, wait a minute, maybe there is more.

Park Factors. These are … well, let’s have ESPN explain them.

Park Factor compares the rate of stats at home vs. the rate of stats on the road. A rate higher than 1.000 favors the hitter. Below 1.000 favors the pitcher. Teams with home games in multiple stadiums list aggregate Park Factors.

In other words, a park factor can tell us if a park helps or hurts a hitter. Pretty simple. I’m sure even a hockey writer could figure this out.

In 2010, the SkyDome is playing to a park factor of 1.369 for home runs. In other words, the SkyDome is increasing home runs by 37 percent over the average ballpark.

PNC Park has a park factor of 0.757 for home runs, or it decreases home runs by 24 percent over the average ballpark.

That’s a fairly large difference. One that hasn’t existed since the opening of PNC, but on average, SkyDome has favored hitters and PNC has deflated them.

Here we possibly have the beginning of an explanation, something to look further into before proclaiming Bautista a ‘roid user.

Admittedly, I don’t feel like going all the way into it, but briefly we can see that Bautista’s career at SkyDome has produced a .312 ISO (close to his current season rate) with his PNC ISO sitting at .153 (close to his previous career average).

This doesn’t completely open and close the case that Bautista’s improvements have been a result of playing half of his games at the SkyDome. In fact, Bautista has provided an ISO higher than his career average on the road this year.

So yes, Cox, you are right to ask a question. You are wrong, however to ask your current question.

What a journalist with any sort of integrity would be doing, is asking, “What is up with Bautista?” and then digging deep. Don’t take the easy way out and slap him with the steroid tag.

Do some research.

Make a real story.

Give some information that people can use and learn from.

What Cox did isn’t baseball writing. It isn’t journalism. It’s the same garbage we see on FOX News. It’s a reporter with a bias directing his bias onto a subject with which he has little information. It’s like asking a child who will win the World Series in spring, of course the child will answer that his/her favorite team will win.

But, at least it started a conversation and provides us with a jumping-off point. That is, “Is Damion Cox a worthless writer?”

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