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Fantasy Baseball: 5 Widely-Available Starting Pitchers Worth a Look

I took a look at starting pitchers available in at least half of Yahoo! fantasy baseball leagues. Most guys in that range are either hurt or unproven, but there are some viable options in case the back end of your rotation is still shaky. Here are five guys I would consider.

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Tampa Bay Rays Preview: How They Will Win in the Post-Crawford Years

The 2010 Tampa Bay Rays’ opening day first baseman, left-fielder, shortstop, designated hitter and catcher are all gone. One of the three starters who made at least 30 starts has departed, and six of the eight most-used relievers were not retained.

Some of these losses are lamentable. Carl Crawford was the face of the franchise and the first home-grown Rays star. Matt Garza was an exciting young pitcher with boatloads of talent and a no hitter to his credit.

Other losses are survivable; few Rays fans will miss Dioner Navarro and Pat Burrell. In fact, the Rays have upgraded themselves at several positions, despite the most (and only) notable signings of the offseason bringing two designated hitters to the team.

This team endured a decade of losing to build themselves into a force in the toughest division in baseball. What they’ve built may have cracked and crumbled this offseason, but this is a smart franchise that can and will reassemble a winning club. In fact, the seeds of a new, strong Rays team are already in place.



David Price had a phenomenal 2010 and is probably looking at a slight decline in 2011. He will strike out enough guys to be successful, yet he walks a few too many (AL East hitters take walks) and was a little lucky in certain departments (BABIP-against, HR/FB ratio).

He threw his fastball 74 percent of the time, and even if he’s throwing it 96 mph, he will need to mix in a few more off-speed pitches to keep hitters on their toes. His fastball and curve made up just under 90 percent of his pitches thrown in 2010. He is talented enough to pitch like an ace, and I think he will in 2011.

James Shields is 22.1 innings away from becoming the first pitcher to throw 100 innings in a Rays uniform, and his problem has always been with the home run. Chalk it up to the division, as he is a great control pitcher who generates more grounders than fly balls. In his four 200-inning seasons, he has never walked more than 52 and never struck out fewer than 160. He should be fine.

Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis are going to make up the back end of this rotation. Both are going to have to eat innings, as without them, this rotation makes the Yankees’ look deep. Niemann is a huge guy, formerly a first-round draft pick (2004), who has spent two seasons in the Rays’ rotation with a 25-14 record and a 4.16 ERA.

Wade Davis, a rookie in 2010, put up an ERA of 4.07 in 168.0 innings. He struck out 113, walked 62 and allowed 24 home runs. Both look like back-end starters to me, whose greatest value comes from the fact that they could potentially contribute 200 innings of not-horrible pitching.

Jeremy Hellickson’s success made the Rays comfortable enough to part with Matt Garza; however, Hellickson only pitched 36.1 innings of major league ball. Still, he has impressed with his control in the minors while collecting strikeouts, and his four pitches look to be of quality.



The Rays pen will look nothing like it did a year ago, with many of the guys Joe Maddon handed the ball to most having moved on. Rafael Soriano (62.1 innings) joined the only team willing and able to pay him eight figures. Joaquin Benoit capitalized on a career year—that he will not repeat—by accepting a three-year deal with Detroit.

Grant Balfour took his fastball, declining velocity and all, to Oakland for two years. Dan Wheeler and Randy Choate took one-year deals with the Red Sox and Marlins respectively for more than the Rays were probably willing to pay. Chad Qualls, who wasn’t as bad as one might think last year, is gone too.

J.P. Howell is one of the few current Rays to have worn a Devil Rays uniform. After missing all of 2010, he is a leading candidate to collect saves on this team. The lefty has struck out more than one batter per inning over his last 166 IP, despite a fastball averaging 85 mph. There has been some talk about Jake McGee, a 24-year-old lefty, being a closer of the future. McGee got a ton of strikeouts in the minors, but has only five innings of major-league experience.

Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth were brought in to enable Joe Maddon’s typical closer by committee, but neither has what it takes to be anything more than a serviceable middle reliever. Peralta is coming off an incredibly lucky (.200 BABIP-against) season with the Nationals. He’s a fly-ball pitcher that the division rivals should tee off of. Kyle Farnsworth has incredible stuff but is often abandoned by his command.

Then there are unknown quantities like Mike Ekstrom, who has thrown 44.1 big-league innings and posted an ERA of 5.48. Adam Russell was part of the return from the Jason Bartlett trade, and he looks to have good strikeout stuff, but has never contributed more than 26 innings in a season, so far. Cesar Ramos, also traded from the Padres, has 23 innings of major-league experience, but will get a chance.

Some pitching reinforcements are coming from the farm. Chris Archer has showing tons of promise in the minors, and he’s only 22. Alex Cobb, 23, just finished a fine season as a starter for the Rays’ AA affiliate. Both should eventually join the Tampa rotation and could provide bullpen help towards the end of the season, but will more likely wait until 2012.

Alexander Torres came to Tampa in the Scott Kazmir trade, and the 23-year-old looks to be middle-of-the-rotation material. He strikes guys out, walks a few too many, and gets ground balls; he is at least a year away.

Brandon Gomes, another guy included in the Bartlett trade, could make his major-league debut from the bullpen as a 26-year-old. Rob Delaney was claimed off waivers from the Twins in the offseason; he is 26 with one inning of major-league experience, but he can strike guys out.



John Jaso impressed last year with more walks than strikeouts (58 unintentional walks, 39 strikeouts). He looks like a good, if not great, contact hitter, who may wind up hitting something like 10 home runs. As a rookie last year, he will be cheap as he plays his prime years. He’s going to turn 28 towards the end of the 2011 season.

Kelly Shoppach belongs in the backup role. While he does possess potential 20-HR power, he has never struck out less than 34 percent of the time in any of his six big-league seasons. He does take his walks though.



Evan Longoria is the star and the new face of the franchise and a great all-around hitter. Sure, the home runs took a dip last year, down from 33 to 22, but he will hit for good average and get on base. He stole 15 bases last season, which is a nice addition to a resume that already includes impressive work with the bat and in the field.

Dan Johnson at first base is similar to Carlos Pena in some ways, but he doesn’t have as much power. Neither hit for good averages, both draw tons of walks even when not being pitched around and neither will turn heads in the field. That said, it’s hard not to prefer the guy who will hit you 35 home runs over the guy who will top out around 20.

Reid Brignac is an undisciplined hitter who will hit for average power. He will play shortstop, as second base will be Sean Rodriguez’s job to lose. Rodriguez hit 30 home runs in AAA in 2009, though he hasn’t done much at the major-league level. The two might combine for 40 home runs, but the Rays’ middle infield lacks on-base skills.



B.J. Upton will probably strike out once per game. The Rays need him to take walks in order to get value out of him, and he does that to the delight of Joe Maddon, who gets to see Upton swipe 40 bases year after year. He hasn’t developed the sort of power his 2007 season indicated; he was lucky with the HR/FB rate then. Pitchers have started to throw him fewer and fewer pitches in the zone. He needs to stop swinging at them.

Ben Zobrist is the right fielder, and there is much to like, even as his 30th birthday approaches. He has shown incredible plate discipline, walking in 12.4 percent of plate appearances (the major league average tends to be around eight percent). His contact rate was about four percent above average last year, and he has reasonable power. He won’t hit 30 home runs, and the 27 he hit in 2009 was a bit on the lucky side, but 20 is a realistic estimate. His batting average should fall somewhere between his .297 mark from 2009 and his .238 from last year. 24 stolen bases is nothing to scoff at, nor is his range and arm in right field.

Johnny Damon, 37 years old and weary from eight years in the AL East, brings some veteran presence. He will get on base and won’t hit many home runs, but has hit 36 doubles in each of the past two seasons.

Also joining the Rays is another former Red Sox outfielder by the name of Manny Ramirez. Let’s not forget that it has been 16 years since the last time he posted a batting average below .290. He can still hit, and the Rays will not look silly for having paid him $2 million to be their DH.

Desmond Jennings is a much-heralded prospect drafted late in the 2006 draft. He hits for average, draws walks and steals bases, and will be a fixture in the Rays’ outfield for years to come.

Matt Joyce did a nice job in 261 plate appearances for the Rays last year. He hit only .241, but got on base at a .360 clip while hitting 10 home runs. He provides a good lefty bat off the bench.


Expected win total: 78-83

All is not lost for this Rays team. The laundry list of quality players who jumped ship is frightening at first glance, but this team is well-stocked in talent that is either almost ready for the big leagues or will be ready in a few years. This is a patient team that will run the bases well, and thus, the offense will not be anemic.

There is strength in the pitching rotation, though some of it is still developing, and the staff as a whole is thinner than it has been in recent years. The bullpen was hit hard, obviously, but there is a certain logic in not paying for decent middle relief when it can be found rather easily on the cheap. Instead of investing another $30 million to keep that bullpen together, they have chosen to allow new guys to step in and earn a job. They won’t be that much worse off for it.

The Rays are a shrewd team. They have drafted well, developed stars and are developing future stars. Joe Maddon is a likable manager and has gotten a lot out of a group that no one expected much of before 2008 and kept them competitive even as they face the behemoth lineups in New York and Boston for one fifth of each season.

We will see more winning seasons in Tampa soon enough, but right now, these guys seem less equipped to compete in this division than they were last year and will be a year from now. With the Blue Jays competitive, and the Orioles improving, to say nothing of what Boston has done this winter, the Rays have lost ground in this division.

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Minnesota Twins Season Preview: Building A Home Atop The AL Central

I’ll continue my previews of the upcoming seasons of each major league team with the Twins. I’m trying a different format for this one. My previews for the Reds, Phillies, Yankees and Giants were long, sprawling, analyses/rants/speculations that seem to read too much like research papers and not enough like journalistic pieces, so I’m going to go the slideshow route here.

The Twins have been successful over the past decade due largely to their ability to develop and harness homegrown talent and supplement it with the right, low-budget, free agent pieces. This team seems to have a knack for avoiding the horrible off-season deal that plagues nearly every franchise once in a while, and that’s saying a lot since they employ Carl Pavano.

Missing two of their stars, the Twins still won 94 games in 2010 and took the division, and they have the talent to do it again. If Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan can stay healthy, this team should be around in October. Or they might anyway.

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San Francisco Giants 2011 Preview: Can Pitching Bring Them Another Championship?

The Giants are a team carried by pitching. Their rotation stamped their ticket to October, from which point, the offense came alive. They were mediocre in most offensive categories in 2010, but good pitching beats good hitting, so the Giants remain a team that can just as easily win a 1-0 game as it can lose a 1-0 game.

I would think the Giants of late 2010 were better than the Giants team that will take the field on opening day simply because their offense got unreasonably hot during the playoffs. What we learned from their championship run is that a team like this can win it all. A team who no one (admit it) bet on. After all, no matter how good your rotation is, you have to score runs to win. They scored runs at the right time, and they won.

To all those saying, “They did it once, they can do it again!” yes, that’s true. However, the road back through October remains difficult for any team, especially one with several question marks when it comes to hitting.

The thorn in their side is the age of their hitters. With the exceptions of Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval, none of their starters are under 30. The Giants are going to count on repeat performances from some guys I would not be comfortable expecting repeat performances from. They don’t have an anemic offense, but it looks very middle-of-the-road to me, even with the changes they’ve undergone over the past year. Nonetheless, they will be carried far by their primary strength, which is…


Rotation (improved)

For all the talk of the Phillies‘ powerhouse rotation, they were out pitched by these Giants over the final two series of the playoffs. With the core of their staff returning, the Giants boast one of the best starting rotations in baseball. The most significant change is that Todd Wellemeyer’s eleven starts from last year will be replaced with a full season of Madison Bumgarner, so it is very difficult to imagine the Giants pitching taking any sort of decline.

The Giants were one of two National League teams whose starters contributed 1,000 innings pitched or more. The Phillies led the pack with 35 innings more (thanks Roy Halladay), and four American League teams were above 1,000 as well. None other than the new Phillies have comparable depth to this San Francisco staff. This rotation posted the third-best ERA in baseball last year (3.54) and should be somewhere around there again.

Tim Lincecum will remain a perennial Cy Young candidate, “decline” notwithstanding. The falling fastball velocity was offset by a greater reliance on his excellent changeup and effective slider. He still gets a boatload of strikeouts, reasonably few walks and more balls on the ground than in the air. What we saw from him in 2010 was probably about as hittable as he’s going to be anytime soon.

Matt Cain’s stuff shouldn’t be going anywhere either. He strikes out fewer than Lincecum but also walks fewer. Cain gets a lot of fly balls but allows relatively few hits due to constantly low batting average on balls in play against him. This is likely due to his ability to deceive hitters (each of his four pitches was worth positive runs above average) and his home ballpark.

With these two guys just 26 years old and with almost 2,000 innings of experience (plus playoffs) under their belt, the Giants should expect to thrive for as long as they can keep these two under contract, but the depth extends beyond Lincecum and Cain. Jonathan Sanchez has struck out more than a batter per inning in his career which offsets a high walk rate. The punch-out ability is vital, as his success probably hinges on it. He stranded almost 80 percent of runners on base in 2010, en route to a 3.07 ERA in 193.1 innings. That’s a bit lower than I expect from him in 2011, but he will be fine.

Madison Bumgarner’s 18 starts reinforced the widespread belief in what he could eventually accomplish. I like Bumgarner but I am not sure how much. I like last year’s strikeout rate (6.97 per nine), walk rate (2.11 per nine), groundball rate (1.19 per fly) and the fact that he mixes his four pitches well. The way he breezed through the minors in less than three seasons shows maturity, and I like his potential, but I am not betting on him doing anything like what Lincecum did in his second year. Not that it matters, since he’s going to be the Giants’ fourth starter and should be far and away better than most fourth starters. I am slightly concerned about his delivery though. There’s a lot of arm movement there that might translate into some arm problems down the road.

Barry Zito has received too much negative press. Not that it wasn’t deserved at times (2008), but there is something to be said for a guy who goes out there and makes every start. Despite never reaching the 200 inning benchmark as a Giant—or the 220 to 230 inning mark he frequented in Oakland—he’s just put together two solid seasons in a row. The worst people can say about him is that he’s robbing the Giants blind, which is not as bad as saying he’s absolutely atrocious. That said, the walk totals are higher than he can be comfortable with given his strikeout rate and hitability. I really don’t consider him a liability to the team given that expectations are low and he can still turn in the occasional dominant start when his curveball is on.

Any declines seen by Sanchez, Bumgarner or even Zito really won’t make this rotation much worse. I say this partly because I can’t imagine anyone declining that much and because they’ve replaced Wellemeyer’s starts with more Bumgarner.


Bullpen: comparable

Like the rotation, the bullpen retained its key components from last year. Brian Wilson has gotten better in each of his years as closer and he’s going to huge for a team that can expect a lot of wins by margins of a run or two. Sergio Romo has outstanding control for a guy who strikes out ten batters per nine innings. Even with his low BABIP—against last year, he’s still going to be effective. Santiago Casilla brings a 96-mph fastball and newly developed curve to the late innings. Ramon Ramirez does not have the strikeout or walk rates to be a sure bet for greatness but has three consecutive seasons of 60+ innings and ERAs under 3.00, so he can get the job done.

Jeremy Affeldt is the rare lefty reliever who gets righties out almost as well as he does lefties. He isn’t a very good control pitcher but should be effective if not stellar like he was in 2009. Dan Runzler emerged last year with 32.2 solid innings. He showed better control against lefty hitters, but they hit him 33 points better than did righties. Javier Lopez is a well-traveled lefty specialist who does his job well, but is atrocious against righties. The Giants have several options from the left side to complete an impressive bullpen.

Only two relievers who threw more than 15 innings for the team in 2010 will not be returning. Denny Bautista contributed 33.2 innings and his 3.74 ERA masks terrible control, and I doubt anyone was going to be sorry to see Chris Ray leave. Guillermo Mota signed a minor-league deal with the Giants after an unimpressive 2010 season. I wouldn’t expect much from him.


Catcher: improved

A full season of Buster Posey is better than half a season of Buster Posey and half a season of Bengie Molina. Posey does nearly everything better than Molina and should be a force in the Giants’ lineup for years to come. Posey will be backed up by Eli Whiteside, a long-time minor leaguer who struggled in AAA.


Corner Infielders: comparable

Aubrey Huff has been a very good hitter for about a decade, but too few people knew that until he joined the Giants. In that ballpark, don’t consider him a lock for another 26 homers. A relatively high proportion of his fly balls went for home runs compared with the rest of his career. However, he should see more pitches in the zone now that he’ll be hitting in front of Buster Posey, so maybe I’m wrong there. Either way, his 12.6 percent walk rate was almost three percent higher than his previous career-high. Still, he could easily hit .290 again with another thirty doubles. And five triples ain’t bad either.

Pablos Sandoval’s .268 average of 2010 is probably closer to what we should expect from a slow-running, groundball-prone contact hitter. I don’t know where all the power went, but he should hit at least 15 home runs. I like the potential for him to have a better season in 2011, but I cannot say it’s necessarily a likelihood. Hitting behind Huff and Posey should provide him ample opportunities to drive in runs.


Middle Infielders: comparable

While Freddy Sanchez returns at second base, Miguel Tejada replaces Edgar Renteria at shortstop. I had some difficulty comparing Tejada and Renteria. Both are well past their prime and are very different in style and skill sets.

Renteria never had much power, but Tejada did (and he still has some, even without the chemicals). Renteria hit eight home runs over two seasons in San Francisco, and Tejada should easily top that in 2011. Tejada hit .269 in 2010 after hitting .313 the year before. His true ability is probably somewhere in between, helped by the fact that he swings at everything and makes contact much of the time. Renteria also is probably a .270 hitter, .280 at best.

Renteria walked more but still less than your average hitter. He also struck out more and had less power. Of course, neither have the power of Juan Uribe. All else equal, you probably want the guy who is going to put the ball in play more often but not necessarily if both are extremely ground-ball prone. Both players have been exceptionally durable, each posting at least 500 plate appearances every year from 1999 to 2009. I think Miguel Tejada is probably better than Edgar Renteria but only by very little.

Freddy Sanchez is a very good pure hitter, and his ability is essential to the team’s ability to score runs. In his worst season as a full-time player, he hit .271, and is a constant candidate to bat .300. Always a groundball hitter, he hit fewer of them in his best seasons in Pittsburgh, so I think it’s reasonable to put him around last year’s .292 average. He rarely walks (his 32 in 2010 tied his career high), but Sanchez sees more pitches in the zone than most.


Outfield: improved

Cody Ross and Andres Torres are guaranteed starting jobs in right and center field respectively. Ross played well for two months when it counted most and earned a raise to $6.3 million in an arbitration year. He will probably hit somewhere around .260 and something like 15 home runs. His career average of .265 and OBP of .323 speak to mediocrity. He certainly isn’t one of the better right fielders in the game but since the Giants began 2010 with John Bowker and Nate Schierholz making starts in right field, I’d say they’re a little better in that regard.

Andres Torres is a late bloomer who turned 33 last month and has 1,025 plate appearances to his name, about half of which came last year. He isn’t your typical leadoff man, despite an above-average ability to get on base. His .268 batting average this year, as well as his .270 in 2009, seem to me about the best he’s capable of given his rather high BABIP’s over the past two seasons. He is probably capable of that again, due in part to his speed, but he strikes out a ton (25.2 percent of the time in 2010). He will steal bases and could hit another 16 home runs, but for him to be a productive hitter, he will need to replicate his average (or top it) from 2010. I think his defense will keep him his job unless he really struggles at the plate. He had the second-highest zone rating among outfielders last year. Of course, he’ll be better than Aaron Rowand.

Left field is where is gets dicey. In theory, Mark DeRosa and Pat Burrell should be a far more impressive duo than the other two Giants outfielders, but times have changed. DeRosa still has to make good on the $12 million the Giants gave him for 2010 and 2011. The Rangers and Cubs caught lightning in a bottle when DeRosa gave them impressive seasons from 2006 to 2008. One botched wrist surgery and one follow-up corrective wrist surgery later, and here we are. If healthy, DeRosa could hit for good average. He doesn’t strike out often and takes his walks. AT&T Park should steal some of his power, but the best thing about him has been his discipline. He remains a question mark though. 

Pat Burrell is a disciplined hitter with some power. He is almost two years younger than DeRosa and in better health, which makes him more likely to get the position. He is also in better graces with the San Francisco fans, which helps. He doesn’t have the same potential to hit for average that DeRosa does, but he has more power and is just as disciplined at the plate. Having Burrell to compete with DeRosa certainly makes this group better than the outfield the Giants began the season with last year.


Bench: improved

The infield versatility took a hit when Juan Uribe left for the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, but the Dodgers are the ones who will probably be kicking themselves for that deal since Uribe is a one-tool player. Uribe, a career .256 hitter, posted a .306 average at home over this two seasons in San Francisco. Ryan Rohlinger is the new utility infielder, and he has shown little at the big-league level, mainly because he hasn’t gotten much of a chance. His minor league stats show him to have hit for average at the AA and AAA levels. We’ll see how he develops.

Aaron Rowand should not be a starter, but he makes for an above-average fourth outfielder. He has some pop in his bat and plays with an intensity that is always admirable. The downside is you don’t want your fourth outfielder to cost you $24 million over two seasons. I’m sure the Giants would love to trade him, in which case the backup outfielder role would fall to Nate Schierholz.

We’ve heard talk about the promise Schierholz has shown, but it hasn’t amounted to much and he’s about to turn 27. As it stands, he’s just average across the board and below average when it comes to taking walks. He showed improved discipline in 2010, so maybe he can develop into a greater contributor to this team, but he isn’t a bad bench option. I’d gladly take him over Jose Guillen.

Travis Ishikawa returns to give Aubrey Huff the occasional day off, and there’s nothing special about him. Eugenio Velez left for Los Angeles and John Bowker was traded to Pittsburgh last summer, and the 2011 Giants’ bench will be fine without them. Mike Fontenot is an able backup, who was not a terrible starter when he was with the Cubs.


Lineup: In 2010 the Giants team batting average was .257 (16th best in MLB). Their walk rate was 7.9 percent  (21st). Division rivals Colorado and Arizona outscored them by 77 and 22 runs respectively. Their 162 home runs were tied for 10th best, but to be a truly strong offense they will need to do a better job getting on base.

The Giants won in 2010 with their brilliant pitching staff, but their offense is just average. They will win a lot of games in 2011, so long as pitching remains a part of the game, but as I’ve said, it’s hard to bet on them to repeat as champs.


Expected win total: 88-93

See also my articles on the Reds, Yankees, and Phillies.

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Philadelphia Phillies: Offseason in Review and a Preview for 2011

The Phillies’ dream rotation is getting a lot of press, and it gets more here. It will be a spectacle when the regular season comes around.

The offense, however, is in decline. Most of the Phillie hitters are on the wrong side of 30 and dealt with injuries last year. In addition, the farm system has been gutted of late, and there is little in the way of reinforcements closer than a few years away. Domonic Brown, the young right fielder, is the most exciting non-pitching story as he seeks to replace Jayson Werth’s production.


Rotation: Improved

There is little that hasn’t been said about the Phillie rotation. Their five starters (it doesn’t really matter who the fifth one is) could combine for 1000 innings pitched. These guys are going to lead the Phillies to a ton of wins, probably en route to a fifth consecutive division title.

The fifth starter position remains open to my knowledge, and the leading candidates Kyle Kendrick and Joe Blanton were almost equally mediocre in 2010. Whoever gets the job will be made a double-digit winner by the Phillie offense, provided he doesn’t pitch himself out of a job. There are arguments to be made for either. Joe Blanton has better stuff and could strike out three times as many guys as he walks. He could also be trade bait though, which leaves them with Kendrick.

Kyle Kendrick has been more of a ground ball pitcher in recent years and is cheaper than Blanton. Of course both are candidates to give up 30 home runs over a full season. I do think Joe Blanton is the better pitcher, and he probably gets the job unless the Phillies need to move him to fix a hole in right field.

Last year, the Phillies started Joe Blanton in 28 games and he ran up 175.2 innings. With help from a high BABIP-against, he spun an ERA of 4.82. To be honest, he’s probably a low-4.00s guy. Jamie Moyer made 19 disastrous starts, and Kendrick started 31 games, pitching 180.2 innings of 4.73 ball. To replace most of these starts with Cliff Lee and a full year of Roy Oswalt makes this rotation a lot better.

Just to temper expectations somewhat, I will say that Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee both see slight declines in the ERA and WHIP departments. Oswalt posted a BABIP-against of .261 and I’m expecting his ERA to bounce up by about 40 points. He did start striking more guys out last year, probably by throwing more change-ups, which should serve him well. I think Cliff Lee is going to walk a few more than 18 batters this year, plus he will play the entire season in a hitter’s park.

I think Cole Hamels will be about as good as he was in 2010 or even a little better. He added some speed (one or two mph) to each of his three primary pitches in 2010. The strikeouts and groundball rates both jumped. The walks rose too, but not as much as the K’s. Roy Halladay is going to be Roy Halladay, which means an ERA no higher than 2.80 and 230+ innings.

Aside from having all the talent in the world, a rotation this deep is nice because it should allow each pitcher to relax in any situation knowing the next three guys can pick him up if he has one of those rare rough games.


Bullpen: Comparable

Much of the Philadelphia bullpen from 2010 returns, most notably de facto closer Brad Lidge, who could either be great or abysmal. While probably the most electric arm in their pen, he also walks a ton of guys and is a fly ball pitcher in a small ballpark. He brings value to the bullpen by virtue of his incredible strikeout rate, but probably won’t be an elite closer.

Ryan Madson has been a reliable set-up man for the past few years, and Jose Contreras thrived in relief last year. Both go a long way to strengthening this bullpen. Danys Baez is a liability though, with his 1.31 K/BB and 5.1 K/9 rates since 2007. J.C. Romero has control problems but has handled lefties well throughout his career and should be decent.

The only significant change is the absence of Chad Durbin who had the two best seasons of a largely mediocre career in Philadelphia. Over three seasons he contributed 226 innings from the bullpen with a 3.62 ERA, 7.5 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9. It doesn’t seem like a bad idea to let someone else, who will cost about $2 million less get a shot at the bullpen but Durbin was a reliable pitcher who Charlie Manuel liked to go to.

There are a number of relatively unproven guys in the mix as well. Vance Worley is a 23-year-old righty who has been a starter. He has exhibited good control and has a strikeout rate on the higher end of average. He only pitched 13 innings for the big league club, and they were good innings, but his minor league stats project well. I like him best out of the guys in the mix for the bullpen.

Scott Mathieson is going to turn 27 before the season starts and his great strikeout rate in the AAA did not translate to his 39 big league innings. Mike Zagurski is a soon-to-be 28-year-old lefty who might compete with JC Romero for the lefty specialist role. David Herndon made 47 appearances from the pen and posted a 4.30 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP. He’s a low-strikeout, low-walk guy in the mold of Jamie Moyer. Beyond these guys are a number of unimpressive minor league invites.

I think the Phillie bullpen is going to be comparable to that of last year, and though I don’t see them improving much on the 4.02 pen ERA from 2010, they will be fine. Phillie relieves shouldered the second-lightest workload in baseball last year and there is no way that continues.


Catcher: Comparable

Carlos Ruiz and Brian Schneider return to handle the Phillie pitching staff. Carlos Ruiz probably won’t hit .300 again but he will walk a lot with an unintentional walk rate somewhere around nine percent. I think he’s better than your average No. 8 hitter on a national league team. Schneider is an adequate backup who should not be a starter.


Corner Infielders: Comparable

If Ryan Howard’s ankle heals completely, which it had not as of two weeks ago, then he can be counted on to approach his usual production. In 2010, his 31 home runs and 108 RBIs were lower than we had come to expect from him but it seems silly to complain about numbers like that.

Can he hit 45 home runs again? I think so, I have no reason to believe his power is fading. His home run per fly ball rate is always very high, his environment and his ability to hit the fly balls far will ensure that. The interesting thing about Howard is that he hits for decent average for a guy who strikes out 32 percent of the time.

Placido Polanco missed 30 games in 2010, which is unfortunate because he is a great contact hitter who plays stellar defense. If healthy, we know exactly what to expect from him: an average within 15 points in either direction of .300, an OBP somewhere near league average and defense worth at least two wins above league average.

I have the same concern with both Howard and Polanco, and it has to do with health. I know what both are capable of and despite their being on the wrong side of 30, I think they can both do what they’ve been doing in 2011.


Middle Infielders: Comparable

Ryan Howard missed 19 games, but he led Phillie infielders in games played in 2010. It seems intuitive that the Phillies need their health to have a successful 2011, yet they won 97 games while giving a combined 679 plate appearances to Juan Castro, Wilson Valdez and Greg Dobbs.

Jimmy Rollins was out for nearly half the season and was ineffective for the other half. At his best he hits for moderate power and steals bases, but his recent averages and line drive rates are worrisome. I’m going to attribute it to his calf injury as I know his legs are a huge part of his game.

Chase Utley might be one of the few hitters in baseball who actually takes too many pitches. He has the power to hit 30 home runs should be expected to hit somewhere around .280 or .290 with an OBP closer to .400 than .300.

This is one of the more powerful middle infield combinations in the game, and that’s good because they help make up for Polanco’s lack of pop at third base. The duo play very well in the field too, but both of them turned 32 this winter and while I don’t think either is going to decline precipitously, neither will get better.


Outfield: Declined

I think it was wise to let Jayson Werth go, given that his absence allowed the team to assemble their outstanding rotation. Still he’s not easy to replace. Domonic Brown will get a chance to be Werth’s replacement, and if he doesn’t get the job, then it will be Ben Francisco. Brown hits for power and average and is fast, but will have to prove himself at the major league level. I cannot bank on him doing what Werth did last year, and even if he does, the Phillies will be without a strong righty bat in the middle of their lineup.

Francisco is a rather average player. He has some power, maybe to the tune of 20 home runs over a full season, but has never impressed enough to be given a full season of play.

Shane Victorino hit .257 last year and did not look like the leadoff-type the Phillies need him to be. I think he can do better. His BABIP was 22 points below his career average but his line drive rate was four percent below last year’s. Since this decline in line drives was replaced with an increase in fly balls, he also hit a career-high 18 home runs. He should be fine and can get the average back up to where it usually is.

Raul Ibanez’s power seemed to evaporate last year as he hit 18 fewer home runs in 71 additional plate appearances. He’s going to turn 39 in June, but he should still be able to produce. He hasn’t hit below .270 in the past 11 seasons, he draws enough walks and he should get some of that power back. I think he can hit 20 to 25 home runs, maybe 35 doubles and his presence makes the team better.


Bench: Comparable

Wilson Valdez is a 32-year-old utility infielder who at least handles the glove well enough for that role. Hopefully he doesn’t have to play as much this year. Ross Gload will spot Ryan Howard at first base and despite some decent seasons average-wise and the ability to go deep, a lefty on the bench is hardly what this team needs. John Mayberry is the fourth outfielder (fifth if Brown makes the team). Throughout his minor league career, he showed decent power but never was much of an on-base guy. The Phillies are a strong team on offense, but if there are injuries, the replacements are not especially pretty.



This lineup heavily left-handed lineup is strong, stacked from top to seventh or so. Last year, as injuries took their toll, the Phillies fell to the middle of the pack in most offensive categories. Their .332 OBP was good, but only ranked 11th. Their 769 runs scored ranked sixth and we all know that this lineup should have topped 800.

If they have their health, that won’t happen again but this team cannot keep it up forever. Everyone in this lineup is over 30, which could be partially remedied by Domonic Brown, but we’re going to begin to see some of these guys decline over the coming years and that will weaken this team, no matter how brilliant their rotation is.


The Farm

The Phillies have lost a lot of prospects in recent years en route to their fearsome rotation, and that’s a problem because these guys are aging. The best pitching prospects seem at least a year away and are not exactly what they need in Philadelphia.

Most noteworthy is a 22-year-old starter named Phillipe Aumont, who came over from Seattle for Cliff Lee. Aumont is a huge guy who throws hard but has stuggled with control in AA. There are several hitters who might turn out to be pretty good, but I don’t think there’s anyone (other than Brown) who is closer than two years away, if that.


Expected win total: 95-100

The only real divisional competition seems to come from Atlanta. The pitching will carry this team so far that the offense really doesn’t need to be better than it was last year. These hitters can do better, and if healthy, they will, and this team will be even better than last year’s.


Previously previewed: New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds

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New York Yankees: Offseason in Review and a Preview for 2011

Unlike the previous two seasons, the New York Yankees are not the widespread favorite to win their division in 2011. The team considers 2010 a failure as their star-studded lineup came up short in October, and they set out from there with one primary offseason goal in mind.

That completely backfired and the Yankees were forced to turn to plan B. Their high-profile, contentious negotiations with Derek Jeter, whose importance to the team extends far beyond his batting average, put a sour taste in many a mouth but didn’t stop the Yankees from addressing their late-inning pitching corps and Jorge Posada’s wobbly knees.


Rotation: Declined

CC Sabathia is the surest thing in pinstripes and his rubber arm holds the Yankees’ hopes for 2011. If he falls apart—not that there’s any reason to expect him to—the team is in big trouble as they will have roughly 240 innings of 3.30 ERA to make up. The aspect of his game that tends to get lost on people is his groundball-generating abilities. CC got 1.49 grounders per fly in 2011, and has not had a ratio below 1.15 in any season, excluding 2004. He is the undisputed ace and, with that Yankee offense, could win 20 games again. There’s nothing not to like about him.

I think A.J. Burnett’s problems were mostly mental and he should be better. His start against the Texas Rangers in the ALCS was the best by a Yankee starter that series, and he has the stuff to be successful again. I think he’ll be alright, and by alright I mean a winning record and an ERA under 4.30. I would actually say that Joba Chamberlain had the same problems as A.J. and probably deserves another shot at starting. I still believe in his natural talent and I think his 2010 season was better than it looks in some ways. I would not be terribly surprised to see him take advantage of the chance and deliver a season as good or better than Phil Hughes’ 2010.

Hughes was productive last year with his Achilles heel being the home run, and he’s going to continue to give them up. He has good control (2.96 walks per nine innings in 2010) but hitters still elevate the ball so I am not sure what he can do to limit that. The Yankees should let him reach 200 innings pitched this year and I can see him pitching competently. His newly-developed cutter has been working nicely for him since 2009 and he had the seventh-best fastball in the AL last year, according to this.

The back end of the Yankees’ rotation makes me uncomfortable. Ivan Nova’s delivery is a Tommy John surgery waiting to happen. He didn’t show us much, both in performance and in actual time on the mound.

I don’t like Sergio Mitre for the same reason everybody else doesn’t like him. I expect him to run up an ERA around 5.75 in ten starts and then be relegated to long relief. He would need to repeat his BABIP-against of .226 to mimic his 2010 performance, and if he makes enough starts fans might start to miss Javier Vazquez.

With the duo of Nova and Mitre penciled into the Yankees’ depth chart on, I’m convinced this rotation is worse than that of last year. However, it doesn’t have to be. If Burnett, Hughes, and Joba can do what I think they can do, this can be one of the better rotations in baseball. Add four months of Andy Pettitte to that, and it would compare well with the Boston Red Sox group.

The Yankee starters contributed an ERA of 4.35 (22nd in MLB) last year. The rotation as it stands now might not manage that but the rotation that could be is capable of much better.


Bullpen: Improved

Mariano Rivera is still Mariano Rivera and is still a Yankee, so all is well in the ninth inning. David Robertson’s career WHIP of 1.44 is slightly worrisome but his 10.42 K/9 from last year should translate into another successful season. He would be better if he developed a more effective secondary pitch.

I’ve written elsewhere that I think Rafael Soriano will be good in his setup role, though perhaps not as good as he was in 2010. I’ve also said that Joba was better than his 2010 stats indicated and he should be fine whether he starts or relieves.

From the left side, I think Boone Logan and Pedro Feliciano will be Joe Girardi’s go-to guys. I don’t expect to see Damaso Marte much as he’s probably fallen out of favor. Marte has contributed 31 subpar innings while earning $7.75 million over the last two seasons. Both Logan and Feliciano should do their jobs well, provided their jobs don’t include more than a few right-handed hitters. It is vital for the Yankees to have quality left-handers in their bullpen, especially given what Boston has done this offseason.

If Mitre and/or Nova are pushed out of the rotation by either Joba or Pettitte, the Yankees gain a potentially useful (though not necessarily good) long man in either. Nova should be interesting regardless of his role. I’d like to see what happens with him.


Catcher: Improved

With Posada moving to DH and Russell Martin taking over behind the plate, Francisco Cervelli is bumped to a third catcher role, and that makes the Yankees better. Posada should be able to contribute more than 451 plate appearances for the first time since 2007 and he can still hit. Having a DH not well-equipped to play the field will hamstring the team in terms of versatility, but Posada should be worth 20 HR and (like most Yankees) an above-average OBP.

I liked Lance Berkman in the DH role and think that he would have been good for the Yankees if they had retained him, but I digress. Posada’s importance to the team extends beyond his knees and his bat and he has a certain sentimental value to Yankee fans. I’m glad to have him on the team.

Martin is, as I said, better than Cervelli. He fits nicely into the Yankee tradition of drawing plenty of walks, and despite his last two seasons can probably still hit for average if healthy and motivated. He doesn’t have much power but would hit more home runs than Cervelli. We all know Jesus Montero will make an appearance at some point as well.


Corner Infielders: Comparable

Mark Teixiera should bounce back from his career-low BABIP (.268) and hit .280 again. Alex Rodriguez also saw his BABIP plummet to a career-low (.274). His problems are a little bit more real as he also saw his line drive rate fall to 13.8 percent and his HR/FB rate fall to its lowest point since they started keeping track. His troubles are due partly to luck, partly to his hip and partly to a declining skill set. More worrisome, his walk rate was 9.9 percent, his lowest mark since he was a Seattle Mariner, though his K-rate fell as well. Tex, on the other hand, actually took more walks in 2010. Another 65 home runs and 225 RBI from the duo shouldn’t be out of the question but neither are getting any younger.


Middle Infielders: Improved

They’re improved because Jeter will be better. He probably won’t hit .330 again, but can probably still wind up around .290. I don’t believe his decline was as rapid as it looks to some people. You don’t go from being a .300 hitter to a .270 guy overnight. Okay, maybe some players do, but his ground ball rate skyrocketed, which I think was partly a fluke. I think he’ll be fine.

Robinson Cano saw only 43 percent of pitches in the strike zone, and he swung at a relatively high percentage of them (36.5). You can’t really argue with his ability to hit them though, so I’ll take the .320 averages for now, even if he would otherwise be capable of OBPs north of .400. I’m not sure he repeats his home run rate of 2010, though I think he easily hits 20. Cano should be the Yankees’ number three hitter, though I think it would be difficult to explain to the expensive Teixeira that he’s now batting fifth.


Outfield: Improved

Last year’s outfield trio of Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner return. Perhaps the best outfield not to consist of any player widely considered a star, it is a well-balanced group. I like the way these three compliment each other. Two of the three hit for plus power, two of the three have plus speed and two of the three have exceptional plate discipline.

Gardner’s speed and discipline make him an ideal leadoff man. He plays with an intensity that the Yankees need at the top of their lineup and he could easily repeat last year’s 47 steals and 83.9 percent success rate on steal attempts. 48.3 percent of pitches to Gardner were in the strike zone—the average major leaguer saw 46.5 percent—yet he swung at only 18.2 percent of the pitches he saw that were out of the zone, compared to an MLB average of 29.3 percent. The guy is a legitimate threat to post an OBP of .400 and steal 50+ bases, not to mention a tremendous defender.

Granderson brings power and speed to the table, most notably the power to hit 30 home runs with that short porch in right field. Not the lead-off type he was once considered, he fits nicely into the sixth slot in that lineup and could hit somewhere between .260 and .270 if healthy.

Swisher brings power and discipline to the team, as well as a ton of personality. His walk rate fell precipitously to 9.1 percent in 2010 from 16.0 percent in 2009, while he posted his lowest strikeout rate since he played for the Oakland A’s. His line drive rate was up from 2009 as well. The simple explanation is that, as the hits started falling in for him, he started swinging at more and more pitches. Swish swung at about 9 percent more pitches in 2010 than he did in 2009, and that cannot continue because he is not the .280 hitter we saw in 2010. He is, however, a threat to post an OBP north of .370 and he needs to do that by taking the walks.

I am a huge fan of this Yankee outfield (and of the Yankee team in general). For the things they do on and off the field, these guys bring a lot to the team, and as I said, compliment one another well. The Yankees’ leadoff man and number six and seven hitters (that’s where I’d have them hit) are better than your average guys hitting in those positions, and I think they will be a little bit better than the 2010 crew for two primary reasons. Number one, I think Gardner has made his presence known and will move into the leadoff spot where he will steal more bases and score more than 100 runs. Number two, I think Curtis Granderson will be a little bit better.


Bench: Comparable

The Yankees chose to replace Marcus Thames with Andruw Jones, substituting a little power for some defense. Jones isn’t the gold glover he once was, but his range and his arm are better than Thames’ and he can play all three outfield positions if necessary. Jones has less raw power, but he strikes out less and walks more than Thames. It was a good move, considering how unlikely it is that Thames repeats his .288 average. Jones could wind up stealing a few bases too.

Colin Curtis, Kevin Russo and Greg Golson may appear again at some point, but if the Yankees have to rely too heavily on any of them then there must have been some serious injury problems. Ramiro Pena is a decent-enough backup infielder who does more with the glove than with the bat.



As usual, The Yankees will win a lot of games by pounding opposing pitchers all over the place. I expect a fair number of 10-7 victories, but there are a couple of Yankee starters who can regularly hold opponents to two, three or four runs. There are also a couple of Yankee starters who probably can’t. The Yankees should contend to lead MLB in runs scored for a third consecutive year, and should have no trouble placing in the top three.


The Farm:

I’d love to see Andrew Brackman at some point, even as a reliever, but I think he’s going to spend the season in AAA. I also like Hector Noesi, a starter with good control who should be in AAA. I don’t know if he’s ready just yet, but he may get there by the end of 2011.

The Yankees have a 24-year-old named Melky Mesa in the low minors who looks to me like Jones with more speed. They also have Brandon Laird, a 23-year-old third baseman with good power who needs more time in AAA.

Austin Romine is a 22-year-old catcher who should play AA ball in 2011. His route to the majors is blocked until and if Montero moves to the outfield. There are a couple of promising arms in AA in Adam Warren and Manuel Banuelos, but we wont see either in 2011.

I expect the Yankees to get more help from the waiver-wire or a potential trade than from the minors in 2011. Aside from Montero, I cant say there’s anyone I am sure we’ll see at some point this year and, as always, it’s hard to gauge how much they’ll help.


Expected win total: 92-97

As a whole, the lineup will not be too different from last year’s, save for a few upgrades that give them added depth. The pitching staff, as it stands, looks weaker than last year’s, but the bullpen is stronger. The biggest threat to the Yankees is the revamped Red Sox. Overall, the division may be a touch more competitive, and will be entertaining as always.

See also my article on the Cincinnati Reds.

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Clay Bucholz’s Great 2010 Season: A Response to Encounters With Sabermetiphobes


Amongst the comments of an article I recently read, I encountered claims that Clay Buchholz’s 2010 season was a product of his burgeoning talent and completely luck-free. These claims were fueled by a belief that the sabermetric statistics that cause many to label Buchholz lucky are flawed and be extension useless.

I never was of the belief that Clay Buchholz is a bad pitcher. I think he’s actually quite good, but not as good as his 2.33 ERA from 2010 might lead one to believe. I sort of thought it was common knowledge that his 2010 season’s stats were luck-inflated. I’m finding, both among published baseball writings and my daily encounters with fellow fans of the game, that there is still a widespread resistance to sabermetrics. I constantly encounter an unwillingness to look past wins and ERAs to assess a pitcher’s performance. I encounter claims that these advanced metrics don’t really mean much, or that they don’t make it much easier to measure a player’s talent.

Often times, it is true that these stats don’t tell us everything we need to know. Often times, they are just indicators of future performance, rather than outright predictors. I agree that it is hard to quantify the effect of many sabermetrically-approved statistics, but there is compelling evidence that they are, in fact, valuable in understanding baseball statistics.

The arguments in favor indicators of Buchholz’s luck, as I see them are as follows.

1) A low K/BB rate

Clay Buchholz struck out 6.22 hitters per nine innings while walking 3.47 per nine for a K/BB ratio of 1.79. I have heard that a general rule of thumb is that you want pitchers to post a K/BB ratio of 2.00 or above. A pitcher certainly can be successful with a lower ratio, but the fact remains that the ratio tells us something about how much or little the pitcher helps himself with defense-free outs or harms himself by giving a free pass.

It’s a fair to point to make that pitchers in every group can be the product of luck, either good or bad. However, we can see the general trend clearly supports K/BB rates being linearly related to ERA. ERA is a perfect retrospective measure of how effective the pitcher was in the past, since the goal of the pitcher is always to allow as few runs as possible, whether by control, power, or luck. It can be a lousy predictor of how a pitcher will perform in the future and is often a lousy measure of how good a pitcher actually is, especially when you’re only looking at an ERA over a short period.

I am not denying Buchholz’s production in 2010. He gave up only 2.33 runs per nine innings, which is exceptional. There is no debate about his effectiveness in 2010. Without Buchholz, the Red Sox would have been much worse off, and they would be worse off if he weren’t returning in 2011. He was profoundly effective. I don’t think he has the ability to be that effective again (barring luck).

I looked at all 115 MLB pitchers who threw 130 or more innings in 2010. I divided them into three groups: those with K/BB rates below 2.00, those with rates ranging from 2.00 to 2.99, and those with rates of 3.00 or higher.

There are some cases of pitchers who seemed to defy the general trend. In these cases, the performance was influenced by other things.

For instance, James Shields is an exceptional control pitcher who posted a K/BB rate of 3.67, but he allowed a ton of home runs en route to a 5.18 ERA. The pitchers who seem to be exceptions to the rule can be viewed as outliers, but they do not disprove the general trend that more strikeouts per walk leads to fewer runs allowed.

Here’s what I noticed:

Pitchers with K/BB rates below 2.00 (37 pitchers, 6556.0 innings total):

Combined ERA: 4.32

ERA range: 2.33 to 5.94.

Median ERA: 4.47

Three of these pitchers wound up with an ERA below 3.00. Other than Buchholz, Tim Hudson spun a 2.83 ERA, owing a lot to his ability to generate ground balls. Trevor Cahill spun a 2.97 ERA, also showing himself to be a ground ball pitcher but pitching to a very low BABIP-against. Seven of these pitchers had ERAs in the threes. Some of these guys are great ground ball pitchers, some of them played in very favorable ballparks, and some were just lucky. The vast majority posted ERAs in the fours, with the median ERA being 4.47. Nine guys were above 5.00.

Pitchers with K/BB rates ranging from 2.00 to 2.99 (51 pitchers, 9691.33 innings total):

Combined ERA: 3.80

ERA range: 2.62 to 5.34.

Median ERA: 3.84

Of this group, seven pitchers had ERAs below 3.00. Brian Duensing led the pack with his 2.62 in 130.2 innings. He is a textbook case of lucky pitching, but I cannot argue with the seasons David Price and Ubaldo Jimenez put together. Three guys posted ERAs of 5.00 or above: Rodrigo Lopez, Kevin Millwood, and Tim Wakefield, a very homer-prone trio. 24 guys were in the threes, and 17 were in the fours.

Pitchers with K/BB rates of 3.00 and above (26 pitchers, 2060.0 innings total):

Combined ERA: 3.50

ERA range: 2.27 to 5.18

Median ERA: 3.53

This group was obviously the best, with their median ERA of 3.53 and combined ERA of 3.50. Only seven of these guys posted ERAs of 4.00 or higher, including James Shield’s 5.18. These included 12 pitchers below 3.40, half of whom were under 3.00.

2) The lower the strikeout rate, the more difficult it is to live with a K/BB rate under 2.00.

We’ve established that pitchers can be successful with a K/BB rate under 2.00, but the pitchers who do this tend to be the guys who strike out a lot of batters. That way, when they get themselves into jams, they are more likely to get out of it without having to involve the defense and the possibility of runners advancing or scoring.

50 pitchers threw 100 or more innings with a K/BB rate below 2.00. I used only unintentional walks to compute the group’s walk rate; however when I did this, seven pitchers then had a K/unintentional-BB rate of 2.00, but I still included this group with the understanding that an intentional walk still puts a hitter on base and there are never enough intentional walks to really distort our assessment of a pitcher’s control very much.

The group combined for a K/9 rate of 5.74 and a BB/9 rate of 3.20. Their collective ERA was 4.46. The median ERA was 4.56, showing that a comparable number of them were above and below the median.

Just looking at the guys with ERAs better than 4.56, they combined for a K/9 rate of 6.03 and a BB/9 rate of 3.30 (using only unintentional walks). The group with ERAs worse than 4.56 combined for a K/9 rate of 5.40 and a BB/9 rate of 3.07. Interestingly, the pitchers who gave up more runs allowed fewer walks, but the differences between the two groups strikeout rates are greater, which lends credence to the notion that if you strike out enough guys, you can get by with a low K/BB rate.

The pitchers with the 20 highest strikeout rates combined for an ERA of 4.14. This group had a K/9 of 6.83 to go with 3.45 walks per nine innings. The pitchers with the 20 lowest strikeout rates combined for an ERA of 4.71 to go with 4.70 K/9 and 2.95 BB/9.

Buchholz has thrown 364.1 innings in his career. Over the first 100 of them or so, he struck out over eight batters per nine innings. Since then, his strikeout rate fell to 6.65 in 2009 and 6.22 last year. During that time, his walk rate fell from about 4.7 per nine to somewhere near 3.5. I would interpret this as him learning to pitch in the big leagues and adapting as hitters got used to him.

Buchholz’s strikeout rate is towards the higher end of the group I was looking at (his was the 16th best out of the 50 pitchers). I would argue that, at this point, he actually does get enough strikeouts to survive a low K/BB rate; however, unless he either precipitously raises the K’s or lowers the BB’s, he is very unlikely to repeat his exceptional 2010 season, because while he does strike out a fair amount, he doesn’t compliment that with a low enough walk rate to be a star.

3) A lucky home run rate.

Buchholz has done a tremendous job generating grounders in his career. His grounder per fly rate is 1.64 over parts of four seasons. This is the thing I like most about him; however, I don’t think this accounts for such a low percentage of fly balls leaving the yard. Even in Fenway Park, where many a righty batter sees his home runs turn into doubles. His line drive rate was 17.7 percent, tied for 58th out of the 147 pitchers with 100 or more innings to their name in 2010.

Buchholz’s fly-ball rate was 31.5 percent, tied for 25th out of the same group of pitchers. This doesn’t explain why so few of these flies left the yard though, especially since last year, when he generated even more grounders per fly, 15.7 percent of the flies left the park. Only 5.6 percent of fly balls left the ballpark, fewer than all but seven of his peers. This is significantly lower than the average, which tends to be somewhere between nine and 10 percent.

A low HR/FB rate can be taken as a tendency to generate “short fly-balls” as someone once said to me. However, his infield fly rate is not especially high at 8.1 percent (tied for 57th). I could not find a hit chart for Buchholz, but I find it difficult to believe that a pitcher can control the depth of fly balls hit against him. This is a guy who, one year ago, saw three times as many of his fly balls go for home runs (an unlucky rate). Unless Buchholz completely reinvented himself, how does that change for any reason other than normal fluctuation? I don’t know.

4) A low BABIP-against

Sometimes the hits just fall in, and sometimes they don’t. The rate at which this happens can be alarming and can cause us to judge players more harshly or too generously. Buchholz’s .265 BABIP-against is not ridiculously low, but it does speak to a little bit of luck.

Out of the 25 pitchers who generate more grounders per fly than Buchholz, only Trevor Cahill and Tim Hudson showed lower BABIP-againsts. None showed lower HR/FB rates, so it seems clear to me that Clay Buchholz benefited from some luck. That said, ground ball pitchers tend to allow fewer hits anyway, simply because major league fielders can handle a higher proportion of grounders than flies.

I noticed that most of the ground ball pitchers I looked at tended to be somewhere around .280 or .290 in terms of BABIP-against. This often has a lot to do with defense as well, and the Red Sox played well in the field in 2010.

The conclusion I draw from all this is that Buchholz was lucky to have an ERA as low as 2.33, but he wasn’t that lucky. He looks to me like the sort of pitcher who should be capable of ERAs in the threes year in and year out. I think he’s going to continue to generate grounders and continue to strike out six to seven hitters per nine innings while walking 3.50 or so. This isn’t a recipe for brilliance, as we see guys like Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe who consistently posted decent to good seasons over the last decade.

Those two pitchers get more grounders though, and they walk fewer, strike out about as many, and face easier lineups these days. So, I consider Buchholz to be built from the same mold but a notch below talentwise. 2010 was to Buchholz what 2004 was to Jake Westbrook or what 2008 was to Paul Maholm (or what 2010 was to Jon Garland and Carl Pavano), an uncharacteristically good season that is unlikely to repeat.

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Cincinnati Reds: Offseason In Review and a Preview For 2011

I have semi-randomly chosen to start with the Reds, and will write a piece about each of the thirty teams, talking about what they’ve done in the offseason up to this point and how that projects for the upcoming season. I know there are moves yet to be made, but with most of the impact moves in the books, I think enough has happened to be able to gauge expectations for the upcoming season. If they make any major moves in the coming days, I’ll amend this article.

I thought it might be fun to begin with the playoff teams from last year, then go on to the teams that finished in the basements of their division before finishing with the most exciting bunch—the teams who were/are/should be on the cusp of contention. So, we begin with Cincinnati.

A lot of people liked the Reds this time last year, myself included, but I think most of us were expecting them to contend for the wild card. The fact that they went on and won the NL Central was exciting for Cincinnatians and for baseball fans looking to witness some new blood in the playoffs. Their speedy defeat in October indicated two things: primarily, they couldn’t hang with the Phillies, as everyone except Kevin Millar seemed to think, and that perhaps the Reds have some work to do if they want to make a run at another playoff appearance.

Rotation: Improved

Their rotation is the part of the team that I thought was most overrated last year. Bronson Arroyo’s value comes mostly from his durability, but also partly from the fact that he can occasionally spin an ERA in the threes. If you look at his FIPs, he’s probably a 4.40 guy, but give him a good offense (and a little luck) and he becomes a 17-game winner. Edinson Volquez is a wildcard. He could strike out more than a batter per inning and will walk a guy about once every two innings. I like Johnny Cueto the best out of the Reds’ top three. He’s cut down on the walks and developed an effective cutter, but it remains to be seen whether he can put it all together for a solid 200+ IP campaign.

The team’s ace-in-waiting will start the season in the bullpen, and we have not seen how well Aroldis Chapman’s excellent stuff will translate to the rotation. I hesitate to crown him his generation’s Randy Johnson just yet. The other two spots in the rotation should go to some combination of Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Travis Wood. Homer Bailey seems to have been around forever, but his 2010 gives reason for optimism as he cut the walks, raised the strikeouts, increased the first-pitch strikes. He’s a hard-throwing groundball pitcher and has the natural ability to be successful in the big leagues. Leake struggled after a phenomenal start to his rookie season. He’s a soft-tosser who needs to keep the ball on the ground. Wood seems to have the best control of the three, and I think he gets a shot at starting unless he falls apart this Spring, if only because the Reds already have two or three lefties in their pen and none in their rotation.

I have to say the Reds rotation will be better in 2011 than it was in 2010, if nothing else, because Aaron Harang’s starts will go to one of three guys who each have the potential to be productive major league pitchers. Cueto, Arroyo, and Volquez combined for an ERA of 3.84 last season, and I would expect the trio to be around there again, maybe closer to 4.00. They will need to combine for more than 464 innings this time around though, otherwise undue strain will be placed on the other three, none of whom will probably be allowed anywhere near 200 IP. I expect a few starts for Chapman somewhere down the line, and I expect him to be good, but his value will primarily come from what he does in relief this season. The Reds will field a competitive rotation but they lack any real ace-caliber pitcher (Chapman excluded for now) and only have one guy I consider a lock for 200 IP.

Bullpen: Declined (slightly)

The Reds’ bullpen ranked in the middle out of all MLB teams in most categories (ERA, strikeouts, walks, HR), but shouldered a heavier workload than 21 of the teams. Their closer is a classic seventh-inning guy. Francisco Cordero (don’t ignore his lucky HR rate in 2009) had the second-lowest K/BB rate of any closer in baseball, and the K’s are falling by the year. Yes, he was decent, but the Reds have better pitchers for their toughest situations.

They have arguably lost their best reliever with Arthur Rhodes jumping ship for Texas, but they expect to be competent against lefty hitters with Chapman and Bill Bray. Matt Maloney is another lefty who will get a chance though he lacks the strikeout ability of Chapman and Bray. Maloney made two solid starts for the Reds in 2010 and it will be useful for them to have as many guys who can start a game on hand as possible. Nick Masset was their most-used reliever and he’s an essential component of their late-inning game plan. He gets tons of grounders and can strike guys out. Jose Arredondo will try to come back from Tommy John surgery and Logan Ondrusek was decent, but the latter benefited from a favorable BABIP-against and the it’s hard to know what to expect from the former. Jordan Smith and Sam LeCure were both solid for the team in 2010.

Assuming Ondrusek’s luck neutralizes, Cordero doesn’t turn in another 2009, and Chapman doesn’t post an ERA of 1.00, I don’t think this bullpen will improve on what it did last year. That said, I don’t see them being that much worse. There is some depth, some talent that will need to prove itself, and at least one guy who will start games someday will be working from the pen.

Catcher: Declined

The same catching team from last year returns in 2011. Ramon Hernandez’s 2010 BABIP was a good 35 points above his previous career-high, so he won’t hit .297 again. If he can stay healthy for more than 100 games for the first time as a Red, he could contribute 12 home runs and a league-average OBP. Considering where he’ll hit in their lineup, however, his batting average is more important than his OBP, and I’m projecting it to be around .260.

Ryan Hannigan does have more walks than strikeouts in his career (even if you get rid of the intentional ones) and he actually saw more pitches in the zone (47.7%) than the average major leaguer. Over a full season, he’d probably produce about what Hernandez could be expected to, but as long as he’s the team’s backup, I cant expect him to influence games as much as their starter does and I think Hernandez declines from his 2010 form. If pressed, I do think Hanigan is the better offensive player.

Corner Infielders: Neutral

Joey Votto and Scott Rolen make for one of the best corner infields in the game and both are coming back in 2011. Rolen is nearing his 36th birthday and showed he can still hit (.285) and hit for power (20 HR), both of which are about what we should expect this season. Joey Votto deserved his MVP award but his HR/FB rate was 25%, which is insane. I would expect no more than, say, 32 home runs from him. He hit more home runs on the road last year, so I wouldn’t say his power came entirely from Great American Ballpark but there was some luck there. His BABIP was high too, at .361, but it always tends to be around there for him so I am not expecting it to fall precipitously as he plays his age-27 season. Clearly, he is still a tremendous hitter and will be great. In addition his defense is solid and he can steal bases (16 in 2010). Scott Rolen was outstanding in the field last year as usual.

Middle Infielders: Improved

I like Paul Janish better than Orlando Cabrera for several reasons. Firstly, the two showed very similar batting averages (.260 for Janish, .263 for Cabrera) but Janish did a much better job getting on base despite seeing more pitches in the zone. Secondly, Janish has more power, and though neither has much, Janish could potentially hit 10 HR or so if he lasts the whole season. Janish hits the ball in the air while Cabrera is a groundball machine. The Reds will replace a guy who got on base at a clip of just over .300 with a guy who will probably do an average job of it. Janish also comes much cheaper than Cabrera. Edgar Renteria could step in if Janish struggles but I wouldn’t necessarily call him an improvement. Brandon Phillips has more power than most middle infielders, which makes up for his iffy walk rate and steal success rate. If he had better plate discipline, he could be a star, but as it is he should contribute another .270/.330/.440 line or something like that. Because of his OBPs, he looks more like a number six hitter than a leadoff guy to me, so hopefully Drew Stubbs or someone else steps up and takes that role.

The Reds’ middle infield is not outstanding, but should be serviceable. They will probably struggle to hit .280 as a pair, but with the team’s corner infielders hitting for average, that shouldn’t matter. The entire infield is good with the glove.

Outfield: Slightly improved

Jay Bruce’s extension got a lot of press earlier this offseason and he should continue to develop over the coming years. His is the best bat in this outfield and he could make a run at 30 HR but his BABIP might have been a bit on the lucky side last year when he hit .281. Drew Stubbs strikes out too much, but he’s very fast and has good power and would make a good leadoff man if he improved his contact rate. Another 20 HR is very possible from him. Jonny Gomes has tons of power but wont hit above .270 either. He doesn’t know how to hit groundballs, so he is a perfect fit for that ballpark, even if his defense is awful. The same three guys make up the 2011 Reds outfield, and I could see Stubbs getting a little better while Gomes and Bruce do more or less what they did last year. I think the Reds did the right thing bringing these guys back, letting the youth develop, and if it goes as planned, they will build on their success in 2010.

Bench: Neutral

Fred Lewis is the new fourth-outfielder and he should easily out-hit the duo of Chris Dickerson and Jim Edmonds who struggled in 2010. His defensive range is limited but the small outfield in Cincinnati will suit him well. Chris Heisey will also see time in the outfield. As a 25-year-old rookie last year, he hit 8 home runs in about half a season while striking out too much. He’s a much better fielder than Lewis though and should get some playing time for that reason. Laynce Nix wasn’t going to repeat his .291 average from last year, and I probably would have chosen Lewis over him as well. Miguel Cairo brings defensive versatility back to the Reds’ infield for two more seasons, and Edgar Renteria is always capable of a good week at the plate.

I like the Reds’ bench mainly because they have a few guys who have played that role in the past and done it well enough. It’s hard to evaluate benches as they shouldn’t be expected to have enough playing time to really make a huge difference. I wouldn’t want any of their bench players starting for me on a regular basis, but that’s ok. What their bench lacks is pop, but they have every one of their starters spotted in case of injury. The interesting thing here is, if anyone (except their shortstop) gets hurt, the replacement is a pretty big step below talentwise. Therefore, if the Reds lose a regular player for the season, they’re going to be hard-pressed to replace him. Fortunately, theirs is a fairly deep lineup.

Lineup: The Reds’ lineup is arguably the most complete in their division. It lacks major holes, but could stand to improve in some ways. Its heart (Votto, Bruce, Rolen) is especially strong and is supplemented with talent preceding and following it. Like last season, they probably could stand for more production from the first and second spots. These guys sacrifice some genuine on-base skills for better-than-average power, playing to the ballpark they call home. The 2010 Reds hit more home runs than any non-AL East team, and they continue to be a group that lives and dies with the longball. The also strike out a lot and don’t draw walks with the best of them. Playing to their ballpark is not an unwise strategy, but these guys would be so much better with a couple of really good contact hitters in front of Votto, Rolen, and Bruce. Drew Stubbs remains the best candidate for leading off, and someone should work with him on drawing walks.

Expected win total: 84–89

I know that may seem kind of low. Last year’s 91-win club should have won 92 according to Bill James’ Pythagorean winning percentage. James’ formula doesn’t take over- or under-achieving players into account though. While I think the pitching is better as a whole, I am counting on it being less productive for them and thus the entire team being slightly worse off. In most cases, I’m expecting the Reds offense to be about as good or better than they were in 2010. The pitching is where I think they slightly overachieved, and I’m not ready to label Bailey or Wood the ace of the future just yet.

Their offense will need to score runs since all of their starters either can be beat or are relatively unproven. There is a lot of talent in that rotation, and the bullpen is competent, but there is no one that a good offense should fear having to face. I remain open to the possibility that a couple of these guys emerge and start winning games for them, and that will make the team that much stronger.

I see no way The Reds possibly regress to their pre-2010 form. They didn’t catch lightning in a bottle in 2010, they developed home-grown talent and it all came together for them. It wont fall apart that easily. The Reds should have no trouble posting a winning record again, but it remains to be seen whether the young guys develop further and how much they do so.

If you agree or disagree with what I’ve said, please let me know and say why. What do you think of the 2011 Cincinnati club?

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Rafael Soriano to The Yankees: A Good Deal All Around

Rafael Soriano, the best relief pitcher on the free-agent market this year, has reached a three-year deal with the New York Yankees worth about $35 million. The Yankees have opted for Soriano since their initial interest in Kerry Wood didn’t develop into a deal and they’re better off for it.

Wood’s injury history is well-documented and he struggled mightily in the AL. Despite posting an ERA of 0.69 in 26.0 short innings, Wood also walked 18 hitters and survived due to a strikeout rate reminiscent of his early days as a starter.

Rafael Soriano also has strikeout potential, and though his K’s took a hit last year in the AL East, he still set down 8.2 guys per nine innings. Soriano has not been entirely injury-free in his career, nor has he ever shown the promise that Kerry Wood did in his early days, but it’s hard not to imagine him as a more reliable late-inning arm for the Yankees over the next one-to-three seasons.

The nature of this deal is unusual for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the amount of money Soriano is getting is rather high, to say the least. Non-closer relievers with seven-figure salaries are really unheard of, and while I don’t deny that Soriano is the best relief pitcher to be a free-agent this year, his contract is a product of Scott Boras’ classic high selling and the Yankees’ bottomless wallet. The other strange thing is that Soriano can opt out of his deal after either of the first two seasons.

It’s hard to tell what he’s going to do, but since he was searching for a closers’ job (for four years, no less) he will probably jump ship if he thinks one such job is available. The reason he didn’t get such a deal was because the teams who didn’t already have a reliable ninth-inning guy balked at the asking price, and of the teams who could use a good set-up type (virtually every team), only the Yankees would be willing to dip into their funds to the tune of 10 million or more per year.

Because a number of teams are going to have expensive closers coming off the books after 2011, I wouldn’t be altogether surprised to see Soriano leave after one year in search of a closing job. The Mets, Tigers, and Reds head the list of teams who might be interested. These three teams have been known to spend money on closers. Francisco Rodriguez got 37 million from the Mets over three years and there is no way they pick up his $17.5 million option for 2012. With a lot of silly money coming off the board after 2011, to the tune of at least $48 million, they could offer Soriano a lucrative deal to close games. The Tigers could just resign Jose Valverde, but Soriano is perhaps a slightly better pitcher for an extra four or five million annually. I think the Reds would be willing to think long and hard about replacing Francisco Cordero with Soriano if the option presented itself.

The list of possibilities extends beyond those three teams. The Cardinals have a solid closer in Ryan Franklin—who has been good but probably should not be your team’s best reliever. They should aim to strengthen their bullpen if they have money left over after locking Albert Pujols up for another decade. I think the Phillies are unlikely to pick up their 12 and a half million option on Brad Lidge for 2012 and could just as well put that money toward a few years of Soriano. The Angels will probably aim to strengthen their bullpen and I doubt they think just resigning Fernando Rodney the solution to their late-inning issues. I expect Soriano to have a multitude of options if his 2011 season is productive enough for him to expect a high-paying ninth-inning job elsewhere.

It is not especially unlikely that he pitches well enough, especially considering his stellar 2010 season. Soriano has that great combination of strikeout ability and control, with career K/9 and BB/9 ratios of 9.62 and 2.69 respectively. The strikeouts dipped to 8.23 per nine innings last year, perhaps because the AL East is a tougher division than the NL East or AL West, but

The biggest gripe a Yankee fan should have with Soriano is his fly-ball rate. With only 0.62 grounders per fly and only one season with a ratio of 1.00 or higher, Soriano can be expected to give up a few home runs. He was lucky in 2010 with only 4.8% of fly balls leaving the park and cannot be expected to repeat that. To be fair, he got a rather high percentage of pop ups, as opposed to line drives, but these statistics are somewhat unpredictable.

With his lowered strikeout rate came a lower walk rate. Soriano’s 2.02 walks per nine innings was bested by only 10 relief pitchers with 50 or more innings in 2010. His 2.69 career mark is better than all but 32 relief pitchers with 300 or more innings pitched (as a reliever) over the past fifteen years. His batting average on balls in play was .212, an extremely low figure even for Soriano with his career mark of .256.

He has continuously seen success with his fastball (averaging 92.9 mph in 2010) and his slider. Both have been worth a positive runs above average total for six years running. Soriano started to throw a cutter about 15% of the time in 2010. That worked for him too and might be key to limiting damage from good lefty hitters. I think there may be someone in New York who can help him with the cutter if need be.

There are so many things to like about Soriano in the Yankees bullpen. The results he’s gotten and the stats that underlie these results, such as his above average first-pitch strike rate or his tendency to get guys to swing at pitches out of the zone and miss them, both at rates above MLB average in 2010. In 2010 he posted an FIP of 2.81. That’s probably what we can expect Soriano’s ERA to look like next year.

Another interesting benefit is that Soriano’s deal opens the door for the Yankees to give Joba Chamberlain another shot at the rotation. Joba performed better than people think last year, as his 4.40 ERA hid a FIP of 2.98. Joba’s strikeout rate was up to 9.67 per nine IP and he walked fewer than three per nine for the first time since 2007. His BABIP should be slightly lower and while we cannot expect his talents to perfectly translate from the bullpen to the rotation, he at least deserves another chance. That is, unless the Yankees are comfortable with Sergio Mitre as their fifth starter.

The Yankees needed another good righty for their bullpen. It was good that they made the move for Soriano. Even if they only have him for one year. Even if he doesn’t repeat his brilliance of 2010. The remaining right-handed free agent relievers are minor-league deals waiting to happen. There’s Blaine Boyer and Lance Cormier of the few-strikeouts/many-walks variety. There’s Manny Delcarmen and Juan Cruz of the plenty-of-strikeouts-but-way-too-many-walks variety. Then there are the likes of Kelvim Escobar, Chris Ray and Justin Ducherer who could be good if they weren’t so brittle. The best remaining options are probably Jon Rauch, Chad Durbin, and Chad Qualls, none of whom have the talent or the potential that Soriano has.

This signing was a good one. Soriano, far and away the best relief pitcher available, was worth seven figures annually in an oddly structured deal because it adds depth and talent to the bullpen, could push Joba into another chance at starting, and it gives Soriano a chance to win in 2011 and add to his already impressive resume in anticipation of an opportunity to close in 2012 or beyond. Both sides should be happy.

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Trevor Hoffman: On the Meaning of Saves and 601 Quality Appearances

When Trevor Hoffman announced his retirement yesterday, immediate talk about his Hall of Fame candidacy, his 601 saves, and his reputation as a great Padre surfaced. I do consider him worthy of the hall of fame as he, along with Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner, were the most effective closers who did it for the longest time. But it seems as if they’re a dying breed.

As Trevor Hoffman joins Billy Wagner in riding off into the sunset, the MLB is arguably down to just one great, longtime closer.

Closers are something you find. Something managers create. Saves happen by accident. You don’t try for them; in fact you try not to have them. If your team is winning by three, you want to make it four. That’s just how baseball works, the goal is to spend nine innings making a win as likely as possible until it either happens or doesn’t.

An articles on Yahoo! Sports states, “Hoffman almost always got the toughest outs in a baseball game—the final three.” I assume most of those outs were tough. He was pitching against major league hitters. You cannot quantify how much tougher the ninth inning made those outs.

In fact, of his 601 saves some were probably pretty tough and some were undoubtedly very easy. Sure, he was in situations in which one bad pitch would lose the game for his team. But he also probably often had a cushion of two or three runs.

Let’s consider all those occasions where the final three outs are easier than the first three. Say your starter had to work just a little harder in the first inning to retire Victorino-Polanco-Utley than your closer did when he faced Ruiz-Valdez-Dobbs.

The idea that the closer you are to the end of the game, the more difficult the outs become is dubious. Why would there be extra pressure, aside from the fact that everyone in baseball attaches extra importance to it? It depends on the situation itself, so we have to be careful with the importance we attach to saves. I would still rather have vintage Billy Wagner or Mariano Rivera on the mound in a tough situation than vintage Hoffman.

Is there any real different in pitching with a one-run lead in the ninth inning versus pitching with the same lead in the eighth? Or the fourth? Can we measure things like clutch performance? Like guts? Grit? Heart? We cannot measure them save for counting up the number of times a broadcaster says something like, “man that guy has heart, what a gutsy effort.”

I once read an article suggesting that managers use their best reliever in the first tight situation in a game. For instance, the Yankees might be gridlocked 2-2 with the Red Sox in the sixth inning. Say Boston is up to bat and there are two men on and one out, the starter is pooped, the writers (it was in a collection of essays called Baseball Between the Numbers) suggested Mariano Rivera enter the game in this rough situation as he is the one most able to escape the situation.

What this would do is, a) make it easier for your team to avoid giving up more runs and burying yourself, b) give the Yankees more of a chance to win by keeping the game close longer so they can potentially bury their opponent, and c) limit the chance that the Yankees wind up having to face Boston’s best reliever in the later innings. I wonder how many games were lost when Kyle Farnsworth or Luis Vizcaino were tasked with escaping sixth- and seventh-inning jams.

In short, it could be beneficial to use your best pitcher when you need him most. I wonder how many save opportunities squeaked away because a mediocre reliever gave up a slim lead in the sixth. This especially makes sense for teams with good offenses.

The one hitch in this plan is that the ceremonious quality of the closer’s role would be stripped of him. There’s no glamour in the tough outs of the sixth inning. That’s the dirty work. Fewer flashbulbs are going off then. There’s something special about being a few outs away from a win. It’s like the game is entirely in your hands if you’re on the mound at that time.

So what does Trevor Hoffman have 601 of, if saves are a silly statistic? Well, he has 601 not-terrible ninth innings. Which is more not-terrible innings than many pitchers have in their careers. He has retired 3268 batters, all the while allowing relatively few runs to score. He owes this to the dominance he showed in his prime and impressive control. He owes it to a very good fastball-changeup combination.

I will remember Trevor Hoffman as one of the best relief pitchers of his generation. The silliness of his role aside, I cannot deny an impressive pitching performance (or about a thousand of them). It’s the ceremonious nature of the role that adds to his reputation. How many Padre fans remember Hoffman standing on the mound while their team won a game. How about when they made their way to the 1998 World Series?

As the closers of the past fifteen years prepare to make their runs at Cooperstown, I wonder which number will stand out the most in five years. 601 or something else?

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