Tuesday, March 02, 2004

The East is a Beast: The First Baseman 

Coming today

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Hey! Who's that? 

Blasted computer has been impeding my progress for three days now. Just so you reader's know, I've written the AL East first basemen thing twice so far, and both times it was lost somewhere on my computer so no find nor search function can find it.


Anyway, sit back for a second, gentle reader, and think about the players that you like. Of course there are some starts, like Pedro Martinez if you love pitching, Barry Bonds if you like hitting, or Derek Jeter if you like guys diving meekly as a ball bounces into left center field. But what about the lesser-known players. The kind of guy that if you asked Joe Fan about him, he would say "I dunno, he's that dude that plays for that team." An example of this from real life would be the John C. Reilly Phenomenon.

Before "Chicago" came out, fans of Reilly knew he was in "Hoffa", and "Boogie Nights", and "The Thin Red Line", but Joe Movie Fan wouldn't know who he was. Maybe that he was Dirk Diggler's friend in Boogie Nights.

My point in all this is that there are fans out there that like bizarre players. They like the Ben Webers, the Morgan Ensbergs, and the Augie Ojedas. Personally, I have a whole list of guys I like for no real reason. It's usually guys that are underrated by traditional baseball fans, or guys that do something unheralded well. Back in October/November, I professed my love of Mark Bellhorn. Keith Foulke was on this list before he blew up and became a Proven Closer. Mike Cameron is on the list. Carlos Beltran is probably vastly underrated by people, even though fans recognize he is a star. Mike Timlin. Dmitri Young. Octavio Dotel. People like that.

The criteria is usually a guy that is fun to watch.

Today, I introduce you to Brian Schneider.

Schneider does one thing really well, and that is play defense. If you watch him play catcher, everything is very fluid, and exact. It's fun to watch. If I was Tom Emanski, I would stop fooling around with people like Fred McGriff and get Schneider to teach catching technique. Generally, he is the receiver that Jason Varitek gets credit for being, combined with a laser throwing arm.

With the stick, he's generally alright, but he's a better hitter then the man he replaces, Michael Barrett. His batting eye is respectful for a part-time catcher, posting a .069 IPD, and he can very occasionally knock an extra base hit. His ISlug is .164, and his Secondary Average is a not-to-shabby .249 (.269 in 2003).

Blah blah blah, is what your thinking. I don't care. He's a fun guy to watch catch, and he's not completely lost with the bat. Schneider is entering his age 27 season. Keep an eye on him in the case you might catch an Expos game on ESPN Du Sport.

Monday, February 23, 2004

The East is a Beast: The Catchers 

How does one go about deconstructing the American League East?

It is a tall task. No division in baseball has improved it’s talent level in a comparable way. Some people will mention how the Cubs got Derrek Lee, and the Astros hauled in Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, but every team in the East got better this offseason. Like I’ve been saying, Tampa might have their most talented team in their history, and still finish with 100 losses.

It kinda makes me feel bad for the AL’s weaker sisters.

It kinda makes me feel very glad to root for one of the Haves in the league.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at the players that make up the strongest division in baseball. Today, the journey begins with the people that keep the ball from rolling to the backstop: The Catchers.

Baltimore Orioles
Starter: Javy Lopez .328/.378/.687 (Atl) 5.39 DWS/1000
Backup: Geronimo Gil .237/.299/.314 (Bal) 3.64 DWS/1000

Here is a fun little exercise:
Javy Lopez v. 2000: .287/.337/.484
Javy Lopez v. 2001: .267/.332/.425
Javy Lopez v. 2002: .233/.299/.372
Javy Lopez v. 2003: .328/.378/.687

Why don’t we add two more stats to the list:
Javy Lopez v. 2000: .287/.337/.484 .050 .197
Javy Lopez v. 2001: .267/.332/.425 .065 .158
Javy Lopez v. 2002: .233/.299/.372 .066 .139
Javy Lopez v. 2003: .328/.378/.687 .050 .359

The first added column is isolated plate discipline, and the second is isolated slugging. Essentially, it’s OB% and Slug % independent of batting average.

So what happened? Lopez gained a lot of power after three straight years of decline. Javy’s walk rate declined in 2003, even after going up for two years. What does it all mean?

I really don’t know. Lopez’s career really has no definite trends. Most players have learning curve, followed by a peak/plateau, followed by a decline. Javy hasn’t had that. He was good quickly, then collapsed, then peaked. The only real trend I found is that when his Iso PD goes down, his Iso Slug goes up. Maybe his whole thing is that he needs to hack. Or maybe not.

Either way, Javy Lopez is not going to repeat his 2003. Chances are, the change of scenery will not push him to 2002 levels (Camden is more hitter friendly then Turner). Lopez v. 2001 isn’t a bad expectation.

Geronimo Gil is a generic backup catcher. He’s put up some nice minor league numbers, but hasn’t really been good in the major’s, save for a stretch of a few weeks in 2002 when he hit a bunch of homers. If Javy goes down, there is some trouble in Charm City.

Boston Red Sox
Starter:Jason Varitek .273/.351/.512 (Bos) 3.23 DWS/1000
Backup:Doug Mirabelli .258/.307/.448 (Bos) 2.54 DWS/1000

A few short words on Jason Varitek.

He is overrated by Sox fans.

His defense is probably better then what Win Shares says, but its not spectacular. He might be the “best at calling a game” or the “best at blocking balls in the dirt” but Brad Ausmus was said to do the same thing, and his defense is actually pretty good.

Varitek is Boston’s version of Derek Jeter, people looking at the tangible aspects of his game see he doesn’t really match up to more famous catchers, so the gap will be made up with the “intangibles” argument.

Varitek might be the quiet leader of the Red Sox. He might be a consummate professional in all aspects of his game. Pitchers might love working with him. Hell, there is no reason for me to think otherwise. It doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t have a great arm. My only point is that it isn’t enough to be considered an elite catcher in the league.

Varitek brings good offense, decent defense, and a throwback attitude to the game. For that I love him. Not enough to sign him to big dollars this offseason when our best prospect is a catcher. If Kelly Shoppach needs a caddy, and Varitek needs $7 million per year, then let Mirabelli do it for much less money.

Speaking of Mirabelli, I think he’s the President of the Backup Catchers Union (Local 28). He hits lefties well, he has a nice arm, and doesn’t wear batting gloves when he hits. Nice guy to have around for cheap.

New York Yankees
Starter:Jorge Posada .281/.405/.518 (Nyy) 6.47 DWS/1000
Backup:John Flaherty .267/.297/.457 (Nyy) 6.07 DWS/1000

Comparison between Posada and Varitek:
BA: Posada (.281-.273)
OB%: Posada (.405-.351)
Slug: Posada (.518-.512)
Runs: Posada (83-63)
2b: Varitek (31-24)
3b: Varitek (1-0)
HR: Posada (30-35)
GIDP: Varitek (10-13)
RC+: Posada (101-78)
RC/27+: Posada (7.42-5.99)

Now, any objective fan can look at those numbers and say that offensively, it isn’t very close. One objective measure found that Posada is better then Varitek defensively. I’m not willing to go that far, since Varitek is very good at blocking balls in the dirt, and Posada isn’t (by his own admission). I’d give Varitek an edge in defense, but not enough to really close the gap between the two.

Can intangibles do it?

Though the intangibles argument might be most relevant at catcher then any other defensive position, teams generally win and lose games based on performance, not how many times a player misses a photo shoot. Varitek might have intangibles that make Jeter blush, but Jorge Posada is just better.

John Flaherty can always say he broke up a Pedro Martinez no-hitter, and he was traded even up for Rich Rowland, a catcher of dubious age and skill level.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Starter: Toby Hall .253/.295/.380 (Tam) 6.32 DWS/1000
Backup: Brook Fordyce .273/.311/.371 (Bal) 3.64 DWS/1000

Toby Hall came into the league with the promise of a little bit of power, good defense, and a nifty little walk rate.

Right now the only thing that he succeeded in is becoming the best defensive catcher in the East.

It’s hard to find a silver lining to Hall’s offensive game. He doesn’t get on base. He doesn’t hit for power. He doesn’t hit for a high average. He had some potential that goes untapped. On the plus side, he doesn’t strike out very often. On the minus side, he’s 28 in 2004, and not likely to get better.

His goatee also looks like a scrotum. I figure why not continue to kick a guy when he’s down and not very good.

Brook Fordyce is funny because when ever he is up, I subconsciously I think about pitcher’s fear. People talk about how Bonds is feared, and how Rice was feared, and how so-and-so is feared. I was sitting in Camden Yards last August and thought “does any pitcher fear Brook Fordyce?”

As it turns out, Derek Lowe should. Fordyce kills him, to the tune of a .556 ob%. He has a higher slug against Wakefield.

Toronto Blue Jays
Starter: Greg Myers .307/.374/.502 (Tor) 1.30 DWS/1000
Backup:Kevin Cash .270/.331/.442 (Syr) 1.48 DWS/1000 (Tor)

Greg Myers was one of my favorite players in baseball last year. Here is a guy who has hung around 16 years, and set career highs in everything from games played to everything else at age 37.

Catchers at 37 aren’t supposed to have career years. Myers did. I actually have a feeling about this. All through Myers’ career, he was a back up catcher, and probably deservedly so. He wasn’t very good.

However, taking the Sabermetric axiom, “Good organizations accentuate what a players’ strength is, rather then expose his weaknesses are.” Last year the Blue Jays did just that, switching him from a backup catcher to the lefty half of a platoon. Myers responded by having his best year.

Generally, I would expect a pretty steep decline for Myers this year, since 38-year-old catchers don’t do well. Good thing the Blue Jays have Kevin Cash. I guess.

Two years ago, Cash, an undrafted free agent out of Florida St., moved more famous catching prospects Josh Phelps to 1B/DH, and Jayson Werth to the OF. From what his numbers look like in the minors, he looks like a good bet to have a backup catcher’s career. He’s a nice little guy to have around if you need someone who has a solid defensive reputation and can once in a while hit the ball. It worked for Brian Schiedner.

Rank for 2004
1. Jorge Posada
2. Jason Varitek
3. Javy Lopez
4. Greg Myers
5. Brook Fordyce
6. Toby Hall
7. Doug Mirabelli
8. Kevin Cash
9. John Flaherty
10. Geronimo Gil