Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Straw Stirring the Drink

You probably know that Darryl Strawberry is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year. You probably also know that Darryl Strawberry does not deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. What you may not know is how good a player he was. Some of you are probably too young to have seen him in all his raging glory - circa mid to late '80's. Others saw him play but now judge him through the haze of his drugging and lying, and his potential unreached. Let me remind you of the now hidden truth of the matter. Darryl Strawberry was a great player. He wasn't good. He wasn't very good. He was great, a true game-wrecker. Like many Met fans, I never was a huge fan of Straw's. I preferred the white hot intensity of Keith Hernandez to the cool frost of Darryl. But this does not diminish what Straw was; the greatest everyday player that the Mets ever had.
OK, I'll wait for you to get back in your seat, assuming you tumbled out of it after that sacriligious sentence. The Straw Man the greatest position player in Mets' history? Yes, I believe he was. His competitors for this distinction are the aforementioned Mex and Mike Piazza. All would be worthy choices, and each has a strong case. The purpose of this article is not to glorify Strawberry at the expense of these two Met icons. What would be the fun of that? The true fun is in annoying Yankee fans by weilding the one weapon that they have little aquaintance with - the truth. You see, to paraphrase a certain cinematic legend, "They can't handle the truth." How could they, since they have never been exposed to it. Now I don't expect many - or any - Yankee fans to visit this site, so I am commissioning you to do the dirty work. That's right, sidle up to that sanctimonious Yankee fan that you work with and just as he is about to bring his coffee cup to his lips, casually say this simple sentence, "Darryl Strawberry was better than Don Mattingly." Make sure that you are out of spitting range when you say this, because I would expect that a torrent of piping hot java will come spraying out of your colleague's mouth.
Oh, he'll huff and puff, and perhaps even suffer a mini-stroke. When he finally can put together a lucid thought he'll berate your baseball knowledge and try to have you institutionalized. That's when you'll ask him this series of questions:
Who averaged more home runs per season?
Who drove in more runs per season?
Who scored more runs per season?
Who had a higher on base percentage?
Who had a higher slugging percentage?
Who had a higher OPS?
As he does a slow burn, give him the answers - Straw, Straw, Straw, Donnie, Straw, Straw. Then inform him that the one category that Mattingly won, on base percentage, he did so by a whopping .001 percentage point, .358 to .357.
As for the other categories, Straw wins homers 34 to 20, RBI's 102 to 100, runs scored 92 to 91, slugging .505 to .471, and OPS .862 to .829. Granted, many of these categories are very close, but Straw played his prime in the National League in a pitcher's park. I would provide the league adjusted and park adjusted stats, but this is an argument best kept simple. And by the way, Straw could run and Donnie couldn't. Darryl stole 221 bags and Donnie stole 14.
Believe me, your friend/co-worker won't go down easily. Remember, as a Yankee fan he is used to an alternative reality, courtesy of Sterling, Kaye, and Waldman, the three stooges of journalism. Here are the arguments he'll throw your way:
1) Donnie had a higher batting average.
True, but who cares. The objective of the batter is to get on base and not make an out. Darryl did this better than Mattingly. Yes, Donnie Baseball has that whopping .001 lead in OBP, BUT he also hit into far more double plays, an average of 17 per year compared to 7 for the Straw. What does this mean? That even though Mattingly had a career batting average of .307 compared to Straw's paltry .259, Mattingly actually made more outs per year.
2) Poor Donnie hurt his back and that killed his career.
When they were both in their primes, Darryl was easily as good an offensive weapon as Mattingly, if not better. Here's a sampling - in the 7 seasons comprising their primes, 1983 to 1989, Darryl had the higher OPS in 4 of them, Donnie in 3.
Now, give your friend a chance to skulk away in silence. The truth hurts. But as he tries to make his escape, ask him what makes Derek Jeter better than Tejada, Garciaparra, and every other shortstop. You know what he'll say, because we've all heard it a thousand times before. He'll turn to you and tell you it's the championship rings. Even as he is saying it, he'll know that he has fallen into your trap. You see, Darryl's got three of them and Donnie has none.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Beltran Buyers Beware

Carlos Beltran is good. He is very good. He's just not as good as many pundits and talking heads say he is. Let's play a game called "Better or Worse than Carlos Beltran". It works this way. I provide a name and you quickly decide if that player is better or worse than Beltran. By the way, about the same is also an option. For each player, assume that he is in his prime as Beltran is now. Oh yeah, one more caveat. Forget intangibles and focus on quantifiable production. You know, things like on base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, and RBI's.

1) Willie Mays - See, I started it off easy.

2) Roger Cedeno - Again, we're just warming up.

3) Jim Edmonds - OK, now it's getting tougher.

4) Marquis Grissom

5) Andruw Jones

6) Trot Nixon

7) JD Drew

8) Moises Alou

9) Magglio Ordonez

10) Bernie Williams

My guess is that the average baseball fan would have answers very close to this pattern:
1) better
2) worse
3) worse
4) worse
5) worse
6) worse
7) worse
8) worse
9) worse
10) worse

Maybe I have put too much faith in the ability of the media to overhype a player, but I do believe that the typical fan - not you, of course - would answer in this way. Let's see how accurate these answers would be. Of course the first two are no brainers, with Mays being the better player and Cedeno the inferior player. The next 8 are trickier than you might think. In all honesty, I chose everyone except for Bernie Williams completely off the top of my head because I thought that their career averages would compare more favorably to Beltran's than most people would think. I had already run the numbers on Bernie a few weeks back, so I knew what to expect.
The stats I used are OBP, Slg.%, HR, RBI, and Runs. Let's see how Beltran ranks among the 8 outfielders who fill out slots 3 through 10. The only adjusted numbers allowing for peak performance are for Grissom and Williams because they are older players whose numbers have slipped considerably. Alou is roughly the same age as they are, but he has maintained a high performance and his career numbers are used.

OBP - Beltran ranks 7th out of 9. Only Grissom and Andruw Jones have lower OBP's than Beltran's .353.

Slugging % - Beltran ranks 8th out of the 9. His .490 is only better than Grissom's prime adjusted .425.

HR - The number I used here is out of a projected 162 games. Beltran does better here, coming in 6th out of 9 with an average of 27, better than Grissom, Bernie, and Nixon.

RBI's - Again, out of a projected 162 games. Carlos does well here, coming in 3rd with an average of 104.

Runs - Another strong showing from Beltran, as he leads the pack with 113 runs projected over 162 games.

Now, let's make some kind of score out of this. Each player is assigned their rank in each of the 5 categories, so the best score possible is a 5, and the worst is a 45. There were several ties (for example, both JD Drew and Moises Alou have slugging percentages of .513) so the numbers will not compute exactly as you might think. Here is the ranking:
1) Jim Edmonds scores a 12. No surprise to me here. I fully expected him to win easily. He's the best player on the list not named Mays.
2) Bernie Williams scores a 17. As a Yankee hater, I've never been much of a Williams fan. It's easy to make fun of his ridiculously poor defense, but the guy was a big time producer for a long time. And if you want to argue that he was aided by the great Yankee lineups, be aware that he scored his best here in OBP and Slugging, the two categories most dependent on his own performance.
3) Magglio Ordonez scores an 18. A great hitter, Magglio won the RBI category and scored high across the board. If both Beltran and Maggs hit the free agent market last winter, there's little doubt that Ordonez would have commanded more money. I still think he'll be this year's steal of the FA class (are you listening, Omar?).
4 & 5) Alou and Drew both score a 21. Interesting. Both guys are thought of as dubious clubhouse presences and oft-injured. Drew won the OBP category with an eye-popping .391. Alou was second in RBI's with an average of 109.
6) Beltran scores a 25. His low performances in several categories were offset by his win in runs scored. Being the best baserunner of the group surely helped here.
7) Jones scores a 29. He was at his worst with an 8th place OBP of .342 and at his best with a 2nd place HR average of 31.
8) Nixon scores a 32. Not bad for a guy not often placed in this kind of company. I had a hunch his numbers would not be out of place here, and they were not.
9) Grissom scores a 45. That means he took dead last in each category, even with an adjustment for his prime years. I expected better.

Does this mean that I think that Beltran is the 6th best player in this group. No, not at all. If I could have any of these players in their primes I would take Beltran 4th, skipping him over Drew and Alou. The point of all of these machinations is that Carlos Beltran is not far and away the best free agent on the market. He is not an elite, once in a lifetime player. He is a very good hitter, who runs well and defends well. He is not nearly as good as Jim Edmonds is now, and he is not as good an offensive player as Bernie Williams was in his prime. When you consider that Edmonds and Ordonez are demonstrably better, and then throw in other outfielders not evaluated here, it's fair to say that Beltran is not a top ten OF in major league baseball today.

Edmonds
Ordonez
Bonds
Guerrero
Sheffeild
Ramirez
M. Cabrerra
Berkman
Abreu
Finley
Ichiro
Crawford
Carlos Lee

Are all of these guys better than Beltran? No, but they're all in the discussion and I think that's the point. Would I want Beltran on a team I root for? Hell yes! All I'm saying is, let's temper the idea that he is a baseball god. Their are several outfielders who are obviously better, and many others who are comparable. The team that signs Beltran is getting a player who will probably hit .280, hit 28 bombs, drive in 110, and score 110. As good as this is, my guess is that fans will be expecting much more.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Maybe We'll Get Lucky, God Knows We've Got it Coming

There are only so many teams that pursue big ticket free agents, and only so many positions for these blue chippers to play. Based on these facts, I think the Metsies might actually sign a productive player or two this off-season. We certainly need a bopper for the OF, so let's start there. Here are the candidates:

Beltran
Drew
Alou
Ordonez

Essentially a centerfielder, two corner guys, and a guy who can maybe play anywhere (Drew). What teams need, or think they need, a slugging OF, and can probably afford one? The list is not that long. The Yanks will probably go hard after Beltran. Great, let them have him. He's very good, but not nearly as good as many think. For no particular reason I could see Drew going to the Red Sox to play RF or the Angels to play CF. He would be a great fit in either place. Alou is the least attractive candidate to most teams, due mostly to age and reputation. He is coming off a great year, however, so he'll make some dough. The Giants seem like a good fit. Dad is the manager, Barry needs protection, and I guess Alou could play RF, although it probably won't be pretty. In that situation Moises will - if he stays healthy - tear it up. I would bat Barry second in the lineup and Alou third. If Moises can stay off the treadmill he'll put up 110 ribby's minimum. Now Ordonez is left, and who will court him. God, let it be the Metropolitans. He's the best pure hitter in the group and is still only 31 years of age. If any of this shakes down as theorized above, the Mets' competition for Magglio will be Baltimore, the Cubs, and maybe Texas. Assuming he shows well when he works out at the GM meetings, we've got to lock this guy up. Let the others compete for Beltran while we woo Magglio.
The other black hole in our lineup figures to be first base. I don't have a good feeling about this one. Delgado is the best available, in my mind a far better option than Sexon, but I don't see him as the type of guy who would consider NY as a home base. You might think this is insane, but signing Castilla and moving him to first would have been a good idea. Of course, a better idea is doing the same with Glaus, but I don't know if Glaus is up for this. My guess is we end up with the proverbial slick fielder, which, in Metsspeak, means low salaried. Let me be clear on one thing. I DO NOT WANT NICK JOHNSON. He is largely a media creation. That is one soft 26 year old. If the Mets do go cheap at first, I'd much rather have Doug Mentkeiwicz (I don't even concern myself with spelling his name right). Please forget any in-house solutions - Philips or Brazell. These guys are not the answer.
Here's where a Piazza deal makes some sense. The rumors include deals for Green and Erstad. Both would be good solutions at first, but then who catches. As Casey Stengel once said, without a catcher you'd have a lot of passed balls. I don't think that Vance Wilson is an everyday player, but neither are half the catchers in baseball. Maybe a combo of Wilson and the rookie, Hietpas, would be adequate. Notice no mention of Philips again. I'm really down on him. All in all, I think I'd rather have Piazz and try to find a first baseman without dealing Mike.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Welcome to Metropolitan's Musings

What the hell, everyone is doing it. I figured I like the Mets as much as anybody, and I like to write about them, so here goes. Hopefully some of you will enjoy the site and I'll see how much of any worth I have to say. Let's start with a holiday wish. It is now Thanksgiving night and good timing for a Christmas (or Hanukkah) list. Here goes:
1) A slugging first baseman. To hell with the slick fielders (Mientkewiecz) or used-to-be's (Olerud), I want a truly feared slugger. My first choice is Delgado, followed by Sexon.
2) A slugging corner outfielder. Believe it or not, I can live without Beltran. Now, believe me, I can live with him also, but I would target Magglio Ordonez to play RF. He is a better hitter than Beltran - trust me, look it up - and will come cheaper, allowing wish number 1 to also come true.
3) Trade Floyd for middle relief. Forget Sosa, send Cliff packing along with some cash to offset his salary, and pick up a good arm or two for the bullpen. Scott Shields would be a good start.
4) With LF now open, pencil in Victor Diaz and let him hit. Everyday. All season. Some guys, very few mind you, but some guys just look like hitters and Diaz is one of them. I think .280 with 20 HR's and 80 RBI's is realistic.
5) Sign a good starting pitcher. I kind of like Clement because of his stuff - it's nasty.
6) Sit back and enjoy this lineup:
Wright 3b
Reyes SS
Ordonez RF
Delgado 1b
Piazza C
Diaz LF
Cameron CF
Matsui 2b

Yes, I know I'm the only one who has considered Wright for leadoff, but it makes all kinds of sense. Trust me.