SweetSpot: Detroit Tigers

Royals could derail Tigers' big plans

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10

As the final seconds of the non-waiver trade deadline ticked down, the Kansas City Royals found themselves five games behind the first-place Detroit Tigers in the American League Central. They had closed the gap (from a season-high eight games back) over the previous 10 days, but all of a sudden, the hill Kansas City was trying to climb began to look more like a mountain. A 6-foot-6 mountain named David Price.

The big left-hander was traded to the Tigers in a deadline deal that gave Detroit three former Cy Young Award winners in its rotation. Meanwhile, the Royals -- who had inquired about trading for Price earlier in July -- stood pat. It looked like the big-budget Tigers were flexing their financial muscle in an attempt to leave Kansas City in the rearview mirror.

Hang on a minute. That's not quite how it has worked out so far. Since the Price trade, the Royals have shaved 3.5 games off Detroit's lead, and after Saturday's games, Kansas City is only 1 games out of first place. We now have a race in the AL Central that rivals the barn burner in the National League's Central division.

This is shaping up to be an exceptionally bad weekend for the Tigers. First of all, right-hander Anibal Sanchez was forced to leave Friday’s game in the fifth inning after suffering what is being described as a right pectoral strain on a pickoff attempt. Sanchez has never won a Cy Young, and he hasn't pitched as well as he did last year when he was the AL ERA leader, but he's still a 2.8 WAR player with a 3.53 ERA (and a 2.71 FIP). Any extended absence would test Detroit's rotation.

Then, on Saturday, the Tigers blew a ninth-inning lead when Toronto's Jose Reyes singled off Detroit closer Joe Nathan to begin the inning, stole second, advanced to third on a fly ball, and scored on Dioner Navarro's RBI single. The Jays ultimately won it on Nolan Reimold's walk-off double in the 10th inning.

It was Nathan's sixth blown save of the season, and one wonders how long Tigers manager Brad Ausmus can stick with him at the back of the bullpen. Nathan's ERA (5.36) is the worst mark he has posted since he was a skinny 25-year-old in San Francisco; his strikeout percentage is down, and his walk percentage is up. If the 39-year-old hasn't finally reached the end of his road, he's creeping ever closer.

Meanwhile, the Royals are just taking care of business. After Saturday's 5-0 whitewashing of the Giants, Kansas City has won six straight series, and has won eight of nine games since the Price trade. Against the Giants, it was one of Price's old Tampa Bay teammates who provided the highlights for the Royals.

James Shields tossed a four-hit shutout, striking out five and walking just one to improve his record to 11-6 with a 3.25 ERA; only two Giants were even able to reach second base. It was Shields' ninth career shutout, but his first as a Royal, and it could not have come at a better time. This year, Shields has been much the same pitcher as he has been for the past four years, though his walk rate has dropped substantially (his 1.89 BB/9 is his best since 2008). Shields isn't your typical ace (he's kind of been chronically overrated since a very good 2011 season), and he certainly isn't Price, but he's an effective starter.

On the offensive side, Alex Gordon had two hits, including a solo homer in the fifth that opened the scoring (and would prove to be the winning margin, as it turned out). The Royals broke open the game with a four-run seventh inning, but Shields' heroics carried the day.

Saturday morning, an alarm went off at the Toronto hotel where the Tigers are staying. Foreshadowing, perhaps? The Royals have won 14 of their past 17 games, they play Detroit six more times in September, and stand in a good position to derail all of the Tigers' big plans.

Ain't baseball grand?

Chad Dotson writes for Redleg Nation on the SweetSpot Network.
You know, Fernando Rodney has never really been that good. He had 44 good innings for the Tigers in 2005 and he was tough to hit in 2006, when he had a 3.52 ERA. But from 2007 through 2011, he posted a 4.42 ERA, hardly impressive for a relief pitcher, and allowed a ton of baserunners (1.50 WHIP) as he always walked too many batters (5.2 walks per 9). He lucked into 37 saves for the Tigers in 2009 despite a 4.40 ERA and other uninspiring numbers (41 walks, 61 strikeouts, eight home runs in 75.2 innings).

So of course the Angels gave him $11 million, and then were surprised when it turned he was wild and ineffective.

And then the Tampa Bay Rays signed him. The Rays are always in search of power arms for their bullpen. Sure enough, Kyle Farnsworth gets hurt, Joe Maddon decides to sort of make Rodney his closer, he starts throwing strikes for the first time in his career and now he's 2-0 with 11 saves, no blown saves, no extra-base hits allowed and a .232 opponents' OBP, more than 100 points below his .342 career mark.

Can he keep it up? Look, I've learned never to bet against Maddon, but we have a long track record of wildness from Rodney. I doubt the Rays were the first team to tell him, "Throw more strikes."

Anyway, it's been an interesting season for closers, with nearly half the teams in baseball needing to replace their projected closer since spring training began. Of 33 relievers to record at least three saves, only 16 of them have an ERA under 3.00. We have 46 starting pitchers with an ERA under 3.00. Fifteen closers have an opponents' OBP under .300; 52 starters do. (Yes, there are more starters than closers, but still ... shouldn't the guy pitching three innings a week be a little more dominant?)

While Rodney has been perfect, closers have struggled:
  • Miami's Heath Bell has three losses, four blown saves, a 10.03 ERA and 30 baserunners allowed in just 11.2 innings. He's basically unusable right now, even if he's a Proven Closer.
  • Jose Valverde, Mr. Perfect a year ago for Detroit, is proving you can walk a tightrope for an entire season but that your luck will eventually run out. He has two blown saves, a 5.51 ERA and 12 walks in 16.1 innings.
  • Frank Francisco has three losses for the Mets, two blown saves, an ERA on the wrong side of 8, one ejection and too many walks.
  • Henry Rodriguez, who replaced the injured Drew Storen in Washington, throws 100 mph but has three blown saves (two of which were losses). I guess he's not a Proven Closer.

And so on. Let's just say you know it's a strange season when we're singing the praises of Fernando Rodney.

Kernels of Wisdom: Week in review

April, 14, 2012

  • Austin Jackson scored a run in each of the Tigers' first six games this season. That was the longest streak by a Detroit batter to start a season since Darrell Evans crossed the plate in each of the first eight contests in 1986. And it's the longest streak by a Tigers leadoff hitter since 1939, when one of Jackson's center field predecessors, Barney McCosky, also scored in the first eight games of the season. In game seven on Friday, however, Jackson was on base only once (he walked in the eighth) and was stranded at third.
  • [+] EnlargeAustin Jackson
    Duane Burleson/AP PhotoAustin Jackson is having a solid season for the Tigers early on.
    The Red Sox managed to blow a three-run lead in the ninth and a two-run lead in the 11th in losing a wild one to Detroit on Sunday, 13-12. It was the first time Boston had scored a dozen runs and lost since May 31, 1970, when they were on the wrong end of a 22-13 slugfest with the White Sox at Fenway.
  • Alfredo Aceves gave up all three ninth-inning runs in Sunday’s game without retiring a batter, making him just the second Red Sox pitcher in the live-ball era to work zero innings pitched in each of his first two appearances of the year. Guido Grilli faced one batter each in the first two games of the 1966 season, and didn't get either of them out.
  • The Tigers used eight pitchers in that 13-12, come-from-behind win over the Red Sox. It marked just the second time in 70 years that Detroit had come back to win a game in which their starter surrendered seven-plus runs without getting through the third inning. Omar Olivares was the starter in 1997 when the Tigers rallied to beat Baltimore 11-8.
  • On Sunday, the Yankees managed just three hits -- all doubles. That same day, the Twins had just two hits as Jason Hammel posted the longest no-hit bid of the year so far. Both Minnesota knocks were doubles. It's the first time in almost three years that two teams have done that on the same day. But then … the Royals did it against Oakland (three hits, three doubles) on Monday … and the Athletics did it against Kansas City (one hit) on Tuesday.It's the first time since at least 1917 that there have been three straight days where a team had every hit be a double.
  • On Sunday, Jeff Samardzija (making just his sixth career start) was afforded the chance at a complete game. He had to be pulled after giving up a two-out homer that pulled the Nationals to within a run. Four days later, Matt Garza was en route to a shutout against Milwaukee, but was pulled after committing a two-out error that allowed the inning to continue. So the Cubs had two pitchers this week leave the game after 8.2 innings pitched.The Cubs hadn't had two pitchers work exactly 8.2 innings in the same season since 1995 (Jaime Navarro and Frank Castillo).
  • In Sunday's Cardinals-Brewers game, you could say the teams spread it around. In the 9-3 Milwaukee victory, the 12 runs were charged to eight different pitchers. In fact, every hurler who appeared in the game ended up with at least one earned run on his record.It's the first game in eight seasons where the teams combined to use eight or more pitchers, and every single one of them got charged with at least one earned run. The last time that happened was on Sept. 9, 2004, when the Royals erupted for a 26-5 victory over the Tigers in the first game of a doubleheader.
  • James Shields got called for a balk Wednesday on an illegal pickoff throw to third. That was in the bottom of the fifth -- after Justin Verlander had been called for his own balk in the top of the fifth.It was the first MLB game to feature balks by both teams in the same inning since Aug. 16, 2004, when the Rangers' Mickey Callaway and then-Indian CC Sabathia committed them in the fourth inning of a 5-2 Texas win.
  • In that same game, Verlander threw eight shutout innings before getting tagged for four runs and the loss in the top of the ninth. He became the first pitcher to throw eight scoreless innings, then surrender four (or more) runs in the ninth to take a loss since Tim Hudson did it for the Braves on Sept. 22, 2005. Hudson allowed a three-run homer to Shane Victorino of the Phillies for most of that damage before Macay McBride had to come in and get the final out.
  • In Monday's Yankees-Orioles game, Derek Jeter went a perfect 4-for-4 for the visitors, while Matt Wieters went a perfect 4-for-4 in the home dugout. It was the first game this year to feature two players with four-hit games.Since the start of 2010, there's been only one other MLB game where a player for each team went a perfect 4-for-4 or better -- and it was between the Orioles and Yankees. On July 30, 2011, Vladimir Guerrero’s 4-for-4 was the bright spot for Baltimore as the Yankees -- led by Robinson Cano's 5-for-5 -- demolished them 17-3.
  • In Yu Darvish's much-anticipated major league debut on Monday, he allowed five earned runs, four walks, hit a batter, threw one wild pitch -- and won the game because the Rangers spotted him eight runs.He's the first pitcher in the live-ball era to win his major league debut while giving up all of those stats (or worse). Even take away the wild pitch, and only one other hurler has hit five earned runs, four walks, one HBP and a win in his debut. That was the Blue Jays' Matt Williams on Aug. 2, 1983.
  • Jeff Gray of the Twins earned the first one-pitch victory of the season on Wednesday. Gray threw his one and only pitch to Peter Bourjos to end the top of the seventh, after which the Twins took the lead in the bottom of the inning. The Twins, conveniently, recorded the last one-pitch win last season, by Matt Capps on Sept. 23.
  • Speaking of pitching oddities, the Royals-Athletics game was finally called in the top of the eighth inning on Tuesday after its second rain delay. Aaron Crow, who had pitched the seventh for the Royals, was credited with his first career save. Technically, he does meet the save criteria set forth in the rule book, notably that of being the "finishing pitcher" in a game his team won.The last player to be credited with a save prior to the ninth inning was Tony Sipp of the Indians, who received one in a rain-shortened affair with Tampa Bay on July 23, 2010. That also remains Sipp's only career save.
  • On Tuesday, Freddy Garcia of the Yankees famously threw five wild pitches to tie the single-game American League record for such a thing. He was also the first pitcher to throw five-plus wild pitches in an outing of less than five innings. But two of those wild pitches scored runs for Baltimore. Another run scored on an error. That made the Orioles the first team in two years to score four-plus runs with one or fewer RBI. (The one RBI they did get came on a home run.)For the Orioles, it was just the second time since moving to Baltimore that they scored four runs on one or zero RBI. The other was in their inaugural year: On June 27, 1954, they scored three times on errors by the Athletics before finally walking off on an RBI single in the bottom of the 11th.
  • Oakland "walked off" in unusual fashion on Wednesday when Jonathan Broxton plunked Yoenis Cespedes and Jonny Gomes to force in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th. It was the first game to end with back-to-back hit batters since Sept. 2, 1966, when Stu Miller of the Orioles hit Al Weis and Tommie Agee of the White Sox in the bottom of the 11th. (I admit that Elias found this a lot quicker than I would have.) However, Gomes became the first Athletics batter to get hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in extra innings since at least 1947. (It had never happened in the Baseball Reference "play index" era.) It's also noteworthy that Oakland scored its two runs in the 12th without a base hit. The three runners ahead of Cespedes reached on two walks and an error.
  • Before Friday, there had been 36 double-digit strikeout games by teams this week (including seven games where both teams did it) but not one by a single pitcher. Max Scherzer's 11-strikeout outing on Friday afternoon broke that string.
  • In Wednesday's 17-8 eruption between the Giants and Rockies, there were four pitchers (Tim Lincecum, Jeremy Guthrie, Guillermo Mota, Jeremy Affeldt)who all gave up at least six hits and at least five runs. It's the first time that that has happened since July 17, 1998, when Seattle dropped an 18-5 score on the Royals at the Kingdome.(It is also very intriguing that, in that game, both teams posted a seven-run inning. Except I don't know of a good way to search line scores.)

    By the way, on their next two games on Thursday and Friday, the Giants promptly had two pitchers (Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain)carry no-hit bids into the sixth inning. The only team to have bids in consecutive games last season was also the Giants. That happened on May 8 and 10 by Ryan Vogelsong and Lincecum.
  • The Orioles and Blue Jays combined to hit seven home runs in Baltimore's 7-5 victory on Friday. All were solo shots. It's the first game with seven-plus home runs that were all solo since a July 20, 2010 game at Camden Yards between the Rays and Orioles.
  • There's always one guy left out.In the 10-9 "pitchers’ duel" between the Twins and Angels on Thursday, 17 of the 18 starters recorded at least one base hit. Howard Kendrick was the lone collar, going 0-for-4 plus a walk.

    It's the first nine-inning game this season to have 17 different starters record a base hit. There were three games last season where all 18 did.
  • Minnesota got a four-hit game from Denard Span and three-hit games from Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham and Danny Valencia. It's the first time the Twins have had four players with three hits, including at least one with four, since they dropped a 20-1 score on the White Sox on May 21, 2009.

2012 predictions you couldn't predict?

February, 18, 2012
Last year, You Can't Predict Baseball came up with bold predictions for the year. We had a lot of fun coming up with them, and then laughing at how hilariously wrong they were at the end of the year. This year, we're bringing these predictions to SweetSpot, along with explanations for some of them. Keep in mind, these predictions are supposed to be bold, but not insane -- even we know the Orioles aren't going to the playoffs in 2012.

Los Angeles Angels: Kendrys Morales stays healthy all year.

Houston Astros: Bud Norris is top five in K/9 in the NL. We figured something good had to happen to the Astros, right? Norris actually has a pretty nice career K/9.

Oakland Athletics: Yoenis Cespedes is their starting center fielder by Memorial Day.

Toronto Blue Jays: Brandon Morrow makes the jump to elite starting pitcher. He's struck out more than 10 batters per 9 innings two years running, though his ERAs have remained ugly. We think this is the year his results finally match the stuff, especially considering his declining walk rate.

Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran has more wins than Tim Hudson.

[+] EnlargeRickie Weeks
AP Photo/David J. PhillipWith Prince Fielder gone to Detroit and Ryan Braun facing possible disciplinary action, Rickie Weeks could lead the Milwaukee Brewers in home runs in 2012.
Milwaukee Brewers: Rickie Weeks leads the team in home runs. He was fourth on the team last year, with 20. In front of him were Corey Hart with 26, Ryan Braun with 33, and Prince Fielder with 38. Fielder is gone, and for this prediction we'll assume Braun will miss a third of the year due to a suspension. It's not too bold to think Weeks could pass Hart in 2012.

St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Beltran outproduces Albert Pujols from last year. Albert Pujols was great last year, but not quite best-player-of-his-generation Albert Pujols. If healthy, it's not absurd to think of Beltran outproducing Pujols' 5.1 WAR in 2011.

Chicago Cubs: Matt Garza isn't their best pitcher. It'll be Ryan Dempster, who had great peripherals but bad results last year.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Aaron Hill will be good again. He was great with them in limited time, and Arizona's park is quite hitter-friendly.

Los Angeles Dodgers: James Loney will be a top-three first baseman in the National League. Many thanks to Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness for somewhat alerting us to this one. We just decided to take it semi-absurdly far.

San Francisco Giants: Madison Bumgarner is their best pitcher. In terms of ERA, he already wasn't very far behind Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, and his K/BB ratio eclipsed theirs by quite a bit.

Cleveland Indians: They'll have the best pitching in the American League Central. We're banking on Ubaldo Jimenez, making a major comeback to something closer to what he was in 2010, and the rest of the staff displaying the good that they did in 2011. We're also counting on the Tigers' starters not being very impressive behind Justin Verlander, which is bold but not quite insane, and the pitching of the White Sox, Twins and Royals not being able to keep up with Cleveland's.

Seattle Mariners: Jesus Montero catches 100-plus games. The Mariners probably aren't going to compete, so why not try and play him where he'll accrue the most value?

Miami Marlins: Despite all their new acquisitions and the hype, they still finish fourth in the NL East. When you think about it, this one isn't so crazy. If Josh Johnson isn't healthy and maybe even if he is their pitching still trails that of Philadelphia, Washington, and Atlanta; even with Heath Bell, we don't think their bullpen is as good, either. Their offense might be better than some of those teams', but the Marlins were quite a bit below league average offensively last year and we're not sure how much Jose Reyes is going to make up for that.

New York Mets: Mike Pelfrey is the worst starter in the NL. Pelfrey's been pretty terrible two of the past three years, and now they're moving the fences in at Citi Field. He was far better in his huge home stadium, but we're guessing with the moved-in walls he'll be significantly worse at Citi. Here at YCPB, we actually don't think the Mets are going to be quite as dire as many are saying, even if they do come in last place in the NL East - but Pelfrey won't be a bright spot.

Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg has a 17-strikeout game.

Baltimore Orioles: Matt Wieters is the best catcher in the AL. A lot of people are so obsessed with Wieters not matching the hype that they didn't notice he became a plus offensive performer last year, to go along with very good defense. His taking the next step isn't that bold as predictions go, especially if Joe Mauer has to move off catcher.

San Diego Padres: Luke Gregerson is a top-three closer in the NL.

Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels is their best starter. And this isn't meant to be a slight to Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, but considering their ages and the fact that Hamels is pretty darn good himself, plus a possible boost from a contract year...

Pittsburgh Pirates: Charlie Morton is their All-Star.

Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish isn't their best starter -- but he's still good. And we think he'll be pretty good, we just think Derek Holland will become more consistently good, or Matt Harrison will put up numbers like his 2011.

Tampa Bay Rays: James Shields will have no complete games. Predicting someone to have no complete games might not seem bold, but it is when it's a guy who was known as "Complete Game James" last season. Shields did have 11 complete games in 2011, an almost unheard-of number these days, but he had no complete games in 2009 or 2010.

[+] EnlargeJames Shields
Kim Klement/US PresswireAfter none in either 2009 or 10, James Shields pitched 11 complete games for Tampa Bay in 2011.
Boston Red Sox: No one hits 30 home runs. This might seem crazy when you consider their great offensive numbers last year, but only one player on their team hit 30 home runs and it was Jacoby Ellsbury with 32.

Cincinnati Reds: Brandon Phillips is the best second baseman in the NL.

Colorado Rockies: Jamie Moyer will have the best HR/9 on the staff.

Kansas City Royals: They reach .500. While their pitching won't be great, their offense will take a big step forward this year. Combined with the rest of their division being the Tigers and some dumpster fires, it's not that difficult to see it happening.

Detroit Tigers: They score fewer runs than they did in 2011. Yes, that’s even with Fielder. It's not improbable that Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila and Delmon Young regress quite a bit from their numbers with Detroit last year, and that Prince Fielder's production "only" makes up for the offensive loss of Victor Martinez in 2012. They'll still have a very good offense, though.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer hits 15 home runs.

Chicago White Sox: Robin Ventura gets ejected more times than Ozzie Guillen. Look at the state of the White Sox. We'd get ejected too.

New York Yankees: Hiroki Kuroda leads the team in ERA.

You Can't Predict Baseball is an affiliate of the SweetSpot network.

Rain dampens Tigers' Verlander plans

October, 9, 2011

To “Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain," Detroit fans will have to come up a new baseball mantra ... just as soon as they can come up with a rain-related word that rhymes with Verlander.

For the second time in a week, the league’s best pitcher had his playoff start shortened by rain when Game 1 of the ALCS was delayed in the fifth inning. Not that Justin Verlander was in top form anyway. His command was off and he allowed three runs in four innings – which was enough to lose the game -- and threw 82 pitches. He threw 49 in the first two innings.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Justin Verlander
Tim Heitman/US PRESSWIREJustin Verlander looks on after giving up a solo home run to Nelson Cruz.
So how does this affect the series? Well, it definitely doesn’t help the Tigers, who need Verlander to be the ace he was during the season. Manager Jim Leyland said he and his staff would have to talk and figure out what to do about Game 4 Wednesday. His choices are to start Verlander on short rest or go with previously scheduled starter Rick Porcello. Porcello pitched two innings in relief of Verlander but only threw 22 pitches, so he still could be able to go Wednesday. Regardless of which way Leyland goes, this is the bottom line: The less Verlander is on the mound, the worse it is for the Tigers. Losing Game 1 puts them in a big hole.

Texas starter CJ Wilson, meanwhile, couldn’t be happy with the decision to resume the game after the first rain delay in the top of the fifth inning. Wilson struggled the first two innings — five baserunners — but he had gotten into a groove, striking out the side in the fourth and taking a 3-0 lead into the fifth. He gave up a leadoff double to Ramon Santiago when the clouds opened and the umpires halted the game. Play resumed after a 41-minute delay, but only for 13 minutes. Which was just enough for Wilson to give up a run-scoring double, walk three batters (one intentionally), throw a wild pitch, load the bases and turn his 3-0 lead into a 3-2 lead before the rains resumed. And that lead held up thanks to the exceptional work by the Texas bullpen.

Alexi Ogando continued his dominance of the Tigers, throwing two scoreless innings and picking up the victory (in an official scorer's decision because Wilson did not pitch five innings). He was the only Texas starter to beat Detroit this season, going 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA. Manager Ron Washington held him out of the postseason rotation, though, out of concern that he had already been extended enough in his first full season as starter. He’s been lights-out in relief, adding great depth to the Texas bullpen. The Rangers relievers were great, allowing no runs and only a bunt single in 4 1/3 innings. They struck out eight, including three by Neftali Feliz.

In addition to Verlander, the Tigers must also be concerned about the loss of Delmon Young from the lineup. They definitely missed him Saturday. The Tigers staff can pitch as well as possible — but Detroit still will need to score runs.

The BBWAA's worst mistake

March, 3, 2011
Ryne Sandberg was the most famous second baseman of the 1980s. In 2005 (his third try), Sandberg went into the Hall of Fame. And deservedly so, I think.

Lou Whitaker, however, was the BEST second baseman of the 1980s. In 2001, Whitaker received 15 of 515 votes (2.9 percent) and fell off the ballot forever. And that's the biggest mistake the BBWAA has ever made.

[+] EnlargeLou Whitaker
US PresswireDetroit Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
I don't have the time (or space) to prove this, but second basemen seem to burn out faster than any position other than catcher. The abrupt fade of Roberto Alomar was unusual, but not THAT unusual, for someone at his position. Also, of course, it's traditionally been a defense-first position.

So while Whitaker's career line doesn't scream "Hall of Fame," put into the context of his position (and without the support of newfangled stats like WAR), the case becomes clearer. When Sweet Lou retired, among players to have primarily played second base, he was seventh all time in plate appearances (and less than one season's worth away from third), ninth in hits, ninth in doubles, fifth in homers, eighth in runs, ninth in RBI, and fourth in walks.

That may or may not sound like a Hall of Famer to you, but it certainly is. Every player ahead of Whitaker on every one of those lists, and even several behind him, is now in the Hall. And it's not as though he was a mere "compiler" (whatever that means); his 116 OPS+ is equal to or better than 10 of the 18 major league second basemen currently in the Hall of Fame as players. Craig Biggio, Alomar and Jeff Kent have since passed him in many of those categories above, but only Alomar was even arguably in Whitaker's class defensively. I hate to repeat my Jim Edmonds argument from last week, but there's a legitimate argument in 2011 that if you're a top-10 all-time player at your position, you should be in the Hall.

And he was better than Sandberg. Ryno had more speed and a touch more power (the difference is exaggerated by the park he got to play in), but a hitter's most important skill is getting on base, and Whitaker's 19-point advantage in OBP -- over a longer career -- is vital. To match Whitaker's on-base ability (ignoring park and league differences) in equal opportunities, Sandberg would have had to play one more season in which he reached base 433 times in 685 trips. He couldn't have grounded into a single double play, and he would have to put up a .632 OBP -- crushing Barry Bonds' single-season record of .609. Looked at differently, Sandberg collected 19 more hits than Whitaker and hit nearly 40 more homers, but Whitaker reached base more than 400 more times. It shouldn't be that hard to see which of those was more valuable.

And the metrics suggest Whitaker was every bit Sandberg's equal on defense, to say the least. Both were excellent, and Sandberg won nine Gold Gloves to Whitaker's three, but Sandberg didn't have to contend with an incumbent like Frank White, one of the two greatest ever to field the position.

One could argue that Sandberg's best was better than Whitaker's best, and that's probably true. Whitaker was never QUITE as good as Sandberg was in '83, and didn't have four consecutive seasons that can quite match Ryno's '89-'92. But he also didn't suffer the valleys Sandberg did in the mid-'80s, and I'd argue that "consistently good and sometimes great" can be just as valuable as "inconsistent but sometimes slightly greater."

Even if you'd still put Sandberg above Whitaker, though, it's close enough that there's no way one should get in easily and the other should be one-and-done. They're both Hall of Famers, and you shouldn't need fancy new metrics to see it.

The writers have made errors of omission before, of course. Ron Santo was a huge one, and they're making one now with Lou's teammate Alan Trammell. But at least with those players, they took the full 15 years to think it over. Letting a rock-solid Hall of Famer like Whitaker fall through the cracks on the first try is the biggest mistake they've ever made.

Bill spouts this kind of nonsense regularly on The Platoon Advantage, and in shorter, snarkier form on Twitter.

Victor Martinez's price too high for Red Sox

November, 24, 2010
To this point, it's not been a great offseason for the Red Sox, who lost one of their best players when Victor Martinez signed with the Tigers. Here's Alex Speier on the (non-)move, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia's apparent ascendance:
    So, why did the Sox balk?

    Multiple Red Sox sources indicated they felt that, even with the strides that Martinez made this year to perform at a respectable level, he is unlikely to remain a viable everyday catcher for more than two more seasons. After that, he would likely be consigned to duty as a designated hitter and first baseman. When that happens, his value will drop precipitously.

    That might explain why the Sox initially approached Martinez with a two-year offer during the season. His current production as a catcher would justify one of the richest contracts ever for a backstop. And this past year, his OPS ranked fifth in the majors among catchers.

    But even his current production as a DH/first baseman would have been far more modest. His .838 OPS would have ranked 18th among DH/first basemen, just ahead of Jack Cust (a likely non-tender candidate by the A’s) and just behind Vladimir Guerrero (whose $9 million option was declined by the Rangers).

And that's really that. If Martinez can't (or won't be allowed to) catch, he's not worth the money the Tigers gave him. He's not really worth what the Red Sox supposedly offered him, either (three years, $36 million, or four and $40 million). But the Red Sox can afford to overpay a little.

Not a lot, though. Four years and $50 million is a lot if Martinez isn't catching regularly in the third and fourth years.

More to the point, the Red Sox understand a simple truth about free agents in their 30s: They're a great way to look foolish. If you make a list of the 100 worst moves in the last 30 years, you're going to find a few trades and a bumper crop of contracts given to free agents in their 30s.

Victor Martinez is almost 32. If he's not still playing brilliantly at 34 and 35, it's not a killer. Given MLB's ever-expanding revenues and the relatively modest, $12.5 million Average Annual Value (AAV) of the deal, it won't rank among the dozen worst contracts in the majors. It's just not the sort of thing you can do much of, and still expect to win almost every year. Which is why the Red Sox aren't doing it.

Meanwhile ... Jarrod Saltalamacchia? Sorry, but I'm not buying it. The good news is that a) Salty's a switch-hitter, and b) Salty's fared significantly better against right-handed pitchers, as a major leaguer. As it happens, there's a certain Red Sox captain who just happens to c) also be a switch-hitter, and d) fare somewhat better against left-handed pitchers. This certain someone is old and can't really throw, but he's been there forever and there are people in the front office who think the world of him.

A Saltamacchia/Varitek platoon (of sorts) next year won't give the Red Sox the production they got from Martinez this year. But it should be decent in the short term, while helping the franchise avoid a long-term mistake.

Sparky was one of the greats

November, 4, 2010
Just last week -- and just before the passing of Artie Wilson -- I mentioned how lucky we are to still have Willie Mays and Bob Feller and Stan Musial and Yogi Berra among us. I should have mentioned Sparky Anderson, who today joined Artie Wilson in The Great Ballpark in the Sky.

The Daily Fungo:
    The 1984 season will always be remembered as Sparky’s enduring gift to Detroit and to Tigers fans everywhere. But for me, the 1987 season was just as thrilling in many ways. After 30 games the club was just 11-19 and looked tired. Then they woke up and hung around the top of the AL East before sweeping the Blue Jays during the final weekend of the season to win the division. A few years later I sneaked into the Tigers’ Winter Caravan in Kalamazoo and asked Sparky about that ’87 team. “Of all the teams I’ve managed, that’s the one I’m most proud of,” he said. “No one gave us a chance and we shocked them all.”People say that by winning the World Series in ’84 Sparky got a lifetime pass in Detroit. There’s probably some truth to that. After all, the Tigers’ record from 1985 to 1995 was just 852-864 — not dazzling but not enough to get Sparky Anderson fired. That just wasn’t going to happen in Detroit.

Sparky always seemed ancient to me. Partly because it seemed like he'd been around forever, but mostly because of that white hair and those deep creases that, even in his early 50s, punctuated his face. He also seemed to me the closest to Casey Stengel that I would ever experience personally, as Sparky loved to spend five minutes saying something that could just as easily -- if not nearly as entertainingly -- have been said in 30 seconds.

It does seem odd that Sparky Anderson could have managed the Tigers for so long -- he managed the Tigers nearly twice as long as he managed the Reds -- and been a losing manager during most of his tenure. It does seem odd that Sparky's Tigers never came close to making the playoffs in his last seven seasons as manager.

It seems oddest of all that the Tigers still have not retired Sparky Anderson's number. Bill James once suggested -- as only he can (or could; Bill has softened over the years) -- that Sparky had cost the Tigers 20 wins per season. Of course, Bill wrote that almost immediately before the Tigers won 104 games and eventually the World Series.

The last bit of his managerial career didn't go nearly as well. Maybe someday we'll try to figure out why. Maybe someday we'll try to figure out how many wins Sparky really cost the Tigers before 1984. (I'm willing to bet it wasn't 20 per season.) Someday we'll also figure out what Sparky meant to the Big Red Machine.

Today, though? He was one of the great ones. When he retired, he'd won more games than every manager except John McGraw and Connie Mack. His teams had won nearly 55 percent of their games, seven division titles, five league championships and three World Series.

Ultimately, we measure managers by how many games they won. And by that measurement, today we lost a truly great manager.

Scherzer makes deal look even better

August, 27, 2010
Gleeman on a deal that's worked out quite nicely for the Tigers (if not well enough, this season):
    When the Tigers demoted Max Scherzer to Triple-A in mid-May he was 1-4 with an ugly 7.29 ERA, but since returning following a two-week stint in Toledo he's been one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.

    Scherzer tossed eight innings of one-run ball against the Blue Jays last night, improving to 9-5 with a 2.20 ERA, .215 opponents' batting average, and 116 strikeouts in 111 innings since rejoining the rotation.

Just another chance to revisit the big three-team deal from last winter that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees; Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth, Phil Coke, and Austin Jackson to the Tigers; and Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson to the Diamondbacks. And last month the Diamondbacks flipped Jackson to the White Sox for Daniel Hudson (and 19-year-old pitching prospect David Holmberg).

So far, the Tigers and Diamondbacks have come out way ahead on this deal, and the Yankees have come out ... well, not so far ahead. Granderson's been decent, but it's a cold fact that Austin Jackson alone has been more valuable than Granderson ... and the Yankees gave up Ian Kennedy and Phil Coke, too. Both of whom have been quite good.

Has anyone put together a complete database of trades that would allow one to study (for example) the results of trading young players for older players? I doubt the comprehensive results would be as dramatic as this particular deal. But I suspect trading veterans for kids works less often than it does.

These Questions 3: Kathryn Schulz

August, 20, 2010
When I read a book, I usually have a pencil at hand, for marking passages or circling words I want to look up later. With each notation, I'll also pencil in a page number on the book's endpaper. In the case of Kathryn Schulz's "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error," there wasn't much point in noting the page numbers, because I marked up something on almost every page. Yesterday, Schulz was kind enough to answer a few questions about being wrong, via e-mail ...

Rob: My last book was about memory. Or, to be more precise, the running subtext was the failure of memory. My intention was to delve into the mechanics of memory failure, but ultimately I failed to do the necessary work. Anyway, the book was really a collection of baseball stories, and it really was shocking how many of them didn't quite check out. Or checked out hardly at all. I don't think the storytellers were making things up. Not usually. I think they really believed the stories they told. But it wasn't until I read the passage in your book about "confabulation" that I began to understand where those stories came from. Can you explain what that means?

[+] EnlargeBeing Wrong
Harper Collins
Kathryn: Sure, but first I have to quickly recount my personal favorite baseball-and-memory story. It concerns a 13-year-old kid named Ulric Neisser, who was listening to a baseball game on the radio when a newscaster interrupted to announce that the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor. The announcement made a huge impression on the kid, and he never forgot it. (Think about your own unforgettable memories of 9/11.) It wasn’t until decades later that Neisser suddenly realized that Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941 -- and major league baseball isn’t played in December. In other words, this vivid, pivotal, life-long memory of his was simply wrong. What I particularly love about this story is that the kid in question grew up to be one of most influential memory scientist of the 20th century, and established a lot of what we now know about the fallibility of memory.

But on to confabulation. Confabulations are basically made-up explanations that people provide when the real explanation is unavailable to them -- most often because they’re experiencing some kind of cognitive impairment. These made-up explanations are sincere (that is, the confabulator isn’t trying to deceive anyone), and they’re more or less plausible, but they’re completely wrong. For instance, an elderly woman who suffers from dementia might claim that a hospice worker stole her purse, when in reality she simply forgot where she put it and needs to account for why it isn’t where she expected it to be. More dramatically, people who are paralyzed by a stroke are sometimes neurologically incapable of recognizing their paralysis; they can’t move, and they can’t know that they can’t move. When you ask such a person why he’s not moving, he can’t give you the real answer, so he’ll often confabulate -- claiming, for example, that he’s exhausted from that morning’s round of golf.

As it turns out, though, you don’t need to be brain damaged to confabulate. We’re all extremely adept at providing plausible explanations for events, decisions, beliefs and emotions whose real explanations elude us. So you’re right: it’s likely that confabulation played a role in some of those mistaken baseball stories -- although, for better or worse, there are also many other reasons we mistake false memories for true ones.

Rob: For a while now, serious baseball analysts (and nerds like me) have been railing about sunk cost; specifically, that when a team is considering whether to release a player, his future contract obligations should hardly be considered because that money's already gone. It's still a problem, but teams seem to have a better handle on the concept than they used to. But you raised a point I'd never considered: Baseball executives are people, people are quasi-rational actors, and sunk costs extend far beyond matters of money ...

Kathryn: They sure do. The term itself comes from economics, and, traditionally, it does refer specifically to money: your sunk costs are whatever funds you’ve already spent and can’t recover. But money isn’t the only thing that keeps us mired in situations that, objectively speaking, we’d be better off getting out of. There are also other resources, most notably time and energy. As in: We’ve been working with this kid all season, he’s come a long way, we can’t let all that effort go to waste. Then there’s public commitment: Not only did we spend a bazillion dollars on this player, we held a big press conference about him and went on the record about our hopes and dreams and made a promise to our fans and owners and the media. And of course there’s ego: I picked this guy, his presence on this team reflects my judgment, so I’ve got to keep believing that he’s going to work out, because to do otherwise is to admit that my judgment is fallible. And there are even more intangible sunk costs as well -- things like affection and optimism -- that keep you standing there saying, Look, I know the record looks bad, but I still like this kid, I’ve got a good feeling here, I think we can turn this around.

Economists are driven batty by this kind of behavior, because, as you said, they want baseball managers to act like perfectly rational actors—to make decisions based on the present and future value of a player, measured as empirically as possible. But in defense of managers (and all the rest of us) who tend to be swayed by sunk costs, I’d point out that, at least to some extent, sports are about irrationality. Certainly they’re at least as much about optimism and ego and affection and emotion as they are about money. And that’s probably as it should be. I suspect that if we tried to rid sports of all its irrational quirks—from sunk costs to superstitions—we’d wind up eliminating a lot of the joy of the game.

Rob: I suppose this question is a little dated and I know you don't follow baseball closely, but I'm still wondering about your take on The Imperfect Game, in which first-base umpire Jim Joyce obviously missed the call that would have given Armando Galarraga -- who doesn't figure to have many chances in his career for great glory -- a perfect game.

Kathryn: I’m glad you asked, since this is one baseball question I’m actually equipped to answer. (I had to be: I was just heading out on my book tour when Joyce made that call, and suddenly everyone started asking me about wrongness and baseball.) Here’s the thing about this story: it could have gone very, very badly. The minute I heard about it, I thought about Don Denkinger, who blew a call at first base during the 1985 World Series and subsequently got death threats and hate mail and is still pretty much despised in St. Louis all these years later. So it was entirely possible that Joyce’s blown call could’ve turned terrifically nasty as well. Galarraga could’ve freaked out. The Tigers could’ve freaked out. The fans could’ve freaked out. Even Joyce could have freaked out; after all, plenty of people get defensive and angry in the face of their mistakes.

But look at what happens instead. Joyce immediately acknowledges the mistake and apologizes for it with obvious sincerity. Galarraga is supremely gracious. Jim Leyland defends Joyce and asks the fans to be kind to him, which they are. Galarraga is treated like a hero; he gets a standing ovation, a Corvette, and at least as much press for his imperfect game as he would’ve gotten for a perfect one. And he’ll still go down in the record books, albeit in a more unusual way.

But here’s the most interesting part: according to an ESPN survey conducted a few weeks after the Galarraga game, the vast majority of fans didn’t want Bud Selig to reverse the call, and didn’t want to start using instant replay to verify base calls. In other words, most fans seem to understand that mistakes are a part of the game -- sometimes even the most memorable part. Mistakes keep sports human. And, at their best, sports show us how to cope with our humanity. That’s why we use them to teach kids about leadership and teamwork and effort and failure and success; that’s why we being a “good sport” means being a good person. In that vein, the Galarraga game gave us a glimpse of how much better things go when we can accept fallibility, in other people as well as in ourselves. So, sure, it might have been an imperfect game. But to my mind, it was a perfect mistake.

Tigers lose right fielder, gain $15M

July, 24, 2010
This is really bad news for the Tigers' front office ...
... but it's great news for the Tigers' accountants, because the moment Ordonez' ankle snapped they removed $15 million from their list of 2011 payroll obligations.

As you might recall, a year ago when Ordonez wasn't playing well, I (and a bunch of other like-minded figure filberts) suggested that the Tigers had two reasons to platoon Ordonez. One, (again) he wasn't playing well. And two, if he got X amount of playing time, his 2010 option would vest, costing the Tigers $15 million.

They didn't listen to me. I think Ordonez might have been platooned for like half a week. The option vested. But he did play well in the second half and the Tigers almost got into the postseason, so you can't precisely argue that they made the wrong decision (though I still don't know that a platoon would have kept them from contending).

Anyway, same situation this year except Ordonez has played well. He's not the MVP candidate he was in 2007, but he's been as good as he was in 2008.

If you were a general manager, would you want the 2007/9 version of Magglio Ordonez for $15 million. It's more debatable than you might think. Depends on where your team is, and what sort of corner outfielders and DH-types you've got. But considering that Ordonez turns 37 next winter, and that the price of veteran hitters seems to have been trending downward in recent years ... No, you probably wouldn't pay Magglio Ordonez $15 million next year if you didn't have to.

Well, now the Tigers don't have to. For Ordonez' 2011 option to vest, he needed 135 starts or 540 plate appearances this season or 270 starts or 1,080 plate appearances in 2009-2010. Well, unless Ordonez' ankle injury has been badly misdiagnosed, all four of those targets are now well out of reach.

Which, I hope you'll pardon me for mentioning (again), is really good for the bottom line in 2011.

But it's really lousy for the standings in 2010. I don't have any of my prospect books handy, but I'm looking at the Tigers' roster and I'm seeing nobody who can come anywhere close to matching Ordonez' production. Ryan Raburn? Don Kelly? Friendly Ghost Wells? Jeffs Larish and Frazier?

Leyland might be able to mix and match and avert a disaster in that spot, but the Tigers already need almost everything to go right, to beat out the White Sox and the Twins. And this just went really, really wrong.

Tigers' Scherzer just another figure filbert

July, 9, 2010
Hey, Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke aren't the only pitchers who look at non-traditional statistics on their laptops in the clubhouse. Max Scherzer might have an ugly ERA, but at least he's paying attention. Steve Kornacki:

What fans might not realize is he's one of the few pitchers in the game who utilizes advanced metrics to evaluate his results during the course of the season, but still focuses on scouting reports for game plans.

Scherzer, who studied business finance at the University of Missouri before the Arizona Diamondbacks made him their first-round pick in 2006, scored a 35 out of a possible 36 in math on the ACT.

Statistical application comes naturally to him, and he uses advanced metrics to study his performances.

"I got interested in it through my brother, Alex, who was a very, very bright business economics major at Missouri," Scherzer said. "He was in a top-tier statistics class and came upon advanced metrics in baseball.

"Before a game two years ago, he said, 'You are due to give up home runs.' Then, I gave up two home runs and he told me, 'I told you.' I asked, 'What do you know that I don't?' "

Scherzer learned it appears pitchers can only control home runs, walks, strikeouts and hit batters. And a high number of fly balls relate directly to increases in home runs allowed.

"There is a high correlation between this number (a formula using those factors and dividing by innings pitched) and your ERA," Scherzer said.


Using the batting average for balls in play (BABIP) statistic also has aided him.

"It comes back to accepting inherent failure," Scherzer said. "When a soft liner to right field dropped for a hit in Atlanta, instead of getting frustrated by it, I let it go. It's about moving forward.

"I think it is important for me to reach long-term goals I set with these statistics, but it is way more important for me to compete every time I take the mound and give our team a chance to win. As long as I execute every pitch, both of these goals will happen."

I snipped the real meat of the piece, in which Scherzer says the only thing he finds particularly useful is PITCHf/x, which is more raw data than sabermetrics, per se. At its heart, that data is simply the modern version of pitch-charting, which has been used by pitchers and coaches for many decades (if haphazardly).

I kept the sensible part at the end about BABiP because it's the perfect lead-in to this letter from Brian, in St. Louis ...
Maybe you can explain the seemingly mindless association of BABiP and luck. To me a low BABiP is indicative of a pitcher that puts the ball where he wants it and gets a weakly hit grounder or popup, not that he's just been lucky. Alternatively a high BABiP shows that the pitcher is throwing meatballs that are getting hit hard.I know there is no real way to quantify the difference, but the low = lucky, high = unlucky approach is silly to me.
Greg Maddux and Mike Morgan both pitched in the majors for a long time. Maddux, in his long career, gave up a .286 batting average on balls in play. Mike Morgan, in his long career, gave up a .295 batting average on balls in play.

That nine-point difference is significant, given how many innings each of them pitched, and does help explain why Maddux is heading for the Hall of Fame and Morgan went 141-186. But it helps just a little, don't you think?

Pedro Martinez's career BABiP is .282, even lower than Maddux's. On the other hand, Randy Johnson's is .295, exactly the same as Morgan's.

Yes, great pitchers tend to have lower BABiPs than accomplished journeymen like Mike Morgan ... but it's not a strong tendency, which suggests that other things -- most particularly, the ability to control the strike zone -- tell us more about a pitcher's underlying skills.

Which is really the point. If BABiP is really about a pitcher's ability to "put the ball where he wants it and get a weakly hit grounder or popup," wouldn't you expect that ability to show up from one year to the next, like any other fundamental ability?

Well, it doesn't. Not at the extremes, anyway.

In 2008, David Bush led the majors with a .245 BABiP. At the time, I would have chalked that up to a fantastic run of luck. I don't want to read your mind, but I will guess that you would have chalked that up to something else. You might have been right. But should we really have been surprised when, just one season later, Bush gave up a .324 BABiP? Should we be surprised that he's given up a .298 BABiP in 2010.

Also in 2008, Armando Galarraga went 13-7 with a 3.73 ERA. At the time, I had the temerity to point out that he'd been absurdly lucky on balls in play, giving up a .247 BABiP. Well, maybe he just forgot to put the ball where he wants it in 2009, but somehow his BABiP jumped to (a perfectly normal) .302 and his ERA jumped to 5.64.

Maybe you still don't believe in luck. That's fine. I have my belief system, and you have yours. But I can tell you, with metaphysical certitude, that if you bet on pitchers with sub-.280 BABiPs allowed to do it again next year, you'll lose almost every time. Because almost anything lower than .280 (or higher than .320) can easily be dismissed when discussing a pitcher's skills.

Tigers' Galarraga sent down, for cause

July, 7, 2010
Geez. Tough crowd:

    After his near-perfect game last month, Armando Galarraga seemed the least upset person in the Tigers’ locker room. He said he felt for Jim Joyce, the umpire who missed the ninth-inning call at first base.

    After the Tigers’ 11th-inning win over Baltimore Tuesday night, Galarraga — the night’s starting pitcher — seemed the most disappointed person in the locker room.

    Because he won’t need to start again for nearly two weeks because of the upcoming All-Star break, Galarraga had just been told that he’s being sent to Triple-A Toledo for one start, then will be recalled to start for the Tigers on July 20, almost two weeks from now.


    For his temporary demotion, Galarraga can blame the All-Star break and the lefty-heavy lineup of the Minnesota Twins.

    Galarraga was originally scheduled to pitch Sunday against Minnesota in the finale before the Tigers’ four-day All-Star break.

    But because the Twins have so many left-handed hitters, the Tigers flipped Andy Oliver and Galarraga in the rotation this week. That way, the rookie Oliver — the Tigers’ only left-handed starter — will face the Twins on Sunday.

For his temporary demotion, Galarraga can also blame HIS LOUSY PITCHING.

Since the Perfect Game That Wasn't, Galarraga's made five starts. The Tigers are 4-1 in those games, which is good. Galarraga's got a 6.00 ERA in those games, which is bad. Galarraga struck out seven hitters in those five games, which is (almost) impossible.

In 2008 and '09, Galarraga's first two seasons with the Tigers, his strikeout rate was decent but he walked too many hitters and gave up too many home runs. In 2008 he was lucky, and posted a 3.73 ERA. In 2009 he was unlucky and posted a 5.64 ERA. The ERAs were vastly different, but the underlying performances (and presumably, the underlying skills) were not.

In 2010, Galarraga's ERA has split the difference, suggesting that he's finally found his level -- except he's actually been a completely different pitcher (granted, we're talking about just 48 innings). Galarraga's throwing more fastballs, which has led to fewer walks and home runs (good) and many fewer strikeouts (very bad).

Galarraga remains a young, talented, and (we may assume) highly motivated pitcher. But I can't escape the notion that he'll never be much more than a No. 5 starter, because he simply doesn't have the stuff to strike out hitters and limit the walks and homers. He has to choose one or the other, and the result will always be less than brilliant (with, of course, the exception of a near-perfect game every so often).

Boesch leads American League rookies

July, 1, 2010
In response to Tuesday's post about Rookie of the Year candidates, a reader writes, "Brennan Boesch doesn't merit ROY honors? Does he not qualify or something? His numbers are ridunk. Isn't he the clear-cut frontrunner?"

Sure. In the American League. I was writing about the National League, which has a far more interesting group of candidates this year. In the American League, there are only three serious candidates, or maybe four.

Among the rookie pitchers, only one has more than 10 saves and only one has more than five wins.

The rookie with more than 10 saves is Neftali Feliz, and yeah I'm surprised to learn (or be reminded) that he's a rookie, too. But he didn't debut with the Rangers last year until the 3rd of August, and he pitched only 31 innings. So he's still a rookie by a couple of weeks and 19 innings. And considering that he's leading the American League with 21 saves, he has to be considered a serious candidate.

The rookie with more than five wins is Cleveland's Mitch Talbot, who's somehow managed an 8-6 record (meanwhile, the only other rookie with more than four wins is Tampa Bay's Wade Davis, who's got five wins and nine losses). It's not easy to imagine Talbot keeping up this pace, considering both his teammates and his minuscule strikeout rate (4.2 per nine innings).

The third serious candidate is Boesch, who's obviously been outstanding. He didn't arrive in the majors until the 23rd of April, but all he's done since then is hit. Which is, it must be said, more than a bit of a surprise. Before the season, Baseball America ranked Boesch as the Tigers' 25th-best prospect, well behind Austin Jackson (No. 3) and Scott Sizemore (No. 10). Both opened the season in Detroit's lineup.

Even Tiger fans will, I hope, allow for a tinge of skepticism. Boesch turned 25 in April. Entering this season, he'd not played above Class AA and sported a .269/.314/.428 line as a professional hitter. Granted, he got off to a hot start in Triple this spring, but is his .332/.380/.602 line in the majors more than a first-half mirage? Hey, that's why we keep watching.

If Boesch should falter -- I mean, I know he's heading for Cooperstown but please indulge my whimsy for a moment -- his teammate Austin Jackson might be the beneficiary. Jackson's hitting has fallen off some, which was perhaps inevitable considering he strikes out more than once per game. But if he keeps his batting average close to .300 (no sure thing) and continues to play Gold Glove-quality defense in center field (more likely), he'll figure in the Rookie of the Year balloting this fall.

At the moment, then, I make the candidates like this:

1. Boesch
2. Feliz
3. Jackson
4. Talbot
5. Carlos Santana


Revisiting the Tigers' $18 million decision

June, 23, 2010
As promised, from Jon Heyman's (previously linked) best decisions of the last year:

    11. The Tigers' decision to let Magglio Ordonez's contract vest

    Ordonez's $18 million extension for 2010 was tied to at-bats and games started and it looked like an albatross and a half midway through last year, when manager Jim Leyland began benching a slumping Ordonez on occasion. They could easily have not played Ordonez to save included Ordonez, as they tried, ultimately without success, to secure a playoff spot.

    After amassing just nine home runs and 50 RBIs all of last year, he has rewarded the Tigers' right thinking by responding with a year more typical of his talents, with nine homers and 47 RBIs to date, to go with a .333/.408/.522 batting line. His wife was going through a cancer battle last year, so Ordonez understandably underperformed. And the Tigers did the right thing by standing by him.

I didn't know about Ordonez's wife. Did you?

There were, I would guess, dozens of pieces about Ordonez's struggles and his contract last summer and fall in the Detroit papers, but I don't believe that I ever read anything about Ordonez's wife, or any other explanation for Ordonez's lousy first half or his puzzling lack of power.

I did, a number of times, suggest that: a) Ordonez wasn't good enough to keep playing almost every day for a team in a pennant race (which was ultimately lost, by the way), and that b) it was almost criminally foolish for the organization to allow Ordonez's $18 million option to vest.

Was I wrong?

Well, I feel foolish for stumbling about blindly without what might have been a key piece of information. If I'd known that Ordonez's wife was ill -- as the Tigers must have -- I probably would have gone a bit easier on both him and the organization.

Still, I'm not sure exactly how much my analysis would have changed with that knowledge. Was Mrs. Ordonez's illness a justification for all that first-half playing time that might have ultimately cost the Tigers a playoff spot? Was it "the right thing" to commit to spending $18 million on Ordonez this season? He's having an excellent season, obviously, but: 1) his excellent season won't matter if the Tigers don't win, and 2) he's still not worth $18 million on the open market.

What if the option hadn't vested? Wouldn't the Tigers have been first in line to re-sign Ordonez, but for less money? Say, for half what they're now paying him? And wouldn't $9 million still be a sizeable sum?

I don't know. Maybe I'm not old-fashioned enough. Maybe I don't understand the extent to which the baseball business is still a people business, and maybe I don't understand that Ordonez and the Tigers are playing well this season because the front office did "the right thing."

Or maybe I'm too old-fashioned, so old-fashioned that $18 million still seems like a lot of money.

I just don't know.