Author Archive

New York Mets Second Basemen: Positional Study

This is my second article in an occasional series in which I will look at the way that a single franchise has filled a single position over the course of time: stars and stopgaps, free agents and trades, hot prospects and positional conversions. Last time, I examined Atlanta Braves centerfielders. This week, I will look at another up-the-middle position for another National League team, as I take a look at the way that the New York Mets have filled their keystone, second base.

The difference between the two teams is stark. The Braves filled center field with brilliant draftees like Dale Murphy and Andruw Jones and a succession of mostly successful trades, but the Mets’ second base has been a 30-year revolving door. Here’s how it looks:
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The Dodger-Diamondback Brawl: Do Unwritten Rules Still Apply?

“That scrap between the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers on Tuesday night was all about baseball’s unwritten rules,” said Buster Olney on ESPN. Then Jayson Stark clarified: “The two teams involved clearly had two different copies of those unwritten rules.” In fact, it’s a case study in just how increasingly ridiculous these rules are, while underscoring just how dangerous their continued enforcement has become.

The battle isn’t over, either. It has continued by proxy in the press, as the team’s managers seek to exonerate themselves and their players while darkly casting blame at the opposing side. “If you really want to get technical about it,” Don Mattingly said, “in baseball terms, it really shouldn’t be over.”
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Julio Teheran: From Prospect Fatigue to Potential Ace?

Yesterday, two former Braves prospects took no-hit bids into later innings. One was was Jason Marquis, a 34-year old veteran getting by largely thanks to the roomy confines of Petco Park. (Though as a reader points out, Wednesday’s game was at Dodger Stadium.) The other was 22-year old Julio Teheran, and his gem seemed to herald his arrival as the real deal. Marquis was a supplemental first rounder in 1996. (He was the 35th overall pick, 34 picks behind Kris Benson.) Teheran was the top 16-year old pitcher signed in 2007. Marquis isn’t sexy, but Julio would be happy to have his career: Marquis’ career FIP is 4.85, but he has pitched 1873 innings and won 119 games in the big leagues.

Julio has a chance to be a whole lot more than that. But it would have been understandable if many Braves fans and dynasty league owners were starting to suffer from prospect fatigue. Julio has been on the Baseball America Top 10 Braves prospect list for six straight years; they called him the Braves’ 10th best prospect after he was signed as a 16-year old, before he had thrown a pitch in the United States, they saw him as the Braves’ top pitching prospect from 2010-2013, and as the top prospect overall in 2011-2013. There was no doubting that he could destroy minor league hitters. Until last night, though, as Ben Duronio writes today, some may have doubted that he could destroy major league hitters. So what has happened over the last six years?
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Dr. Lewis Yocum, 1947-2013

One of the most important doctors in baseball history, Lewis Yocum, died of liver cancer yesterday at the age of 65. Yocum was an intern in Frank Jobe’s clinic when Jobe pioneered UCL replacement surgery in 1974 — Tommy John surgery is now ubiquitous in baseball, and Yocum was one of its greatest living practitioners. Numerous players tweeted that he had saved their careers; scroll to the bottom to see a few of them.

Though he was the Angels’ team doctor, taking that position over from Jobe, he treated players across the league, both position players and pitchers. In 2010, Will Carroll wrote that Yocum and James Andrews were both so mutually prominent across baseball that “one former GM jokingly said that he thought Yocum and Andrews had negotiated some sort of territorial agreement. “This side of the Mississippi is Andrews,” he laughed. “That side is Yocum.”” After Yocum died, Carroll compiled a long list of players whom Yocum was known to have personally treated. (The list is incomplete and skewed toward recent players, but it gives some sense of Yocum’s breadth of impact.)

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Positional Case Study: Atlanta Braves Center Fielders

This is a slightly different type of article. I will look at how a single franchise has filled a single spot on the diamond. The Braves have had a pretty good track record with center fielders, developing three of the top fifty center fielders of all time, Wally Berger (#46), Dale Murphy (#37), and Andruw Jones (#9).

But when they didn’t happen to draft or sign a historically good CFer, their approach became much more patchwork. Center field is one of the most important positions on the field, and one of the most difficult to fill. Here’s how the Braves did it.
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How the Scouts Saw Roy Halladay and Todd Helton

Two of the great players of the aughts are on their last legs. Two days ago, apropos of Roy Halladay‘s shoulder surgery, Eno Sarris asked, “Is Roy Halladay Done Done?” and a month ago, Paul Swydan asked a similar question about Todd Helton. It’s a shame to see two of the greats — or at least two of the Very Goods — look like shadows of their former selves. So it may be worth reliving the good times by taking a look at what the scouts thought of them two decades ago.
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Should MLB Eliminate the Entire Playoffs?

Over at NBC, Joe Posnanski raises this provocative question: Would Major League Baseball be better off if it eliminated the postseason, and just crowned its champion based on regular-season record, the way that England’s Premier League does?
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So, Has Handedness Changed at All?

Sometimes I just like to mess around with data to see if I find something. Today was one of those days. Two years ago, Perri Klass wrote in The New York Times, “The percentage of left-handers in the population seems to be relatively constant, at 10 percent. And this goes back to studies of cave paintings, looking at which hands hunters are using to hold their spears, and to archaeological analyses of ancient artifacts.”

So I wanted to figure out whether handedness had changed at all in baseball. Are there more southpaws or switch-hitters in baseball now than there used to be a decade ago, or half a century ago?
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scoutPRO: A Woman-Owned Fantasy Football Site Moves to Baseball

About two weeks ago, I got an email from a public relations representative asking me to write about a new fantasy baseball app called scoutPRO. I had never heard of it. But it seemed interesting: the company already had a fantasy football app, and so it was trying to move from football into baseball analytics. And its founder sounded interesting, too: a 50-year old UGA grad and serial entrepreneur named Diane Bloodworth who had made her prior career in information technology and consulting for the federal government.

So I spoke with her about moving between sports as a businessperson, and moving between worlds as a woman in the male-dominated industry of fantasy sports.
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Evan Gattis and Other Old Rookie Catchers

Evan Gattis is the Braves’ cleanup hitter, and he has three homers in 25 plate appearances on the young season. He’s also a 26-year old rookie catcher who is relatively inexperienced behind the dish because he took four years off from baseball (a bit like Tom Wilhelmsen, who walked away for even longer).

Old rookies always raise eyebrows, though some have gone on to have fine careers, from Hall of Famer Earl Averill to Brian Daubach. But what about catchers?
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The Astros and Braves: How Many K’s is Just Too Much?

We know we’re going to strike out. That’s just a given with guys who have power. And we have a lot of guys who can hit the ball out of the park. And that kind of goes hand in hand. But you look at some of the studies — and our guys have looked at them — and there’s not a direct correlation with strikeouts and offense.

— Atlanta general manager Frank Wren, interviewed by Jayson Stark on 2/18/13

Through their first two games, Braves hitters have 24 Ks in 75 PAs. But they also hit six HRs, they scored 16 runs in two games, and they’re 2-0. They’re living up to expectations. Unfortunately, so are the Astros. They have 43 Ks in 97 PAs through their first three games, becoming just the fifth team in history to strike out at least 10 times in the first three games of the season. The team is 1-2 with just 8 total runs scored. So how relevant are strikeouts to a team’s success?
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Mariano Rivera and Father Time: Comebacks After 40

Mariano Rivera turned 43 last November. There was wide speculation that he would retire at the end of the 2012 season, until his 2012 season ended with an untimely season-ending injury, and Rivera decided to try to make a comeback so that his last season could occur on his terms.

But even though Mariano Rivera’s career is full of unprecedented moments, that does not mean that it will be trivial for him to come up with another. Baseball has been played in America for the better part of two centuries, and unprecedented things are generally unprecedented for a reason: they are extraordinarily unlikely. So how many players have been able to play effectively after losing a full season in their 40s?
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Miami Marlins New Revenue Stream: Suing Fans

At this point, it seems like piling on to write about anything that the Miami Marlins do. But the last couple of days have produced a news story simultaneously hilarious and revealing: after two fans wanted to back out of the second year of a two-year season ticket contract, the Marlins threatened to sue them.

Of course, all baseball teams are businesses, owned by people or corporations who prefer making money to losing it. But the Marlins have pioneered a Producers approach to baseball, making money on failure rather than success. It would be conspiratorial of me to allege that the Marlins have determined that a losing team is more profitable than a winning team and therefore have intentionally sabotaged their chances of winning — like Rachel Phelps did — so I won’t. But this lawsuit helps to underscore that the team does not place a high priority on building a winning ballclub or drawing fans.
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World Baseball Classic All-Time Records

This is the Third World Baseball Classic, after the 2006 and 2009 Classics, both of which were won by Japan. In America, it’s a bit of a curiosity on the schedule, a distraction from spring training that’s fun for fans but nervewracking for teams whose stars are playing at max effort far earlier than they otherwise would be. In other countries, like Venezuela, it’s a serious matter of national pride, especially because since the elimination of Olympic baseball, the Classic is the only chance for a country to show its quality on an international stage.

In the eight-year history of the Classic, there have been 102 games played. Twenty-eight countries have competed: eighteen have played in the Classic proper, and another ten competed in the qualifying matches in September and November 2012. One hundred ninety-two players have accumulated enough plate appearances to qualify for the leaderboards. (The requirement is 2.7 plate appearances per game.) Carson Cistulli is doing yeoman’s work in covering the WBC. But I haven’t seen any all-time leaderboards. So here are some all-time leaderboards! Spoiler alert: Frederich Cepeda is the greatest player in the history of the tournament.
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Arlington Power Struggle: Jon Daniels vs. Nolan Ryan

This week, Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that there’s been a major power struggle in Arlington. Here’s what happened: back in November, the Rangers decided to give Jon Daniels a promotion to CEO — Nolan Ryan’s current title. Daniels declined, and so Daniels took a promotion to president of baseball operations.

Maury Brown notes that the promotion is a way of giving Daniels more job security: “Ask yourself when the last time a President of Baseball Operations was fired? With the exception of Tal Smith of the Astros (which was about a new owner coming in and putting his stamp on the club), you just don’t see it.”

But within the last few days matters have come to a head. Ryan apparently feels shunted aside, and that appears to be because he partly is being shunted aside. Ryan has received a lot of public credit for the Rangers’ resurgence since he was hired as president in 2008 and became a minority owner in 2010. According to Galloway, Ryan has also seriously meddled in Daniels’s affairs, as Ryan directly hired bench coach Jackie Moore and pitching coach Mike Maddux. Galloway doesn’t report on whether Daniels took personal offense, but “it’s been a heavy sticking point for some of Daniels’ assistants,” and when underlings are unhappy that usually means the boss is unhappy. This is a nasty little power struggle. What happened?
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Joba Wants to Start. Yankees Want it to Stop.

When it comes to Joba Chamberlain and the Yankees, the phrase “star-crossed” comes to mind. On Wednesday, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News quoted Chamberlain saying that he still believed he could be a starting pitcher. Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman responded with snark: Girardi said, “I’d like to catch one more game, too,” and Cashman said, “We’re down an outfield bat… see if he can play center.”

The next day, Joel Sherman of the New York Post slammed Chamberlain, criticizing him for “his look-at-me side” and called him “a 5-year-old,” and “a physical red flag.” “It seems very unlikely Chamberlain will be re-signing with New York after the season,” writes Mike Axisa. “That makes me sad.” How did it come to this?
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Should MLB Punish DUIs More Harshly, Like PEDs?

On February 6, Todd Helton was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. A week and a half later, he publicly apologized. His manager, Walt Weiss, who is also his former teammate, stood behind him all the way. “We have all needed a little grace from time to time. He stepped up and faced the music,” Weiss said at a news conference with Helton. “Now it’s time to play ball.” Helton received no further punishment from the league or from his team. Weiss picked a curious metaphor to announce that Helton will miss the first couple of games of spring training to conserve his strength, but would then play as normal. “For a guy like Todd,” Weiss said, “there’s no reason to put your foot on the pedal right out of the gate.”

Helton was not the only one to be quickly forgiven by his team. Mark Grace was arrested outside Phoenix last August, his second DUI arrest in 15 months. The Diamondbacks fired him as an announcer, but this spring, they rehired him as a special instructor. In the wake of Helton and Grace’s arrests, a number of people have been writing articles about the curious disconnect between the way we think about performance-enhancing drugs and the way we think about drunk driving. But is it a fair comparison? After all, PEDs affect baseball on the field. DUIs are off-field offenses, and they are handled by the courts. Should baseball subject its players to additional punishment?
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Chad Cordero Signs a Minor League Deal

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim signed Chad Cordero to a minor league deal, and Cordero tweeted, “comeback has officially begun.” The 30-year old right-hander — amazingly he’s still just 30 years old — hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since 9 2/3 innings in 2010, and hasn’t pitched a full season in the majors since 2007, which is when he recorded his last save. He announced his retirement in 2011, which came after 128 saves in Montreal and Washington, then shoulder surgery in 2008, three subsequent years of rehab, and the death of his daughter, Tehya, in 2010 due to SIDS. Now he’s trying to make it back to the majors.
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Today in 1899, The Brooklyn Superbas Were Born

Today in the 1898-1899 offseason, a remarkable thing happened: as the ownership groups in Baltimore and Brooklyn swapped part shares in each other’s clubs, the Orioles effectively merged with the Dodgers, with the class of the two ballclubs going to Brooklyn and the dregs staying in Baltimore — with the exception of star Baltimore third baseman John McGraw, who refused to leave. (Imagine if Jeffrey Loria traded a stake in the Marlins to Rogers Communications to obtain a stake in the Blue Jays, and you begin to get the idea.) The super-team in Brooklyn, formerly called the Trolley Dodgers, became known as the “Superbas.”

Up to that point, the Orioles had been arguably the best team in the National League for much of the decade, which is to say, the best team in baseball, because the National League was the only major league at the time. The Orioles finished first out of 12 teams from 1894-1896, and second in 1897-1898. The majority of their starting lineup — catcher Wilbert Robinson, shortstop Hughie Jennings, third baseman John McGraw, and outfielders Joe Kelley and Wee Willie Keeler, not to mention manager Ned Hanlon — went to the Hall of Fame. (Hanlon, Robinson, and McGraw largely made the Hall on their reputations as managers, though McGraw was also a superb player.) Then their team was eviscerated, and the Orioles disappeared through contraction the following year.
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Should MLB Punish A-Rod Based on News Reports?

As Dave Cameron wrote two days ago, multiple reports have emerged about numerous baseball players connected to a clinic in South Florida that dispensed performance-enhancing drugs and has been nicknamed “BALCO East.”

Of course, as Cameron notes, “Rodriguez is going to get the most attention, because he’s Alex Rodriguez.” The Yankees are reportedly exploring all avenues to void the last five years and $114 million of his contract. But this is an interesting case, because, if they succeed, this would be the first time an active player would be successfully punished based on news reports.
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