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World Series Game 3 Live Blog

Matt Klaassen: Welcome to my first chat in… a long time. That’s just how desperate things are around here: I’m running a chat on a Saturday night World Series Game. Send ‘em in and we’ll get going pretty soon.
Comment From Sgt. Pepper
Provide content damn it
Comment From BH
How many grandmothers will be startled when OU/Texas Tech suddenly starts airing on Fox News at 6:30 CDT?
Comment From Z S
Hi Matt, what do you think of Kelly getting the nod for game 3 over Lance Lynn (and the long lost Shelby Miller, for that matter)?
Matt Klaassen: Well, I think Lynn is better than Kelly, but obviously Matheny likes Kelly here. There is objective evidence that Miller may have been gassed near the end of the season, and the Cardinals seem to agree.

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Billy Butler and the Royals’ Off-Season Plan

Apparently some people do not respect the sanctity of World Series Week:

Move over, Scott Boras and A-Rod.

Jokes aside, the Royals’ reported willingness to see what they can get from Billy Butler is, on the surface, not all that interesting. A team seeing what sort of value they can get from their assets simply makes sense. “Team X should trade Player Y if they can get more surplus value back” is a truism. If the Royals can get more value back for Butler than he is worth, then, yes, they should probably trade him. Of course, on the other side of things, teams should only trade for Butler (or any other player) if they do not have to give up too much. These sorts of unbalanced trades are not really worth discussing in the abstract. What might be more interesting is trying and figure out why the team would want to move Butler given their other needs.

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Iannetta, Conger, and the End of the Arencibia Era

If one were willing to go out on a limb, one might say that Blue Jays’ catcher J.P. Arencibia did not have the best year. Sure, he hit 21 home runs and, well, that is about it. With the rumor mill firing up in anticipation getting into full swing after the World Series, word has it that the Blue Jays are interested in acquiring one of the Angels’ catchers: either Chris Iannetta or Hank Conger.

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Brandon Phillips as a Trade Asset

The Reds and their fans are likely understandably disappointed in their first-found playoff loss to the Pirates after a 90-win season. Still, the Reds gave themselves a shot by making the playoffs. It was their third playoff trip in four years, and though they did not make the Divisional Series as they did in their most recent two prior appearances, it was still the team’s third time in four years in the playoffs.

Nonetheless, this is the time of year for speculation on what a team should do to position itself for the future, especially in the suddenly very competitive National League Central. The Reds are likely facing at least one major departure as Shin-Soo Choo hits free agency after a monster season at the plate. They still have a good core of players who will be around, among them Joey Votto, Mat Latos, Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman, and Homer Bailey. Brandon Phillips also has been a big part of that core during the Reds’ recent run of success, and is under contract through 2017. However, earlier this week John Fay wrote that the Reds apparently had interest in Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero, who is projected to play second base in the big leagues. With Phillips’ perceived down performance and the organization’s reported irritation with some of his comments, reading the tea leaves could mean the team is ready to see if they can trade Phillips this winter.

Phillips did have a down year by recent standards, but the question is whether 2013 indicates a greater-than-expected drop in his skills, and how that might influence his value to other teams given his age and the $50 million left on his contract.

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Right-Handed Platoon Notes: Cuddyer, Trout, and Holliday

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some interesting platoon splits of a couple of left-handed hitters who had my attention. When I started looking at some right-handed hitters who had splits I wanted to discuss, they also turned out to be players with a big impact this year: the winner of the 2013 National League batting title, the most exciting young player in years, and the hero of last night’s NLCS game. Their splits are interesting in themselves (at least to a certain type of baseball fan), but also are concrete way of thinking about more general principles with respect to platoon skill.

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The Greatest Matts in Playoff History

The Cardinals face possible elimination today at the hands of the Pirates. It has been a wild year for the National League Central. One could make an argument that, this season at least, the National League Central was right up there with the American League East as the best division in baseball. The Cardinals won that division and tied the Red Sox for the best record in baseball.

But it could all end for St. Louis today. Although I personally do not have a rooting interest in this series (yeah, it would be fun to see the Pirates advance, but that is not the same as being a fan of either team), it would be too bad to see the Cardinals’ Matt-heavy lineup depart. It has Matt Carpenter, a legitimate MVP candidate in his first year of full-time major league play, Matt Holliday, who overcame a relatively slow start to have another very good season, and Matt Adams, a rookie who is starting the place of the injured Allen Craig, and who managed to whack 17 home runs in part-time action.

With my own semi-vested interest in Matts, and with the Matt-loaded Cardinals playing perhaps their last game of 2013 today, a bit of trivia is in order: the best-hitting Matts in playoff history.

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Accomplishments of 2013

Sure, Game 163 is looming, and it counts as part of the regular season, but aside from some tweaks, the numbers are pretty much in for the 2013 season. We are close enough for at least some simple retrospectives on certain numerical accomplishments from the almost finished season. Some of the metrics involved are more meaningful or useful than others, but this post will not focus on analysis. As long as one does not confuse the listing of some metric below with an endorsement — or a criticism, for that matter — of its value, it is fine to simply take pleasure these accomplishments..

Some of these achievements have more historical resonance than others (and to a certain extent that is in the eye of the beholder). This is not presented as an exhaustive list, either. To begin, though, we do have two all-time marks set by relief pitchers this season.

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Home Runs and Bunts for Hits: A Different 20-10 Season

Analytically-focused baseball hobbyists are not supposed to fall for the temptation of round-numbered accomplishments. Sure, round numbers are easy to remember (40-40 is easier to remember than, say, 34-41 or something), but over time they can appear to have a meaning or value beyond simply being an arbitrary, if memorable, landmark.

That is all a qualification to this post. When looking into top recent single-season bunts for hits numbers, I ran across many of the usual suspects — Juan Pierre, Willy Taveras, and the like. Actually, it started when I was checking out Starling Marte‘s season. It has been a weird one for the Pirates’ left fielder. He has been a key element in the Pirates’ run to the playoffs this year despite not having the typical left field offensive profile. He relies heavily on getting drilled to get on base. But even if one has serious doubts about his defensive numbers, he has had a nice year at the plate (.282/.343/.447, 122 wRC+).

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Andy Pettitte’s Curious Qualifications for the Hall

Andy Pettitte is going to announce his (second) retirement this afternoon. Much will be written (again) about Pettitte’s career and, of course, his Hall of Fame prospects. Others are better at the history and biography stuff, and, well, at pretty much all of the other stuff, too. Personally, I am not interested in predicting whether a player will get into the Hall of Fame. Analyzing players is one thing. Sociological and psychological evaluations of the Hall of Fame’s voters is another (that is not a commentary on the voters, just on my interests). When it comes to stuff like this, I prefer to focus on a player’s worthiness, that is, whether he should get into the Hall of Fame.

Much will be written regarding Pettitte’s Hall of Fame contributions now and in the off-season, just as much was written about his post-2010 retirement. I am not going to cover every angle or offer a final verdict. Rather, I want to to discuss two or three tough angles for the sabermetric evaluation of Pettitte’s case that make it an intriguing topic.

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Left-handed Platoon Notes: Gordon and Cano

Platoon splits are real, and they matter. The trouble comes in when people put too much emphasis on individual platoon performance over a short period of time. It is understandable, of course, and as fans, we have a right to overreact to things. But when it comes to getting to the truth of things, it gets a bit more complicated. One can read about the general principles of thinking about observed platoon performance versus true talent elsewhere. What can be instructive is looking at some concrete cases of unusual or standout performances of certain players. For today, let’s take a look at the platoon histories of a couple of left-handed hitters: Alex Gordon and Robinson Cano.

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Yan Gomes and Cleveland’s Luck

Who knew Yan Gomes was the key to playoff contention? When he and Mike Aviles were traded from Toronto to Cleveland for Esmil Rogers, the Jays were in the midst of a massive off-season makeover that was supposed to make them American League East contenders. They were sending two redundant bench pieces away to Cleveland — a team unlikely to chase down Detroit for the AL Central title — for a bit of pitching upside. Fast forward to today: the Jays have been out of realistic contention for months, while Cleveland currently has 20 or 30 percent chance of making the playoffs, depending on which set of odds one consults. Gomes has hit .302/.353/.513 (140 wRC+) with good defense this year, while Toronto’s J.P. Arencibia has hit .205/.241/.382 (65 wRC+) with terrible defense.
Clearly, the trade has been the difference.

Jokes aside, Gomes has played surprisingly well this season, and lately has even supplanted Carlos Santana (who has been getting starts at first and DH) as Cleveland’s primary catcher. Part of that has to do with Santana’s struggles behind the plate this year, but Gomes’ good play has also been a factor. It would be easy to say Cleveland got lucky, but every team has its share of unexpected good and bad performances.

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Barry Zito as a Disappearing Exception

Remember when a seven-year, $126 million deal seemed pretty crazy? Sure, Jayson Werth’s similar contract (signed prior to the 2011 season) does not exactly seem great (although he is having a nice year) these days, either, but back during the 2006-2007 off-season, when Barry Zito signed with the Giants, it seemed utterly insane. It was not simply that it was, at the time, the biggest contract ever signed by a pitcher. Prices go up — hot dogs cost more now than ever before, and I do not see any moral panic about that phenomenon. It was that Zito seemed like a poor choice for such a deal. Sure, he was a three-time All-Star and the 2004 American League Cy Young winner. He was durable, as he had pitched more than 210 innings six seasons in a row for the As. However, Zito was going to be 29 in 2007, and his strikeout and walk rates, which had never been all that impressive, seemed to be getting worse. It looked like it was going to be an albatross.

It was. Although he has had his moments over the last seven seasons, as a final cherry on top (insert a joke about the 2014 option here), Zito’s 2013 season has been one more blow to the contract year theory of player performance. In the last season of his notorious contract, Zito has had the worst year of his career. He lost his rotation spot in August (although he received another shot in the rotation for a few starts later). Zito’s time with the Giants is drawing to a close, and he is not going to get a ceremonial final start at home, if that was something someone wanted. This is not meant as a career retrospective. Instead, I want to look at something that Zito seemed to have in Oakland, something that probably played a big part in the Giants’ willingness to give him the contract, something which seemed to depart after he made the move: his ability to outperform DIPS metrics.

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Justin Morneau and the Pirates’ First Base Platoon

The Pirates are (probably) going to the playoffs for the first time since 1992. According to the various versions of playoff odds now available at FanGraphs, Pittsburgh currently has at least a 95 percent change of making the playoffs. Their chances of winning the National League Central are much lower, so that throws them into the single-game playoff mix, but getting in is getting in.

The team is not resting on their laurels, though. Having already acquired Marlon Byrd and John Buck from the Mets, the Pirates are now rumored to be trying to get Justin Morneau from the Twins. The Pirates have mostly utilized a first base platoon with Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez and are still positioned to reach the postseason. So, how much of an improvement would the ghost of Morneau provide?

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Jayson Werth is Not the Problem (Yet)

There probably were some analysts who liked Jayson Werth‘s seven-year, $126 million contract for the Nationals when it was signed prior to the 2011 season, but no names spring to mind. It was not that Werth had been a bad player. There was actually an argument to be made that the contract was market value for a player of Werth’s projected value, but it was an open question as to whether a team in Washington’s situation should have been paying market value at that point, as Dave Cameron noted at the time.

The last point was based on the question of whether or not the Nationals would be good enough during the first part of the contract to justify making such an aggressive move. After a near-.500 2011 season, the Nationals held up their end of the deal in 2012, going 98-64 and winning the Natinal League East. They lost to the Cardinals in NL Division Series, but given the excellent young talent they seemed primed to make a few more runs with Werth still is his decent years.

But Werth was not really holding up his end. In 2011, he did not hit that well, and in 2012, he missed about half the season due to injury. This season, the Nationals are having an extremely disappointing season given the expectations raised by 2012. Many things have gone wrong for Washington this year, but Werth is not one of them.

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The First Base (and DH) Train Out of Texas

It is tough to criticize the Texas Rangers’ decisions. If the current standings hold up, they will win the American League Westfor the third time in four years. Even if Oakland catches up, the Rangers will still probably make the playoffs for the fourth season in a row. They went to the World Series in 2010 and 2011. No team has a spotless record when it comes to personnel decisions either at the time or in hindsight. Every team enjoys some good luck and suffers some bad luck. These days, no team has a lineup full of superstars or even above-average players. Most teams have to get by with at least one or two mediocre players, usually to save money so that it can be spent elsewhere.

Thus, it is not completely strange that Rangers are making do with Mitch Moreland as their primary first baseman once again. Moreland got off to a hot start this season, but came back to earth with a current seasonal line of .244/.306/.446 (98 wRC+). He is is even starting to lose playing time in a semi-platoon with journeyman Jeff Baker. Moreland was only a bit better last season, which he finished with a 105 wRC+ after splitting first base duties with Michael Young and Mike Napoli. Moreland is pretty much a league average bat, which does not cut it as a first baseman, even if it does not kill the Rangers given their other strengths. As written above, few teams are without a weak spot on the diamond.

Nonetheless, the Rangers would obviously like to be better at first base. From that perspective, it is interesting to see the talented first baseman that came up with Texas over the last decade or so and have since moved on.

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Colby Rasmus Turns Back the Clock

Even after their big offseason moves, the Blue Jays were not the consensus pick to win the 2013 American League East, as three or even four teams seemed to have a good shot. Very few, however, probably thought the Jays would be the one team left out of the race almost from the start. Yet here we are in the middle of August, and Toronto is the only team in the division under .500, a distant seven and a half games behind the fourth-place Yankees. The litany of problems is well-known: the starting pitching has been terrible, Jose Reyes got hurt, and more. Not every player has been disappointing, however. Colby Rasmus, who came to the Jays in a 2011 trade with the Cardinals, is having his best season since 2010. Indeed, his performance this year resembles that 2010 season in multiple ways.

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Nick Markakis’ Stunted Power

The Orioles are in the thick of a playoff race once again After their dominating performance last night in San Francisco, they are just 1.5 games out of their second wildcard appearance in a row. Some of this year’s Orioles heroes are the same: Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Wei-Yin Chen. Manny Machado has used last season’s call-up as a springboard for a tremendous 2013. Nate McLouth has been a tremendous budget pickup.

Few would name Nick Markakis to the list of big contributors to the current run. In 2012 Markakis had his best wRC+ (125, .298/.363/.471) since his tremendous 2008 (138, .306/.406/.491). Thus far this year, Markakis is having the worst offensive season of his career, with just a 95 wRC+ (.284/.339/.377). The primary cause appears to be a serious power outage.

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Holliday and the Cardinals’ Post-Pujols Plan

Matt Holliday is not having a great year. It would be hard to say he is having a bad year, exactly, since he has hit .281/.362/.446 (128 wRC+) for the Cardinals, who are still within striking distance of the Pirates for first place in the Central, and as of today would be the top National League Wildcard team.

Holliday is clearly not playing up to his past standard, though. His 128 wRC+ is his worst since 2005, and his power, in particular, has dropped off, as he has only a a .165 ISO — the worst of his career. While some defensive metrics (somewhat controversially) used to see him as a good left fielder, the last couple of seasons even those that used to like his fielding have seen him as decidedly poor. Holliday has also missed more games than usual this year due to nagging injuries. He is also grounding into double plays at a rather frightening, Billy-Butler-in-2010 rate.

Still, all of that in itself would not necessarily be a problem for Holliday given his bat. The issue is that Holliday is 33, is making $17 million this year, and is guaranteed that same amount every season through 2016. Some of that money is deferred, but that is still a lot of money for a declining outfielder in his thirties.

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Hiroki Kuroda’s Case for the Cy Young Award

When it comes to thinking about the best pitchers in the American League this year, the names that jump out to most might be along these lines: Felix Hernandez (always awesome and having one of his better seasons), Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez (two non-Verlander Tigers having big years), Yu Darvish (strikeout machine), Chris Sale (great pitcher on a bad team), and Derek Holland (finally living up to his stuff in a hitter’s park). One pitcher that would probably come up less frequently is Hiroki Kuroda. He probably would not be totally ignored (especially by Yankees fans), but he has flown somewhat under the radar (has never made an All-Star game) for whatever reasons, some having to do the nature of his performance, some not.

External factors aside, an examination of Kuroda’s 2013 performance shows why he might not get as much attention for the year-end awards, but a deeper look also reveals his worthiness.

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2013′s Valuable Bench Pieces

Cleveland crushed Chicago 6-1 yesterday, largely due to Chicago’s year-long inability to get anything going on offense and Ryan Raburn‘s huge day. The domination of Chicago’s terrible hitting was not all that unusual, but Raburn’s performance was awesome. He had three hits, including two home runs, driving in four. More impressively, two of those hits (and one of those homers) came against Chris Sale. However bad the White Sox’ offense is, Sale has been the opposite of that as a starting pitcher since the beginning of last season.

One might point out that Raburn has always hit much better versus southpaws. Still, it is not as if Sale is a left-handed version of, well, Justin Masterson. Raburn was put in a position to succeed and has been used quite well this year by Terry Francona, who had enough confidence to have Raburn hit third yesterday against one of the American League’s best pitchers.

Raburn has been a great pickup for Cleveland, who right in the wildcard hunt. Inspired by Raburn’s big day and season, let’s take a closer look at him and two other part-timers, Mike Carp and Eric Chavez, who have provided very good value in part-time platoon roles.

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