Ten Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

Some people need to be told that Cesar Izturis isn’t really that good.

You should have read the Chicago Tribune the day after the Cubs dealt Greg Maddux to the Dodgers for shortstop Cesar Izturis. Phil Rogers called it a “huge steal,” a “major blow for the Cubs’ uncertain future.” Another Tribune columnist, Mike Downey, said it was “one of the Cubs’ smartest maneuvers of this century.” I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

Look, Phil and Mike, Cesar Izturis is a good-fielding shortstop, no doubt. He did have a very good year in 2004. But the first half of 2005 was a fluke. And more to the point, his batting average is empty, meaningless. He doesn’t walk and he doesn’t hit for power. Take a look at his stats the last five years:

Year   Ag   AB    R    H 2B 3B HR  RBI   SB   CS   BB   SO    BA   OBP   SLG
2001   21  134   19   36  6  2  2    9    8    1    2   15  .269  .279  .388
2002   22  439   43  102 24  2  1   31    7    7   14   39  .232  .253  .303
2003   23  558   47  140 21  6  1   40   10    5   25   70  .251  .282  .315
2004   24  670   90  193 32  9  4   62   25    9   43   70  .288  .330  .381
2005   25  444   48  114 19  2  2   31    8    8   25   51  .257  .302  .322

In 2004, his best season, he drew only 43 walks in 728 plate appearances and his slugging percentage was .381. This year, he is batting .252/.302/.353, which is only slightly worse than what you can expect from him in the future. You know what? The Cubs already have a similar player on their roster. His name is Neifi Perez and his lifetime batting line is .270/.301/.380.

What’s more, the Cubs are above average in fielding groundballs already (+15). They don’t need more slick infielders.

Here’s the middle of the Cubs’ infield for the rest of the year: Izturis at short, Ronny Cedeno (.254/.279/.338 this year) at second and Perez as backup. The two batters at the top of the Cubs’ order will be Juan Pierre (.277/.324/.376 this year) and Izturis. That is pathetic.

The kicker is that Izturis’s contract calls for him to make $3.2 million this year and $4.25 million next year. There’s even a club option for 2008 at $5.85 million, which the Cubs can buy out for $300,000. Thank goodness. I really don’t know what got into Rogers and Downey.

Say, doesn’t the Tribune Company own the Cubs?

The Hardball Times now has its own baseball cards.

Like many of you, I collected baseball cards as a kid. So when Toronto photographer Aaron Reynolds offered to post his game photographs as baseball cards on our site, I was thrilled. I was even more thrilled when I saw Aaron’s design. Take a look at the card of this guy, who’s been pretty hot lately:
You are welcome to download the cards and use them on your desktop, in your blog or wherever you’d like. Right now, we have a collection of six players, but the library will grow quickly during the year.

Excruciating Lists

Did you know that…

  • The names of former majors leaguers Bill James and Jim Asbell are anagrams? Martin Duke and Mike Durant?
  • Bob Gibson didn’t have a Game Score below 25 in a single start in 1968?
  • Kevin McReynolds has the most game-ending RBI’s in Met’s history (a mere eight)?
  • On June 11, 2002, the starting lineups of the San Diego/Baltimore lineups had more Scrabble® points than any lineups since at least 1957? 184 points in all: (37 Vazquez, 27 Gonzalez, 25 Jimenez, 20 Pickford, 16 Lankford, 15 Cruz, 14 Klesko, 13 Kotsay, 12 Trammell, 5 Gant)

I discovered these facts and more on a wonderful new site called Excruciating Baseball Lists.

They guy who runs this site parsed the detailed Retrosheet game data from 1957 to 2005 and developed a bunch of wonderful trivial lists. Be sure to get lost in it. (Hat tip to the Sports Reference Blog)

The Mets have gotten the most out of “free talent.”

One of the ways to judge the management of a major league team is to ask how well they have taken advantage of “free talent,” or talent that is available to many teams at a relatively low salary. So I put together the following list of the number of Win Shares Above Bench that teams have gotten from free agents signed for $3 million or less. Admittedly, the results are more about luck than anything else, but it’s a revealing list:

Team      WSAB
NYN       15.3
TOR       12.8
LAN        7.1
TEX        6.1
CIN        5.7
ARI        4.7
OAK        3.9
STL        3.7
MIL        3.3
COL        3.1
CHA        2.2
SD         2.2
KC         1.9
NYA        1.2
WAS        1.0
LAA        0.8
BAL        0.8
CLE        0.4
SEA        0.3
PIT       -0.1
BOS       -0.1
HOU       -0.4
SF        -0.5
DET       -0.7
MIN       -1.7
ATL       -2.3
PHI       -2.5
CHN       -2.7
FLA       -3.6
TB        -7.2

The biggest free talent contributors for the Mets have been Jose Valentin and Darren Oliver; for the Blue Jays, Frank Catalanotto and Gregg Zaun.

$3 million may not exactly seem like “free talent” to you, but that’s the way of player salaries these days. It’s much harder to find truly free talent than it used to be. Ken Phelps, where are you?

The Twins have the best young talent; the Royals have the worst.

Here’s another Win Shares Above Bench table for you. It’s the total WSAB for players with less than six years of major league service (the magic free agent hurdle), and I’ve grouped the WSAB into one-year increments of major league service time.

Team      0-1    1-2    2-3    3-4    4-5    5-6    TOT
MIN        13      9     18      9      1     11     61
DET        29      7      4     11      4      6     60
CIN        11     -1      5     26      7      0     48
ARI         5      3     13     12     13            46
FLA        26     -2     18                    1     43
TEX         6      2      6      5      6     15     40
CHA         2      7     11     10      3      7     40
OAK         1     17      7     -1      6      9     38
LAA        12      2      4     20      1     -2     36
SD         12      5      9     -1      3      7     36
STL         8      6      0      0            22     36
WAS         5      7      1      1     -2     21     33
COL         4     14     -3      8      9      0     33
SEA        16     -4      5      3     -2     12     30
TB         -1      5     -2     15      1      9     29
TOR         2      7      8     -3      9      5     28
CLE        -1      6      3     16      0      2     26
NYN        -3     15     11      3     -2      0     25
PHI         2      4      9      2     -1      9     25
HOU         9      1      0      6      9     -1     25
MIL         6     -1     12      4     -1      4     24
BOS        13      5      0      1      3      0     22
ATL         7      3      3      3     -3            13
LAN        10      0            -1      1      1     12
SF          8     -1     -2                    4      9
PIT        -1      2     12     -5     -1      1      8
BAL         5     -2      6     -2      5     -7      6
NYA         4      2      0     -2     -2     -1      1
CHN        -9     -1     -1      2     12     -2      1
KC         -6      6      1     -5     -1            -5

The Twins have the best pool of players not yet eligible for free agency, but they just barely beat the Tigers, who have the most productive rookie class. The Marlins, of course, have the second-best group of rookies. But pity the poor Royals whose young players have been collectively worse than bench players. As they used to say on TV, that’s incredible.

Learning to Appreciate Isaías Látigo Chávez
A rival pitcher's great game holds a profound lesson for a young boy.

By the way, this table is also useful for gauging each team’s prospects for next year. The teams that are most dependent on players about to enter free agency are Washington (Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson), Texas (Vincente Padilla and Gary Matthews, Jr.) and Seattle (Ichiro and Gil Meche, though Ichiro is under contract for one more year). Luckily for the Cardinals, Albert Pujols is signed through 2011.

Where the Twins came from.

Will Young has drawn a nice “tree diagram” of the origins of every Twin ballplayer (who each player was traded for, etc.). It’s fascinating, and you can find it on his site. Are there organizational trees like that for other teams?

Horacio Ramirez has the highest Leverage Index of all starting pitchers.

After my WPA articles a week ago, one reader asked how Jason Schmidt could have such a high Leverage Index (1.13). I thought it was a good question, so I dug around a bit and I found that Schmidt doesn’t have the highest Leverage Index among starters. Atlanta’s Horacio Ramirez does.

Leverage Index, remember, is a measure of how “tight” a game is for each batter faced. Really good relievers are saved for “high leverage” situations and can reach an LI of 2.0, while starting pitchers tend to have a Leverage Index around average, 1.0. Ramirez’s LI is 1.22. How did he achieve such a high Leverage Index? First of all, he pitched late into some close games (no surprise, given the state of Atlanta’s bullpen):

– Seven innings in a 2-1 win
– Seven innings in a 2-1 loss
– Eight innings in a 5-3 win; when taken out, the Braves led 4-3
– 6.2 innings in a 3-2 loss
– Eight innings in a 5-2 win (most of the runs scored late in the game)

But there is something else. Ramirez didn’t pitch very well in some games and was taken out quickly. For instance, he pitched only 1.2 innings in the beginning of a 14-4 loss, and one inning in a 10-5 loss. So that’s the key to a high starter LI: pitch late into close games because your bullpen stinks and get taken out quickly when you stink.

David Ortiz is amazingly clutch, but he’s not the clutchiest.

David Ortiz simply can’t stop winning ballgames. In fact, according to this blog, he is 8 for 9 in walk-off situations the last year and a half. When you include the 2004 postseason, his numbers are even more amazing.

Since the end of the 2004 regular season, Ortiz has come to the plate in a walk-off situations 19 times—and reached base 16 times. He is 11-for-14 (.786), with 7 HR and 20 RBI.

It’s odd, but Ortiz isn’t in the top ten in clutchiness. His clutchiness is 1.34, pretty far behind Albert Pujols’ 2.26 and Geoff Jenkins’ 2.15. But remember that clutchiness is a relative stat. If a player is having a great year, like Ortiz, it will be harder for him to perform a lot better in high leverage situations.

Which makes Albert Pujols’ clutchiness even more remarkable.

There is a misspelling on Bruce Sutter’s Hall of Fame plaque.

The newly inducted Bruce Sutter’s Hall of Fame plaque says that he “lead the league in saves five times.” It may not be immediately obvious to you, but “lead” is either a present tense verb, or something you don’t want in your house paint. I think the Hall was going for “led.” Too bad that don’t have our crack staff of THT editors in Cooperstown.

You can view all the new Hall of Fame plaques at the MLB website. Thanks to the posters of SABR-L for pointing out that little goof.

Tomorrow will be Britney Spears Baby Safety Night at the Newark Bears game.

Seriously, having three kids of my own, I am flabbergasted every time I see someone in a car holding a child in their lap. Use safety seats, people! (Hat tip to Deadspin).

Speaking of the minors, Baseball America has started its annual “best tools” survey. Most exciting Triple-A players? Lastings Milledge and Howie Kendrick.

References & Resources
Correction: A reader has informed me that the Nationals signed Nick Johnson to a three-year extension in March, so Soriano is the only significant National who might walk at the end of this year.

Dave Studeman was called a “national treasure” by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Follow his sporadic tweets @dastudes.

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