Tipping Pitches: 2010

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Macha Making Lineups for Dummies

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The batting order ultimately doesn't mean a whole lot, but that doesn't mean a manager needs to be devoid of any strategy.

On one hand, I appreciate Ken Macha for pushing the envelope. He spits in the face of tradition by occasionally batting the pitcher eighth and hitting Ryan Braun second. Yet, the next day he'll put a horrible on base guy like Carlos Gomez second.

It makes no sense.

Many like to criticize Macha for his daily lineup changes, but I understand there needs to be variety. George Kottaras can't start everyday at catcher, and that significantly impacts the lineup (as a high OBP guy, he should hit high while the rookie Jonathan Lucroy should not).

However, Macha seems to have little consistency. It's almost as if he knows a certain strategy is more successful, but he doesn't want to stick with it on a day-to-day basis in fear of excessive criticism.

And when you think about it, it's easy to criticize. Even when he's right, his lineups are often contrarian. And no lineup will work every time. But the dumbed down public can easily criticize when the "right" lineup failed to score in one game. In reality, you need many games to determine success or failure.

Let me cut to the chase. Let me make Macha's life easy. I realize the Brewers have various options and rotations. Here are the lineups he should stick with. I'll provide my reasoning below.

Option #1:

1. Rickie Weeks, 2B
2. George Kottaras, C
3. Ryan Braun, LF
4. Prince Fielder, 1B
5. Casey McGehee, 3B
6. Corey Hart, RF
7. Alcides Escobar, SS
8. Jim Edmonds, CF
9. Starting Pitcher

Why: You're putting your top OBP guys at the top. I'd put Braun and Fielder higher, but with the pitcher hitting ninth here, I want to have guys on base in front of them, and the pitcher would often be a detriment. Kottaras has a batting average just north of .200, but an OBP around .400, so he makes sense near the top. Ultimately, you want runners on base in front of your power hitters. While Edmonds may not be a prototypical eighth hitter, he is patient. Escobar is not. The eighth hitter needs to be selective in front of the pitcher. Additionally, it's nice to have a selective hitter after Escobar so that he can steal a base. You put Escobar in front of the pitcher, and the automatic bunt takes the steal away. Finally, I don't want both Lucroy and Edmonds in the same lineup.

Option #2:

1. Rickie Weeks, 2B
2. Ryan Braun, LF
3. Prince Fielder, 1B
4. Casey McGehee, 3B
5. Corey Hart, RF
6. Carlos Gomez, CF
7. Jonathan Lucroy, C
8. Starting Pitcher
9. Alcides Escobar, SS

Why: Many hate this, but I've grown to appreciate hitting the pitcher eight, particularly when you have a good hitting pitcher (the Brewers have several). This gives Braun and Fielder more opportunities, and Escboar essentially acts as the second leadoff hitter. He doesn't hit in front of the pitcher, giving him opportunity to use his spead. Likewise, Gomez isn't a prototypical sixth hitter, but this isn't a prototypical lineup. I want the top of the lineup to produce with guys on base and extra base hits. The bottom of the lineup with bunts and stolen bases. If Gomez gets on, he gets an opportunity to steal with Lucroy up. And his lack of patience would not be a detriment.

Option #3/4 vs. LHP: swap Braun and Fielder

Why: I've warmed to the swap. Macha drives me crazy because he can make so much sense at times while at others making none. Swapping Fielder and Braun against a left handed pitcher makes complete sense. Braun is having the bigger year. Braun also rakes left handed pitchers. But Fielder is the only real force from the left handed side of the plate, so a pitcher will often pitch around him (even with McGehee hitting behind him). But if you put Braun behind Fielder, pitchers will pay. So they are forced to pitch to Fielder.

I still think there should be variations, and not just these three options. But there is NO REASON a guy like Carlos Gomez should ever hit second in the lineup. He is one of the worst hitters on the team when it comes to getting on base. And if he does get on base, Macha will eliminate the steal in front of Braun and Fielder. So why in the world would you put a guy like Gomez in that spot? Put him where he can be successful.

I can't stress this enough. With a lineup like the Brewers', you need two halves: 1) the top half should be the half that gets on base and gets extra base hits; 2) the bottom half should rely on manufacturing runs with steals and bunts.

Brewer fans often complain about the Brewers' refusal to play small ball, but the complaint is often misplaced. The small ball strategy often doesn't make sense, partly because of the way the Brewers' lineup is designed. You should rarely play small ball in front of Braun and Fielder. Running into outs when an extra base hit is especially possible makes little sense.

But you can do both. You can play for bases and the long ball while also playing small ball later on. You just have to align your lineup appropriately.

The ultimate problem is multi-layered:

1) Fear of short-term failure. Ken Macha won't admit it, but he hates it when he bats the pitcher eighth or Braun second, or some other unconventional format and it doesn't succeed. He needs to ignore the criticism. No lineup is guaranteed success for one game. Fans will light him up, but let them. They aren't bright, and they'll learn. Over the course of the entire season (or at least dozens of games), if you use the right lineup strategy you can maximize runs. That still doesn't guarantee success if your pitching is terrible (or your offense isn't good enough), but it gives you a better chance to win.

2) Mainstream statistical ignorance. I'm sure Joe Morgan would hate such a lineup, as would most announcers on ESPN. They'd scoff, particularly when it would fail (whether reflected in an out or a loss). Let them. The acceptance is growing as is the opposition to shallow thinking.

3) It just doesn't seem right. Look, I've been there. When Ned Yost hit the pitcher eighth, I thought he was a fool. And he probably did it for the wrong reasons. Because he is a fool. But we need to overcome conventional wisdom. Start questioning tradition. Get passed the smell test. Stop saying, "If X manager didn't do it, then...". Tradition is often wrong.

Even as a stat head, I've had some traditional beliefs nailed into my skull when it comes to baseball strategy. I'd always thought there was a place for small ball. And I always assumed a "proper" lineup.

You know what I mean. The fastest guy hits first. The slap hitter hits second. Your best hitter third. Your big power hitter cleanup. Your next biggest power hitter fifth. Your next biggest power hitter sixth. Your non-descript guy seventh. Your other slap hitter eighth. And your pitcher ninth.

We accepted that as how it should be. But when you use logic, it doesn't make much sense. To score runs, you need runners on base. And to score the most runs, you need your best hitters up as much as possible. Finally, the leadoff hitter is only guaranteed to hit leadoff once.

Words to live by.

So help me. Join the revolution. Maybe you aren't a Brewers fan, but do me a favor. Rethink your team's lineup strategy, and challenge conventional wisdom. It's for the good of the game.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Influence of Lineup Spot on RBI -- Guest Blog

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Special thanks to Jeff Parker of RoyallySpeaking.com, who allowed me to invade his blog about the Kansas City Royals with an off-topic dive into XRBI and the impact of lineup spot on production.

[This is a follow-up to my post about the Death and Resurrection of the RBI.]

Today, I'm going to dive deeper into the RBI disparities in lineup spot. There are natural differences in lineup spot that will give one spot more opportunities than another with runners in scoring position. The obvious example is leadoff. If a batter is to come to the plate four times per game, one of four for the leadoff man is guaranteed to be with the bases empty. As a result, such a player is at a built-in disadvantage to drive in runs.

Read More...

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Death and Resurrection of the RBI

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Historically, mainstream sports media has dumbed down baseball statistics. Whether it's displaying a player's stats on the TV screen or providing support for why a hitter should be considered for the Most Valuable Player (or any other offensive) award, we've been spoon fed three main statistics:

Batting Average
Home Runs
Runs Batted In

There are other statistics, but this is what we are supposed to care about most. In fact, we've been told that if you are a truly dominant hitter and lead the league in all three, you should be awarded the Triple Crown. It's the epitome of offensive performance in baseball. Or so we're told.

Lately, the Sabermetrics community has continued to chip away at these long held assumptions. It seems that chicks will forever dig the long ball, but more and more fans are questioning the value of batting average and RBI, in particular.

While batting average may not be completely discarded (instead, seen as a statistic of merit, but inferior to on base percentage), the Run Batted In is viewed by many stat heads as having little or no value at all.

Why the RBI is a Flawed Statistic

It was his work as an RBI machine that netted him a spot in the Hall of Fame... Because he played in the shadow of Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Pete Rose, Perez was underappreciated during his career... -- on Tony Perez, from Cooperstown: Hall of Fame Players

Each night, I read a page or two from this wonderful book to my eight-year-old son, giving him a nice history of the players who are in the Hall of Fame. I couldn't help but cringe when I read this passage.

It's not that I don't think that Tony Perez was a great hitter. He had a long and distinguished career. He may even be deserving of Hall of Fame status. But insinuating that his inclusion as a baseball great falls entirely on this flawed statistic makes a very bad argument.

The problem is that the act of driving in runs is not an individual statistic. It is reliant not only on Perez getting hits (and timely hits), but having teammates who are on base. It is additionally helpful if those teammates are average to above average base runners to maximize runs scored (and therefore maximize runs batted in).

Perez played on some terrific teams. Beyond the Hall of Famers listed above, he also played with Lee May, George Foster, Ken Griffey and Dave Concepcion. Was he overshadowed? Or did Perez benefit as a result?

Part of the reason Perez drove in so many runs was that the Reds were regularly on base. His team scored the most runs in the National League four times from 1968 through 1976 and was second or third three other times during that span.

An example of a potential disparity of riches is represented in the 1975 season, one of the years the Reds scored the most runs in the National League. In nearly 43% of his plate appearances that year, Tony Perez came up with runners in scoring position. He batted fourth or fifth 87% of the time. By comparison, Dick Allen of the Philadelphia Phillies (a distant second in runs scored), batted fourth or fifth 91% of the time. Yet, he came up with runners in scoring position 32% of the time (which was actually the second highest rate of his career).

Perez needed to come through in clutch situations, and he did so frequently. He had a .512 slugging percentage with runners on base that year compared to .403 with the bases empty. But make no mistake, he was granted more opportunities to drive in runs than the typical player. Even had he fared poorly in clutch situations, the vast opportunities assured him of a nice RBI total (he finished with 109 in only 137 games, which was good for third in the NL and short of Greg Luzinski's mark of 120 despite playing in 24 fewer games).

And of course, part of the reason Perez was often up with runners in scoring position was that he hit either clean-up or fifth in the lineup 61% of the time during his career. This may seem obvious, but batters hitting third, fourth or fifth will have the most opportunities to drive in runs.

To again use 1975 as a comparison, the league leader in hits that season was Dave Cash, with 213. He played all 162 games that season as the Phillies lead-off hitter. As a result, he came up with a runner in scoring position only 22% of the time, resulting in a mere 57 RBI.

Of course, part of the reason Perez drove in more runs that year was also that he had more extra base hits than a guy like Cash, who was a singles hitter. Yet, you can't discount the fact that Perez came up in prime position to drive in runs nearly double the time.

Moreover, we are led to believe that singles hitters don't drive in runs because they are rarely in position to post high RBI totals. The reality is that a guy like Cash who piles on singles throughout the season would put up comparable RBI totals to a clean-up hitter with many more home runs and a much lower batting average -- only if, of course, both hitters were to come up to the plate with identical opportunities.

No two players have the same opportunities to drive in runs, and in fact the disparity when comparing different teams and lineup positions is significant. As a result, the RBI statistic is greatly flawed.

The Solution

Now, I'm not the first to propose some sort of solution to this (note: of course, I hoped I was but a Google search brought me back to reality). Tom Ruane of Retrosheet wrote a piece about Joe Carter a while back. Carter was a guy who would regularly hit for a low average but drive in a large number of runs.

Tom Tango, who developed the wOBA statistic, provided some inspiration for this study. Tango's stat is seen by many as being one of the most important measures of offensive worth. Among other things, wOBA assigns a runs created value to each offensive result. Runs created, however, combined both runs scored and runs driven in as a result of that outcome.

Luckily, Tom's a very accessible guy, and he provided a general RBI value for a single, double, triple, home run, strikeout (which is always zero), other out (including sacrifices), walks and hit by pitch, both with and without the DH. How? Lots of work, I'm sure. Taking all identical situations and averaging how many runs are batted in over several years of data.

First, the values (which have been shortened to be more manageable):

Single = .22
Double = .43
Triple = .64
Home Run = 1.6 (including driving one's self in)
Strikeout = 0
Other Out = .0275
Walk/HBP = .02

What does this mean? It means, given the average situation -- runners on base, base running ability of those on base, etc. -- a single will result in .218 runs driven in. It should be remembered that a batter does not need to get a hit to drive in a run, which is why outs, walks and hit by pitch are also included.

Suddenly, we can take the offensive output of any two players and determine which would have been the better run producer given identical circumstances. It's a wonderful stat, though of course it still is not perfect. Such a stat would not consider if a player were more "clutch" in situations where runners are in scoring position.

Yet, the variation (which I call XRBI) is still a vast improvement over the current RBI statistic. Below is a collection of the top 100 players in career XRBI, also including their total RBI and respective ranks. While there aren't a lot of major differences at the top (Hank Aaron is first either way), you'll note that several players you do not normally consider run producers (singles hitters like Pete Rose and Lou Brock) move way up in run production given a level playing field of run producing opportunities. Think that's weird? Look outside the box.

Oh, and Tony Perez, though he did indeed benefit from playing on offensive minded teams, was still a great run producer in terms of XRBI -- still 41st overall.

Player Name RBI RBI Rk XRBI XRBI Rk DIFF
Hank Aaron 2297 1 2275 1 0
Barry Bonds 1996 4 2059 2 2
Willie Mays 1903 10 2002 3 7
Babe Ruth 2217 2 1941 4 -2
Stan Musial 1951 6 1899 5 1
Rafael Palmeiro 1835 14 1789 6 8
Frank Robinson 1812 18 1785 7 11
Ken Griffey 1829 16 1776 8 8
Carl Yastrzemski 1844 12 1775 9 3
Eddie Murray 1917 9 1755 10 -1
Dave Winfield 1833 15 1675 11 4
Mel Ott 1860 11 1665 12 -1
Cal Ripken 1695 24 1662 13 11
Pete Rose 1314 91 1646 14 77
Reggie Jackson 1702 23 1624 15 8
Lou Gehrig 1995 5 1617 16 -11
Jimmie Foxx 1922 8 1614 17 -9
Ted Williams 1839 13 1604 18 -5
Alex Rodriguez 1706 21 1604 19 2
Sammy Sosa 1667 26 1604 20 6
Gary Sheffield 1676 25 1586 21 4
Ty Cobb 1937 7 1583 22 -15
Ernie Banks 1636 28 1573 23 5
Manny Ramirez 1788 19 1555 24 -5
Al Kaline 1583 37 1546 25 12
Andre Dawson 1591 34 1535 26 8
Frank Thomas 1704 22 1529 27 -5
George Brett 1595 32 1528 28 4
Mickey Mantle 1509 50 1519 29 21
Mike Schmidt 1595 32 1510 30 2
Billy Williams 1475 52 1490 31 21
Eddie Mathews 1453 55 1483 32 23
Fred McGriff 1550 41 1480 33 8
Harmon Killebrew 1584 35 1475 34 1
Jim Thome 1565 39 1470 35 4
Harold Baines 1628 29 1462 36 -7
Willie McCovey 1555 40 1451 37 3
Craig Biggio 1175 150 1439 38 112
Rickey Henderson 1115 183 1436 39 144
Paul Molitor 1307 97 1428 40 57
Tony Perez 1652 27 1428 41 -14
Robin Yount 1406 68 1419 42 26
Tris Speaker 1529 45 1410 43 2
Al Simmons 1827 17 1399 44 -27
Rogers Hornsby 1584 35 1398 45 -10
Luis Gonzalez 1439 59 1388 46 13
Jeff Bagwell 1529 45 1386 47 -2
Willie Stargell 1540 42 1384 48 -6
Chipper Jones 1445 57 1377 49 8
Dwight Evans 1384 71 1367 50 21
Dave Parker 1493 51 1364 51 0
Jeff Kent 1518 48 1345 52 -4
Honus Wagner 1732 20 1343 53 -33
Brooks Robinson 1357 77 1338 54 23
Carlos Delgado 1512 49 1335 55 -6
Mark McGwire 1414 66 1329 56 10
Darrell Evans 1354 78 1328 57 21
Rusty Staub 1466 53 1325 58 -5
Jim Rice 1451 56 1315 59 -3
Roberto Clemente 1305 98 1313 60 38
Carlton Fisk 1330 85 1306 61 24
Ivan Rodriguez 1264 114 1304 62 52
Steve Finley 1167 156 1302 63 93
Goose Goslin 1609 30 1293 64 -34
Andres Galarraga 1425 63 1291 65 -2
Joe Carter 1445 57 1289 66 -9
Vada Pinson 1170 155 1288 67 88
Vladimir Guerrero 1318 90 1287 68 22
Graig Nettles 1314 91 1287 69 22
Orlando Cepeda 1365 76 1276 70 6
Cap Anson 2076 3 1269 71 -68
Gary Gaetti 1341 80 1266 72 8
Duke Snider 1333 83 1265 73 10
Chili Davis 1372 74 1262 74 0
Joe Morgan 1133 172 1258 75 97
Joe DiMaggio 1537 44 1256 76 -32
Mike Piazza 1335 82 1251 77 5
Larry Walker 1311 93 1248 78 15
Paul Waner 1309 95 1247 79 16
Charlie Gehringer 1427 62 1244 80 -18
Jose Canseco 1407 67 1239 81 -14
Dale Murphy 1266 113 1238 82 31
Nap Lajoie 1599 31 1225 83 -52
Ron Santo 1331 84 1224 84 0
Juan Gonzalez 1404 69 1221 85 -16
Johnny Bench 1376 73 1218 86 -13
Al Oliver 1326 87 1217 87 0
Steve Garvey 1308 96 1215 88 8
Sam Crawford 1525 47 1212 89 -42
Garret Anderson 1353 79 1210 90 -11
Yogi Berra 1430 61 1209 91 -30
Lou Brock 900 338 1204 92 246
Tony Gwynn 1138 169 1204 93 76
Roberto Alomar 1134 171 1200 94 77
Don Baylor 1276 107 1187 95 12
Eddie Collins 1300 101 1185 96 5
Ellis Burks 1206 129 1184 97 32
Jason Giambi 1330 85 1182 98 -13

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blogging Ethics and an Impending PED Suspension

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Monday night, @injuryexpert (Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus) tweeted the following:

Ped suspension is coming.

This morning, he clarified in Under the Knife:

I hate covering these but for over a month, I've been getting whispers that there was a PED suspension being appealed. The process can be an extensive one, involving hearings and testimony, as well as some negotiation. There's no room to "plead down" on a positive test, so the attack is usually on Christiane Ayotte and her Montreal lab. Yesterday, I learned that a high-ranking baseball executive spoke off the record about the suspension being announced. He said it was a pitcher, but I couldn't get any solid confirmation of that fact by the time I posted on Twitter. (And yes, I did feel some pressure to get this out, but I also realized that by doing so, I was pretty much guaranteeing that someone else would break the name first.) I feel very confident in my information on this, but still have no idea about the name or the substance (though it's not an amphetamine.) It's pretty amazing that in a world where the new iPhone is pictured on the net, that baseball could sneak through the entire multi-week process with no leaks. That speaks well of the process put in place by the OIC and the MLBPA. While I expect the announcement today, baseball moves at its own pace

Later, Craig Calcaterra of NBCSports Hardballtalk clarified:

UPDATE II: I have learned that the player to be suspended is a National League pitcher.

UPDATE: I have learned that the PED suspension is NOT a New York player.

If you know me at all, you know that I eat this stuff up. It's not that I relish the downfall of athletes. I simply want every PED user brought down. If they did the crime, bust them. The more players who slip through the cracks, the less likely the game will ever be cleaned up. So even when the facts aren't all yet clear, I appreciate getting the heads up that something is coming. Builds the drama, and to be honest it's good journalism if what you want is to drive traffic to your site.

Of course, not all agree with this sentiment. Both Calcaterra and Carroll were widely panned for releasing "rumors" before all the facts were known in an effort to be "first." The argument: Until you know the player and the transgression, keep your trap shut.

Eh, I disagree. I believe both writers were responsible in the way this was handled. Neither began speculating on the name of the player being suspended. Both simply released the information known to be true. If there is indeed a player suspended this week, then we know they were reporting the facts. And if you have a reliable inside source, it's not a "rumor" in the first place.

Whether all of the facts are available yet or not, this is big news. The only big names to get a MLB imposed PED suspension are Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez. All reports are that the player will be a "semi big name" so this isn't small news.

If a plane goes down but you don't know who was on board, you report it. If a local 7-11 is robbed and you don't know the name of the perpetrator, you report it. You're responsible for making sure the information you release is accurate, but you report it. You release the additional facts as they come in, but you report what you know.

In particular, this is the type of reporting we should expect in our new, real-time media. Facts will trickle in. Information will be leaked. And as that information is available, we want to know. Those who claim we don't do not speak for the larger population.

Now, don't get me wrong, this can lead to irresponsible reporting. Once the word leaked of an impending suspension, fake news spread like wildfire about which player was involved. It wasn't the speculation that was the problem, but the false incrimination of players on blogs as if it was confirmed fact.

I won't mention the most popular name spread here because I will attempt to be responsible. I don't want to perpetuate a rumor proved to be false to my two readers (player's name starts with a "D" and ends with a "t").

But it does also raise a question: When, if ever, is speculation acceptable? And on which media? By whom? Falsely (and intentionally) naming a player as a PED user as an official, factual report is clearly wrong. What about talking with a friend? Talking on the phone? Writing an e-mail? This type of speculation is human nature. It's ultimately freedom of speech as well.

But what about speculating with social media? I naturally have my own suspicions. Everyone does. I'd suggest that speculation on Facebook isn't typically a problem since it is essentially a conversation with your friends (if you so choose to limit your audience to your friends only). On Twitter... there may be a gray area.

I admit that I speculated on Twitter (with my TippingPitches and not personal account), though I did so with a question mark to make it clear that this was not a report. Is this crossing the line? I have a public feed, but I also only have 58 followers. Granted, word can spread quickly, but one could argue that responsibility increases with the size of the audience. Or, one could also argue, you should be careful no matter what your audience.

So maybe that was a lame move on my part. But what if you don't have a blog? What if you're just talking sports because you're a fan? Do these people have a responsibility not to publicly speculate?

What do you think?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Trying to be a Reasonably Emotional Brewers Fan

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I am a Brewers fan. By definition, I have endured years of torment. Things were pretty good in the early years of my fandom, followed by more years of bottom dwelling than any one fan should ever endure.

I'm generally a pretty passionate dude. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I root hard for my teams, and I take it way too personally when things don't go well.

But I'm also getting older, more reflective, and more realistic. Now that the Brewers come into each season with some sense of optimism, I still don't demand a World Series or even the playoffs. I hope for it, but I realize much needs to go their way.

But the passionate side of me wants to break something about now. After 10 games, the Brewers have won four games and lost six. It's not even that they've lost six games that bothers me. This is nothing. It's how they lost them.

Two of the losses came to the Cardinals when the game was in the Brewers' back pocket. A lead in the ninth, Trevor Hoffman just has to shut the door. Once a one run lead with two outs, the other a three run lead. Both times, losses. Painfully.

Two more losses came when the Brewers had leads in the eighth. The previously reliable LaTroy Hawkins, each time, melted down to allow multiple runs and cough up the game. Each time, he was singled to death. One time against the hated Cubs.

Before today's heart-breaking loss, I had a talk with my eight year-old son that there's nothing to worry about. Anything can happen. They could start out 10-0 or 0-10, but that doesn't mean anything.

It's true, but I don't know how a fan can continue to endure losses on this painful scale so close together. You can be reasonable for just so long before worry sets in.

My biggest concern with this team isn't even the bullpen. It's not the offense, the one positive in an otherwise rough start.

It would be easy to say it's the bullpen, but that's too easy and obvious. Yes, they've coughed up leads repeatedly, but you can make a very reasonable argument that the bullpen will eventually be a strength of this team. No, there is something else here.

The offense won't always be perfect. The pitching won't always be great. But there are two constants with good teams: Solid defense and fundamentals. This team lacks both. As a result, it puts them in a position like they were in tonight where the game was close enough to blow a lead in the first place.

There should have been a large lead in the eighth. The Brewers reached base 12 times. In seven at bats with runners in scoring position, they managed a hit only once.

Carlos Gomez failed to put down a bunt four times. He also was doubled up -- stupidly -- off of second to end a rally in the eighth.

So they couldn't get the big hit and they couldn't execute fundamentally. But even then, this game could have been won. With a one run lead, Hawkins gave up an infield single on a weakly hit ball to third before hitting Josh Willingham. After a successfully executed bunt, Adam Kennedy drove in two runs on a single under the glove of Prince Fielder.

The thing is, it's called a "single" in the box score, but good first basemen make that play. He makes it, and there are two outs and still a one run lead. Granted, Will Nieves fallowed with a weak single of his own, but it's a different situation that could have ended with a different result.

And maybe the Brewers still lose that game, but it underscores the problem: This team can hit, but the lack of fundamentals and defense give the pitching little room for error. They may be fine if the pitching is average, but anywhere below average (or way below average, as they've been so far), and this team is in trouble.

I want to be clear that when I say "fundamentals" I am not suggesting the Brewers need to bunt or steal more often (many interpret such a word this way). I'm simply suggesting smart, sound baseball. It doesn't mean getting cute with unnecessary strategy. It just means not making repeated mistakes.

The offense will be up and down throughout the season, as will the pitching. But defense and fundamentals will carry you through rough times when hitting or pitching are not so strong.

I fear that these are two qualities that this team cannot improve. Which means they will rely on three things: 1) An exceptional offense, 2) an average pitching staff, and 3) luck.

Now, I'm a bit emotional after this loss, and I generally brush off a bad game or bad stretch of games while others claim the sky is falling. But I don't like that formula. The sky may not be falling, but it sure ain't sturdy.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Fixing Baseball: The Salary Cap Alternatives

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I've spent an awful lot of time and energy dissecting Major League Baseball's financial disparities and pushing for a salary cap. A conversation with my son today made me wonder: Have my priorities been poorly ordered all along?

As you may know, my son's third grade projects are my source of many a baseball research inspiration. It's because of a project I designed for him that I am in the process of ranking baseball's greatest players. Today, he told me of a presentation that he will be giving on baseball (of course). He will be answering 15 "questions" about the game.

11. How many rules have been added, taken away, and changed over the past 15 years?

Trying to lead him to one of these rules, I asked him why it is that teams like the Brewers are no longer able to keep their star players.

"Because of money?" he asked.

"Well, not really. Something comes before the money." Of course, I was speaking of free agency.

The Yankees are the target. The easy target. They spend the most money. They would seem to be the problem. With a salary cap, they could not spend so much money.

Well, sure, this is true. Partially. But it's only because of free agency that they're able to spend that money on any player they want. If a player wasn't a free agent in the first place, they'd have to focus their spending power on their own players.

Now, I'm not suggesting that baseball scrap free agency. But I think it's important to recognize that the initial problem isn't the Yankees or that there isn't a salary cap. The true problem is free agency -- free agency in its current form.

There are two surface issues with free agency (in addition to many more below the surface):

1) Small market teams rarely keep the star players they develop;
2) Flawed compensation structure for losing star players.

In many ways, these two are interrelated. Small market teams know they have little chance of signing a player if he goes to free agency. And if they lose said player to free agency, they will get a draft pick or two in return. The MLB Draft is an inexact science, so it's not much of a reward. So, rather than lose a player to free agency, teams choose instead to trade him while the return is still formidable. Waiting too long to trade a player will limit the return.

In other words, small market teams that develop a superstar are pressured to trade a player prior to his final year under their control, while he still has the most value. As a result, the "six years of control" would be a bit of a mirage. Sure, teams have the rights to a player for six years. But as you want to sell a stock before the value drops, teams often prefer to trade early rather than give their player away for the unknown quantity of a couple of picks.

So while teams have six years of control, it's often five. And while teams often have five years of control, those players are often at peak "star" level for only three of them.

Here are a few salary cap-free ideas that could help make free agency a better system:

1) Guarantee draft pick compensation.As the current system works, a team signing a Class A free agent will give up a first round pick (or their top available non-compensatory pick). If this team signs multiple Class A free agents, the signing of the lower rated free agent results in a loss of a second round pick. Great for the signing team, bad for the team losing the player. The solution would be to only allow the signing team access to the player if they have the corresponding pick to lose.

To make this work, I'd suggest loosening the rules on which picks are free game. Currently, compensation is limited to losing the picks they were scheduled to own before free agent compensation. However, I suggest that if a team loses a Class A free agent (thus giving them two first round picks), they would be allowed to sign two similar free agents (assuming they also have the second round picks to lose). In the case of signing two Class A free agents, highest pick would go for signing the higher rated player.

2) Improve draft pick compensation. The top available hitter and pitcher should each require the signing team's first and second round picks in addition to a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds.

Each of the first two adjustments would do two things: 1) With the compensation guaranteed, teams will not be stuck with a second round pick when they should have received a first round pick (see when the Brewers lost CC Sabathia to the Yankees, who also signed Mark Texeira the same off-season); 2) With compensation improved, the signing team has to think twice about giving up two high picks; and 3) With compensation improved, the player's former team has more motivation to hold onto their player through the entire six years.

3a) Increase team control to seven years before a player becomes a free agent. I'd love to say eight years, but I realize that seven would be a battle in itself. In addition to the increased draft pick compensation, home grown players would go from five years with the original team to seven, a noticeable improvement.

Note that such a change could also alter the amount of money he will command on the open market (though a more detailed study would need to be performed to confirm this). Assuming an average rookie age of 23, players would then go on the market at 30 -- instead of on the market at 29 or acquired via trade at 28. This may seem like a minor adjustment, but you may see shorter contracts and less money being thrown around to free agents as a result, thus getting free agent spending under control.

Now, getting that extra year may be a challenge. So, there could be a viable alternative...

2b) Team with a home grown player given the option after the sixth season to either "Franchise" that player or allow him to become a free agent. Let me explain. Using the rating system that classifies free agents, a team could put a Franchise tag on a Class A free agent, assuming it is a home grown player following their sixth year. In such a case, the player would be guaranteed a one year salary that is the average of the top 10 among hitters or pitchers (depending on the player). Additionally, Class B free agents could be given the average of the next 40, Class C the following 50. Of course, this amount could be tweaked.

The team could decide that such a player was not worth that kind of money and grant him free agency. If they do tag the player, they get him for at least one more year. Of course, if a player changes teams prior to their six year window expires, this does not apply. All players who are not home grown would not be subjected to such a tag.

Again, if a Class A player then becomes a free agent, he may be less likely to sign for huge money with another team because of the increased compensation and likelihood that he would be a year or two older than he would otherwise be on the open market. This could also help teams keep their home grown players, even when they become free agents.

Obvious Roadblocks
Of course, getting any of these proposals -- or even a variation thereof -- would be a chore. But in my opinion, they are more likely than the implementation of a salary cap to happen.

I've all but given up on a salary cap. The league is too far gone. When a team like the Yankees has a payroll that is four times that of some other teams, you can't penalize them going forward for something that occurred in the past. You can't set would would seem to be a reasonable salary cap of $100 Million when one team nearly doubles that now.

But while a salary cap is as likely as snow in Mexico, I realize that my proposals would get their share of objections as well. My goal is clear: 1) Keep players on their original teams longer (if those teams choose), and 2) Deter big spenders from signing all of the best players. Additionally, if the average age of free agents increases, the length and amount of the average contract would likely drop (less committed to players who are expected to decline sooner). As a result, the Players Association would have a difficult time with it.

Still, there may be a carrot somewhere that could make it happen. But discontent is growing. The financial gap between the Yankees and everyone else is widening. While a salary cap may not be possible, there are other ways to control what has become a very flawed and unfair system.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

MLB 2010 Non-Predictions: 10 Things That Will Happen

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These aren't predictions. These are the things that we know will happen this year. Why? Because they happen every year.

10. The Yankees will make the playoffs.

9. The Red Sox will make the playoffs.

8. As a result of the Yankees and Red Sox making the playoffs, small market fans will scream for a salary cap. Red Sox and Yankees fans will laugh at them.

7. There will be no salary cap.

6. The Cubs won't win the World Series.

5. Fewer than three Major League players will get busted for steroids. As a result, Bud Selig will proudly proclaim that "testing is working."

4. Jeff Suppan will suck.

3. Some obscure player will start out on fire for the first month of the season. Mainstream media will fall over themselves, calling him "the real deal." Soon after, said player sucks again and mainstream media forgets.

2. Tim McCarver will say dumb stuff and Joe Morgan will attempt to one up him by belittling Sabermetrics. Both will keep their jobs. The world will groan.

1. Hundreds will make safe predictions before the season starts. Hundreds will make unconventional predictions before the season starts. No one will be right, but no one will care.

What did I leave out?

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Rebirth of Suckball

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Several years ago -- eight maybe -- I "invented" a little something called Suckball. I use the quotes here because I realize there are no true inventions anymore. It was somewhat original, but something that I'm sure was done before. In fact, it's been done several times since then (I'll secretly take undeserved credit).

Of course, I did this while writing for Rotoworld, and our friends there loved that article so much that it no longer exists. Thanks, fellas. So there's no proof. You'll just have to believe me. Or humor me -- nod your head and smile, act like you read it.

The premise is simple: Pick the suckiest team possible. I know what you're thinking. "Just pick a bunch of tool boxes who never play!" You aren't the brightest, my friend. Of course we wouldn't do something like that. You want players who suck, but the "best" player to own would be one who sucks most often.

Think the Milwaukee Brewers' starting rotation in 2009, minus Yovani Gallardo. Suckball Kings. For offense, think Bill Hall.

In fact, I used Bill Hall as the gauge for determining when the scoring system was just right. If he was ranked anywhere outside of the top five, the scoring needed tweaking. What I finally came up with makes Bill Hall's 2009 season (334 AB, 8 HR, 120 SO, 11 GIDP, .201 AVG, .258 OBP) the second best offensive Suckball performance of the year.

The scoring system? Well, here it is for the hitters:

AB = 2
R = -2
H = -2
HR = -20
RBI = -2
SH = 2
SF = -2
SB = -6
CS = 2
BB = -2
SO = 2
GIDP = 2
Error = 2

Play Suckball!

Go here
League ID#: 626264
Password: suckball

Here are the 10 suckiest hitters last season:

1. Emilio Bonifacio
2. Bill Hall
3. Jason Kendall
4. Koyie Hill
5. Willy Taveras
6. Rob Johnson
7. Gerald Laird
8. Yuniesky Betancourt
9. Adam Everett
10. Joe Thurston

Let me be clear that the process for finding this scoring system was far from scientific. It ain't no Sabermetrics. I essentially used a lot of trial and error and the famous "smell test."

Now, I'm still tweaking the pitching points, but this is what I have so far:

Wins = -20
Losses = 10
Saves = -10
Outs = -1
Hits = 3
Earned Runs = 1
Home Runs = 10
Walks = 2
Hit Batters = 5
Strikeouts = -5
Wild Pitches = 5
Balks = 5
Holds = -10
Blown Saves = 20

As a result, here are the 10 suckiest pitchers from a year ago:

1. Jeff Suppan
2. Josh Greer
3. Jason Berken
4. Daniel Cabrera
5. Tomo Ohka
6. David Hernandez
7. Fausto Carmona
8. Logan Kensing
9. Sidney Ponson
10. Carlos Carrasco

I can get behind any Suckball rating that puts Jeff Suppan at the top.

I reserve the right to adjust these points a bit. In particular, the highest point scorer got about 300 a year ago, so I may just want to bump everything up a bit. Chicks love points.

So who wants in? Go here. If it asks for any info, here it is:

League ID#: 626264
Password: suckball

Thursday, April 1, 2010

MLB 2010: The Greatest Predictions Ever (from kids)

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If you know me, you know that I hate predictions. Sure, I wrote a 2010 Brewers preview and begrudgingly gave a haphazard wins prediction (85), but it was more or less the way I see them entering the season. Anything can happen. As they say, it's why they play the game.

I'm no fool, I know what's up. "Experts" stand up there and speak with conviction. They are supposed to be confident in their words or we won't think they are experts. But the truth is that despite the mounds of knowledge they have, they really have no idea how it will play out.

It's also why it kills me when fans freak out this time of the year, claiming their team's general manager is an idiot for doing this or not doing that. Please. Let's just wait and see how it plays out.


Luckily for everyone, I have the crystal ball. The magic wand. The Delorean, if you will. Vegas should hate me.

The source? My kids.

That's right. I'm going to give you predictions that are as good as any others that are out there. And they come from Michael, eight, and P-Dubs, who is five.

Note that I didn't provide any influence over these predictions. I wanted my boys to do this completely on their own, unaffected by the idiot adults. Think the Brewers are going to win the World Series? Fine!

Of course, they outsmarted me a bit. Michael gave P-Dubs a little talk before they collaborated on their predictions: "Now remember, this is about what is actually going to happen, not what we hope is going to happen." Wise words. Honestly, I think some experts need to live by them.

All I gave them was the 2009 results. From there, they were on their own. I stood back. Made no comments. Made no faces. This is purely from them. A third grader and a kinderg√§rtner.

[Note: I was hoping to compare their predictions to those of a major media outlet. Strangely, it seems sites like ESPN have become wise to this. They don't want the criticism. While individual experts will predict division and Wild Card winners, I couldn't find a league or World Series anywhere on ESPN or SportingNews. Luckily, my boys have the guts to make such a prediction.]

AMERICAN LEAGUE
EAST CENTRAL WEST
NY Yankees Minnesota Seattle
Boston Chicago Sox LA Angels
Tampa Bay Detroit Texas
Baltimore Cleveland Oakland
Toronto Kansas City  
 
Wild Card: Boston
AL Champ: NY Yankees
 
NATIONAL LEAGUE
EAST CENTRAL WEST
Philadelphia St. Louis LA Dodgers
NY Mets Milwaukee San Francisco
Atlanta Chicago Cubs Colorado
Florida Houston San Diego
Washington Cincinnati Arizona
  Pittsburgh  
 
Wild Card: San Francisco
NL Champ: LA Dodgers
World Series Champ: NY Yankees

Monday, March 29, 2010

Five Steps to the Perfect Family Fantasy Baseball League

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I'm a dad. I'm a stat nerd. I'm the father of three boys, two of which are at various levels of baseball stat nerd-dom (the third is a baby nerd). I want to encourage this nerd-ocity, and there are few better vehicles than fantasy sports.

Fantasy baseball is also a good way to get the competitive juices flowing with the family. Nothing serious, but good, clean fun. Of course, the ultimate challenge is making the league fair. As you know, I'm a baseball genius (go ahead, roll your eyes). My eight-year-old Michael is the heir to my Nerdery. After that, my wife Lisa and five-year-old Ryan (aka Pee Wee, P-Dubs or PW) are still figuring it out.

But I'm happy to say that we are running our second fantasy baseball league and the fourth fantasy league in all for the family. And I've only won once. In fact, I've had some pretty shabby showings as well.

Go ahead, laugh. But this is good for the league. The last thing the Loomer Family Fantasy League needs is a Yankees franchise with a built-in advantage.

It's great, great fun, and several sneaky lessons built in unsuspectingly. Here are the keys to the perfect family fantasy league:

1) Simple Draft. In our house, youngest drafts first and the oldest draft last. No snake draft, we go with the same order every round. Each round, we draft the same position. This knocks off a lot of the more complicated drafting strategy. No concerns about position scarcity or any of that crazy stuff. Everyone's picking a catcher in the first round. I also provide everyone with cheat sheets from ESPN.com so that there aren't any surprises about who is and isn't good. To avoid multi-position confusion, I also assigned a single position to all players.

2) Head to Head Scoring. Come on, you can't do Roto or Points Based with your family. It's just no fun. Even if a team is having a bad season, they can always look forward to taking on their brother or kicking their mama's butt. We go with H2H Categories, but only because I haven't thought of a good H2H Points system that is simple to understand and functional. I think H2H Points is better for football or even basketball, where you can make the final score seem like a real game score. We also make it so that each category is a win. No real reason. That's just how we roll.

3) No Transactions. When I say no transactions, I mean it: No Trades, No Waivers, No Lineup moves. In other words, No Bench -- everyone drafted will play. To some, this makes it boring. But again, we're playing with various levels of understanding here. There's a five-year-old playing. And I'm the only one logging in, so no one is putting in waiver claims. And since it's casual, I doubt we'll be checking our teams during the week (although P-Dubs has already been filling out some sheets of unknown purpose, so they may surprise me). And you know allowing trades is bound to cause problems. No vetoes, no arguments, just sharing a lot of love.

4) Everyone's in the Playoffs! I know, I know. This is dumb in a competitive league. But this isn't a competitive league. It's all for fun. We only have four teams, people. Having everyone make the playoffs actually backfired last football season when I won one game the entire regular season and won our Super Bowl. Of course, this inspired everyone to request the rule to be changed so that only the best two teams make the playoffs (you know this never would have been a request had such a miracle finish happened to anyone else!). Well, Yahoo! (our service of choice) has a four-team minimum. And since we only have four teams, our decision was either everyone's in or no playoffs. We've elected to stay with everyone's in. Even if the regular season means nothing, it's good to have that exciting final two weeks.

5) Make it Fun! Own it, baby. Every Monday morning following the week of match-ups, I'll gather everyone together so that I can announce the prior week's results. Plenty of suspense, of course. Sometimes I'll print off the results and post them in the family room. Play for some sort of prize. Doesn't have to be big, just something to make things interesting (and, no, I don't mean gamble). I think the greatest way to make it fun and instill baseball in your children is to watch games together. Make no mistake, this is a baseball family. We have the MLB Extra Innings Package (greatest purchase of all time). And while we will be watching mostly Brewers games, we'll pay close attention to who owns whom.

Loomer Family Draft Results
Sunday was an awesome day here in Colorado, so we took advantage of it by holding our draft in our driveway. Sat in a circle on lawn chairs, everyone with cheat sheets and pens in hand. I had my laptop on my lap, the Brewers game playing over my speakers while I logged the results in my incredibly awesome spreadsheet (you wish you had these spreadsheet skills!). We drafted 30 players (most allowed by Yahoo!), and the draft was over within an hour.

You'll note that P-Dubs, having the first pick, almost always went with the best Brewer. In some cases (Braun and Fielder), this wasn't such a bad strategy. In others (McGehee over A-Rod), it was not so smart.

Position P-Dubs Michael Mama & JJ Dada
C Joe Mauer, MIN Brian McCann, ATL Jorge Posada, NYY Victor Martinez, BOS
C Russell Martin, LAD Yadier Molina, STL Geovany Soto, CHC Matt Wieters, BAL
1B Prince Fielder, MIL Albert Pujols, STL Miguel Cabrera, DET Mark Teixeira, NYY
1B Ryan Howard, PHI Adrian Gonzalez, SD Justin Morneau, MIN Joey Votto, CIN
1B Todd Helton, COL Carlos Pena, TB Nick Johnson, NYY Kevin Youkilis, BOS
2B Rickie Weeks, MIL Chase Utley, PHI Dustin Pedroia, BOS Ian Kinsler, TEX
2B Aaron Hill, TOR Robinson Cano, NYY Placido Polanco, PHI Brandon Phillips, CIN
2B Clint Barmes, COL Brian Roberts, BAL Luis Castillo, NYM Ben Zobrist, TB
3B Casey McGehee, MIL Alex Rodriguez, NYY Evan Longoria, TB Pablo Sandoval, SF
3B David Wright, NYM Ryan Zimmerman, WAS Aramis Ramirez, CHC Chone Figgins, SEA
3B Chipper Jones, ATL Ian Stewart, COL Adrian Beltre, BOS Gordon Beckham, CHW
SS Alcides Escobar, MIL Hanley Ramirez, FLA Troy Tulowitzki, COL Jimmy Rollins, PHI
SS Derek Jeter, NYY Jose Reyes, NYM J.J. Hardy, MIN Yunel Escobar, ATL
SS Miguel Tejada, BAL Ryan Theriot, CHC Alexei Ramirez, CHW Elvis Andrus, TEX
OF Ryan Braun, MIL Carlos Gomez Matt Holliday, STL Matt Kemp, LAD
OF Corey Hart, MIL Carl Crawford, TB Ichiro Suzuki, SEA Justin Upton, ARI
OF Dexter Fowler, COL B.J. Upton, TB Jason Bay, NYM Jayson Werth, PHI
OF Conor Jackson, ARI Curtis Granderson, NYY Adam Lind, TOR Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS
OF Carlos Lee, HOU Manny Ramirez, LAD Grady Sizemore, CLE Adam Jones, BAL
OF Ryan Ludwick, STL Hunter Pence, HOU Coco Crisp, OAK Adam Dunn, WAS
OF Seth Smith, COL Cody Ross, FLA Alfonso Soriano, CHC Andre Ethier, LAD
OF Andrew McCutchen, PIT Josh Hamilton, TEX Milton Bradley, SEA Nick Markakis, BAL
SP Yovani Gallardo, MIL Tim Lincecum, SF CC Sabathia, NYY Roy Halladay, PHI
SP Cole Hamels, PHI Zack Greinke, KC Johan Santana, NYM Felix Hernandez, SEA
SP Dan Haren, ARI Adam Wainwright, STL Javier Vazquez, NYY Matt Cain, SF
SP Ben Sheets, OAK Cliff Lee, SEA Justin Verlander, DET Jon Lester, BOS
SP Jake Peavy, CHW Chris Carpenter, STL Jorge De La Rosa, COL Josh Johnson, FLA
SP Josh Beckett, BOS Ubaldo Jimenez, COL Matt Garza, TB Tommy Hanson, ATL
RP Trevor Hoffman, MIL Mariano Rivera, NYY F. Rodriguez, NYM J. Papelbon, BOS
RP Todd Coffey, MIL Huston Street, COL Francisco Cordero, CIN Jonathan Broxton, LAD

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Giving Readers What They Want Since 2010

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I started this blog in late September of last year with no real vision. I don't like admitting that, but the fact is that it was mostly as a casual blog for me to share my thoughts.

Now that my readership has doubled to two, I think it's time to get serious. And to get serious, I need to focus.

You've probably noticed I've moved exclusively to baseball discussion lately. While I enjoy writing about fatherhood, technology, food and my lawn, I think it's important to be consistent so that both of you know what to expect. As a result, you'll soon notice some changes in the way this blog is structured.

Of course, just writing about baseball isn't going to bring readers. I need to have a unique angle and a strategy. And if you've been following lately, you're starting to see that come together. Here are a few things that are ongoing or I have planned for the near future:

  • @TippingPitches on Twitter: I originally only used my personal account, but I use that for too many reasons. With the new account, you now know exactly what to expect, and it offers value that you can't get in this blog (it's not just tweeting links here). 
  • Awesome Baseball Names: Five times per day, featuring a new awesome baseball name from past and present (Twitter). There are about 400 names, and I have gone through about 150 so far. If you're good at math, you'll note that there are about 20,000 days of names left. Or maybe less.
  • Ranking baseball's all-time greatest hitters: I am working with a pool of about 10,000 and will begin revealing the results from the bottom. I have not yet determined what the bottom will be, but it may be 10,000. This way, we'll work our way up slowly. Either way, the rankings will replace Awesome Baseball Names once that list is complete. 
  • Android App: Beginning yesterday, we have a free Android App available for those of you with such a phone. Quickly access blog entries and the TippingPitches Twitter feed in one place.
  • Hall of Very Good: As a result of the research I am doing, a comprehensive list will be compiled of baseball players who either deserve to be in the Hall of Fame but are not or players who were excellent but not quite good enough for the Hall. I've stumbled upon many names I was unfamiliar with before, and also amazed at how good some of these players were. These players need some recognition. Will be writing one blog entry per player, featuring in the "Awesome Baseball Names" manner on Twitter.

And now, I ask you, the reader(s). What do you want? Do you want more advanced statistics? More historical analysis? More focus on the current game and players (mostly ignored so far)? More Milwaukee Brewers (I love the Brewers, but don't know that I want to focus there only)? What specific features do you want? What subjects will keep you coming back? Let's brainstorm and make this the best possible blog for you.

Because you're awesome.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Tipping Pitches Android App!

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It's official: Tipping Pitches is big time.

Ok, maybe not official, but we're working on it. Thanks to MotherApp.com, you can now add the Tipping Pitches app in the Android Market.

I think it's called the Android Market. I don't have an Android phone. I can't even install the app and see if it works well.

So, I rely on you, my one reader. I'm hoping you have an Android phone or this whole endeavor was a waste. Apparently I can't even link to it, that the only way you can get it is going to the Android Market.

[Seriously, Google, this is lame. I can link to iPhone apps.]

Anyway, add it and let me know what you think. It combines a feed of recent blog entries and the blog's Twitter updates into one place. This way, you always have access to nerdy baseball insights!

Feel free to provide some screen shots, give the app a high rating/review, or let me know what we can do to make it better. Gotta be honest. Not much flexibility. But I still listen because I care.

Previewing the 2010 Milwaukee Brewers

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I had to do this eventually, right? I have lived and breathed the Brewers since my early years as a baseball fan. In fact, I'd say I became a Brewers fan before I became a baseball fan.

The challenge of such a preview is remaining objective. As a fan, you have to be optimistic. And it's easy to get defensive when you feel that others in the media are slighting your team. As a result, you can overcompensate by being unrealistically optimistic.

That said, I tend to pride myself on my ability to remain objective. Of course, I haven't always been that way. I still remember being a displaced Brewers fan in Michigan, sending Mitch Albom a 20 page print-out of my predictions for the 1987 season. Of course, the Brewers were going to win the World Series and sweep the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards. They were just so talented!

It didn't work out for those Brewers, but I was in seventh grade then. I'm objective now. I'm a stat guy, and you lose your soul as a stat guy. I don't base performance on intangibles, guts or chemistry. I try to see the players for what they are.

So let's do this.

Starting Rotation
Ouch, did I have to start here? Major sore spot last season. The Brewers finished dead last in the Majors in starting pitching ERA in 2009. That's pretty freaking bad, especially considering they play in the National League without the DH.

But let's be objective. Yovani Gallardo, the team's ace, had his first full season in the bigs. He was part brilliant and sometimes erratic, finishing with a very respectable 204 strikeouts and 3.73 ERA. The opposition batted a mere .219 off of him.

Although Gallardo's numbers were strong, he was spectacular in the first half. Prior to the All-Star break, he had a 3.22 ERA and walked 55 batters in 114 2/3 innings pitched (4.3/nine). After the break, Gallardo's ERA ballooned to 4.56. Control was his biggest problem, walking 39 in 71 innings (4.9/nine). Batters also hit 40 points higher off of him in the second half.

Most people are high on Gallardo. Most realize that he is only getting better. Most understand that he was likely tired in the second half. He'll take a step forward this season.

After Gallardo, the rotation was ugly in 2009. Braden Looper won 14 games but with a 5.22 ERA. No pitcher with more than four starts, other than Gallardo, finished with a starting ERA under 5.00. In fact, the four pitchers after Suppan who made more than four starts all had ERA's over 6.00.

Braden Looper is gone. Let's get one thing straight: Jeff Suppan isn't good. If the Brewers decide to start him again, they can expect nothing better than his 2009 performance. Anything under a 5.00 ERA would be a major miracle.

However, unlike last season, the Brewers are not forced to start Suppan. They may in the beginning, but all indications are that it would be as the fifth starter. Unlike last season, they actually have the depth to replace him if necessary.

Dave Bush is a serviceable back of the rotation starter, and looked strong last season before getting hit on the elbow by a Hanley Ramirez line drive. Prior to the 2009 debacle when his ERA swelled to 6.38, you could typically expect something in the mid to low 4's from him.

Manny Parra has been 90% potential and 10% production so far in his career. At 27, this is the year he either becomes a solid starter or starts bouncing from team to team, minor league team to minor league team. He has the stuff to break out, but it's difficult to expect much from him. That said, it's still very easy to put money on an improvement over his 2009 ERA of 6.36.

Chris Narveson made four starts at the end of last season for a 3.38 ERA. He is the dark horse and is unlikely to start the season in the rotation. However, he's a lefty who shows promise and should at least be a decent arm out of the pen.

Still, not a lot to hang your hat on outside of Gallardo.

Wait! Two new veteran arms have been added to the rotation in Randy Wolf and Doug Davis. Wolf enjoyed what was possibly a career year in 2009 with the Dodgers, finishing with a solid 3.23 ERA. After John Lackey, he may have been the best free agent pitcher available. Doug Davis isn't pretty to watch, but he eats innings and can expect to bring you a low to mid 4 ERA.

Wolf and Davis may not be ace material, but they are certainly upgrades over Braden Looper and the slew of fill-ins the Brewers trotted out to the mound last season. For the first time in many years, they have depth, and they expect to go into the season with seven pitchers ready to start, moving the two who don't make the rotation to the bullpen.

Will they have one of the top rotations in baseball? Unlikely. But this rotation is being grossly underestimated. Gallardo, by all accounts, is ready to become an elite pitcher. Wolf and Davis are quality starters. And given the depth, it is unlikely they will be stuck with pitchers with ERA's well north of 5.00 in 2010.

Prognosis: I expect the Brewers rotation to be middle of the pack in the National League, which is a major improvement over 2009.

Projected Rotation:
  1. Yovani Gallardo
  2. Randy Wolf
  3. Doug Davis
  4. Dave Bush
  5. Jeff Suppan (initially), Manny Parra (eventually)
The top three are automatic. I keep coming back to Dave Bush for the fourth spot. He is the most dependable and the most experienced of those who have promise. Jeff Suppan may get an initial shot, but I'd expect him to have a short leash. He'll get very few starts in April as the fifth starter, and will probably be given two or three chances to prove he deserves it. If he fails (likely), Parra or Chris Narveson will move in. For the long haul, I think Parra is ready for the job.

Bullpen
The Brewers bullpen finished with a respectable 3.97 ERA in 2009, which was 16th in all of baseball (tenth in the National League). However, it should be noted that only the Dodgers' and Padres' bullpens threw more innings. For the Brewers, this was because of a lack of production from the starters. With starting pitching expected to improve in 2010, the bullpen is less likely to get overextended.

The changes aren't all that significant here, but the Brewers didn't need to make wholesale changes. Trevor Hoffman, who had 37 saves and a minuscule 1.83 ERA in 2009, will continue to anchor the pen. Work horse Todd Coffey appeared in 78 games, finishing with a 2.90 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 2009.  Lefty specialist Mitch Stetter was simply unhittable against left handed hitters, having a .178 BAA from that side of the plate.

These are three solid relief pitchers. However, it is difficult to expect this level of performance from any of these three again in 2010. Hoffman is 42 and will turn 43 in October. He relies entirely on location and fooling hitters with his changeup since his fastball is an offspeed pitch in the arsenal of most. He may be great again this season. But it would not be surprising if a sharp decline occurs.

The Brewers did add veteran LaTroy Hawkins to the pen, and he will provide stability as well as another option to close games when Hoffman needs the inevitable breather. No one knows what to expect from Carlos Villanueva, who may start the year in the minors since he has an option and the Brewers seem determined to move their extra starters to the bullpen.

Those extra starters not only provide depth to the rotation but depth to the bullpen. Additionally, the Brewers have something waiting that they haven't had in some time: a legit relief prospect in Zach Braddock, who is ready to go whenever he is needed. Braddock sparkled in 2009 and has shown he belongs this spring. He simply needs the opportunity to pitch.

Prognosis: Overall, I see the Brewers' relief pitching remaining about the same. They had some pitchers over perform in 2009, but there is added depth in 2010 that did not previously exist. The bullpen has a high ceiling, but a reasonable expectation is for little change this season.

Projected Bullpen:
  1. Trevor Hoffman (Closer)
  2. LaTroy Hawkins (Set-up)
  3. Todd Coffey
  4. Mitch Stetter (Lefty Specialist)
  5. Claudio Vargas
  6. Chris Narveson
  7. Manny Parra/Jeff Suppan
Waiting:
  1. Carlos Villanueva
  2. Chris Smith
  3. Zach Braddock
  4. Chuck Lofgren
  5. John Axford
This is the most logical scenario, assuming the Brewers stick with Suppan throughout the season and don't eat his salary. Villanueva is the odd man out, though he gets the quick call as soon as injury strikes. Zach Braddock has shown signs that he will dominate at the big league level. Don't be surprised to see him sooner rather than later if a lefty goes down. Mark Rogers may see some big league time if he continues to progress, but in all likelihood it won't be until September call-ups.

Offense
Scoring runs was not a problem for the Brewers in 2009. In fact, it was the only reason a team with the worst rotation in baseball was able to finish with a respectable 80 wins. Anchored by one of the best middle of the lineup duos in all of baseball in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, the Brewers finished third in the National League with 182 home runs and 785 runs scored.

Barring an injury, we know what to expect from Braun and Fielder. Both will hit somewhere around .300 with 35 to 45 home runs and 110 to 125 runs batted in.

After these two, however, little is certain. Casey McGehee emerged as a surprising source of offense in 2009, leading all rookies with 16 home runs. Given he accomplished this in a partial season and hit .301, can he maintain this level of performance over an entire season? It's unlikely, but the Brewers would gladly accept a .275 average and 20 home runs from their third baseman.

While the Brewers of the past scored via the home run, the 2010 iteration will score in multiple ways, assuming they get on base. Gone are Mike Cameron and JJ Hardy. In are youngsters Alcides Escobar and Carlos Gomez. While both have blinding speed and will steal bases this season, only Escobar has proven (albeit in limited time) that he can hit Major League pitching. Gomez, with a lifetime OBP of .292 in 348 games, has plenty of room to grow. Will he?

It's unknown what Hardy will do this season in Minnesota, but it is likely that Escobar will at least match his play at the plate in 2009. Once a powerful shortstop, Hardy was a major disappointment in 2009, hitting .229 with 11 home runs and spending the final month of the season in the minors.

Also gone is Jason Kendall, possibly the weakest hitting regular in all of baseball. It is highly likely that anything provided by veteran Gregg Zaun and his yet-to-be-determined back-up will be an improvement over Kendall's putrid offensive performance.

Rickie Weeks was on his way to a break-out season in 2009 before undergoing the second wrist surgery of his career. Weeks was the driving force behind a strong Brewers start, hitting nine home runs in 37 games and boasting the second highest OPS among second basemen behind Chase Utley to that point. All indications are that Weeks is completely healthy, but fans are cautiously optimistic. Even if he does not perform at the level he set in his short stint last season, a healthy Rickie Weeks will provide the Brewers a major boost. And all signs from spring training are that a healthy Rickie Weeks will be a productive Rickie Weeks.

A major sore spot in the lineup last season and heading into 2010 is right fielder Corey Hart. An All-Star in 2007, Hart is now a below average performer, both offensively and defensively. Prior to suffering a season ending appendectomy, Hart hit a mere .260 with a .335 OBP and 12 home runs in 115 games. Hart has become susceptible to the slider low and away, and does not appear to have improved in that area this spring. While he is adding a new pair of prescription goggles to his ensemble, most Brewer fans are pessimistic about any chance of re-emergence in 2010.

The bench may be a major strength for the Brewers this season. Craig Counsell had a career year in 2009, and proved very valuable as a replacement for Rickie Weeks. Now that Weeks is healthy, Counsell can once again come off the bench. Acquired for Tony Gwynn, Jr. early in 2009, Jody Gerut seemed like a lost cause prior to the All-Star break. However, most fans failed to notice he was quite productive during the second half. He could spell or even challenge Hart for his position in right field.

A potentially valuable addition to the outfield is Jim Edmonds. Though he has been out of baseball for a year, he does not appear to have lost his strike zone awareness or bat speed. He is still a solid outfielder and will provide a good left handed bat off of the bench in addition to competition for time in right field and center, depending on how Hart and Gomez do.

Prognosis: Braun and Fielder make this team go. While there are more question marks in 2010, there is depth to cover for struggling or injured players. Speed will add a dimension, but the question will be whether those fleetest of foot (Gomez and Escobar) will get on base to use it. Ultimately, the key ingredient to this offense may be Rickie Weeks. If he is healthy, the Brewers will score runs at a high level.

Overall, a realistic expectation is for a minor drop-off. Less power, more speed, more mistakes from young players, and questions about health. Corey Hart needs to step up or risk losing his job.

Projected Lineup:
  1. Rickie Weeks (2B)
  2. Alcides Escobar (SS)
  3. Ryan Braun (LF)
  4. Prince Fielder (1B)
  5. Casey McGehee (3B)
  6. Corey Hart (RF)
  7. Gregg Zaun (C)
  8. Carlos Gomez (CF)
  9. Pitcher
Bench:
  1. Craig Counsell (2B, 3B, SS)
  2. Joe Inglett (Utility)
  3. Jim Edmonds (CF, RF)
  4. Jody Gerut (CF, RF)
  5. George Kattaras (C)
Waiting:
  1. Mat Gamel (3B)
  2. Jonathan LuCroy (C)
  3. Eric Farris (2B)
  4. Adam Heether (3B)
  5. Lorenzo Cain (CF)
I wonder if Gamel would have made the roster even if he hadn't gotten hurt. The Brewers have a very solid veteran bench, and Gamel needs to get his at bats in the minors. In the event an injury strikes or McGehee is unable to follow up a solid rookie season, Gamel will get the first call. If Corey Hart and/or Carlos Gomez struggle, Lorenzo Cain is climbing the ranks quickly and should be ready to make the jump. Possibly the organization's best prospect, second baseman Brett Lawrie is still a year or two away.

Defense
I'll spare you the UZR stats, but the Brewers were not a good defensive team in 2009. The only area they could have been considered above average was in center field and shortstop, but both Cameron and Hardy are now gone.

That said, it is entirely possible that the Brewers replaced both players with youngsters who are defensively superior. Both have the potential to be elite with the glove and cover an amazing amount of ground at their positions. The question, of course, is whether both players are able to hit in order to maintain a firm hold on their starting spots. It's likely that Escobar will, particularly since he has little competition. Gomez, however, may not be able to display his defensive tools on a daily basis.

While Fielder and Braun are elite offensive players, they are below average in the field. That said, Fielder did make strides last season (from terrible to acceptable) and Braun was still learning the outfield a year ago after a switch from third base. Braun is a terrific athlete and has the potential to be an above average defender. Realistically, he may become average in 2010.

Casey McGehee arrived in camp a year ago with the reputation as a solid glove man, but he failed to deliver in the field. He brought back memories of Braun in 2007, but unfortunately for McGehee those memories were in the field. He was one of the worst defenders at his position a year ago, though in his defense McGehee did suffer with bum knees throughout the season. It is possible that a healthy Casey McGehee will be improved in the field.

Rickie Weeks was making strides in the field before getting injured last season, but he is an average defender at best. Gregg Zaun provides no improvement over Kendall behind the plate, and Corey Hart is Corey Hart. The Brewers get better defensively if they swap out Hart for Gerut or Edmonds.

Prognosis: If defense wins championships, the Brewers are in trouble. While the potential is there to be a better defensive team in 2010, quite a bit needs to go right. Rickie Weeks needs to remain healthy and continue to improve with the glove. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder can't level off. Casey McGehee has to prove that last season's defensive deficiencies were injury related. And both Escobar and Gomez need to establish themselves offensively to utilize their defensive skills.

Overall, I see no improvement here with a greater possibility for a drop-off than for improvement. They can improve as a defensive unit, but there are too many factors to make it a good bet.

Final Assessment
I'm not real sure why, but the media seems to be down on the Brewers this season. While there is potential for very minor regression on offense, in the bullpen and on defense, the only obvious change is in the rotation, where there will be noticeable improvement. They won 80 games a year ago with the worst starting pitching in baseball. Everything went wrong with that rotation. Based on the development of Gallardo and acquisitions of Wolf and Davis, the odds are greatly stacked in favor of a major improvement. And given the rotation's new depth, the back of the rotation is unlikely to again have pitchers with ERA's over 6.00.

While I don't see the bullpen improving, the new strength of the rotation will help keep the bullpen fresh. There is some potential for drop-off, but the Brewers are set up for a solid, if unspectacular and average, pitching staff.

The offense and defense have some question marks, but the changes since last season are minimal. Braun and Fielder still man the middle. Complementary players help, but the two big guys ultimately make this team go.

I don't see the Brewers faring worse in 2010 than they did in 2009, and this is a fully objective assessment. They have weaknesses, but they are stronger and deeper as a team than they were last season. They will no longer need to win games 8-7. They now have good enough pitching that their offense will win more close games.

I can't predict what the Cubs and Cardinals will do. The Cardinals are the media darlings. People see Pujols and Holliday as an unstoppable force, even though Holliday appeared suspect in Oakland prior to his trade to St. Louis. He will not duplicate his performance. And while he's bound to be dominant if healthy, health is always the question with Chris Carpenter.

The Cubs are bound to rip their fans' hearts out once again. They've done little to improve their roster. It's fun to watch them implode. They do have good enough pitching, however, that will keep them competitive.

Will these teams finish ahead of the Brewers? I don't know. But there will be competitive baseball in Milwaukee this season, and I expect an improvement over 2009. Though predictions are vastly overrated and largely meaningless, I project 85 wins for the Brewers. Hopefully that will be enough for a Wild Card berth.

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