Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Back to the Grind

Lineup construction is a topic that produces no shortage of opinions.

Most of us grew up learning the traditionalist’s perspective in lineup construction – fast guys bat leadoff, slap hitters who move runners over bat second and your best overall hitter bats third. Your “RBI guy” bats cleanup, your best clutch hitter bats fifth and the rest of the lineup is rounded out by placing the remaining hitters ranked by talent in descending order.

Other baseball fans – lineup construction heretics, if you will – will tell you that lineup construction is ultimately meaningless and that the difference between an optimal lineup and the worst possible combination of your starting nine players yields only a few additional runs per year.

I come in somewhere between those extremes. I strongly believe that there is such a thing as the optimal lineup - and you're never going to find it by following the traditionalist model.

I'm back at Flushing University this year and I'm completing my first column of the 2009 season tonight. Lineup construction is the main topic - I'm happy to see that Jerry Manuel is taking the concept seriously this time around. I also have some cool stuff from my Citi Field experience - you'll see that here later this week.

I hope that writing on a weekly basis will re-ignite my creativity - this blog has laid dormant for the better part of six months now. Loyal readers - come back to me!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Roster Move: Duaner Sanchez Released

This is still a bit of a surprise, but the signs have been there all winter. Duaner looked very good until about the All-Star Break, but had a terrible second half and wasn't exactly inspiring confidence this spring. Releasing Sanchez also gives the Mets a chance to balance their bullpen a bit, clearing the way for a second left-hander (Ron Villone?) or perhaps Bobby Parnell. The Mets seem to be the only organization in professional baseball that believes Parnell is a major league pitcher; I think that the other 29 teams may be on to something.

Sanchez's release saves the Mets some money too, which may play a bigger part in this decision than people realize. I think the Wilpons, especially after getting burnt by Bernie Madoff, are being very fiscally conservative right now and will be for the foreseeable future. If they release Marlon Anderson in the next 72 hours to save a few more bucks, it will be a clear indication that money is indeed very tight in Queens.

For now, here's a look at my early prediction for will make the Opening Day roster. Remember, I'm not ranking these players in terms of who I think should be there (otherwise Livan Hernandez would be nowhere near this list) - I'm ranking them in terms of who I think will break camp and head north.

I think the Mets are desperate to hand the job to Hernandez or Garcia and stash Niese at Buffalo; it's actually not a bad idea to send the kid to AAA, but I have no confidence in the alternatives. Villone and Parnell are the only two serious candidates for the last bullpen spot, unless Sanchez's release allows Omar Minaya to pursue someone like Will Ohman.

I don't see any serious contests for one of the 13 position player spots, except maybe for the right to be a backup outfielder. The Mets should release Anderson and break camp with Kielty and Reed (unless Pagan is healthy), but I think the front office's man-crush on Marlon still runs too deep for that.

Johan Santana
Oliver Perez
Mike Pelfrey
John Maine
Livan Hernandez
Freddy Garcia
Jon Niese

Francisco Rodriguez
JJ Putz
Pedro Feliciano
Brian Stokes
Sean Green
Ron Villone
Tim Redding
Robert Parnell

Brian Schneider
Ramon Castro

Carlos Delgado
Luis Castillo
David Wright
Jose Reyes
Alex Cora
Fernando Tatis

Daniel Murphy
Carlos Beltran
Ryan Church
Marlon Anderson
Jeremy Reed
Bobby Kielty
Cory Sullivan
Angel Pagan

Monday, March 9, 2009

I'm Jealous - Los Angeles Dodgers (Part II)

TW said ...
This (was) a ridiculous post. The ratio of Ramirez to Pierre to that of Hudson to Castillo is astronomically different. hudson hasn't played a full season in two years and his wrist is still in question. Castillo has looked good in st and can play comparable defense to Hudson. If the power numbers are what is bothering you, you're crazy.

Ramirez is going to hit over .310-.325. with 40+ homers and 130 RBIs Pierre will hit .260 with 3 HRs and 40 rbis. Point is you can compare a healthy Castillo to Hudson. You can't say the same in regards Ramirez.

Met fans are insane. Simply put, the reason the mets didn't make the playoffs last year is because the bullpen could not hold a lead. Forget every other factor. If the bullpen saved half of the games they blew last season they would have had 15 more wins. Hudson, castillo--joe Morgan wouldn't have changed that. Cased closed.

You're wrong and I'll tell you why.

First, it's not about a direct comparison of the four players (Manny to Pierre and Hudson to Castillo). It's a comparsion of the philosophies. Both teams had two positions on the diamond at which to consider upgrades - left field and second base. Both teams had an under-performing veteran at one position (Castillo in NY and Pierre in LA), and a platoon featuring a promising young player and a veteran at the other position (Murphy/Tatis in NY, Dewitt/Loretta in LA).

The Dodgers upgraded at both positions and strengthened their bench in the process. They may have the best everyday lineup in the National League right now. The Mets did nothing and congratulated themselves all winter for adding two relievers. They will simply have to hope for the best at the plate, leaving themselves with a series of question marks and easily exploitable holes in their lineup.

Personally, I like general managers who never stop trying to improve their teams, not general managers who hitch their fortunes to a series of "what-if" scenarios.

Second, it is an incredible over-simplification of the problem to say that the only thing this team needed to fix was the bullpen after last season. The notion that a team can make up 15 games in the standings on the strength of 130 innings pitched by two relievers defies all forms of logic. JJ Putz was injured and ineffective throughout 2008 - is he suddenly going to become a dominant set-up man because Omar Minaya told us he will be? K-Rod's strikeout rate has declined annually for the last five seasons and his 2008 WHIP was the highest of his career. Does your "additional 15 wins" scenario include seven more blown saves from K-Rod - the number he blew in 2008?

Every team in baseball blows saves - even the Phillies blew 15 of them last year. (You thought that because Brad Lidge was 41-for-41 it meant that Philadelphia's entire bullpen didn't blow their share of leads as well?) Met fans who actually think the only thing they needed to fix is the bullpen are deluding themselves - and will actually be shocked when this team limps home with 84 wins.

One last thought: JJ Putz and Francisco Rodriguez combined for 15 blown saves in 114.7 innings in 2008. The two men they are replacing - Billy Wagner and Aaron Heilman - had 12 blown saves in 113 innings. Good luck finding those 15 wins.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

I'm Jealous - Los Angeles Dodgers

Now that Manny Ramirez can stop worrying about filing for unemployment, the Los Angeles Dodgers have to be considered one of the teams to beat in the National League this year. Looking at the Dodgers' roster and some of the moves they made in this winter, I have to admit that Los Angeles is one of the franchises that I'm very jealous of right now.

The Dodgers made a point of upgrading their team this off-season, even though there were already "incumbents" at the position. But by adding Manny and second baseman Orlando Hudson, even though the Dodgers already had major-league options at both positions, LA sent its the message that it will not simply sit back and accept the status quo.

Contrast that with the Mets, who will run Luis Castillo back out at second base again in 2009 and hope for better things, even though there's little reason to believe he will ever be the player he was in his mid-20s. New York has already handed the left-field job to Daniel Murphy on the basis of a two-month hot streak last summer, even though they desperately need a right-handed power bat to balance out their left-leaning lineup.

Instead of trying to improve the everyday lineup, they did nothing, and the Dodgers signed two short-term deals with players that would've been perfect fits in New York.

It's not like the Dodgers didn't have internal options as well. They could have passed on Manny and given the job in left field back to Juan Pierre instead. Dodger fans would've howled, but the front office had a built-in excuse in place - a veteran signed to a long-term deal. (Does that sound familiar to you?)

Pierre is coming off perhaps the worst season of his wildly over-rated career, but is signed for another three seasons at big money and would be very tough to trade away. The Dodgers could've simply put Pierre back in his familiar leadoff spot and claimed that they were going to win with speed and defense, even though a knowledgable fan would've seen right through that charade

Instead, the Dodgers found the money for Manny and essentially told the rest of the league that there is now a speedy fourth outfielder for sale at bargain-basement prices. Pierre will be actively shopped throughout Spring Training, and I'm confident that someone will take a chance on him before too long, as long as the Dodgers are willing to pay three-fourths of his remaining salary. Otherwise, they'll be spending $10 million for a player who ideally would be no more than a pinch-runner and a defensive replacement.

Dodgers GM Ned Colletti made a big mistake signing Pierre - he took steps toward fixing it by signing Manny Ramirez. I only wish the Mets had a general manager who could also admit his mistakes and try to move forward from them.

In some ways, passing on Hudson is an even more egregious error in judgment than not offering a contract to Ramirez. Yes, Manny can be a headache, and the more conservative elements of the fan base will consider it a point of pride that the Mets did not sign a player with Ramirez's "baggage." It is a foolish and short-sighted way of thinking, of course; 35 home runs and a .300 batting average have a way of making a player with even the most checkered past look like a model citizen.

Hudson, meanwhile, is one of the best defensive second basemen in the league and his bat has finally caught up with his glove over the last three years. Hudson is also a switch-hitter who would do very well batting behind Jose Reyes in the Mets' lineup. Reyes and Hudson would've combined to provide terrific defense up the middle, which I believe is a key element to building a successful team. When you have two middle infielders who not only play their position well but can also contribute at the plate, you have a team that can be very successful.

But the Mets passed on Hudson as well, mostly because they've guaranteed $18 million over the next three years to Castillo. The Dodgers had $28.5 million committed to Pierre over the same time frame; it didn't stop them from committing $25 million to Manny this season to play left field.

So Hudson finally signed with the Dodgers for a $3.4 million base salary, with playing time incentives that could increase the value to nearly $8 million. The Dodgers already had options at second base as well; Mark Loretta signed a one-year deal with LA in the off-season and Blake Dewitt turned some heads during his rookie year. Now, Loretta and Dewitt will become two versatile utility men who between them can back at up at all four infield positions.

The end result for the Dodgers is a potentially devastating lineup and a strong, versatile bench, along with veteran trade bait that can be used to try filling other needs. The end result for the Mets is a series of hopes and dreams - maybe Castillo will have a bounceback season, maybe Murphy is ready for the major leagues, maybe having left-handed batters fifth through eighth in the lineup won't make the Mets incredibly vulnerable against left-handed relievers.

Which team would you bet on right now?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cut-Rate Ghetto Team

When you have writer's block - and I do - sometimes you have to let someone else say the words for you. Tim Marchman, as usual, says something I wish I had said first.

Andrew Beaton: Do you believe Omar Minaya and the Mets had a successful off season just because of the revamped bullpen that now features Francisco Rodriguez and JJ Putz, or do you believe that they needed to acquire another front end starter or another top of the order hitter?

Tim Marchman: All Minaya has to do is spend ownership’s money as well as he can, so he had a terrific winter because the easiest problem to fix was the bullpen and he fixed it as well as he possibly could have. The team as a whole had a really lousy winter. Given the way the last two seasons ended and that they’re moving into a new park that’s largely financed with public money it’s just embarrassing that the Wilpons didn’t give Minaya more money for another starter and an outfielder, even if it meant taking a loss. This was their big chance to get rid of the idea that the Mets are a cut-rate, ghetto team and they totally botched it up. A team with four of the top dozen or so players in baseball, the second highest franchise value in the game and a new park, and they’re too cheap to buy a pennant in the best buyer’s market in years. It’s really bizarre.