There’s an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune today about Kevin Towers and his ability to build bullpens. Well, that’s what the article would lead you to believe at first. The main topic of discussion is Heath Bell. He’s a somewhat strange case. For the most part, his minor league numbers were good, despite a few iffy years. But he never found success in the majors during his early years. Yet, through it all, he’s always been able to 1) strike out a ton of guys and 2) not walk too many. If you’ll glance through his stats in the minors and majors, he’s been able to carry at least a 3:1 K/BB ratio most of the way. And in the later years in the minors, it was far greater than that.
“I can’t really get into details,” Padres General Manager Kevin Towers said yesterday, “but we have guys who do stat analysis who look at lucky versus unlucky. Heath had horrible numbers in the big leagues, but (based on) hard-hit balls versus non-hard-hit balls and balls that should have been caught that weren’t, he just had rough, rough luck.”
Now, I’m not going to sift through batted ball charts right now. Maybe that’s an exercise for another day. But for now, let’s look around the majors who in some way or another fit the Bell profile. We’re talking guys in their late 20s who have had minor league success in the bullpen, but who haven’t quite put it together on the major league level. Peripherals are really key. We’re looking for a strikeout an inning, or at least close to that. And we’re looking for a 3:1 K/BB ratio.
Frasor has been in the majors since 2004, and he actually had a decent year in 2005, so he might not jump out at you right away. But if you look at his major league numbers, he’s put up a strikeout an inning and at least a 3:1 K/BB ratio over the past two years. His ERAs in those campaigns: 4.32 and 4.58. But what I find most similar between Bell and Frasor are the minor league marks. Once Frasor was converted to the bullpen in 2003, he was a strikeout machine. The best part is that he doesn’t walk too many. In fact, in his first year in the pen, he struck out 86 in 61 innings, which is insane. It’s more insane that he struck out 87 the previous year in 112 innings. And to bring the insanity meter even higher, he walked just 18 guys in 2003, giving him a K/BB ratio of 4.78. He could really help out an improving Blue Jays bullpen this year.
Balfour had spent most of his career with the Twins until 2006, when he was signed by the Red, and then split time between Milwaukee and Tampa Bay in 2007. In the majors, he’s put up ERAs in the mid-4s. And when you look at his peripherals, he seems to walk a few too many guys to fit our desired profile. But he does strike out more than a guy an inning, which is the first step. Now, take a gander at his minor league numbers. Well now. Those K:BB numbers are looking a bit nicer. The Brewers hid him for a bit in the minors last year, where he racked up 47 strikeouts to 11 walks in 32 innings. So yeah, the potential is there. And really, if you look at his game logs, you’ll see that his ERA last year was rather tainted by a zero-inning, four-run outing against the Red Sox. We could certainly see Balfour step up this year and become another cog in Tampa Bay’s hypertrophying pitching staff.
You might notice a discrepancy in Casilla’s age. Look at his Baseball Reference page, and then his minors page. The A’s roster has him as being born in 1980, so we’ll say that he’s entering his age 28 season. He only has one season of more than six innings in the majors, last year, when he tossed up a 4.44 ERA in 50.7 innings, striking out 52 and walking 23. So he walked just a few too many guys, but nothing too too alarming. He had a similar trend in the minors, too, basically a 2:1 ratio. So why do I mention him? His previous years have been better. Back in 2005, he struck out 103 batters in 65 innings, while only walking 29. That’s 14 per nine innings! I’m not sure what happened in 2006, though. He struck out 32 in 33 innings, walking only 10, which is quality. But he tossed under 35 innings for the year, which speaks of injury. RotoWorld notes shoulder issues in 2006. Casilla has only been up in the majors for one season, really, and could struggle again in 2008. However, he’s not a bad bet moving forward, especially if he can regain that electric strikeout stuff he apparently demonstrated in ’05.
I really considered leaving Aquino off here because of his walk rates. He’s managed decent strikeout rates since converting to the bullpen, but he’s never really gotten far past the 2:1 K/B ratio, even in the minors. He had some arm troubles last year which limited his playing time. But if he can find some way to bring down that walk rate, he’s going to find success in the majors. Of course, it makes sense then that Andy MacPhail picked him off of waivers this off-season.
A few other guys to keep an eye on:
Of course, none of this is guaranteed, not by any means. A thorough scouting job needs to be performed on each guy before you can say that he’s going to blossom into a viable reliever. However, given the statistical profiles, it seems these guys are worth a look.
BA revealed their Top 100 List today, and surprisingly they didn’t cut it into two parts like most years. Joba comes in at number three (behind the overrated Jay Bruce and the underrated Evan Longoria), making it the second year in a row the Yanks boasted the top pitching prospect in the minors. (I’m not counting Dice-K from last year; dude was basically a veteran). Joba’s backed up Jose Tabata (#37), Austin Jackson (#41), and IPK (#45). Alan Horne could be considered a snub, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it.
Update: Horne, Jeff Marquez and Jesus Montero each got a few Top 100 votes in the “Best of the Rest” section. Sorry, subscription required. · (17) ·
The Yanks held their drawing for Premium Ticket sales yesterday, and I just received the following e-mail from the Yankees:
Dear Yankees Fan: Thank you for registering for a chance to purchase tickets during the 2008 Yankees Premium Game Pre-on-sale. Unfortunately your entry was not selected for the online opportunity. As a fan, your loyalty to the Yankees is unparalleled and we would like to thank you for registering. As a reminder, all 2008 individual game tickets go on-sale, online only, on Friday, February 29, 2008 at 10:00 am.
Anyone else on the receiving end of this one? Anyone win the lottery and get a chance to buy the Premium Game tickets? I bet the scalpers did. · (28) ·
I missed the Bobby Meacham era in the Bronx. It was right at the cusp of my worldly – and baseball – consciousness.
In fact, Meacham made his Bronx debut when I was three months and one day old. He played his final game a few months after my fifth birthday, and at that point, little Ben didn’t care that much about the backup infielder with 134 plate appearances.
Offensively, Meacham had a pretty bad career for the Yanks. In 457 games, spanning parts of five seasons, he hit .236 with a .313 on-base percentage and a .308 slugging. Behind the scenes, things were even worse, as Bill Madden writes in today’s Daily News:
A Yankee for parts of five seasons, from 1983-88, he was subjected to some of the imperious and impulsive owner’s most notorious indignities. On the fourth game of that ’84 season, Meacham committed a two-out error that allowed the go-ahead run to score in a 7-6 Texas Rangers victory over the Yankees. After the game, an infuriated Steinbrenner ordered Meacham demoted to the minors, which wound up being Double-A Nashville because Andre Robertson, the Yankees’ first-string shortstop in ’83, was re-habbing at Columbus from injuries suffered in an automobile accident.
Three years later, Meacham again came into Steinbrenner’s crosshairs when, in a spring training game against the Braves, he committed two errors on a pock-filled infield in West Palm Beach. It didn’t matter that the Yankees had committed six errors as a team that day, Steinbrenner called GM Woody Woodward and ordered him to “get rid of Meacham.”
In a way, Meacham has some big shoes to fill. Larry Bowa is, as Madden writes, one of the most respected baseball minds in the game and a stellar third base coach. But for Meacham, that doesn’t matter; he’s just happy to be back.
As we creep into our second year at RAB, I often think about why we blog. As many of you know, we’re rather prolific, for better or worse, and it’s no small investment of time to go along with the day jobs the three of us have. So why do it?
For me, at least, the answer’s fairly simple: I love baseball; I love talking about baseball; and I love writing and sharing my thoughts about baseball. This is our version — a hopefully high-brow version — of sports radio. We can write and talk about baseball, and we’re all Yankee fans.
But what about the players who are also bloggers? What’s their motivation?
In today’s Times, Tyler Kepner posted that very same question to Phil Hughes. Hughes’ new site — The Phil Hughes Weblog — is a site very much in tune with this generation of bloggers. Hughes is about three years younger than the youngest of us, and for him, much like millions of people writing on WordPress.com, Blogger, Tumblr or elsewhere, keeping a blog just seemed like the best way to get himself out there.
His answers to Kepner’s questions are very revealing. “The fans are very important to me,” Hughes said to Kepner. “Without them, I wouldn’t have a job, basically. I try to give back as much as I can. It’s almost a no-brainer.”
The rest of the piece — a profile on the blog — is both illuminated and amusing. Kepner on Derek Jeter‘s reaction:
Jeter smiled when asked if he had thought about maintaining a true blog. “That’s too much for me to worry about,” said Jeter, who was in sixth grade when Hughes was born. Maybe, he mused, there was a generation gap.
And Kepner on Brian Cashman‘s reaction and Hughes’ intentions:
General Manager Brian Cashman said he had concerns about players maintaining Web sites that could embarrass the team. Cashman added that he would rather not have players breaking news; Curt Schilling of the Red Sox has done that on his blog, 38pitches.com.
But for now, Cashman has no reason to worry. Hughes says he has no plans to detail each start, the way Schilling does, and the only news he broke was his change in uniform number (to 34 from 65), which he revealed this month.
“Fans get enough baseball information from you guys; that’s your job,” Hughes said, referring to the news media. “I don’t try to do any of that. I want them to feel they have a connection with me. That’s kind of the main idea.
“To me, baseball players always seemed so larger than life. I guess one of the points I’m trying to make is that it’s not really that way. You can idolize players, but you realize they’re just guys. That’s kind of what I want to get across. I’m not any better than anybody else. I just happen to have this ability that not many other people have.”
Basically, then, Hughes is doing what any other 20-something with an Internet connection is doing these days: He’s blogging about his life.
For the fans, then, Hughes’ blog makes him more human and more accessible. More than just a young phenom pitcher on the Yankees, he’s Phil Hughes, a real person who got excited, as we all did, when David Tyree pulled down that pass from Eli Manning a few weeks ago.
With Spring Training upon us, who knows what the future holds for Hughes’ blog? Baseball players find themselves rather busy, spending 81 of 162 games on the road. But now we know why Hughes blogs. Just like the rest of us, he wants to share.
While the media has reported that Brian Cashman may be judged by his bosses based on the outcome of the Johan Santana trade, publicly, Hank is singing a different tune. Kat O’Brien, the official beat writer of Hank Steinbrenner, caught up with Hank, and he spoke positively of Cashman. “We’ll talk about it during the season. It will just happen when it happens naturally,” he said. “I think you guys are trying to create controversy here where it doesn’t exist.” All that talk of Cashman’s demise was grossly exaggerated. Expect him back in the Bronx for a long time. · (6) ·
Do you know the last time the Yankees won the World Series without a substantial contribution from a left-handed starter? Nineteen forty seven. Nineteen hundred forty seven. More than sixty years ago. The Yanks won the 12th World Championship in franchise history that year; that’s how long ago it was. Is that unbelievable, or what?
The greatest Yankee teams fall right in line with its long tradition of great left-handed starting pitchers: Lefty Gomez. Whitey Ford. Ron Guidry. Andy Pettitte. Heck, even guys like Fritz Peterson, David Wells, Dave Righetti, Al Downing and Ed Lopat have their place in Yankee lore. For all the great catchers and center fielders who have marched through the Bronx over the years, the backbone of the franchise has been its left-handed pitching.
The Mets unveiled their Citifield logo today, and it’s, um, one for the ages. Emma Span takes an amusing look at the latest in corporate synergy. I’m just glad new Yankee Stadium will remain Yankee Stadium. Call me a traditionalist, but it just looks – and sounds – better that way. · (7) ·
Earlier today, I offhandedly mentioned Derek Jeter‘s weekend comments about blood tests in baseball, and frequent commenter Geno took me to task for dismissing something newsworthy. So let me fix that.
Over the weekend, Derek Jeter opined on Bloomberg Radio that blood tests for HGH would not be intrusive and openly advocated for these tests. “You can test for whatever you want to test for,” he said. “We get pricked by needles anyway in spring training, so we have a lot of blood work to begin with.”
On Monday, he drew flak from the Players’ Union over these comments. Jeter had to explain his position while Union leaders were a bit more outspoken about it:
“(The problem) has gotten so much attention now, I think it would probably silence a lot of people that were critical of guys … so I wouldn’t mind it,” Jeter said. “I can only comment on myself; I don’t know about other people. I don’t like needles very much, but I wouldn’t mind it.”
“I’m not saying I would ever be in favor of it, but if we did do it, that would be the only way the general public would finally believe that baseball is completely clean,” said Mike Mussina, the Yankees’ players union representative. “But I don’t know if it will ever come to that.”
Jason Giambi, who was at the center of the BALCO scandal, said: “I’m up for whatever they want to do. I don’t really care.”
“This has to be a union decision, not an individual one,” he added.
And that’s the problem. That’s the problem with this whole Mitchell Report and the flap over Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee.
The Mitchell Report was intended to produce change in Major League Baseball’s supposed drug culture. It was supposed to draw attention the shortcomings of its drug testing policies and the institutions and institutional attitudes in place that prevented and still prevent the sport from developing top-notch testing procedures. When Union members start speaking out and the Union forces them back into line, it’s clear that the Report utterly failed.
Instead, we get a Congressional circus with no real denouement or any sense of resolution. A hearing supposedly about drug use in baseball turned into a “he said, he said” fight.
While the Union will always defend itself, Jeter should be praised for taking a stand. Maybe his comments were off-the-cuff, and had he thought about it, he wouldn’t have broken ranks with the MLBPA. But he has, and baseball needs more players to step forward if the drug policy and public perception of the game is to change for the better.
Tyler Kepner in The Times and Mark Feinsand in the Daily News both tackle LaTroy Hawkins today. The Yanks’ latest veteran addition to the bullpen is impressing his bosses during the early days of Spring Training. Hawkins is a vital piece in the bullpen this season; if he can turn in some consistency from the set-up role, Joba would be free to move to the starting rotation. · (13) ·