RAB Live Chat

Previewing MLB 10: The Show

It seems like every year, baseball games get better and better. Back in the day we had a tremendous selection. Nintendo featured RBI Baseball and Baseball Simulator 1.000, two excellent titles, plus the playable Bases Loaded. (Though I was always partial to Base Wars.) Super Nintendo brought Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball, one of my favorite all-time baseball games. But with the introduction of the Sony Playstation, it seemed like baseball games slid in quality. Developer 989 Studios, a division of Sony, produced their MLB series, which I found unplayable. In order to finish a game in a reasonable amount of time I had to reduce to six innings, and that screwed over my players as they raced for stat tiles. Triple Play Baseball was kind of fun, but it still didn’t catch my attention.

Then came Playstation 2 and MVP Baseball — though it was nothing more than a rebranding of EA’s Triple Play series. Everything changed. The gameplay went faster, so you could play a full nine innings in a reasonable amount of time. The pitching system was better, too, making for a more fun game all-around. Then came the 2K series. For the 2006 season MLB/MLBPA granted 2K an exclusive (non-Sony) license to develop games. I loved the 2K6 game, though it seems like the game degenerated every year from there on. I got 2K8, but didn’t enjoy it at all. Thankfully, the Sony replacement for their MLB series, The Show, progressively got better and better. In 2009 it blew the 2K game out of the water.

As the season approaches, so does the release date for MLB 10: The Show. GameDaily has an early preview, and it looks pretty damn cool. The article starts off talking about the extras, like the Road to The Show feature and Home Run Derby mode, but I’m more interested in the actual game play. After all, that’s what the game’s all about, right?

According to GD, we should see some significant improvements in this year’s version.

The developers added 1,250 new gameplay animations, 1,000 presentation animations and 400 personalized pitcher and batter animations.

To me, animations can make or break a game. My biggest complaint with older Madden versions was that poor animations led to unrealistic gameplay. More animations means the computer can more accurately identify the most realistic option. It might not be as relevant in a baseball, where the main animation issues arise when there’s one defender chasing down a ball, as in football, where all 22 men are in constant motion, but it still matters in terms of playability.

Another excellent improvement: base running. Maybe it’s just me and my lack of skill with a controller, but I had a terrible time running the bases in MLB 09. Any improvement on that front would be greatly appreciated.

The game comes out on March 2, with a deserving player gracing the box.

Check out the article for more information on changes in MLB 10: The Show. This video also provides a quick, cursory rundown.

The best 3-4 combo in the game

The Yankees made two key changes from 2008 to 2009. First, they upgraded the pitching staff, adding two strikeout guys to the rotation. Second, they upgraded the middle of their order from merely good to world-beating powerhouse. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez ranked among the best 3-4 combinations in baseball last season, and with A-Rod back to full health they could be in for an even bigger season in 2010. Watching them come to the plate every two innings or so should be a joy.

Are A-Rod and Tex the best 3-4 combo in the game? The staff at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch try to answer the question. Their team has quite a combo itself in Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Most of them, however, concede the title to A-Rod and Tex — though as expected they emphasize RBI and power numbers. So, before we determine the best 3-4 hitters in the game, we should establish what makes a good 3-4 combo.

Power plays a large part in the middle of any order. The 3-4 hitters are expected to drive in runs, and doubles and home runs perform that task efficiently. They also need to possess on-base skills. Since even the best power guys hit for extra bases in fewer than 1/6 of their plate appearances, and since they also hit near the top of the order, they need to get on base to give the lower guys a chance to drive them in. Plus, more men on base means turning over the lineup more frequently, which means more plate appearances for the 3-4 hitters.

A note on the expectation of 3-4 hitters to drive in runs. This does not mean that RBI accurately measures a No. 3 or No. 4 hitter. In fact, it’s a pretty crappy measure. RBI for this hitters depend almost exclusively on production from the top of the lineup. For example, Skip Schumaker and Colby Rasmus most frequently hit ahead of Albert Pujols last season. Schumaker posted a solid .364 OBP, but Rasmus was well below average at .307. That combo wasn’t nearly on base as much as Jeter and Damon, with their .406 and .365 OBPs. Teixeira and A-Rod simply had more opportunities than Pujols and, later, Holliday.

(Though give Pujols credit here. Despite having a far inferior top of the order, he still drove in more runs than Teixeira. Such is the greatness of El Hombre.)

When measuring the value of a 3-4 combo, we should look for sheer offensive production. I’m not sure I’d even adjust any of the numbers for park, position, or anything else, though I’m open to arguments to the contrary. Again, we’re looking for the most productive, most dominant 3-4 combo. Position doesn’t much matter in this case. It might have effects on the rest of the line up — i.e., players at power positions can hit further down in the order and elongate the lineup — but we’re just concentrating on the 3-4 hitters.

As I work through this, I realize that we’re facing two questions right now. First is of the best 3-4 combination in 2009. The other is of the best 3-4 combination in theory. In other words, if everyone involved has a good year, which combination will produce at the highest level? Let’s take the first, easier question first. We can accomplish that by looking at the players’ times on base and extra base hits. Why counting stats? Because when you’re measuring the most productive players, time in the lineup counts. And, again, I don’t want to use WAR here, because it counts defense and makes positional adjustments.

A-Rod obviously gets dinged here for making only 535 plate appearances. I think this helps illustrate the point I'm making here. Yes, his .286/.402/.532 line is quite excellent, but he missed all of April and the Yankees lineup suffered for it.

We'll skip Pujols and Holliday for now, since Holliday got in only 270 plate appearances in St. Louis.

On-Base XBH
Mark Teixeira 259 85
Alex Rodriguez 187 48
On-Base XBH
Chase Utley 249 63
Ryan Howard 247 86

While this duo did outperform Tex and A-Rod during the 2009 regular season, I’m sure a healthy season from A-Rod would even them, and perhaps put the Yankees ahead. Extrapolating A-Rod’s numbers by 25 percent jibes with this. But, make no mistake, in 2009 the Philly duo was more productive.

On-Base XBH
Ryan Braun 260 77
Prince Fielder 287 84

Without a doubt, Braun and Fielder were the most productive 2009 3-4 combination. While Teixeira reigns as the best No. 3 hitter in this group — though Pujols as a No. 3 hitter is clearly superior — Fielder destroys the competition for the cleanup spot. Placed back to back in a batting order, they were unmatched in 2009.

Projecting the best 3-4 combination presents a bit more difficult task. Not only do we have to project numbers, but we also have to project health. It’s no simple task, and I see no easy way to accomplish it. We could average production over the past three years, or we could average together the available projection systems. If anyone wants to take on that task, be my guest. I’ll post it as an addendum to this post.

Using completely unscientific methods, I have a hard time seeing any combination dethroning Braun an Fielder. Not only were they the most productive 3-4 combination in 2009, but they did it at age 25. True, we can expect some fluctuation in their numbers this season, but the same is true of all players. Since they’re both in their physical peaks, however, we shouldn’t count on any significant downward trend.

That’s not to dismiss A-Rod/Tex, Pujols/Holliday, or Utley/Howard. All four combinations produce at an elite level, and a career year out of any one player could tip the balance in 2010. Again, based on my completely unscientific weighing of past numbers, here’s how I’d rank them.

1. Braun – Fielder

Tremendous hitters, and only 26 years old in 2010. Could easily produce another monster year.

2. Pujols – Holliday

Pujols is the best hitter in baseball, and Holliday has posted some excellent seasons (and also killed the ball upon arrival in St. Louis). Even if he falls back to his 2008 numbers, Pujols should be enough to carry the group.

3. Teixeira – Rodriguez

A healthy season from A-Rod could put him in Pujols territory. Combine that with the beast that is Teixeira, and you have a powerhouse that rivals Ortiz-Ramirez of the mid-00s.

4. Utley – Howard

The lowest of this crew is still among the best in baseball. Teixeira has outproduced Utley, and a healthy A-Rod can go toe to toe with Howard.

Another group of not-too-shabby 3-4 combinations: Mauer/Morneau, Beltran/Wright, Kemp/Ramirez, Martinez/Youkilis.

Photo credits: Braun (AP Photo/Jeff Curry), Fielder (AP Photo/Michael Conroy), Pujols (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File), Holliday (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson), Teixeira (AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams), Rodriguez (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi), Utley (AP Photo/Eric Gay), Howard (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Who wants a fringy starter?

The Yankees have reached the point this winter where they’re searching for one last piece. Not a major piece but rather a complementary one, an outfielder who can provide an alternative, if need be, to Brett Gardner. With just 41 days left until pitchers and catchers, the Yankees can take their time and let the market develop — and perhaps let Johnny Damon‘s asking price fall into their range. But, until then, we’ll continue to speculate.

For the most part we’ve focused on free agent acquisitions, mainly because we’ve discussed trade options and haven’t found much. But things change as Spring Training nears. The Yankees acquired Javy Vazquez, and now might trade one of their pitchers. Does that open up any new possibilities?

While it’s possible that the Yankees could trade Sergio Mitre or Chad Gaudin to a second-tier team for outfield fodder, but if they want to do so they’ll have to be patient. A number of starting pitchers remain on the free agent market — including Jarrod Washburn, Vicente Padilla, Jon Garland, and Doug Davis — who are similar to the Yankees’ duo. As we near Spring Training and their prices come down, they’ll begin to fill out team’s rotations. Unless a number of them continue holding out for more money, Gaudin and Mitre will probably remain fallback options.

The one scenario where the Yankees could unload Mitre is in a salary dump. The problem there lies in finding a team that matches up. How many teams would trade a moderately priced outfielder for Mitre? What if they added a fringy prospect to go along with the fringy starter? When discussing plans for the outfield, Brian Cashman said, “It might not just be a free agent. It could Come via trade.” Unless the Yankees plan to deal prospects and not one of their surplus pitchers, I’m not sure there’s an obvious match.

As the Yankees continue to wait, we’ll continue to wonder. From everything Cashman has said lately, the team does seek a right-handed outfield bat. Tired as the subject has gotten, it’s the last item left on the team’s agenda. They’re taking their time, as they should. It’s best at this point to wait for the right player, not the easiest to acquire.

Not your father’s Bubba Crosby

Brett Gardner tries to race Joe Mauer to the plate. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Following the 2005 season, the Yankees knew they had a center field problem. Bernie Williams, due to the destructive nature of age, could no longer man his long-term position, and having passed on Carlos Beltran a year before, the Yankees were facing a season without a set center fielder. Sure, Johnny Damon was a free agent, but the Yanks weren’t going to proclaim they’re desire for Damon less they give up some leverage.

Enter Bubba Crosby. In 2003, the Yanks acquired Crosby along with Scott Proctor from the Dodgers for Robin Ventura, and for parts of 2004 and 2005, he served as the Yanks’ fourth outfielder. Following the end of the 2005 season — an end brought about in part because of an outfield collision — Crosby had a career line in New York of .232/.266/.318 with an OPS+ of 55, but Brian Cashman said the Yankees were willing to start the season with Crosby in center field.

It was, of course, a bluff and an obvious one at that. Crosby couldn’t hit a lick, and he certainly wouldn’t be starting in center field for the Yanks. A few weeks later, right before Christmas, the Yanks signed Damon, and Crosby would suffer through just 96 more Big League plate appearances before calling it a career. Cashman’s threat never came to be.

Fast forward to today, and many commentators are calling the Yanks’ commitment to Brett Gardner a version of Cashman’s Bubba Crosby threat. This time around, Johnny Damon has priced himself out of the suddenly stingy Bronx, and although it seems as though he could return on a one-year deal worth approximately $5-$6 million, Boras and Damon would have to concede a big defeat to do that. So with Melky Cabrera now in Atlanta, the Yankees are looking at Brett Gardner as either their starting left or center fielder with Curtis Granderson filling the other position. The Yanks will try to find a right handed platoon partner — probably a Reed Johnson type if not Johnson himself, as Joe said earlier — and after that, the roster will be set.

So up in arms are those who want an All Star at every position. Up in arms are those who see Bubba Crosby in Brett Gardner. Reality looks quite different. Crosby was a 29 year old with no value. He had put up a combined -0.7 WAR in his first two seasons in the Bronx and had shown some average defense. He had no real Minor League pedigree and wasn’t a prospect.

Brett Gardner is a different story. Throughout the Minors, he’s shown the ability to get on base, and while he hasn’t flashed much power, we can’t just ignore a .389 Minor League OBP. Last season, he hit a respectable .270/.345/.379 with 26 stolen bases in 31 attempts. He has a career WAR of 3.2 and has been an above-average defender in center and left in his young playing career. On the cusp of his age 26 season, he should improve and be at least adequate in 2010.

In the end, we won’t know until after the fact if Gardner will amount to much. He may just be a more valuable fourth outfielder/pinch runner extraordinaire. For now, he’s the Yankee left fielder, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’ll give the team some value, and if we know what to expect, he just might exceed our expectations. With a power threat in center, the Yanks don’t need a traditional left fielder. They need an average bat and a good glove. Gardner as we know him now fits that bill to a tee.

Late night link dump: K-Long, Joba, Pitch F/X, LF

Quite a few short items to note this evening.

Kevin Long already working with Yanks hitters

On the official site, Bryan Hoch writes about hitting coach Kevin Long’s work with players this off-season. He’s currently with Alex Rodriguez, has spent time with Nick Swisher, and plans to visit Curtis Granderson before players report to camp. Unfortunately, it looks like Long won’t have enough time to visit with Robinson Cano.

Joba to be honored at Thurman Munson Awards dinner

For his philanthropic efforts this past year, Joba Chamberlain will be honored at the 30th Thurman Munson Awards dinner. As YESNetwork.com’s Jon Lane explains, “His DUI arrest in October 2008 was a big mistake and he’s done everything he said he’d do in terms of talking to children about the dangers of drinking and driving.” While the circumstances aren’t ideal, at least Joba has made the best of it.

Two pitch f/x tools to waste your time

Tango points us to a pair of pitch f/x tools. First is Texas Leaguers. The other is Joe Lefkowitz’s Pitch F/x Tool. Don’t blame me if you don’t sleep tonight.

Every available left fielder

I’m pretty sick of talking about left field candidates — hence compiled a list of free-agent, right-hand hitting outfielders. I still think Reed Johnson is the frontrunner, though the Yanks could go with Jerry Hairston. Xavier Nady remains a wild card, though I think if he’s healthy Atlanta will be in on that too.

Open Thread: Global World Series?

The news: Bud Selig wants to implement an additional championship baseball series. Redundantly dubbed the Global World Series, the plan would involve the MLB World Series winner playing the Japanese champions. According to Japanese commissioner Ryozo Kato, Seligs “wants to realize the plan before his tenure ends,” in 2012.

Two cliches come immediately to mind: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and leave well enough alone. People will certainly have differing opinions on this, and there’s no need to shout down people who want to see this implemented, but I don’t think it’s necessary. The playoffs already run long enough, and there already appears to be a talent disparity between the Japanese and American leagues.

The unevenness of competition becomes evident when viewing which types of players move to each league. Elite Japanese players come to MLB, while fringe players move to Japan. It’s basically a one-way flow of talent. If Japan loses players from its elite pool, while America loses players from its fringe pool, then can we expect a series between the best of each league to be fair? I’m firmly on the no side.

I’m sure some people will mention Japan’s status as two-time WBC champions, but that should play zero role in this decision. It’s irrelevant, actually. If the Red Sox make the Global World Series, Daisuke Matsuzaka will still play for them. In other words, this is not a battle of nations. This is a battle of leagues, and it’s pretty clear that MLB owns a distinct advantage. It might be better entertainment than the World Series champs playing the winners of the Bricktown Showdown, but there’s little reason to believe that the World Series champs wouldn’t prevail in the vast majority of series.

Then there’s the issue of season length. The World Series champs already play a seven-month schedule. Presumably the series wouldn’t involve a home-away-home scheme for logistical reasons. But if Japan agrees to this, surely the series would rotate every year. Why make the World Series champions, after seven long months of baseball, travel to Japan? It seems like more of a punishment than a reward. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love more baseball. But I’m sure the players enjoy their off-seasons, especially after 162 games and a month-long playoff schedule. Let the men rest.

Ultimately, I do not see anything coming from this. There’s just too much working against it. I won’t say this is just another attempt by Bud Selig to secure his legacy — nah, who am I kidding. That’s exactly what I’m saying.

Since not everyone will want to talk about a potential Global World Series, this will double as the open thread. Enjoy.