An Excuse To Talk About A Few Things…

I like this set a lot. I completed it, and have a lot of doubles that I can send if someone wants a big head start.

Chuck James’ career, sadly, is pretty typical. A great rise, then when arm trouble started, he tried to pitch through it, couldn’t, and his career went poof.

And typically, he went down to the minors from where he hasn’t returned yet. Much like in ye olde days, where a horrific year (2-5, 9.10 in seven starts) would land someone in New Iberia or Zanesville. James wound up taking a year off then pitching well for Harrisburg and Syracuse last year upon recovery from surgery. I saw him pitch for Harrisburg last year on a business trip in New Hampshire and he looked sharp.

He’s in Twins camp this year. I don’t think he’s a candidate for the major league roster, since they have Mijares, Hughes, and Perkins as lefties in the pen and Scott Diamond as a Rule V player. Plus, he’s still got homer-itis, since he’s given up two dingers in 5 2/3 innings thus far. But he’s a lefty and breathing, so he’s just a heartbeat away from the bigs!

But what caused me to post was the weather up here in the Twin Cities.

I was out at 9:00 buying binders (and a couple o’ packs o’ Heritage) and it was…

SLEETING!

What freakin’ month is this?

And the Twins are playing outdoors here in Minnesota on April 8. The typical weather in April is cloudy in the 40′s. Sleet on March 22? Could be an issue…

You Sure You Want To Lock Up That Player?

Smart teams lock up their building blocks before they are free-agent (or even arbitration) eligible in order for cost certainty and to focus on other needs. The Indians first started to do this with the plethora of young players they had developed or acquired in the late 80′s.

Yet it’s important that teams keep in mind the kind of player you are locking up.

Pitchers, of course, are always crap shoots. Only a few escape without injury or a temporary (or permanent) loss of effectiveness. Hitters, however, tend to be a wee bit more predictable.

Just a wee bit, since you can never predict anything in sports, really, with 100% certainty.

There are certain kinds of players that you could probably predict will NOT age well more often than not, and care should be given when signing an extension or a free agent contract. Pronk is one of those players.

They have, as Bill James once put it, “old players skills”. That is, a young player with no speed, high walk rate, and high power rates. Normally, it’s also associated with a lack of defensive prowess but that’s not 100% certain. Many times, they have a lower BA than normal, but if their batting averages are high in the 20′s, in their early 30′s they start to decline faster¬† and they either adjust (like Jim Thome or Jason Giambi) or fade away.

Hafner was 29 years old in 2006. He was a butcher in the field and a load on the bases but could smack the ball around the park. He had three great seasons and Cleveland decided to lock him up. He wasn’t free-agent eligible but he was arbitration eligible and the Indians decided they didn’t want to lose him after 2008.

So they did the rational thing – signed him until…2012? (With an option until 2013.)

Hafner’s entire game is his offense. If he doesn’t produce at the plate he has no value. He also limits the manager’s flexibility. Victor Martinez couldn’t DH on off-days catching because of Pronk. When you’re dropping $66 million on a guy, you want him in the lineup every day.

Between 29 and 30, Hafner’s bat speed declined a skosh – enough for him to decline from 5.9 to 2.5 WAR.

Then, the injuries hit.

Sounds like an older player – declining value on offense then injuries. But he was only 30 when that started. Ta-dah, old player skills.

James first noticed this in a comment on Tom Brunansky. The same thing happened to Alvin Davis – who was out of the league by age 32 (which is surprising as heck to me).

So if the past is prologue, which it is, then if I have a 29-year old slow power hitter who walks a lot and struggles on defense in LF or 1B, I’d think twice about signing him much past age 32. Let someone else take that chance. Sure, they may become Jim Thome, but Thome for years has been a platoon player and not making $11 million a year.

 

 

Um…

Shane got on a card. Actually, he was on a few of the many releases in 2006-07 but this is his ‘mainstream’ card as it were, even thought it’s in the Update set.

But I really had to scramble to figure out who he was. And while my baseball passion took a dip for a while, I still knew many players by name.

Mr. Komine wasn’t one of them.

I do have questions:

A. Why does a kid from Hawaii play college ball in Nebraska? I like Nebraska; it’s an underrated state. But Hawaii vs. Nebraska is like D-1 vs. NCCAA.

B. There was an article about how people were saying he was ‘too short’. Have they never seen Billy Wagner? Size don’t enter into it, much. It’s about mechanics, control and command.

C. What do you do when you’re 30 years old, a 9th round pick, four games of big league experience and an elbow that is mush? No, seriously. It’s not too late at all to enter the ‘real world’ but how do you transition? Is he in the ‘real world’? He pitched in Newark in an Independent League in 2009 but nothing last year.

D. How do you think he felt only getting two starts in 2006, especially since in his first he gave up just four hits and one run in 6 innings? He did walk eight batters in nine innings, while striking out just one, and Kurt Saarloos bailed him out big time in his second start. I know Oakland was in a race, but still that has to gnaw at the competitor in you a little, doesn’t it?

E. Why haven’t there been more Japanese – American players from Hawaii? Travis Ishikawa and Lenn Sakata are the others besides Komine. There have been other Hawaiians but I’m surprised that no more than three Japanese-Americans have made the majors.

F. Do pitching coaches or youth coaches take baseball cards and show their players grips for pitches? Is Komine gripping a proper pitch? Is he gripping a pitch properly?

G. I am sure that this card is in the Topps’ “Cards Your Mother Threw Out” Redemption Merry-Go-Round. If you decide not to redeem it, it will no doubt go into a grab bag that you find at Target, Wal-Mart and other fine stores repackaged by Excell Marketing. The question is this: Should they make a promotion called “Cards Your Mother Threw Out & That You Decided Weren’t Worth Your While To Redeem?” and pack them 250 cards for $5. How many of us suckers would buy ‘em?

Hey, Fred…

There’s something wrong here…

One of the sheets got loaded wrong in the embosser…

I think we need to pull this load and inspect it…

…before they get to the flatcutter.

Fred?

Fred??

 

Todd Greene – 2006 Topps

December 14, 2010

I Had No Idea…

Todd Greene was a Falun Gong practitioner.

 

The Baseball Prospectus Cover Curse

First, notice the new sub-title?

I think it’s apt.

Now, on to Mr. Hidalgo.

What the hell happened to him, except the Baseball Prospectus cover curse?

Baseball Prospectus started publishing their book in the late 90′s. At first, they used a blurry photo of a player that I couldn’t identify. For the 2000 edition, they used a photo of Adrian Beltre.

In 2001, it was Richard Hidalgo. For 2002, Adam Dunn was the cover boy, and Johs Phelps was on the cover in 2003.

From 2004 onward, they’ve either used no picture on the cover, or a group of six or so players.

Why the change?

Well, in 2000 Beltre had a good year but not a breakout year, and then he regressed from 2001-03.  His 2004 was a monster, but they were expecting that much, much earlier at BP land.

Adam Dunn’s 2002 was again good, but more was expected of him. His offensive positives are limited by his negatives (defense and strikeouts). Strikeouts aren’t as bad as many think; they do limit the upside of a player’s offense though. I do remember a hilarious (well to me anyway) debate in Reds radio land about why players like Dunn don’t lay down a bunt with a runner on first and no one out, you know, like they used to. Well, there’s a simple reason for that.

“If you play for one run, that’s all you get,” says Earl Weaver. When Dunn can hit the ball to Covington, Kentucky you don’t just play for one run.

Josh Phelps probably was the last straw for BP putting one player on the cover. He had so much potential, and was every sabremetric geek’s dream player. He supposedly learned strike zone judgment in AA in 2001, and his 2002 in Toronto he had a great 1/2 season. If, if, if he’d keep up the improvement, watch out.

One problem, though. He couldn’t make it through the season without getting hurt.

His power leveled off, the strikeouts came back, and the injuries piled up. After 2003, the four cover boys of BP’s annual tome were not stars leading the new wave of sabremetric baseball players – they were struggling along as pitchers found their weaknesses.

This leads us to Mr. Hidalgo. After a decent 1998 debut, and a 1999 where he showed signs of struggle, his 2000 was tremendous. Power, some patience, speed, defense – it added up to a 6.6. WAR. He was 25. Certainly the good times would roll on.

Ker-PLOP! He dropped from 44 home runs to 19. Every other relevant measure was down. In 2002, it was even worse. Hidalgo had an OPS+ of 147 in 2000 and 87 in 2002. YIKES!

Of course, in 2003 he went crazy again with a season almost as good as 2000, but instead of a rising star he was seen as mercurial and ‘inconsistent’ (as Joe Morgan would put it).

In 2004, he was off to a bad start again, and sent along to the Mets for almost next-to-nothing. His power returned but that was it. He elected free agency and signed with Texas.

His one season as a Ranger, pictured here, was frustrating as well. He devolved into an ‘all-or-nothing’ hitter with a low BA and OBP but only occasional power bursts. He didn’t return to Texas and signed a free agent contract with Baltimore in 2006. He didn’t make the club, and he toyed around independent leagues and the Mexican League briefly since then.

You have to wonder why Hidalgo received a Fleer card in 2006. He was a free agent as of November 2005 and didn’t sign with anyone until February 2006. Gary Matthews, Jr. played in 43 more games in 2005 but didn’t get a card in that Fleer set.

Very odd, very strange. Much like Hidalgo’s rise and fall (and rise and plummet).

 

 

So Many Faux Pas, So Little Time

Terry, Terry, Terry…

As someone close to your age, I find it best to keep the hair short and neatly trimmed. Nothing says “hillbilly no-account Free Republic poster” than a mid-40′s dude with a gray streaked mullet and a scraggly two-tone goatee.

Upper Deck gave him a card – in Series 2 – for pitching just three innings.

Well, Upper Deck did go with a 1,250 card set. To put that into perspective – featuring 30 players from 30 teams is 900 cards.

Overblown a bit, eh?

 

 

 

 

Show Him The Money, Now!

Jose Bautista was already wealthy by most accounts. He’s now eligible for arbitration, and may soon sign a contract that would come close to the GDP of Sao Tome & Principe.

Of course, the cry is ‘steroids’, but that is a knee-jerk reaction which ignores the fact that throughout history, players have dramatically increased their home run numbers year over year.

Yeah, 54 homers is a bit extreme for a guy with modest power numbers beforehand, but the park factors of the Rogers Centre were INSANE this year (105), compared to it being historically neutral. They year before, the park effect was (96), so it was a pitchers park. That’s a nine-point effect swing. What was up in Toronto anyway? They Jays hit 35 more home runs at home than on the road.

Brian Roberts went from four homers to 18 (and that was two years after he ‘juiced’), Wade Boggs went from eight to 24 in the year of the juiced ball (1987), and Bert Campaneris smashed 22 home runs in 1970, and his next highest total was eight.

Remember Cecil Fielder? Yeah, he had some power in the minors, but in 558 plate appearances before 1990 he hit 31 home runs. In 1990, he had 673 plate appearances and 51 home runs.

George Foster went from 29 home runs to 52 between 1976 and 1977. Again, not on Bautista’s scale, but that’s a big difference in dinger totals – especially in a low-scoring era.

And of course Ned Williamson went from two to 24 home runs between 1883 and 1884. Of course, the new Lake Front Park that the White Stockings played in had a HUGE factor in that. As well as the fact that there were THREE “major” leagues and 33 total ‘major league’ franchises. Talk about watering down the talent pool!

Well, anyway, I hate the steroid talk. I’m not burying my head in the sand, but I don’t think it helped McGwire, Bonds or Sosa that much. There are so many variables to home run totals – the ball (don’t think MLB doesn’t juice it up), the wind, the pitching (12-man staffs really dilute the talent), the ballparks, the strike zone (a narrow strike zone has a huge impact on the number of meatballs a batter gets because the pitcher is down 2-0 and 3-1 all the time), etc. etc. I don’t think Bautista juiced. He found a groove and it was his year.

It will be quite interesting to see Bautista’s home run totals next year. He may dip down to 25 or 30, and that would be normal. One big reason is pitchers making adjustments to him.

This past season, Jays opponents had to deal with up to eight players with double digit home run power in the lineup. You couldn’t pitch around Bautista, because Wells or Lind were behind them, or Overbay, or Buck, or…

You get the idea. In 2011, the Jays will have remodeled a bit, and it will be interesting to see how pitchers deal with Bautista if the lineup around him has a little less power.

+++++

BTW – Looky over to the right. I’ve added some trading lists. My want list will be updated soon, and I’ll add two more trading lists for post-junk cards and ye olde junk wax era.

The Next Rick Ankiel?

It was an eventful year of minor league baseball watching for me this year, even if I did just squeeze in two games.

In April, I saw Rancho Cucamonga face Inland Empire, and saw Scott Kazmir and Reggie Willits rehabbing for the home-standing Quakes. I also realized why Kazmir had fallen from grace a bit. He wasn’t overpowering many Class A hitters and fell behind in the count a bit. His stats were pedestrian – 6 1/3 innings, 8 hits, 3 earned runs.

I was impressed by the 66′ers starter, Aaron Miller. While he gave up three runs in the first, he rebounded and used a fastball and breaking pitch effectively. Old-timer Charlie Hough, the 66′ers pitching coach, applauded his effort. But the unknown pitcher taking his place (there were a couple of fans in the stands and I who dove for our smart phones because the program did not have him listed) would make a bigger splash this year.

It was Kenley Jansen! Jansen rose through the Dodgers system like a rocket this year after being converted from catcher, and he’s on my keeper list for my fantasy baseball team!

The other game I saw was out in Manchester, NH, featuring the New Hampshire Fisher Cats against the Harrisburg Senators. The Senators started John Lannan, who was their opening day starter this season. He wasn’t in AA to rehab, he was in AA to find himself again by working with pitching coach Randy Tomlin. Again, I wasn’t impressed, per se. Lannan had trouble locating and was rocked for a few long hits. But the work with Tomlin must have paid off, since he returned to Washington in early August and went 7-4 with a 3.42 after returning from exile.

That Senators team also featured former Braves lefty Chuck James, who was battling back from injury and ineffectiveness (not exactly in that order). Since he’s a portsider, the adage YOU GOTTA HAVE A LEFTY will help his chances. He did look very sharp when I saw him and for the season in AA he went 8-0 with a 1.59 as a reliever.

The Fisher Cats featured a rehabbing Travis Snider (who played in 20 games, so the Jays weren’t rushing him back) and the game starter was Kyle Drabek, who looked very nice in his appearance. But I was intrigued by a name that I semi-recognized, then found some info in the program, and then did more research.

As you may have guessed, it was Adam Loewen.

Because the Orioles are about as exciting and newsworthy of a club as the daily reports coming from the island of Palau, I barely recognized him. Rookie card collectors probably knew about it quickly because his card’s value plummeted after it was revealed he had a stress fracture in his elbow in 2007. (Let me just say this…OUCH!) He got knocked around a bit in 2006, but a 22-year old Canadian rookie should be expected to take his lumps for a terrible team. He tried to come back in 2008, got his head beat in, went to the minors and put up some good numbers but on his return to Balmer it was not meant to be and he was shut down in 2008.

He really couldn’t pitch anymore without risk of something happening like Dravecky, Saunders, Smiley or Browning.

Baltimore gave him a big bonus and he could have definitely lived off what he had for the rest of his life. But he loved baseball. So he decided to keep playing. However, the Orioles weren’t so convinced, so they allowed him to sign with the Blue Jays organization.

In 2009, Loewen, age 25, spent the year at Dunedin in the FSL and had some struggles. But the FSL is a pitcher’s league so he wasn’t written off as a lost cause. The Eastern League is another pitcher’s league, but he showed a lot more power this past season. He’ll need to cut down the strikeouts and raise the batting average a bit, but his peripherals are good and solid.

Will Loewen return to the majors as a hitter after his pitching career was all but written off, like Ankiel? The Jays have Wells, Lewis, Lind, Bautista, and Snider in the OF mix. And they’re going to have to pay – Wells is due $23 million (WOW!), Lewis and Bautista are aribtration eligible (and Bautista’s gonna cash in…) and Lind has a long term deal in place. Snider’s put up some good numbers and he’ll be just 23 next year. No one is gonna take Wells off their hands either.

And the Jays just received Rajai Davis in a trade – which probably mean Lewis will be non-tendered. (In reality, it’s a wash, Davis’ speed is great but Lewis is a bit better on offense.)

So Loewen may make the majors, and he no doubt feels some loyalty to the Jays for allowing him to come back with them, but unless Toronto does something drastic I think Loewen’s comeback story will be for another team in the near future.

 

President – Local 115 Backup Catchers’ Union

Sal Fasano was a normal, typical journeyman catcher. He rose from a 37th round draft pick to the majors in just 2 1/2 seasons thanks to some great power numbers. But he had flaws. He wasn’t a great hitter for average and didn’t have good strike zone judgment.

So they jerked him up and down. Oakland purchased him for one year, 2000. KC bought him back, then the Royals traded him and Mac Suzuki (wow, remember when he was going to be a BIG DEAL?) for Brett Mayne. Then he spun on the minor league caravan quickly, was out of baseball in 2003 (I guess the independent leagues weren’t interested or he was hurt or something) and then came back as a AAA catcher in 2004.

In 2005, he landed in Baltimore and returned as a backup to Javy Lopez. (Sidebar: Wow, what an old team – Palmeiro, Sosa, Surhoff, et. al. The average age was 31.5. The total plate appearances for any position player under 25 was 47. B one guy.) He again showed his strengths (power) and weaknesses (patience).

In 2006, he wound up in Philly.

And Sal Fasano, backup catcher, became Sal Fasano, superstar backup catcher. And he remains, beloved to his day.

He was to backup Mike Lieberthal, and the Phils had Carlos Ruiz in the wings. But then Chris Coste became a sensation. So even though Fasano was well loved, he moved to the Yanks, and then continued his itinerant career. Now, he’s a minor league manager.

But why did Fasano become such a hit?

Just look at him.

This pic doesn’t do it justice – but you know. It’s the 90′s perm mullet combined with the mega-fu manchu. That, and a guy in Philly named Sal Fasano meant that he was an immediate folk hero to the guidos and guidettes.

And he remains to this day.

Yo, Sal! Hit a homah!

 

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