Thursday, October 30, 2008

Yonder Homers in Hawaii!!

Here's a look at 2008 first round draft pick Yonder Alonso crushing one for the Hawaii Winter Baseball League Beachboys. It's nice to see him pulling the ball with authority, after being more of an opposite field power hitter at the University of Miami.

Enjoy and thanks to gianthawaiian78 for posting it:

And, here's another, albeit, more uneventful at bat by Yonder. Still, you can see his swing mechanics (i.e. high hand position and open stance to start, stepping towards home plate in the stride to close up the stance and body) and see a bit of his disciplined approach at the plate.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Even with the new GM, Reds still don't quite get it...

News out of Redsville today that GM Walt already has two offers out to keep two free agents with the club. Disappointingly, though not surprisingly, those two are Jerry Hairston Jr. and David Weathers.


General manager Walt Jocketty wouldn’t list all of the free agents on the current roster that the Reds are interested in bringing back.

But Jocketty did say the club has made proposals to reliever David Weathers and outfielder/infielder Jerry Hairston Jr.

“We’re waiting to hear back from their agents,” Jocketty said.

Weathers and Hairston had the best years of the free agents on the roster.

Weathers, 38, was a key part of the bullpen last year. He went 4-6 with a 3.25 ERA in 72 games. His ERA was 2.60 over his last 44 games. He has averaged 70 games the last four seasons.

Starting with the obvious, Hairston is just the last in the long line of crusty veterans to experience a rebirth in the restorative fountain-of-youth waters of Great American Ballpark. However, the Reds would be wise not to invest heavily in Hairston and certainly not more than a one year contract.

In the 3 years prior to 2008, Hairston hit a combined .254/.315/.366/.681. Last year, Hairston hit .410/.471/.590/1.061 at home and a familiar .252/.307/.396/.703 on the road. His road performance is right in line with his 2005-2007 level of performance, which is more than a little disconcerting.

If the Reds can get JHJ signed to an inexpensive, 1-year contract then he might be a solid option off the bench. However, given the Reds track record I wouldn't be surprised to see an overpayment in terms of both money and years. If so, they'll be overvaluing a small sample size and overlooking the statistical inflation created by Great American Ballpark.

As for Weathers, re-signing him would involve a more subtle error in judgment, but one the Reds continually seem to make.

Weathers wasn't bad in 2008. In fact, he was relatively solid, posting a 3.25 ERA, but his peripherals weren't great. He posted a 6.0 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, and a 1.53 WHIP. However, my objection to Weathers isn't his performance, but rather his age.

Weathers is 39 years old and by any measure his career is winding down. So, the Reds essentially have two options. They could maintain the status quo and resign Weathers to another contract. By doing so, they will lock in ~70 average innings worth of production from Weathers. However, he's likely to decline due to his age. So, the real issue on Weathers is this:

Do you exchange the asset to keep the value in the organization for the long-term? Or, do you keep the asset in the organization and run it into the ground until there isn't a speck of value left?

To me, it seems obvious. You cash in the value remaining in Weathers and plug it back in at the bottom levels of the organization. The Reds can't afford to ride their assets until there is zero value left. They have to buy into the Value Cycle and seriously commit to it. To do so, they have to develop talent and then be willing to cut ties with it while it still possesses some value. As of now, they have the first part down, but they haven't yet demonstrated a willingness to churn any of that talent.

What the Reds SHOULD do with Weathers is offer him arbitration and collect the compensatory pick(s). Last offseason, Weathers was the last Type A NL reliever, so at the very least he'll warrant Type B compensation this offseason. It might actually be better for the Reds if he were to be classified as a Type B free agent, as teams may not be willing to forfeit a draft pick to sign Weathers. Regardless, the Reds can likely let Weathers walk for a pick and then replace his production by signing a Type B free agent reliever without forfeiting a pick of their own. They would lose nothing in production or cost, but would net a compensatory pick they wouldn't otherwise have.

By churning talent, the Reds would bring additional talent into the organization to replenish the farm system without losing anything of value. To be successful in the majors, you have to buy into the Value Cycle and be absolutely ruthless in implementing it. You HAVE to churn players to maximize value, but sadly the Reds don't appear to be doing it with David Weathers.

If the Reds sign Weathers, then value will be leaving the organization.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

ALDS Game 7 Pennant Bout: The Key Players

"In the red and blue corner, we have the reigning heavyweight champion of the world, the pride of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, David "Big Papi" Ortiz, weighing in at a conservative 230 lbs."

"And, in the blue and white trunks, the challenger Evan "Don't Call me Eva" Longoria, the fighting pride of Downey, California and weighing in at a solid 210 lbs."

"It should be a great bout tonight!!"

The Red Sox need the heart and soul of their offense to come up big tonight. Earlier in this series, the Rays were able to keep the big man in check. However, he had a big homerun in game 5 and two hits in game 6. If the Rays are to stand a chance, then they'll need to continue to silencing Big Papi. The Red Sox just aren't the same on offense if Ortiz isn't firing on all cylinders.

As for the Rays, they really need to get B.J. Upton some help. Upton has been about the only player doing anything of note on offense, but he needs some help. Longoria is the likely player to provide some secondary offense, as Upton is unlikely to be able to beat the BoSox on his own. When Longoria was swinging well, the Rays were playing well.

Game 7 is about to get underway and I think these are the two key players in the game. Unless the wheels completely come off one of the starting pitchers, I think the outcome will be determined by the bats of Longoria and Ortiz.

But, of course, time reveals all. And, if the game isn't actually decided by Longoria and Ortiz, then forget I said anything. ;)

Enjoy the game!!!

(P.S. I think it's a mistake for the BoSox to be starting Alex Cora at short over Jed Lowrie.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

2008 Season Review: Outfield

It was a season of significant turnover in the Cincinnati outfield. The Dunn and Griffey era came to an unceremonious end when both were dealt away by Walt Jocketty. The Reds waited until Jr. hit his 600th homer, which is certainly a momentus achievement.

Thankfully, the Reds should be in good shape in 2009 with the emergence of uber-prospect Jay Bruce and the potential arrival of Chris Dickerson. In addition, solid prospect Drew Stubbs isn't far away.

However, the beginning of 2008 saw the old standby of Dunn and Griffey with an uhealthy dose of Corey Patterson added in for good measure. Things should be improved in 2009, but here is what the 2008 projection looked like. And, now here is the review with the benefit of hindsight.

LF: Adam Dunn

2008 Projections

Bill James: .251/.386/.537/.923 in 566 ABs with 43 HRs, 107 Runs, and 103 RBIs.
ZIPS: .239/.366/.498/.864 in 524 ABs with 36 HRs, 94 Runs, and 103 RBIs.

2008 Actual Reds: .233/.373/.528/.901 in 373 ABs with 32 HRs, 58 Runs, and 74 RBIs.
2008 Actual Total: .236/.386/.513/.899 in 517 ABs with 40 HRs, 79 Runs, and 100 RBIs.

I still believe that your view of Dunn reveals something about your larger view of baseball, but he's no longer a "problem" for Reds fans. Walt Jocketty dealt him to the Diamondbacks for Micah Owings, Dallas Buck, and Wilkin Castillo.

During his time in Cincy and Arizona, Dunn continued to be Dunn. Whether you love him or hate him, he's one of the most reliable and consistent producers in baseball. You can debate the value of that production, but it's impossible to dispute the consistency.

Dunn continues to stay a step ahead of his potential "old player skills" decline and once again reached 100+ walks, 40 homers, and 100 RBI. The most surprising thing about his season is that he only scored 79 runs. However, that seems to be more of a function of his spot in the lineup. The Reds hit him 2nd for 28 Plate Appearances, 3rd for 26 PAs, 4th for 197 PAs, 5th for 341 PAs, 6th for 37 PAs, 7th for 20 PAs, and 9th for 2 PAs.

Dunn should hit really hit third in the lineup. His blend of table setting and table clearing ability makes him a logical fit in the 3rd slot. However, the Reds hit him 5th or lower for the majority of the time. As a team, the Reds put up the following batting order spot production (omitting pitchers):

1-2: .263/.316/.391/.707 in 1500 Plate Appearances

3-6: .253/.340/.461/.801 in 2768 Plate Appearances

7-9: .249/.324/.385/.709 in 1594 Plate Appearances

I guess it's not suprising that if you hit 5th, you aren't going to score as many runs. By and large, you'd be left to be driven in by the 7-9 spots in the batting order and their .709 OPS.

Another not too surprising observation, your offense is going to stink when your top two spots in the lineup crank out a .316 OBP. Seriously, a .316 OBP??? The 7-9 non-pitchers PAs created a higher OBP at .324. Maybe, just maybe, that's something that needs to be rectified for 2009. Still, how easy is it going to be to raise the team OBP when you cut ties with your two best OBP players (Hatteberg + Dunn)?

Corey Patterson

2008 Projections
Bill James: .267/.309/.424/.733 in 439 ABs with 13 HRs, 63 Runs, and 47 RBIs.
ZIPS: .257/.295/.402/.697 in 495 ABs with 14 HRs, 70 Runs, and 65 RBIs.

2008 Actual: .205/.238/.344/.582 in 366 ABs with 10 HRs, 46 Runs, and 34 RBIs.

There just isn't much left to say about Patterson and frankly I'd rather turn the page and relegate Patterson to the depths of my memory. He played good defense, but was a HUGE detriment to the offense.

RF: Ken Griffey, Jr.

2008 Projections
Bill James: .263/.353/.487/.840 in 495 ABs with 29 HRs, 72 Runs, and 84 RBIs.
ZIPS: .272/.346/.480/.826 in 427 ABs with 23 HRs, 62 Runs, and 81 RBIs.

2008 Actual Reds: .245/.355/.432/.787 in 359 ABs with 15 HRs, 51 Runs, and 53 RBIs.
2008 Actual Total: .249/.353/.424/.777 in 490 ABs with 18 HRs, 67 Runs, and 71 RBIs.

Griffey deserves better. It's difficult to see it any other way. He has always been a class act. He never took any short cuts and never succumbed to the IPED temptation. Unfortunately, his career is on the verge of ending with a whimper, instead of a bang.

It's difficult to see the greats of all-time fade away, but it's inevitable for just about all of them.

Unfortunately, during his early 30s when he still had the skills to be productive, he couldn't be healthy. In his late 30s, he finally stayed reasonably healthy, but his skills seemed to have eroded to the point that he no longer could be a productive player.

Maybe things would have been different if Griffey had been moved out of center sooner, but that's not the way it happened. At this point, Griffey is a huge liability on defense (-17 in only 763 in rightfield) and his offense no longer justifies his status as a starter. I'm hopeful that an offseason can rehabilitate his swing and he can finish up his career in style with an AL squad.

However, he seems to have lost the ability to drive the ball with authority and his batting average has fallen. Scouts have reported that his bat speed is down and that he can only succeed by guessing right on breaking balls.

Jocketty cut a deal with the White Sox bringing in Nick Masset and Danny Richar. Griffey struggled with the ChiSox, but interesting news came out this week. Griffey had his left knee scoped, as he played in pain all season and had his knee drained 3 times during the season.

So, maybe Griffey can get healthy this offseason and have a bit of a resurgence in 2009. A player of his status deserves a better fairwell than he is currently in line to receive.

OF: Norris Hopper

2008 Projections
Bill James: .309/.353/.350/.703 in 220 ABs with 0 HRs, 29 Runs, and 16 RBIs.
ZIPS: .291/.330/.340/.670 in 382 ABs with 1 HRs, 51 Runs, and 30 RBIs.

2008 Actual: .200/.286/.200/.486 in 50 ABs with 0 HRs, 3 Runs, and 1 RBI.

Hopper's season was over almost before it began. He suffered a torn elbow ligament and underwent Tommy John surgery. Hopper is a great story and a fan favorite. I've been skeptical about him in the past because of his approach to the game, but he gets the absolute most out of his ability and it's impossible not to respect him that him.

I'd be intrigued about Hopper as a potential leadoff hitter, but his opportunity has probably passed in the Reds organization. It's difficult to fathom how much of a player's career can come down to timing and opportunity. I'm sure countless quality careers have been lost due to a lack of opportunity.

Hopefully, 2009 brings about renewed health and opportunity for Hopper.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

2008 Season Review: Infield

Well, in the beginning you project and in the end you review. We've already projected for the infield, so it's time to look back on what was.

So, it's time to look back at what was a most disappointing season for the Reds in 2008. Right off the bat, it's obvious that things didn't go as expected. Alex Gonzalez and David Ross were presumptive starters when I did my season preview, but clearly things changed in a hurry. Ross was bumped by the mighty Paul Bako and A-Gon missed the entire season. Unfortunately, the only player who lived up to expectations was Joey Votto.

C: David Ross

Here is what the ZIPS and Bill James projections looked like for David Ross.

2008 Projections
Bill James: .233/.311/.458/.768 in 330 ABs with 19 HRs, 50 RBI, and 38 Runs.
ZIPS: .203/.275/.369/.644 in 187 ABs with 8 HRs, 24 RBI, and 18 Runs.

Actual 2008: .231/.381/.366/.747 in 134 ABs with 3 HRs, 13 RBI, and 17.

So, it's time to look back at what was a most disappointing season for the Reds in 2008.

Even in hindsight, it's difficult to know what to make of David Ross, as he remains an enigma even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

Looking ahead to 2008, I expected Ross split the difference between his 2007 and 2008 seasons. His 2007 BABIP was a paltry .228, so I expected his batting average to rebound to the .225-.230 range. He managed to hit .231 for the Reds, but I won't break my arm patting myself on the back, because I also expected him to sustain his power production, which clearly didn't happen. His AB/HR dropped from 18.3 in 2007 all the way to 44.7 in 2008.

While his power vanished, his on base skills took a big jump forward. His BB/PA increased from .087 in 2007 to an absurdly good .190 in 2008.

Ultimately, Ross never fit in with the new regime in Cincinnati and the Reds cut ties with him in August. Thankfully, I won't have to try to figure him out for 2009.

1b: Joey Votto

2008 Projections
Bill James: .307/.388/.533/.920 in 460 ABs with 24 HRs, 71 Runs, and 81 RBIs.
ZIPS: .281/.357/.466/.823 in 556 ABs with 23 HRs, 55 Runs, and 88 RBIs.

Actual 2008: .297/.368/.506/.874 in 526 ABs with 24 HRs, 69 Runs, and 84 RBIs.

Bill James was pretty solid with his projection for Votto, though he overstated his slash line a bit.

The big question with Joey Votto heading into 2008 was whether the Reds would actually give him the job. Scott Hatteberg was the consumate professional hitter and had years of experience on his side, which Dusty Baker had always favored during his managerial career. Even so, the Reds did the right thing and gave Votto the bulk of the playing time, ultimately parting ways with Scott Hatteberg in early June.

Votto rewarded their confidence with a stellar rookie season. In 2009, the Reds should expect to see better a better on base percentage from Votto unless Dusty Baker really is trying to make him a more aggressive hitter. However, there is some evidence that Votto was more aggressive in 2008.

In 2007, he swung at the 1st pitch 33% of the time, while in 2008 he swung at the 1st pitch 38% of the time. In 2007, he saw 3.81 pitches per plate appearance, but in 2008 he saw 3.70 pitches per plate appearance. In 2007 the percentage of Plate Appearances that resulted in 3-0 counts was 7%, but in 2008 it was down to 5%.

It'll be interesting to see what approach Votto brings to the table in 2009. It's possible that the Reds wanted him to get more aggressive in 2008 or it's possible that his 2007 approach was the result of a small sample size. Still, Votto's minor league numbers indicate better plate discipline to come. If it doesn't happen, then maybe you have to look at the coaching staff.

However, it's hard to be at all disappointed with what Votto did in 2008 and better days should be on the horizon. Votto should continue to improve his on both his on base percentage and his homerun rate, as power is often the last tool to develop.

The Reds did "set it and forget it" with Votto and they were rewarded.

2b: Brandon Phillips

2008 Projections
Bill James: .268/.316/.438/.754 in 630 ABs with 23 HRs, 90 Runs, and 79 RBI.
ZIPS: .271/.325/.435/.760 in 568 ABs with 21 HRs, 87 Runs, and 79 RBI.

Actual 2008: .261/.312/.442/.754 in 559 ABs with 21 HRs, 80 Runs, and 78 RBI.

In 2008, Phillips took a step backward that I expected, especially the significant decline in on base percentage. To me, Phillips was overrated offensively after his 30/30 season in 2007 and he struck me as a very strong sell-high candidate. While Phillips did some nice things in 2007, his most impressive feats were largely driven by playing time. By and large, he achieved his 30/30 season because he rarely walked. Personally, I'd rather trade some homers for a more disciplined approach and a bump in walk rate. In 2008, Phillips' slash line really wasn't very impressive, as his on base percentage was driven by batting average and hit by pitches, and his OPS was only .816.

Phillips' defense was stellar as usual, but it'll be interesting to see what Phillips brings to the table offensively in 2009. He clearly needs to make some adjustments, as pitchers took advantage of his aggressive approach last year.

3b: Edwin Encarnacion

2008 Projections
Bill James: .287/.355/.476/.831 in 494 ABs with 19 HRs, 66 Runs, and 79 RBIs.
ZIPS: .291/.361/.460/.821 in 506 ABs with 18 HRs, 70 Runs, and 78 RBIs.

Actual 2008: .251/.340/.466/.806 in 506 ABs with 26 HRs, 75 Runs, and 68 RBIs.

This offseason, my perspective on Edwin changed. As he came up through the minors, I thought he might be our version of David Wright. For me, after several seasons of waiting on Edwin, the presumption on him flipped. No longer was I expecting him to be a quality player until he proved otherwise, now I am expecting him to be a mediocre, inconsistent player until he proves otherwise.

Unfortunately, Edwin seems to be what I presumed him to be. He has yet to put it together for a full season and maybe next year will AGAIN be the year. But, I'm done waiting on him. For me, he is what he appears to be. A solid hitter with an iron glove.

SS: Alex Gonzalez

2008 Projections
Bill James: .254/.308/.416/.724 in 425 ABs with 13 HRs, 51 Runs, and 55 RBIs.
ZIPS: .257/.317/.417/.734 in 432 ABs with 14 HRs, 57 Runs, and 58 RBIs.

Actual 2008: --None--

The only thing that can be said about A-Gon's 2008 season is that we may need to take a serious look at our medical staff. I've been unimpressed in the past with our team's injury track record, but it just doesn't seem reasonable for Gonzalez to have never set foot on the field because of a compression fracture in his knee. It just doesn't seem like the type of injury that should sideline a player for an entire season.

Inf: Jeff Keppinger

2008 Projections
Bill James:
.321/.380/.430/.810 in 365 ABs with 5 HRs, 49 Runs, and 36 RBIs.
ZIPS: .307/.360/.408/.768 in 449 ABs with 6 HRs, 60 Runs, and 48 RBIs.

Actual 2008: .266/.310/.346/.656 in 459 ABs with 3 HRs, 45 Runs, and 43 RBIs.

Keppinger was one of the real surprises in 2008 and not in a good way. Keppinger's offensive game is driven by his batting average and if his batting average is down then he just doesn't bring much to the table.

Keppinger's component stats in 2008 weren't far off from his 2007 season, which makes his fall off the cliff a bit unusual.

Line Drive%: 2007 (21.3%) 2008 (21.0%)
Groundball%: 2007 (46.5%) 2008 (51.0%)
Flyball%: 2007 (32.2%) 2008 (28.0%)
HR/FB: 2007 (6.8%) 2008 (2.4%)
AB/HR: 2007 (48.2) 2008 (153.0)
Contact%: 2007 (93.57%) 2008 (93.48%)
BABIP: 2007 (.335) 2008 ( .275)

The clear difference is he traded in some flyballs for some groundballs, which also helps explain why his homerun rate fell. Still, Keppinger managed to walk (30) more than he struck out (24), which is impressive, but needs to be combined with more production. I'd expect a rebound in 2009, as his stellar linedrive rate and below average BABIP points to a substantially higher batting average next year. He needs to get the ball in the air a bit more, but he'd be hard pressed to have such an astonishingly low percentage of his flyballs stay in the park.

Unfortunately, Keppinger may have revealed himself to be more of a utility player. One of the unfortunate aspects of professional baseball is that players often get unfairly labeled early on and aren't able to shake off that label to get the opportunity they deserve. For Keppinger, 2008 may have been his best chance at claiming a starting job.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Now, time for "Addition by Addition"

Regardless of who is brought in to replace them, the subtraction of Paul Bako, Corey Patterson, and Josh Fogg will go a long way towards improving the ballclub. Still, to improve, they'll obviously need to add some talent to the organization. But, what type of talent would make the most impact on the organization. I'll submit that hiring Leo Mazzone should be the number 1 property.

Not only could Mazzone help unlock the potential of our good young starters and potentially reduce the injury risk, but he'd be much more cost effective and have a more far reaching impact than any one player. If Mazzone could reduce the number of games lost to injury by our starting pitchers in the future, then he could ensure that the Reds get the maximum production from their pitchers and ensure that they get maximum value for their salary expense.

I'm sure not a baseball fan alive needs a refresher course on what Mazzone has done in his career, but it is truly remarkable. He joins his mentor Johnny Sain as the best two pitching coaches in history. Leo oversaw the pinnacle years of the careers of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Steve Avery, and Kevin Millwood. He also got the most out of reclaimation projects like Russ Ortiz, Jaret Wright, Damien Moss, John Burkett, and Denny Neagle. In his most recent stint with the Orioles, he's played a big part in unlocking the potential of Jeremy Guthrie and Erik Bedard.

To me, nothing could do more to eliminate the losing culture in the Reds organization than bringing in a top flight pitching coach like Leo Mazzone. He could permanently eliminate the remaining residue from decades of incompetence in developing starting pitchers and would give a tremendous advantage. No acquisition would have a bigger impact, so let's hope Walt Jocketty picks up the phone and fast!

And, best of all, according to Bob Klapisch, Leo is sitting by the phone waiting for a team to offer him a job.

It wasn't so long ago that Leo Mazzone was the world's master pitching guru, but if you ask him, he says it feels like a million years ago. Mazzone has gone from the Braves to the Orioles to that wide-open space called job-hunting -- a harsh reality for the man who guided John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine to a combined six Cy Young Awards.Mazzone is a free agent: His contract with the Orioles has now expired, although he was dismissed after the 2007 season.

Mazzone sat out the summer of '08, missing the game he loved, wondering why no one called for his services. "Sometimes it's hard to understand," Mazzone said by telephone this week. "I've let other teams know I'm available. Money and contract are not an issue. I wasn't in spring training for the first time in 42 years and it really bothered me. This has been my life since I graduated high school."

Mazzone may be paying the price for his difficulties in Baltimore. In 2006, his first season in Camden Yards, the O's ranked 13th in the American League with a 5.35 ERA. In June 2007, Mazzone lost a key ally when manager and longtime friend Sam Perlozzo was fired. Although he finished out the year under Dave Trembley, Mazzone's pitchers posted a 5.17 ERA and issued a major league-high 696 walks. The expectations weren't just formidable; they were close to impossible.

As Perlozzo subsequently told reporters, "Leo didn't have much to work with." Mazzone says the three-year, $450,000 contract he was offered by the Orioles was "very generous," but he now admits: "It was not a real good experience. I tried to get people to take more responsibility and be accountable to create a winning atmosphere. That wasn't very well received. "I'd been with an [Atlanta] organization that was top-shelf, so I was in culture shock." Mazzone was indeed a long way from the promised land -- Smoltz, Maddux and Glavine -- where the Braves led the National League in ERA in 12 of his final 14 seasons. Yet, Mazzone points to his successful relationships with the O's Erik Bedard and Jeremy Guthrie as proof of his ability to tutor young pitchers and not just future Hall of Famers.

But Mazzone understands the role of the pitching coach has changed since his golden era in Atlanta, just as the industry as a whole has morphed. The emphasis today is on youth, and starting pitchers in particular are coddled by technology-savvy coaches who trust video more than their instincts. That's one trend that Mazzone had to live with. The other is the growing obsession with pitch counts -- which, as any old-school preacher will tell you, reveals only half the story of a pitcher's fatigue level. "There's nothing wrong with pitch counts as long as it's not the determining factor in taking [a pitcher] out," Mazzone said. "You have to do more than count; you have to look at the pitcher's face, his mechanics, his body language, to know how he's feeling. And the hitters will tell you, too, by the way they're swinging. "Different pitchers react differently. Maddux used to go deep into every count with every hitter, so he'd get to 120 a lot faster than someone like Glavine. Tommy could get to 120 in seven innings and he wouldn't even be tired."

As for video, Mazzone agrees it can play an important role in breaking bad habits. But too much time in front of a computer can be damaging to a pitcher's confidence, as well. "I've seen guys look at video and say, 'Oh, my, I didn't know I did that.' They would find something that pertains to nothing," Mazzone said. "Personally, I don't have to break down video because I can usually see with my own eyes what needs to be fixed. "Sometimes the best thing you can do with video is have a pitcher watch a great game that he'd thrown. That's more important to the psyche than to break something down." Admittedly, that's an old-fashioned mentoring trick: Build up the mind and the arm will follow. But some of Mazzone's other rules have withstood the test of time.

He's a strict believer in the importance of strike one, which he explained in his book, "Tales From The Mound." The way to gain the advantage, Mazzone wrote, is to "throw a fastball on the first pitch, down and away. If he takes it, it's strike one. If he hits it, it's a ground ball out." Mazzone also believed in having his starters work two side-sessions between starts -- another example of his ties to a previous era. Mazzone believes in arm strength and rues the current trend that has de-emphasized starting pitching. Mazzone can only shake his head at the growing number of five-inning stints and the reliance on three or four relievers in every game. He thinks this is a flawed strategy in both the short and long term.

"I'm a starting pitchers' guy," Mazzone admitted. "I still think the bullpen is only as good as your starting pitching; the starters take care of the relievers. I still feel starters can go deeper into games -- that can be accomplished. That can be done and still keep pitchers healthy. I'll put my track record keeping pitchers healthy against anyone's." Given the depth of his résumé and his convictions, what's keeping Mazzone in limbo? He wishes he knew. But this much is certain: The great guru is just one phone call away.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Ultimate "Addition by Subtraction"

It appears that Walt Jocketty isn't an idiot. That's about the only conclusion to be drawn from the decision to cut ties with Corey Patterson and Paul Bako.

Jocketty "admitted that Patterson had become a hot-button issue with the fans." That would be an understatement, to say the least. Patterson and Bako were two of Dusty Baker's handpicked choices this past off-season, citing the desire for more "options." Evidently, they didn't actually have to be good options.

Reality and hindsight can at times be a depressing combo, which was never more true than when optimism swirled around the Reds when Dusty Baker mentioned that he was in contact with former players who were very eager to come play for him in Cincinnati. Mark Prior was one name mentioned, but even the oft-injured former ace was setting the sights far too high. In actuality, the players he was talking about were Corey Patterson and Paul Bako.

Cutting ties with Patterson and Bako will be the ultimate example of "addition by subtraction." It's difficult to fathom just how bad the Dismissal Duo actually were in 2008. Equally unfathomable is just how much playing time they received last year.

In 2008, Patterson and Bako combined to receive 730 plate appearances. That's the equivalent of a full-time starter's playing time and a handful more. In his career, the unbreakable Adam Dunn has never exceeded 683 plate appearances. So, the duo of Bako and Patterson received more playing time and had a greater opportunity to make an impact than a typical Adam Dunn season. Sadly, they fell just a wee bit short of "Dunn-ian" level production.

In 2008, they combined to hit a paltry .211/.266/.337/.603 with 16 homers, 50 walks, and 147 strikeouts. It's just not possible for a team to be successful while getting 730 Plate Appearances worth of .603 OPS. That combination of putrid production and massive playing time is almost a built in head-wind for the entire offense, so perhaps no move made this offseason will have the same impact as jettisoning the dead weight.

To be fair, I don't think Krivsky is an idiot either. However, it's clear that Jocketty was waiting in the wings and that Krivsky had somehow lost the faith of the new ownership group. So, he wasn't calling his own shots and had to placate the new manager and the new owner.

Thankfully, we can close the book on the lunacy of the 2008 season and look forward to a brighter 2009. I mean, it's not like we can't possibly throw away 730 plate appearances on a .603 OPS level of production.

Can we???

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Baseball Deity for a Day

Well, after a long season of highs and lows for our Redlegs (we'll take a look at those later), I've decided to focus on some changes that I would make if I was the all-knowing, all-powerful baseball deity.

Baseball is a great, great game, but I think it could be better with a tweak or two or, in this case, nine. And, without further ado, here is my 9 step plan to a better national pastime:

1) No Instant Replay

Baseball is a timeless game, but breaking up the flow to have the umps call for instant replay just doesn't work. Also, one has to wonder why MLB choose to phase it in midseason, which would seem to raise fairness questions. Not to mention, baseball is almost a game of failure. Great hitters fail 7 out of 10 times, pitchers frequently miss on location, baserunners get caught stealing, fielders make errors, and umpires miss calls.

When the rest of participants eliminate errors from their games, then we can hold the umpires to a mistake free standard. Mistakes, by players and umpires, are part of the legacy and tapestry of the game. After all, was the game REALLY harmed or diminished because Don Denkinger blew the call in the 1985 World Series?

2) League Division Series Will Be Increased to 7-games

Right now, it hardly seems fair to settle a season that runs 6 months and 162 games with a measly 5 game series. In a five game series, one bad bounce or one ill-timed injury and an entire season of hard work and effort is down the tubes. The point of the playoffs, by and large, is to crown the best team the champ. From where I stand, it is much more likely to happen in a 7 game set than a 5 game set.

Now, this isn't QUITE as easy as it seems. As it stands, the season already comes close to running into November, which is problematic for the cold weather organizations. It hardly seems realistic to start the season earlier, as spring training begins in mid-February with pitchers and catchers and the regular season kicks off right around April 1st.

In addition, it's not really realistic to shorten the season, as the owners aren't going to want to lose the additional revenue from the lost games. So, how do we add potentially two more games without running the World Series into November?

Well, the answer leads us to....

3) Scheduled Double Headers Once a Month

Yes, I think it's time for baseball to embrace the beauty and fun of the doubleheader. For the hardcore baseball fan, is there anything better than a sun soaked doubleheader on a summer Saturday?

Not to mention, baseball is probably the only major sport that can have its teams play two games in the same day. Football and hockey can't do it. Basketball and soccer might be able to do it, but it would really seem out of place, as it's just not part of their tradition. Baseball is the only major sport that can pull it off.

By having one scheduled doubleheader a month, the season could be shortened up enough to allow for a 7-game League Division Series. Now, one final note, I would expect the scheduled doubleheader to cost only the single game price. None of the cheap, you have to buy tickets to for each game, so the owners WOULD have to tighten their belts a bit, but at least they'd still get the concession revenue for both games. Still, it improves the experience of going to regular season games and shortens up the season enough to allow for a better, more fair playoff structure.

4) The World Series Will Start on a Saturday and All World Series Weekend Games Will Be Played During the Day

This is a simple tweak, but a necessary one. The World Series was recently changed to begin on a Tuesday night, so as to maximize the revenue. It's time to put Game 1 back where it belongs...on a Saturday. However, I would make one additional change to the schedule.

As it stands, it is difficult to schedule night games that work well on both the East Coast and West Coast. During the week, the games have to be late enough to allow the fans on the West Coast to get home from work, but early enough to allow the fans on the East Coast to get to bed at a reasonable hour. However, this problem doesn't (or, at least shouldn't) apply to weekend games.

It seems like an obvious solution to showcase the championship in daylight on the weekends. I understand the desire to play the Series in primetime for revenue reasons, but there are other factors to consider. The most obvious is that the younger fans, who are vital to the future of the game, can't stay up late enough to watch the game (in truth, a lot of hard working adults can't either). So, why not play the weekend games during the day to allow everyone to enjoy the game at a reasonable hour?

It's a simple fix that could improve the World Series experience for fans of all ages and showcase the game in the bright sunlight.

5) Cut Down on Commercials During the World Series

This is more pet peeve than anything else. The games in the last World Series seemed to stretch on into eternity. The Red Sox v. Rockies series was compelling, though a bit one sided, but it was difficult to even watch the games due to the length of the telecasts. A large part of the length was the sheer number of commercials wedge into every break. Time to speed up the game!

6) Eliminate the Wild Card and the Central Division

Personally, I think going back to the days of the West and East divisions would be for the best. And, while I'm advocating the elimination of the Wild Card, I would still want to have 8 total teams in the postseason. However, I'd want to have the two top teams from each division advance, which I think could reinvigorate the long extinct pennant race while not reducing the number of teams that make the postseason.

7) Eliminate Draft Pick Compensation, Allow for Trading of Draft Picks, and Impose Limits on Rookie Signing Bonuses

Draft pick compensation was a good idea at the time, but by now it is doing more harm than good. The main reason why Major League Baseball cannot implement signing bonus restrictions on draftees is due to compensatory draft picks. The signing bonus demands also prevent smaller market organizations from drafting some of the players they want.

The MLB Player's Association is an organization that was created to represent the best interests of Major League Baseball players. Drafted amateur players and minor league players are NOT MLB players, so they are not covered by the MLBPA. The only reason that the MLBPA can fight off the attempts of MLB to impose signing bonus limits is because an arbitrator ruled that draft pick compensation affected the interests of MLB players. So, if MLB eliminated draft pick compensation, then it follows that MLBPA would no longer have an interest to protect and MLB could impose whatever salary structure they desired on draft picks. This would enable smaller market teams to select whatever player they want without worrying about signing bonus demands. The point of the MLB draft is to distribute talent and impose a degree of parity to the system.

Another problem with draft pick compensation is that it has been completely factored into the cost of doing business by the marketplace. At one time, it was a weapon for small market teams to rebuild their farm system at the expense of high revenue organizations. However, the Boston Red Sox have co-opted this philosophy and used it to build an organization with a $100M farm system. At this point, the Red Sox have built a budding dynasty, as they are using Billy Beane's Moneyball philosophy and supported it with a higher revenue stream. At this point, it is difficult to imagine smaller market teams being able to compete with a $100M farm system.

However, it is important to allow smaller market team's to build their farm system, so I'd allow teams to trade draft picks. The volatility of baseball prospects would make it difficult to appropriately value draft picks, but I think it's important to allow it to happen.

8) Increased Revenue Sharing, a Salary Floor, and Requiring 7 Years of Service Time for Free Agency Eligibility

Personally, I don't like the idea of a salary cap. I never have and likely never will. It seems to be anti-capitalistic and far too artificial. Granted, professional sports leagues are anti-competitive by nature, as they require cooperation among the competitors for the league to survive. However, I'm just not a fan of the salary cap, but there are other things that can be done.

That's why I'd allow for increased revenue sharing among the teams, so the wealth would be redistributed a bit more. More equality in base revenue would put the teams on a more even playing field. However, it's not realistic to expect other teams to share their revenue if small market owners are just going to pocket the revenue, rather than plow it back into their organizations. So, we need a salary floor to ensure that revenue sharing is spent to improve the small market organizations.

However, the previous two concessions would have to solely be made by the owners, so the players have to give up something. So, the players would have to settle for an additional year of service time before reaching free agency. However, MLB salaries would increase with the previous imposition of restrictions on draftee signing bonuses, increased revenue sharing, and salary floors. So, the players would have to give up a year of service time to give the owners a bit more cost certainty.

While it would come at the expense of the amateur players, the changes would provide roughly equal benefits and burdens to both the players and owners. And, to top it all off, there would be an improved product on the field.

9) Impose Limits on Wooden Bats for Safety

Sadly, it seems inevitable that someone is going to get seriously hurt by the shards of a shattered bat. The barrells on some of these broken bats are sent flying in all directions with terrifying speed. Unless something is done, it seems only a matter of time before a player or a fan is seriously injured. New safety standards are needed and needed quickly.