Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Pelfrey Out, Sosa In?

With today's 11-5 drubbing at the hand of the weak-hitting Colorado Rockies (50% fewer home runs than Alex Rodriguez!), Omar Minaya must be tiring of the Mike Pelfrey experience. Pelfrey made the team despite getting lit up by the Devil Rays in his last Grapefruit League start (10 hits and 8 runs in 4 IP). Omar should have been on notice that Pelfrey wasn't fooling anyone, as he only struck out 5 in 23 spring innings.

Pelfrey has now failed to finish the sixth inning in any of his three starts, has walked more batters than he's struck out, and is sporting an awful ERA - 790 The Zone is the official radio station of the Atlanta Thrashers, not what you want out of your fifth starter. After a one year hiatus, the Mets find themselves again looking up at the Braves in the NL East standings, so it's time to make a move. The question is: Who takes Pelfrey's place?

A look at the Mets' 40-man roster gives us some candidates. Chan Ho Park, Phil Humber, Adam Bostick and Jason Vargas are all in the rotation at AAA New Orleans. Park is definitely not getting the call; he's performed as poorly as Pelfrey, but against minor leaguers. Humber's talent is undeniable. Baseball Prospectus ranked him the #26 prospect in all the land. He's posted a round 3.00 ERA in four starts, but I don't think Omar wants to go with another prospect to replace Pelfrey. Bostick isn't turning any heads except his own. He's allowed 3 home runs and 10 walks in only 16 innings. Vargas has pitched much better than that, with a 19:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a solid 3.42 ERA. He would be the obvious choice except for the sleeper: Jorge Sosa.

Sosa's line in four AAA starts this year? In 26 innings, 24 strikouts and only 4 walks. He's allowed but one home run, 23 hits and only 6 runs (4 earned, for an ERA of 1.38). The same day Minaya signed free agent Scott Schoeneweis and avoided arbitration with Endy Chavez and Ramon Castro, he inked Sosa to a one-year $1.25 million contract. On March 29th, the Mets outrighted Sosa to New Orleans, which means he cleared waivers and fell off the 40-man roster, but he's still making his major-league salary.

My hunch is that Chan Ho Park will be designated for assignment in the next few days, clearing out a roster spot for Sosa, who will make his Mets debut next week against Florida or Arizona.

Justifying Biggio

ESPN asking Rob Neyer to start a blog (Insider) has been terrific for baseball fans because it's resulted in much more Neyer than we've been getting the past few years. Today he questions the Astros' continued use of Craig Biggio as their starting second baseman and leadoff hitter. Neyer writes that the Astros want the public relations and attendance boost that comes with Biggio's quest for his 3,000th hit, but from a strict talent standpoint, Mark Loretta, Chris Burke and top prospect Hunter Pence should all be higher on the depth chart:

"I know the organization wants to see Biggio reach the magic number. I'd feel the same way, if I were running the franchise. But can you really sacrifice a shot at the World Series in the interest of one player's statistics?"

Posing the question that way might be unfair to Biggio, who's not in charge of making out each day's lineup card. The decision to pencil in the original "Killer B" is probably coming from higher up the corporate ladder than manager Phil Garner. That makes it more a business decision than a baseball one, so Neyer's question should be rephrased as follows: "Is the potential long-term windfall from a playoff appearance greater than the short-term boost the Astros will get from Biggio's milestone-chase?"

I'm reminded of a WSJ article from a couple weeks back titled "The Real Most Valuable Players." Russell Adams reported that several teams (in particular the Cleveland Indians) have been combining sabermetrics and economics to determine which players will most benefit the team's finances. Adams writes:

"It also raises the unsettling possibility that some teams might determine that it's financially in their best interest to be mediocre, not good, and definitely far from great. That's because by some calculations, the best balance of revenue and expenses isn't always compatible with greatness, nor winning with profitability."

Teams that are closer to playoff contention stand to benefit more from marginal improvements than lesser teams. But since the Astros really aren't on the playoff fence, baseball decisions made in furtherance of the Astros making the playoffs in 2007 are likely to be misguided from a financial standpoint. Though Houston is currently in second place in the NL Central with a 9-9 record, BP's adjusted standings (taking into account the components that make up all teams' hitting and pitching performance) has the team down in fifth place at 8-10. That puts Houston on pace for the 72-win season I predicted on Opening Day.

The fact that Biggio's only hitting .222 ends up being good for the Astros. His prolonged race to 3,000 hits will (hopefully) distract fans from the fact that the Astros are not very good. It might even keep attendance at high levels when it's clear the team is out of playoff contention. The extra revenue could enable the Astros to replace the retiring Biggio with a quality free-agent in the offseason - how about stealing Carlos Zambrano from the Cubs? Finishing lower in the standings would give them a higher draft pick if they don't sign a big money free agent. Better that they keep Pence in the minors for most of 2007, keeping him at a lower salary - and an extra year - when he's on the next good Astros team.

Bill Simmons wrote about NBA teams that understand the optimal strategy for a losing team is to lose some more. Too many teams were a little too blatant with their tanking that the second half of the NBA season was far from aestheically pleasing. But if the Astros lose this year with gusto while letting Biggio get to 3,000 and then get out, everyone in Houston might be better off in 2008.

Monday, April 23, 2007

How Not To Use Your Bullpen

Ron Gardenhire should be ashamed. Last night the Twins and Indians were tied at 3 heading into the 12th inning. Batting for the Tribe was the heart of the order: Pronk, Vic Martinez and Ryan Garko. Minnesota's best reliever, Joe Nathan, was available in the bullpen, having not pitched in the previous day's loss to the Royals. Instead of bringing in Nathan, Gardy stayed with Jesse Crain, who had worked a 1-2-3 eleventh.

The Twins' manager might have been looking to extend his bullpen because his starter only gave him five innings this day; Crain was Minnesota's sixth pitcher of the evening. Still, the failure to switch pitchers was inexcusable. We all know Hafner is good, but look at his splits over the last three years. Against right-handed pitchers such as Crain, Hafner's hit .323/.430/.663 (Avg/OBP/SLG). Against southpaws (e.g., Nathan) he's been held to .280/.398/.514. Still good but not Ruthian.But Nathan is not an everyday lefty righty: In Hafner's nine career at bats against Nathan he could only manage .111/.273/.111 with three strikeouts! [Don't know why I thought Nathan was a lefty, except that he dominates Hafner. Sorry.]

But Crain was left in the game to face Hafner, who in five PAs against Crain had reached base 3 times (a single and 2 walks). Naturally, Hafner led off the inning against Crain with a walk. V-Mart followed with a single, sending Hafner to third. Then Garko singled, Jason Michaels doubled, and the score was 5-3 and the game was effectively over. Finally, the Twins brought in Nathan. Choose the applicable proverb:

a) The horse had left the barn.
b) The cat was out of the bag.
c) Ron Gardenhire screwed up.

Gardenhire couldn't have been waiting to use Nathan in a save situation, since the Twins were at home in extra innings - as soon as they take a lead, they win. These were the best hitters on the opposing team in a pressure situation. The Twins should have had their best reliever facing them. If Gardy was willing to use Nathan at all in this game, why not use him against Pronkey and the heart of the Indians' order?

Maybe some intrepid reporter will ask him in the clubhouse after the game.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Michael Lewis on Protrade

Through the blog for the bestselling book Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, we find Moneyball author Michael Lewis writing on Yahoo! Finance about stock markets in professional athletes.

Lewis cites the existence of Protrade, which is a faux market for athletes. You sign up for free and get a portfolio of fake money. You can then buy and sell (and short) the "securities" of the athlete in real time. Your "profits" can be turned into real prizes. As Lewis writes, there's a very short step from Protrade to an actual market.

Don't say this can't possibly happen: There's already a real-life hedge fund that invests in the transfer rights to soccer players overseas. David Bowie has sold bonds guaranteed by future royalty payments from his albums. Those bonds are asset-backed, which means they're not as risky as unsecured notes. But for someone looking for more risk, why not buy stock in the future earnings of Kevin Durant, provided he's willing to share some of the risk with you?

Thursday, April 19, 2007


From stupendous Mets blog Faith and Fear in Flushing:

"Congratulations go out to David Wright for extending his two-season hitting streak to 25 games and Met opponents for extending their 46-season hitting streak to 7,163 games

Both are Mets records."

Now that is sportswriting.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Nats Will Be Awful

I respectfully disagree with Rob Neyer, who blogged yesterday that the Washington Nationals won't lose 100 games.

Set aside that their starting shortstop is so bad that Baseball Prospectus included a "Cristian Antonio Guzman Award" - position player mostly likely to put up the lowest VORP in regular playing time - in their staff prediction article. And ignore Vegas's over/under line of only 94 losses.

The Nationals' best hitter, Nick Johnson, is less durable than a used piƱata - and that's when he starts the season healthy. Unfortunately for the team, the broken leg that ended Johnson's 2006 may have also ended his career. Johnson's replacement at first base is a running joke on the funniest baseball site around, which is good for laughs but not for scoring runs.

And the Nats will need runs, as their second through fifth starting pitchers have career major-league ERA's of 6.90 (Shawn Hill), N/A (Matt Chico, whose first start will be his MLB debut but had an equivalent ERA of 4.09 in double-A last year), 5.76 (Jay Bergmann), and 4.03 (Jerome Williams, he of the 7.30 ERA for last year's Cubs). If the Nationals didn't play in one of the best pitcher's parks in the game, they'd be a lock to allow 1,000 runs.

I'll put the 2007 Nationals at 61-101. And if John Patterson - the team's only legitimate MLB-quality starter - pitches like he did last night, then watch out '96 Tigers (53-109).