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Let me give you the stats of two relief pitchers thus far in 2009.

Gregg Marmol

Player 2 appears to be a power pitcher who strikes out his fair share of batters but also has trouble finding the strike zone, while Player 1 looks like a middling reliever who is lucky enough to be a closer.  Now suppose these two players are the same age and are both free agents following the 2009 season.  Who do you think gets the bigger contract?  My money is on Player 1 getting a bigger contract from some GM still living in the Stone Age because he accumulated saves and is a “closer”.

In reality, these two pitchers play for the Chicago Cubs, and are Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol.  Casual fans would argue that Gregg is more valuable to his team because he has 21 saves and is the closer while Marmol is just a middle relief pitcher.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Marmol’s average leverage when he enters the game is 1.63, compared to 1.52 for Gregg.  This means that Marmol pitches in more crucial situations than Gregg, even though Gregg is that oh so important ninth inning pitcher.  Marmol has also added more value to the Cubs.  Marmol has a Win Probability Added of 2.01 compared to Gregg’s 0.13, and also holds a distinct advantage in RE/24, 7.63 to 1.97.  Over the course of the year, that will probably add up to an extra win for the Cubs. 

This situation is interesting because the Cubs are one of the few teams who actually use their bullpen properly.  Marmol is having a bad year because he is walking way too many batters, but the general consensus is that he is their best relief pitcher.  However, they are not using him as their closer, as most teams would do, but in crucial situations at other times in the ball game.  The other team that immediately comes to mind is the Detroit Tigers, who used Todd Jones as their closer even though he was far from their best reliever.  The Cubs are lucky that Marmol has not made a fuss about playing second fiddle to two inferior pitchers the last two years, Gregg and former closer Kerry Wood.  The fact that he is not a closer is going to hurt Marmol’s bank account big time. 

I am fairly confident that every team in baseball understands the concept of leverage, but they continue to use their best pitcher to hold a three run lead in the ninth inning.  This is because you cannot just all of a sudden start using Joe Nathan or Mariano Rivera in the seventh inning of a tie ball game.  Even though this is what would be best for the team, it is not what is best for the ballplayer because he is paid to accumulate saves.  Until teams start compensating relief pitchers on a more useful stat then saves, I do not think we will see wide spread change.  However, as more and more GM’s become statistically savvy, I think this change will come. 

I say this because right now, a bona fide closer will not accept another role.  He knows that his compensation is tied to his saves.  It is like the article by Micheal Lewis (of Moneyball fame) about Shane Battier, where Battier refuses to shoot heaves at the end of a quarter because it hurts his shooting percentage, and he will not get paid as much.  Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey says “I tell him we don’t count heaves in our stats, but Shane’s smart enough to know that his next team might not be smart enough to take the heaves out.”  This is the same in baseball.  Sure, Battier making a full court shot at the buzzer might help his team win a game, just like Rivera pitching in the seventh might help the Yankees win a game.  However, it just is not going to happen because it will not help them get paid.  Until relief pitchers get paid based on their overall performance rather than saves, I am afraid the Chicago Cubs bullpen is going to be the exception, not the rule.

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MLB Playoff Preview 2009

With rosters pretty much settled for the remainder of the season, here is my prediction for the remainder of the MLB season and the playoffs:

 

American League

AL East: Boston Red Sox

AL Central: Detroit Tigers

AL West: Los Angeles Angels

AL Wild Card: New York Yankees

ALDS

Red Sox d. Tigers

Yankees d. Angels

ALCS

Red Sox d. Yankees

 

National League

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers

NL Wild Card: San Francisco Giants

NLDS

Giants d. Phillies

Dodgers d. Cardinals

NLCS

Giants d. Dodgers

 

World Series

Red Sox d. Giants

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I honestly tried to write a coherent, well-thought through piece about this, but I could not do it.  I just do not care if guys used steroids at a time when there was no way to punish them.  I have no idea how these writers for Sports Illustrated and ESPN keep churning out article after article about steroid use.  It may be because I am young and grew up watching the Juiced Era and do not know any better, but I thought it was a pretty accepted fact that Ortiz was on something during his tenure with the Red Sox, and that was just the way it was. 

28 years old DH’s do not randomly add 122 points to their OPS, 76 points to their ISO, and almost double their HR/FB rate over night.  All of these people who are now crying foul are hypocrites.  No one said anything in ’98 when Big Mac was hitting home runs left, right and center.  They said nothing about Ortiz in ’04 because he was so happy go lucky and part of a great story with the Red Sox.  Instead they chose to pick on Bonds, who has been driven completely out of baseball.  The only people who should be allowed to criticize these “cheaters” are guys who brought up the issue a long time ago.  Off the top of my head, I can think of Jose Canseco and Rick Helling.  Baseball needs to leave what happened in the past in the past.  If they are really serious about cleaning up the game, they should work on things they can actually control, like players using PED’s in the PRESENT.

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While it was generally accepted that the Giants would be a team to be reckoned with in 2010, GM Brian Sabean started the party early, acquiring first baseman Ryan Garko from the Indians and second baseman Freddy Sanchez from the Pirates.  My prediction is that these two players will help the deliver the Giants an NLCS championship.  They are huge upgrades over the production that the Giants are currently getting from these positions.  At first base, the Giants received a .747 OPS, ranked 25th in the league, and at second, a .601 OPS, good for a rank of 28. 

Sanchez brings to the table a .776 OPS, and will probably give the giant an extra fifteen runs above average based on weighted on-base average.  Garko owns a .826 OPS, and based on the same statistics, should give the Giants an extra five runs over their current production.  Over the course of 61 games, twenty runs is nothing to shake a stick at.  An extra .33 runs per game would move them from the 27th ranked offence in runs scored to 23rd, a significant increase.  If you add .33 runs per game to their current statistics this season, their Expected Pythagorean Record winning percentage would jump from a pedestrian .532 to .615.  To put that in perspective, the Yankees and Dodgers are leading the league with a .614 winning percentage. 

Already leading the Wild Card Race, the Giants, barring a serious injury to Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain, should slide comfortable into the postseason.  This is when they will be the most dangerous.  Lincecum and Cain form the most dangerous 1-2 punch in the NL, and will be extremely effective in a post-season series.  Let’s take a look at the Giants new and improved roster.

Lineup

C – Bengie Molina (80 OPS+)

1B – Ryan Garko (114 OPS+, 12.1 UZR/150)

2B – Freddy Sanchez ( 109 OPS+, 6.3 UZR/150)

3B – Pablo Sandoval (142 OPS+, -1.07 UZR/150)

SS – Edgar Renteria (65 OPS+, -1.9 UZR/150)

LF – Fred Lewis (93 OPS+, 3.0 UZR/150)

CF – Aaron Rowand (102 OPS+, 8.4 UZR/150)

RF – Randy Winn (86 OPS+, 15.1 UZR/150)

Utility IF – Juan Uribe (94 OPS+, 7.38 UZR/150)

On average, this line-up has an OPS+ of 98.3, barely below league average.  When you combine that with their stellar pitching, they will be a force to be reckoned with.  They are also an above average defensive squad, with a cumulative UZR/150 of 49.31 among these nine players.  This is 49 runs that the Giants will save on defence alone. 

Pitching

SP – Tim Lincecum (2.30 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 1.99 FIP)

SP – Matt Cain (2.27 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 3.81 FIP)

SP – Barry Zito (4.54 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 4.37 FIP)

SP – Jonathan Sanchez (4.92 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 4.33 FIP)

SP – Randy Johnson (4.81 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 4.91 FIP)

Bullpen – (3.37 ERA , 1.32 WHIP, 3.74 ERA)

While starters three through five leave much to be desired, Lincecum and Cain are so dominant and throw so many innings that the Giants still have second best starting pitcher ERA in the league.  The bullpen is ranked third.  Even when you factor out the excellent fielding; the starters and relievers rank third and fourth respectively in FIP.

Even though Sabean gave up a big part of the future in Tim Alderson to acquire Sanchez, it was well worth it.  So there you have it folks, the 2009 NL Champion San Francisco Giants.

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The last couple weeks have added a new wrinkle to a 2009 Mets season that most fans are already trying to forget.  Forget injuries to Reyes, Delgado and Beltran, or six home runs from David Wright, how about a member of the front office trying to throw down with two players on separate occasions, and the ensuing battle between GM Omar Minaya and New York Daily News reporter Adam Rubin.

About ten days before the All-Star Break, Bernazard took off his shirt and challenged the AA affiliate Binghampton Mets to a fight, specifically Jose Coronado.  While news of the event did not really surface until last week, it blew up in the tabloids and the Mets launched an investigation.  While this investigation was ongoing, Bernazard also got into a confrontation with star closer Francisco Rodriguez.  While Rodriguez did admit to it happening, he refused to elaborate on the event.  I do not know about you, but if I am already under investigation for inappropriate behaviour, the last thing I want to do is get into a fight with the star free agent pitcher. 

Barnazard has been under intense scrutiny for the Mets failures this year, and it appears the pressure finally got to him.  The team has been unable to replace key injuries from within, resulting in a disappointing 47-51 record, ahead of only the lowly Nationals in the NL East.  The AAA Buffalo Bisons are in last place in the International League at 37-61, while the AA Mets are also last in the Eastern League with a 39-61 record.

After the entire saga with Bernazard was wrapped up, Minaya proceeded to get in a war of words with Daily News reporter Adam Rubin, accusing him of trying to wiggle his way into a front office job by discrediting the current members of the staff.  Rubin was the man who reported the Bernazard stories, and denies Minaya’s accusations.    

While I have all of the respect in the world for Minaya, it appears he has lost control of the franchise, and despite a roster that includes stars like Beltran, Reyes, Delgado, Wright, Rodriguez and Johan Santana, has only made one playoff appearance since their Subway Series loss to the Yankees in 2000.  The secondary talent is simply not there to support the star players.  I think it is time for the Mets to make some changes at the top of the organization as well as on the field, and Bernazard’s head may be just the first to role.

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Bart Given recently posted an article on Inside The Majors about his involvement with a program called KidSport.  While professional sports get all the glory, it is important to recognize that sports are much more important at the grassroots level.  Little League, Minor Hockey and Soccer, Pop Warner Football.  We must also realize that not all children are fortunate enough to have the resources to play organized sports, so it is important to support organizations like KidSport.  Get out there to volunteer, coach or donate, and make a difference.

http://www.insidethemajors.com/?p=2339

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Great article today on MLB Babble about Harrelson absolutely butchering the final moments of Buehrle’s perfect game.  It is defintitely worth a read, and you can even get in on the heated discussion in the comments section.

http://mlbbabble.com/2009/07/24/hawk-harrelson%e2%80%99s-terrible-buehrle-call/

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