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What a month it has been in baseball.  Jarrod Washburn and Jason Marquis were one and two hits away respectively from perfect games, and last week Jonathan Sanchez was one error away from a perfecto.  Now, on July 23rd, Mark Buerhle has done what these other pitchers could not accomplish, and has thrown the 18th perfect game in the history of baseball.

Unbelievably it is the second no-hitter of Buehrle’s career, as he also threw one on April 18th, 2007.  He is the first pitcher since Randy Johnson to throw a perfect game, who is coincidently also the last pitcher to throw two no-hitters. 

Unfortunately, I was not able to watch the game, but from all accounts it was a 116 pitch gem for the ages.  Buehrle struck out six batters and the Rays only managed three line drives, while grounding out eleven times.  The highlight of the game was defensive substitution Dewayne Wise elevating at full speed to bring back a Gabe Kapler home run to begin the ninth.  Unbelievable.

I could not pick a better guy for this to happen to than Mark Buehrle.  He has always been one of my favourite pitchers, and despite his no-hitter remains underrated in my books.  He has thrown over 200 innings in each of his eight seasons in the big leagues, and is well on his way to his ninth.  He has won 133 games, owns a career 123 ERA+, and has only twice put up a full season ERA over 4.00.  He has never been on the disabled list, something which not many starting pitchers can attest too.  If there was ever a sure thing every five days, it is Mark Buehrle.  Yet he is somehow NEVER mentioned in the discussion of the best pitchers in the league.  Heck, he is not even considered an ace by most.

So here is to you Mark Buerhle, enjoy your historic moment.

Here is the link to my article for Inside The Majors about the Lugo acquisition.  Very risky move by Mozeliak to risk alienating his manager and pitching coach.  I am not sure I like this.

http://www.insidethemajors.com/?p=2335

Red Sox GM Theo Epstein once again showed why he is one of the best in the business, acquiring former 32 home run hitter Adam LaRoche for two mid-level prospects.  Going the other way are AA shortstop Argenis Diaz and A pitcher Hunter Strickland.

In LaRoche, the Red Sox get an average defensive first baseman who can give Mike Lowell some extra days off (Youkilis will move over to third when LaRoche plays), and replace David Ortiz at DH when necessary.  LaRoche’s best season came in 2006 with the Braves when he hit 32 home runs and had a .915 OPS.  He was traded to the Pirates for reliever Mike Gonzalez the following off-season, but failed to live up to his billing in Pittsburgh.  He is obviously excited to leave the sinking ship in Pittsburgh, saying “I’m grateful for the opportunity that a team like that wants me.”  Hopefully for the Red Sox their winning atmosphere will help get him back on track.

Considering what they once gave up to acquire LaRoche, the Pirates are getting very little in return, which is par for the course for them.  Diaz is a 22 year old AA shortstop with a paltry .619 OPS and brutal .947 fielding percentage.  Strickland has improved steadily since turning professional two years ago, and owns a 5-4 record and 3.35 ERA in A ball.  He exhibits good control with a 1.4 BB/9, which is important considering his fastball sits in the 89-91 MPH range.  It is unlikely much will ever come of these two players, making this a great trade for the Red Sox and spelling more years of misery for the Pirates.

After the Tampa Bay Rays emerged as one of the top teams in baseball last year due to their improved defense, stats geeks and baseball fans alike fell in love with the Ultimate Zone Rating statistic.  While the stat is the most comprehensive one we have to quantify defence, and there has been proven correlations between increased UZR and wins, many writers are taking it way too far. 

In an article on Sports Illustrated today written by Ben Reiter, he talks about how an improved defense has helped the Los Angeles Dodgers in one-run ball games.

Dodgers players and coaches believe that their newly stingy defense has not only allowed them to prevent runs on the whole, but also to prevent them when it matter most: in tight ball games. “When it comes down to close games, that’s when you really notice it,” Kershaw said. “The sure-handed teams seem to win those close games.” L.A. is a remarkable 19-9 in games decided by one run.

Yes, LA improved their UZR/150 from -6.0 to -.6 from 2008 to 2009, and seen their record in one run games improve from 19-24 to 19-9.  However, this is only one team and there are a variety of other factors that could explain the improved record.  The Dodgers have also lowered their Fielding Independant Pitching from 3.86 to a MLB best 3.67 and their bullpen ERA from 3.34 to a MLB best 3.21.  These are other stats that can have huge implications on a team’s record in one run games. 

My other problem is that 71 games is a fairly small sample size.  I want to take a look at how UZR/150 correlated to win loss record during the 2008 season for all teams.  This is 681 games worth of data.  For starters, I ran the numbers in Excel and there was no correlation between winning percentage and UZR/150.

We can also take a look at these numbers with the naked eye.  I split the league into three tiers, the top ten UZR/150 teams, the middle ten and bottom ten.  What a surprise.  The top tier had a winning percentage of .499 in one run games, the middle tier .489 and the bottom tier the best percentage with .513.  Good defence does not necessarily win close ball games.  I am sure if I ran the data in different years I would have different results.  A team’s record in one run games cannot be predicted with UZR/150.

So please baseball writers, stop asking baseball players and managers who are not statistic oriented to comment on something that they do not understand.  I am sure Kershaw thinks that his team’s new and improved defence is winning them ball games, and it makes for a great story, but the numbers do not back it up.  It also looks silly when your entire article is based on how UZR improvement correlates to more wins.

If there is one downside to the statistical revolution in baseball it is that everyone thinks they are an expert, and I am not excluding myself on this one, which leads to some pretty dumb things being said and written.

The top story in baseball over the last couple of weeks has been the potential destination of trade block member Roy Halladay.  Doc is by far the best player currently available, and the suitors are many.  I would like to comment on some of the rumors and trade proposals thrown around in the media.  These are not necessarily reflective of what is going on behind closed doors, simply what I have read on the Internet.

St. Louis Cardinals

At first glance, this seems like it is a match made in heaven.  Halladay is a very private player, I think his wife gets more camera time than he does, and would fit perfectly in St. Louis.  It is a baseball crazy city, but the media is not overpowering like in New York or Boston.  The Cardinals are also currently leading the NL Central, and Halladay would push them over the top.  Imagine a rotation of Halladay, Carpenter, Wainwright, Pineiro and Lohse.  However, that is where the dream ends.

The most common rumor I have heard is a package headlined by Colby Rasmus and Brett Wallace headed to Toronto.  First of all, giving up Rasmus would leave an enormous hole in the Cardinals outfield THIS year.  They would be forced to start Ludwick, Ankiel and then Duncan or Glaus, if they do indeed decide to move him into the outfield.  I am sorry but that is not a championship calibre outfield.  I also think Rasmus’ value has increased exponentially over the last four months.  He has gone from top prospect to bona fide MLB player.  It is a big thing for a prospect to prove he can handle major league pitching, and Rasmus has made the transition almost seamlessly. 

Second, a year and a half of Doc is not worth six and a half years of Rasmus and seven years of Wallace, not by a long shot.  It does not make sense in terms of finances or on-field product.  I do not see this deal happening in a million years.

Los Angeles Dodgers  

This seems like another great fit for Halladay.  The Dodgers have the best record in the Majors, and are the odds on favourite in the National League, even without Halladay.  However, the Dodgers would most likely have to give up either Clayton Kershaw or Matt Kemp. 

Let’s start with Kershaw.  In his second season, he has a 2.95 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in nineteen starts to go along with a 3.42 FIP.  Halladay’s numbers, on the other hand, are 2.73, 1.07 and 2.75.  Granted, Halladay pitches in a much more difficult division, but Kershaw is an excellent pitcher in his own right.  Teams are winning with young, cheap star players, and Kershaw fits that description perfectly.  The Dodgers have his rights for the next five and a half years, and will probably not pay him much more over that time frame than they would Halladay over the remaining year and a half on his contract.

Kemp has an OPS of .885 and is leading NL center fielders with a VORP of 34.7.  He also has a very respectable UZR/150 of 15.8.  While he would be easier to replace than Kershaw because they have Juan Pierre on the bench, I still do not think it is a smart move by the Dodgers.  Kemp is a star in the making, and will be an important part of the Dodgers core over the next 3-4 years.  He brings almost as much to the table as Halladay.  I also do not know if the Blue Jays are in the market for another outfielder.  They have much more pressing needs at first base, catcher, and shortstop if they lose Scutaro this off-season. 

Philadelphia Phillies

This is actually the consensus landing spot if Halladay does get traded.  While Philadelphia needs him the most, I do not think that this is the best package for the Jays considering that the Phillies do not have a top prospect ranked in the top 50 by Baseball America.  They Jays need to get at least one impact player for Halladay, and these Phillies players, other than Happ, just do not seem like they are those type of guys.  I am sure many people disagree with this statement but that is my opinion.

San Francisco Giants

I know it is a bit of a darkhorse pick, but I think this is where Halladay will end up if he does indeed get traded.  The Giants have surprised a lot of people this year, and I believe there window is in the next two years, which is exactly the same as the Halladay window.  Lincecum and Cain are healthy and dominant, Zito seems to have regained a bit of his former ability, Sandoval has emerged as a superstar, and Buster Posey could be ready to replace Bengie Molina behind the player next year.  Even though the Giants have scored the third least runs in the National League, they would have to be favourites with a rotation consisting of Lincecum, Cain and Halladay.

The Giants also have the prospects to appease JP Ricciardi’s appetite.  Madison Bumgarner was ranked as the ninth best prospect by Baseball America this year, giving the Blue Jays the impact pitcher they need to replace Halladay.  He would also probably be ready to go for 2010.  This is very important for Toronto as Ricciardi is running out of time, and the Blue Jays are only giving up on this year, not next.

Conclusion

I honestly do not know if Halladay will even be traded.  Teams are holding on to their prospects tighter than ever, and it is not the end of the world if JP does not get the package he wants and decides to hold on to Halladay.  He still has another year to trade him.

When you have one less error than RBI, you know you are having a bad year, and probably feel pretty bad.  When you are the team paying this player $9 million dollars a season, you probably feel even worse.  This is the case with Julio Lugo, who the Red Sox finally cut ties with today.

With the emergence of Nick Green and the promotion of Clay Buchholz, Lugo found himself the odd man out on Boston’s 25 man roster.  The scariest part is that this was his best season offensively for the Red Sox, with his .719 OPS trumping his .685 and .643 from the previous two seasons.  However, the area he was really dragging the Red Sox down was defence.  With a renewed emphasis on defence in MLB, Lugo’s -43.2 UZR/150 was not going to cut it.  Nick Green, on the other hand, carried a .721 OPS this season and a much better 12.2 UZR/150.

Let’s take a look at what $36 million bought the Red Sox:

  • 10 home runs
  • 114 runs
  • 46 RBI
  • 48 stolen bases 10 caught stealing
  • -6.1 UZR
  • Incalculable number of jock readjustments

Lugo finds himself on the list of players paid to just go away with the likes of BJ Ryan, Andruw Jones and Russ Ortiz.  The Red Sox are going to end up eating about $13 million dollars on this decision.  The worst part is that since he was so bad that the decision actually makes sense.  The Red Sox get a lot of credit for shrewd moves by their front office, so it is nice to see them make a big mistake.

I think the general consensus was that the All-Star game last night was fairly entertaining with a close 4-3 victory by the American League.  However, I thought it was terrible because it was not real baseball.  Here are my biggest issues.

Closer Domination

Fans of teams like the Yankees with dominant closers like Mariano Rivera love it when they hear their closers theme song come on and watch them trot out to slam the door on an opponent in the ninth inning.  Let’s just say Jonothan Papelbon loses some of his aura when he enters the game in the seventh inning.  It was also pretty boring to watch a game you know was over after six innings.  Sure it was still a tie game but the AL essentially had 9 automatic outs to play with thanks to Papelbon, Joe Nathan, and Rivera, the three best closers in the game.  It is not very fun to watch a game where each team has multiple pitchers in the bullpen who are essentially guaranteed to throw a scoreless frame.  Part of the beauty of baseball is that anyone can beat anyone on any giving day, and the lead can change each and every inning.    

Hack Away

This was easily the thing I enjoyed least about the game.  Players were not working the count like they would in a real game, but instead swinging at the first pitch they saw.  This happened for two reasons.  First of all, the pitchers are so dominant that if you fell behind in the count, you were pretty much toast.  The second is that especially for the reserves, you may only get one at-bat.  If you are going up there knowing you might only have one shot at glory, are you going to try and draw a walk?  I do not think so.   

This led to some ridiculous pitch counts.  All of the following pitchers threw one inning:

Mark Buehrle – Nine pitches

Zack Greinke – Ten Pitches

Edwin Jackson – FOUR pitches

Felix Hernandez – Eight pitches

Jonothan Papelbon – Ten pitches

Trevor Hoffman – Five pitches

Francisco Cordero – Nine pitches

Ryan Franklin – Nine pitches

Francisco Rodriguez – Six pitches

That is half of the game in seventy pitches.  Absolutely ridiculous.

The Bengie Molina Effect

This may be an obscure reference, but some of you may know that Molina is dead last in the majors with a BB% of 1%.  He would have fit right in; there was only one unintentional base on balls in the entire game!  I could not find any proof, but I doubt there was a single game in the majors this year that featured one walk.  Once again, this is not real baseball.

The Baserunning

When I watch a baseball game I want to see Ty Cobb going into second with his spikes up and Pete Rose trucking Ray Fosse at the plate.  In the All-Star game you’re lucky to see a guy hustle out a ground ball, let alone try to take an extra base.  Carl Crawford had an opportunity to stretch for a double but settled for a single.  Ichiro tried to “break-up” a double play with about the same gusto as my grandma would have.  In the regular season you see Adam Wainwright taking a throw off his pitching hand to break up a double play.  In the All-Star game, not so much.

Roster Size

I do not think I have to go into much detail here.  Thirty-three players and a billion dominant pitchers; not real baseball.

Fan Voting And The Every Team Must Be Represented Rule

Fan voting has been discussed at length before, but guys like Josh Hamilton and Dustin Pedroia did not deserve to be voted in as starters, and how did 33rd man Shane Victorino get to start?

The representation rule also led to “All-Stars” like Andrew Bailey and Zach Duke.  Barry Petchesky from Deadspin ran a simulation, and the NL All-Stars lost to the New York Yankees.  The All-Stars also had a lower average salary than this collection All-Stars. 

All-Star!

All-Star!

The Player’s Do Not Take It Seriously, At First.

The players could care less about the outcome for the first half of the game.  If you look at the dugout there are hardly any guys up on the railing watching the game intently.  The game only gets serious if it is close in the finals innings.  In a real baseball game you have to be committed from the beginning or it will be chalked up as a loss every time. 

I am sure if I thought for longer I could come up with some more reasons but there are seven for your consideration.