Written by Justin Zeth (Contact & Archive) on July 16, 2009
The St. Louis Cardinals have at least bandied about trying to acquire Roy Halladay's services for this year's stretch run and next. Their best young hitter, Brett Wallace, who's 22 years old and hitting AAA as we speak, would have to be included in such a deal--and that's just a starting point. Short of giving up Colby Rasmus, which one presumes isn't an option, seeing as how he's also 22 and already one of the best players on the team, the Cardinals would have to rightly clean out their system to get Halladay.
And it just doesn't make sense for them to do that. In fact, it doesn't really make sense for the Brewers, or the Dodgers, or the Phillies, to do that, either.
More than 20 years ago, the Tigers, in the midst of a hot pennant race, traded a big-time pitching prospect for a good veteran pitcher, Doyle Alexander. Alexander pitched the lights out down the stretch, and the Tigers won the division. Of course, the prospect they gave the Braves grew up to be John Smoltz, who is now 42 and still holding his own in the American League while they engrave his plaque to hang on the wall in Cooperstown.
But even so, you can argue it was worthwhile for the Tigers, because Alexander was exactly what it said on the tin. Of course... they then lost the ALCS to a downright mediocre Twins team, a minor fluke, and it would be almost 20 years before the Tigers would return to relevance. But do you see the complications all over the question of whether Smoltz-for-Alexander was worth it?
It was worth it because they didn't win the division.
It wasn't worth it because they didn't even reach the World Series.
It was worth it because heck, it would be 20 more years before they'd even get close. You have to take a shot whenever you have a shot.
It wasn't worth it because maybe if they'd had John freaking Smoltz on the team all that time, they might have at least gotten into a pennant race or two.
It was worth it because, yeah, John Smoltz turned into John Smoltz, but for every one of those there are eight Homer Baileys or Mark Priors.
It wasn't worth it because hey, that's exactly why you don't trade those guys! When one actually hits his potential he's obscenely valuable!
And on and on and on.
But something very, very important has changed since then, something you probably have completely overlooked: Now there are four more teams in the playoffs. Less importantly, this means it's easier to get into the playoffs than it was in 1987. More importantly, this means once you get there, it's dramatically more difficult to actually win the World Series. Because the playoffs are mostly random luck.
There's this notion that ace pitchers are super important because they're the most important element to winning short playoff series. If the story of the 1990s Braves isn't enough to convince you otherwise, consider that we just saw this last year with CC Sabathia, who came to Milwaukee and spent two months ripping the National League a new one. And the Brewers reached the playoffs (which they certainly would not have without him). And then they got summarily whipped by the Phillies, three games to one. It's very difficult for fans to swallow--and ten times more so for players, managers and executives--but the playoffs are mostly random. A seven, or especially a five, game sample is just too small to be anything resembling decisive. It's very easy to see just by looking through regular season results:
The Nationals are 4-2 against the Yankees and Blue Jays.
The Indians are 5-3 against the Rays.
The Mets are 5-1 against the Yankees.
The A's are 3-1 against the White Sox.
So on and so forth. A 5 or 7 game sample just isn't much. A very bad team can beat a very good team three times in five; in fact, given a long string of five-game series, the Royals would probably beat the Yankees three games out of five, something like 15% or 20% of the time. And in the playoffs, it's not the Royals against the Yankees; it's the Angels against the Yankees, and while the Yankees are the better team, it's not by a whole lot, and the Angels will win the series 40% or 45% of the time. It's mostly random.
And therein lies the problem with cleaning the young talent off your shelf to acquire even a superstar for the stretch run. Reaching the playoffs isn't as big a deal as it used to be, because it's a lot more difficult to reach or win the World Series once you're there than it used to be. Now, for a small-to-mid-market team, simply reaching the playoffs can, even if you bow out in the first round, have significant financial value, both in the immediate value of a couple of guaranteed sellouts at twice the usual rates, and in the long-term value of increased fan interest (which translates to increased season ticket sales) the following year.
But you have to balance that against the big pile of long-term value you're giving up by trading young talent, and as more teams enter the playoffs, the more the value equation comes down on the side of keeping the young talent. There's a big difference between gambling on a 25% chance, as the 1987 Tigers did, and gambling on a 12.5% chance, as the 2008 Brewers did. I'm not sure it's sensible any longer for any team to give up what Roy Halladay is worth, and that's why Halladay will remain a Blue Jay for at least another year.
Written by Bjoern Hartig (Contact & Archive) on July 15, 2009
Patrick Sullivan of Baseball Analysts has a detailed analysis of Clay Buchholz (remember, the one who through a no-hitter in his second major league start?) and Boston's starting pitching situation.
All of this brings us to Friday night, when Buchholz will make his first Major League start of 2009. Why Friday night? Well the Red Sox say that since Buchholz is on rest, it's an opportunity to allow them to align their rotation since they had two starting pitchers in the All-Star Game. It's one of those statements that sounds logical enough but when you apply any scrutiny at all, it just doesn't add up. Neither Josh Beckett nor Tim Wakefield actually pitched last night in St. Louis and even if they had, it would have been no more than an inning or so. Besides, why couldn't they start their three other starters and then turn to Beckett and Wake?
So then you get the other end of the spectrum. People say the reason that he is starting on Friday night, in Toronto no less where they are shopping this deadline season's prize, is that they are "showcasing" Buchholz. It's as though were it not for the sight of him on a Major League mound, teams' front office personnel might question Buchholz's very existence. That doesn't make much sense to me either. He's been an incredibly consistent and dominant Minor League pitcher and he has tossed a no-hitter in the Big Leagues. A July start in Toronto will do little to enhance or detract from his value.
That leaves two possibilities. One is that the Sox just want to give the kid a nod. He's been great all season long and deserves a chance at the Big League level - nothing more, nothing less. The other possibility is that they want to see how he performs Friday night and beyond in case they decide they want to move, say, Brad Penny. I think this is the most likely scenario. Other than Halladay, I am not sure of another player who could be available before the deadline for whom Boston would move Buchholz.
But make no mistake, the Red Sox are going to be involved in what is shaping up to be one of the most active and exciting trading seasons in recent memory. While Boston cherishes its organizational depth, it is also a team that is not afraid to go for it. As they say, "flags fly forever." They boast enough depth and possess the financial wherewithal to replenish with free agent stopgaps, that they can match just about any offer another team could without suffering too badly in the long term. And if you don't think they have the stomachs to deal with trading great talent, consider the Beckett (and Mike Lowell) for Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez trade.
If the Red Sox are indeed willing to trade Buchholz, potential buyers should beware. Unless the Red Sox get a real difference maker for Buchholz (and apparently, there are none available apart from Halladay), there can only be one reason why they are willing to trade a young pitcher with ace stuff: They know something other teams don't. This could be an injury (highly unlikely) or a substantiated assessment of his character that makes the Red Sox believe he will never become a "mature" major leaguer. Otherwise, they better keep him and that is actually what I would suspect will happen. If Buchholz shows he has learned his lesson, there is no reason why Boston should keep Penny, Schmoltz and Wakefield on their staff. They will trade Penny away for a decent prospect and in effect, they were able to buy a few average innings and an o.k. minor leaguer for a little less than $3 million.
Written by Bjoern Hartig (Contact & Archive) on July 15, 2009
Lyle Spencer of MLB.com brings us the story of Bobby Abreu teaching his teammates patience at the plate:
With batting coach Mickey Hatcher and manager Mike Scioscia preaching plate discipline from day one of Spring Training, the Angels have improved significantly in that area. It was evident in the way they got Andy Pettitte out of Saturday's game after 4 1/3 innings en route to a 14-8 victory.
"That was something that was stressed all spring," said Brandon Wood, the Angels' young slugger. "Having Bobby around, you can see how helpful that has been. You're seeing guys show more patience than ever before -- even guys like Torii and Figgy. I've really seen it in Erick Aybar; he's never been this patient at the plate.
"All you have to do is watch Bobby to see how productive it is to wait for your pitch, to stay away from pitchers' pitches that bury you in counts. He's a master, and his impact is evident in the whole team, really."
Abreu's locker is next to Figgins, and they're always talking about game situations, pitchers' tendencies and moves, anything and everything related to the inner game.
"Bobby has a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience," Figgins said. "It's not easy, believe me, to hit the way he does. It takes a lot of work, and it's hard to get it done in games.
"You have to spend time in the batting cage. The big thing is, you have to become confident hitting behind in the count. You have to be willing to take that close 1-1 pitch to get to 2-1 -- and be confident you can hit with two strikes."
Interestingly, pretty much the same story was told last season when Teixeira came to the Angels, but as I recall, the Angels did not really walk much more than before after the trade. This year however, their walk rate has increased from 8% (6th worst) to 8.9% (only 13th worst), but Abreu is probably responsible for most of it.
Anyway, my point is why do the Angels need players like Teixeira or Abreu to teach plate discipline? Isn't that the job of the hitting coach? Is Mickey Hatcher - who previously has always preached aggressiveness at the plate, not patience - not getting through to the players?
Written by At Home Plate Staff (Contact & Archive) on July 15, 2009
Jon Heyman of SI.com gives his 12 general managers under the most pressure for the remainder of the season. He reminds us that there won't be a huge turnover if these 12 don't do so well down the stretch but rather their seats are getting a little warmer.
For Heyman's complete discussion, please visit the article.
1. Omar Minaya, Mets
2. Mike Rizzo, Nationals
3. Brian Sabean, Giants
4. Dayton Moore, Royals
5. Frank Wren, Braves
6. Mark Shapiro, Indians
7. J.P. Ricciardi, Blue Jays
8. Neal Huntington, Pirates
9. Jim Hendry, Cubs
10. Josh Byrnes, Diamondbacks
11. Dan O'Dowd, Rockies
12. Brian Cashman, Yankees
Written by Rob Swift (Contact & Archive) on July 15, 2009
Its official folks, the President of the United States has said in no uncertain terms, all Americans should become fans of the Chicago White Sox! This is a glorious day indeed and may I just say, long overdue. Not since Ulysses S. Grant was in office has there been a native of the Prairie State so the chances of getting a mandate on Pale Hose loyalty has been non-existent for well over a century.
I feel that every White Sox fan would agree when I paraphrase the Presidents remarks by saying, "I am a loyal White Sox fan and those who are not are not true blooded Americans!" Honestly I don't know what he said but I am going with that. Doesn't matter. Did he wear a Nationals Jacket? No! A Yankees Jersey? Nope! Even an official All-Star Game hat? Not even close.
Lastly, he did not wear a Cubs warm up jacket; let me repeat that. He did not wear a Cubs warm up jacket; it was a White Sox warm up jacket! In fact I would dare say that by wearing a White Sox Jacket, Mr. Obama was saying that all Cubs fans are traitors to their country! Maybe, maybe not, but did you see the look in his eye when he threw that 3/4 southpaw curveball? It was as if he was daring Cubs fans everywhere to make the switch to the South Side! I saw it, I know you did too!
All in all, I think Mr. Obama's ratings should skyrocket after this display. Because when the Commander in Chief turns a photo-op into a platform, well, you can put it on the boarrrrrrrrd.....YES! Might be his campaign slogan in '12; just sayin!
Written by At Home Plate Staff (Contact & Archive) on July 13, 2009
Ben Reiter provides his odds for each of the eight competitors in this year's Home Run Derby. Click here for his discussion on each player.
BRANDON INGE, TIGERS 3B
2009 HR: 21
2009 AB/HR: 14.24
Odds of winning: 30/1
NELSON CRUZ, RANGERS RF
'09 HR: 22
'09 AB/HR: 13.50
Odds of winning: 25/1
JOE MAUER, TWINS C
'09 HR: 15
'09 AB/HR: 16.07
Odds of winning: 18/1
ADRIAN GONZALEZ, PADRES 1B
'09 HR: 24
'09 AB/HR: 12.83
Odds of winning: 12/1
CARLOS PEÑA, RAYS 1B
'09 HR: 24
'09 AB/HR: 12.96
Odds of winning: 9/1
PRINCE FIELDER, BREWERS 1B
'09 HR: 22
'09 AB/HR: 14.00
Odds of winning: 7/1
RYAN HOWARD, PHILLIES 1B
'09 HR: 22
'09 AB/HR: 15.05
Odds of winning: 4/1
ALBERT PUJOLS, CARDINALS 1B
'09 HR: 32
'09 AB/HR: 9.59
Odds of winning: 3/2