A West Coast Post-Season

With roughly a month remaining in the baseball season, it is clear that, at least for 2014, there has been a geographical shift in the game's balance of power. If the season were to end today, four California teams would be assured of one of baseball's ten post-season spots, while another west coast team still has a chance for the second wild card in the AL. Equally significantly, no team from Boston, New York or Philadelphia would make the post-season. The last time none of those three northeastern cities all missed the post-season was 1992. That was also the last year that only four teams made the playoffs.

Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera

Cabrera is a very good player, but he is also in danger of being defined by his most well known accomplishment. Cabrera's 2012 triple crown was the first by anybody in an astounding 45 years. The triple crown is perhaps the ultimate old school offensive accomplishment. It consists of leading the league in three categories, home runs, batting average and RBIs, the latter two of which are still taken seriously by some while seen as of secondary import to many more advanced quantitative analysts of the game. In 2012, Cabrera beat out Pujols' teammate Mike Trout for the MVP award despite Trout having a much better year by more contemporary measures. That MVP vote was as much a referendum on methodology for evaluating players as it was a vote about who was the best player, but it elevated Cabrera just as Pujols' decline was becoming most noticeable. That triple crown may also help distinguish Cabrera from Pujols who will probably never win one. In the eyes of many, he will be seen as the superior slugger of the era, but Pujols at his best was a better player, and hitter, than Cabrera ever was.

Fat Elvis and the Hall of Fame

Berkman's Hall of Fame fate is a measure of how the Hall of Fame voters punish both steroid users, for their steroid use, as well as clean players for not being quite as good as their steroid using opponents. The result of this will be a Hall of Fame with the excellent sluggers from previous generations, but only the very best, more accurately only some of the very best, from the last twenty years or so.

The Alex Rodriguez Suspension is Bad for Other Players Too

As usual, this major decision by MLB does not bring any more clarity to the PED issue except to concretize baseball's policy that if you can be a truly great player, you can take steroids, and you can be not nice, but you can't be all three. Rodriguez is clearly the unfortunate player who is most directly impacted by this as he, like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, clearly fits all three categories, but this suspension is bigger Rodriguez. It demonstrates again that the players are powerless against the league and the teams and that MLB continues to look for simple and high profile solutions to the PED problem rather than a thoughtful and more comprehensive approach.

The New Context for Offense-The Case of Brandon Belt

San Francisco Giant first baseman Brandon Belt has been the subject of some controversy as many Giants fans feel he has not been given a fair chance over the last season and a half while others believe he has been a disappointment. Belt, who began the 2011 season as the Giants’ top hitting prospect, spent most of 2011 moving back and forth from first base to the outfield, the starting lineup to the bench, and the big leagues and AAA. This year, Belt spent the first month or two of the season being moved in and out of the lineup before settling, at least for now, into the starting first baseman’s role

Spring Training Scenarios

Closely related to these hopes are the what if scenarios that fans of most teams are putting together for 2012. A key component to these scenarios is for fans to highlight all the things that went wrong in 2011 and suggest that if those things go right their team will win a pennant in 2012. These what if scenarios are essential for fans, but most are wrong and do not come to fruition. The reason for this is that too frequently the good luck from the previous season is overlooked. Giants fans, for example, believe, perhaps rightly, that Posey’s injury cost the Giants a playoff spot. While this may be true, it is wrong to extrapolate from that assertion that the Giants suffered from bad fortune in 2011. The team got unexpectedly great years from Pablo Sandoval and Ryan Vogelsong that in terms of impact on the team probably ameliorated much of the loss from the Posey injury.

The Yankees and Roy Oswalt

The New York Yankees have been the biggest non-story of the off-season. Not surprisingly, given the role the Yankees play in baseball’s shared consciousness, this non-story has itself become one of the major themes of this off-season. Shortly after the World Series, the Yankees renegotiated a big contract with their ace pitcher CC Sabathia. Since resigning Sabathia, the team has done almost nothing. They have signed Hideki Okajima to a minor league contract, parted ways with longtime catching star Jorge Posada, but made no significant changes to their major league roster.

The New Free Agency

One would expect that many teams would be courting Pujols and Fielder, both of whom are likely to remain among the best players around for at least a few more years. The relative lack of interest in both of them indicates quite a bit about the state of baseball economics and salary structures today. As has been the case for many years now, although all teams are free to pursue Pujols and Fielder, there are several small market teams for whom, due to their lack of revenue and payroll limitations, signing a premier free agent is not a realistic hope. It has been a long time since the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals or Minnesota Twins, for example, have made a major splash in the free agent market.

Free Agent Decisions from the Player's Perspective

Decisions about where a player signs have impacts the rest of that players career. For example, if Prince Fielder were to sign with the A’s, which is very unlikely, his career batting numbers would be far less impressive than if he signed with the Cubs. These decisions also have an impact on how that player’s career is understood even after that player is retired. While it is likely that debating how good retired players is more interesting to fans than to the players themselves, these questions effect things that players presumably care about such as their chance of getting elected to the Hall of Fame and how marketable they are in retirement.


The All Star Series

The steady increase in the size of the All Star Game rosters will continue this year as there will now be 34 players on each team. With 34 players, it is likely that each team will have 13 pitchers. At first glance this seems not just absurd, but likely to make the All Star Game resemble a real baseball game even less than it usually does. Similarly, it seems like the steady increase in the number of players cheapens the game a little bit as it will be easier for players to earn a spot on the roster.

Eric Gagne and Established Closers

Earlier this week, in a story that was appropriately reported without much fanfare,Eric Gagne retired. Between 2002-2004, Gagne had been one of the best relievers in the game saving 152 games and posting a 1.79 ERA over that three year period, while appearing in three All Star Games and finishing 4th, 1st and 7th in Cy Young balloting. For those three years, Gagne was the best closer in baseball, but he never recovered from an injury in 2005 and bounced around between the Dodgers, Rangers, Red Sox and Brewers between 2005 and 2008. He spent last year trying to get one more chance to play, but was not successful.

How Good Was Frank Thomas-Ranking Right Handed Hitters

A more interesting question about Thomas’s career is how he ranks among the greatest right handed hitters ever. There are some players who were right handed hitters who were more valuable because of the positions they played and their ability to contribute defensively such as Willie Mays, Mike Schmidt and Honus Wagner, but when looking at batting numbers only, there are fewer right handed hitters who were clearly better than Thomas. Thomas is one of only eight right handed hitters to have over 9,000 plate appearances and an OPS+ of 150 or better, and one of only four with 10,000 or more plate appearances and an OPS+ of 150 or better

Some More Baseball Awards for the End of the Decade

As the decade winds down, baseball fans can read about teams of the decade,top 100 players of the decade, all-star teams of the decade, the greatest moments of the decade and other measurements of the decade which just ended. Here are some other awards for the soon to be complete decade which have been overlooked.

Lincecum v. Carpenwright: Who has the Best Starting PItcher Duo in the National League

Among these four aces, Lincecum has more strikeouts, complete games and shutouts and a lower ERA, while pitching the second most innings, Wainwright is first.  Lincecum is also second, to Carpenter, in fewest walks plus hits over nine innings.  Carpenter and Wainwright would both be respectable Cy Young choices, and together with an Albert Pujols led Cardinal offense could help the Cardinals play well into October, but the best NL pitcher, and the best top of the rotation so far in 2009, have both been in San Francisco.

The Steroid News Could be Worse


The only thing we know for certain about steroid usage in baseball is that we don’t know anything for certain about steroid usage in baseball.  Leaked information, inconclusive tests and strong suspicions comprise the majority of the “evidence” in this area.  The list of stars that are either clearly guilty or strongly suspected,of using steroids is well known and includes some of the biggest names in the game’s recent history: McGwire, Sosa, A-Rod, Bonds, Ortiz and Clemens.