Why wins don’t matter

Baseball is considered by many to simply be a game of numbers. Every pitch, every swing, every hit and every run are all kept track of. It’s through these statistics and numbers that fans try to determine which players are superior to the others. Baseball writers also analyze data similarly to determine which players earn individual awards at the end of each season, such as MVP and Cy Young Awards. In the last twenty years or so, there’s a change in figuring out not only what the numbers mean, but also in determining how relevant they are.

Take for instance the game Matt Harvey pitched tonight for the New York Mets. Harvey was completely dominant for nine innings, only allowing one batter to reach base (an infield single with two outs in the 7th inning) while striking out 12 White Sox batters. How does his performance show up in the box score? He’s credited with a no-decision, while Bobby Parnell was given the win. This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s part of a bigger problem.

For people who fall in love with statistics, they’ll often find themselves quick to point out a pitcher’s win-loss record, but that often is one of the worst statistical references to how well a pitcher performed during the course of a season. As was the case with Harvey, if your team doesn’t score any runs, you’ll never be given a win. It seems ironic that the award for best pitcher is named after Cy Young who won 511 games during the course of his career, more than any pitcher in baseball history. What is often forgotten is that he also lost 316 games during his career, which just so happens to also be a record.

It’s very much a debate between the old school versus the new school thought process. In fact, the MLB Network has a show which discusses topics such as this. Watch as Harold Reynolds (ex-Major League Baseball player) debates Brian Kenny (MLB Network host) about whether or not wins are an important statistic.

So what’s the correct way to determine how good or bad a pitcher actually is? There’s plenty of data and statistics which give a better look at how effective a pitcher is. For instance WHIP is an often overlooked statistic (although it is used more now than it ever has before) which shows on average how many walks and hits a pitcher allows per inning pitched. While an average Major League pitcher has a WHIP of just over 1.20, an elite pitcher will find have a WHIP of 1.00 or below. In 2012, Clayton Kershaw of the L.A. Dodgers led all pitchers in MLB with a WHIP of 1.02.

Although there is nothing wrong with looking at statistics, one has to remember that they’re only providing a limited amount of information. Just because a pitcher strikes out a lot of hitters, it doesn’t mean they’re a better pitcher than someone who doesn’t. Similarly, a pitcher’s win-loss record is not indicative of how good a pitcher is either.

More than a game

I was planning to write an entry about Max Scherzer and his first start of the 2013 season, but after reading THIS STORY at ESPN, I decided to take a slightly different route.

Entering the 2013 season, Scherzer has a chance to be one of the most dominant pitchers in all of Major League Baseball. Coming off a tremendous second half (8-2, 2.69 post All-Star Game), Scherzer will look to carry that kind of success into the season. A lot of people don’t know Scherzer’s story, but he’s pitching with not only a lot of determination, but a heavy heart, too.

It’s a story like this one that makes you realize the human side of the players we cheer for. We often think of athletes and celebrities as people on a different level than us, but at the end of the day, we’re not really that much different.

Baseball is more than a game for some people, it’s a way to help move on.

The Tigers get a second helping of the Big Potato

Yesterday afternoon the Tigers announced they reached a deal with Jose Valverde, signing their former closer to a minor-league deal. A lot of people made a lot of assumptions about why the Tigers would even think about bringing him back, and others felt this was a sign of Detroit panicking about their current bullpen. Personally, I think it’s a great signing.

For a guy who was listed as one of the top-50 free agents entering the 2012 offseason, Valverde found himself without a team during spring training. He was originally supposed to pitch in the World Baseball Classic, but decided against it due to personal reasons. If Valverde did pitch in the WBC, I feel pretty confident he would have found a contract offer somewhere. Instead, he ended up pitching a showcase for several teams in the Dominican Republic.

The Tigers liked the progress Valverde displayed in those sessions (velocity appeared to be back, plus was throwing several splitters), and decided it was worth giving him a chance to prove he can once again be the type of closer he was from 2010 through the first half of 2012. The best part of this contract is the fact that Valverde is guaranteed absolutely nothing besides a spot in Toledo’s bullpen. Worst case scenario, he opts out of his contract on May 5th (which he is allowed to do if he’s not on the Major League roster by then) and it didn’t cost the Tigers a thing. I’d imagine Detroit won’t even be able to sign Brian Wilson (who is recovering from his second Tommy John surgery) for such a low-risk deal.

My only concern with this deal, is how it will end up hurting the development of Bruce Rondon, who I do believe is the future closer for Detroit. Hopefully the Tigers will be smart enough to give both Rondon and Valverde a chance to develop, that way they’ll be able to figure out which (could also be neither or both) of them will be able to make the Tigers a better team. If that means we get a second helping of the Big Potato, I’m not opposed to it.

The price to pay

Back in October, I had a customer tell me that the Tigers should release Prince Fielder because if we’re paying him that much money, he needs to hit at least one home run every game. When baseball players are making over 20 million dollars a year, a lot of people are convinced that they don’t perform well enough for them to deserve making that kind of money. It got me thinking, what is a baseball player actually worth?

Whenever someone tells me that a baseball player makes too much money (usually the case with top-tier players, not so much rookies), I bring up the argument that actors and celebrities often make a lot more money while doing a lot less work. A top-paid baseball player is likely away from his family for half of the year and is constantly flying from city to city. Am I saying that it’s hard work? No, what I’m saying is that they’re making a much bigger sacrifice than most people realize.

Of course there’s also the aches and pains that come from playing baseball. Players are often rehabbing from surgery or other various operations. It’s almost unfair, but professional baseball players are not only expected to return to 100 percent quickly, but to do so in a very timely fashion. When a player has a surgery (for instance Tommy John), fans are constantly wondering how quickly they’re going to come back. They don’t realize the grueling rehabilitation process that comes with it.

Another thing you should realize is the shelf life for a Major League Baseball player is not very long. In fact, a 2007 study at the University of Colorado showed that on average, a baseball player’s career (position players, not pitchers) only lasts 5.6 years. Based on current minimum salaries, you’re looking at approximately five-million dollars in career earnings. Most people would love to make that much money in their lifetime, let alone over the course of five years. However, you have to realize how incredibly difficult it is to make it the MLB. You’re competing against tens of thousands of the best athletes in the entire world. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

So when you look at the contracts for a guy like Justin Verlander and don’t understand why he’s going to be making 180-million dollars over the next seven years, you need to realize that his case is definitely the exception to the rule. When you’re arguably the best in the world at something, you deserve to be make more than anyone else who does your job. No, it doesn’t always work that way, but it’s hard to argue he’s not deserving or worthy of it. You’re welcome to blame the economics of baseball, but if you want players like Justin Verlander on your team, contracts like the one he just signed are the price you have to pay.

Let the games begin!

As I begin writing this, we’re only 21 hours away from the first pitch of the 2013 MLB season. Last year left a sour taste in my mouth (as it did for everyone who isn’t a San Francisco Giants fan), so I’m looking for a chance to change that.

It doesn’t matter which team you find yourself rooting for, everyone feels like this year could be the year (unless you’re an Astros or Marlins fan, you might want to wait a few more years) that they’re team finally wins it all. I normally always try to do a prediction blog before the season begins, and that’s what I’m going to do. If normal predictions bore you, check out my other BLOG where I’ve made a few more wild predictions.

Without further ado:

AL West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim- Although I do love the diehard Athletics (and I really do hope they support the A’s like they did during October last year), I just don’t see them being able to pull of a repeat this year. This isn’t to say I don’t think they’ll be in contention, but I think they’re looking at a Wild Card. The only thing I can realistically see preventing the Angels from winning their division is if the starting rotation falls apart.

AL Central: Detroit Tigers- The Tigers went to the World Series last year and there’s really no reason why they can’t find themselves back in the hunt again this year. On paper, the Tigers have only gotten better (Torii Hunter in right field instead of Brennan Boesch, Victor Martinez instead of Delmon Young at DH and a full season of Omar Infante at 2B). A lot of critics say that the Tigers will struggle without a proven closer, but I don’t think that will be a big enough issue to keep them from winning their division.

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays- If there’s a division that puzzles me, it’s without a doubt the AL East. Realistically, every team in the division has a legitimate argument that they could win the division. You can’t say that with really any other division, and that’s what makes predicting this so difficult. My thoughts are that the Yankees are falling apart (age and injuries), Boston has to prove they can turn it around with a new coach and Baltimore will likely take a step back compared to last year. You’re probably thinking, ‘What about the Blue Jays?’ No, I didn’t forget about them. The bulk of the players they traded for were from Miami, and the Marlins were pretty terrible last year. I’m not so sure that they’ll be able to win in Toronto, either.

Wild Cards: Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers- The Blue Jays are obviously talented and if they can stay healthy (especially Jose Bautista, Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow), there’s no reason why they won’t find themselves playing in October. They have the offensive weapons, but their pitching needs to improve.

I think Oakland will start off strong, but slowly fade as the Rangers surge in the second half. The Rangers have a ton of talent, and I’m worried about whether or not the Athletics can do it again. The Athletics and Rangers both will benefit from playing the Astros a lot more, that’s why I can’t see two Wild Cards coming from the AL East.

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers- Hard to bet against Magic Johnson and the newly revamped Dodgers. They’ve spent enough money to win their division (in theory), and I don’t think the San Francisco Giants or Arizona Diamondbacks will be able to slow them down enough to pass them in the standings.

NL Central: Cincinnati Reds- I think the Reds are under appreciated and it’s only a matter of time before everyone figures it out. They have a lot of young core talent which compliments their solid rotation. Oh yeah, their closer can also throw 105 MPH.

NL East: Washington Nationals- Although the Atlanta Braves added the Upton brothers to their outfield, I still think they’re going to go through too many stretches of not scoring runs. Don’t believe me? Look at the Detroit Tigers last year, when they had a similar type of team. When you’re relying on power, you often go through stretches where you’re not scoring runs.

Wild Cards: San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves- Hard to count out the defending World Series champions, especially when you consider the fact they haven’t lost any real significant pieces from their 2012 team. The Braves have enough pitching and offense that they should be able to beat up on the Mets and Phillies, squeaking out a Wild Card in the final week of the season.

AL MVP: Prince Fielder
NL MVP: Joey Votto

AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Victor Martinez
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Roy Halladay

AL Rookie of the Year: Nick Castellanos
NL Rookie of the Year: Jedd Gyorko

World Series: Detroit Tigers over the Washington Nationals in 6 games

A great day for Detroit

Today is a good day for Tigers’ fans, and an even better day for Justin Verlander, as Verlander has agreed to a five-year extension worth 140-million dollars. It may sound completely absurd, but for signing the best pitcher in baseball (who one could argue is just entering his prime) it’s actually a very fair deal.

After Zach Greinke (6 years, 158 million) and Felix Hernandez (7 years, 175 million) signed huge deals in the offseason, Verlander was very open about his desire to be the first pitcher to sign a contract worth 200-million dollars. I thought he would sign for 8 years and 200 million and it appears I wasn’t too far off.

The extension will reportedly pay Verlander 20 million in ’13 and ’14, plus 28 million for each year from ’15-’19. That puts Verlander at seven years and 180 million, but there’s still a vesting option for the 8th year (have yet to see what it will take to vest) which would be worth 22 million more. All together, the Tigers have locked up their ace for potentially 8 years and 202 million.

Overall, I think Detroit fans should be excited about the news. I know there’s going to be a lot of people complaining that Verlander is going to make way too much money, but when you’re the best in the world at something, you deserve to make the most money. If there’s a downside to the signing, it’s that Tigers’ fans are likely to be paying for this contract for quite a few years.

After signing Prince Fielder last year, ticket prices rose a bit for the 2013 season. To be fair, prices didn’t increase much from the previous year, but seeing my season tickets go up (from paying $17 per ticket to $23) seemed a bit excessive. Will that trend continue for the 2014 season? It’s hard to know for sure, but it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if it does.

At the end of the day, as long as the Tigers are able to continue to compete for a World Series, I don’t think you’ll hear too many people complaining.

Have the Yankees finally lost it?

In case you don’t already know, let me start off by telling you that I do not like the Yankees. Although I respect the fact they are one of (if not the) the most prolific organizations in all of professional sports. They have a reputation that precedes them, and they’ve proven they have no problem when it comes to winning championships. Despite that, I’m still not a fan.

So when I was talking with a friend about the Yankees last night, I started to wonder. Have the Yankees finally lost it? With their poor showing in the playoffs last year, a plethora of injuries and aging former all stars, are the best days for the Bronx Bombers behind them?

You’re probably saying to yourself, “Brad, you’re crazy. The Yankees did advance to the ALCS last year.” That is correct, they squeaked past Baltimore and fell apart once they faced Detroit. Then Derek Jeter got injured, then Curtis Granderson, then Mark Teixeira. Look at it this way, between Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Youklis, the Yankees are paying 40-million dollars. By comparison, Jeff Passan of Yahoo sports projects the Miami Marlins to spend 45-million dollars on their entire team, and the Houston Astros are expected to to spend 32-million dollars.

Talk about spending a lot of money for little production, the Yankees are in way over their heads. I understand that the Yankees weren’t expecting to lose Teixeira and Rodriguez for extended periods of time, but I would have expected them to make a smarter move than overpaying for Youklis. As if that wasn’t a confusing enough transaction, the Yankees made an even crazier move earlier this week.

When I heard that the Yankees were trading for Vernon Wells, I actually began to laugh. I may not be an expert in baseball management, but I do not understand why you’d want to pay almost 14-million dollars for a guy who is going to play left field for maybe 30 games a year. Last year Wells had a .6 oWAR (offensive wins above replacement) and a -.3 dWAR (defensive wins above replacement). To put it simply, the Yankees are paying on average 7-million dollars for a guy who is only considered to barely be above average amongst players who play his position.

I can’t help but wonder if this is going to be the start of the decline for the Yankees. Sure, they have the money to spend (their payroll is still one of the highest in baseball), but they’re in serious jeopardy going forward. After Mariano Rivera retires, the Yankees could also lose Robinson Cano to free agency.

Don’t forget that they are supposedly hoping to cut their payroll starting in 2014. If they want to keep up with the rest of the teams in the AL East, they might need to reconsider that strategy. The Yankees already have a ton of question marks for this year, but it’s only going to get worse going forward.

Should the Tigers trade Porcello?

According to reports, the Tigers made not one but two offers to the San Diego Padres in an attempt to trade Rick Porcello. Both of the offers were rejected, but it makes me wonder whether or not the Tigers should try to trade Porcello.

Both reported offers would have landed Detroit a late-inning relief pitcher, which makes it seem that the Tigers don’t necessarily have a lot of confidence in Bruce Rondon being the closer come opening day. If that is the case, I can understand why the Tigers would try to trade for Huston Street, but not Luke Gregerson.

In his first year as the closer for the Padres, Street posted a 1.85 ERA along with 23 saves. Street has spent all eight years of his career as a closer, only once logging under 20 saves. Although he is a valuable closer, I don’t think trading a pitcher like Porcello (durable starter who cannot become a free agent until 2016) for a closer who is owed 21-million dollars over the next three years.

Gregerson is another interesting trade candidate, as I’m not sure he’d be able to slot in as the closer for the Tigers, especially since he’s only finished 42 games in his career (12 saves). The nice thing about Gregerson is the fact he’s only due 3.2-million dollars this year, which is a reasonable salary for a quality relief pitcher. The flip side of that is if Gregerson isn’t closing, he really doesn’t have much of a defined role on the team.

When it comes to closers, there’s basically two different theories. The first theory is that any quality relief pitcher can be an above-average closer. The second is that not all pitchers have the mentality or makeup to be a closer in professional baseball. More often than not, I’m a believer in the latter. Of course there will always be exceptions to the rule, but a closer without confidence is just a disaster waiting to happen.

So should the Tigers trade Porcello before opening day? In my opinion, I think it’s best to wait until at least the trade deadline. My biggest fear is the fact that outside of Drew Smyly, the Tigers have pretty much no rotational depth, and that’s not a position that a World Series contending team wants to deal with. If the Tigers do trade Porcello, I just hope that they get a little more value than just a relief pitcher.

Good bye, Brennan

A few days ago, the Detroit Tigers decided to cut their ties to outfielder Brennan Boesch, giving him his outright release. Fortunately for Boesch, it didn’t take long before the New York Yankees signed him to a one-year deal which could be worth just over two-million dollars.

Now it’s not too often where I feel the need to compliment the Yankees about signing a free agent, but this really does seem like a pretty perfect fit. There’s not too many Yankees that haven’t been bit by the injury bug, and they certainly needed to sign an outfielder before the season begins. Although I’d imagine Curtis Granderson will be back with the team by the middle of May, the Yankees lack any sort of outfield depth.

Although I’m not quite sold on Boesch, his left-handed power swing plays perfectly at Yankee Stadium with their short porch in right field. It was originally reported that the contract was 1.5 million dollars guaranteed with the potential for an additional 600 thousand dollars in incentives, but it turns out that was incorrectly report. In fact, Boesch signed what is referred to as a split contract. If Boesch plays for the New York Yankees, he’ll make the 1.5 million, but if he’s sent to the minor leagues, he’ll only make half of a million dollars (not including the money he received from the Tigers when they released him).

I’d find it hard to believe that Boesch won’t make the opening day roster, because if he struggles, they can always option him back to triple-A once Granderson returns to the team. A change of scenery should do Boesch well, as his struggles in Detroit were doing nothing more than preventing top prospects Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia playing time.

Also, you can find out more about my thoughts on Brennan Boesch and his fantasy baseball value by clicking HERE.