Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Charnel House Rules

Homer Bailey made his first start of the season this week. Homer Bailey was optioned to the Minors this week.

Even at an age when many of his contemporaries are still bumming around Europe, or, if they're like me, finishing up those last few credits (semesters), the 23-year-old pitcher whose name sounds suspiciously like it was conceived by John Irving is dangerously close to moving to Bustville.

Over three seasons, the former seventh-overall pick has posted a Major League line of 18 starts, 86 IP, 74 H, 51 BB, 49 K, and a ghastly 7.71 ERA. PECOTA pegs the erstwhile top prospect's closest comparables as Mark Grant (reliever), Andy Hawkins (mediocre starter) and Mike Harkey (somewhat less mediocre starter).

Is Homer Bailey doomed to repeat the vicious cycle of mediocre starterhood? Or can he figure out how to pitch in the Major Leagues like slightly less comparables Todd Stottlemyre, Ben Sheets and Matt Morris.

One thing's for sure: Homer Bailey won't gain much more by pitching in the Minors. Bailey was victimized by an abnormally high BABIP in 2008, but his K-rate remained constant relative to 2007 and his BB-rate fell by 0.5. His Fielding Independent Pitching of 3.96 was more indicative of a good pitcher than his ERA of 4.77. Bailey has increased his K-rate in 2009 while decreasing his BB-rate, but his FIP is an abysmal 5.14.

Still, after nearly 40 Triple-A starts, something must give. Ready or not, Homer Bailey belongs in the Majors; he's spent two full calendar years on the 40-man roster, and he's approaching the stage when he'll have lost most of his trade value (see Jackson, Edwin). The Reds have designs on contending for the NL Central this year; they should move Bailey for a piece they can use for their final push.

Until then, it's probably time to call a moratorium on Homer Bailey's prospect status.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Now let's see Jon Stewart interview Peter Gammons.

Maybe it's because I work in sports, watch sports in my free time and am generally obsessed with sports, but I couldn't help but see Jon Stewart's interview of CNBC's Jim Cramer through the lens of steroids in baseball. Financial journalists like Cramer were complicit in creating the financial disaster by intentionally disregarding information about criminal activities that would have been zapped like mildew in direct sunlight if only journos hadn't blocked the sun with their own largesse. Similarly, though on a much smaller and far less criminal scale, journalists like Peter Gammons blocked out the steroid story in baseball because they were unwilling to ask the tough questions and report the hard news.

As reporters, both Cramer and Gammons alike are obligated to report the difficult stories, not just the ones that their networks or newspapers can sell. Just like questions about Bear Stearns leveraging at 30-to-1 are legitimate, so are questions about Brady Anderson finding a magical workout and hot streak and hitting 50 home runs at age 32 when his career high was 21 bombs. But as Stewart noted in his interview, the point of journalism isn't to find religion after the fact. It's to ask the tough questions while they're still relevant, and before people begin losing their homes, before people like Ken Caminiti and Lyle Alzado pass away.

We don't demand of reporters that they catch every story, but we do demand that they catch the ones directly in front of their faces.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


When IBM's primacy as the leading computer manufacturer went into doubt -- when other companies began making similar machines with similar specs at similar prices -- IBM did what smart companies do and started IBM Global Services, the business consulting arm of the company. Consulting allowed IBM to leverage its name as the leading technology innovator in the field and open new revenue streams.

Similarly, with a recession promising to cut into the profits of the Colorado Rapids, the club decided to begin offering ESL classes to Denver's sizable Spanish-speaking population. For $200, fans will get six sessions, class materials and tickets to Rapids matches. Rapids players and coaches will also be involved in teaching the course.

The program could provide a valuable public service, while offsetting losses from tickets and merchandise revenues during the recession. Plus, presumably the students will use these courses to find better employment -- if that's possible nowadays -- and the Rapids will have helped some new fans find more affluence. Bravo to the Colorado Rapids.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Get well soon, Johan.

I'm a refugee from a small midwestern town, who's currently stranded in New York, so I don't have any particular affinity for the local ballclubs. In fact, given the fact that roughly 60 percent* of the locals I know are Mets fans, and 70 percent** of that group is insufferable, I think it's fair to say that I downright dislike the Amazin's. In the NL East, I tend to pull for the Marlins and Nationals. Call me a sucker for lost causes.

That said, as a baseball fan, I can't help but be terrified to lose a year of Johan Santana's prime to an elbow injury. Santana has been experiencing recurring soreness and tightness as he trains in Florida. There's talk that he could miss the start of the season because of the injury and, well, we've been down this road so many times before with so many pitchers.

Not Johan, though. The two-time Cy Young Award winner has been largely healthy for the duration of his career -- aside from a surgery to remove bone chips prior to the 2004 season -- and he's arguably the best pitcher in the game. He's the proper heir to Pedro Martinez as the most entertaining pitcher in the Majors.

Santana has seen his fastball decline in velocity from 93.1 MPH in 2006 to 91.2 MPH in 2008, which could be an indication of lingering, or developing, injury. His walk rate has also increased, from 1.81 BB/9 in 2006 to 2.42 BB/9 in 2007 2008. His K/9 has decreased from 9.44 in 2006 to 7.91 in 2008. These dropoffs in stuff could be indicative of an injury, or they could be indicative of Santana getting a bit older and craftier.

Even a diminished -- loose usage of this word -- Santana is still an elite pitcher, and the results remain phenomenal. To wit, his 166 ERA + in 2008 was his highest since he put up a 182 ERA + in 2004.

Still, throwing a baseball is one of the most stressful things you can do to a joint, and every Major League pitcher is a high risk to blow out his elbow. If Santana has developed a serious injury, it would be a shame but not wholly surprising. But hopefully he's just sore, because the only things more intolerable than Mets fans when their club is winning are Mets fans when their club is awful.

* Probably lower.

** Probably higher

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Devine inspiration

I remember watching Joey Devine's first Major League appearance, a Fox Saturday Baseball game that was played two short months after the Braves drafted him 27th overall out of N.C. State in 2005. Devine entered a game against the Padres that was tied at two in the 12th inning and pretty easily retired the side. Then Bobby Cox allowed Devine to start the 13th, and the scalding waters of Hell broke loose and drowned poor Joey right there on the Turner Field mound. He gave up four runs, capitulating on a monster grand slam to Xavier Nady. I thought I may have seen the last of Joey Devine. I hadn't.

The second time I saw Joey Devine pitch was two months later, when Bobby Cox again brought him into an extra-innings game, this time in the NLDS against the Astros. Devine, whose entrance literally emptied the bullpen in the 17th inning, quickly retired the Astros but gave up the NLCS-winning home run to Chris Burke with one out in the 18th. Though I've read about his travails, I haven't seen him pitch since.

Which is why I guffawed when I saw his 2008 line as a member of the A's -- he was traded in the Mark Kotsay deal in January 2008. In 45 innings, Devine struck out 49, while allowing 38 baserunners (15 walks, 23 hits). His ERA was a nifty 0.59 and his ERA + was a staggering 685. I had no idea ERA + could get that high. In fact, it doesn't very often.

Thanks to the life-changing Baseball-Reference Play-Index, I now know that among pitchers with at least 25 innings pitched, Joey Devine posted the second-highest single-season ERA + total since 1901. He trailed only Buck O'Brien, who posted a ludicrous 866 ERA + in 47.2 innings of the 1911 season. Moreover, only nine players have ever posted an ERA + over 500 in more than 25 innings of work since 1911, including Jon Papelbon (515) and Dennys Reyes (504) in the 2006 season.

I'll eschew the obvious descriptor and say that Joey Devine's 2008 season was the apotheosis of great relief pitching and is a feat that may not be equaled for some time. But damn, way to rebound, young man.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

You throw batteries at the other Drew.

Consider the stats of three 25-year-old middle infielders, all playing in good hitting environments:

Player A: .291/.333/.502, 21 HR, 67 RsBI, 110 OPS +

Player B: .263/.355/.441, 20 HR, 61 RsBI, 109 OPS +

Player C: .266/.308/.468, 13 HR, 57 RsBI, 93 OPS +

The third set of counting numbers are diminished because their owner, Chase Utley, only appeared in 94 games as a 25-year-old. But the rate stats hold true.

The second set of counting numbers are also dampened slightly because their owner, Ian Kinsler, appeared in 130 games. The rate stats still hold true.

The owner of the first set of stats, Stephen Drew, played 152 games as a 25-year-old. His rate stats are the best of the bunch. He also became only the third short stop in history -- joining Nomar Garciaparra and Robin Yount -- to accumulate 40 doubles, 10 triples and 20 home runs, which is admittedly a bit of an invented stat.

All told, Drew accumulated 76 extra-base hits in 2008, which beat Hanley Ramirez (71) and Jose Reyes (73) -- though to be fair, Ramirez and Reyes didn't play in hitter-friendly parks.

Now consider what Kinsler and Utley did as 26-year-olds:

Kinsler: (121 GP) .319/.375/.517, 18 HR, 71 RsBI, 134 OPS +

Utley: .291/.376/.540, 28 HR, 105 RsBI, 132 OPS +

Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projection system doesn't see Drew quite matching the age-26 seasons of Kinsler or Utley, but it does rank Drew as an elite short stop in EQA (ninth among SS), slugging (third), VORP (sixth) and Upside (ninth).

Drew is a talented hitter with a ton of upside. He's not that far off from being an elite short stop, and he bears watching in 2009 and beyond.