The Colorado Rockies signed former MVP Justin Morneau to a two year deal for $13 million. It appears this acquisition is being panned by outside observers of base and ball. I don’t know how this is going to turn out for the Rockies but there are a few facts in favor of their new first baseman.
- Three years ago Morneau was awesome! He hit .345 with a .618 slugging.
- In 2013 his on-base percentage was higher than that posted by Manny Machado, Josh Hamilton and Adam Jones.
- The new Rockie hit more home runs this year than his predecessor Todd Helton, Billy Butler, Buster Posey, Victor Martinez and Jason Heyward.
- Justin Morneau is younger than Shane Victorino, Matt Holliday and Nick Swisher.
We will probably know by the all-star break if the Morneau signing is a good one for Colorado. My guess is that he will surprise to the upside in 2014.
Two of the best free agents available in this year’s hot stove are outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo. Looking at their most recent three seasons will give us a pretty good idea of each players true skill set and performance.
From 2011-13 both Choo and Ellsbury hit a total of 45 home-runs. Their isolated power (~.160 ISO) and hits/ball in play (~33%) were both nearly identical. Choo had a grand total of 65 more plate appearances during the last three years.
The differences between the two players offensive performances are walks (big advantage Choo), contact rate (solid advantage Ellsbury) and speed (big advantage Ellsbury).
Looking at attributes outside of batting and base-running, Jacoby Ellsbury is 14 months younger than Choo and thanks to his wheels the former Boston Red Sox all-star has much better range in the outfield. Shin-Soo Choo possesses a better throwing arm.
That’s 3/4 of the story. Most of the other quarter is simply unknown to us foreign observers. Scouts, coaches, teammates and family members need to fill us in. Of course they tend to be subjective which is why we take their input with a grain of salt.
If we could measure this other 25% that would be terrific. Aside from in-depth scouting we can’t get too far past 90%.
So if you had $100,000,000 to throw around at an outfielder who do you got?
First off congrats to Terry Francona for taking home the 2013 AL Manager of the Year award. Coming into the season with a rotation that included lost causes Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir no one thought that this Cleveland Indians team was going to win 92 games. Props to Tito and a pitching staff that far exceeded expectations!
Speaking of pitching…did you know that Terry Francona posted the lowest ERA on the 1990 Louisville Redbirds? After ten major league seasons which included 474 hits and a .274 batting average the slick fielding first baseman was released by the Brewers after four at-bats in April of 1990.
Francona was 31 years old and coming off a season where he backed up Greg Brock on the ’89 Brewers squad. It appeared to be the end of the line for the former first round pick of the Montreal Expos. Tito was picked one slot ahead of uber prospect Billy Beane in the 1980 MLB draft.
So two weeks after Francona is released by the Brewers he signs his final playing contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. He is sent to triple A Louisville to bring a veteran presence into a clubhouse full of future MLB all-stars. The ’90 Redbirds team featured Ken Hill, Ray Lankford and Bernard Gilkey. Francona would get three-hundred at-bats on the ‘Birds while hitting a solid .263.
As triple-A managers are bound to be, Gaylen Pitts found himself in a few late inning binds that season. He needed an arm to get a few outs. Fortunately he realized that his fourth outfielder Terry Francona had major league pitching experience. The ’89 Brewers found themselves getting blown-out by the powerhouse Athletics team in mid-May. Milwaukee manager Tom Trebelhorn turned to Francona to get through the 8th inning in Oakland. How did he do?
Terry got Terry Steinbach and Tony Phillips to make the first two outs of the inning on flyballs before strike-ing out Stan Javier to end the inning. 1-2-3 go the A’s. Armed with this awesome performance and a career ERA of 0.00 in the majors Terry volunteered to help out Pitts on five occasions during the summer of 1990 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Terry Francona would end his playing career as the relief ace for the Redbirds. He pitched 7 2/3 innings in five games for Louisville that year. The future world series winning manager whiffed six batters and allowed just one run to post a 1.17 ERA.
The 2013 American League Cy Young race is very close. According to FanGraphs WAR here are the top three finishers:
I realize that Wins Above Replacement is not a be-all end-all but it is a pretty good estimate of value over a long season (in this case ~30 starts each).
Looking back at the history of the AL Cy Young award I found another very tight three-way race. Back in 1971 the AL leaders in pitching fWAR looked like this:
Lolich, the Detroit Tigers ace finished second in the Cy voting. The 15 (out of 24) voters who didn’t place Lolich first had to overlook his AL leading 25 wins and 308 strikeouts.
Also in 45 games started the lefty averaged 8 1/3 innings pitched per start. Lolich threw an astounding 376 innings in 1971! This was forty-two more than the second most in the league hurled by Wilbur Wood (who finished third in the voting for Cy).
Like this year any of the three guys in ’71 was a worthy choice although it’s hard to argue against the winner, Vida Blue. The twenty-one year old Oakland Athletic led the AL in K rate (8.6/9 IP), shutouts (8) and WAR!
The voters got the jist of the whole thing four decades before saber-metrics became mainstream. We’ll find out later today if they’ve still got it.
“The Chief”, aka Geronimo Berroa finished his MLB career in 2001 with a total of 101 home runs. The journeyman slugger spent time with nine teams in eleven seasons. His four best years came with the Oakland Athletics for whom Berroa hit 87 home runs.
During this time with the A’s Geronimo slugged .499 including a relative pedestrian .451 SLG in 1995. Berroa finished ’95 with twenty-two bombs.
Perhaps nothing interesting here except for the fact that Berroa hit 27% of his long balls against one team. In only 13 games against the New York Yankees Berroa slugged six home runs plus three doubles and two triples. In 47 at bats he slugged .894 against the Yanks, .894!
In addition to the power surge, Geronimo Berroa was walked in 17% of his plate appearances against New York in 1995.
Matt makes many interesting points especially regarding the postseason careers of Ortiz and Jason Giambi. I was shocked to see that they aren’t that different.
Big Papi does have twice as many playoff plate appearances but Giambi has a solid postseason sample (45 games, 174 plate appearances). Their rate stats are pretty close. Ortiz has a small edge in batting average, Giambi has a small edge in OBP and Ortiz has a decent lead in slugging.
I further outlined the “anti-clutch” argument about Ortiz a few weeks back. Hint: he is a very good hitter in the regular season and playoffs.
Matt’s question about hall size is critical when examining Big Papi’s case. Ortiz is at the steps of Cooperstown but the door isn’t yet open.
St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese has been struggling at the plate this postseason. In 14 games so far he is batting just .178. This may be surprising to some observers.
Up through last postseason Freese was viewed as some sort of clutch batter. In his first 29 playoff games David Freese was a really great performer. He batted .369 while slugging .689 in over 100 at bats in the 2011 & 2012 playoffs.
I don’t believe that Freese is now afraid of the spotlight. He isn’t choking under pressure. His career line of .286 BA/.356 OBP/.427 SLG is the reality. Freese overachieved in the last two playoffs and is underachieving this year. It’s not clutch it’s luck.
Many are complaining of low run-scoring totals in the 2013 MLB playoffs. Not surprisingly one of the major culprits is the Los Angeles Dodgers. For the full year the Dodgers were a league average offensive team. Against the tremendous pitching of the St. Louis Cardinals they became sub-par.
Over six NLCS games LA scored an average of just two runs. Adrian Gonzalez was their only hitter who posted an on-base percentage over .350 in the series. Gonzalez, A.J. Ellis and Carl Crawford were the only three Dodgers to slugg over .360.
Michael Wacha was awesome in his two starts against the Dodgers. Credit is due to him for sure. Nobody should be shocked that an average offense didn’t hit over six games in October against a very tough pitching staff.
Justin Verlander would probably not have gotten the “Loss” last night if Miguel Cabrera didn’t go 0-for-4 with 2 strikeouts. Detroit Tigers pitchers have no responsibility for their team’s lineup. Verlander doesn’t influence Cabrera’s batting performance against Red Sox pitchers.
Verlander pitched great against Red Sox batters and John Lackey pitched great against Tigers batters. The two pitchers did not face each other.
Since David Ortiz hit his first playoff home-run exactly one decade ago in The Bronx off Mike Mussina there has been a popular “clutch-ness” narrative surrounding the Red Sox slugger. Is there evidence that he was “clutch” before he tagged Mussina in game one of the 2003 ALCS?
Prior to being released by the Twins in December of ’02 Ortiz had 1,500 big league at-bats. During this time David Ortiz hit one HR every 25 AB’s. That’s 455 games and parts of six seasons.
Before taking Mussina yard Ortiz had played in 14 postseason games (9 for Minnesota and 5 for Boston). In 50 at-bats during these games in ’02 & ’03 he hit zero home-runs. He posted a .231 OBP and .280 SLG. David Ortiz was clearly not a “clutch” hitter, at least not in the postseason.
We all know the story since ’03. The question is…Why wasn’t Ortiz clutch in his first 14 playoff games? Was there a mental block in the way of him hitting in the “clutch”? Was he nervous in big games? Did he shy away from the spotlight?
No, I think not.
Ortiz simply became a much better all-around hitter since coming to Boston. He has been better in the regular season with the Red Sox than he was with the Twins and he’s been better in the playoffs with the Red Sox.
Finally, in 63 playoff games with Boston he’s slugged .562. In 1514 regular season games with Boston David Ortiz slugged .572.
There is no postseason magic here. Big Papi is a really good hitter, period.