World Famous StatSpeak Roundtable: July 29
July 29, 2008 4 Comments
The roundtable rolls into the trading deadline this week with a visit from Sky King, who runs his own blog (with a hint of lime). For a recap of all the moves that may or may not be made at the trading deadline in real time, be sure to tune into MVN’s live coverage of the trading deadline moves on Thursday, starting at 9:00 am Eastern. Anyway, back to the roundtable, where today we discuss (what else) some trades that we think aren’t getting enough press, whether the Tigers are crouching or hiding, and why Pizza Cutter will never violate his own rule to never leave a baseball game early ever again.
Question #1: What players aren’t being discussed enough as trade targets and which contending teams have holes to be filled that aren’t getting enough attention?
Sky King: Mark Ellis needs to be playing for a contender. Calling him today’s Ozzie Smith isn’t too far-fetched. If Milwaukee was serious about upgrading from Rickie Weeks, Ellis is a ten-fold improvement over both him and Ray Durham. Randy Winn’s a good target, combining a solid bat with a good glove. And the Giants certainly don’t need him. Bengie Molina, either — he’s got a decent stick for a catcher. How about Aubrey Huff as a sell-high candidate from the Orioles. Is there a contending team who doesn’t need a bat? Scott Downs would quickly be the top reliever available next to Huston Street if Ricciardi wanted to trade him. It would take a bunch of prospects since he’s signed to a solid contract, but he’s a closer waiting to happen (2.5 K/BB and 60% GB). Brian Giles is an All-Star caliber corner outfielder. I’m not saying Kevin Towers would want to trade him, but there should definitely be teams beating down his door asking about Giles.
As for holes, nobody’s talking about the Angel’s needs because they’ve got the division locked up, but they need something better than Garrett Anderson in left field. Ugh. The Yankees have a complete hole when you consider Abreu is an awful fielder and Melky is an awful hitter. Abreu needs to DH, even before Giambi does (unless you think Abreu can move to first base). Nady should play right field every day, and Damon should be in center (his range almost makes up for his poor arm compared to Melky). And in left field? Well, that’s where the hole is. Think the Reds would spring for an Adam Dunn for Melky trade? I’d say something about Minnesota’s holes, but the Twins don’t seem interested even in plugging in internal options (Liriano) or trading for a massive upgrade (Beltre) with a team which historically makes poor trades.
Eric Seidman: I wanted to start by listing the contenders and then evaluating their weaknesses, but honestly, there are not a whole bunch of players easily available that would alleviate any of these concerns. Matt Holliday’s name is talked about a ton but the Rockies aren’t even, by their own admission, committed to moving him, and a team like the Phillies don’t need another outfielder this year. Then there’s the starting pitchers, of whom AJ Burnett seems to be the nicest-looking. But there’s a scary opt-out clause and the teams looking for a serious upgrade have traded for Sabathia, Harden, and, well, Joe Blanton. The Cardinals have been linked to Burnett but he’s another one I don’t see moving.
If I had to pinpoint one player and team I would say Adam Dunn to the Diamondbacks, since Conor Jackson at 1B and Dunn in LF would be an upgrade over any combo of Clark at 1B/Jackson in LF, Clark at 1B/Tracy in LF, Tracy at 1B/Jackson in LF, Jackson at 1B/Tracy in LF. Plus, they are 52-51 right now and with some added offense, should run away with that division.
The Mets should look for an upgrade as well, especially if Jason Bay is made available. Endy Chavez may be a nice player, but with Alou and Church out for however long, they are throwing Marlon Anderson, Fernando Tatis, and Chavez into the outfield to sandwich Beltran. Adding Bay would not only provide a nice offensive bat, but it would mean they could get rid of either Anderson/Tatis, who don’t really strike confidence into Mets fans (at least they shouldn’t).
Pizza Cutter: It’s hard to think that with MLB Trade Rumors going full force this time of year that there would be any needs or targets that are truly un-covered. The Mets sure could use a left fielder, even though most of the media’s attention (and apparently the Mets’) is focused on their desire for a reliever. The Mets have started five different guys at least ten times in left field this year: Angel Pagan (best name in baseball), Marlon Anderson, Endy Chavez, Fernando Tatis (he’s still around?), and Moises Alou. They’ve also recently been letting Damion Easley (he’s also still around?) hit fifth. Adam Dunn is a free agent at the end of the year and the Reds aren’t going anywhere this year. The Reds have sworn that they won’t trade Dunn even though that makes no sense, and for some reason the media is believing them for the most part. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Question #2: What is the best baseball game you’ve ever seen?
Sky King: My fondest, most mythical baseball memories come from when I was a child, which probably isn’t that uncommon. There’s a reason most people think things were better in the past and fail to create experiences that live up to their memories. The earliest baseball events I remember watching live are Kirk Gibson’s first pump (is there a better term for what he did than “fist pump” — it was almost like the precursor to the Tiger pump), the earthquakes in San Francisco, and Joe Carter’s World Series walk-off homerun. But my favorite game didn’t happen until 1996, when dad’s Yankees played in their first World Series since I was born. As a resident of upstate New York and fan of the Buffalo Bills, I was used to big game failure. And when the Yanks fell into a two-game hole to the Braves, I expected nothing but a sweep. But Games 3 through 5 went to the Yankees, and I stayed up too late for a school night to watch each one. I wasn’t convinced my guys were actually going to win it all until the third inning of Game 6 when Joe Girardi knocked in the first run with a triple. Just the fact that Joe Girardi could hit a triple off of Greg Maddux (who was coming off four straight Cy Young seasons) amazed me. I can still picture Girardi’s rounding second, taking three choppy steps where everyone else would need only two. When Wade Boggs stole a base and the Yankees scored two more runs, I always already celebrating. Horse rides around the stadium were just icing on the cake.
Eric Seidman: I’ll give you two games since one involves the Phillies and I don’t want to be considered a pure “homer” just for picking it. The Phillies game in question was from August 30th last year, against the Mets, at Citizens Bank Park. It was the fourth in a four-game series of which the Phillies had won the first three. They needed to sweep to realistically have a shot at winning the division but a poor eighth inning that never seemed to end turned their 8-5 lead into a 10-8 deficit. But then the craziness started. Pat Burrell hit a home run off of foe Billy Wagner in the bottom of the eighth that seemed like too little too late, to cut the deficit to 10-9. Following a scoreless top of the ninth thanks to Tom Gordon, Jayson Werth led off with a single. He then stole second AND third base. Tad Iguchi singled him in to tie the game at 10. Iguchi then stole second base! A couple of batters later Chase Utley laced a single to rightfield that scored Iguchi and won the game. The Phillies stood only two games behind the Mets following the four-game sweep, setting up the September to remember.
The other game was back a few years ago, Yanks-Red Sox, David Cone vs. Mike Mussina. Moose had a perfect game through 8.2 innings, losing it to Carl Everett on a little bloop single. Cone pitched brilliantly as well in this classic pitcher’s duel. Mussina had had some near-perfect experiences throughout his career and I’ll never forget the look on his face when Everett’s hit fell in. It was a look expressing how fun the 8.2 perfect innings had been but acknowledging how crazy the game is and how this was likely as close as he would ever get.
Pizza Cutter: This is an embarassing one to tell. It was August 5, 2001 and my buddy Steve (who got engaged this weekend! Way to go Steve!) called me and told me that he had tickets to the Indians game that night. I had a plane to catch early the next morning, because it was my then-girlfriend, now-wife’s birthday the next day and I was going to Atlanta to visit her. Generally, I have a rule that I never leave a game early, but the Indians were playing the Mariners that night (the 2001 version that won 116 games) and after five innings, my beloved Indians were down 14-2. Mike “the guy who gave up Barry Bonds*’s 756th HR” Bacsik was busy making his Major League debut. I mumbled something about having to be up early and Steve and I left. On the way home, we listened to the radio call of the Indians scoring three in the seventh, four in the eighth, and by the time I got home to watch it on ESPN, five in the ninth, highlighted by a bases un-loading double by Omar Vizquel to tie the game at 14. I then, of course, stayed up to watch the rest of the game into the eleventh inning, where the Indians finally won the game 15-14. It tied the largest deficit ever overcome in a MLB game and as an Indians fan, it was the sort of game that still gives me chills to think about. Plus, it was history. It also kept me up way too late (the game ended at 1:00ish) and I was a zombie getting on the plane the next day. I did end up marrying that girlfriend… but let that be a lesson to you. Nothing is worth leaving a baseball game early.
Question #3: At the trading deadline, the Tigers have crept into the margins of the playoff picture, but still trail the Twins and White Sox in the AL Central. Should the Tigers be buyers or sellers at this point?
Sky King: The Tigers sure as hell aren’t sellers. The Twins are not a team to worry about, scoring fewer runs than the Tigers and allowing just as many up to this point. And they don’t even seem to want to improve their ballclub — Denard Span and Carlos Gomez in the same outfield? And the only thing that’s scary about the White Sox is their 6.5 game lead. But the pitching is bound to regress significantly (just look at their xFIPs compared to the ERAs), the fielding is bad, and the offense won’t take more than a minor step forward (Konerko and Swisher should cover for Carlos Quentin’s crash back to reality.)
That being said, there aren’t too many holes on the Detroit team that could be plugged. Gary Sheffield, Edgar Renteria, and Nate Robertson are bound to perform better. Marcus Thames and Curtis Granderson should play full time from here on out. I don’t love the back of the rotation, but that’s a problem for every team. Where the Tigers could really improve is the bullpen, where only two pitchers have posted xFIPs below 4.00 so far, neither of whom have names most people would recognize. Yes, Joel Zumaya should be effective the rest of the way, but adding two more decent (3.75 ERA) arms would provide a 3.5 win improvement over a full season. And upgrading one of those arms to one of the 2.75-ERA variety would be worth another two wins. Over the rest of the season, that’s 2.0 to 2.5 wins. My number one target would be Huston Street. Yes, his cost is high, but he’s a real bullpen ace (unlike Damaso Marte, Brian Fuentes, and most relievers typically available in June) and he’s cost-controlled for another two years.
Even with a complete bullpen upgrade, the Tigers wouldn’t have more than a 40% chance of making the playoffs this year. But they’re probably at 20% right now, meaning it’s a significant change. And turning into sellers right would throw away a significant chance at the playoffs.
Eric Seidman: The Tigers are not going to score 1000 runs, they never were, but if you pegged most of their starting lineup to hit 20+ home runs this year you wouldn’t be crazy in the least. Their offense hasn’t been a problem, persay, but it hasn’t necessarily been tremendous. For example, Marcus Thames, who has just 203 AB in 69 game, leads the team in home runs. Cabrera’s been good, not great, and the triumvirate of Sheffield, Renteria, and Inge have been three of the worst hitters in the league. Not to say they won’t all turn it around over the remainder and regress a bit but, so far, these three have struggled. Their starting pitching staff is led by Verlander and Armando Galarraga (who most still haven’t heard of) but Dontrelle’s struggles have been documented, Nate Robertson has struggled this year, and Bonderman is out for the year. On top of that, their starting rotation and bullpen aren’t necessarily adept at keeping runners off-base in their control: 3.49 BB/9 for the rotation, 4.67 BB/9 for bullpen. They don’t fan many hitters either: 5.37 K/9 for starters, 5.78 K/9 for rotation.
Then again, who exactly are they going to get to “turn this thing around?” The prettiest girls on the market, ones who are capable of turning a team around, are gone. They’ve been gone for a while. I don’t think the Tigers are buyers OR sellers at this point. I can’t see them making any real significant moves at the deadline, but rather wait all year for their team to break out and pose a significant threat. They could very well overtake the White Sox at some point over the next two months, or they could be a team that flounders every time they get within five games. Regardless, I don’t see any trade really improving their chances a whole heck of a lot.
Pizza Cutter: If I were in the Tigers’ front office, I’d be tempted to point out that if you’re in for a penny, you should be in for a pound. The problem is that the Tigers traded their big chips to Florida for Miggy Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Willis was supposed to be the missing piece in the Tigers rotation. He’s surely been missing. The Tigers need to add a couple of pitchers if they’re to have a chance, and I’m not sure if they’ve got the pieces to bring in an A.J. Burnett or someone like that. That would leave the Tigers in the uncomfortable position of having committed to this particular year by making the Cabrera/Willis trade in the off-season, and then having to give up. Sure, there have been injuries, so there’s a reason, but pride might get in the way.
For what it’s worth, the Tigers do have the classic “free agents at the end of the year who could help a contender” (Edgar Renteria anyone? Todd Jones?) Baseball Prospectus’s playoff odds have the Tigers at about a 15-20% chance, so the Motor City Kitties aren’t exactly dead in the water, but those really aren’t sporting odds. The sad thing is that if they could buy something major, they probably could push into the playoffs, but with what chips would they trade? What would they give up that other teams would want? The Tigers would probably do well to sell a few pieces now for some AAA talent. In the long run, it’s probably the better course. But, they’ll probably end up being stubborn and standing pat and chances are, they’ll enjoy watching the playoffs on TV and their free agents walk away for next to nothing.