Monday, May 16, 2005

Fixing Drippy Dawg

Well, it didn't take long for the Rays to prove me right that naming Dewon Brazelton the opening day starter for the Rays was a mistake. Outside of his performances in college, it's getting harder and harder to see why exactly he was considered much of a prospect to begin with. He's been sent down to Durham (where he hasn't bothered to show up yet, landing him on the suspended list), and that's a start to getting him back on track, but there are a few suggestions that I think might help maximize his value in the future.

1. Stop "coaching" him: Drippy had a pretty funky delivery coming out of college, but that delivery has been tinkered with so many times by now that he nary looks like the same pitcher. Instead of having him try new things to improve his stuff, let him just be himself and find his own way. Once upon a time he was pretty decent, y'know, and his problems began when you started screwing around with his arm and his head. He seems to take criticism pretty personally, so maybe if he doesn't try to learn anything new from people who keep telling him what he already has isn't good enough, he can get his head back on straight and just focus on doing what used to come naturally.

2. Stop starting him: Drippy isn't built to be a starter in the long term. His statistics bear this out as well. He's just a much better pitcher in his first four innings, but after that he usually seems to hit a wall and his performance goes way downhill. He could be very useful as a long reliever, but after about 4 innings, he's sweated so much that it looks like they need to bring an IV out to him on the mound. That obviously can't be any good for him. If less work means that he's more effective, then so be it.

3. Stop toying with him: Stick him in AAA and leave him there for the rest of the season. Yes, this is his last option year, but it can't be great for his head to go to the majors, then to AAA, then back to the California league, then back to the majors, then back to Durham, then back to the majors, then being named opening day starter. Instead of shifting him around all the time, why not let him settle down for a long period of time. Let him know right now that he's not going back to the bigs this season, and that he'll have no pressure to perform in AAA. This sends the message that he can work on what he needs to work on internally. So far it seems to be working pretty well for the Beej, let's see if it can also work for the Braz.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Vince Naimoli, Moneyball owner

Well, surprise surprise, of all teams, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays have been named the second most profitable team in all of baseball. A few years back, when Michael Lewis wrote his wildly popular baseball book "Moneyball," I think a lot of people missed the point, but Vince seems to be right on target with this one. People interpreted this as a book on being how to win games by using the underused statistics to evaluate players in a manner to see whether they might be undervalued. These people got it all wrong, but Vince gets it. The book is really about going against the grain and using business acumen within baseball where others have not in order to get ahead. Sure, the tagline to the book is "The Art of Winning an Unfair Game," but considering how the entire book is about cost-effectiveness, maybe that "game" is making money and the "art" is figuring out how to manipulate the system to your advantage. Well, by managing to cut cost-effectiveness out of the equation entirely, Naimoli has become the ultimate 'Moneyball' owner:

  • This year, the Devil Rays' payroll amounts to a whopping $28,981,000, good for last in the MLB. The official report from the Rays has this amount really at $37,975,000, but that's counting deferred payments from earlier seasons which were also counted in that year, so you can't relaly double-count that, right? That would kind of be cheating the system, right? However, even giving credit to minor league signings and the draft, I'm pretty sure that the Rays are dead last, no matter how they spin the nuimbers.
  • One other thing - no Florida state income tax. Taxes aren't included in payroll numbers, and the employer pays half of all income taxes. All of these other "small market" teams have to pay state income taxes, and a few even have to pay local income taxes. For Vince, between paying no local income tax, depreciation on the team itself, and all of the book losses, the team operates like a gigantic tax shelter for him, personally saving him a lot of money that we'll never even know about.
  • This year, the Rays receive about $30M in revenue sharing funds. On top of that, they receive an additional $5 million from the league's XM sattelite redio deal, not to mention another approximately $5M from the team's own sattelite radio deal and whatever percentage of concessions the Rays are entitled to. Also, after the luxury tax was announced yesterday, that should be good for about another million and a half.
  • The Rays have one of the better sweetheart deals in the league when it comes to the stadium. Yeah, the fruit dome looks and feels low rent, but that's partly because it quite literally is low rent, with the team paying the city of St. Petersburg very little, so long as people actually attend the games (which, well, they haven't been so much).
Yup, the Rays HAVE to be profitable because expenditures are generally lower than the amount the team is receiving without even accounting for any additional income from gate receipts, licensing deals, advertising revenue, etcetera. Now THAT'S Moneyball.

Stu Sternberg is no dummy. He's the former managing director of Goldman Sachs, so he made his fortune finding sound investments for himself and for others. We all keep hoping that Vince will finally step down and hand Sternberg the reigns, but the incentive is for him to wait as long as possible to do this. As the majority owner, he's guaranteed a good revenue stream for as long as Naimoli continues to be the ultimate cheapskate. Not only that, but since he owns the majority of the team, once Naimoli finally does step down, he'll get the benefit of the increase in value in the team by gained goodwill, which amount may very well go up the more sick of Naimoli the Tampa Bay fans get,

On a related note, is organizing a fan walkout at a future Rays game. I wish them the best of luck and would be there is colors if I lived in Tampa...

Friday, April 15, 2005

Remind me not to say that again...

Back in 2001, Bill James revised and re-released his Historical Baseball Abstract, a piece of bathroom reading of historical proportions. I was flipping back through it the other day and noticed something funny - from year to year, he has little segments entitled "remind me again not to say that...", little gaffes that people have said from time to time when they spoke just a little too soon. The real irony here is that this abstract is full of these little nuggets itself. A quick few:

"One of a Kind: Jeff Montgomery (only four-pitch relief ace in major league history)"

Well, since then we've seen Eric Gagne and John Smoltz, a couple of pretty decent 4-pitch closers themselves. Of course, you can't ENTIRELY take away credit for Smoltz - he has 5 or 6 pitches...

"Last of his Kind: Brian Kingman (the last 20-game loser)"

With larger rotations, pitchers getting yanked more quickly, and guys getting sent to the minors more readily, it was perfectly reasonable to expect that there would never again be a 20-game loser, but then along came the 2003 Tigers, where a fairly unique set of circumstances (team in full rebuilding mode, not much in the minors, developing young pitchers in the majors rather than the minors) led to this feat happening once again, with Mike Maroth losing a nice 21 games. I guess he's not REALLY a 20-game loser, but I think he meant to imply that nobody would again lose 20 games or more...

Of course, there are many other gaffes, some of which he admitted in the afterwords of later versions (i.e. ranking Biggio as the number 5 2B of all time, and Jeff Bagwell as the number 4 1B of all time), but it's just amusing that someone who picked on some people for speaking too soon, ended up speaking too soon while trying to say too much...

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Phelps - reversion to BP coverboy?

I know it's really early to start discussing anything like this, but shortly after including how horrible Phelps is against righties in a previous post, he puts together two games where he goes 3-6 with a double against righties (including 2003 Cy Young winner Roy Halliday), but 0-2 with a K against a mediocre lefty (Gustavo Chacin). In any case, please note the pattern here in his yearly righty/lefty splits:

2004: .600/.976
2003: .800/.876
2002: .955/.793

Little weird, dontcha think? Maybe Phelps finally made some adjustments this offseason which allowed him to hit both righties and lefties. From the looks of it, after his rookie year, he made an adjustment to hit lefties better which hurt him against righties, and whatever further adjustments he made in 2004 skewed him even further. If you put what he did against lefties in 2004 together with what he did against righties in 2002, you've got one heck of a hitter. If he can revert to earlier form, when he could actually hit righties, then maybe this team's offense won't look as depressing against righties as I initially thought, especially once Huff heats up...

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Moves for the sake of making moves...

There were two moves today, and to be honest, there's much ado about nothing. As I discussed elsewhere, I think the Sosa for Green move basically boils down to saving a few hundred K, which is probably fine. No big improvement, but nothing to get pissed off about either. Whether or not people like it, Sosa was probably going to be released at the end of the weak either way, and when you're in that position, you ain't gonna get a whole lot for what you're offering (just ask the Rockies...)

The move I haven't discussed yet is the signing of Mike Restovich. I will go into this in more detail in the near future (I promise), but this was about as close to a useless of a move as you can make without actually doing harm to the team. A few points:

  1. He can't hit righties. I think the Rays organization is missing the point here or something. We're not looking for a right handed power bat; we're looking for a bat who can hit off of righties. I realize 113 at-bats is a small sample, but when the gap is this wide it's pretty much conclusive: 1.008 OPS against lefties, .590 OPS against righties last season, .912 OPS against lefties and .733 against righties for his career. Thus, he doesn't fill that need; all we did was add yet another guy who can mash lefties and is helpless against righties, meaning we can platoon him with, ummmm, I guess Aubrey Huff....except that there's no need to platoon Aubrey Huff. Once Rocco comes back, the problem will be compounded because he can't back up in center, and he can't platoon with Phelps at DH.
  2. He's tapped out of potential. Once upon a time, Restovich was considered to be a good prospect. This has primarily to do with hitting really well in the low minors, and one decent season in Edmonton, in a home park with an altitude about the same of that as Coors. Other than that, there's nothing in his minor league record to show that he might actually be a major league quality hitter. Sure, he could have an .800 OPS, which is an improvement over Singleton as a whole, but that's his absolute ceiling until he can learn to hit them righties.
  3. Look at who he's blocking. Jonny Gomes is about to turn into the Rays' very own version of Michael Restovich. This could also take at-bats away from Phelps, who despite his ineptitude against righties, is STILL a better hitter against righties than Restovich. And imagine this: even if he's taking at-bats away from Alex S. Gonzalez, he's STILL a better hitter against righties than Restovich (not to mention much more defensively valuable).
Here's a quick chart of what our day-to-day lineup might look like this year, and why I think that every manager with half a brain will try their darndest to start as many righties as possible against the Rays:

OPS vs. righties:

Crawford - .787
Lugo - .730
Huff - .863
Lee - .841
Cantu - .744
Sanchez - .691
Hall -.631

Phelps/Perez -.600 /.607

Gonzalez - .635

Now let's see that same thing against lefties:

Crawford - .764
Lugo - .744
Huff - .831
Phelps/Perez - .976/1.014
Restovich - 1.008
Cantu - .945
Lee - .746
Green - .863
Hall - .771

As you can see, we might be able to kill lefties, when we face them, but we just blow against righties. By the way, whenever Rocco comes back, he doesn't help out either....even he runs a .709/.931 lefty righty split....

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Sincerest apologies...

....for my hiatus lately. Work has been kicking my butt lately, and unfortunately, that's all I get a paycheck for. Things should slow down a little in time for the regular season, so I'll go back to ranting and raving sometime around then. In the meantime, I just thought I'd say that I have the same feelings on the Alex Sanchez signing as the rest of the Rays' bloggers, and that I think a trade for Termel Sledge or Eric Valent wouldn't be a bad idea, as long as we don't give up too much in the process. We really do need that platoon lefty bat for the long run, and each of those guys has a ways to go before arbitration, so even if they don't pan out, they're cheap.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Implications of Roster Moves

Earlier today, Joey Gathright, Jonny Gomes, Chad Orvella, Brian Sweeney, BJ Upton, Chris Seddon, Joselo Diaz and Delmon Young were all sent to the minors (and Mark Guthrie was released). Here's a few potential implications of these moves:

This clears up the muddled outfield situation a little bit and makes Chris Singleton the clear frontrunner for the 4th OF job to start the season. I refuse to believe that the team is even still considering Tom Goodwin for the spot, and I'll just chalk it up to professional courtesy that they don't want to release him while he's injured. Dee Brown is the only other competition for that spot remaining. He's notorious for being about 50 times better in Spring Training than he is the rest of the year (he led the majors in home runs in 2003 Spring Training), and while the team might hold out hope that this is the year when he finally blossoms (having a Mayim Bialik moment here, but what ever happened to Six?), I think that the mirage of being a good hitter will disappear once he isn't getting most of his at bats against AA scrubs finishing out the late innings of games. While Singleton never lived up to his expected potential, it seems like the year off may have helped him get his stuff together, and at the bare minimum, he's a positive clubhouse influence.

The infield situation now officially scares me. Yes, Upton needs to spend more time in AAA if he's going to play shortstop full time. However, with Alomar ailing, a little voice in the back of my head was hoping that he'd at least start the season with Upton playing third and Alex Gonzalez playing utility infielder. Instead, if Alomar doesn't get healthy before the start of the regular season, the only backup middle infield options are Shane Halter, who's only slightly less pathetic than Tom Goodwin, and Luis Ordaz, a player who could only manage a .666 OPS in hitter happy Durham last year and who has a whopping career .525 OPS in over 400 at bats. I can survive with Halter, who's only a little worse than Geoff B(l)um was last year, but needing to give a roster spot to any player who's worse than Geoff B(l)um was last year is pretty sad.

The pitching situation is still a bit murkier. With Chuck Lamar going public that he wants to pull a trade on a reliever, the team didn't send any pitchers down who had that realistic of a shot of making the team right now. However, I still think that we'll be seeing Brian Sweeney in the near future, and Chad Orvella and Chris Seddon are each a big part of the franchise's future. The release of Guthrie means that Seay doesn't have to worry about having an identical pitcher going against him for a roster spot, but that was probably the least of his problems, considering that with three viable lefty relievers, either he or Miller is probably the person they're trying hardest to trade. In a nutshell, there are still too many major league calibre pitchers in camp, but not enough good major league calibre pitchers, especially in the starter category. As a side note, naming Drippy the opening day starter pretty much dooms him to be gone by the end of the year. I normally don't believe in this type of freak stat (every Rays opening day starter has been gone or seriously injured by the next season), but I also had an inkling that Drippy would be traded before he was named opening day starter, simply because he'll never live up to potential here. Maybe someone will trade for him on the cheap and make him the premier long reliever he was born to be.

As for the players assigned, no huge surprises there, possibly the biggest being that Diaz wasn't assigned to high-A instead of AA, where he gave up wayyy too many walks. The speculation officially ends with Delmon heading to Montgomery, meaning the speculation begins as to whether Bankston, Pridie and crew will be starting there as well. It won't make a difference with this cast of characters, but I think the trend of skipping prospects over high-A might be ending soon with the low-A affiliate being in Michigan. Michigan ain't all that close to Florida either, and the weather starts getting worse towards the end of minor league season, so they might start actually sending guys they see as prospects to Visalia. Gathright and Gomes get sent back to AAA, which was probably needed for the time being. Both need to improve their defense, and Gathright needs to prove his bat for a little longer. I'd mention that Gomes also needs to cut down his Ks except that it's never going to happen, so why bother? I've read some people on the KC boards clamoring to pick up Gomes, maybe we could package him with a reliever for Matt Stairs, finally giving us a hitter who actually hits righties better than lefties? Orvella and Sweeney get reassigned to minor league camp, which I'm guessing means that they're in a holding pattern - if a trade or two does happen, they could still end up on the big club very quickly. Otherwise, I might expect to see both in Durham, and on the Rays before the end of the season.

To sum it up, the moves weren't anything surprising, even if a couple of them were disappointing. Hopefully, by next year, we won't have to make choices like "should we keep Shane Halter or Luis Ordaz as our 25th man?"

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Roster fight profile: Chris Singleton

Just the fact that Singleton is a centerfielder by trade gives him an edge for winning that 4th outfielder roster spot. Unfortunately, nobody seems to want to win it except Delmon Young, who's probably still a ways away from making the big club despite his amazing Spring Training performance. The rundown: Singleton strained his groin , Tom Goodwin strained his as well, figuring that anything food enough for Singleton was good enough for him, Brian Buchanon and Damon Hollins got cut, Marty Cordova retired, and Dee Brown and Jonny Gomes are both batting at sub-Mendoza levels in limited playing time. Other than that, Gathright seems to be playing like Gathright in his limited time, and Delmon "I've never played above low-A" Young is looking like a worldbeater, batting over .400 and slugging over .600. (Yet another aside - the fact that BBs aren't posted for spring training stats is infinitely annoying - if Gomes or Gathright have been walking like crazy, that would need to go into the equation as well...) Anyway, while there are still officially 4 guys who could back up at CF in camp, it looks like it's a battle between Singleton and Gathright, and I wouldn't be shocked if both stay with the organization and end up playing for the big club at some point this season.

Singleton is one of the players in camp who actually has a good major league sample to base projections off of. At 32 years old this season, it's doubtful that he'd do anything better than his best year in the majors, which was a .300/.328/.490 line, and even that was a huge outlier from the rest of his career, where he's more like a .260/.300/.400 kind of guy, or in other words, servicable but nothing too special. In each of his last three major league seasons, he had clearly gotten worse, to the point where Oakland declined his relatively inexpensive option after 2003. He signed onto the Pirates in 2004, but was given his unconditional release after failing a physical (a pesky vertigo problem which seems to have popped up with him from time to time), after which he apparently disappeared off the face of the planet. However, Singleton did play well in limited time over spring training, and considering how the entirety of MLB considers him to be damaged enough goods that nobody would even sign him to a minor league contract last season, he probably wouldn't be opposed to being assigned to Durham if Gathright makes the opening day roster as the 4th outfielder. Here's to hoping that Singleton has made a full recovery from his problems - I'm not sure I want our fourth outfielder to be in the same condition as someone who the Pirates decided wasn't good enough to back up Tike Redman...

Fun facts about Singleton:

  • The last full-time position player developed within the Giants system (although Dusty Mohr look about to break that one...), but was with the White Sox by the time he actually broke in...
  • In the minor leagues, he actually hit 16 more triples than home runs
  • Most successful MLB player to have played at University of Nevada (although Lyle Overbay should be passing him there in the mear future...)
  • Was a two-sport star at Nevada, also playing wide receiver (43 catches, 893 yards in his junior year)
  • He and his wife are both associate pastors with a ministry in Atlanta, and is an ordained minister
  • Hit for the cycle, July 6, 1999
  • 6th in rookie of the year voting in 1999

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Roster fight profile: Jonny Gomes

If the major league season were in the fall, Gomes would already be an all-star for the Rays. Last years leaderboard maven in the Arizona Fall League (Top 5 in RBI, runs scored, slugging, home runs and OBP) and this year's winter league player of the year has fallen off of the prospect radars to some extent while not really doing anything to warrant this other thannot improving what are perceived as his weak spots. What are his weanesses? Well, he's considered by many to be a "three true outcomes" type of player - he walks, strikes out and hits home runs. Of course, that isn't entirely true. Besides 26 home runs, he also hit 27 doubles in AAA Durham last season, although that also means that he had fewer singles than extra base hits. Of course, there's some guy named Barry out west who's done the same thing, and you don't see too many people complaining about his performance. The real concern for most people is that he strikes out in about a third of his at-bats, so while he does walk quite a bit, his K/BB ratio is still worse than 2.5:1. Also, he's never hit for a high average while playing mostly in hitters' parks, leading some to believe he might be a Tony Batista type hitter in the majors. This is a little strange considering his fall league performances, since he usually starts the season with a good batting average, then tends to go into a slump around mid-august, dropping his BA to a level that's a wee bit on the low side. However, he did play center field in JC and in the low minors, and he does have a fair amount of speed and a decent arm for a guy his size, so if the coaching staff is willing to help him out with his outfield routes, he could serve as a Jeromy Burnitz-esque center fielder in a pinch.

As a home grown kid coming off a monster performance in Mexico (22 HR, 54 RBI, over a .300/.400/.700 line), I was kind of hoping that he could carpe rosterspotem, but with the injury to Rocco, the team needs a backup centerfielder and it looks like it is not to be (especially considering that Lou isn't getting him any at-bats in Spring Training so far). However, once Rocco comes back, if there is an injury to either of the corner outfielders or if Travis Lee or Alex Gonzalez goes down (moving Huff back to third), he could be one of the first guys to get a shot.

Now for more fun facts:

  • Had a small heart attack on Christmas Eve, 2002 (but recovered nicely). The doctors ordered him to do no more than light cardio workouts before next spring, but he still did well enough in the spring to earn a promotion to AA.
  • Back at home, used to use the family barn as a batting cage along with his brother, fellow Rays prospect Joey Gomes
  • BJ Upton has said that Gomes was the teammate of his that he'd pay to see play
  • Has been an all-star at Bakersfield and Durham and was MVP of the Appalachian League and the Carribbean Winter Leagues
  • Was once seen driving down the wrong side of the median on Jackie Robinson Blvd. in Durham
  • Doubled off of David "ate Goliath" Wells in his first MLB at-bat.
  • There probably isn't a player in the Rays organization who people's opinions of vary so greatly. He's been ranked as high as the top-50 in two different reputable prospect rankings, yet often isn't included in the organization's top-10 in other rankings.
  • Supposedly, his steals numbers dropped this past season not because he's lost any speed, but because Bill Evers (Durham's manager) didn't want to risk a Gomes leg injury on a stolen base that wasn't necessary by a cleanup hitter.
  • One of Gomes' minor league cards was trading at about $140 after his California League performance.

Roster fight profile: Brian Sweeney

While we're in this early portion of spring training, I figured I'll run profiles of some of the guys who are fighting for roster spots with the Rays and who, if they don't make the squad the first time out, we can expect to see later in the season. Some of the guys will be pretty familiar, but I might be able to dig up a nugget or two you don't know about. My guess is that Sweeney falls into the second category. The 40-man roster is too jammed for Sweeney to have a good chance of making the opening day roster, but with an injury or two, he could be one of the first guys to get the callup if he performs anything like he did last year...

Brian Sweeney - SRHP

Sweeney was an undrafted free agent signed by the Mariners out of Mercy College in 1996. In the Seattle organization for 7 seasons, he took a little while to come into his own, but his control was always consistently good. Early in his career, however, high hits against rates killed him, keeping him on a yo-yo back and forth between AA and AAA for four years. However, he has picked things up over the past four years, with a K/BB rate of about 4/1 over that time period. I've already spoken about his recent exploits in a past post, so I'll just link you there.

A few fun facts:

  • His first (and only) career MLB win was against Randy Johnson in the game where he reached 4,000 Ks.
  • He looks like a good friendly face guy. Here's a little story about him heading off to an elementary schoo to speak about life in athletics.
  • He's a longtime veteran of the Venezuela Winter Leagues.
  • The only 4-year player out of Mercy College to make the big leagues (Garvin Alston, who played a few games for the Rockies, played there for one season).
  • Went from Seattle to San Diego as part of the Jeff Cirillo / Wiki Gonzalez trade.
  • One of the few current major leaguers to have played in the now defunct independent Heartland League.
  • Has been an all-star in both the California League and the PCL, and came in 3rd place for Pitcher of the Year in the PCL last season.
  • Played outfield in his days off from pitching while at Mercy.