Is Milton Bradley Really The Least Valuable Player In The NL?

October 3, 2009

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Before firmly planting myself in front of the television for a day of college football, I perused Jayson Stark’s recent column selecting baseball’s awards winners. Among these are his choices for each league’s least valuable player, which prompted this post. In the National League, Stark chose Chicago Cubs outfielder Milton Bradley. My immediate reaction was one of disbelief. Certainly, Bradley had a disappointing first season with the Cubs, but look at his performance compared to Stark’s other candidates’:

  • Milton Bradley: .257/.378/.397, 12 HR, 17 doubles, -2.3 UZR
  • Brian Giles: .191/.277/.271, 2 HR, 10 doubles, -7.5 UZR
  • Bill Hall: .202/.260/.341, 8 HR, 20 doubles, 2.2 UZR
  • Austin Kearns: .195/.336/.305, 3 HR, 6 doubles, 1.8 UZR

Clearly, Bradley is the best player in the group. This is particularly true given that he makes the least money of the four. In fact, Bradley isn’t even the worst player on his own team; outfielder Alfonso Soriano put up a .241/.303/.423 line with horrid defense, and he made more than triple Bradley’s salary in 2009. If Stark is trying to find the NL player that hurt his team the most in 2009, Bradley’s selection is obviously wrong. His troubles have been well-documented, but even we decide that his attitude and antics pollute the clubhouse and affect his teammates’ production, he still wasn’t the worst player in the NL this season. That dishonor belongs to Brad Lidge, Garrett Atkins, or the aforementioned Brian Giles. But probably Brad Lidge.

A slight reinterpretation of the word “value”, however, makes this discussion less cut-and-dry. While Bradley was nowhere close to the worst player in the NL, his value totally bottomed out because of more confrontations with coaches, fans, and the media. Bradley is also due $21 million over the next two years. The result is a player with virtually non-existent trade value, making Stark’s claim much more reasonable.

I’m positive Bradley wasn’t the worst player in the NL this season, but I’m not certain that he’s the least tradable player in the league. Bradley might be bailed out (once again) by teammate Alfonso Soriano, who is owed $72 million through 2014. Houston’s Carlos Lee ($55.5 million through 2012) is also in the discussion. Ultimately, it depends on what you make of the term “least valuable.” And unfortunately for Bradley, if it’s understood as “lowest trade value,” he’s in the running.

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Checking In On My Five Strongest Pseudo-Predictions

July 20, 2009

I get much of my material from wrongheaded or outright stupid predictions. Without assertions like this, this, and this, Fan Interference would be reduced to the ramblings of a man with nothing against which to push back. So, since I’ve spent some time lambasting particularly ridiculous augury, it seems only fair that I take an objective look at my five strongest pseudo-predictions for the 2009 Major League Baseball season. Here they are:

THE YANKEES’ & RED SOX’ OFF-SEASONS

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In early March, Jayson Stark argued that the Red Sox’ free agent signings did as much to improve their team as the Yankees’ did theirs. As usual, this story was reduced to the tale of the underdog Red Sox (and their $120 million payroll) valiantly persevering in the face of the monolithic Yankees and their infinite resources. My problem with Stark’s argument was his failure to grasp the idea of marginal improvement. At the start of the off-season, the Red Sox had a much stronger team than the Yankees. Therefore, their free agent signings (a fourth outfielder, a fifth starter, a bullpen arm, and more starting pitching depth) were good but only a slight improvement for an already wonderful team. The Yankees, on the other hand, had a flawed team that required serious work in important areas. So they signed C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira – three of the top five available free agents. These signings represented a significant improvement because of the team’s initial weakness. Stark failed to understand this, making his argument irksome and faulty.

Let’s take a look at how the Red Sox’ signings have performed in the first half of the season. Rocco Baldelli – signed as insurance for J.D. Drew and to hit left-handed pitching – has put up a .282/.358/.471 line in 85 at-bats. These are wonderful numbers for a fourth outfielder, but no one should be surprised that Baldelli has against had some problems staying healthy. Brad Penny was signed to be the team’s fifth starter, but he’s pitched even worse than that. He has a 5.02ERA and a 1.50 WHIP, with pretty good control but floundering stuff (118 hits in 98 innings). Takashi Saito was brought in to shore up the bullpen with an experienced power arm. He has been merely fine, striking out 28 in 30 innings but walking too many batters. Lastly, John Smoltz was supposed to be a late-season boon to the Red Sox rotation. At this point, we simply don’t know if the signing was a good one or not. Smoltz has thrown 20 innings in four starts, producing a 5.40 ERA. It’s just too early to tell. As you can see, the Red Sox imported a solid group of bit players, but nothing warranting emphatic commendation.

The Yankees signed C.C. Sabathia to replace Chien-Ming Wang, who was masquerading as the team’s ace. Sabathia has had an good but not great first half, posting a 3.66 ERA while struggling somewhat with his control. We must consider him a slight disappointment at this point, even if it is early. A.J. Burnett’s 3.81 ERA is deceptive. He’s walked far too many batters, but his ability to strike out batters has kept this number from getting out of control. He’s done what many expected – wild variance between dominating and worthless starts. Mark Teixeira has been wonderful. The durable first baseman has a .280/.381/.551 line with 23 home runs, even with a woeful first month of the season. He has fulfilled the lofty expectations.

There is simply no competition between these two groups of players. The Red Sox signed a group of useful parts that will play relatively minor roles in the team’s race for the pennant. The Yankees signed an elite group of talent that will make or break their attempt to make the postseason. Baldelli, Penny, Saito and Smoltz have been worth roughly two wins so far this season. Sabathia, Burnett, and Teixeira have been worth nine.

Both then and now, you could easily make an argument for Red Sox superiority over the Yankees. But if the debate is about the quality of talent imported during the winter, there is no contest. Stark’s assertion appears just as wrong now as it did then. Read the rest of this entry »


What Exactly Has To Happen For People To Accept Joba Chamberlain As A Starter?

May 15, 2009

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This is, I believe, the first time I’ve talked about Joba Chamberlain with respect to his role on the Yankees’ pitching staff. As you undoubtedly know, much has been said about Chamberlain’s optimal usage on a baseball team. Many people – and sometimes it sure seems like most people – believe that Chamberlain should be a reliever. This is because he made his major league debut in this role and performed exceptionally well. Others believe that he should be a starter. After all, he was a starter both in college and in the minor leagues before changing roles to fit an immediate need in the Yankees’ bullpen. I’m firmly in the latter camp, but I’ve refrained from publicly taking a side on this issue because, quite honestly, I didn’t even want to dignify the opposing argument with a response. Unfortunately, it’s gotten to the point where I must make a few things very clear. 

Joba Chamberlain was a starter in college, and was drafted to fill the same role in the major leagues. In 2005, he started 18 games and threw 118 innings for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. He struck out 130 batters, walked 33, and allowed only seven home runs. The result was an ERA of 2.81. In 2006, he started 14 games and threw 89 innings. He struck out 102 batters, walked 34, and allowed eight homers. His ERA was 3.93. After being drafted by the Yankees, Chamberlain started 15 games and threw 88 innings in the minor leagues. He struck out 135 batters, walked 27, and allowed four homers. His ERA was 2.45. He’s thrown 100 innings as a starter in the major leagues. He’s struck out 108 batters, walked 42, and allowed eight homers. His major league ERA in this role is 3.15. These numbers indicate two things: Chamberlain has been conditioned to be a starting pitcher, and he’s been very good at actually doing it. If one of those statements were false, then perhaps there would be an argument for him becoming a full-time reliever. But neither is false. 

At first, the Chamberlain-to-the-bullpen argument centered around his electric performance as a reliever in 2007. Reporters, analysts, and fans alike recognized Chamberlain’s single-inning dominance and saw no way he could sustain it over the course of a five, six, or seven inning start. This was, of course, true. Two hundred innings of sub-2.00 ERA pitching just doesn’t happen. But rather than see what Chamberlain could do as a starter, seemingly everyone was content to just leave him in the bullpen and have him pitch 80 innings a season instead of 200. At the time, I could sort of, kind of, maybe accept him being a reliever, but only if he failed as a starter. It seemed like a fair assessment to me.

Well, Chamberlain has not failed as a starter. Not by any stretch of the imagination. And yet there is still an insatiable clamor to put him in the bullpen. When asked about Chamberlain in today’s chat, ESPN’s Jayson Stark said the following about why he should be a reliever:

Two reasons: For one thing, I think his ERA alone is misleading because he really hasn’t gotten deep enough in games to make a significant enough impact for me. He’s made it beyond six innings once this year. So he’s causing the bullpen to get a ton of outs every time he pitches. The other reason is, I see him as the obvious heir to Mariano. He has the stuff. He has the temperament. He has the love for that big moment. Those are invaluable qualities in the town he pitches in. 

I can’t wrap my head around this. Initially, Chamberlain becoming a starter was a bad idea because there was no way he could be good enough to justify his removal from the bullpen. Now, after 100 innings of 3.15 ERA ball, his ERA is “misleading”? I think his ERA is more “good” than “misleading.” Also, there’s a reason Chamberlain hasn’t gotten deep into games. It’s because he spent time pitching out of the bullpen, thereby sidetracking his development as a starter. It’s unfair for Stark to insist Chamberlain be a reliever and then qualify his success as a starter by saying “he really hasn’t gotten deep enough in games.” I also object to the notion that Chamberlain hasn’t given the Yankees enough innings in his starts. On average, starting pitchers have thrown 5.82 innings per start this season. Chamberlain has thrown 5.72 innings per start. For a 23-year-old pitcher that’s still refining his skills, that’s absolutely acceptable. The “not going deep enough into games” argument is garbage. It’s a cop out that reveals stubbornness more than useful insight. 

I don’t know if Joba Chamberlain will become a good starter. He’s thrown 100 innings in that role, which is nowhere near enough to draw any firm conclusions. It is, however, enough information to decide whether or not to abandon the idea. An ERA of 3.15 and 108 strikeouts in 100 innings is enough to convince any rational and impartial person that Chamberlain should continue as a starter until he proves he can’t do it.


The Yankees Had A Better Winter Than The Red Sox

March 10, 2009

In recent months, I’ve taken a much more even-tempered approach to the decaying state of sports analysis. My blood pressure is very thankful for this adjustment. I smile more. I curse less. People seem to like me more, and I can still uphold Fan Interference’s fundamental goal of pointing out shoddy, lazy, or factually incorrect analysis in an effort to better educate you, the avid sports fan. That hasn’t changed, but the tone has. 

I mention this because this post will be decidedly in the “old style” tone. Jayson Stark’s recent column comparing the Yankees’ and Red Sox’ off-seasons has served as the impetus for this brief regression. The column heavily implies – if not outright asserts – that the Red Sox’ player additions are better than the Yankees’, despite the latter’s prodigious spending. It’s essentially yet another David versus Goliath analogy that, of course, sides with David (even though David is a Goliath too). To be clear, I’m not arguing that the Yankees are better than the Red Sox. I’m arguing that it’s lunacy to suggest that a team improves more by adding the current versions of John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Takashi Saito, and Rocco Baldelli than adding CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and AJ Burnett. I am putting my fan hat back on for this post, because quite honestly, Stark’s piece got my blood boiling again. Articles like this are the reason we started this blog in the first place.

Here we go, Fire Joe Morgan-style:

Read the rest of this entry »


Ya Think?

June 22, 2007

Just check out the title.


Making Amends

April 12, 2007

Our self-appointed job here at Fan Interference is to ridicule and correct the mistakes of professional baseball writers. But it should also stand to reason that if one of them says something uncharacteristically smart or insightful, we should point it out also. Picking up on a pet peeve of Special K’s, I found a choice nugget in Steve Phillip’s weekly online chat. Normally, the former Mets GM is intolerable on the air, always trying to sneak big economic jargon into simple trade stories. But here’s what he had to say about the Red Sox’ suspect credentials this year:

    Jim Nj: The Red Sox bats are shaky shut out against Texas and Now Seattle. What moves can be made to make sure the Sox don’t get shut out 45 games this year, and get the pitchers more wins? 1 win was taken from Wakefield another from Dice-K I will take 2-3 runs allowed by a starting pitcher every ouoting.

    sn21.gifSteve Phillips: I agree with you that, if Matsuzaka gives up 3 runs in 7 innings every time out, he’ll win 15 games for sure. He certainly pitched well enough to win yesterday. The Red Sox offense is off to a bit of a slow start. The main culprit is Manny Ramirez. This season, like last year, Manny just doesn’t seem locked in. I think JD Drew will have a productive season behind Ortiz and Manny, but there are some holes in the lineup that could limit overall production. Mike Lowell looks like he might be slowing down a little bit, and I have questions about Dustin Pedroia and Coco Crisp at the bottom of the lineup. There’s just not enough sock to go with the big 3 in the middle. People think I’m crazy to pick the Red Sox 3rd in the East, but when you look at the ‘ifs’ for this team, you have to have some concerns.

    sn21.gifSteve Phillips: Here’s what I mean; the Red Sox can go to the playoffs IF Curt Schilling doesn’t drop off and IF Josh Beckett can be the ace they traded for and IF Wakefield and Jon Lester can win 12 games each and IF Papelbon can stay healthy all season and IF they can find someone to take the ball in the seventh and eighth innings and IF they get decent production from Crisp, Lowell, and Pedroia. It may happen, but experience shows that not everything does.

You might remember that Peter Gammons, Jayson Stark*, and even the dear-to-our-hearts Buster Olney predicted Boston will win the AL East under the assumption that all these hypotheticals are certainties; so it’s nice to one of the regulars breaking through the Bristol-based hype machine for an instant. I know, this is kind of like rewarding the slacker student for finally doing what’s expected of him, but still: baby steps.

*I just noticed the unnecessary letter “y” in Stark’s first name. What a jerk.


I Feel So Misled

March 23, 2007

ESPN’s Jayson Stark’s blog entry is titled “D-Backs Rotation Filled With Aces”. Despite the fact that I immediately cringed upon seeing that, I decided to be fair and listen to his argument:

The Diamondbacks may not win the NL West, but they definitely lead the league in Opening-Day-starter candidates. They have four pitchers who started Opening Day for their teams last year: Brandon Webb, Randy Johnson (Yankees), Livan Hernandez (Nationals) and Doug Davis (Brewers).

That’s it. Then he lists a bunch of other random baseball factoids.

So, to summarize, the Diamondbacks’ rotation is filled with aces because it has four pitchers that started on Opening Day last year. Do you know how many of them are currently good? One (Brandon Webb).  Davis is about average, and Johnson and Hernandez are bad. Do you know how I found this out? By looking up statistics, on Stark’s employer’s website.

To be fair, I think Mr. Stark was more giddily pointing out an interesting factoid instead of stating a debatable opinion. He even has a regular column devoted to recent baseball oddities, rarities, and factoids. But seriously man, your blog entry title is ridiculously misleading. The combination of the entry’s title and the entry’s content makes you look like an idiot. Cut it out.