Saturday, May 31, 2008

Price Goes Yard (As In Your Typical Back Yard)

Prince Fielder's seventh home run last night, a booming 360' shot to right off of Brandon Backe, ties him for 63rd in the Majors. It was his third home run in the last 31 games. He is now 12 home runs behind last year's NL leading pace and has still yet to hit a ball 425' this year after doing so 33 times over the past two seasons.

I don't want this whole blog to be me ranting about my frustration with Prince Fielder's offensive production this year. Therefore, I've decided that I will only rip him on days after he hits a home run. That should spread it out quite a bit.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Vacation

I'm back from being out of town for a few days vacation (went to Indianapolis to see the 500 and a few other races - my other passion besides baseball). I learned a number of things while I was gone.

1. I learned that the place where you'd think you would be most likely to pick up a WiFi connection - a place brimming with technology and wireless communication - won't have one.

2. I learned that it's a struggle to find a WiFi hotspot. I learned that it's almost impossible to find one that's free. I concluded that ten dollars is too much to pay to check your email and write a couple of quick blog entries.

3. I learned that if you have a blog, it is most likely to crash while you're out of town and unaware of it, let alone able to do anything about it.

4. I learned that if you call your hosting service and they tell you that somehow your domain's CNAME got redirected and they can't change it right now because they are having trouble with their DNS server - that's a bad thing.

6. I learned that blogs that have crashed get exactly zero readers in a typical day.

7. I will soon learn whether the loyal readers I had will find me again now that I'm back in business.

8. I learned that despite her good looks, Danica Patrick is a crybaby and a sore loser.

8. I learned that Ned Yost still has his job.

9. I learned that Nashville's entire pitching staff has been called up to the big leagues. OK, I exaggerate - a little.

Apart from hearing final scores on the radio, I haven't been in the Brewers news loop. I've got the game on now. I'll get caught back up and post what I think when I do.

* * *
On Saturday night at a sprint car race called the Little 500 in Anderson, Indiana, a track worker was killed when he was hit by a race car. The final thing I learned on my vacation is that witnessing the death of another human being, especially in a tragic manner and especially one who is working for your entertainment, is very, very unsettling.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Playing On The Road

This is a personal story. A true story. October 2006. The Brewers had just completed their 14th consecutive non- winning season at 75-87. I was in northern Wisconsin a couple of days in advance of my musky fishing buddies. An early snowstorm gave me time to kill and a reason to stop in a sports apparel store to shop for another layer of clothing. It was the kind of store you find on Main Street in so many small towns. I picked out a retro looking Brewers zip-up hoodie and brought it to the counter. The gentleman at the register was a 70-something, short, thin, talkative guy. The kind of guy you find in these types of stores on Main Street in so many small towns. He struck up a conversation with me about baseball. I have no recollection of what his name was, but for the sake of drawing a visual image, I'll call him Billy Martin.

Billy told me that he played minor league ball back in the 50's. Second base. From his stature, cockiness, story telling abilities, and apparent blood alcohol level you would have had no reason to doubt him. It was already 2:00 p.m. after all. We talked for two hours about America's pastime. The grand ol' game. Interrupted only by two or three other hardy souls who ventured out on such a miserable day. Every topic imaginable came up from Ben Oglivie, to the fundamentals of fielding, to Bowie Kuhn, to Barry Bonds, to electronic video scoreboards, to how much players drank in the clubhouse. Billy talked a lot about how much players drank in the clubhouse.

Billy was no more a fan of Ned Yost than I am, so that topic consumed its fair share of time. In his ranting about Yost, he said a couple things that made me stop and think. Made me go hmmm... I don't remember many of Billy's exact quotes so I need to paraphrase. I was in northern Wisconsin and it was already 2:00 p.m. after all.

"You know what Ned Yost's problem is?", Billy snapped in a manner that made it clear I wouldn't get a chance to answer. "He doesn't know how to control a young ball club.

"I was in San Diego last year when the Brewers was out there. I was in a joint having a couple of cocktails and and in walk some of the guys (Brewers). They sat there and drank and had a good ol' time. You know what time they left? Three-thirty in the morning. Three-thirty! And they had a game the next day. An you know what else? I went to the the park for batting practice and every one of them guys was moping around like a bunch of zombies. And you know what else? They was all red as a baboon's ass. Every one of them. You know why? Sunburn. They was out golfing all day. In a joint until 3:30 and then out golfing all day in the hot sun. And then they think they gonna come to the ball park ready to play baseball? Ain't no one can do that. You can't go out swinging a golf club all day and getting all sunburn and then think you're gonna come be able to swing a ball bat. It's two totally different things. You can't do it. Especially not after you been out all night.

"And I blame Ned Yost for that. He lets these guys get away with murder. They're just a bunch of kids after all. If you don't lay down the law, they ain't gonna come to the ball park ready to play - especially when they're on the road. That's a party for them, you know? They're all alone. They got no girlfriends nagging on them. It's a party and they're just a bunch of kids. He can't let them be out drinking and playing golf on a day they got to play ball. He's got to take control of those kids and he just ain't doing it."

* * *

In Ned Yost's first season with the Brewers they actually had a better record on the road (37-44) than at home (31-50). In 2004, they were 5 games worse on the road. In 2005, 11 games worse; 2006, 21 games worse, and last year 19 games worse. The pattern coincides nicely with the emergence of the current group of young players.

The 2008 Brewers have lost their last nine consecutive road games.

Burnt Yost

The Internet is abuzz this morning (1|2) with rumors of the end of Ned Yost's tenure as manager of the Brewers. Their play in Boston was downright embarrassing, and newly signed messiah, Ryan Braun did him no favors by calling out the whole team's attitude toward the games. Read his quotes and tell me if he was talking about the players or management.

I have believed since his signing that Ted Simmons was brought in to be the heir apparent to Yost in case things went south. The Brewers have been playing miserably and have fallen to last place in their division. Teams almost always get an immediate spark from a new manager - for a few games anyway. The Brewers' next six games are against Pittsburgh and Washington; teams they should beat regardless. But replacing Yost now would allow this likely upturn to be tied emotionally to Simmons, something that could have far reaching benefit for the rest of the season. All of the pieces are in place. I can think of no more logical day for the Brewers to fire Ned Yost than today.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Last Place

Boston Red Sox or no Boston Red Sox, the Brewers are playing horribly, and have dropped to last place in the NL Central for the first time since April 28, 2005. The heat needs to be turned up on the Ned Yost vigil.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Mock Draft

Baseball America has tried to project the entire first round of this year draft. I'm glad it's someone's job to do that. Here's what they have to say about the Brewer's pick at #16:

16. BREWERS. Milwaukee surprised everyone by taking a Boras-advised college senior at No. 7 last year, and Matt LaPorta is working out very well. Going the same route this year could plug some of the leaks in the big league bullpen, as Georgia righty Joshua Fields shouldn't need much minor league seasoning. The Brewers aren't afraid to take a toolsy youngster, so Collier, Connecticut high school outfielder/shortstop Anthony Hewitt and Alabama prep outfielder Destin Hood could go here.

Projected Pick: JOSHUA FIELDS.
Like 99.99% of the rest of the world, I have never heard of any of these players. The Brewers have gotten rather thin at pitching in the minors, so I'd hope they would use some of their higher picks there.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Who's Next?

I don't have much to add to what's already been said about Ryan Braun's new contract. I think it is an absolutely fabulous deal for the Brewers. Considering that they signed Jeff Suppan two years ago to 4 years at $42M, signing Braun for 7 years and only $5M more is incredible. As expected, the signing of Braun has refueled the talk of signing other players on the team, and Prince Fielder's name is at the head of the list.

I'm not going to go off again on Fielder's eating habits, but his lack of production at the plate this year has me seriously concerned. It's not just the home runs. On a per plate appearance basis, he is striking out less, grounding out more, hitting more singles, and hitting fewer extra base hits than he did last year.

To me those are all signs of a reduction in power. As a result, through 40 games this season, Prince Fielder has been a less than average Major League first baseman. He's becoming more like Lyle Overbay and less like Babe Ruth.

Matt LaPorta is tearing up minor league pitching and knocking at the doorstep of the Majors. It's plausible the he would be as good as the 2008 Prince Fielder right now. Until the Brewers figure out why Fielder isn't hitting like he was last year (and they could ask me), it would be a huge mistake to sign him to a deal anywhere near the size of Braun's.

* * *
As a matter of giving credit where it is due, I got the idea for the batting spectrum chart above from a comment by reader David J. Flemming at Bill James Online. I've just recently started playing around with them, but they give an interesting profile of a hitter's performance. You may be seeing more of these here.

Shattered

Now that Bud Selig has completely eradicated steroids from the game of baseball, he's on to his next monumental challenge - the scourge of splintering maple bats.

Selig said the executive council discussed players' use of bats made from maple wood, which seem to be shattering more frequently -- and in a more dangerous fashion -- than those made of ash.

Asked if baseball would consider regulating the thickness of maple bat handles or even ban them entirely, Selig said it was too early to say. "But it's been a source of concern for me."
Here I thought I was the only one who noticed. Or could it be that Bud reads In-Between Hops?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It Takes A Committee

The Brewers have won both games since Eric Gagne begged out of the closer's role and forced Ned Yost into using a bullpen by committee. In both cases, it took just that - three different relief pitchers to get out of each game. Combined they pitched 5 innings and gave up 5 hits and 7 walks - but got two saves.

I've never liked the bullpen by committee approach. I think a manager should find the best guy for the job and hand it to him until he proves he can't do it or someone better comes along. Having a closer by committee makes no more sense to me than having a lead-off hitter by committee.

If I had to pick a guy right now to take over that role, it would be David Riske. In his 17 games pitched this year, Riske has retired the first batter he's faced 14 times, and retired the first two batters he's faced 12 times. His trouble has generally come in his second inning of work. But he has done exactly what you need a closer to do - come in the game and get guys out. Yost should be using him in that role.

UPDATE: I see now that a couple of other guys have notched saves, that Eric Gagne wants his job back.

"I had my mental break (Sunday). I'm good to go now,"
It will be very interesting to see how Ned Yost reacts to this. We'll see who's running the ship - the captain or the crew.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Alright Already - Where's The Beef?

If you've been reading In-Between Hops since spring training, you know I've had this somewhat morbid obsession with Prince Fielder's eating habits and more importantly the effect that those eating habits have on his hitting statistics. As tempted as I've been to blast him for his vegetarian ways, I've so far restrained myself - even gave him a reprieve when he hit two home runs in one game on April 23.

Despite hitting a home run on Saturday, Fielder has only 5 on the year. He is 6 behind last year's pace, and is on pace to hit only 23 all year. We are almost a quarter of the way into the season. It's time to start asking questions.

Hit Tracker Online keeps track of the distance of every home run hit in the Major Leagues. They use mathematical modeling to calculate distances - not the bogus observational methods that the home team scoreboard operator uses. Because Prince has only 5 home runs this year, it's a small sample size to use in any proper analysis but even still, in analyzing his data some very telling patters are emerging.

The table below summarizes some of the data from Hit Tracker, plus adds a column I calculated on my own:




Avg


%BIP


Avg Speed


Hit
Year HR Dist. off Bat 400+ 425+ 450+ 400+
2006 28 408 110.7 15 9 3 6%
2007 50 409 110.5 30 16 5 11%
2008 5 400 108.3 3 0 0 3%

Again, it's only a sample of five, but Fielder's home runs this year on average are traveling 8 or 9 feet less than those he has hit in the past. The average speed of the ball off the bat is over 2 mph slower for this year's home runs compared to last year's. Between 2006 and 2007, 42% of Fielder's home runs traveled 425 feet or more. He has yet to hit a single ball that far this year. Finally, only 3% of the balls that Fielder has hit into play this season have traveled 400 feet or more, compared to 11% last year.

You can draw you own concussions from this data, but mine is that Prince Fielder simply can't hit a baseball as far as he used to be able to. When you notice something like that, it is a fair question to ask why. With Prince, there is a very obvious and probable answer.

One other tidbit I noticed is that Prince has hit 5 sacrifice flies this year (UPDATE: Got his 6th on Sunday) compared to only 4 all of last year. Could it be that a couple of those balls that landed in the outfielder's glove would have sailed over the fence with a little more oomph behind them?

If Prince Fielder wants to be a vegetarian, that's his business - just like it's his business if he wants to do 100 sit-ups in the morning after he gets out of bed. But the things that a player does off the field that affect their performance on the field do become the team's business. The team can and should take those things into consideration when determining how valuable that player is and how much money they are willing to pay him.

Finally, I have no idea how much Prince Fielder weighs but just by looking at him, it's pretty obvious that he's somehow replacing the calories he used to be getting from meat. And there aren't a lot of calories in broccoli and green beans - you know what I mean?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Who's Counting

It is now 5 games and counting since the Brewers got a win.

12 games and counting since they got back-to-back wins.

9 games and counting since Prince Fielder hit a home run.

14 games and counting since J.J. Hardy hit a home run - his only one of the year.

16 games and counting since Corey Hart hit a home run - his only one of the year.

8 games and counting since Bill Hall hit a home run - after hitting 7 in the first 25 games.

7 games and counting since Bill Hall drove in a run.

Also 7 games and counting since Prince Fielder drove in a run.

1 game and counting since Eric Gagne's last blown save.

17 games and counting since the Brewers held their opponent to 2 runs or fewer. In that same stretch, they've scored 2 runs or fewer 6 times.

26 games and counting since the Brewers were in first place. (They were 6-1 at the time; 16-17 now)

28 games and counting since a starting pitcher other than Ben Sheets got a win. Let me repeat that one. 28 games since a starting pitcher other than Ben Sheets got a win. Manny Parra on April 5th.

2 games and counting since the start of the Ned Yost Vigil.

UPDATE 5-8-08: After tonight's 7-2 loss to the Marlins, every streak listed here is still intact - plus one game.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Brewers Go As Fielder Goes... And As Hall Goes... And As Braun Goes...

In today's blog post, Tom Haudricourt posts Prince Fielder's batting statistics in Brewers wins and losses this year.

Check out Fielder's numbers in the team's 16 victories and 16 losses:

16 wins: .322 BA, .405 OBP, .610 SLG, 1.016 OPS, 5 doubles, four homers, 16 RBI

16 losses: .185 BA, .328 OBP, .222 SLG, .551 OPS, 2 doubles, no homers, four RBI

To confirm Fielder's importance to the team, we looked back to last year. Fielder played in 82 victories and 76 losses. Here are the numbers:

82 wins: .341 BA, .441 OBP, .711 SLG, 1.153 OPS, 24 doubles, 29 homers, 79 RBI

76 losses: .228 BA, .341 OBP, .511 SLG, .852 OPS, 11 doubles, 21 homers, 40 RBI

Pretty telling, don't you think?
The trouble with this analysis is that EVERY players' stats are significantly better in their team's wins than in their team's losses. Rickie Weeks is slugging .422 in wins and .262 in losses. Bill Hall is slugging .563 in wins and .304 in losses. Corey Hart is .484 and .327. Those are the first three players I checked. Good hitting wins games. It doesn't matter who it comes from. It is a myth to think that the Brewers' success as a team rides solely on the bat of Prince Fielder.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Yost Out On His Ear or Safe by a Knee?


June 2, 1982


On Jeff Wagner's radio show on Monday, he used this date as a springboard into a discussion about Ned Yost's status with the team. That was of course the date that the 23-24 Brewers, who went into the season with extremely high expectations, fired Buck Rogers and replaced him with hitting coach Harvey Kuenn en route to their only World Series appearance. If this year's Brewers go 7-8 over the next couple of weeks, they too will be 23-24.

I have two different perspectives.

This could be Ben Sheets' last year with the team. He is pitching as well as he ever has in his career. Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and Corey Hart are eligible for arbitration next year which will severely tighten the team's purse strings. This season could be the Brewers best shot. If they don't start performing soon - very soon - it will be an obvious and necessary move to replace Yost with Ted Simmons.

On the other hand, the injury to Yovanni Gallardo has torn the heart out of this team. They are now 0-4 since putting him on the DL. It would be easy to use that as an excuse to just ride out this season knowing that you are still stocked with talent and get him back next year even if you lose Ben Sheets.

My bet is that Doug Melvin isn't the "we'll get 'em next year" type. Ned Yost knows it, and will start feeling the heat. He got tossed for the first time tonight.

Time to relight the candle.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Thoughts on Yovanni Gallardo

The news of the severity of the injury was not really a surprise. After seeing the play, I feared the worse, even after he came back to pitch and said he felt fine after the game. These types of injuries often take until the next morning to make themselves known.

So much for all of this pitching depth the Brewers had in spring training. I wonder if Doug Melvin regrets cutting Claudio Vargas.

Perhaps this will be an omen that Ben Sheets actually stays healthy all year. Sheets and Gallardo have never been healthy at the same time.

Just off the cuff, I'd put the Brewers chances of making the payoffs at about 15% right now.

I wonder if a short trip to the minors will do the same thing for Dave Bush as it did for Rickie Weeks last year.

As I've said before, there's simply no such thing as having too much pitching.

The Brewers are now 0-1 since Gallardo's injury.

Friday, May 2, 2008

GONE


Final 2008 statistics for Derrick Turnbow:

25 batters on base

19 batters out

What a train wreck. My only question is why did it take this long?

Risk vs. Reward

Colorodo Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, 2007 runner up of the NL Rookie of the Year Award and recent signer of a 6-year $31M contract, is injured and will be out for most of the season. Injuries like this have got to weigh on the minds of general managers like Doug Melvin who have young stars on the team like Ryan Braun, winner of the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year Award, as they ponder whether of offer them long term deals.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

End of an Era?

In the month of April in all of Major League baseball, the overall composite slugging percentage - the ultimate power statistic - was .401. That's the lowest April slugging percentage in 15 years.


Overall slugging percentages tend to go up in the summer months when the weather gets warm, so to put 2008 into proper context, I only considered the April numbers. There is still a ways to go to get back to the 1980's levels and with all of the new smaller parks, we may never get back there, but early signs are that last year's reduction in offense may not have been a fluke.

You've probably figured out by now that this is an article about steroids. If steroids in baseball are truly on the wane and as a result the offensive numbers that players put up begin to moderate, we will eventually have a clear before, during, and after map of the steroids era. We will be able to estimate, with some accuracy, the effect of steroids on players' stats and once and for all put those statistics from this dark time in baseball into proper perspective.

 
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