Sunday, November 29, 2009

BEST SEASON EVER

In his discussion last week about his own personal National League MVP ballot, Tom Haudricourt proclaimed of Prince Fielder's 2009 season, "You could make a case that it was the best across-the-board season in franchise history."  Really?

When I read things like this my immediate inclination is to start crunching numbers and see if he's right.  When you do that it's hard to deny that Fielder's season should be very near if not at the top of the list.  He shattered the team record with 141 RBI, and his 46 home runs were topped only by his own lofty 50 in 2007.  In scrolling down the Baseball Reference leader board, he set franchise records for OPS, Games Played (tie), Walks, Runs Created, Adjusted OPS+, Adjusted Batting Runs, and Adjusted Batting Wins.  Thank God for statisticians - or stats adjusters; I don't know which.

But this time I'm going to use a different tool.  I have the fortune of my own personal memory.  A few days before my 9th birthday, the Seattle Pilots were declared bankrupt, and a few days after that the Milwaukee Brewers played their first game in County Stadium. losing to the California Angels 12-0.  My favorite players that year were Tommy Harper, Mike Hegan, Danny Walton and Phil Roof.  If I can remember Phil Roof, surely I ought to be able to put together a list of the best individual seasons ever by a Brewer.  So here goes...

10.  Cecil Cooper, 1980

It's hard to pick out Cecil Cooper's best season but I had to put him on this list because he was my favorite Brewer ever to watch.  1980 was probably his best when he hit .352 and drove in 122.  He would have won a batting title that year were it not the year George Brett flirted with .400.  In his career, Cooper was a 5-time All Star.  He received MVP votes in five different seasons.  He won three Silver Slugger Awards, two Gold Gloves, and won the Roberto Clemente Award.  Yet in 1992, when he was eligible for the Hall of Fame voting for the first time, he didn't get a single vote.  Not one.  I have always considered that a travesty and often wondered if there was ever another Major League player so decorated for whom the same thing was true.

9.  Mike Caldwell, 1978

23 complete games.  Think about that.  Six of them shutouts.  The entire Brewers team hasn't had 23 complete games in the past four years combined.  The stat is somewhat a reflection of the times, but in 1978, when Iron Mike took the mound, the bullpen typically got the day off.  Caldwell finished 22-9 with a 2.36 ERA, propelling the Brewers to their first ever winning season.  He shut out the AL East rival New York Yankees three times.  His 293 innings is an unheard of total by today's standards.  Only one other pitcher has 20+ complete games and 20+ wins in a season since Caldwell did it in 1978 - Phil Niekro in '79.

8.  Gorman Thomas, 1979

The original Bambi's Bomber.  In 1979, Gorman Thomas hit 6 home runs in 7 games in late April and went on to obliterated George Scott's team record 36 homers by blasting 45, giving the Brewers their second ever league home run champ.  He also obliterated his own team record of 133 strikeouts, whiffing 175 times. His blue-collar style of play resonated with Brewers fans like no player had before.

7. Robin Yount, 1989

You can't leave an MVP season off of a list like this, can you?  Yount won his second MVP in 1989 by default in a split decision.  Four other players received at least three first place votes each.  1989 was the last season that Yount hit 20 home runs.  The last he had 100 RBI.  The last he batted .300.  Three years later he got his 3,000th hit.  A year after that he was gone.

6.  Ryan Braun, 2007

Clearly the best rookie season ever by a Brewer.  His .634 slugging percentage is a team record.  Projected out to a full season, he would have hit 49 home runs.  Braun started 112 games at third base for the Brewers in 2007.  I suspect that will wind up being his career total.

5. Don Sutton, 1982 and CC Sabathia, 2008

OK, this is cheating a little.  This is really CC's spot in the order.  But Don Sutton showed old Brewers fans that trading for Sabathia in 2008 could be a very good thing.  Sutton was traded to the Brewers on August 30 and was 4-1 in his seven starts.  He got the ball on the final day of the season needing a win to clinch the division and held the potent Baltimore Orioles to just two runs.  Sabathia joined the team in early July and was 9-0 before finally losing on September 16th.  Asked to pitch 7 complete games in their playoff chase, the Brewers used Sabathia like a rented mule.  It turns out he was.  Sadly, Sabathia got shelled in his only playoff appearance for The Crew and they never had a prayer against the dominant Phillies.

4.  Prince Fielder, 2009

Based on statistics alone, Haudricourt is right - Prince Fielder's 2009 season was the best ever by a Brewer. Only a few of things keep this season from ranking higher - the success of the team or lack thereof, the fact that there is (arguably) a better first baseman in his same league, and the knowledge that Fielder's 2009 season may not be the best he's got.  This is a special player. We all sense that there may be better seasons to come.  He'll get another shot at this list.  I'll never forget that home run celebration against the Giants.  I've always said that the single most memorable moment in Brewers history was Cecil Cooper's base hit in Game 5 of the 1982 playoffs driving in Jimmy Gantner and Charlie Moore with the eventual winning runs.  Prince's 12th-inning, game winning blast on September 6th may be number two.

3. Rollie Fingers, 1981

Oddly, Rollie Fingers never saved 30 games in a season for the Brewers.  But had a strike not stolen two months of the 1981 baseball season, he would easily have topped 40.  With apologies to "The Bulldog" and "Skeeter", Fingers was the first dominant closer the Brewers ever had.  He won both the Cy Young and MVP Awards in 1981 becoming the first relief pitcher to ever do so.  Fingers struck out Lou Whitaker for the final out of the Brewers first playoff clinching game and embraced Ted Simmons in front of the mound.  It was the first time Brewers fans had witnessed such jubilation by players from our home team.

2.  Paul Molitor, 1987

Nothing captivates the imagination of a baseball fan like a streak.  The Brewers started the 1987 season 13-0.  On July 16th, his first day back off the DL, Molitor doubled in the bottom of the second inning and began what stands as the fifth-longest hitting streak in modern baseball history at 39-games and the longest since Pete Rose's 44-game streak in 1978.  On August 26, when Rick Manning hit a game winning single in the bottom of the 12th inning with Molitor on deck, ending the streak, I had never heard the home fans boo a player who had just won a game.  I doubt I ever will again.  Molitor finished the season with a .353 batting average - a team record that still stands.

1.  Robin Yount, 1982

In 1982, we all "grew up" as baseball fans in Milwaukee.  We had tasted the playoffs for the first time a year earlier and came into the season as a favorite to win the pennant.  Our wives and girlfriends knew all of the players' names, our grandparents stopped calling the Brewers "the Braves", and "The Kid" was no longer a kid - he was a superstar; the first Milwaukee Brewer to win an MVP.  In a land of rainbows and unicorns, Yount would have hit one more home run in that division clinching 10-2 drubbing of the Orioles on the last day of the season, to finish with 30 instead of 29.  With his one extra hit he would have won the AL batting title instead of Willie Wilson.  And the Brewers would have won the World Series instead of the Cardinals.  But this isn't Utopia.  It's Milwaukee.  But I like it all the same and remember these players and these seasons as the best I've ever seen.

Friday, November 27, 2009

On Amazon.com right now, many music CDs (the actual physical CDs in a case) are cheaper than the MP3 downloads of the same music.  That makes no sense to me at all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SWINGING FOR THE FENCES, AND SWINGING, AND SWINGING

Major League Baseball set a rather dubious record in 2009. For the second consecutive year and the third time ever, the percentage of plate appearances resulting in a home run or strikeout topped 20%, continuing a pattern that started in the 1920's and shows no sign of slowing down.


So what?  Well these are the two outcomes - the only two - which involve no defense or base running; the things that purists claim make the game unique.  That makes for long, boring games.  You have to worry for the long term success of the game if it devolves into the game of "strikeout" we used to play as kids, while the fielders just stand there and watch.

Bill James writes about this in greater detail on his website and offers some ideas for correcting it.  The site is well worth the $3/month subscription fee.

Monday, November 23, 2009

HAPPY FOR CAPPY

Chris Capuano, who is recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, was signed to a minor league deal by the Brewers today in what was a nice but probably meaningless move.

Wikipedia lists 132 Major League pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery.  Do you know which one of them has the most career wins?  You ready?  Here it comes - it's Tommy John.  Don't you find that just a little bit odd?  You'd think that one of the 131 pitchers after him would have topped his total.  John had 288 career wins - 26th all time.  By my count David Wells is next with 239 (56th), then Kenny Rogers with 219 (76th), John Smoltz 213 (88th), and Jimmy Key 186 (145th).

The point here is that Timmy John racked up an impressive win total because of the surgery, not despite it.  It hasn't had that same affect though on very many others.  While the surgery has allowed a lot of pitchers to come back and pitch at all, the list who have been effective reads more like a who's who of has-beens and unfulfilled promises.  Unfortunately Capuano will fit well on the list.

Where would you put the over/under on career Major League wins for Cappy from this point forward?  I'd put it at one.

Can you spell "publicity stunt"? I knew you could.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My wife bought a box of Sudifed yesterday and was irate that she had to let them record her driver's license number and wait ten minutes to be put into some databse to do so. Because 0.01% of the population makes hallucinogens out of an otherwise useful product, the other 99.99% of us have to be hassled when we buy it. Yet when we catch one of these 0.01%, we slap them on the wrist and give them 3 months probation. Government has run completely amok.

TEAM RQS

About a week ago I introduced Real Quality Starts - those in which a starting pitcher allows fewer hits plus walks than innings pitched. Here are the rankings of all Major League teams in RQS in 2009:

Team
RQS
League
Chi White Sox
43
AL
San Francisco
42
NL
Tampa Bay
42
AL
Seattle
40
AL
Atlanta
38
NL
Boston
38
AL
LA Angels
38
AL
Florida
36
NL
NY Yankees
36
AL
LA Dodgers
35
NL
Colorado
34
NL
Texas
34
AL
NY Mets
32
NL
Philadelphia
32
NL
San Diego
32
NL
Detroit
31
AL
Arizona
30
NL
St. Louis
30
NL
Chi Cubs
29
NL
Kansas City
29
AL
Houston
28
NL
Cincinnati
27
NL
Minnesota
27
AL
Washington
26
NL
Oakland
25
AL
Pittsburgh
25
NL
Cleveland
23
AL
Baltimore
22
AL
Milwaukee
21
NL
Toronto
21
AL

A pretty sad situation for the Brewers.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

BIG BLUE MACHINE

I just finished Joe Posnanski's outstanding book "The Machine" which tells the story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds. If you are old enough to have been around back then, it's a wonderful reminiscence, and if not it's an excellent look at how baseball used to be.

Sparky Anderson managed the Reds in '75. When he was hired as the Reds' manager in 1970, he was only 35 years old despite his hair being stark white. I guess that's why he never seemed to age.

Anyway, Anderson's philosophy of managing a ballclub was that you had your superstars and your 'turds' (that's what he called them.) On the Reds, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan were the superstars and everyone else were turds. The superstars were the team. They got all of the glory. Everything revolved around them. The turds were the pieces needed to create an environment in which the superstars could shine. They were the stage and the props. The superstars were the actors.

I've always agreed with this philosophy of building a team. I think the most important aspect of a team is how good your best player is. The next most important aspect is how good your next best player is. And it follows in order from there. That's a point that gets lost in a lot of discussions about how teams need to tinker to fill holes, or who the utility infielder should be. That stuff doesn't much matter. The superstars matter.

The Brewers right now have two superstars - Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. By almost any measure, they are two of the top ten hitters in baseball. The notion that we should trade one of them away to fill other holes on the team seem preposterous to me.

Fielder is probably the better of the two but not by much. If you trade Fielder you only take a small hit on the quality of your best player. But you take a huge hit on the quality of your second best player - and your third, and your fourth. And for what? To make your 8th, 9th or 10th best players better? That makes no sense to me at all. Teams should try to accumulate players like Fielder and Braun, not trade them away.

Granted the Brewers only control Fielder for two more years and at some point the economic realities of the game set in. However they've got two full years to worry about that. Fielder and Braun are at their peaks right now. They are the players who can win you a championship. If your philosophy is to trade one of them away for some other team's turds - well, you know what you'll wind up with a pile of.

Sports Illustrated has predicted their 65-team NCAA Men's Basketball bracket. There are no Wisconsin teams among them. If that happens, it will be the first time since 1998.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

JARROD WASHEDUP

Jarrod Washburn says the Brewers are on his radar screen. It's a sad state of affairs when signing someone like a 35-year old, gimpy knee'd Washburn makes your rotation better. Washburn has never in his career had a full-season ERA higher than Manny Parra's, Dave Bush's, or Jeff Suppan's ERA last year.

Isn't this starting to remind you of Brett Favre?

This is a glimpse into government run health care. They will way more often tell us what procedures we don't need than which ones we do.

Monday, November 16, 2009

MIGHTY CASEY

Casey McGehee finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting today. He was obviously a long shot to win. He did get one first place vote - I assume from the Milwaukee writer. All in all, I think he finished about where he should have.

Something bothers me though about Casey McGehee. Here is a guy who spent 7 years in the Cubs' minor league system, clawing his way up, a half a level at a time, with nothing more than a 25 at-bat joe to show for it. The Cubs finally say 'enough'. The Brewers pluck him off the scrap heap and POW - he's one of the top rookies in the league. How does that happen? How does a 26-year old career minor leaguer whose original team has given up on, all of the sudden, out of nowhere, when he finally gets to the Major Leagues, put up power numbers that are double anything he's ever done before at any level in professional baseball in a career that covers over 3,800 plate appearances?

I'm not saying what you're thinking. I'm not even insinuating that. I'm just asking the question. How does that happen?

And I'm asking another question. Has Casey McGehee done enough to warrant handing him the third base job in 2010 and turning our best third base prospect into trade bait? I don't think so. I'm not comfortable with that.

Here's the same chart for Mat Gamel:

All I'm saying is that looks a little more normal to me. I'd expect Gamel to be much more likely to maintain or even improve his offensive production than I would McGehee. Unless of course whatever happened in 2009 keeps happening in 2010. Whatever that is.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Would you feel safer if jailed terrorists were held in Cuba, or about 200 miles from Milwaukee?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I have just witnessed the most amazing NBA game I've seen in at least 10 years. I tuned the Bucks game in at the end of the first quarter and still saw all 55 of Brandon Jennings points - 29 in the third quarter.

What Jennings did tonight is not something that average players do - even on a fluke - and certainly not something that 20 year old rookies do. He is a special player and this was a special night.

REAL QUALITY STARTS

Not that baseball needs another new statistic...

A Quality Start (QS) is credited to a starting pitcher who pitches at least 6 innings and allows 3 or fewer earned runs. There were 2,344 quality starts in the Major Leagues in 2009. A full 49% of all games started were credited as quality starts.

It would seem that for an event to be called "quality", it ought to happen quite a bit less than half of the time. This would be like calling a quality at bat anytime you got a hit, a walk, or hit the ball hard. There is some truth to that, but what is real quality?

I came up with a new, as easy to compute statistic which I call a Real Quality Start (RQS). To get an RQS, a pitcher must allow fewer base runners than innings pitched. Simple. In a mathematical formula it's equally simple:

(H + BB) < IP

There were 946 Real Quality Starts in the majors last season - only 20% of all games started. Comparing the two stats side-by-side, you can see that RQS is a much more stringent test of true quality:

QS RQS
Number 2344 946
% all starts 49% 20%
W (by SP) 1293 631
L (by SP) 389 86
W/L Pct. 0.769 0.880
ERA 2.04 1.40

The Major League leaders in RQS last season were:

Pitcher Team RQS
Tim Lincecum SF 15
Dan Haren Ari 14
Javier Vazquez Atl 13
Chris Carpenter StL 12
CC Sabathia NYY 12
Jon Lester Bos 12
Randy Wolf (FA)
LAD 11
Josh Johnson Fla 11
Jered Weaver LAA 11
Ricky Nolasco Fla 11
Ted Lilly ChC 10
Josh Beckett Bos 10
Bronson Arroyo Cin 10
Edwin Jackson Det 10
Zack Greinke KC 10
Felix Hernandez Sea 10
Wandy Rodriguez Hou 10
Carl Pavano (FA)
Cle 9
Roy Halladay Tor 9
Barry Zito SF 9
Mark Buehrle ChW 9
Kevin Correia SD 9
Gavin Floyd ChW 9
Justin Verlander Det 9
Scott Feldman Tex 9
Clayton Kershaw LAD 9
Jarrod Washburn (FA)
Sea 8
Johan Santana NYM 8
Joel Pineiro StL 8
Rich Harden (FA)
ChC 8
Scott Kazmir TB 8
Scott Baker Min 8
Jason Hammel Col 8
John Danks ChW 8
Matt Garza TB 8
J.A. Happ Phi 8
John Lannan Was 8
Jair Jurrjens Atl 8
Kevin Millwood Tex 7
Jason Marquis (FA)
Col 7
John Lackey (FA)
LAA 7
Cliff Lee Cle 7
Jorge De La Rosa Col 7
Matt Cain SF 7
Cole Hamels Phi 7
Joe Saunders LAA 7
Chad Billingsley LAD 7
James Shields TB 7
Jeff Niemann TB 7
Luke Hochevar KC 7
Ross Ohlendorf Pit 7
Clayton Richard ChW 7
Trevor Cahill Oak 7

Noticeably absent from this list are any Milwaukee Brewers - and noticeably present are a number of free agent who the Brewers are rumored to have some interest in. Look how far down the list John Lackey is - and how many other free agents are above him. The more of this stuff I see, the more I think Lackey is going to be a Suppan-esque albatross for whoever signs him.

I was a little surprised that the Brewers declined Bradon Looper's option. Looper actually tied for second on the team with 4 RQS:

Gallardo 6
Looper 4
Bush 4
Parra 2
Suppan 2
Burns 1
Narveson 1

What that chart really shows though is just how pitiful the Brewers' pitching was in 2009.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

THE KING OF 'POP'


(click picture for more)


This has absolutely nothing to do with anything, but why would a contraption like this have a seat belt? It seems to me that the worst thing that could happen is you'd tip over. If you did, I'd think the last thing you'd want to to be strapped to it.

I know they've only played 6 games, but many of the national sports outlets picked the Bucks to be the worst team in the NBA. Their 4-2 start - without Michael Redd - has really come out of nowhere. I watched a good portion of the game last night - this after a couple of weeks ago thinking that I wouldn't watch a single game all year.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

FOOLS GOLD

No Gold Glove Awards again for the Brewers. Did you expect any? Do you remember the last one? It was Robin Yount in 1982. 151 different players have won a total of 479 Gold Glove Awards since then. Bret Boone has been retired for three years. He hasn't played a full season for five years. Before that, he won 3 Gold Glove Awards. The last year a Brewers won a Gold Glove Award, Bret Boone's dad did too. Greg Maddux holds the career record with 18 Gold Glove Awards. Maddux played his entire career - beginning to end - since the last time a Brewer won a Gold Glove Award. Phil Niekro won a Gold Glove Award the last time a Brewer did. Phil Niekro. Think about that.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

State home sales up 5.8%, first increase since late 2007
Get ready for a flood of what will appear to be (but isn't) encouraging economic news as we start to lap last year's abyss. Keep in mind that anything will look good in comparison.

I must confess that I have contributed many, many times to this environmental hazard.

LACK(EY)ING?

Before anyone gets too excited about the prospects of the Brewers signing John Lackey...

(click image for larger view)

Prayers today for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who revealed that he has a form of blood cancer.

Monday, November 9, 2009

I found myself rooting against the Packers towards the end of yesterday's game. I took a look at their remaining schedule and honestly, I don't see them winning more than 3 more games. If they finish under .500 I think McCarthy and Thompson will be gone - and I think that will be a good thing. The Packers need to bring in people from outside the organization who have no ties whatsoever to Brett Favre it they are ever seriously going to "move on."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

MORE ON GOMEZ

In Gomez' last season in AAA (2007) he had a .363 OBP. He he can reach that level in the Majors, this will wind up being a great trade for the Brewers.

I'm happy that the Brewers are not going to immediately put Gomez in the leadoff spot. There would be a temptation to do so just because of his speed. I wonder whose decision that was though. It should be Macha's, but I don't think is was. Back to my first point about Gomez OBP, I think about .350 or so would be the threshold for moving him up to the leadoff spot and batting Weeks second. I wonder if Gomez will bat 9th with the pitch 8th. He would seem to be the perfect guy to do that with.

Someone (Hartzgung) in a JSOnline comment compared J.J. Hardy to Khalil Greene

Greene
2007:
.254 BA, .291 OBP, .468 SLG, 27 HR, 97 RBI, $2.25 MM
2008:
.213 BA, .260 OBP, .339 SLG, 10 HR, 35 RBI, $4.5 MM
2009:
.200 BA, .272 OBP, .347 SLG, 6 HR, 24 RBI, $6.5 MM

Hardy
2007:
.277 BA, .323 OBP, .463 SLG, 26 HR, 80 RBI, $400K
2008:
.283 BA, .343 OBP, .478 SLG, 24 HR, 74 RBI, $2.65 MM
2009:
.229 BA, .302 OBP, .357 SLG, 11 HR, 47 RBI, $4.65 MM

It's an excellent comparison which I think extends beyond just the statistics. I'm not saying that J.J. Hardy is going to have the same type of emotional problems that Greene had. I'm just saying that their personalities and demeanors are not all that dissimilar.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

WHO IS CARLOS GOMEZ?

A friend of mine asked me that last night. I think the best answer is that we don't yet know who Carlos Gomez is. He's 23 years old, and from all indications he's still a young 23. There are a lot of 23 year old ball players who we don't know who turn into very good major leaguers.

I think the part of this trade that we don't know yet - that we need to know in order to properly evaluate it - is what Doug Melvin is going to do with the money he saved by dumping Hardy and Cameron. When we know that, this trade might look on balance to be a very good deal for the Brewers.

A few Melvin quotes that I like:

"His defense will serve as a key component to us improving our pitching."

"My thinking is that guys with speed develop later. Look at some of the players from years ago: Otis Nixon, Lance Johnson, Tom Goodwin. Even Shane Victorino [of the Phillies] and Michael Bourn [of the Astros], two guys that are in the big leagues and play a good center field. They were 25, 26 before they made their big jump in the big leagues."

Melvin said the Brewers were planning to keep second baseman Rickie Weeks in the leadoff hole and would try to hone Gomez's offensive potential in another spot.


Those are things that you hear a good Major League GM say and not things that fans say about their fantasy teams. There's a huge difference.

As for J.J. Hardy - I don't think this is a huge loss and I think the Brewers got as much for him as they could. Remember, he was playing so poorly last season that the Brewers sent him down to the minors. Put yourself in some other teams' shoes. That doesn't look like a very attractive fish to land in a trade. Had the Brewers not weaseled another year of arbitration out of him by sending him down, I really don't think they would have gotten anything for him.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I'll be Back

I know it's been almost six months, but I was never really gone. Just got busy and fell out of the habit of writing. After the Yankees victory parade tomorrow I'll get back at it.

 
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