- Baseball doesn't often intersect with the true drama of real life, but unfortunately, it did today. A plane reportedly piloted by Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle collided into a Manhattan high-rise today. Lidle and an unnamed passenger were killed, but fortunately, no other fatalities are confirmed at this time. Lidle was a licensed pilot and had spoken of his plane to reporters in the past. Lidle's passport was reportedly found among the wreckage. Lidle has been confirmed as dead, although not yet by city officials. The building in question was a luxury high-rise in the Upper East Side of Manhattan overlooking the East River. Lidle's plane hit the 20th floor, which consists of only one apartment. This is fortunate; if Lidle's plane had hit a densely-populated building, other fatalities would no doubt have occurred. As it is, it is lucky, in a sense, that the plane hit a sparsely-populated building.
I try not to mix politics with my baseball analysis, which is difficult as there are many political issues I feel strongly about. This only confirms my opinion that America is not sufficiently prepared for a true terrorist attack. According to espn.com, FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere confirmed that pilots flying small-engine aircraft by sight are not required to be in contact with air traffic controllers. It's absurd that this rule should apply over Manhattan, or any other densely-populated area. With all of the bipartisan bluster that has gone into the war in terror, is it really this easy to crash a plane into a New York building? I worry that political fear-mongering over groundless rumors has replaced true defensive readiness in this country, and I worry that more people will have to die before this unforgivable short-sightedness in Washington is remedied.
- That aside, we move on to another, less-controversial event. Baseball legend Buck O'Neil passed away this Friday at the age of 94. O'Neil had been a baseball institution since his years of play in the Negro Leagues and was featured prominently as a master storyteller in Ken Burns' documentary, Baseball. The unfortunate nature of O'Neil's passing was made even moreso due to the controversy surrounding O'Neil's exclusion from the Baseball Hall of Fame. I blogged earlier about the special committee on the Negro Leagues that convened and voted to induct 17 players and executives as part of this year's induction ceremonies. O'Neil, perhaps the most popular and well-known of them all, fell one vote short.
This was met by a firestorm of negative response from the baseball press, former players, and many fans. O'Neil was considered to be one of the most important figures in baseball during his more than 50 years involved with the game, and in his later years became one of the game's foremost ambassadors. How could he be excluded from the Hall? Perhaps the most vocal critic was MSNBC commentator and former Sportscenter host Keith Olbermann, who set aside special condemnation for the voters on the Negro Leagues committee has the "worst people in the world," (according to Olbermann's nightly segment of the same name).
But I can understand exactly why O'Neil didn't make it into the Hall. The rules for induction into the Hall have always been interpreted conservatively. Players are inducted, of course; and so are umpires, executives, and "pioneers." (Note: sportswriters and announcers are often called "Hall of Famers," but they are not officially. They receive a Hall-sponsored award that enshrines them in a "special wing." They are not considered Hall-of-Famers in the sense that Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb are. They do not get plaques. Keep this in mind the next time Peter Gammons or Marty Brennaman is referred to as a "Hall-of-Famer."
The fact is that Buck O'Neil simply does not fit into any criteria typically set for induction into the Hall. He was a good player in the Negro Leagues but was, by his own admission, not that good. He was a manager in the Negro Leagues as the leagues died out, but again, could hardly be called a Hall-of-Famer based on that alone. He was the major leagues' first African-American coach, with the Chicago Cubs. This is important and is often forgotten. But no "coach" other than a manager has ever been inducted into the Hall. He served for many years as a scout and special advisor both with the Cubs and in his "home" of Kansas City with the Royals, scouting future All-Stars Joe Carter and Bo Jackson. But again, no scout has ever been inducted into Cooperstown. In his advancing age, O'Neil served many key roles as an ambassador for baseball in general and the Negro Leagues, specifically. But this does not meet any of the criteria for induction into the Hall.
The voters simply did not induct Buck O'Neil for his "lifetime achievements," because no one else had ever been inducted under that dubious reasoning. The Hall voters love precedent, and there was no precedent for inducting someone like Buck.
I can understand this completely. But I also believe, with all of my heart, that it should not be the case.
I think the Hall should induct great coaches, and perhaps even great scouts. I think there should be consideration for "lifetime achievement," which, believe it or not, the Hall rules do allow for. Some have even suggested a "Buck O'Neil Award," which would go to someone whose lifetime achievements have earned them baseball's highest honor, although their specific roles do not fit existing criteria. This would also be a good idea.
The real problem is that the Hall has never made preparations or allowances for this eventuality. Buck O'Neil was 94 years old, and people have been touting him as a possible Hall-of-Famer for years. Did it really take people this long to suggest that maybe there ought to be some special allowance for Buck and people like him? This is, unfortunately, characteristic of Hall voters. Many people have to wait until they are dead (or near death) to get a "sentimental" bandwagon going for their induction. That any such thing has to exist shows how senseless the current Hall voters and election system is. Any suggestion that they should revise voting rules to more closely reflect the changing game is met with derision by many. And the Veterans Committee, baseball's official "last chance" for those not inducted by the BBWAA, moves with all the speed (and intelligence) of the George Wallace Desegregation Committee.
There needs to be a revision of the Hall rules that allows for people like Buck O'Neil, Lefty O'Doul, Johnny Sain, Leo Mazzone, and (dare I say) Bill James to be considered for baseball's greatest honor. Realistically, I think there will; Buck's death has galvanized enough people that he should be inducted, either through the Veterans' Committee, or some newly-created "Buck O'Neil Award." It is, of course, too late for that. And I mean this not just as a sentimental plea for a great man, but as a realistic plea for a hidebound organization. They shouldn't just be arguing over Ron Santo and Gil Hodges; let's bring people like Buck into the discussion. And after Buck is inducted, we can move onto the next great man who deserves induction, but likely won't see it in his lifetime: Marvin Miller.
And now, having worn out my soapbox, I'll finish up my 2006 Awards:
National League Rookie of the Year: Hanley Ramirez
This looked like a race between Ramirez and keystone-mate Dan Uggla, but Uggla's star faded down the stretch (finishing 282/339/480) and I believe that Hanley (292/353/480, 51/65 in steals) is left on top of the rookie world. The Marlins as a whole had a flock of ROY candidates. Apart from Ramirez and Uggla, the best position player was left fielder Josh Willingham. A converted catcher, Willingham showed he could hit like a left fielder, batting 277/356/496. Despite his strong numbers, Willingham loses ground in my eyes not just for his position, but because he was visibly still learning it (-12 FRAA). Playing the outfield does, admittedly, involve a bit more running than catching.
We're not done, though, because the Marlins also had several key rookie pitchers. (These guys are why the Marlins were contenders despite having a payroll 90% less than the Yankees'). Anibal Sanchez had a good year, not even taking his no-hitter into account. Sanchez (nicknamed "Anibal Lee" by a more literate commentator than most) posted an impressive 2.83 ERA. The trouble is that he pitched only 114.1 IP, with a less-than-amazing 46:72 BB:K ratio. It was good, but not great.
No, the best rookie pitcher on the Marlins was Josh Johnson. Johnson finished the season with a 3.10 ERA, notching an impressive 68:133 BB:K ratio. But Johnson has the same problem as Sanchez; innings (only 157). If Joe Girardi had set the Marlin rotation sooner, then we wouldn't have this problem. But Johnson just doesn't really compare with Ramirez with just more than half a season's worth of playing time.
Are there any non-Marlins to consider for the ROY? The biggest one is Washington's Ryan Zimmerman. Dubbed the "next Scott Rolen" coming into the season, Zimmerman actually managed to somewhat meet those expectations, hitting 287/351/471 to go with strong defense at third. Like Ramirez, Zimmerman played a full season in a pitcher's park. He also has the defensive advantage, since Ramirez wasn't that strong at shortstop. It's close, but I went with Ramirez for three reasons: Florida is a tougher hitter's park; he plays a more important defensive position; and he stole 51 bases with a good success rate.
Other notables include Dodger closer Takashi Saito, who I mentioned before as the NL's best relief pitcher. The 36-year-old Japanese veteran is a rookie only in the technical sense, but his very strong relief season should earn him a spot on some ballots. The Padres had the dynamic duo of Clay & Cla. Clay Hensley had a surprisingly good season as a starter, but his 3.71 ERA doesn't cut the mustard in pitcher-friendly San Diego. Cla Meredith was dominant, posting a 1.07 ERA with a 6:37 BB:K ratio. But you just can't earn the ROY with 50.2 innings of work, especially if you're a middle reliever.
It was a great year for rookies in baseball, so I haven't even mentioned some of the other marginal candidates in the NL, such as Luke Scott, Russell Martin, Prince Fielder, Jonothan Broxton or the underrated Matt Cain. But I feel comfortable with my choice of Ramirez. And by any standard of measure, this great crop of rookies is good news for baseball.
- Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
- Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
- Takashi Saito, Dodgers
- Josh Johnson, Marlins
- Dan Uggla, Marlins
American League Rookie of the Year: Francisco Liriano
There's really little argument that Liriano was the best rookie in the AL this year. He posted a 2.16 ERA, with a 32:144 BB:K ratio and just 9 HR allowed. By almost any measure, objective or subjective, he was dominant.
The problem here is innings: only 121 of them, to be exact. The AL is literally overflowing with good young rookies; was Liriano good enough in his 121 innings to beat out guys who pitched as many as 186?
I think so, yes, just barely. Liriano's biggest challenger (and the man who will likely take home the award) is Justin Verlander of the Tigers. Verlander wasn't quite as dominant as Liriano, but he was still damn good: 3.63 ERA, 60:124 BB:K ratio in 186 IP. But other than those innings pitched, Verlander doesn't have any advantage over Liriano. His ERA is a run and a half higher, and his FRA (Fair Run Average) shows that this isn't a fluke. His BB:K ratio isn't bad, but it's surprisingly low for someone with stuff as good as his. Liriano actually managed 20 more strikeouts than Verlander, despite pitching 65 fewer innings. Verlander also allowed 21 homers to Liriano's 9. And all of this in a much easier park for pitchers than Liriano has in Minnesota.
I think that because Liriano was so much better than Verlander, he should get the award, 65 innings be damned.
But it should be noted that there's another starting pitcher with a claim similar to Liriano's. Jered Weaver didn't get started until the season was almost half over, but in his 123 IP, he put up numbers similar to Liriano's. Weaver's ERA was 2.56 and his BB:K ratio was 33:105. Not quite as brilliant as Liriano, but impressive nonetheless. But it isn't just this that causes me to rank Weaver below Liriano and even Verlander; the main thing is his BABIP.
In short, BABIP is Batting Average on Balls in Play. According to sabermetric wisdom first coined by Voros McCracken, a pitcher has almost no control on whether balls in play become outs. Put simply, other than walks, strikeouts, and home runs, it's almost completely out of the pitcher's hands. BABIP measures all of those balls that the pitcher had no control over. BABIP shows almost no correlation from year to year; a pitcher doesn't have the ability towards a low or high BABIP; it's almost entirely luck. But all these balls in play do affect a pitcher's ERA. So a pitcher with a high BABIP has given up more hits than usual on balls in play. This may be due to poor defense, or simply to bad luck; the hitters were "hittin' them where they ain't."
Having said that, you can look at the pitchers with extreme BABIPs and come to certain conclusions. A BABIP between .290-.300 is about normal. Pitchers with numbers higher than this have been unlucky; thus, they should return to average next year (affecting their number of hits allowed, and thus, their ERA). Pitchers with a low BABIP have been lucky; their success isn't just due to their pitching, but to good luck, and we would expect them to decline the following season.
All of this is a long setup to a simple fact: Jered Weaver's BABIP in 2006 was .239. Among all pitchers in baseball with at least 100 innings pitched, Weaver was the luckiest in the American League on hits in play, second only to San Diego's Chris Young (.232) in all of baseball.
What does this mean? It means that Weaver's amazing 2.56 ERA was due not just to his quality pitching, but to an enormous amount of luck; balls found gloves a lot when Weaver was pitching. In my opinion, this should affect our analysis of him. BABIP can be taken too literally; pitchers will veer back and forth from year to year due to nothing but chance. But anything this extreme must be taken into account. And it's very important when determining who was better to consider that Weaver was inordinatelly lucky, whereas Liriano (.285 BABIP) and Verlander (.297) were not. That combined with his low total of innings removes Weaver from the running.
But that deals just with the starting pitchers. Were their any good rookie relief pitchers? And how.
First off, Joel Zumaya of the Tigers. Apart from being a 100-MPH-throwing monster, Zumaya also had a dominant season, one of the best seasons by an AL reliever. This was more amazing, because Zumaya wasn't a closer. He pitched middle relief for the Tigers, but Jim Leyland actually used him in many high-leverage situations in the late innings (Zumaya finished 17th among all AL relief pitchers in "leverage," a number that measures the importance of the situations a pitcher throws in. Most of the people ahead of him were closers.). Zumaya pitched a healthy 83.1 innings, striking out 97 (!) against just 6 HR and 42 walks (he can be a little wild, which is pretty scary). The only reason Zumaya wasn't moved into the more important "closer" role is that the Tigers had already signed "veteran closer" Todd Jones for the role. Jones couldn't carry Zumaya's gym bag, but that's how much teams today are overcommitted to labels.
If Jones had been the team's closer, he might have been the best relief pitcher in the AL. As it is, he wasn't. That honor goes to Boston's rookie closer, Jonathan Papelbon. I mentioned Papelbon during the Cy Young discussion, saying that if he hadn't missed September due to injury, he could quite possibly have won the award. Which means that he would have been a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year. As it is, he still ranks very highly; just below the top rookie starters in the game. Even then, there's a possibility that Papelbon was the best rookie in the AL even though he did miss a month.
Among pitchers, honorable mention goes to Baltimore's Chris Ray (a rare bit of hope in that city) and Cleveland's Jeremy Sowers.
Were there any rookie hitters that even deserve mention alongside this dauting crop of pitchers? Not really. The best was probably Esteban German of the Royals, who surprised everyone by hitting an amazing 326/422/459. German doesn't have much power or good defense, but he made it to a team full of job openings, and showed that his minor-league OBP talent wasn't a fluke. Problem: his 279 ABs, enough for a pat on the back, but not enough to dethrone Mr. Liriano. Honorable mention goes to three rookies who did play full seasons, but were not much more than above-average: Seattle's Kenji Johjima (291/332/451, and one of the steals of the offseason free agent market), Texas' Ian Kinsler (286/347/454, and a better solution at second than Mr. Soriano) and Baltimore's Nick Markakis (291/351/448, with much more to come).
- Francisco Liriano, Twins
- Justin Verlander, Tigers
- Jonothan Papelbon, Red Sox
- Joel Zumaya, Tigers
- Jered Weaver, Angels
NL DHL Delivery Man of the Year: Takashi Saito
Yeah, I don't like the award, but we have to show our appreciation for relief pitchers. I've already discussed Saito ad nauseum in the Cy Young and ROY discussions. I've given him the edge over Hoffman and Wagner, because I don't look to saves to guide my decisions anymore. The top four are my favorite closers. My #5 may surprise people, but he was a good setup man who threw a lot of high-leverage innings. Honorable mention goes to: Brian Fuentes, Chad Cordero, Scott Linebrink, Tom Gordon
- Takashi Saito, Dodgers
- Billy Wagner, Mets
- Trevor Hoffman, Padres
- Salomon Torres, Pirates
- Mike Gonzalez, Pirates
AL DHL Delivery Man of the Year: Jonathan Papelbon
Again, Papelbon has already been discussed in earlier entries. The messy issue here is trying to compare middle relievers to closers. Obviously, we can't use saves to do so. We could use ERA, but then ERA is only as important as the innings you're throwing. Nor can we assume, as I've said, that a closer is ipso facto throwing more important innings; middle relief juggernaughts like Zumaya are more valuable than some closers. We could use WXRL, but that's extremely biased to opportunity, and ranking by WXRL is usually not much different than ranking by save opportunities. The best thing we can do is try to use each tool's benefits to gain a better overall understanding. There are all-in-one stats like VORP or Win Shares, but I prefer to use those as a supplement, not as a definitive guide. As such, here's what I've come up with:
- Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox
- B.J. Ryan, Blue Jays
- Joe Nathan, Twins
- Joel Zumaya, Tigers
- J.J. Putz, Mariners
NL Manager of the Year: Joe Girardi
This is the default answer; Girardi should win the award easily. This is a credit to Girardi not only for establishig a professional atmosphere in the Florida clubhouse, but for working a baseball team out of a bunch of kids who weren't supposed to be ready for the majors yet. It took him a bit longer in some cases than others, and I can't ignore the fact that his boss desperately wanted to fire him. But Girardi seems like the best candidate to me, mainly on the strength of his team's amazing feat of exceeding everyone's expectations by leaps and bounds.
- Joe Girardi, Marlins
- Willie Randolph, Mets
- Phil Garner, Astros
AL Manager of the Year: Jim Leyland
A lot of credit has to be given to Leyland for what he did on the field and off. He took a bunch of undisciplined youngsters and marginal veterans and, while he didn't turn straw into gold, he did the next best things: he took the Tigers to the postseason.
- Jim Leyland, Tigers
- Ron Gardenhire, Twins
- Ken Macha, Athletics
NL Executive of the Year: Omar Minaya
Again, I'm not exactly going crazy with these awards. But although I don't always agree with his moves, I give Minaya credit. Yes, he's spent a lot of money bringing winning baseball to New York, but he has (for the most part) spent it on the right people. The Pedro contract isn't looking too good right now, but I like Carlos Beltran for the future, as well as Billy Wagner and Carlos Delgado. He also got one of the offseason's best bargains in Jose Valentin. He's also had the good sense not to trade away his future, using guys like Jose Reyes, David Wright, Aaron Heilman, and Lastings Milledge to build a foundation for future postseasons. And although Minaya has spent a lot of money and does have the league's highest payroll, it's just $91 million. This is less than half of the Yankee payroll and only slightly larger than the Dodgers or Cubs. He also has the revenues and market size to make it work. We'll see what he does this offseason, though, before we start patting ourselves on the back.
Other than Omar, it wasn't a stellar year for NL GMs. Former stalwarts such as John Schuerholz and Walt Jocketty, and recent favorite Doug Melvin, all had off-years that were reflected in their team's performance. So we had to look beyond them for some interesting, "out-there" picks for the #2 and #3 spots.
- Omar Minaya, Mets
- Josh Byrnes, Diamondbacks
- Larry Beinfest, Marlins
AL Executive of the Year: Kenny Williams
It probably sounds bizarre to give this award to someone whose team missed the postseason, but as I've said before, Kenny Williams did a marvelous job of preparing his team to defend their World Championship. The Jim Thome trade paid off in spades, and the acquisition of Jermaine Dye also came to fruition this year. Williams tried to support his tired starters by trading for Javier Vazquez, but Vazquez again had a poor year despite strong peripherals. And no one could have predicted the wholesale shutdown of the starting rotation, or Juan Uribe's descent from bad to really bad. Williams has shown a good understanding of the problems facing the club in the future: namely, getting rid of Scott Podsednik and doing something either in center field or at shortstop. His team may have missed October baseball, but Williams nonetheless did his job and did it quite well.
Some may note the absence of the GMs of feel-good teams Detroit and Minnesota. My opinion is that these teams' success was not so much due to the GM. In Minnesota, if anything the team won in spite of Terry Ryan, and his signings of Rondell White (understandable) and Tony Batista (totally not understandable) not to mention the continued employment of Juan Castro. Ryan gets a big kiss from me for his A.J. Pierzynski trade, but I don't think you can't get credit for one trade every year that it helps you, even if it's a really good trade. As for the Tigers, they, too succeeded mainly due to their young players rather than the GM's machinations. GM Dave Dombrowski deserves credit for signing Kenny Rogers, but his signing of Todd Jones was completely unnecessary, and it's just lucky for him that Jones hasn't imploded yet. Other key free agents from years past include Magglio Ordonez and Ivan Rodriguez. Both players are still strong contributors, but are so incredibly overpaid that it's hard to call them a credit to Dombrowski's record. I give Dombrowski credit for presiding over the development of Verlander, Zumaya, and Curtis Granderson, but not enough to make him this year's award winner.
- Kenny Williams, White Sox
- Brian Cashman, Yankees
- Billy Beane, Athletics
BEST NL OFFENSE: Los Angeles Dodgers
In the NL, the teams are pretty bunched up at the top. No one has any clear lead in more than one or two offensive categories, making it hard to find a consensus winner. The Phillies led the league in runs scored with 865, but take into account their ballpark, which is infinitely more hitter-friendly than Dodger Stadium. The Braves led the league in home runs, but even their park is slightly more homer-happy than L.A.'s. The Braves also led the league in slugging percentage, giving them the edge over any other NL team in the power department.
But L.A. gets the upper hand, in my opinion, thanks to a league-leading .276 batting average and, thanks to their 601 walks, a league-leading .348 OBP. Equivalent Average (EQA) actually has the Mets at the top, at .269; a hair above L.A.'s .268 and the .267 mark recorded by Atlanta and Philadelphia.
You could make a good case for the Mets, but my money's on Los Angeles.
2nd place: New York; 3rd place: Atlanta
BEST AL OFFENSE: New York Yankees
This was not the greatest lineup of all time. It was certainly a list of 9 great players, but two of them (Matsui and Sheffield) were severely hampered by injuries, and a third (Bobby Abreu) spent less than half the season there. Still, the Yanks were the class of the league, succeeding with the same ol' reliable approach of walks and homers. They led the league in on-base percentage, although Boston drew a few more walks (672 to New York's 649). They also led the league in runs scored, but finished second to Chicago in home runs (210 to 236). Their Equivalent Average, an all-around offensive metric, puts the Yankees at the top of the league at .279, a good bit ahead of second-place Cleveland (.273). It wasn't legendary, but it was the best in the AL.
2nd place: Cleveland; 3rd place: Chicago
BEST NL PITCHING STAFF: San Diego Padres
Yes, the Padres do play in a pitcher-friendly ballpark, but even so, their 3.87 ERA is notably lower than 2nd-place Houston's 4.08. That's the main argument; does Houston's more hitter-friendly ballpark move it past San Diego?
I don't think so. Houston isn't quite as hitter-friendly as its reputation. While the Astros did notch more strikeouts than the Padres, they also allowed more walks and more home runs. The argument could be made for Houston, and perhaps even the Mets, but I'm going with San Diego.
2nd place: Houston; 3rd place: New York
BEST AL PITCHING STAFF: Minnesota Twins
This is something of a surprise. The Twins had a fine 3.95 ERA, but the Tigers were better, leading the league at 3.84. And the Tigers had the solid rep as the best-pitching team in the league. But not only is Detroit a much friendlier place to pitch than Minnesota, the Twins' peripherals are much stronger. The Twins allowed an insanely low 356 walks while tying for the league lead in strikeouts with 1164 (with the Angels). The Tigers walked 133 more batters and managed 161 fewer strikeouts. The Twins did allow 22 more home runs, but that's almost entirely attributable to the difference in ballparks. The Tigers have ERA on their side, but the Twins simply had the better staff.
2nd place: Detroit; 3rd place: Los Angeles
OZZIE GUILLEN AWARD (NL): Jeff Francoeur
Francoeur takes the 2nd-annual award for the player with the worst plate discipline in the league. If Francoeur sticks around long enough, in fact, we could rename the award after him. Because whereas Ozzie swung at anything within arm's reach, he at least made contact and didn't strike out a whole lot. I prefer to give the award to the player with a whole lot of strikeouts and very few walks. Perhaps a better name for it would be the Joe Carter Award or the Dave Kingman Award. A guy who never walks and is easy to strike out. And who better fits that description than Francoeur.
Joe Carter is actually the best-case scenario for Francoeur's career. Carter never walked and struck out often, regularly posting OBPs below .300 (which was bad even in the 1980's), but hit enough homers and had enough athleticism to put together a solid major league career (but not a Hall-of-Fame career). This is the best-case scenario for Francoeur's career.
The worst case scenario is . . . well, more seasons like this one. Francoeur posted an OBP this year of .293. Among all major league right fielders with at least 100 PAs (plate appearances), Francoeur ranks 45th out of 51. Most of the guys below him are part-time players (for good reason); Francoeur is the only player in the bottom 10 with more than 350 PAs. He's essentially the worst full-time right fielder in all of baseball at getting on base; even Carter wasn't that bad. The next-worst is the Cardinals' Juan Encarnacion, with a .317 OBP.
Some people don't see the essential connection between OBP and hitting; and by some people, I mean the Braves' announcers. They talk about how all that OBP talk is overrated, and that Francoeur is still a great player. Well, let me rephrase the issue. Francoeur this year made 473 outs. He made more outs than any other player in baseball except two. I think that's a very basic, less arbitrary way of putting it. A player who's making more outs than every other baseball player in the MLB except for Juan Pierre and Jimmy Rollins is a bad player. Granted, the issue is a bit unfair; few players as bad as Francoeur get 651 ABs. If you're that bad, no manager is going to give you the opportunity to make that many outs. Why? Because outs are bad. And that's exactly what OBP measures: percentage of time reaching base, i.e. not making an out.
But let's ignore that for a while. Let's assume that Francoeur is a player of such historic stature that he's still valuable, despite making that many outs. He could be doing it with power; he had such great power last year, that it helped him overcome his poor plate discipline. Did he do it this year? Francoeur ranks 16th among all major league right fielders in ISO, or Isolated Power (this includes all players with at least 250 PAs). That's not too bad; Jeromy Burnitz and Jason Lane are right in front of him, and Wily Mo Pena and Corey Hart are right behind him. Unfortunately, "not too bad" isn't good enough to make up for his woeful OBP. It may be a surprise to see him so low; after all, his 29 home runs are 3rd among all big-league right fielders! But his 24 doubles are tied for 21st among the same group. He's tied with Trot Nixon and Kevin Mench, and just a hair above Reggie Sanders and Endy Chavez. Generally, in baseball, a large difference between doubles and home runs suggests that the two numbers will even out over time. So Francoeur's low doubles total indicates that he's more likely to hit fewer homers in the future. That's bad news.
Keep in mind, we're only comparing him to right fielders. Right Field is supposed to be an offense-first position. Francoeur isn't a catcher or shortstop who can make up for bad offense with stellar defense. He plays one of the least important defensive positions on the diamond. I know we're reaching for straws here, but is Francoeur at least a great right fielder?
Nope. According to Clay Davenport's Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA), Francoeur ranks 26th among 30 regular major league right fielders at -9 FRAA. (Bill James' Win Shares ranks him higher; 8th of 30). ESPN ranks the 17 major-league right fielders with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title. Among them, Francoeur is next-to-last 16/17 in fielding percentage (.973), 11/17 in Range Factor (2.08), and 8/17 in Zone Rating, a speciailized defensive statistic which assigns "zones" to different areas of the field.
So we've gotten mixed reviews on Francoeur's defense, but the best estimate is that he's an average right fielder; Clay Davenport's FRAA, which I tend to go by, rates him as pretty well below-average.
Oh, and this year, Francoeur stole one base and was caught 6 times.
Joe Carter's legacy is not in danger.
Just to recap, here's the case for Francoeur as the 2006 Ozzie Guillen Award Winner:
- Of the 310 major league players with at least 250 ABs this year, Francoeur ranks 296th in Walk Rate.
- He ranks 299th in Unintentional Walk Rate (rate of drawing walks minus those issued intentionally).
- He ranks 304th in SO:BB ratio.
And just to complete the profile: of all major league right fielders, Francoeur ranks 49th of 64 in VORP at -1.6. This puts him right behind Adam Hyzdu and T.J. Bohn and just barely ahead of Joe Borchard, Chris Aguila, and Matt Cepicky.
Honorable Mention: Ronny Cedeno, Jacque Jones, Preston Wilson, Clint Barmes, Pedro Feliz, Dan Uggla
OZZIE GUILLEN AWARD (AL): Jose Lopez & Rafael Betancourt
I decided to lump these two together, since they are the Mariners' young double-play combo. And how alike they are! Both are reputedly excellent on defense, although it doesn't show up so much in the numbers (-11 FRAA for Betancourt, -18 for Lopez). They're also great choices for this award, judging by their inability to make contact with the ball. And while Jeff Francoeur swats the occasional home run, these two hit a combined 18 homers in over 1000 at-bats. Lopez sets the tone with 26:80 BB:K ratio, while Betancourt rounds it out with his 17:54 mark. Both men notch more than 3 strikeouts per walk, which is a general sign of poor plate discipline. There may have been a better choice than these among my honorable mentions, but the convenience of both men playing as young hopefuls in the Seattle middle infield made them too good to refuse.
Honorable Mention: Craig Wilson, Rocco Baldelli, Robinson Cano, Craig Monroe, Corey Patterson, Ivan Rodriguez, Ben Broussard
HARD-LUCK PITCHER AWARD (NL): Jason Jennings & Aaron Cook
Again, two players on the same team (Colorado) afflicted with the same ailment. It's bad enough all the crap that Rockie pitchers have had to suffer through in the past. Now their teammates can't score enough runs for them? Jennings was probably the better of the two, posting a 3.78 ERA in 212 innings, notching 142 strikeouts. But groundball specialist Cook was almost as effective, managing a 4.23 ERA in 212.2 IP but with a bare 92 strikeouts.
Neither man is near the Cy Young race, but both deserve congratulations for succeeding in poor conditions. But what do they have to show for it in the W-L column?
9-13 for Jennings, 9-15 for Cook.
HARD-LUCK PITCHER AWARD (AL): John Lackey & Kelvim Escobar
Okay, maybe it's a coincidence, but are all of these problems affecting teammates in pairs? Lackey was someone who should end up on the back end of some Cy Young ballots. He posted an excellent 3.56 ERA, going 217.2 innings with a strong 72:190 BB:K ratio. Escobar was the second-best pitcher on the Angel staff, but considering Lackey, that's no insult. His ERA was a fine 3.61, and although he only pitched 189.2 innings, he still worked a solid 50:147 BB:K ratio.
Their reward? For Lackey, 13-11. For Escobar, 11-14. It may only matter to the baseball writers, but then they are the ones with the votes.
THE JIM ROSS "HOSS" AWARD (NL): Bronson Arroyo
Having been spurned from the Red Sox, because they didn't feel he was really good enough to pitch in the AL East, Arroyo took his revenge in Cincinnati. Not only was his team in contention long after Boston was eliminated, but Boston's chief problem was a shortage of starting pitching. Arroyo will be laughing all the way to the bank, as he earned himself at least one big-time free agent deal in 2006. His 14-11 record is misleading; he and Aaron Harang were the two workhorses that the Reds hitched their wagon to. If they hadn't been working with only three wheels (trading away key players Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns) and arguably no one driving (GM Wayne Krivsky, who made the deal), they just might have made it into October. As it was, Arroyo led the league with 240.2 IP, managing an excellent 3.29 ERA and a 61:184 BB:K ratio. This season may not be good news for Arroyo's still-young arm, but it's good enough to earn at least one or two "Oh, my Gods" from good ol' J.R.
Close 2nd place: Salomon Torres
THE JIM ROSS "HOSS" AWARD (AL): Johan Santana
I guess it's not fair to give a "specialty" award to someone who's already won a major award. But Santana earned it. He led the American League in innings pitched while earning himself the pitcher's Triple Crown: he led the league in strikeouts (245) and ERA (2.77) while tying for the league lead in wins (19, with Chien-Ming Wang). He did all of this with a team that, during the September stretch run, had nothing else but him in the starting rotation and a whole lot riding on it. Santana delivered again, not that anyone's surprised.
THE EYE-POPPER AWARD (NL): Bill Hall's 35 HR
I guess I should give this award to Ryan Howard's 58 homers, but that was at least somewhat expected. But while we all knew that Bill Hall had power, I guess we just never thought he make it this far in a full season. Hall also struck out 162 times and while he's a passable shortstop, he really shouldn't hold the role full-time. I've heard talk that they may turn him into an outfielder. If so, well, at least they've found one of the few middle infielders who hits like one.
THE EYE-POPPER AWARD (AL): Jonathan Papelbon's 0.92 ERA
Yes, Papelbon didn't pitch a full season, but his 68.1 IP are actually more than a lot of closers would call a "full season." Of AL closers that spent the whole season in the role, Papelbon outpitched three of them, and was within 5 innings of all but two. Dennis Eckersley posted a 0.61 ERA in a year where the AL ERA was 3.72, and he threw only 5 innings more than Papelbon. Papelbon's 0.92 ERA came in a league with a 4.56 ERA. That gives us some idea of what we're talking about here with young Jonathan Papelbon.
THE GREATEST SEASON NO ONE NOTICED (NL): Miguel Cabrera
I mentioned this in my MVP comments, but I'll say it again: 339/430/568 batting line in a pitcher's park, passable defense at third base, key contributor on a contending team. He's also young and has been doing this for a couple of years. Come on, give the guy some "props," (as they say on the street).
Honorable Mention: Lance Berkman, Garrett Atkins, Matt Holliday
THE GREATEST SEASON NO ONE NOTICED (AL): Manny Ramirez
I would have given this award to Carlos Guillen, but his postseason exposure has gotten him some well-deserved credit. Instead, it goes to Manny. How can anyone possibly hit 321/439/619 and not get the papers at least a little excited about him? It's because Manny's off-field personality "issues" get a lot more attention. And besides, Manny's literally been doing this for years. He's quietly had one amazing offensive season after another. If he had Derek Jeter's personality, he would have already been bronzed.
Honorable Mention: Curt Schilling, C.C. Sabathia
THE OVERRATED AWARD -- NL (the player, not the award itself): Jeff Francoeur
We've been over this already; see above.
Honorable Mention: Nomar Garciaparra, Jimmy Rollins, Juan Pierre, Jason Isringhausen, David Eckstein
THE OVERRATED AWARD -- al (the player, not the award itself): Bobby Jenks
Yes, Jenks is a fine closer, no question. But to say that he's one of the best closers in baseball? No dice -- at least not yet. Jenks this year notched 41 saves (in 45 chances) which is, of course, all anyone notices about relief pitchers. But Jenks' ERA was 4.00. Not bad, but compared to other AL closers, it actually is bad. Of all AL closers who spent the full season in the role, only Ambiorix Burgos of Kansas City posted a higher mark. So Jenks ranks 11th of 12 in that department.
Jenks doesn't give up a lot of homers (5) and does get his fair share of strikeouts (80 in 69.2 IP). But his 31 walks are rather high, nearly one walk every two innings. Among the 12 aforementioned "full-season" closers, Jenks ranks 8th in WXRL, at 3.939. This is actually worse than it appears, since Jenks, with 45 save opportunities had many more chances than most at pitching in the 9th inning, the most important one.
Bobby Jenks is not a bad closer. But think again before you start putting him on the same list as Mariano Rivera, B.J. Ryan, Billy Wagner, Trevor Hoffman, Joe Nathan, and Francisco Rodriguez.
That's all I have in terms of awards. There's still some post-season analysis I have to do before I fling myself full-fledge into the world of Trevor Hoffman, but I'll keep you updated. And hopefully, none of my entries will be quite as long as this one.
For the results of my 2005 Awards, go to this page and scroll down near the bottom.
Honorable Mention: Justin Morneau, Sean Casey, Mark Loretta, the Minnesota "Piranhas", Gary Matthews, Jr.,