Wednesday, August 27, 2008

MLB Playoffs 2.0

I think the baseball playoff system is not the greatest because sometimes worse teams end up in the playoffs. This year and 2006 are the best examples of this. In 2006 three teams in the AL Central had won 90 or more games while only two made the playoffs. Three teams in the AL East had 86 or more wins yet only the division winner made it to the playoffs and two teams in the AL West won 89 or more games but only the division winning Oakland "We can't win in the playoffs anyways" Athletics mad it. While if you look at the NL teams making the playoffs, it was the Mets with 97 wins and then two NL West team with 88 wins and the Cardinals with the least wins(the worst record, the lowest winning percentage, you name it) to ever make it into the playoffs with only 83 wins. As you can see not only did a team with 83 wins make it to the playoffs but what is unfair about it is the fact that the Phillies(I can't believe that I'm about to write this) who had 85 wins didn't make the playoffs. Other problems with these playoffs had the Padres with 88 wins being the second seed in the playoffs and that seven AL team had the same or better records than all of the NL playoff teams except for the Mets who tied with the Yankees for best record in the MLB.

This year there are several excellent playoff races going on in the AL and NL East, the AL and NL Central and the AL and NL Wild Card. Altogether there are 16 teams competing for playoff spots in the MLB while only 10 of those 16 teams are more than just 5 games over .500, that's sad. If the playoffs had a better system these bad teams would already be eliminated but since there are 2 great teams in the NL East and 3 superb teams in the NL Central and only three of them can make it, and even though all five are better than all the teams in the West, two of the East/Central group won't make it while one team from the West automatically earns a playoff berth which I think is just unfair. So I'm suggesting two things: a) The playoff seeding needs amending and b) the competitive balance between the two leagues and the six divisions are very disproportionate.

Instead of the current playoff seeding system I've developed a new one which has all MLB teams split up into two leagues and the four teams with the most wins from each league advance to the playoffs. This way everyone has the same schedule and therefore the real best four best teams from each league make it to the playoffs. The other issue though is the fact that the AL has so many more talented teams that the NL. If you look at the AL, in the East you have the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees. In the Central you have the whole division to worry about because the Indians will be back next year, the Twins are always good because of superb player development, the White Sox have terrific personnel for the upcoming season with plenty room on their budget for trades and free agents. The Royals are a team on the rise who I believe will be very good next year and the Tigers who might be the worst team in this superb division even after making in to the World Series just two years ago. The AL West has the Angels who might decline a bit next year because of key players leaving in free agency. There is the Oakland A's who only have Mark Ellis(an impending free agent), Eric Chavez(an impending nothing) and Huston Street left to trade away before they've completed trading away every single player from their 2006 AL West championship season in an effort to rebuild. The Rangers have great hitting and have a good farm system but lack the pitching to win this division and the Mariners are just pathetic.

This makes 10 good teams in the AL competing for 4 spots while the NL has the Mets, Phillies, Cubs and Brewers along with maybe the D-Backs. Only the Cubs and Brewers are doing very well this season so to me it just makes sense to pin all the second place AL teams against the likes of the Mets, Phillies, D-Backs, etc.(the underachieving top NL teams) This is why I think the Rays, the Twins and the Rangers should be moved over to the NL with the Phillies, Astros and the Rockies shifting over to the AL. The Rays-Phillies swap sends the Phillies over to the AL to really see what they're made out of, while also ending a long unsuccessful run in the NL. The Phillies are essentially an AL team because they don't steal many bases and they have a band-box for a stadium along with many power(good) hitters and therefore they play for the three-run homer. The Rays are a new team and can easily be shifted over to the NL. The Twins-Astros swap makes sense because they are both newish teams and the Twins are better than the Astros further leveling the playing field. Lastly you have the Rangers-Rockies swap, they are both new and both play in hitter's parks. I think the Rangers would benefit immensely by getting away from the A's and Angels. The Rockies could use a new league after only making the playoffs once(last year) in their whole existence.

With this shakeup you level the playing field between the AL and NL meaning more exciting World Series' and you also make it easier for good teams to make it to the playoffs while also making the playoffs more exciting. The top four teams from each league no matter where they're from make the playoffs and therefore you're always sending your best teams out in the playoffs which then means that whichever teams win in the playoffs can actually be called the better team and not only lucky(like the '06 Cardinals who snuck into the playoffs and luck led them to a World Series ring).

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Theo Epstein a Genius!

What makes a great GM? Is it his acquisitions, his maneuvering, player development or is it simply being at the helm of a great world championship team? This is why Theo Epstein is a genius. He not only has made spectacular acquisitions(trading prospects that never panned out for Curt Schilling) or has maneuvered creatively(picking up David Ortiz from the waiver wire) or has been at the helm of a fantastic, World Championship winning ballclub but has done all, that is why Theo Epstein is a genius.

Theo Epstein is a Yale graduate and has a degree in law from the San Diego School of Law. Theo started off in the Orioles organization but soon after moved over to the Padres. While with the Padres Theo developed as one of the most intelligent young executives in the MLB. In 2002 Larry Lucchino was hired away from the Padres by the Red Sox to be their new CEO. He brought Theo Epstein with him to be an Assistant GM in Boston. Before the 2003 season Theo Epstein was assigned the project of hiring a new GM, so he picked Billy Beane. When the deal was all but done(since Billy was in the middle of his contract, the Sox had to give the A's compensation to the likes of a fat AAA kid who couldn't play defense...I mean Kevin Youkilis) Mr. Beane backed out and after the lengthy process of searching for a new GM, the top three in the Red Sox organization, John Henry(Owner), Tom Werner(Chairman) and Larry Lucchino(CEO) decided to go with the 28 year old Jew, Theo Epstein.

Theo Epstein then accomplished what no GM has accomplished since John Hart and the Indians in the 90's. He built a winning ballclub in one years time while also building a top farm system for a lot of future success which is unheard of. This feat happens once a decade at most. In his second year the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years and another world championship three years later. The first time they won it all, Theo Epstein built a team through veteran pieces offseason trades and free agent signings. The second time the Red Sox won the World Series by having proven veterans from their 2004 championship team and also a variety of homegrown talent. Lets take a look at the Red Sox team from 2004 and compare it to their 2007 team.

C:Jason Varitek/Jason Varitek(traded for by Dan Duquette along with Derek Lowe **)
1B:Kevin Millar(acquired in a midseason deal with the Marlins for cash)/Kevin Youkilis(homegrown)
2B:Mark Bellhorn(signed cheaply in the offseason)/Dustin Pedroia(homegrown)
3B:Bill Mueller(signed cheaply in the offseason)/Mike Lowell(acquired in trade with Josh Beckett for Anibal Sanchez, Hanley Ramirez*)
SS:Orlando Cabrera(acquired in the genius Nomar trade)/Julio Lugo(bad free agent signing)
LF:Manny Ramirez/Manny Ramirez(signed megadeal in 1998)
CF:Johnny Damon(signed pre-Epstein)/Jacoby Ellsbury(homegrown)
RF:Trot Nixon(homegrown)/JD Drew(signed expensively)
DH:David Ortiz/David Ortiz(picked up off waivers at the beginning of the 2003 season)
SP1:Pedro Martinez(traded for by Dan Duquette)/Josh Beckett(*)
SP2:Curt Schilling/Curt Schilling(Red Sox traded a boatload of prospects which "just happened" to never pan out for the ace)
SP3:Derek Lowe(**)/Daisuke Matsuzaka(signed megadeal before the 2007 season)
SP4:Tim Wakefield/Tim Wakefield(signed by Dan Duquette)
SP5:Bronson Arroyo(was Epstein's first move, a waiver wire pickup)/Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz(homegrown)
CL:Keith Foulke(free agent signing)/Jon Papelbon(homegrown)
SM:Mike Timlin, Scott Williamson(acquired cheaply in trades)/Hideki Okajima(signed for league minimum in the offseason), Manny Delcarmen(homegrown)

As you can see the first team that Epstein assembled was a group of fantastic pitchers and a bunch of hitters who were brought in for basically nothing, were between replacement level and below average(except for Varitek, Manny and Caveman) and all performed extremely well. The second championship team were basically a few of the veterans from the 2004 team and a bunch of homegrown, extremely talented players. They have now replaced Lugo with another homegrown player, Jed Lowrie, and have also replaced Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield along with adding another top setup man to the bullpen with homegrown talent and they still have one of the top farm systems in the league.

Theo Epstein drafts all the expensive and talented players that fall in the draft because of salary worries(a common happening that leads to top draft picks falling to the rich teams because of seeking to much money for the poorer teams to pay) and also uses every draft pick strategically. He knows his farm system very well and therefore makes excellent trades, i.e. the Curt Schilling trade, he knew his system very well and therefore traded all the top prospects he either didn't like(didn't fit his mold) had no use for them or he knew that they would never pan out. Theo signs a lot of Japanese and Hispanic players because he knows that the more you sign the higher the chances of a few of them turning out to be good are, hence Hideki Okajima. Theo also has a certain mold for each player, hard nosed, tough, smart, plays defense well and gets on base. This mold works extremely well especially in the situation he was given, a small ballpark meaning more homers for players with less power and an already talented pitching core to build around. He realized that this kind of talent is easier to come by in drafts and free agency than the power, speed combination and therefore payed next to nothing for these types of players(Mueller, Millar, Bellhorn and Cabrera) for the 2004 season while simultaneously drafting the same exact types of players in the draft. The reason why he felt compelled to build through the draft and develop his farm system instead of just signing new free agents every year is that young players get injured less often and have a longer career in front of them than free agents do and also you can have many more minor leaguers than major leaguers and therefore there's a higher percentage of good players coming out of your farm system. Epstein has always payed a lot for pitching i.e. Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke and more recently with Josh Beckett and Dice-K because great pitching and great fielding along with getting on base wins pennants. As I mentioned in a previous post, the most causative in-season stats to World Series outcome are FRAA(the runs your defense has saved throughout the season over an average defense), WXRL(a stat that measures how many runs a reliever saves over a replacement level player) and K Rate(the percentage of times a pitcher strikes out a batter per nine innings). Theo Epstein constantly puts his team in the top five of all of these stats.

The one thing that really makes Theo Epstein the greatest in my mind is how he always manages to put his team in the best position to succeed from luck(the "secret sauce" of every World Champion). When a GM assembles a great team they don't always win the World Series(look at 2001-2005 Yankees) let alone make it to the playoffs(look at 2007 Mets) and this is because they're missing the final component to a Championship team, the luck. What Epstein does is he plays a game of risk-reward where things like losing in the eleventh inning of game seven in the Championship Series occur but things like coming from behind to win the World Series, down three games to none and losing in game four in the ninth inning of the ALCS happen also. In 2003 one of the most unlucky things happened to the Red Sox, in '04 they won the World Series, in '05 they lost in the playoffs and in '06 they didn't even make the playoffs before winning it all again last year. How does Theo put his team in these extreme risk-reward positions where most of the time the Red Sox get a boatload of luck and win the World Series? By making crazy moves, acquisitions and decisions. Like when he traded Nomar coming off a season where he hit .370 for an average SS in Orlando Cabrera(2004), depending on a lot of below average players to play like ALL-STARS(2004, 2005), depending on a couple Japanese stars and a ton of unproven rookies to fill out a team(2007) and finally trading Manny Ramirez for an inferior left fielder in Jason Bay. This kind of work is what separates the men from the boys in baseball front offices.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Solutions and Non-Solutions for Mets Bullpen

Growing more and more likely is that the Mets will be without their All-Star closer, Billy Wagner, for the rest of this season(the good news is Ryan Church is back). So now a weak Mets bullpen gets even weaker with the loss of their best bullpen pitcher. So what does Jerry Manuel do? He goes and tells the media that the Mets are thinking of moving one of their starters to the pen. This idea shows that Omar is trying to be creative but also shows his lack of knowledge. How would it help to send e.a John Maine to the bullpen and have his spot in the rotation taken by Brian Stokes or Nelson Figueroa? When John Maine starts he shuts down the opposition for 5-7 innings and when one of Stokes, Figueroa start they let up 3-4 runs per 4-6 innings. First off this means that the bullpen would be worked harder every fifth day, and second the game would already be lost for the Mets before the bullpen even enters the game meaning the bullpen wouldn't need to blow it in order for the Mets to loose. With the Mets current rotation they have one of the top three in the MLB and besides John Maine who's been coming back slowly after a stint on the DL, every starter's last two times around each of them have gone at least 7 innings. The Mets bullpen problems really stem from mismanagement of he bullpen and also not having a long reliever(someone who can come into a blowout and finish the game, basically a 6th starter). Maybe they could also use another "crossover" guy like Jerry Manuel says.

The ways that Manuel misuses his bullpen are as follows: He uses to many guys as specialists(come into games, face one batter and leave), and although he's better than Randolph was he doesn't always pick the ideal spots for his bullpen(a key ability and a must for managers). Pedro Feliciano used to pitch full innings but since the beginning of last year has only pitched as a lefty specialist. This gives the Mets three specialists, two lefties and a righty which is way too many. He also doesn't realize that Heilman works in patterns pitching in two straight games effectively and then in the third game giving up 3-5 runs, this is why his ERA is so high. Another thing is that Manuel hasn't made it easier on his bullpen by subbing defensive replacements late in games for the likes of Damion Easley, Carlos Delgado and Fernando Tatis all better known for their hitting(a nice way of saying that they're crappy defensive players) and it's not like he doesn't have replacement options because he does in Endy Chavez, Argenis Reyes and Nick Evans all superb defensive players.

Here are my proposed solutions:
a) Bring up Jon Niese(AAA starter, top pitching prospect) who has a wicked curveball and a plus fastball(93-95 with movement) and put him in the bullpen as a setup man. This would be like what the Yankees did with Joba last year. Niese is about to reach the max innings in the minors so by putting him in the pen the Mets would also be limiting his innings. The reason this would work over moving Maine into the bullpen and Niese into the rotation is because it's harder for batters to face pitchers with the kind of stuff Niese has(hard curve and fastball combination) the first few times around. Hitters first need to see him a couple of times and then adjust to his pitches and by putting him into the bullpen the Mets would be limiting the amount of times that batters all over the league see him pitch hence utilizing his ability most effectively(Omar would never be able to think this up). This takes care of the eighth/ninth inning man for the Mets.

b) Oliver Perez is the Mets most durable pitcher therefore they should use him more, especially because of the state of the Mets bullpen. Meaning that he should pitch around eight innings every outing and on the days that he's supposed to have a bullpen session instead of throwing in the bullpen Manuel should put him into pitch the last inning or two. This way you maximize his performance while also saving some games and earning a few victories for the Mets

c) Look around the waiver wire for interesting targets and try to acquire a few, one will probably pan out.

This is what Omar did: He brought up Brian Stokes to be their long reliever and he has showed that he can be effective. He traded Anderson Hernandez to the Nats for Luis Ayala(a former top setup man blew his arm out in the spring of '05 and hasn't been the same since) and signed Al Reyes(a 38 year old former closer) to a minor league deal. The Luis Ayala deal was a great one since Anderson Hernandez can't hit and Luis Ayala could possibly return to form while pitching for a contender and with his former catcher Brian Schneider. Ayala's easily capable of being the 8th inning man for the Mets and possibly even their closer and he can get both lefties and righties out. Al Reyes barely has anything left in the tank and was only signed as an insurance policy. Look for him to come up a few days before September 1st so he could be eligible for postseason play. So Minaya listened to advice number three and will also call Jon Niese up during September callups, lets see how he's used.

Why Bud Selig is right for Instituting Instant Replay in The MLB

If you look at baseball and what makes it so unique and different from every other sport is that it relies so heavily on statistics. What makes baseball rely so heavily on stats is that it's easier to quantify than other sports for two reasons: A) there is a set amount of chances each team has(27 outs in 9 innings) and they're not bound by time and B) The game is much easier to follow because there is less actual action happening in ball games. I want to focus on the latter. Look at the new generation of statistics, they disregard baseball statistical mainstays like RBI's, ERA and Errors. The reason for this is that there is a human factor involved with each of these statistics. RBI's depends on the amount of runners that are on base when you come to bat, ERA depends on Errors and Errors are decided by men keeping score of the games and are totally not mathematical. This means that Errors are imprecise which means ERA is also imprecise. For example Jose Reyes has 14 Errors on the season but Carlos Pena only has one, does that mean Carlos Pena is a better fielder? Of course not. If you're as fast as Reyes you get to many more balls and therefore commit more Errors, since when is it a crime to cover a lot of ground?

What does this have to do with Instant Replay? The MLB is doing to the game of baseball what smart mathematicians did to its stats 20 years ago, improving the system in order make it more precise and exact. Errors are one man's opinion and so are many homers/foul balls, so by adding Instant Replay to the game of baseball The MLB is making opinion into fact just like the statisticians did to the scouts, they made scouts' opinions take the back seat to their facts, statistics. The new Instant Replay of homers/foul balls rule is a new breakthrough in baseball in which all the purists are saying is awful just like when Bill James came out with his new extremely advanced and radical stats in the 1980's. So I hope you realize that without these new stats baseball wouldn't be the same as it is today it would still be the same old sport run by guys who are happy with 1 out of 65 success rate (the results of old time drafts and player development) and only rely on opinion and not fact. Same too in 20 years we'll be looking back and saying how great of an addition this was and how would baseball have been able to survive without it.