Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mariners fans, look out for Josh Bard

A seemingly innocuous acquisition of lefthanded journeyman catcher Josh Bard by the Seattle Mariners seems like little more than a depth move, as Bard's career 259/326/389 and caught stealing percentage of 20% indicates that he's as marginal as the other current Mariners options at catcher (all-defense Rob Johnson and prospect Adam Moore, who may need a bit more time in AAA).

But Bard's history masks an ability that exceeds his numbers, and a friendlier situation in Seattle may allow him to break out in the likely event that Johnson's surgically repaired hip and wrist haven't healed and Moore isn't quite ready to play regularly at the MLB level.

First point: 3+ seasons in pitcher friendly home parks may have disguised Bard's potential as a useful hitter. Bard posted decent line drive rates over the last three seasons:

2009: 18.3%
2008: 21.6%
2007: 18.7%

Bard's Groundball rates, good as groundballs tend to go for hits more often than flyballs (though flyballs obv lead to more XBHs), also look good.

GB rates:
2009: 51.8%
2008: 47.1%
2007: 40.0%

Basically, he's clearly getting on top of the ball like a good hitter and putting the ball in play with consistent, strong contact. Given averages on each different type of ball in play, here are composite numbers for 2007-2009 with walks and strikeouts included based on my method that uses batted ball rates to create a composite line that reflects how said player did.

2009: 267/328/431
2008: 301/368/453
2007: 287/370/440

Bard played 2007-2008 in San Diego, which has one of the most pitcher-friendly offense-depressing environments in MLB, and shared a division with the Dodgers (who play in pitcher friendly Chavez Ravine) and Giants (pitcher friendly AT&T Park). He played 2009 in Washington DC, which has a new park that has shown to be neutral at best but trends slightly in favor of pitching, and in an NL East with a pitcher friendly park (Landshark Stadium in FLA) and two parks that trend towards the pitcher (Turner Field in ATL and Citi Field in Queens, NY). They also play an interleague rival series with the Mariners in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field.

Bard's actual stats:

2007: 285/364/404 (443 Plate Appearances), 235/341/344 at home
2008: 202/279/270 (198 PA), 177/261/190 at home
2009: 230/293/361 (301 PA), 243/304/392 at home

The park thing is by no means a dealbreaker. Note that in 2007, the only season where he seized most of the playing time, he posted decent numbers despite playing in San Diego (and the listed home splits tell the story). Partial playing time as well as nagging injuries may have also prevented him from keeping his rhythm with his swing, which certainly doesn't help.

The hitting stats from the last two years aren't reflective of what Bard can bring to the table as a hitter. His walk rate per PA has never dropped below a respectable 8% and has typically stuck closer to 9-10%. His K rates never go above 17% (whiffers usually hit the 24-26% mark), so he still makes consistent contact. His career isolated power of .130 indicates he hasn't lost any power, and the batted ball splits indicate he consistently gets on top of the ball. Add in Safeco's short-ish RF porch which favors Bard's switch hitting ability when lefthanded, and it's possible Bard's numbers could see a spike in Seattle in 2009.

But then there's Bard's low CS% of 20%. The baseline for success is 25-30%. Catch more than that, and you're containing baserunners. Catch less than that and they're gaining an edge on you.

Is that Bard's fault? History indicates not. With his first team, Cleveland, Bard posted some decent CS numbers: 37.1% over his 3+ seasons with the Indians. It's only after he began his brief ill-fated stint in Boston as knuckleballer Tim Wakefield's personal catcher than things tumbled. Knuckleballers are easy to run on and difficult to catch for in general and Bard allowed 12 of 13 runners to steal. But the problem continued when he ended up in San Diego:


2006: 20%
2007: 8%
2008: 16%

What happened to Josh Bard's arm? The San Diego Padres rotation, that's what.

Here are career stolen base allowance rates for key Padres SPs that Bard worked with (remember, you want a number lower than 70%):

Jake Peavy: 82%
Greg Maddux: 76%
Chris Young: 91% (Fun fact: All 44 stolen base attempts against him in 2007 were successful)
Justin Germano: 84%
David Wells: 69%
Randy Wolf: 60%
Cha Seung Baek: 58%
Josh Banks: 81%

Of that group, only Wells, Wolf and Baek posted good career numbers, and Wells and Wolf spent much of their careers somewhere else. Also, Bard only caught full time with the Pads for about 1838.2 innings. There are about 1450 innings in a typical regular season, and the careers of those first four pitchers span well past a full season.

Go figure that when Bard played for the Nationals in 2009, his CS% went up to 27%. Also, Bard wasn't the only Pads catcher that struggled to throw out baserunners: Young catcher Nick Hundley's career CS percentage is 22%, and all 138 of his career games have come with the Pads.

Connect the dots. I don't think Josh Bard's arm was the problem with the Padres SB-allowance situation as much as the tendency of his SPs to either work with slower, more exploitable windups or work under managerial and coaching direction that de-emphasized controlling the running game. Which exactly it was, we don't know, but Bard was clearly in a situation with San Diego where he didn't have the chance to gun down runners that he would have on a typical MLB team.

Bard's got a better arm than the numbers indicate. And I have a feeling Z and his crew see this as well. This doesn't look like more than a depth acquisition, but don't be surprised if Bard's not only on the 2010 Opening Day Seattle Mariners roster, but he becomes the regular catcher and posts a breakout season, while helping the Mariners address their issues with containing opposing baserunners.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ron Artest fell down the stairs

Using an alibi stereotypically reserved for domestic abuse victims, Ron Artest reportedly injured his head and left elbow in a fall down the stairs of his Los Angeles home. After stitches and a CT scan, he was released from the hospital, but missed tonight's Lakers game.

Now, the last time I can recall a "fall down the stairs" impacting a professional athlete, both stories were cover ups for some unflattering reality.

- Former Mariners closer Kaz Sasaki's fall down the stairs and subsequent rib injury "with some luggage" turned out to be something different: The underground rumor indicated it was a domestic dispute gone wrong but popular reports indicated he was practicing pro wrestling maneuvers with friends while drinking.

- Rockies infielder Clint Barmes' fall down some stairs "with some groceries" (which at some point bizarrely changed to a fall "with some venison") turned out to be cover for an ATV accident.

The funny thing is, despite my typically jaded nature, I actually believe Testy. I can buy that he just took a tumble and hurt himself, especially with minimal leaks indicating the contrary. But go figure there have been enough fishy stories behind off-the-field injuries that our first instinct as a culture is to wonder what actually happened.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Three things about misgivings with the Brandon Morrow trade

A response to USSM's misgivings on the Mariners trade of Brandon Morrow to Toronto for fireballing reliever Brandon League and minor league slugger Yohermyn Chavez (and I single them out since they tend to speak for a larger audience of analysts and readers):

Now, three points:

1. "No one knows how Brandon Morrow is going to develop." Yes, and you could say that about every other prospect in the history of MLB player development. Some players have better chances than others, and at this point, Brandon Morrow's been jerked around so much, fallen into enough negative habits (or moreso falling further into existing negative habits) etc. that his chances of success are somewhat lower than other pitchers his age with his makeup, let alone lower than other supposed top pitching prospects with a good heater. To say that the trade isn't kosher because of the non-zero chance that Brandon Morrow may succeed is to say that every trade you've ever made of a prospect for a more established player with a lower ceiling (like Brandon League) isn't kosher. Making such a deal is a neat phenomenon called "risk". You take the risk that Morrow may self actualize despite every flaw he's ever shown you and despite your flaws (and the resulting setbacks) in developing him.

Every deal is a bet that the player(s) you acquire will help you more than the player(s) you deal away will help another team. Every deal. The Mariners took the same risk with Tyson Gillies, Phillippe Aumont and Juan Carlos Ramirez in thinking Cliff Lee and the compensation we get when he walks after next year will help us more. If you're okay with making trades, you have to accept that you don't know if the player you're dealing away is going to turn out great or not. That's part of the package.

2. Hey, wait a minute Dave, didn't you already give a few reasons why Morrow's chances at greatness were dim, expressing doubt on several occasions like this one?

By the way, for those interested, here’s the all-time list of pitchers who accumulated at least 150 innings before age 25 and had a BB/9 of 5.5 or higher at that point in their career. Morrow’s is 5.83 right now, by the way.

61 pitchers on the list. The successes – Nolan Ryan, Johnny Van Der Meer, Lefty Grove, and J.R. Richard if you ignore the fact that his career was over at age 30.

That’s it. There are a bunch of Bobby Witt/Jason Bere/Seth McClung/Daniel Cabrera types, who just never figured it out.

4 out of 60. Do you like those odds?

Why handwring at all about what history shows us is roughly a 15 to 1 longshot, especially a player that you on several occasions have shown is becoming more and more of a longshot to regularly contribute as a starting pitcher?

Is it because we burned the #5 pick in the 2006 draft on him, and there's a perceived need to maximize the return on a bad investment (and it was: Tim Lincecum, Andrew Miller, Clayton Kershaw and a ton of other better players were on the board)? Look, the pick is gone. We're not getting it back. Morrow's value in the present is not what it was in June 2006. You ought to evaluate him on what he is now, on the chances of the present player's success as a big league pitcher... not the chances of a top 10 draft pick at the time the player is picked.

The team blew it with Morrow's development (and to be fair Dave called that). It's not Z's fault that the current product is a 25 year old, fairly flawed 1.5 pitch pitcher with poor control that, three years later, still has a long way to go before he can be even a consistent starter, let alone a good one, let alone a great one.

3. All that said, pretty much this entire saga of angst can be pinpointed to the idea that Brandon Morrow is a valuable player that can command a Type A player's sort of return. But even Dave himself pointed out that Morrow is a lot closer to Daniel Cabrera or Seth McClung than Roy Halladay or Tim Lincecum or even John Danks. He might have had that sort of potential (allegedly) in 2006, but in 2009 he's just an overthrowing fireballer with little command of any of his pitches, not much of a secondary pitch selection, diabetes, and hints of an attitude to boot.

And it's tough to fathom that any of the other 29 MLB general managers share such an inflated sentiment of Brandon Morrow's abilities, and are willing or able (I'm sure the Astros or Royals love him but what could they possibly send the Mariners of value, let alone be willing to send?) to dispense a greater return than Brandon League and Yohermyn Chavez. Maybe Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik didn't so much think lightly of Brandon Morrow (as many including Dave Cameron speculate) as he and his front office team did their research and realized that this was the balance between the value Brandon Morrow had, and the value they were able to get another team to dispense in return (because remember, not every team is willing to deal for Morrow, nor does every team have enough in their organization they're willing or able to offer in return).

There's a general trend, not necessarily in analysis circles as much as in general among informed fans, towards valuing a top domestic MLB draft pick based on where he was selected in the draft, rather than what he actually is as a player. Living in the past is what leads you to wish it was 1995 again and re-sign a broken down 39 year old DH with knee problems after an injury plagued 214/324/411 season.

Here are all the #5 overall picks in the history of the June amateur draft, dating back to 1965, 45 years of picks. 24 were pitchers. 14 made it to the Majors (though to be fair Matthew Hobgood was just drafted this year and needs time). Of those 14, only nine pitched in more than 30 games (a benchmark selected because starters make roughly 30 starts in a single season, eliminating the guys with the briefest of stays). And one of those nine, Kurt Miller, only pitched in 44 career MLB games before hanging it up.

Only two of the remaining eight pitchers won more than 100 career games: Jack McDowell and Doc Gooden. Jack was an effective veteran forgotten to the annals of time (and thanks for serving up The Double, Jack ;P ), and Doc might have been greater if he didn't love the moon powder. Of the career relievers with more than 100 appearances (Morrow, journeyman Kent Mercker, Andy Hawkins (famous for throwing a no-hitter for a crappy Yankees team and still losing that game 4-0) and failed Padres starter Bob Owchinko of the 1970's), only Mercker could say he was anything better than a fungible, mediocre reliever, and only because he pitched during the Roids Era when league ERAs spiked across the board. None of them were shutdown closers: Mercker leads them all with 25 career saves in 18 seasons. None of them were shutdown anything: Only Morrow posted a career ERA under 4.00, and aside from Mercker the others pitched during an era where the average pitcher could run an ERA in the 3's.

So we're not talking about a draft pick position that produces pitching greatness. Only two of the 24 selected in history at that spot turned out being anything resembling great over their careers. And all due respect, but I don't consider McDowell or Gooden anything close to Hall of Fame material. Maybe All Stars once or twice in their best years, but certainly not HOFers. So to think you're pissing away gold with Morrow because of the draft pick investment made in him isn't really fair. You're talking about what history's shown us to be no less than a 12 to 1 shot.

Whether or not the odds are on a #5 pick's side... where Morrow was drafted in the past is immaterial in the present. Bill Bavasi blew the money on the signing bonus and he burned the pick. That's gone. Winning is about focusing on what you have in the present and how it can help you in the future, or how acquisitions can help you in the future. It is not about focusing on the past, except to look at a player's track record to help assess said present and future.

Now back to the present. In June 2006, Brandon Morrow was one of the top 10-20 amateur players in college baseball, out of Cal (though even then he never made more than 14 starts in an NCAA season). Today, he is a back-end starter, maybe (with some work), and definitely a functional reliever with a hot fastball that can sit 93-95 when starting and can hit 101 when relieving (though granted the latter number comes from Morrow rearing back and throwing the ball as hard as he can at the plate instead of actually pitching).

As far as I'm concerned, we're sending away Matt Thornton or Daniel Cabrera, and we got back a young, halfway decent reliever with similar problems and a talented but undisciplined 20 year old hitter that might be somebody if he can learn to take a pitch.

All that said, if Brandon Morrow gives the Blue Jays a bunch of 180-200 inning seasons, cuts down on his walks, learns to command three pitches, wins 15 games a year and becomes an effective regular in that Jays rotation or any rotation over an uninterrupted 7-10 year period, without any serious or recurring health issues, I will frankly be shocked.

A bonus item: Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik may say publically this deal had nothing to do with any notion of "completing" the Halladay/Lee and you may believe him, but public figures say things to the public all the time that turns out not to be true. If you seriously trust the word of a public statement, you are either gullible or showing a patronizingly willful ignorance. To be fair, I don't think Dave really does think this but is simply saying it to maintain good graces: At this point, with the relationship he's developed with the Mariners front office (which BTW do read USSM regularly), I think Dave realizes he has to make political statements on his blog like 'I believe everything our GM says to the media' and keep his disagreements penned in to the given surface logic of the personnel decisions, in order to not piss off the front office and risk losing his connections. Among other reasons, as point #1 indicated Dave isn't a big fan of taking risks, and he has the advantage of knowing his loyal-to-a-fault readership will never call him on it.

All that said, the truth as usual is probably somewhere in the middle: Z and Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos may have contacted each other during the Halladay/Lee negotiations and agreed to shake on the Halladay/Lee deal provided this separate deal. Because otherwise, why the hell would the Jays send off their no-doubt franchise player for three good but not great prospects? I don't know much about Alex Anthopoulos but I'm pretty sure he's not that stupid. Z and Anthopoulos making this deal themselves was probably what it took to get Anthopoulos to agree to the Halladay/Lee deal that gave the M's Cliff Lee, and I'm sure Z knew this when negotiating the Morrow deal.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The real question behind Favregate Part Umpteen

Never mind the indemnity of Brett Favre being a bitch in the Vikings loss to Carolina and refusing to let Vikings coach Brad Childress bench him with the Vikings leading the Panthers 7-6 and then mincing his words with the media about the matter after the game.

Here's my big question: Why in the blue hell would Brad Childress willingly pull one of the NFL's best quarterbacks and put the meek Tavaris Jackson or turnover machine Sage Rosenfels under center... in a tight game with playoff implications, let alone do so because of worries about his QB not being able to handle an aggressive pass rush when his backup QBs would still get killed by said Panthers pass rush in said game?

Why, amidst turning Brett Favre into a pariah for his bitching and moaning, are we not discussing the nonsense of Childress even considering a move that would toss the team's chances of winning the game into a garbage can in the first place? Does he not realize that every QB faces aggressive pass rushes and most of the time they walk away with little more than the same bumps and bruises they finish every game with? Why, even in the interest of protecting your QB, would you even consider pulling your QB? What, is max protection blocking and running the football with your two star tailbacks as much as possible too difficult to do instead?

What's really amazing is that Childress actually considered doing this in two other games. At that point, I can't even blame Favre for going, "You know what? That's stupid. I'm not sitting down." I don't even think it's selfishness as much as it's Favre realizing that Childress is punting away the ballgame and puts his foot down for the best interests of the team. It's a case of being a bitch for the good of the team as they tried (unfortunately in vain it seems) to wrestle home field from the Saints after their door-opening loss to Dallas.

Yeah, the Vikings lost 26-7 Sunday night. You think that result would have been better with Tavaris Jackson throwing nothing but floating screen passes and tiptoeing into sacks in the 2nd half? Hell, most QBs would see Julius Peppers rushing in untouched that many times, piss themselves (literally) and just hand him the football. Childress should consider himself so lucky he's got a QB who, even at 40, can take hit after hit from that roider and still run the offense... instead of looking for a reason to bench him.

As if we needed any more reasons to question Brad Childress' ability to successfully coach the Vikings. Don't let 11-3 fool you. Any dumbass coach can win 11 games with one of the best offensive lines, running games, defense and pass rush in the NFL, let alone with a Hall of Fame playmaking QB that his stupid ass was seriously looking to bench in the middle of a tight game.

Childress was 24-24 in three so-so seasons coming into this year, so we're not talking about a Belichickian genius. If anything, we may be dealing with a fool whose team is winning despite him rather than because of him.

My one and only take on the Tiger Woods meltdown

If you're going to portray yourself as a squeaky clean individual, nailing a bunch of skanks and porn stars behind your wife's back was probably not the best idea.

Way to hit the drink with your personal life, champ.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

NFL Photos for Week 15

Ahh, invisible loungerrrrr... where's my bong?

"I am the Cleveland Genie and grant you three wishes, as long as none of them suck or I will destroy your insides."
"Okay, I wish for a Super Bowl title."
"Screw that, you're the Chiefs"

The Bears' new Skullf**ker defense was, like their other schemes, also a failure

Sensing a lost season, the New York Giants paid $20 million to sign, then genetically mutate Terry Bradshaw into a dark, hulk-like version of himself... and it turns out the old man still can't throw a decent pass

A new Photos feature: Deep Thoughts (In Medias Res)


This week in NFL Interpretive Dance: The Cabbage Patch is the Dance of Death

"We're the Underacheiving Chicago Crew
Shufflin' down the standings just for you
We're so bad we know we're not good
Blowin' our season like you knew we would
You're know when we play we're phonin' in in
Crapping the bed and costin' us wins
Our head coach is in deep ass trouble
We're here to do the 6-10 shuffle"

"Yo, Antonio. Yo mama's so fat she gained ANOTHER ten pounds while I picked off this pass"


Bo Scaife's flying thrust kick does 15 yards worth of penalty damage

Genius that he is, Vince Young accidentally came out dressed for flag football

"Psst... yo Bryant. You suck. Your team sucks. Your mama don't even like you. Your-"
"Dude, my ear's up here. Stop whispering into my ribs"

Mark Sanchez has a lot to learn but did win the halftime Shot Put Blitz Challenge


Steve Breaston swims through a sea of suck to score the touchdown

"Look guys, this is how William Hayes runs to the lard trough at his mom's house when she calls DINNERTIME"

"Hey, is that Delta Airlines? YOU ASSHOLES STOLE MY LUGGAGE"

"That rohypnol I put in Drew Brees' breakfast should kick in right about... NOW"

"I'm a Ram. If I touch you, you will get infected with my Sucky Player Disease. Observe."


The Bears' Stand on Our Shoulders defense? Yep, failure too

Bernard Pollard tries in vain to slay the mighty Medusa

"Here, take the handoff white boy."
"Hee hee, good boy."

"Does he know the game's been over for 20 minutes?"
"No and that's the best part"

Friday, December 18, 2009

On Paul Pierce's ideas of NBA rule changes

Paul Pierce has three ideas to fix the NBA

1. Eliminate the age limit.
2. Cut the regular season from 82 games to 60.
3. Raise the rim 3 inches to 10'3"

Some thoughts:

The NBA age limit is a joke: Kids just camp at a college for one year, and then turn pro at 19. How they use a scholarship with no intention of getting an actual education or being anything more than a one year mercenary shows the pointlessness of the age limit. There's little difference between a 17 or 18 year old entering the NBA and a 19 year old. If Stern thought going to school mattered, he should have made the age limit 22 or 23.

As for the rim... yeah, there's no way they would do it, especially given you have to dip into international and college basketball and get everyone to do it for it to work, but I think it would do the game some good to force people to learn how to shoot and pass again. The NBA product today, while a little better than recent years, is still garbage and a big reason why is because there's a lack of polished, fundamentally sound basketball.

And I actually agree with his idea for the 60 game season. Much of the season is a giant sleepwalk. We don't need 82 games to figure out who sucks and who doesn't (after 20-25 games, for example, we have a pretty good idea of how good the 2-win Nets are), especially if you're letting more than half the league into the playoffs.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

NFL Photos for Week 14

"Your breasteses are so soft and-"
And suddenly catching the ball was the last thing on Larod's mind.

The NFL's experimental butts-up red zone rule quickly fizzled and was forgotten

DeSean Jackson discovers the hidden invisible staircase at the Meadowlands and climbs his way to safety

Nobody told Quintin Mikell about the Sparkle-Ball in play and let's just say it damn near scared the breakfast right out of him


"Uh... no."

Aliens over Oakland picked out an inopportune time and place to test out the beta version of their new hoverbeam


This week in NFL Interpretive Dance: The Comet of Karma Strikes Jerry Jones Early

JaMarcus Russell's body weight is 20% fat, 30% suck and, as Andre Carter found out, very difficult to bring down

"Hey Matt let me show you the Off-Tackle Tango"

The next person to figure out what either team was trying to do here will be the first

Seahawks apparently crap footballs in Texas

Chris Long tries to de-pants Kerry Collins and discovers to his horror that this was the actual color of Kerry's bare legs


"See, you catch it like THIS"
"WOW... thanks, Santonio!"
"Sure thing, young man. Maybe someday, Cleveland Browns, you too can learn how to play football."

Eric Smith's Honky-Ninja skills are more than enough to floor the hopeless Bucs

"Like this, Santonio?"
"... no. You catch the ball. Not ME."

Witness the evolution of the Denver Broncos as Joseph Addai's leap warps the fabric of space and time


Dallas Clark becomes the unfortunate first man to catch the designated Gumby Ball

"My... my insides... feel like... melted... tiramisu"

If I'm a Lions fan, I see a LOT wrong... with a little bump and grind.

Congratulations, Tim Jennings! You are the Chosen One! You have won a long and painful fall from the roof of Lucas Oil Stadium!

Anthony Hargrove is about to get a lecture from Saints coaches on why a T-Bone Suplex to your teammate is not a proper way to celebrate an interception

"So... we score touchdown... like this?"
"Man, I'm glad we're playing the Lions"