Monday, September 30, 2013

O's Defense Historically Golden?

The Baltimore Orioles season ended in fitting fashion Sunday, a 5-4-3 double play sealing closer Jim Johnson's 50th save and ending with an 85-77 record. The team's late fade kept them out of the postseason, but the season was far from a disappointment - especially from a defensive standpoint. The Orioles set a new record for the fewest errors in a season with 54, out pacing the Tampa Bay Rays 59 and easily breaking the record of 65 set by the 2003 Seattle Mariners. They finished with .991 fielding percentage, besting the 1997 Colorado Rockies .989, a team considered one of the best all time. From their season opening series where Evan Longoria and Manny Machado delivered enough web gems to last a season until the very end, watching these two teams play defense on a daily basis has been an exercise in amazement. With award season coming up the question now becomes whether or not the Orioles defenses will be historically golden.

The Rawlings Gold Glove has been handed out since 1957 to recognize the best defensive players at each position as voted by managers and coaches. Since 1958 separate awards have been given for the American and National leagues. During that time,the best a team has done is 4 gold gloves in a season doing so 13 times. As a team the Baltimore Orioles have done it a record 5 times, all in the early 70's with Paul Blair, Mark Belanger, Brooks Robinson, Davey Johnson/Bobby Grich. Baltimore is also currently one behind the Yankees for most Gold Gloves by an American League team with 64 and should pass them after this season.  

While managers and coaches vote on this award as opposed to writers who vote for the mvp that does not mean this award is without controversy. Players who have won it previously tend to have the advantage to repeat regardless of performance. This is the only explanation for Rafael Palmerio winning the gold glove at first base in 1999 while only playing first in 29 games, he was the designated hitter in 129 games. This also explains how Derek Jeter has won multiple gold gloves despite not having great range or a good defensive reputation. The Orioles had three players win in 2012 -Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, and Matt Wieters. It also means players are going to be reward for more subjective reasons and what voters saw more than advanced metrics like defensive runs saved, fielding percentage, or Ultimate Zone Rating (which really likes the Kansas City Royals). I can see the Orioles winning 5 to 7 gold gloves, with 5 much more likely. The results should come out October 30th. Feel free to check this now, challenge my picks in the comments and come back and chide me later.

Here is my rundown of the AL Gold Glove Winners:
*Now that we have the results I am editing this to put those players in

Pitcher: Expected winner - Mark Buehrle
             Actual Winner - R.A. Dickey

I have no idea how they go about evaluating a pitcher's defense and am going with the guy who has won a gold glove 4 years in a row.

Catcher: Expected winner - Matt Wieters
              Actual winner - Salvador Perez

He has proven himself to be a great defensive catcher and has won the past 2 gold gloves at catcher. Wieters caught more games (140) and innings (1201) than any other catcher and still committed the third fewest errors among starters (3). He also caught 24/68 base stealers leaving him just behind Salvador Perez (25/69). Perez is the only other catcher who might win this award, but I think he is a year or two away yet.

First Baseman: Expected winner - Chris Davis
                         Actual winner - Eric Hosmer

Traditional winners at this position Mark Texiera and Albert Pujols spent a large portion of the season on the disabled list leaving this years winner wide open. This is the perfect place for a lazy voters to write in the first name that comes to mind. While offensive production is not supposed to factor into gold gloves it undoubtedly does and when you combine Chris Davis offensive production along with the teams record setting defense I see gold to match his Silver Slugger Award. Not that he needs the help as he led all first basemen in games started at first (155), putouts (1339 to 1205 for second place Eric Hosmer), while playing a league leading 1377.2 innings and having a .996 fielding percentage, good for second in the league (.997 for Justin Morneau over 111 games) and a scant 6 errors. Hosmer and James Loney are also likely candidates, with Mike Napoli a dark horse.

Second Basemen: Expected winner - Dustin Pedroia
                             Actual winner - Dustin Pedroia

This was a rotating position for the Orioles all season as Brian Roberts spent his now expected extended stay on the disabled list. As a result I don't know how any individual Orioles second baseman could win it. Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia have alternated winning this award recently and I expect the trend to continue. Pedroia had tied for the top fielding percentage among starters at .993 and his 5 errors over 160 games and 1398 innings (both tops at the position) were one more than only Ben Zobrist who played in 116 games at second. Jose Altuve has more put outs and double plays but is likely going to finish behind Pedroia and Cano when the voting occurs.

Third Basemen: Expected winner - Manny Machado
                           Actual winnner - Manny Machado

This is a no-brainer pick in my book despite the fact that he leads the Orioles in total errors with 13. Former Oriole's Ace and current broadcaster Jim Palmer sees shades of Brooks Robinson in Machado's play. High praise for a pitcher who benefited from many seasons of Brooks record 16 gold gloves at third base. If you have not seen it already here is one of his many highlights from a July 17th game against the New York Yankees.

Adrian Beltre has won the award 4 of the last 6 seasons, but he has fallen off defensively this year. Evan Longoria is a threat to win this award as well but fails to measure up to Machado in innings (1280 - 1390), total chances (382 - 484), or double plays (27 -42), making his lead in errors (11-13) a mere footnote. Machado also leads all starting third basemen in range factor (ground he can cover to get to ground balls) with 3.02, Miguel Cabrera for comparison is at 1.87. Kyle Seager and Josh Donaldson are great third basemen as well, but this year no one was better than Machado, even if his season did end prematurely.

Shortstop: Expected Winner - J.J. Hardy
                 Actual winner - J.J. Hardy

With Derek Jeter not playing enough to be grandfathered into this award, probably --see Palmerio above, J.J. has a great chance to win this award for the second time in a row. Once again the Oriole leads the league in games (159), innings (1417), and double plays (108). His 12 errors are second most on the Orioles (that Machado and Hardy combined for 25 of the teams 54 errors and still make this list is impressive), but is good enough for 4th fewest among shortstops. Yunel Escobar is another viable candidate with a league leading .988 fielding percentage (vs .981 for Hardy) and his team had the second fewest errors of all time. A dark horse candidate here is Minnesota's Pedro Florimon who will lose out for playing in Minnesota as much as anything.

Outfield has alternated between each position getting its own award and lumping all outfielders together. In 2011, the award went back to each position receiving the award. That said there could be some variance here as voters move players to accommodate those who they want to win.

Left Fielder: Expected Winner - Alex Gordon
                     Actual winner - Alex Gordon

With 17 outfield assists, 2 double plays and a .997 fielding percentage, Alex Gordon was clearly the superior left fielder this season. He also played the most games (159) and innings (1364.1) of any player in left fielder. He has also won the golden glove the previous two years. Nate McLouth won the award in 2008 while in Pittsburgh and if he wins the award it will be due to the teams accomplishments more than his own as he has a mere 4 outfield assists. He might have lead the league in dives into the stands with 2, including this number, and he certainly led the league in beers thrown at in game. At a position where the expected winner is so much better than the field it does not really matter who takes second.

Center Field: Expected Winner - Adam Jones
                      Actual winner - Adam Jones 

Not only did Jones play 22 more games than anyone else at center (154) but he also logged more than 200 innings over second place Jacoby Elsbury (1394 - 1188) but he also tied for the lead in assists (11). His .995 fielding percentage was good for third in the league, but given his superior time logged that should not factor into it. Go ahead and ask Jose Reyes if he has a good arm:

Jones will also likely benefit from having a career year at the plate, he has 2 gold gloves (2009 and 2012) and a third should join his mantle shortly. Mike Trout and Jacoby Elsbury are likely challengers, but only Elsbury has any assists (3). For what it is worth, noted speedster Michael Bourn actually has a lower range factor (2.17 - 2.33) so there is more to range than pure speed. Lorenzo Cain is a potential dark horse here, but might not have the playing time to garner serious attention.

Right Field: Expected Winner - Nick Markakis
                    Actual winner - Shane Victorino 

Once again an Oriole leads the league in games started (154) and innings played (1381). There is something to be said about having a healthy, young team like the Orioles who boast Nate McLouth, at 31, being the oldest regular fielder. His 312 putouts were second to only Alex Rios (326) and nearly 50 ahead of third place Shane Victorino (264). His 7 assists were just 2 off the league lead and he was the only right field regular to play error free. Josh Reddick and Ichiro Suzuki, both past winners, have had down years defensively and Markakis did win in 2011.

In a year where the Orioles were historically good and historically good fielders were out, the conditions are right for the Orioles to set the Golden standard for defensive excellence at 5, 6, or 7. At the very least I expect them to collect enough hardware to overtake the Yankees for the all-time American League lead.

The Orioles had 3 Gold Glove winners out of 6, tied with Kansas City for the most in baseball. Not a bad haul, but short of what I was expecting. I correctly called 5 of 9 Gold Glove winners and only really missed right field.

What did you think of the results and my predictions? Any winners leave you scratching your head?


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2014 Yankees Odd Season Continues

Most teams would have celebrated what happened to Yankee Legend Andy Pettitte with a pause of the game, a scoreboard salute and a standing ovation. In case you missed it, as I did and I was looking out for it, Pettitte reached his 2,000th strikeout as a Yankee on September 6th. You can see it here. Even the announcers seemed to give it a mere "yep its a milestone, move along" that most reserve for historical land marks on the highway. Looking at the all-time Yankee strikeout leaders (the asterisk denotes active players fyi) what shocks me is that Pettitte is the only Yankee to reach the 2,000 strikeout plateau. I always figured somewhere among the 69 pitchers to have 2,000 strikeouts a Yankee or two would be in the mix, such is the power of the Yankee mystique. Yet this season every achievement, every milestone in Yankee land has been met with a shrug or sigh or controversy.

The big celebratory milestone of the Yankee season was Derek Jeter at shortstop  on opening day Ichiro Suzuki reaching 4,000 hits. Of course it is not enough to congratulate someone reaching 4,000 hits for only the third time in history, Pete Rose (the all-time hit leader and somehow popular asshat) decried his achievement by pointing out that he only had 2,722 in the major leagues. It is tough enough to get hits professionally let alone remain healthy enough to achieve the milestone. Reaching such career milestones can be even more challenging when you are a foreign born player. The Rose group missed the celebration and spoiled it for others. It was never about Ichiro "beating" anyone for the most hits of all time, it was a personal milestone to signify personal achievement at the highest level in two countries. Fans love a round number and 4,000 hits is amazing anyway you look at it, but the Roseists won the day, stirred up more than enough controversy that people debated the merits of the hits more than appreciating the requisite skill necessary to achieve it. In a year when 4,000 should have stood out, we instead have seen it matched by 2,722, yet that is not the only oddity the Yankees have produced this season.

Another, rather amazing, feat pulled off by the Yankees is their ability to persevere without their usual stars. C.C. Sabbathia looks like he needs the Cap'n to make it happen and the team as a whole has spent more money on players on the disabled list than on the active roster. Despite that hurdle they are fighting for a wild card spot with less than 2 weeks remaining. This should be a resounding success story of scrappy players, wily veterans and good old fashioned hard work. Kirk Gibson has hoarded all the grit, determination and moxy in the Arizona desert. Joe Girardi should be the front runner for manager of the year for his efforts, Brian Cashman applauded for continuing to get the most out of so many aging veterans. Instead fans are split on embracing the pennant race and quietly hoping they miss out. Helping fuel the Yankees late season push is also the reason fans might be okay missing out, Alex Rodriguez. His career numbers continue to climb and the only reason fans care is if he gets that first $6 million dollar home run bonus for #660. However, as far as third baseman for the Yankees in 2013 go, A-Rod has performed better than the rest despite playing in only 36 games. He is not going away this season, leaving fans to be thankful for his efforts, but remain largely silent in their applause. Even when facing success, Yankees fans are oddly torn this season.

This odd season for the Yankees seems to have ensnared Pettitte hook, slider and sinker. Some may argue that his steroid admission is the reason this milestone, along with so many others for him, is noted but not appreciated. There is also a little bit more to the anti-climatic murmur that greeted 2,000 K's, he had been done before. Heading into tonight's action he has 2,432 strikeouts. He had passed the 2,000 milestone before his first retirement, fans have been there seen that. He also became the Yankees all time K leader back on July 1, passing Whitey Ford. Back when they were just scuffling along and Pettitte has been scuffling all season with a 4.04 ERA and 1.402 WHIP. 2,000 strikeouts is the sign of a long and successful career much like 4,000 hits. I am willing to appreciate effort necessary to reach such lofty heights, let the debate wait for another day and applaud the accomplishment. It has been an odd season in the Bronx, where the Captain is manning the DL, the enemy is cheering their closer, and the season is marked by round numbers like 2,000 and 4,000, except when its not.

Then again, that's baseball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. 

Think about that and let me know your notable oddity about the Yankees or any other team in the comment section!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Raise the Jolly Roger! The Pirates are Winners

I know most published their two cents on the Pittsburgh Pirates ending their two decade losign streak last week and there was certainly good cause for that. After twenty years, many want to jump on the first positive, enjoy the celebration as soon as possible. Perhaps that is what the Pirates did themselves, I shudder to think that last weekends sweep at the hands of St. Louis Cardinals was the start of yet another September collapse. A second reason I hesitated is that after twenty years I support celebrating winning not merely "not losing" after so long I believe it is worth the wait.

Twenty-one years can go by in a flash when things go right, it can seem like an eternity when things are going wrong. A generation of Pirates fans have grown up watching their beloved team fall short of .500 year after year after year. Twenty years of wandering the barren sub-par baseball desert is enough to make anyone thirsty, so join me, won't you, in raising a glass of rum to the Pirates who have finally ended a streak of futility just in time for a generation of fans to start drinking in joy.

Looking back on exactly how the Pirates avoided .500 for all these years is as futile an exercise as looking back at the first twenty years of your life. In hindsight, the first few years were a blur and no one really noticed the growing trend of futility. Players came and went like so many people have in your life. Aging Kirk Gibson was a bench piece the last time the Pirates were in the post-season, now he is hoping his Diamondbacks can squeak into the postseason on grit and determination. Jim Leyland is still a chimney smoking manager riding amazing talent into the postseason and taking glory for being along for the ride. Only now it is Miguel Cabrera not Barry Bonds and he exchanged the Pirate flag for Tiger stripes.

Faces of the franchise have come and gone as various general managers attempted to bring a winner to the city's beautiful gem of a stadium and start to match the success of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Penguins. Since 1992, the Steelers and Penguins each won their league titles two times. The city is not starved for champions, like Cleveland, but the Pirates have wanted to get in on the fun and excitement of playing in front of a packed stadium all hands on deck in their finest Gold and Black.

In 2011, the losing streak looked over in the first half of the season, with a 47-43 record, until a disastrous second half 25-47 left them at 72-90. 2012 looked even more promising, starting out 48-37, however, a 31-46 second half -lowlighted by a 9-22 September/October lead to a 79-83 record. Improvement, but not enough to end the losing streak. In both those years the Pirates reached for trade upgrades, but the results did not pan out. The success of this years squad is less reliant on whatever Marlon Byrd, John Buck, or Justin Morneau can provide because this team has relied on pitching more than offense. Those Pirate teams needed offense because their pitching was mediocre at best. This year's squad boasts the #3 bullpen ERA in all of baseball to support the #3 starter's ERA. Improved pitching has been the Pirates key and will keep them going the rest of the way.

No one can say what the rest of the season will bring. Will the September collapse of the last two seasons ago sneak up and relegate them to the wild card game, or worse getting passed by the Diamondbacks or Nationals and missing October completely? Or will they ride this feel good wave through the postseason, sparked by sound pitching and timely offense all the way to world series glory? These are questions for tomorrow, or next week, and maybe even deep into next month. For now Pirates fans should drink deep in the joy of 82 wins, embrace the triumph of winning baseball and enjoy this moment a generation in the making.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How MLB Won on NFL's Opening Night

For many, this Thursday has been circled on their calendars for weeks. Drafts both real and fantasy have taken place, bold predictions and optimistic bets have been placed. For many football is finally here. However, in its never ending quest to keep football relevant 365 days a year, this article is about a story that broke way back in March, the story about how Baltimore Orioles and baseball challenged NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and won. In order to beat Goodell baseball faced the three political grenades: religion, tradition, and bribes. A daunting task for even the most skilled of opponents.

At issue was the mid-March dilemma of scheduling the NFL season. The most public issue was the NFL wanting the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens to open the season at home on September 5 and kick off football with all the pageantry of a second parade on a national scale. Unfortunately for the NFL, MLB had created their schedule the previous September and the Orioles were set to fly in from the road and host the White Sox for a four game homestand beginning that night. Baltimore's layout does not allow both venues to logistically operate major events at the same time. It was here that the politicking began in earnest and ultimately we were left with a result few saw coming: the Orioles would stay in Baltimore while the Ravens would open the season in Denver. 

"Solutions" came early, often, and decidedly one-sided. Baseball should compromise, play in Chicago, play a Saturday double-header, anything so long as lord football got its way. Baseball fans pointed out the logistical nightmare of changing the schedules of the Orioles, White Sox, plus the Indians and Yankees their respective Wednesday night opponents . They next advanced the ideas that the NFL game could be changed (their schedule had not even been made) and just the year before the NFL opened on Wednesday so as not to compete with the Democratic National Convention (the one without Clint Eastwood talking to a chair).

As all good politicians do when faced with daunting logic that threatens to derail their best laid spontaneous plans, the NFL shot down the notion of changing to Wednesday by citing, wait for it, religion! The NFL stated they would not consider opening on Rosh Hashanah, never mind that they have done that in the past and revel in the opportunity to play on Christmas. Wise choice or convenient memory, by committing to play on Thursday night the NFL played the next card in the politicians handbook: tradition!

"The Ravens deserve to open the season at home because it is tradition for the Super Bowl winners to do so." If you have not heard this yet, just tune in to the NFL this weekend and you will some form of it plenty. The problem is the boy who cried wolf has more credibility than sports crying out tradition lately. Every little tournament, event or occurrence in sports these days is a classic or a tradition despite nothing being further from the truth. Notre Dame v Michigan is rivalry over 100 years old, despite most games being played only from the 1970's on. The NCAA opens up with over a dozen different basketball tournaments that are all "classics" despite most being less than 6 years old. The NFL to has fallen prey to this heritage link with opening night being reserved as a home game for last years Super Bowl winner, never mind that the last winner to open on the road was way back in 2003 way back in the pre-3D-TV ages, YIKES! Baseball had not even begun to seriously follow the Pirates ongoing futility at that point.

Religion set the date, traditions backfired, the NFL faced door number 3: bribes. This is not the NCAA where washing your car can get you into trouble, this is professional sports, the NFL the biggest, baddest sport going. More than that it is led by Sheriff Goodell slapping players with suspensions left and right for off-field infractions, rebranding "the league" into "the shield" even pushing Disney executives into stepping away from a public broadcasting documentary. This is the league that settled a massive lawsuit for $765 million dollars, without admitting doing anything wrong and all before a game that matters could bring it up as anything short of a positive.

Goodell has run a tight ship with a simple motto "what I want I get." Unfortunately for him, Bud Selig the loathable MLB commissioner has been living that motto for more than 20 years. Between Bud Selig and Orioles owner Peter Angelos, they were not going to give something away without a little kickback. Considering how rare this occurrence would be I find it hard to believe that this couldn't have been handled graciously and magnanimously in the media by all involved and somewhere around $1-2million dollars goes from a $9billion dollar sports entity to a $7billion dollar one somewhere down the line.

It was not a moral dilemma or pride that stopped Goodell from making that offer, it was shock at being told no. No, he could not simply get what he wanted. No, if he really wanted to have his way there were some wallets that needed lining first. Goodell puts on a strong face, but he is nothing more than a bully playing at expert politician. He has carved out a power vacuum for himself atop the most profitable sport in North America. Employees within and around the sport know who is in charge and he grew so used to stomping on others that it is second nature to him. That PBS documentary I mentioned earlier, Frontline, their people tried to break the story about how the NFL was trying to bury their piece on  “League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth” by having ESPN back out. Goodell swooped in and rallied his followers with what really happened. (Goodell claimed to do nothing wrong and that the meetings were monthly occurrences about normal monthly matters) Goodell is back to fighting hard and grinding opponents, but the Frontline people had to feel somewhat emboldened by MLB's actions. Back in March, Goodell tried his hands at politics: he played the cards he had and he played them well, but he was no match for the elder statesman from MLB. For at least one brief moment someone stood up to the bully and the bully backed down. On this opening day the scoreboard will read NFL 0 MLB Won.

Any feedback is appreciated below, thanks for reading.