Friday, June 5, 2009

Randy Johnson Joins the 300 Club

Yesterday evening I had the privilege to see Randy Johnson reach a milestone, as he recorded his 300 win last night against the Washington Nationals. It was an amazing thing to watch, considering only 23 other players ever had reached that plateau. Despite seeing four pitchers this decade (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Roger Clemens, and Johnson) reach 300 wins, we won't see another for at least 15 more years. The question is who will it be and how do they get there.

I think Keith Law said it best yesterday with his tweet after the win, "Next up: three days of articles on how Randy Johnson will be the last 300 game winner we ever see. My advice is you ignore them." Law hit the nail on the head, as I've already seen half a dozen talking heads, and articles proclaiming that no one else can reach the 300 win mark. People assume that just because baseball is in an era with more high powered offense's that pitchers can't win 300 games. Maddux, Glavine and Johnson pitched in the National League, while McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds were chasing home run records. Clemens pitched almost his entire career in the A.L. East against the Blue Jays in the early 90's, Orioles in the mid 90's and Yankees late 90's. He also faced the Red Sox this decade in his two stints with the Yankees. He was year in year out facing the best offense's in the game, yet still coming away with victories.

People also assume that pitchers will lose too many opportunities, because more games are finished by the bullpen in today's game. While there's some truth to that, it didn't seem to affect any of these four. Only Johnson completed 8 or more games in a single season since 2000. Clemens completed a total of three games since 2000. It is a complete misconception to think that in 'today's game' a pitcher can't have the career to reach 300 wins. All four of the recent members to the club pitched a good part of their careers in 'today's game'. Also its worth mentioning that Mike Mussina retired this season with 270 wins in 18 seasons. He could have easily reached 300 if he wanted it (Johnson had 263 wins after 18 seasons and Glavine sat at 257), but he chose not to pursue it. That's 5 pitchers who pitched a significant portion of their career's in the last two decades. How can one say that pitchers today can't join the club?

The two biggest factors in reaching 300, are pitching longevity and the team around you. All four of these pitchers pitched at least 20 years in the Majors (Maddux did get his 300th in his 19th season). In addition, all four of these pitchers played on winning teams year in and year out. That's not to say that any of these pitchers wouldn't have been great on any team, but rather having a playoff caliber offense and bullpen do make a difference. Some of today's elite pitchers like Roy Halladay or Jake Peavy lose a few wins each season because they don't play for perennial contenders. Even if those pitchers pitch for 20 or more years, they will have a harder time reaching 300.

Its difficult to say in all likelihood who will be the next member of the club, but CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke are two pitchers I'd look to. Sabathia has 113 wins through just 8 seasons so he's already on a good pace. Now that he's a Yankee, he will have the run the support and Mariano Rivera to help him move up the leader board. Though there is a probability of him breaking down because of his number of innings pitched. He's only 28, so he could have 10-12 good years in him. Greinke is the longest of the long shots, but I think he is a special pitcher. He plays for the Kansas City Royals, so he hasn't had the team support yet. Even with an 8-1 record this season he still is below .500 for his career (42-46), but he has an amazing future ahead of him. I think he will be the most dominating pitcher over the next 12 years. Glavine and Johnson didn't breakout until they were 25 and 29 respectively. Keep an eye on Sabathia, Greinke and others. The 300 club has not seen its last member.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Trade Center: MLB

The Deal: The Pittsburgh Pirates send OF Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves for CF Gorkys Hernandez (AA), LHP Jeff Locke (High-A), RHP Charlie Morton (AAA).

Braves: Entering June, the Atlanta Braves ranked in the bottom half of the league in every major hitting category. The main reason for the lack of offense in the Atlanta line-up has been the anemic performances by their outfielders. In over 550 AB's, Atlanta's top FOUR outfielders only managed to hit 10 home runs. Nate McLouth comes to the Braves with nine in 168 AB's. None of the Braves three starters had an OPS north of .700, which is unheard of in today's game. McLouth's OPS stands at .819 and was .853 last season when he was an All-Star. Another area where McLouth can help the Braves out is their running game. McLouth has been a perfect 7 for 7 in SB attempts, and is 64 of 69 for his career. McLouth was attractive to Atlanta because he's only 27 years old and is signed for the next three seasons. The Braves did pay a heavy price for  three and a half years of McLouth. They parted with two of their top ten prospects according to Baseball America (subscription required to read the full scouting reports), in Hernandez and Locke. Atlanta also had to give up 25 year old pitcher Charlie Morton, who has gone 12-4 with an ERA under 2.50 over the past two seasons in AAA.

Pirates: Even though it seems that the Pirates traded away a young budding star for no immediate help to their major league team, I think Pittsburgh made the right move here. On the surface McLouth is a reigning All-Star and Gold Glover, but in reality he isn't too likely to attain those accolades again. McLouth's defense has been grossly overrated. He has a nice arm and decent range but his instincts are lacking. Most advanced defensive metrics rated him as a below average to very poor defensive center fielder. While McLouth is a good offensive center fielder, he's unlikely to enter the All-Star break with the numbers he had last season. McLouth was batting .281 with a .899 OPS and 19 home runs when he played in the midsummer classic. Another reason why McLouth was traded, was the emergence of Pittsburgh's top center field prospect Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen, who was the Pirates 1st round pick in 2005, was pushing for a promotion with his performance in AAA. With him on the way, McLouth would have needed to move to a corner outfield spot. While McLouth could have made the move to the corner, his .819 OPS isn't nearly as impressive at that position. Pretty much every team (except the Braves) has at least one corner outfielder with an .800+ OPS. The Pirates did a good job of selling high on McLouth. They got three quality young players in return. Hernandez has a bright future in CF and may one day push McCutchen to a corner spot. Locke has had some minor league struggles but at 21 years old has a bright future. Morton is a great third piece in this deal. He doesn't have the immense upside of the previous two, but he's major league ready. Morton at the very least could be a quality late inning bullpen arm, but will likely end up as a back of the rotation starter.

Winner: Braves are the immediate winner, but I think the Pirates get the long term benefit here. They traded a redundant player at the peak of his value for quantity and quality prospects. Its hard to argue with that. In addition the money that they save will go towards filling holes at positions of need, and acquiring more amateur talent. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Penguins Make it a Series

Gary Bettman and the NBC director of Sports Programming breathed a big sigh of relief (not to mention millions of Penguin fans) last night when the Pens won 4-2. Pittsburgh's victory gives them new life in a series that they still trail 2-1. Had the Pens lost, the NHL and NBC would have been hurting. 

The NHL desperately needs this series to get interesting since both of the Conference Finals lacked drama. When the playoffs began you saw some great match-ups and upsets. Anahiem knocking off Dallas, Carolina doing the same to the Devils and Bruins, were great for the fans interest. The Anaheim vs Detroit series, which was a match-up of the last two Stanley Cup winners added plenty of drama. Then Pittsburgh's seven game series against Washington, which featured the match-up of Crosby vs Ovechkin, showcased the NHL at its best. Had the Red Wings repeated as Stanley Cup champs, behind a snoozer of a series, all the hype these playoffs had generated would have been forgotten. NBC also needed the Pens to win, because they don't have broadcast rights again until Game 5 on Saturday. Had the Red Wings won, they may not have had a game to show. 

The NHL is still rebuilding their fan base after the messy lockout a couple of seasons ago. So as much drama, and as many games as possible, are positives for the league and ratings (though they are nerve wracking for Detroit fans). I think the good news for the NHL is that the Pens can make this a great series. After last night it wouldn't surprise me at all to see it extended to seven games. Last night Pittsburgh showed that they can play with the Red Wings, and that they aren't intimidated. If the Pens can stay disciplined and play their game they can take this series down to the wire (a little luck going their way wouldn't hurt either). 

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Trade Market: Luke Scott vs. Brad Hawpe

With June upon us the MLB Hot Stove is beginning to heat up. I'm going to take a look at some of the names that will be on the market, and compare them. Today we are going to take a look at a pair of outfielders who are widely rumored to be on the trading block, Luke Scott and Brad Hawpe. 

Teams looking for an outfielder: Braves and Giants (there are a few more but these two teams have a serious lack of production from their outfielders).

You know whats amazing? When you look on message boards and blogs, there is so much hype for Hawpe. But when you bring Luke Scott's name into the conversation, Braves and Giants fans don't want him. They are perfectly content to trade away solid prospects for Hawpe, but don't want to give up anything of value for Scott. WHY? That is a very good question, because when you break it down Scott is the better option than Hawpe.

Take a look at the numbers and you can make the case that Scott is easily more valuable than Hawpe. Age is negligible, as Scott is only one year older than Hawpe. The contract situation is distinctly in Scott's favor as well. Hawpe is making $5.5 million this year, $7.5 million next year and has a $10 million club option for 2011. But he can void the option and become a FA if he is traded. Scott is making $2.4 million this year and as a Super Two player is under team control for another 3 seasons.

Fielding is also in Scott's favor by a large margin. Now I know most people will think that since Scott is a DH he can't field. But that is pretty far from the truth. He has posted a positive UZR/150 rating (which is one of the best defensive indicators) every season (yes it is negative this year but he's only played in the field a few times). His career number is at 7.8 for left field, and 4.8 overall. Hawpe on the other hand has been truly awful in the outfield. He has been in the negative column for every year with the exception of 2006. He has a career rating of -20.8. That's a 25.5 swing between the two outfielder, that is insane.

On offense it is widely considered that Hawpe is the bigger threat, but that is not entirely true either. Hawpe's career numbers sit at .287/.378/.502, while Scott has a career line of .272/.358/.512. A .009 difference in OPS is not a significant factor. What's even more surprising is that Scott out hits Hawpe vs. LHP .817-.762, despite usually being considered a platoon player. Both players are off to hot starts this year, but Scott has done his damage in seven less games than Hawpe.

I think Braves and Giants fans should take a real long hard look at Scott, because to me he seems like the perfect fit for their respective outfields. Scott is the more complete, cheaper and more controllable player. If your team needed a power bat in the outfield who would you rather trade for?

** Contract information is from Cot's Baseball Contracts 

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pens Face Early 0-2 Hole, Can They Come Back?

The Detroit Red Wings have taken full advantage of their home ice in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals. Behind a pair of 3-1 victories, the Red Wings now hold a commanding 2-0 series lead as the Finals moves to Pittsburgh. The Penguins have already overcome one 2-0 deficit against the Washington Capitals in the Conference Semi-Finals. The question now is, can they do it again?

Most people at this point will tell you that the Pens don't have a chance. Their argument would be that the Red Wings beat the Penguins last year and that Detroit is more talented than Pittsburgh. Those are two perfectly valid statements on paper but that shouldn't mean Pittsburgh fans are without hope. This is a much different Penguins team than the one that lost to the Red Wings last year in the Finals. They brought in veteran players to supplement their young nucleus.  Also Pittsburgh's young stars like Crosby, Malkin and Fluery all gained valuable experience with last year's run. As for the overall talent level, the Penguins match up pretty well with the Red Wings. While Detroit has there share of all-stars, no one is really on the same level as Crosby and Malkin with Datsyuk out. The Wings are the deeper team, and that so far has been the difference. 

Detroit's defense has kept the Penguins stars in check. For the Pens to come back in this series, they need to find some holes in the Red Wings defense. I think if they can get some good looks on goal they can beat Detroit's goalie Chris Osgood. Osgood is still a solid goalie, but he's not the All-star he once was. I feel that Pittsburgh can take advantage of him, but they need to find an answer to get past the defense. I just don't see Detroit shutting down Crosby and Malkin for an entire series. While you have to say the Wings are the favorite to win the Stanley Cup, I don't think we should dismiss the Penguins so easily.