Friday, March 28, 2014

Three MLB Stories On A Friday

I've been getting some feedback that I need to write more about baseball in general, make it more interesting for non-Giant fans.  Hey, if non-Giant fans are reading the blog at all, I'm pretty psyched, so thanks for reading.

Its hard not to be a homer, the Giants are my team.  Participating in the ratings of top 100 players at John Sickels Minor League Ball community this year has been an exercise in objectivity.  What stands out for me is that there is a very strong consensus of the top 25 prospects in baseball, and then it gets very subjective very quickly after that.  The chatter I hear about teams promoting their guys to the various Big Listmakers stands out.

Three Stories On A Friday:

#1.  Doug Fister left the game yesterday with a lat strain.  Fister has not had a good spring, and he almost certainly will not start the season on the bump.  So the question is: did Detroit have an inkling there was some wear and tear?  The trade sending him to Washington was widely seen as the steal of the offseason, netting the Tigers Robbie Ray, Ian Krol and Steve Lombardozzi.  In an interesting move, the Tigers sent Lombardozzi back to the beltway to the O's, for Alex Gonzalez.  That's an interesting strategy by the O's - sign up a aged vet on a minor league deal, then deal him. 

With Fister hurt, the pendulum of trade victory swings back to the Tigers.  How fast does this Robbie Ray throw?  What's his deal?  Low-90s lefty with a sweet mustache.  Middle of the rotation type with a slurvy slider and good change.  At the time of the trade I was looking at Lombardozzi as the sleeper type in the deal, but if he's getting shuffled off for Alex Gonzo the Sea Bass that wasn't what the Tigers were valuing.  I also refused to see the Tigers GM as the dummy in the whole thing, although every GM will make a bad trade here and there.  To quote Scarface a tad: "Maybe Sosa knows something..."

#2.  How's those Dodgers Station affiliate round up going?  Well, the Pay TV providers are balking, putting out pretty decent PR campaigns to counter Time Warner's "Get your Dodgers now and Get Off My Lawn" pressure tactics.  WSJ Story Here's the money quote: "Armed with information about their customers' viewing habits, other distributors say the data doesn't support paying such a high price for a channel that an overwhelming majority of their subscribers won't watch regularly. They say they aren't worried about backlash from customers if the channel isn't available, and they show no signs of blinking as the Dodgers prepare to open the season in Australia on March 22."

Even those chablis drinking reporters at NPR have picked up on this:  the money quote: "Andy Albert, a senior vice president for Cox, says it is not just the Dodgers fans they have to consider in their negotiations. He says that Los Angeles-area subscribers are already paying "pretty close to $20" per month for the sports channels Cox carries there. "And a lot of those [subscribers] aren't sports fans," he points out."

And here was my main point as I was covering this the first time: "As more teams and leagues move to their own special networks, providers are beginning to fear that there might be a breaking point. Cable bills are growing four times faster than inflation, and they already average about $100 a month."  ESPN is eventually going to price itself out of basic TV.  The Golden Goose is sure coughing it up right now though.  The psychology of a Pay TV bill above 100 bucks is a big mark.

And finally, LA Weekly has some workarounds for frustrated Dodger Fans.  Mainly, pay Selig and his minions on the interwebz!  LA Times has an older article with some more details.  The thing that is dishonest to me is that reporters know full well that the Dodgers and Time Warner actually have aggressive plans to make the Channel accelerate to $8 a month rather quickly, within 4-5 years.  That little fact is not mentioned, a version of pulling your punches. 

I live in Los Angeles, when I cruise neighborhoods I look to see how old the residents are by peeking at the old school TV set up on the roof versus the sat dish.  You would be amazed at how many old school set ups are still in effect.  The Dodgers taking their games off "free" TV 50 games a year is a pretty big slap in the face to long time Angelenos, and it will be a shock to the system. 

#3.  The Nationals cut Chris Young (maybe a bad move now with Fister hurt?) and the Mariners snatch him up quick.  With Iwakuma and Walker both hurt, the Mariners had to plug in somebody.  There are very few teams in baseball that can stash extra arms.  The Dodgers and their crazy money are the Gold Standard for that move.  But I'd like to highlight not only Walker being hurt, but Jurickson Profar, and Oscar Taveras.  Byron Buxton went down with an injury the other day, Miguel Sano is out for the season.  You can have highly rated prospects, keeping them healthy is a bit of a crapshoot.  There is some chatter that the "next frontier" of sabermetrics is player health.  Here's what I got on that: the Giants have been able to (big knock on the desk right now) be relatively healthy.  But this isn't something that stats geeks have any control over.  This is the area of the jocks, the seed spitters who make minute adjustments to arm angles or stride lengths.  A good trainer is vital to clubs, but that's always been the case.  Maybe getting the players to give full reports on injury to get more advanced treatment faster is the way to go.  So a softening of some traditional lines?  In one of the most traditional and competitive sports in existence?  Where there are lines and lines of players trying to get a shot?  Good luck, I bet the communication comes more from aged vets who have earned their money and have a good contract.


  1. Hey, I thought this was a Giants blog... Just kidding. Do you think, maybe, just maybe, the Dodgers are experiencing a short-term explosion of success, and are ripe for a free-fall in a couple years? I don't want to be that guy, but it sure looks like there's some big time chicken counting going on down there. Why would your fans want to pony up that kind of dough when: 1) They already know your pockets are the deepest in baseball and 2) You haven't won a dang thing!

    Looked like it was between Joe Blanton and Chris Young for the M's... why the heck did they let Scott Baker go in the first place? Then, you give Randy Wolf a job and piss him off enough that he requests to leave... I've got a good buddy who lives and dies Seattle baseball, and even he's starting to scratch his head.

    1. I think the Dodgers have a good long term plan in place. They are spending big right now to pave over the mistakes of the past, they are committing huge amounts of money to their farm, which was where McCourt really did a lot of damage to the franchise. Much like Peter the Pink, he wanted to be The Guy, but didn't want to do everything right. I think the current Bums ownership will do it right, and they have a good chance of being the premier franchise in the National League for a long time. The Giants will have to compete by being smart, continuing their farm commitment and going big once in a while. They can match any largesse they want, I'm not always sure its the right move though.

      The Dodgers have a huge expensive pitching staff and OF, but part of that was the price to pay to get relevant, getting Adrian Gonzo was a big move, they took on Beckett and Crawford (and Nick Punto!!) to jump start what was a pretty stagnant club.

      I think Puig is the real deal. He has some teething issues, but that was a huge snag, the kind that hasn't been kind over the years for Los Gigantes. But then again, little risked, little rewarded. They need to take their lumps and get back in there every time. I know they're smarting some from bad Cuban investements back in the day, or RafRod or AnVil, but they need to keep on getting back on the horse even though she bucks pretty good.

  2. Nice post! Don't mind baseball related posts at all!

    Regarding #1, I would refer people to the work done by Matt Swartz at both BP and THT, covering his analysis of trades of prospects, players, and signing of free agents (or not signing). His conclusions are that teams know what they got, keep the good, and trade the not as good, in a general way. There will, of course, be bad trades: human evaluation is not perfect. But as a general rule, GMs are generally pretty sharp about what they got and what they are giving up. They just need to remember that this is true going the other way, when other teams are trying to make a deal with you.

    That's why I've been trumpeting the Giants focus on pitching for roughly the last 10 years. It is great for rebuilding because for each good pitcher you find, you just stick him onto the pitching staff, starting or relieving, and it just gets better and better over time as you are rebuilding. Whereas, if you end up with three good 1B (cough, Texas with Teixeira, Hafner, and A-Gon), even though you might think you have good 1B prospects, you have to trade them off into a market where other teams are giving you their dregs, generally speaking. And neither deal for Hafner or A-Gon yielded much to them.

    Meanwhile, the Giants were able to keep Cain, Lincecum, and Bumgarner in their starting rotation. And eventually, perhaps transition one or more of them into key bullpen roles (like Eck or Smoltz). The focus on pitching yields a lot of value (including avoiding the risk of being forced to trade into that market) as well as longevity in producing value.

    On top of that, research has found that it is dominant pitching, via the strikeout, that helps teams go deep into the playoffs and ultimately win championships. People are worried about Lincecum, forgetting that he's working on lack of hard contact in the spring and that the spring is not the same for everyone. Once the bell rings, he'll be bringing out his strikeout pitches to put the hammer on those who fall to two strikes, while conserving pitches otherwise by seeking poor contact. That's what Cain has been doing for years, Lincecum just needs to talk with him and pick his brains more.

    I consider Dombrowski one of the smartest GMs around. His college thesis was about the baseball draft if I remember right. His work at Montreal, Florida, and now Detroit, are my lead examples of how to rebuild a team: burn off all current talent, getting the best value you can for them (i.e. opportunistically trade your valuable trading chips when teams really need them and have to give up more value in trade) for rebuild, field horrible teams to get great draft picks in the Top 5, then once you find your new core, you start signing free agents and shift the gear up for playoff competitiveness. I would never bet against him. And I would note again the Swartz studies: teams know what they got, they got all the history of the players aches and pains (remember all the times players suddenly admit to their beats that they were injured or playing with injuries?).

    1. #2, I understand the strategy the new ownership is doing, but think that they probably bit off more than they can chew with this strategy. The economy has been in doldrums since the Great Recession. People are decabelizing, I think 2013 was the first year that total subscribers fell overall for the industry, but the writing has been on the wall for that for years now. Did they really think they could hijack the Dodgers and force people to pay to watch them?

      On top of that, there are great new attennas that you can buy from Costco, it is a flat piece of plastic, about a sheet of paper sized, has special attenna embedded in the plastic, and it works great for me! And it is indoors, no need for the attennas on the roof, and it just screws in with a normal coaxial. Whereas the bunny ears got me nothing but the very local stations here (a ton of Spanish stations, but only two local stations, no national ones), I'm now able to access almost every single available over the air station, including all the additional digital stations, with this attenna. So be aware of that Shankbone. And it is another reason why people are decablelizing, both to save money as well as the technology is now there to enable that.

      Not only that, if they didn't notice, baseball is not drawing in the younger generation of fans as much as other sports. Us oldtimers are actually used to catching baseball via the radio still, especially when working. TV is nice when you can get it, but if it is not available, radio will do for most, I think. Better than paying an extra $20 per month on cable when you need to put food on your table, or pay for your new ObamaCare.

      I wonder if there is any parallels here with how the D-backs started up with a lot of money, bought a lot of players to be relevant quickly, but then bankruptcy loomed and then they had to sell, probably at a loss, forcing a sell-off. With their pockets, and plans to develop the land, probably not, they have a fall-back, but I think their hubris will be met with failure at some point.

    2. #3 What, a pitcher who didn't pitch in 2013 and who has not started 30 games in a season since 2007 because of a variety of injuries? For a team that is expected to be competitive, I'm surprised that they spend that much time with him, they must be very desperate for starters and more so now that Fister is out. Chris Young was not an answer, as much as a throw things against the wall and see what sticks.

      And Seattle, I've stopped trying to figure out what they are doing, fans here talked about wasting Lincecum, but I think the true waste is happening up north with King Felix.

      About the Giants health, I would add the caution that perhaps it's pay back for really bad luck early in Sabean's GM tenure. Foppert, Ainsworth, Williams could have been our Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner back then, if not for injuries. Or how about Durham, a model of health before the Giants, a poster boy for injuries with the Giants? Or trading a good pitcher in Ortiz (where we were forced to do it) and getting a rumored drinker in Moss, who never matched his good first season? Or not even physical health involved, but how about this California touchy-feely mental health situation: trading for "clubhouse cancer" but All-Star lefty hitting offensive and defensive catcher from the Twinnies? Things would have been a lot different had he instead gelled and was kept instead of jettisoned like so much waste?

      But sometimes, life works in mysterious ways: all those losses of talent led to our poor mid-to-late 2000's where we got good draft picks and picked up Lincecum, Bumgarner, and Posey. Had any of those worked out to what we thought it would have or should have, we might not have gotten all three of them in the draft, particularly Posey, who I would say has been the linchpin of the drive for both championships. The starters won it for us, but it was his offensive and defensive leadership that got the team going, particularly his "why not us, why not every year" attitude.

      And need I remind you of our recent travails with top prospects: AnVil and Gustavo.

    3. I'm starting my own research on the issue of traded prospects and players. Its a really interesting and big subject.

      There is a new antenna you can hook up on the interwebz, its going to the supreme court because its such a threat to the Cable Co's dominance. I'll go snag a link in a bit, the founder is Indian and a very interesting guy. Its mainly East Coast at this time, but it'll filter out here.

      I agree, I think Seattle is really wasting King Felix, and I think that this Cano investment is a bad beat waiting to happen: that field will kill his power, 2B -men just do not age well, and he's not a star. He just isn't a star, he's been a very solid player for a lot of years, but paying crazy money for a guy like Cano looks like a bad bet to me. On the other hand, he is as iron man as they come, so as far as 2B if you have to bet on 2B... he's the best one to bet on in some time.

      What Dave D has done with the Tigers that is really impressive is he's assembled such a good pitching staff, particularly starters. He has the premier slugger in the game, and he's made some adjustments after coming up short 2 years straight. Personally I think jettisoning Fat Boy Fielder is a hugely good move, getting Ian Kinsler in exchange is just fine. They don't need to slug their way out, they need to have some balance. And Fielder has proven to be a not prime time player when it counts.

  3. I bey against Dave D once...October 2012!!!
    Here's to the stary of another Championship season!