Does a new set of stats reflect much of a change in who could stand to upgrade in left field?
Last week, I explored the majors’ surprising downturn in offense from left fielders, a result counterintuitive to our understanding of Bill James’ defensive spectrum, which runs DH-1B-LF-RF-3B-CF-2B-SS-C. The positions to the left of the spectrum, which require far less defensive skill, are the ones where offensive production is supposed to be the highest, yet left field has been engaged in a decades-long battle for offensive supremacy with right field—which requires a stronger arm for throwing to third base—and this past year slipped behind center field for the first time since 1966. I placed the major reason for the downturn at the feet of teams attempting to copy the 2005 White Sox, who used Scott Podsednik—a center fielder to that point in his career—in left field, and attempted to show how the defensive gain supplied by the speedsters did not outweigh the loss of offense. I even got to talk about the phenomenon on television.
What kind of production do teams receive from players tabbed to replace superstars?
Earlier this week, Mariano Rivera arrived at the Yankees' spring training facility in Tampa, Florida, and caused a stir by strongly hinting that the 2012 season would be his final one. The 42-year-old, who has served as the Yankees’ closer since 1997, has shown no signs of slippage, with four straight seasons of ERAs under 2.00 backed by stellar peripherals—strikeout and walk rates better than his career numbers, even—and high save totals. Late last season, he surpassed Trevor Hoffman as the all-time saves leader, and with five World Series rings in hand, the only real challenge that remains is for him to convince manager Joe Girardi to allow him a cameo in center field.
The corner outfield spots are known for production, but one field has been far more dominant in recent years.
My working theory was that it began with Scott Podsednik. In December 2004, White Sox general manager Kenny Williams sent slugging left fielder Carlos Lee to the Brewers for a three-player package that included Podsednik, who was coming off a so-so season as Milwaukee's center fielder. He had stolen 70 bases and bopped 12 homers—a nice return in the fantasy realm—but had hit just .244/.313/.364. His .237 True Average was hardly anything to write home about, and here at BP, both Christina Kahrl and Joe Sheehantossed aroundphrases like "as a hitter plugged into left field, the nicest thing you can say is that he makes a great part-time center fielder." At the time, the Sox were set with an All-Star caliber center fielder in Aaron Rowand, 27 and coming off a breakout .310/.361/.544 campaign, which didn't exactly clarify matters.
While third base is often considered an offense-heavy position now, last year proved to be a major down season.
As so often happens, my recent Replacement-Level Killers and Vortices of Suck miniseries have focused my attention on the landscape of offensive production at each position. Back in July, while putting together the midseason Killers, I was struck by just how awful a year it had been for third basemen. Age, injuries, and mysterious slumps had sapped the production of so many hot cornermen that their collective True Average (.253) trailed that of second basemen (.256)—a seven-point swing from the year before, a change that couldn't simply be explained by Chone Figgins' switch in positions. As someone who internalized Bill James' defensive spectrum before I was old enough to drive, this anomaly fascinated me.
Which outfielders and DHs proved to be the biggest black holes in the majors?
Picking up where I left off on Friday, we continue hunting the fish at the bottom of the major-league barrel in search of the positions where teams got the worst production—worse than the Replacement-Level Killers, but without the burden of toiling for a contending team. As with their catching and infield brethren, the following players helped produce tornado-level disasters amid their lineups, often at salaries that represented far more than just soft breezes running through their teams’ bank accounts. These are the Vortices of Suck.
Which men of misery prevented their teams from escaping the murky waters of suckitude?
My semiannual Replacement-Level Killers series spotlights the worst holes in contenders' lineups, as well as the possible remedies they might take to avoid letting such subpar production destroy their post-season chances the next time around. I make no claims for this companion series being so noble in purpose. Because bad baseball so often makes for good copy, it's more fun to hunt the fish at the bottom of the major-league barrel to find the positions where players' contributions could be considered the worst in the majors. What follows is an "all-star" team of players who have produced tornado-level disasters amid their lineups, often at salaries that represented far more than just a soft breeze running through their team's bank account. Once again, I present the Vortices of Suck.
How have teams fared when they have a dramatic increase in payroll over the previous season?
Last time out, I examined the 2012 Mets' Opening Day payroll drop—projected to exceed $50 million—and placed it in the context of other drastic payroll cuts dating back to 1989, since my source for the payroll data, the USA Today Salary Database went back to 1988. Given data that went further back, I’d have liked to place the teardowns of the A's dynasties of the 1910s, 1930s, and 1970s—are there any other dismantlings so famous?—into a similar context, but as one Twitter follower said, we go to war with the data we have. Today I turn my attention to the flip side of the story, the largest payroll increases during a timespan that conveniently stands as the point when baseball was just emerging from its collusion scandal.
Does history give any clues as to how the Mets will perform with a lower payroll?
Late last month, ESPN New York's Adam Rubin reported that the Mets are facing the largest one-year payroll cut in major-league history, at least in terms of total dollars. With owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz deprived of the profits they derived from decades of investing with Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff, and struggling to find minority partners willing to provide a quick infusion of capital, the team is hemorrhaging money and facing a growing mountain of debt. According to general manager Sandy Alderson, the Mets lost $70 million last year, and made no real attempt to retain pending free agents Carlos Beltran (who was traded in midseason) or Jose Reyes (who departed for the Marlins in December). Barring even one additional midlevel signing, they could become the first team to drop $50 million in salary from one Opening Day to the next.
In which old school and new school find some common ground on Clubhouse Confidential.
I wasn't always a Larry Bowa fan. I grew up rooting for the Dodgers in the late 1970s, during the time of their heated rivalry with the Phillies. The two teams tangled in the 1977 and 1978 National League Championship Series, with the Dodgers winning twice and advancing to the World Series, only to meet their doom at the hands of the Yankees. That Phillies team, anchored by future Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, slugger Greg Luzinski, fireman Tug McGraw, speedster Garry Maddox and backstop Bob Boone, didn't lack for memorable players. Bowa was the slick-fielding starting shortstop, a slappy contact hitter and a fiery competitor whose visible intensity wasn't likely to gain the affection of fans of opposing teams, and in my case, it didn't. His abilities were nonetheless respected enough by the writers that he placed a strong third in the 1978 NL MVP voting in on the strength of a season in which he hit .294/.319/.370 with 192 hits but just three homers and 43 RBI. Bowa was worth a runaway career best 4.6 WARP that year, good for 23rd in the league, but still requiring some amount of narrative grease to outdo the higher rankings of teammates Schmidt, Luzinski, and Maddox, not to mention fourth-place finisher Reggie Smith (.295/.382/.559, 6.0 WARP) of the Dodgers.
Taking a look at whose season of ineptitude may have cost his team a spot in the playoffs.
Picking up where I left off on Monday, the Replacement-Level Killers is our semi-annual all-star team of ignominy, highlighting the positions at which poor production helped sink contending teams, with an eye toward the steps they've made to correct those problems as spring training approaches. For the purposes of this exercise, I've loosely defined contenders as non-playoff teams who finished no more than 10 games out of the running in 2011, which limits this particular turkey shoot to members of the Red Sox, Angels, Blue Jays, Braves, Giants, Dodgers, and Nationals, not all of whom are represented this time around. If a particularly sizable hole in your favorite team’s production isn’t represented here, fear not, as all 30 teams are eligible for the forthcoming Vortices of Suck squad, the absolute bottom of the barrel.