Daily Dose: Sweet relief

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As Aaron Gleeman attends the annual SABR Convention
inside the beltway, I’ll do my best to pinch-hit in his absence. I’ll
spare you my opinion on Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, instead pointing
you towards our coverage on
Circling the Bases.
This is the time of year where the great majority of us would rather
refresh our browsers for information on the latest trade instead of
harping on past indiscretions.




On the subject of trades, the
Dodgers struck with the first major deal yesterday, landing George
Sherrill from the Orioles in exchange for 22-year-old third baseman
Josh Bell and 21-year-old right-hander Steve Johnson.
Sherrill joins a taxed Los Angeles pen, and will function as the team’s
primary left-handed set-up man behind closer Jonathan Broxton.


Entering
the season, some believed that Chris Ray would eventually supplant
Sherrill as closer, but while Ray faltered, Sherrill was fantastic in
42 appearances, compiling a 2.40 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 39/13 K/BB ratio
in 41 1/3 innings. He even brought his 5.57 BB/9 from last season down
to a very respectable 2.83. He is a great weapon against left-handers,
holding them to a miniscule .167 batting average in his career. Though
the move kills his fantasy value in mixed leagues, Sherrill is a pretty
nice insurance policy if Jonathon Broxton’s toe keeps barking. You
know, if Joe Torre doesn’t get to his arm first.

With
Sherrill out of the picture in Baltimore, Jim Johnson is the
speculative grab for fantasy owners. After a 2.23 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in
2008, Johnson has put together another solid statistical season,
posting a 3.17 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 35/16 K/BB ratio in 48 1/3 innings
pitched. Don’t be alarmed by the increase in ERA — Johnson was
fortunate enough not to give up a home run in 68 2/3 innings last
season. He should prove to be a solid, if unspectacular source for
saves going forward.

As for the Orioles’ haul, Bell is the one
to watch here. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 205-pounds, he is a switch-hitter
with real power potential. A knee injury limited him to just 51 games
in 2008, but he has put up a solid .296/.386/.497 line with 11 bombs
and 52 RBI for Double-A Chattanooga this season. He began the year
ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the Dodgers’ organization, according to
Baseball America. Overall, not a bad return for the Orioles, but it
would have been even better had they managed to nab southpaw Scott
Elbert, as rumored, instead of the hometown-boy Johnson.

* The Pirates continued their purge on Thursday, this time sending lefties John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny to the Cubs in return for pitchers Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio,
as well as Single-A third baseman Josh Harrison. For those keeping
score, and I’m sure you are, the Pirates have now traded away 13
players from their 2008 Opening Day roster.

Acquiring Grabow
doesn’t give Lou Pinella a true left-handed specialist, as lefties have
hit .270 against him lifetime, compared to .254 for righties. With a
3.42 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and 41/28 K/BB ratio in 47 1/3 innings pitched this
season, Grabow is getting a bit lucky for a second straight year
despite shoddy control and a stagnant groundball rate, but he should
settle into a sixth or seventh inning role just fine. As for
Gorzelanny, he is just two seasons removed from a 3.88 ERA and 14 wins
in his rookie campaign. And he has shown some hope at a revival by
going 4-3 with a 2.48 ERA through 15 starts for Triple-A Indianapolis.
He will likely join the starting rotation until Ted Lilly returns.

Hart
led the Cubs to their seventh victory in their last 10 games on
Thursday afternoon, allowing three runs over six innings, but now he’ll
call Pittsburgh home. The 26-year-old right-hander owns a 2.60 ERA in
eight games (four starts) with the Cubs this season. Fantasy owners
should look for Hart to contribute in the Bucs’ rotation immediately,
most likely replacing Virgil Vasquez. He’s worth a look in NL-only
leagues, but doesn’t figure to be more than a back-end option in the
rotation in the long-term. As for Ascanio, he has legitimate
closer-type stuff, including a plus-fastball, but due to his poor
control, he projects best as a set-up man. Pirates general manager Neil
Huntington certainly deserves heaps of praise for the deals he made
with San Francisco and Seattle on Wednesday, but he took some
questionable pieces back from the Cubs on Thursday. Hey, two out of
three ain’t bad, right?

* Speaking of Huntington, ready to “stop
the cycle of losing, and with that, the cycle of trading” the Pirates
are expected to call up Lastings Milledge before Friday’s game against
his former team, the Nationals. Upon his arrival, Milledge will be a
“regular,” according to Huntington, starting alongside Andrew McCutchen
and Garrett Jones in the revamped Bucco outfield.

Milledge’s
track record is well known. He hit .167 in 24 at-bats with the
Nationals this season before being unceremoniously demoted on April 14.
From there, he broke his finger attempting a bunt in May, finally being
shipped out of NatsTown in the Nyjer Morgan deal back on June 30. Few
fantasy owners have forgotten his furious finish to 2008, when he
batted .299 with seven homers, 29 RBI and 11 stolen bases over the
season’s final 58 games. And it’s that two-way promise that deems him
worthy of ownership in NL-only leagues and worth consideration in
deeper mixed leagues, as well.

AL Quick Hits:
The Royals acquired outfielder Josh Anderson from the Tigers in
exchange for cash considerations … Amidst all the steroid talk, David
Ortiz launched a go-ahead three-run homer in a win over the Athletics
on Thursday afternoon … After meeting with Dr. James Andrews, Joel
Zumaya will have season-ending shoulder surgery next month … Brad
Bergesen won his seventh game while lowering his ERA to 3.43 on
Thursday, but suffered a shin injury after getting hit by a line drive
on his last pitch … Derek Holland pitched into the ninth inning and
struck out a career-high 10 in a 7-1 win over the Mariners on Thursday
night … Gil Meche (back) is scheduled for a rehab appearance on
Sunday and could rejoin the Royals next week … Vicente Padilla (swine
flu) is scheduled to start on Friday against the Mariners … The
Indians opted for Trevor Crowe to replace Ben Francisco on the roster
instead of top-prospect Matt LaPorta … Rangers president Nolan Ryan
said the team is actively pursuing Roy Halladay.

NL Quick Hits:
Brandon Webb suffered another setback that could finally lead to
surgery on his ailing right shoulder … After struggling all season,
Bill Hall accepted an assignment with Triple-A Nashville … Johan
Santana struck out eight over seven scoreless innings against the
Rockies on Thursday afternoon … Geovany Soto (oblique) could begin
playing in minor league rehab games as soon as Friday … Jerry Manuel
expects Gary Sheffield (hamstring) to return from the disabled list on
Saturday … Ben Francisco made his Phillies debut in center field on
Thursday as Shane Victorino sat out with a sore left knee … Jeff
Suppan was placed on the disabled list with a left oblique strain …
Yunel Escobar left Thursday’s game with a wrist injury and is
day-to-day … Brendan Ryan is day-to-day after suffering a bruised left ankle on Thursday.

The New Zealand World Baseball Classic team performs the Haka

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It’s World Baseball Classic time again. Just the qualifying rounds. The actual tournament happens in 2017. Qualifiers will happen in Sydney, Australia, Mexicali, Mexico, Panama City, Panama and Brooklyn, N.Y., periodically, between now and September.

The Sydney round just got underway yesterday, so yes, some actual baseball is going on. As I’ve written and ranted before, the WBC is not my favorite thing that happens in baseball and certainly not the most important thing, but it’s pretty fun. Especially when there are displays of enthusiasm and pageantry and the like.

Such as the Haka, which basically every New Zealand sports team does and which never gets old:

 

Down in Sydney, the Australia, New Zealand, Philippines and South Africa teams are competing in a six-game, modified double-elimination format. In the other three qualifying rounds, Mexico, Czech Republic, Germany, Nicaragua, Colombia, France, Panama, Spain, Brazil, Great Britain, Israel and Pakistan will compete. Each qualifying round puts one representative in the WBC.

Those four qualifiers will compete in the WBC itself against countries that performed well enough in the past that they need not submit to qualifying: Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, Japan, Korea, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, United States and Venezuela.

Someone make sure Jon Morosi is well-hyrdrated. It’s gonna be a long year.

Yovani Gallardo and the Orioles are both “optimistic” about a deal

Yovani Gallardo
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Multiple reports Wednesday had the Orioles and free agent right-hander Yovani Gallardo deep in negotiations on a multi-year deal. Nothing has been finalized yet, but Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com says “both sides appear to be pretty optimistic still.”

Ghiroli adds that the “ball is in the Orioles’ court,” although that may simply reveal her likely source to be Gallardo’s agent. Whatever the case, Baltimore is apparently now willing to forfeit their first-round draft pick to sign Galllardo and he may lead to a domino effect in which they also forfeit a second-round draft pick to sign outfielder Dexter Fowler.

The idea being that if you’re going to cough up the 14th overall pick to sign a mid-level free agent with spring training right around the corner you might as well cough up a lower draft pick to sign a second one. Gallardo has shown signs of decline, including a big dip in strikeout rate, but he logged 184 innings with a 3.42 ERA for the Rangers last season.

Chipper Jones says the Mets are his pick to “go all the way”

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Chipper Jones may believe some weird things but he’s pretty savvy and clear-eyed when it comes to analyzing baseball.

Remember back in 2013 how he picked the Dodgers to beat the Braves in the NLDS? And how, because of his perceived “disloyalty,” Braves players had an immature little temper tantrum and refused to catch his ceremonial first pitch? Yeah, that was a great look. If I was more inclined to the hokey and irrational, I’d say that created “The Curse of Chipper” and that it condemned the Braves to two straight years of sucking. Hey, people have built careers on curses sillier than that.

Anyway, kudos to Chipper for apparently not giving a crap about that sort of thing and, instead, saying what he thinks about baseball. Stuff like how he thinks the Mets are going to win it all, saying “They’re really setting the bar and they’re my early-season pick to probably go all the way.”

Keeping in mind that anything can happen in baseball, it’s as good a pick as any other I reckon. Even if it means he has to say that the team who was his greatest rival during his playing career — and whom he thoroughly owned during that time — is better than the one that pays his salary now. Or any other one.

Did Tony La Russa screw Jim Edmonds’ Hall of Fame candidacy?

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Yes, that’s a somewhat provocative question. But it’s still an interesting question, the relevancy of and merits of which we’ll get to in a second. I pose it mostly so I can tell you about some neat research a friend of mine is doing and which should make Hall of Fame discussions and the general discussion of baseball history a lot of fun in the coming years. Bear with me for a moment.

There has long been a war between metrics and narrative. The folks who say that so-and-so was great because of the arc of his story and his career and those who say so-and-so was not so great or whatshisface was way, way better because of the numbers. Those views are often pitted as irreconcilable opposites. But what if they weren’t? What if there was some data which explained why some players become narrative darlings and others don’t? Some explanation for why, say, Jim Rice is in the Hall of Fame while Dwight Evans isn’t despite having better numbers? An explanation, that isn’t about voters being dumb or merely playing favorites all willy-nilly? What if there was some actual quantitative reason why favorites get played in the first place?

That’s the thesis of the work of Brandon Isleib. He has just finished writing a very interesting book. It’s not yet published, but I have had the chance to read it. It sets forth the fascinating proposition that we can quantify narrative. That we can divine actual numerical values which help explain a player’s fame and public profile. Values which aren’t based on some complicated or counterintuitive formula, but which are rooted in the very thing all baseball fans see every day: games. Wins and losses. The daily standings. Values which reveal that, no, Hall of Fame voters who made odd choices in the view of the analytics crowd weren’t necessarily stupid or petty. They were merely reacting to forces and dynamics in the game which pushed them in certain ways and not others.

“But wait!” you interject. “Jim Rice and Dwight Evans played on the same dang team! How does Brandon distinguish that?” I won’t give away all the details of it but it makes sense if you break down how the Red Sox did in certain years and how that corresponded with Rice’s and Evans’ best years. There were competitive narratives in play in 1975, 1978 or 1986 that weren’t in play in 1981 or 1987. From those competitive narratives come player narratives which are pretty understandable. When you weight it all based on how competitive a team was on a day-to-day basis based on how far out of first place they were, etc., a picture starts to come together which explains why “fame” works the way it does.

From this, you start to realize why certain players, no matter how good, never got much Hall of Fame consideration. And why others’ consideration seemed disproportionate compared to their actual performance. All of which, again, is based on numbers, not on the sort of bomb-throwing media criticism in which jerks like me have come to engage.

Like I said, the book won’t be out for a bit — Brandon just finished it — but in the meantime he has a website where he has been and, increasingly will be, talking about his quantification of narrative stuff, writing short articles posing some of the questions his book and his research addresses.

Today’s entry — which is what my headline is based on — isn’t really numbers-based. It’s more talking about the broader phenomenon Brandon’s work gets at in terms of trying to figure out which players are credited for their performance and which are not so credited and why. Specifically, it talks about how Tony La Russa, more than most managers, gets the credit for his success and his players probably get somewhat less than they deserve. In this way La Russa is kind of viewed as a football coach figure and his players are, I dunno, system quarterbacks. It’s something that is unfair, I think, to guys like Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen and will, eventually, likely be unfair to players like Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday.

It’s fascinating stuff which gets to the heart of player reputation and how history comes together. It reminds us that, in the end, the reporters and the analysts who argue about all of these things are secondary players, even if we make the most noise. It’s the figures in the game — the players and the managers — who shape it all. The rest of us are just observers and scribes.