<span class="vcard">Matthew Pouliot</span>

Felix Hernandez

Mariners wager their future on Felix Hernandez’s right arm

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If you had to bet big on a pitcher for the next seven years, Felix Hernandez seems as good a choice as any. He hasn’t been in Justin Verlander’s league these last two years, but he also hasn’t been extended to 270 innings per year like Verlander has. And while I think I’d choose Clayton Kershaw over anyone, I do feel a little bit safer trusting someone with Hernandez’s thick build over the slighter left-hander. I think Kershaw is the better bet to contend for Cy Young awards deep into the decade, but Hernandez is the  more likely of the two to still be throwing 220-230 excellent innings per season.

Still, it’s all just a guess. Pitching is inherently risky. Unlikely candidates have survived the rigors and won 200 games, and some who look like they’ll last forever are gone in an instant.

Since the expansion era started in 1961, Hernandez, with 32 WAR, is one of a dozen pitchers to have racked up at least 28 WAR through age 26 (using the Baseball-Reference version). Here are the other 11, their WARs through age 26 and their totals from age 27 onward.

Bert Blyleven – 47 WAR – 165-137, 3.71 ERA, 109 ERA+, 44 WAR
Tom Seaver – 35 WAR – 216-151, 3.07 ERA, 121 ERA+, 66 WAR
Dwight Gooden – 35 WAR – 62-59, 4.45 ERA, 99 ERA+, 11 WAR
Roger Clemens – 34 WAR – 259-139, 3.15 ERA, 144 ERA+, 99 WAR
Bret Saberhagen – 34 WAR – 70-47, 3.49 ERA, 124 ERA+. 22 WAR
Frank Tanana – 33 WAR – 138-158, 4.03 ERA, 100 ERA+, 20 WAR
Dave Stieb – 32 WAR – 95-70, 3.57 ERA, 116 ERA+. 22 WAR
Fernando Valenzuela – 30 WAR – 60-71, 4.29 ERA, 90 ERA+, 4 WAR
Pedro Martinez – 29 WAR – 135-54, 2.89 ERA, 160 ERA+, 53 WAR
Dennis Eckersley – 29 WAR – 99-99, 3.59 ERA, 114 ERA+, 30 WAR
Kevin Appier – 29 WAR – 109-93, 4.16 ERA, 112 ERA+, 23 WAR

Of the 11 best young starters in the last 50 years, just three accomplished more from age 27 onward than they did through age 26. There are three Hall of Famers on the list in Blyleven, Seaver and Eckersley and two more guys with Hall of Fame numbers in Clemens and Martinez. None of the other six came anywhere close to getting elected.

My feeling is that the Mariners should have waited on a Hernandez extension. He was under control for two more years at a total of $39.5 million. In essence, today’s seven-year, $175 million contract is really a five-year, $135.5 million extension. In guaranteeing Hernandez $27.1 million per year for those five years, the Mariners are giving him 10 percent more than any pitcher has ever gotten in a long-term contract. CC Sabathia’s Yankees renegotiated deal, Cole Hamels’ Phillies extension and Zack Greinke’s free agent deal with the Dodgers were all for $24.4 million-$24.5 million per year. The Mariners weren’t getting any kind of discount here and thus should have revisited extension talks next winter.

On the other hand, it’s not really all that outrageous of a contract. Had Hernandez been a free agent this winter, he surely would have gotten $200 million on the open market. There’s also something to be said for a move like this reassuring the fanbase. The semi-annual “should Felix go” columns are out the window now, and eager Yankees and Red Sox fans will have to turn their attention elsewhere in search of prey. Salaries are likely to keep going up, so if Felix stays healthy, there’s a good chance he’ll be worth the money. The Mariners’ future through 2019 now hinges on it.

Tigers, Max Scherzer agree at $6.725 million

Max Scherzer
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The Tigers settled at the midpoint with arbitration-eligible right-hander Max Scherzer on Monday, agreeing to a one-year, $6.725 million contract.

Scherzer asked for $7.4 million in arbitration, while the Tigers proposed a $6.05 million salary. He had been Detroit’s only remaining arbitration case.

The 28-year-old Scherzer busted out in the second half of last season, going 8-2 with a 2.69 ERA to finish 16-7 with a 3.74 ERA and 231 strikeouts in 187 2/3 innings. Only Justin Verlander struck out more batters in the AL, and no qualified starter in either league had a higher strikeout rate (Stephen Strasburg would have, but he just missed the 162-IP mark). He also went 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in three postseason starts, fanning at least eight batters each outing.

Scherzer will be eligible for arbitration one more time next winter before hitting free agency following the 2014 campaign.

Appreciating Kevin Millwood’s career

Kevin Millwood
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It’s a trivia question that would have stumped most: who is the active leader in strikeouts among right-handed pitchers?

Until this morning, the answer was Kevin Millwood, at 2,083. Now it’s Roy Halladay, just 17 behind at 2,066, after Millwood announced his retirement.

An 11th-round pick by the Braves in 1993, Millwood opened his career in outstanding fashion, going 17-8 and 18-7 in his first two full seasons. He may have won the 1998 NL Rookie of the Year award, except he threw 1 1/3 too many innings in 1997. In 1999, he made the All-Star team, finished second to Randy Johnson in the NL in ERA and led the league in WHIP.

As it turned out, that was Millwood’s only All-Star team. He was 40-20 after his first 2 1/3 seasons. Afterwards, he was 129-132.

Following a 2002 season in which he went 18-8 with a 3.24 ERA, Millwood was involved in a controversial trade. The Braves, looking to cut payroll, shipped him to Philadelphia for middling catcher Johnny Estrada.

The deal didn’t really work out as hoped for either team. Estrada missed most of the 2003 season and then came back and had one fine year for the Braves in 2004. Millwood went 23-18 with a 4.34 ERA while earning $20 million in his two years with the Phillies. The team had no interest in bringing him back for the 2005 season.

With his stock down, Millwood signed a one-year deal with the Indians in free agency and then went 9-11 with an AL-best 2.86 ERA in 2005. He parlayed that campaign into a five-year, $60 million deal with the Rangers.

Millwood was a modest disappointment in Texas. After going 16-12 in a solid first season, he went 19-24 with ERAs over 5.00 each of the following two years. He bounced back with a nice 2009, going 13-10 with a 3.67 ERA, but the Rangers paid the Orioles to take him that winter.

Doomed in Baltimore, Millwood went 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA in his lone year in the AL East. Even though his numbers outside Camden Yards weren’t bad, no one wanted him afterwards. He finally got another chance with the Rockies towards the end of 2011 and went 4-3 with a 3.98 ERA in nine starts. The Mariners signed him last year, and he went 6-12 with a 4.25 ERA in 28 starts last season.

It’s hardly fair to label Millwood’s career a disappointment, but more was expected after his big start. His teams were often disappointments, and he never went to the postseason again after the Braves traded him (he was 3-3 with a 3.92 ERA in seven starts and two relief appearances with Atlanta).

Still, while Millwood wasn’t often great after the big start, he was never bad. He ended up with a first, a second and an eighth place finish in ERA. He won at least 16 games a total of four times. He led the NL in shutouts in 2003. He even had a couple of nice highlights in his final season with the Mariners. On May 18, he became just the 10th visiting pitcher to throw a shutout at Coors Field, pitching a two-hitter against the Rockies. Just three weeks later on June 8, he was involved in one of the most unusual no-hitters in history, throwing six innings before leaving due to injury and then watching as five relievers finished it off for him.

So, no, Millwood won’t be getting any Hall of Fame votes when the time comes. But 169-152 isn’t bad. Millwood is 188th all-time in wins and 59th in strikeouts. And given that he made about $90 million over the course of his career, he should have a lot of fun in retirement.

You’ll probably have to lie on your resume to work for the Cubs

cubs logo
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As their new, most excellent consultant Tangotiger points out, the Cubs are on the prowl for a new Director of Research & Development — Baseball Operations. Which is good news for some lucky person out there. All the Cubs are asking for is…

Required Qualifications

  • Advanced degree or equivalent experience in statistics, mathematics, computer science, or a related quantitative field.
  • Demonstrated project management, problem-solving, and teaching abilities.
  • Demonstrated ability to communicate difficult and complex concepts at an appropriate level to colleagues possessing a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives.
  • Demonstrated expert-level knowledge (of at least 5 years) with baseball-specific data, modern statistical techniques, and sabermetric analysis.
  • Demonstrated expertise with R, STATA, SPSS, SAS, or similar software.
  • Demonstrated expertise with SQL Server, Microsoft Access, My SQL, Oracle, database administration/structuring, data warehousing and data modeling.
  • Knowledge and demonstrated ability in the areas of programming, software-coding, ETL, and/or machine learning techniques.

So, yeah, I’m out. I’ve got plenty of SAS and I do have a reputation as a bit of an oracle, but when it comes to programming, even the TI-83 kicked my butt.

The real stumbling block there, however, might be No. 3. The kind of people with the type of knowledge this job requires aren’t always the best at presenting it to the rest of us.

But best of luck to the Cubs and their likely strategy of offering said person one-fifth of what he/she could make at a Fortune 500 company. And then hiring them anyway because everyone wants to work in baseball.

If Alex Rodriguez cheated, it was just to help the Yankees win

Alex Rodriguez
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Maybe it’s just me, but I see a great deal of irony in the idea that Alex Rodriguez, years after all of the allegations and admissions, with hundreds of millions of dollars already earned, was still trying to cheat in 2012.

What, pray tell,  did Rodriguez have to gain by cheating, nine years after he said he stopped. Fame? I imagine he already had more than he’d like. Money? He does have $30 million possibly coming to him if he sets home run records. That’s essentially equal to one year’s extra salary for a guy who has already taken home about $300 million. The admiration of an adoring American populace? Fat chance.

I’m not writing to defend Alex Rodriguez. I abhor the act of cheating. I understand it, though. I’d be very tempted to do it myself if millions of dollars were at stake, as would so many others who are quick to condemn. For that reason, I’m pretty rational about the cheaters themselves.

But if we believe A-Rod’s first story, he never cheated until after he got his huge, $252 million contract from the Rangers. I don’t necessarily buy that, especially in light of today’s news, but obviously, he didn’t stop once he got his cash, as someone who was simply in it for the money might have done.

So, what is this all about, if not money? In my opinion, it’s about winning. Alex Rodriguez, for whatever faults he may have, has always desperately wanted to win. Sometimes it’s caused him to try too hard. I’m mostly referring to some postseason struggles in saying that, but it could also be applied to injecting powerful and potentially harmful substances into his body. A-Rod wants to win. And he wants to be liked, by teammates and fans both, which is another obvious product of winning.

Here we were in 2010, 2011, 2012. Rodriguez is signed through 2017. Nothing he did those seasons was going to affect his next contract. He’s making $30 million per year. He’s already admitted to steroid use early in his career, which would seem to make it imperative that he never again be caught with such substances if he wanted any chance of getting into the Hall of Fame when the time came.

And, yet, he put it all into jeopardy, according to today’s account in the Miami New Times.

In my eyes, whatever Rodriguez personally had to gain by using steroids was dwarfed by what he could lose by continuing to cheat. The potential voiding of his contract. Alienating the fans who had forgiven him. Endorsements. The rain of boos in every stadium he plays in going forward. What is that against an extra year’s salary?

Maybe I don’t know. I’m not a professional athlete, much less one of the greatest to ever play the game. I don’t have any real insight into what’s going on in Rodriguez’s head. In my head, it’s simply mind-blowing that Rodriguez would continue to cheat after everything that’s happened. That’s the main reason I have some doubts about today’s news; not the report itself but that Dr. Bosch was treating the actual Rodriguez and not some A-Rod he made up on paper.

Because this Rodriguez seemed to have so very much more to lose than to gain by cheating. If he did it anyway, wasn’t it all in the name of making the Yankees better? More wins, more championships, more love. I don’t see what else it could have been about.