Matthew Pouliot

Brad Lidge

Report: Brad Lidge opts for retirement

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Brad Lidge, who sat out the remainder of the 2012 season after being released by the Nationals in June, has decided to retire, ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports.

The 35-year-old Lidge had a 9.64 ERA in 9 1/3 innings before being let go by the Nationals. Battling both shoulder and elbow problems, he had seen his innings total decrease four straight seasons.

Lidge was incredible at his peak. In 2004, he finished with a 1.90 ERA and 157 strikeouts in 94 2/3 innings of relief for the Astros. Only three relievers have ever struck out more batters, and they all needed 130+ innings to get there (Dick Radatz in 1963 and ’64 and Mark Eichhorn in 1986).  After Lidge, the highest strikeout total for a reliever in fewer than 100 innings is 141 (Rob Dibble, 1989).

Lidge also topped 100  strikeouts in 2005 and 2006. In 2008, he finished a perfect 41-for-41 saving games during the regular season and then added seven more October saves while closing out the World Series for the Phillies.

Unfortunately, Lidge’s most famous postseason moment was giving up a walkoff homer to Albert Pujols in the 2005 NLCS. The Astros, though, bounced back to win that series, and Lidge was a stellar postseason pitcher overall, amassing a 2.18 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 45 1/3 innings.

Lidge finishes his 11-year career with 225 saves, a 3.54 ERA and 799 strikeouts in 603 1/3 innings. It’s the second highest strikeout rate in major league history for a pitcher with at least 500 innings, with Billy Wagner barely beating him out (Wagner is at 11.920 K/9 IP, while Lidge comes in at 11.919).

The Dodgers aren’t looking at Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson
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Well, this is a first. The free-spending Dodgers have no plans to make a run at non-tendered closer Brian Wilson, sources told Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.

Wilson was said to be quite interested in pitching in SoCal with the Dodgers or Angels, but both teams have already signed closers this winter. The Dodgers re-signed Brandon League for $22.5 million over three years, while the Angels added Ryan Madson on a one-year deal that could earn him $7 million.

Wilson, like Madson, is returning from Tommy John surgery. He’s probably going to want more than the $3.5 million guarantee that Madson got from the Halos.

Boston might be another possibility for Wilson, though the Red Sox only figure to upgrade from Andrew Bailey in the closer’s role if they find a potential bargain.

Reds interested in Dexter Fowler to fill leadoff spot

Dexter Fowler
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The Reds aren’t willing to spend for Michael Bourn or Angel Pagan to upgrade from Drew Stubbs in center fielder, but there is a cheaper alternative available in trade: Colorado’s Dexter Fowler.

FOXSports.com’s Jon Morosi reports that the Reds are interested in Fowler, while the Rockies happen to like Reds starter Homer Bailey. There’s no indication that the two sides have actually discussed a deal involving those two, but perhaps they will at the winter meetings beginning Monday.

A deal involving those two would seem to improve the Reds’ chances for 2013. Bailey emerged as a very good starting pitcher last year, but he has a history of arm problems and the Reds have Mike Leake available to step into his spot in the rotation. The difference between Leake and Bailey probably isn’t as great as the difference between Stubbs and Fowler.

The Rockies would probably want more than Bailey for their center fielder, but perhaps adding Stubbs to the deal would even it up in their eyes. They could take a one-year look at Stubbs and then go in a different direction if he fails to take a step forward.

There’s also a complication for the Reds; much of Fowler’s trade value is rooted in the fact that he’s under control through 2015. The Reds, though, should have Billy Hamilton ready to take over in center in 2014, and Fowler wouldn’t be all that valuable in a corner.

Steroids or no, Sammy Sosa doesn’t belong in Hall of Fame

Sammy Sosa
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If I had a Hall of Fame ballot — and don’t worry, I do not — I’d put down nine names on it this year: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling and Alan Trammell.

Yes, there are some cheaters on that list: three definites and at least a couple of maybes. I am willing to penalize for steroids. But I can’t see leaving Bonds, Clemens and McGwire out of the Hall. For better and for worse, they’re part of the history of the game.

Rafael Palmeiro, on the other hand, is close enough to the borderline that I don’t mind leaving him off the list. His career numbers are deserving, but he was never a dominant force. His highest MVP finish was fifth place. Baseball-reference WAR puts him among his league’s top 10 players once (8th place in 1993).

And then there’s Sammy Sosa. He’s not in the same boat as Palmeiro because he was a true superstar. From 1998-2002, Sosa hit .306/.397/.649 with 292 homers. That’s 292 homers in five years! He led the NL in homers in 2000 and ’02 and RBI in 1998 and 2001. He had 63 homers and 141 RBI in 1999 and didn’t lead the league in either category.

But that five-year run supplies the vast majority of Sosa’s case. The problem with Sosa is that he just wasn’t that valuable over the course of the rest of his six 30-homer seasons. He started out as a fine defensive outfielder, but he lost most of his value there by the time he became a great hitter. His initial 30-homer campaigns came with lousy OBPs and few doubles. His later ones came with average OBPs and poor defense.

Look at where Sosa ranks on the career lists:

K’s: 3rd
HR: 8th
RBI: 27th
SLG: 44th
Outs: 62nd
Runs: 75th
OPS: 100th
Hits: 116th
BB: 155th
OPS+: 190th
2B: 217th
OBP: 699th

Compare that with McGwire. He’s two spots below Sosa on the home run list and just 68th in RBI, but he’s eighth in slugging, 10th in OPS and 13th in OPS+. McGwire was one of the greatest hitters of all-time. Sosa certainly had a great run, but he was also a product of his time. If he came up in 1979 or 1999, rather than 1989, his numbers wouldn’t be nearly as impressive.

Like most everyone else, I do believe Sosa was a cheater, even though there isn’t much besides one anonymous New York Times report to back that up. But the reason I don’t include him on my imaginary ballot is that I don’t believe he was good enough for long enough.

HOF voters: choose Mike Piazza or accuse him of using steroids

Mike Piazza
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Jeff Bagwell gave the Hall of Fame voters an easy way out. Sure, his body of work leaves him qualified for Cooperstown based on the standards for first basemen, but he didn’t bat .300 for his career or hit 500 homers. His one MVP season came in strike-shortened 1994. That’s also the only year he led the league in a Triple Crown category.

Thus, a Hall of Fame voter can look at Bagwell’s record and say it’s not quite Hall of Fame worthy, all without getting into the messy steroid issue.

Will they be able to do the same for Mike Piazza? A career .308/.377/.545 hitter with 427 homers in 16 seasons, Piazza is pretty obviously the greatest offensive catcher the game has ever seen. His 143 OPS+ is well in front of any other player to catch at least 70 percent of his games. Joe Mauer is next at 135, and he’s yet to enter his decline phase. Mickey Cochrane is third at 129, followed by Bill Dickey and Johnny Bench.

Of course, Piazza’s defensive reputation was shaky at its best, dreadful at its worst. But that was mostly (almost entirely?) due to his arm. It doesn’t seem like he ever held back his his teams. Here are the NL ERA ranks from all of Piazza’s staffs in his years as a team’s primary catcher:

1993 Dodgers: 3rd
1994 Dodgers: 9th
1995 Dodgers: 2nd
1996 Dodgers: 1st
1997 Dodgers: 2nd
1998 Mets: 4th
1999 Mets: 5th
2000 Mets: 3rd
2001 Mets: 5th
2002 Mets: 5th
2005 Mets: 3rd
2006 Padres: 1st

So, how bad of a defensive catcher could he have been? In 12 years as a primary catcher, his pitchers finished in the top third of the league in ERA 11 times.

(And whether it’s worth pointing out or not, the 1994 Dodgers, the one odd ball on the list, had a 3.97 ERA with Piazza catching and a 5.28 ERA with Carlos Hernandez and Tom Prince behind the plate.)

All of this has been a long-winded way of saying there’s absolutely no way to justify leaving Piazza out of the Hall of Fame based on performance. We can argue whether Piazza is inner-circle or not, but he’s certainly a Hall of Famer according the numbers. Still, I’m guessing he’ll be left off 35-45 percent of the ballots when the votes are counted in January, despite never having failed a drug test.

And for that reason, I’m challenging Hall of Fame voters; if you don’t vote for him, call him out for using steroids. Say “I’m not voting for Piazza because I think he was a cheater.” Preferably present some evidence if you have it, but whether you do or not, make the reason clear. No wishy-washy stuff. There’s no excuse for leaving him off the ballot otherwise.