Cincinnati Reds

Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips

Brandon Phillips doesn’t value on-base percentage, Joey Votto does. Does this matter?


Interesting piece from Bob Nightengale of USA Today about Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto, who don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on the importance of on-base percentage. While Votto has taken criticism for valuing his on-base skills, he continues to defend his approach at the plate. Meanwhile, Phillips is doing the same thing, except from the opposite end of the spectrum. Check it out:

“I don’t do that MLB Network on-base percentage (stuff),” Phillips told USA TODAY Sports. “I think that’s messing up baseball. I think people now are just worried about getting paid, and worrying about on-base percentage, instead of just winning the game.

“That’s the new thing now. I feel like all of these stats and all of these geeks upstairs, they’re messing up baseball, they’re just changing the game. It’s all about on-base percentage. If you don’t get on base, then you suck. That’s basically what they’re saying. People don’t care about RBI or scoring runs, it’s all about getting on base.

“Why we changing the game after all of this time? If we all just took our walks, nobody would be scoring runs. Nobody would be driving anybody in or getting anybody over. How you going to play the game like that. People don’t look at doing the things the right way, and doing things to help your team win.

“I remember back in the day you hit .230, you suck. Nowadays, you hit .230, with a .400 on-base percentage, you’re one of the best players in the game. That’s amazing. I’ve never seen (stuff) like that. Times have changed. It’s totally different now.

Does this sound a little crazy? Of course. I got a little chuckle out of the line about MLB Network inventing on-base percentage. That was the first I’ve heard of it. Anyway, we don’t need to point out the obvious about on-base percentage and what it means for run production. Players don’t just reach first base on a walk and disappear into oblivion. If Phillips drives in 100 runs this season, Votto will be a big reason for it. It’s easy to gang up on what Phillips is saying here, as we have seen on Twitter throughout the evening. However, as our own Craig Calcaterra wrote about Jeff Samardzija exactly one month ago, does it really matter if a player understands or values sabermetrics?

Votto has embraced sabermetrics and that can have its advantages, but it’s not essential for a player to do so. There are analytics departments for that and coaching staffs to communicate information to players in an accessible way. We would have a problem here if Phillips said he purposely makes outs rather than draw a walk. He’s not saying that. However, he feels that he gets paid to swing the bat and drive in runs. That’s his approach and how he justifies his place in the lineup. It’s worked for him in the past, but his deficiencies are standing out a bit more now that he’s seemingly past his peak and moving into his mid-30s. And now he looks stubborn as he tries to defend something that has worked for him in the past. It’s probably frustrating. And from that prism, you can understand him getting extra defensive when he gets asked about on-base percentage, even if he’s wrong. It would be more alarming to hear this kind of talk from a general manager or front office executive as opposed to a player. Fortunately, Phillips is not in that position. He’s just a player with an opinion.

Domonic Brown dealing with tendinitis in his left Achilles

Domonic Brown

Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown left Thursday night’s Grapefruit League exhibition against the Yankees due to a sore left Achilles. He underwent an MRI, which showed tendinitis but no tear, per’s Todd Zolecki. He could miss a week of spring training before returning.

Brown, 27, is looking to rebound from a terrible 2014 season in which he hit .235/.285/.349 with 10 home runs and 63 RBI in 512 plate appearances. Following the departure of Marlon Byrd, Brown is moving from left field to right field.

Brown and the Phillies avoided an arbitration hearing in the outfielder’s first year of eligibility, agreeing on a $2.6 million salary for the 2015 season. He’ll have two more years of arbitration eligibility in which his salary will almost certainly escalate. The rebuilding Phillies, though, may attempt to trade or simply non-tender Brown after the season if he doesn’t rebound this season.

2015 Preview: Miami Marlins

Giancarlo Stanton

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2015 season. Next up: The Miami Marlins.

The Big Question: Do the Marlins have what it takes to compete for the NL Wild Card in 2015?

The Marlins have averaged 70 wins over the last four seasons, including 62 in 2013 after owner Jeffrey Loria orchestrated one of his franchise’s characteristic fire sales. Indeed, the Marlins have become a target of derision for Loria’s wishy-washy approach to building a competitive team. If there is a sign ownership is serious about contending, their build-up to the 2015 season is it.

In November, 25-year-old right fielder Giancarlo Stanton signed a record 13-year, $325 million extension. The past season was Stanton’s first in which he played in more than 123 games, and it ended with an unfortunate injury as he was hit in the face with a Mike Fiers fastball. Nevertheless, Stanton still led the National League with 37 home runs and a .555 slugging percentage. As good as he has been, Stanton’s best years may still lay in front of him. It should also be noted he can opt out of his contract after the 2020 season, the sixth year of his extension. Should he choose that route, the Marlins will have only paid him $107 million.

The Marlins also extended left fielder Christian Yelich on Wednesday, committing $49.57 million over seven years to the 23-year-old. Yelich, in his first full season in 2014, batted .284/.362/.402 with nine home runs, 54 RBI, and 21 stolen bases while playing superb defense. He would have been eligible for arbitration after the 2019 season, so this buys out two pre-arbitration seasons, three arbitration seasons, and two free agency seasons.

That wasn’t all the Marlins did over the winter. They bolstered their rotation in acquiring Mat Latos from the Reds in exchange for Anthony DeSclafani and minor leaguer Chad Wallach. They also got Dan Haren and Dee Gordon from the Dodgers in exchange for prospect Andrew Heaney and a handful of other players. They acquired third baseman Martin Prado and pitcher David Phelps from the Yankees in exchange for Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Jones, and minor leaguer Domingo German. They signed Mike Morse to a two-year, $16 million deal to play first base. In January, they brought in Ichiro Suzuki on a one-year, $2 million contract to serve as a fourth outfielder.

The Marlins arguably have an average or better player at every position on the diamond, throughout their starting rotation, and in the back of their bullpen. While their roster lacks the ceiling of the division rival Nationals, the Marlins are certainly strong enough now where they can reasonably be considered contenders in the NL Wild Card race. FanGraphs, using Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections, pegs them at an even 81-81 record. Among those not projected to win a division title, only the Pirates (85 wins), Cubs (84), Padres (83), and Giants (82) are expected to finish better. With a couple of breaks going their way and perhaps the intra-division battling among the NL West teams deflating each other’s records, the Marlins might be able to sneak into the Wild Card playoff game. If they happen to reach the post-season, they will have done so for the first time since 2003. The only two times the franchise has reached the playoffs (also in 1997), they have won the World Series, so look out, National League.

What else is going on?

  • Jose Fernandez is on his way back from Tommy John surgery, which he underwent last May. He recently threw his entire repertoire of pitches in a 25-pitch bullpen session – though not at full effort – and is expected to make a return to the Marlins around mid- to late-June. The talented 22-year-old has a terrific 2.25 ERA and a 257/71 K/BB ratio over 224 1/3 career innings in the majors. His return, even if not immediately at his previous level of performance, will be a significant boon to the Marlins.
  • Steve Cishek has quietly been one of the league’s better closers, compiling a 2.73 ERA with 73 saves and a 158/43 K/BB ratio in 135 innings over the last two seasons as the Marlins’ ninth-inning answer. He earned $6.65 million in avoiding arbitration coming into this season and will be eligible for arbitration going into each of the next two season as well. Unless he suffers a catastrophic injury or completely melts down, he’ll inevitably reach an eight figure salary before becoming a free agent. As freely as the Marlins have spent, they’re still entering the 2015 season with a sub-$70 million payroll and Cishek may prove too expensive for his role. As a result, the Marlins could shop him in an attempt to bolster any weaknesses on their roster at the July trade deadline.
  • Dan Haren threatened to retire if the Dodgers traded him away from the West Coast, and they did anyway in sending him to Miami. He tried to push the Marlins into trading him back West so he could be closer to his family and his home, but obviously nothing happened. He recently said he is no longer considering retiring and appears poised to contribute to the Marlins out of the back of the starting rotation. Haren’s production has waned as he’s posted an ERA above 4.00 in each of the last three seasons while becoming increasingly homer-prone. The spacious confines of Marlins Park should help him.
  • With Fernandez out, Henderson Alvarez is the ace of the Marlins’ staff for now. He had an extremely good 2014 campaign, putting up a 2.65 ERA with a 111/33 K/BB ratio in 187 innings. His 14.4 percent strikeout rate, though, was the seventh lowest among qualified starting pitchers last season. Pitchers who posted similar strikeout rates aren’t exactly inspiring, as that list includes Kyle Kendrick, Roberto Hernandez, and Jeremy Guthrie. Alvarez succeeds by limiting walks (his 4.3% walk rate was ninth-lowest) and inducing ground balls at about a 54 percent rate. It may be a stretch to expect him to post a sub-3.00 ERA again, but he should still wind up posting above-average numbers.

Prediction: The Nationals will run away with the NL East, but the Marlins and Mets will battle for the honor of being second-best in the division. The Marlins hang around in the NL Wild Card picture throughout most of September before narrowly missing out with 84 wins.

How in the heck did my kids become Dodgers fans?

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 5.43.51 PM

Baseball fandom can be weird. Most people fall into their rooting interests due to geography or family. We’ve done it a bit different in the Calcaterra household, however, and it has led to unexpected results.

While I started out as a Tigers fan due to geography, that changed to the Braves when I was 12 or 13 when I moved away from Michigan and the only team I could watch on a regular basis was the Atlanta Braves. I have explained all of that before.

My kids are another story. Despite what I do for a living, I’ve never pushed sports on them. Far from it, actually. There were some efforts at soccer by my son, but he got bored. My daughter has danced and recently has started riding horses, but sports are really not a part of their lives. Like, at all. Especially team sports. They watch baseball games with me sometimes, but most of my baseball watching happens later in the evening when they’re doing other things. For the most part we’re a pretty non-sporty family, and I have done nothing to force or even encourage rooting interests of any kind.

But, I suppose inevitably given all of the baseball I watch and talk about and all of the baseball stuff I have around my house, they have started to become baseball fans. Those occasional games we watch together are becoming more frequent. And over the past couple of years it’s been interesting to watch some level of baseball fandom develop in my kids.

They have some affinity for the Columbus Clippers, because those local Triple-A games were the first games they ever saw. But they also, eventually, came to realize that “minor leagues” are in some important ways “inferior leagues” so the fandom can only go so deep.

Their first major league game was a San Diego Padres-Texas Rangers matchup while we were on vacation, and for that reason they have good feelings about them too, but that’s more about that vacation and visiting their uncle Curt and stuff like that. It’s not like they knew anyone on the Padres besides Jason Marquis, who pitched the night we went to Petco. And who cares about Jason Marquis?

Local rooting? That’s straight out for them. We’re over 100 miles from Cincinnati and even farther from Cleveland. Unlike what may have been the case until recently, they’re not tied to local broadcasts. Indeed, with and Extra Innings it’s actually easier to get broadcasts from outside of Ohio rather than inside (great job, MLB!). And even if that wasn’t the case, I have already taught them that Chief Wahoo is racist garbage, so they’re never going to care for the Tribe, which cuts their chances of being Ohio baseball fans in half.

But something has happened over the past year or two that has made my kids — particularly my son — Los Angeles Dodgers fans.

A good bit of this is my fault, of course. At some point over the past two years they started asking me a lot of questions about “who’s the best” at this and that. Pitching fascinates them quite a bit, and as a result they are very clearly aware that, at this moment in time, Clayton Kershaw is the best. The idea of who the best hitter is hasn’t stuck with them as much, probably because I’ve differentiated more when it comes to answering their hitting questions. Sometimes we talk about power hitters, sometimes guys who hit for average.  Often times — because they recognize historical hitters’ names like Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds — we talk about old retired dudes. There’s no real idea in their head about the best hitter like there is about Clayton Kershaw: best pitcher. So they like him.

But the real game-changer, particularly with my son, was Yasiel Puig. At some point in the past two years he heard me saying something about Puig. Maybe while doing a radio spot, maybe while just talking, but he knows that I talk about Puig differently than I talk about other players. He asked me why that was one time and I explained how Puig is different than a lot of other guys for many reasons.

For one thing, he’s Cuban. My son LOVES the idea of Cuban baseball players because of what I’ve told him about how they risked their lives to get here to play (Aroldis Chapman is a favorite of his too). That’s some heroic stuff to anyone, but it really hits home with a nine-year-old boy who has lived a pretty sheltered life and loves tales of danger and adventure.

More generally, however, he absolutely loved it when I told him that Puig is a guy some people don’t much care for. Eventually, as I explained why, he boiled it down to “old grouchy men don’t like Yasiel Puig because he’s too damn much fun.” Hey, he’s my kid. He’s going to come by his contrarianism and love of chaos honestly. So between the origin story, the anti-hero stuff and seeing this insanely muscular yet insanely fast and insanely animated man crush baseballs, my boy has decided that Puig is basically Superman. If Superman annoyed old people in ways which really make my boy giggle. And make his dad giggle too.

This love of Puig led to him getting a Puig shirsey, which he wears all the time. That led to his teacher calling him “Yasiel,” which has sort of stuck with his friends. My boy loves it. He plays Minecraft a lot and has a pet pig in the game named Yasiel Pig. Add in some other random factors — both of my kids have it in their heads, based on one visit, that California is some sort of paradise, Los Angeles is glamorous and the only time I’ve ever really let them stay up super late to watch baseball was when Vin Scully was broadcasting a 10pm Eastern Dodgers game or two last year — and there are number of small bricks in that Dodger Blue wall. When you’re a blank slate as a baseball fan it’s pretty easy to create your own fandom story

Last year when the Dodgers came to Cincinnati we went and saw a game, my son and I in our Puig shirseys (I own one for trolling purposes and for solidarity with my kids purposes) and my daughter in her Kershaw shirt. We cheered for the Dodgers and Yasiel Puig and had extra fun doing it in enemy territory. Last week, when I asked my kids what sort of souvenirs they wanted from Arizona, they both asked for Dodgers stuff. T-shirts and pennants. Just today, when I asked my son about whether he’s going to watch more baseball with me this season he asked if it’d be OK if we recorded Dodgers games and watched them the next day since they came on so late.

Last night, instead of reading in bed, my son asked me if he could write and draw. I found this in his room this morning:


Some of that — like the dubious “established 1958” — is just copied from Dodgers junk around the house (I have explained Brooklyn to him and he gets it). Some of it is stuff he asked me, like how many titles they won. Some of it is pure fantasy like the scoreboard which has the Dodgers beating one of the New York teams infinity to zero. Which, whatever you think of the Dodgers, is a nice touch.

All of this is so strange to me. What are the odds of these Ohio kids with a Braves fan dad becoming Dodgers fans? What are the odds that this fandom sticks? Are they old enough for me to taunt when the Dodgers play the Braves and we watch the game together? Most importantly, if what they say about baseball being a thing between parents and their children is true, can it go in both directions? Because I’ll be honest: while I’ll always be a Braves fan, I’ve enjoyed Dodgers stuff way, way more in the past couple of years precisely because my kids enjoys it so much. It’s as if they’re passing it on to me rather than the other way around. Am I a Dodgers fan now too? Maybe in some ways I am.

I guess what strikes me the most about all of this is a realization of how the more traditional modes of familial baseball fandom — the tired cliches of fathers and sons and things being passed down — are sort of random to begin with. They’re accidents of geography and birth, even if we accept them as the norm. So it probably doesn’t matter much that my kids’ Dodgers fandom is rather random too.

I suppose that probably annoys some grouchy old men. But as it is with Yasiel Puig, that’s not criticism to anyone in my family. That’s a selling point.

Raisel Iglesias and Jason Marquis are in the Reds’ rotation, Paul Maholm is out

jason marquis getty

Earlier this week the Reds announced that they’re shifting Tony Cingrani to the bullpen–against the left-hander’s wishes–and today they announced that both Raisel Iglesias and Jason Marquis will have spots in the Opening Day rotation.

Iglesias was signed out of Cuba for $27 million last year, but at the time many people viewed him as more likely to be a reliever in the majors. However, he’s impressed manager Bryan Price with eight scoreless innings this spring.

Marquis is a 36-year-old veteran of 14 seasons for eight different teams, but didn’t pitch in the majors at all last year following Tommy John elbow surgery. Before his elbow gave out Marquis pitched reasonably well for the Padres in 2012 and 2013, but he hasn’t posted an ERA below 4.00 since way back in 2004. He’s probably just keeping the spot warm until Homer Bailey is healthy.

Also of note: Cincinnati informed left-hander Paul Maholm that he’s now competing for a bullpen spot, which could mean he’ll opt out of his minor-league contract in the hopes some other team still views him as a potential starter.