Wednesday, December 22, 2004

At least it's better than last year.

The White Sox put the finishing touches on its 2005 rotation with the signing of Orlando Hernandez to a two year, $8 million contract.

I'm not overly enthusiastic about this, but El Duque didn't cost the White Sox very much, and he'll be pretty good if he's healthy. My main concern is his age--Baseball Reference says he's already 38, while the White Sox have him listed at 35. Whatever the case, Hernandez is old. I have to wonder if he's still capable of playing a full season. But I'm trying to see the positives here, and the contract is only for two years. If Hernandez can give the ChiSox a full season in 2005 and put up an ERA near his career average (3.96), I'll be ecstatic.

The addition also gives the White Sox a considerably deeper rotation:

2004 Rotation
1) Mark Buehrle
2) Esteban Loaiza/Garcia
3) Jon Garland
4) Scott Shoeneweis
5) Danny Wright/Insert-Minor-League-Call-Up-Here

2005 Rotation
1) Buehrle
2) Freddy Garcia
3) El Duque
4) Jose Contreras
5) Jon Garland

So it isn't great, but it is quite preferable to what the Sox began the 2004 season with. While Scott Shoeneweis got off to a nice start to the 2004 season, he was subpar most of the year (and finished with a 5.59 ERA). Danny Wright and whoever else the Sox threw in at #5 was just plain awful. And Esteban Loaiza fell back to earth in predictable fashion. Garland ate innings in the mediocre fashion we've come to expect (and that's not necessarily a bad thing).

Garland's likely move from #3 to #5 is indicative of the improvements ... Garland is unspectacular but relatively consistent and dependable, and that's something the White Sox have needed at the end of the rotation. I expect Contreras to be off and on just like 2004, and I'm hoping that El Duque can be above average. Buehrle and Garcia will have to be the anchors.

Will the Sox staff prevent enough extra runs to compensate for the departing offense? Frank Thomas's health means everything. With him in the lineup, the White Sox shouldn't see too significant of a downturn in runs scored. If he's gone, though, well, I'd rather not think about it...

The latter half of this lineup is garbage even with Thomas.

1) Podsednik OF
2) Rowand OF
3) Thomas DH
4) Konerko 1B
5) Dye OF
6) Juan Uribe (David Eckstein?) SS/2B (.307)
7) Joe Crede 3B (.304)
8) Willie Harris 2B (.305)
9) Ben Davis C (.306)

Those numbers in parenthesis? Career OBPs. These guys are going to eat outs like Cartman downs Cheesy Poofs. (Although, in fairness to my man Willie, his career number is skewed a bit by his young career. Last season was the first time in his career that Harris came anywhere near playing full time, and he managed a career best AVG/OBP. I don't think he's necessarily a guy you toss to the bottom of the order, and I thought he should have been the only leadoff alternative to Aaron Rowand in 2004.)

[If they add Eckstein, I figure Uribe and Harris will split time at 2B most of the year. If Crede totally bottoms out, they could probably go with Uribe at 3B and Harris at 2B full time--but that's unlikely considering how the club has stuck with Crede to date. Presumably Carl Everett would fill the DH role in Big Frank's absense, which I guess would set up some combination of Dye/Konerko in the 3-4 spots with Everett hitting 5th. The thought of which makes me want to hurl.]

Okay, that's enough rambling.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Here a signing, there a signing

A lot has been going on this week in MLB, and most recently Boston acquired Matt Clement.

So lessee here...

J Wright (3 yr/$21mil) -- 186.3 IP, 3.28 ERA, 159 SO, 70 BB
K Benson (3 yr/$22.5mil) -- 200.3 IP, 4.31 ERA, 131 SO, 61 BB
M Clement (3 yr/$25.5 mil) -- 181.0 IP, 3.68 ERA, 190 SO, 77 BB

Wright's 2004 was an aberration when you look at his numbers. He's got a career 5.09 ERA, and this was just the second season in his career in which he pitched more than 150 innings. Of course, the important thing to remember here is that the Yanks have also acquired Carl Pavano and (in all likelihood) Randy Johnson. They can survive a regression from Wright.

Benson's shown flashes, but has never really asserted himself as a big time starter. The Mets have no reason to expect too much improvement over 2004, which was pretty much in line with the rest of his career. Benson's contract was partially a result of the pressure on the Mets to resign him after the deadline deals they made to acquire pitching (which included Benson). Still, Mets fans have got to be a little troubled by contracts like this one. Being in a large market does you no good if you just throw the money away. They'll be paying Benson and Pedro about $20 million combined per season for the next several, and that could haunt them.

Clement, on the other hand, has put together three consecutive solid years, has a K/IP rate much better than those of Benson and Wright, and has started at least 30 games in every year since 1999. At this stage at least, it looks like the Sox got a nice bargain, not that this is necessarily surprising considering Clement's unlucky W-L record (he suffered from a serious lack of run support in 2004).

Elsewhere, the Mariners tied up $114 million in Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexon. Both of those guys have some questionmarks--did Beltre start a new career trend in 2004? Can Sexon stay healthy? Will either be worth the money?

The A's dealt Tim Hudson to Atlanta for a good group of young players, including Charles Thomas. Good move for both squads. Hudson's acquisition is absolutely huge for the Braves, and it probably makes them actual contenders in the playoffs now (yikes).

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

So long, El Caballo.

In a lamentable move, the White Sox moved outfielder Carlos Lee to Milwaukee for Scott Podsednik, some mediocre reliever, and a player to be named later. Doesn't seem like anyone noticed.

Yeah, it's a yawner. And unfortunately, it cost the Sox a pretty darn good hitter. Lee's career numbers (.288/.340/.488) won't overly impress you, but the man has been important to the White Sox (especially after Frank Thomas went down last year). I always knew Thomas-Ordonez-Lee-Konerko wouldn't last ... nice while it did, though.

Podsednik is coming off a pretty bad year in Milwaukee, so at least the Sox should expect some kind of a rebound in 2005. I'm assuming he'll leadoff in Chicago as he did with the Brewers, although I'm not sure I like him there. He'll be serviceable if he can bring his average up to around .280. He'll also swipe a ton of bags, which is both good and bad. It's good in that he's fast and takes them at a high percentage; it's bad in that Ozzie Guillen will be more inclined to do dumb things like bunt in the second inning with Podsednik on first or simply allow him complete reign on the basepaths.

For the first time in a while, the White Sox have some apparent holes in the lineup. Aaron Rowand had better keep hitting in 2005...

And Frank Thomas will be absolutely vital. Gotta get him healthy and keep him that way.

Too many ifs. But at least the White Sox saved some $$$ by dealing Carlos Lee.

And it's not like they gave Pedro Martinez $53 million or something.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Let's all have a laugh at the expense of the D-backs.

Russ Ortiz signs 4yr/$33 million deal with Arizona

Eight mil per year? Arizona needs to put down the checkbook and slowly back away...

And this comes after they already gave Troy Glaus a nice chunk of change ($11 mil per year for 4 years). Guess they're banking on Glaus returning to his glory days. In Ortiz's case, I'm not quite sure what they're banking on ... another 4.00 ERA?

Friday, December 10, 2004

Holy crap, Kenny Williams may have done something good.

White Sox GM Ken Williams has a tendency to be hot or cold with his transactions, which is rather enraging. But it looks like he made a pretty shrewd deal in landing Jermaine Dye.

Dye will make $4 million in 2005 and $5 million in 2006. That's a pretty damn good price for Dye, especially if he stays healthy. And to think Williams wanted to spend that money on an aging, power-deficient short stop who plays mediocre defense (Omar Vizquel).

Thanks again, Giants!

Dye's numbers aren't great, but the Sox could have done worse in their efforts to replace Magglio Ordonez. His .272/.334/.462 career splits are solid, and you gotta like that isolated power (SLG-BA). While that career OBP isn't spectacular, Dye'll have one of the better OBPs on the team if he can hit in the neighborhood of .300 (which will put his OBP in the .350-.360 range; his OBP has been consistently 60-70 points higher than his BA over the last 4-5 years), and even if he doesn't, he'll be league-average at worst. I expect Dye's numbers to look better at The Cell, anyway. Only three White Sox players created more runs than Dye in 2004.

Dye's career SO-Walk ratio is about 2:1, but it was closer to 3:1 last year. Assuming he gets back to his career average in 2005, I'd look for him to put up better numbers than .265/.329.

So what I'm saying is--good addition to the lineup for the Sox, and at a good price too. An outfield of Carlos Lee/Aaron Rowand/Jermaine Dye with Carl Everett in reserve (when he's not DHing) will be good. If Frank Thomas can get healthy and Paul Konerko can hit another 35-40 homers, the Sox will score plenty in '05.

Everett (as DH)

or (and this looks much better)


Is it time for spring training yet?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

#1 in Total Defense--But What Does That Really Mean?

Arkansas's gross over-compensation of Reggie Herring got me thinking--certainly our defensive turnaround from 2003 to this season was impressive (from 89th in total defense in '03 to #1 this year), but there's no way that it is all because of Herring's system.

So what external (to coaching) factors do we have?

1) Returning Talent -- The Wolfpack returned an unusual number of defensive starters, and the front four--the team's major weakness in '03--was much improved thanks to experience and maturation.

2) OOC Opponents -- In 2003, the Wolfpack played some pretty solid offenses out-of-conference. Texas Tech was #1 in the nation in total offense, Kansas was #29, and UConn #32. Sub-par OOC opponents included OSU (#93) and Western Carolina (#71 in DI-AA). In 2004, the Wolfpack played OSU (#100 in total offense), ECU (#105), and Richmond (#81 in DI-AA). Pretty big difference there.

3) Relative down year for ACC offenses in 2004 -- And here is the crux of this discussion. Let's have a look...

In 2004, the best offense the Wolfpack defense faced all year was North Carolina's--the Heels ranked 42nd in the nation in total offense in 2004 (which was good enough to be the 2nd best offense in the league next to UVA). In 2003, the Wolfpack defense faced six teams (including out-of-conference games) with a total offense ranking higher than UNC's 2004 number.

Avg Total Offense Ranking of All Opp (2004): 82.5
Avg Total Offense Ranking of All Opp (2003): 51.9

I should note that I made no adjustments for the DI-AA teams that factored into the calculations (i.e., to get the averages, I used their DI-AA total offense ranking as though it were a DI-A ranking). Presumably both WCU's and Richmond's total offense rankings would be much worse at the DI-A level, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Remove both Richmond and WCU for the sake of equity and the numbers are slightly different:

Avg Total Offense Ranking of Opp (DI-A Only) in 2004: 82.6
Avg Total Offense Ranking of Opp (DI-A Only) in 2003: 50.25

In 2004, the average total offense ranking of all eleven ACC teams was 76.7. In 2003, the average (of nine teams) was 51.2.

Those are some pretty big changes from one season to the next. Clemson dropped 79 spots in total offense from 2003 to 2004 (from #30 to #109--no wonder they fired O'Cain), FSU dropped 30, Maryland dropped 80, NCSU dropped 68. All of these teams were either breaking in new QBs in 2004 or dealing with major regressions by their respective incumbents (*cough* Charlie *cough* Whitehurst).

Now, you could get into something of a chicken-and-egg argument here if you wanted to--the ACC's total defense numbers were also better in 2004 than they were in 2003 (meaning those better '04 defensive units could also have something to do with the decline in ACC offenses). Does a good offense make an opponent's defense look bad, or does a bad defense make an opponent's offense look good?

Obviously it's a little bit of both, but I tend to think that offense has a far greater impact on defense than vice versa, so I think we can legitimately compare total offenses from 2003 and 2004 even though it can be said that those numbers were affected by differences in the quality of defenses faced at least to some extent. Admittedly, I don't know if this is actually the case, but I think it's sufficient just to keep this in mind.

In other words, even though the ACC's total defense numbers were worse in 2003 than 2004, I don't think that discrepancy is the cause of the discrepancy in ACC total offense between those same two years.


Pardon my long-windedness. The point here is that NC State faced an awful lot of poor offenses in 2004, and those offenses weren't just bad because they were going up against good defenses. They were just bad.

And so while the Pack's improvement in total defense is thanks in part to Reggie Herring, it may very well be thanks in larger part to a combination of returning starters and poor opposing offense.

Considering the results of the season, I don't think there's any question that Herring stepped into a good situation. Right place, right time. His reputation wasn't particularly great coming in to 2004, and his defenses at Clemson were nothing special.

Now he's cashed in his opportunity to the tune of $300k per year, and hey, more power to him. Arkansas is making the mistake, not Herring.

Some lists are longer than others...

The University of Florida had no trouble convincing its number one target (Urban Meyer) to accept the school's vacant head coaching poisition, but it appears that a lot of schools are in for a struggle.

In any given year, there are hot names that float around the country. Meyer was one. Bobby Petrino (Louisville) and Dan Hawkins (Boise St.) are a couple others. These names become hot in part because it is assumed that these "up-and-coming" coaches will jump at a major-conference job. But what if they want to stay put? Both Petrino and Hawkins have stated they are content at their current schools, and Hawkins has already signed an extension.

That's bad news for Ole Miss, Notre Dame, and the other schools still searching for their next coach.

Florida's struggles to find a replacement for Steve Spurrier led to the hiring of Zook, which, as we know, didn't quite work out. Nebraska fished around for Houston Nutt, among others, before having to settle for Bill Callahan (and it certainly looks like that decision is in the process of "not working out").

Notre Dame will suffer the same problems if they aren't careful. Meyer passed, Mariuchi and Jon Gruden said they'd rather stay in the NFL. Petrino won't be a candidate, and nor will Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, who recently signed a nice extension. So with whom does that leave them? And after they've made their pick, who does that leave for BYU, Ole Miss, etc, etc?

A friend of mine joked that the Domers should just give the job to George O'Leary again. And hey, why not? He might be the best they can get at this point.

Also--kudos to the University of Illinois for jumping at Ron Zook. Zook should be able to bring good recruiting classes to the school, and the Illini could certainly use an infusion of talent.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

ACC Park Factors

I've been familiar with Boyd Nation's college baseball site for a while, but it wasn't until recently that I stumbled upon his NCAA Park Factors page. He's got a lot of nice work in general on the site, and this in particular is something I've been really curious about.

It's interesting to see that most stadiums in the ACC are pitchers' parks. The list (PFs for 2001-2004):

Clemson -- 92
Duke -- 74
FSU -- 88
GT -- 94
Maryland -- 99
Miami -- 100
UNC-CH -- 85
NCSU -- 73
Wake -- 114
VPI -- 119 (elevation a factor here?)
UVA -- 89

(If you'd like an explanation of Park Factors, check the bottom of this page.)

So Miami, UMd, and GT are close to the middle as far as parks go, while VPI and Wake lie at one extreme and NC State and Duke lie at the other.

I had no idea that the Wolfpack played in such a pitcher-friendly park, but it makes perfect sense when I think about the dimensions of the place.

Another interesting note: if you compare the 1999-02 data with that for 2000-03 and 2001-04, you can see that the ongoing renovations to NCSU's Doak Field actually made it more of a pitcher's park. The PFs went from 79 to 77 to 72 (this is in part because of less data for the earliest numbers, but a solid trend nonetheless).

I'm not sure it is advantageous to be at either extreme when it comes to park factors, but it doesn't seem to hurt the Wolfpack too much.

There are some PFs you will never see in MLB--Air Force and New Mexico have factors of 166! Wow.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

I'm so angry, I could just ignore all grammatical conventions!

When I step back and actually think about it, I can't figure out why sports message boards are so addictive. The very nature of the sports message board is one rooted in overreaction--be it positive or negative. And there's a point that every major message board reaches where the idiots rule the lot and drown the board's intelligence through sheer volume.

I know this, and yet I keep coming back.

Read a board after a loss and you'll begin to question your fellow man. No one in internet land seems capable of understanding that one game is ... one game.

Things are never as bad or as good as a message board makes them seem.

Take, for instance, this train wreck from the aftermath of Defensive Coordinator Reggie Herring's departure from NC State. A single coach leaves the staff and all of the sudden the sky is falling.

"OMG the football program is falling apart!"

"Even though I have no real idea about this I'm going to assume that this means our coaches don't get along and so I'm going to ask why Chuck Amato is so hard to work for in a gigantic run-on sentence with a lot of exclamation points and general feelings of outrage!!!!!!!!!!"

"No high school player is going to play defense for us! We're a pathetic top-30 program in a major D1-A football conference with good facilities!!111 We're doomed!"

Is anyone capable of keeping a level head? Does looking at all that red on the message board make people surly? It's amazing.

And you see this stuff everywhere--it's not just on NC State message boards, and it certainly isn't limited simply to college football. After a loss, the season's over. After a win, the team's going to win the championship. Lose coach--death of program. Add coach--oh, happy day.

I'm sure Reggie Herring is a good coach, but the fact of the matter is that nothing justifies the contract he was offered by the University of Arkansas. He'll earn $300,000 per year for three years, and it's guaranteed. All this for one season of work at NC State. One.

Arkansas obviously doesn't care much about externalities in this case--they don't care that we returned like 10 starters on defense, including the entire front seven. They don't care that 2003's defense was plagued in part by poor technique thanks to the simple lack of a defensive coordinator. They don't care that the ACC had a lot of mediocre offensive ball clubs in 2004. All they care about is that shiny "#1 in Total Defense in 2004" statistic.

And so they grabbed Herring, and they did so with a ridiculous financial package that should have everyone in Raleigh laughing at Arkansas's misfortune. Instead, Wolfpack fans are ripping each other apart over this issue, and many have just assumed that Herring's departure has everything to do with a bad relationship with Chuck Amato rather than with money. Others are outraged that NC State's administration didn't make a counter-offer, ignoring the fact that any such offer (which would have had to at least equal $300k/yr) would have been a major mis-appropriation of funds on our part. Herring was already making $195k per year, and that's plenty for a coach with his reputation. No way does he deserve to be one of the highest paid assistants in college football.

But he is now. Thanks to Arkansas.