Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Monthly archives: January 2009


Pitcher News; I Dump My Tickets
2009-01-28 04:37
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The Rockies signed Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $10 million deal, one of those arbitration-avoidance specials that have become all the rage the past few years. It's little wonder when guys are getting $10 million for a single season in arbitration -- when they lose. Keenly Dan O'Dowd has managed to attach team options to the deal that could potentially keep Jimenez in Colorado past his first winter on the free agent market. If he can stay healthy. In the past, whenever the Rockies sign a young pitcher to a multiyear deal he has almost immediately gotten injured. Jimenez, who has inefficient mechanics and tends to react to adversity by throwing harder (which any veteran sinkerballer will tell you is pure foolishness), seems a good bet to hold true to form. If I had to quote odds, I would say the chances of his missing a half-season or more sometime during the length of this deal are rather more than 1 in 1. He'll definitely get hurt once, and he'll probably get hurt a second time.

Speaking of pitchers the Rockies extended who almost instantaneously become either ineffective or unable to pitch or both, Jeff Francis won't be able to make it for Opening Day this year. Oh well, little bother, neither will I. I decided to get rid of my Rockies tickets, which I've gotten every year since I moved to Colorado in 2005. I'm completely disgusted by the organization and their utter contempt for their fans. They didn't care enough to set it up so Rockies fans, instead of scalpers, would get the majority of the 2007 World Series tickets. The didn't even remotely make an effort of getting fair value, or in fact any value at all, for their perennial MVP candidate and face of the franchise. My '07 tickets came in a lovely embossed box with a useful tin and a wristwatch. My '08 seats, after the team had its best year ever and boosted season ticket sales hugely, came in a manila envelope with a cheap pin -- after they pushed me out of my aisle seat because somebody richer had sprung for a full-season plan. This organization doesn't deserve to succeed.

I'm not really fed up with just the Rockies, I think I'm just fed up with baseball. I've been watching a lot of basketball and even though my team (the Bulls) sucks out loud I feel like the NBA is delivering a vastly superior product to MLB right now. There are exciting players on nearly every team. Everybody is only one lucky draft pick or two lopsided trades away from contending. And the system is deliberately set up so that if a star player wants to bolt from the team he got his start with, he has to give up money to do so. LeBron James and Chris Bosh can flee Cleveland and Toronto if they want but they're going to have to sacrifice guaranteed years and guaranteed money to do so. I usually get both he MLB Extra Innings and the NBA League Pass cable packages but as part of my required belt-tightening this year I'm going to chuck the MLB. What's the point? The only five teams that matter are on ESPN constantly anyway. League Pass seems to present me with at least one and often two games I want to watch every night. Baseball? What's the point any more? To see the guys the Yankees are going to overpay in three years' time today? I don't want the Cubs to win any longer because it would make me, as an apostate, look pretty bad. And I know for a fact the Rockies aren't going to contend again so long as this ownership/management regime holds sway.

I do want to make a bit of a rational argument against the Rockies being any good this year, since I've read a few people chiding my pessimism in the comments. We've long since made the mental adjustment when it comes to individual Rockies players' stats, but sometimes we forget to correct for the team as a whole. Colorado was 8th in the National League in OPS last season. That's before any kind of park adjustment at all. So, with the assistance of the most skewed offense-creating stadium in the history of the major league game, they were able to be perfectly mediocre -- 8th of 16 teams. Looking to Baseball Prospectus's adjusted statistics, they don't take that much of a dip in pure rank -- they fall down to ninth going by VORP rather than OPS. But combine that with a pitching staff, last year ranked 14th in the league in VORP, that hasn't gotten any better, and the crippling loss of Matt Holliday and there's absolutely no two ways about it -- the 2009 Rockies are going to suck.

How good was Holliday last year? If you cut him in half down the middle, one half would have been the Rockies' best offensive player and the other would have been their second-best. People still have this weird idea that the Rockies have a good lineup because they play at Coors and they made it to the World Series, but it was pitching that drove the playoff run. Holliday at 61.7 VORP was the only excellent offensive player Colorado had; then you go down to Chris Iannetta, a very pleasant surprise at 30.3, Brad Hawpe, who still struggles against lefties, at 29.5, and then you plunge all the way down to Clint Barmes at 19.0. Sure, Willy Taveras (538 plate appearances for a sparkling 1.8 VORP) is gone and that's a boost in and of itself. But the fact of the matter is that to even be as good as they were last year (74 wins, in a terrible division) they're going to have to pull off an outright miracle to replace Holliday's production.

How on earth could that happen? Well, Dexter Fowler could pull a Freddy Lynn. O'Dowd might be able to find a taker for the rapidly diminishing Garrett Atkins so that Ian Stewart could play every day. Iannetta could get even better, although with a .390 OBP you'd have to think he's bumping up against his ceiling as it is. Troy Tulowitzki would have to have a big bounceback year offensively, although his numbers there from his rookie year weren't anything to write home about. They'd have to get a freaky, out-of-nowhere performance from somebody we haven't even considered yet.

Oh... and also Francis would have to come back quickly and be good, Aaron Cook would have to be as good or better than he was last year, the bullpen would have to not resemble an improperly dressed wound, Clint Hurdle would have to spontaneously develop the capacity for original thought, and absolutely nobody could get hurt. Oh, right, and Todd Helton has to decrease the rate of his ongoing decline dramatically.

Some of these things may happen. All of them will almost certainly not happen together. What's more, Colorado has had horrible Aprils three seasons in a row -- if they have yet another one and still don't fire anybody, my criticisms here will appear gentle. If O'Dowd goes, and I don't understand why he'd even want to stay in this horrible job when his owners fear success so much, a fire sale will probably follow, not that the Rockies really have a whole lot of assets to go around. It'd be cool to see Aaron Cook get to pitch in the playoffs for a real team after his missing out on the '07 run until it was literally all but over (he came back from injury to pitch Game 4 of the World Series). Taylor Buchholz is going to be pitching meaningful pressure innings somewhere eventually. Sadly, pretty much everybody the Rockies have to trade past Atkins would be perceived as a bench player or a platoon guy on one of those teams that tries to win.

I guess Huston Street's around. I keep forgetting about that. Even though Street is overrated and mostly coasting on name recognition by now, he's a player with a profile, and guys like that leave Denver, they don't come here. That's why I'm almost certain, nearly as certain as I am that the Rockies will lose 90 games this year, that Street will never throw a pitch in a Rockies uniform.

This may or may not be the last Bad Altitude post ever. If it is, you can read my ongoing TV and film writing (including my third year of "American Idol" handicapping) at this new page. Thanks to everybody who read, commented, e-mailed, and especially to Ken and the other Toaster-ers who gave me the opportunity to speak my mind.

Taveras, Fuentes Skip Town
2009-01-03 13:19
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Willy Taveras signed with Cincinnati, who have a knack for wasting money on players who can't play, and Brian Fuentes is headed for Anaheim. Good deal for the Angels, who get Fuentes for almost $20 million less guaranteed than the Mets gave their former closer, Francisco Rodriguez. Fuentes wasn't all that far away from saves leader Rodriguez in VORP last year -- 18.0 versus 22.8, which amounts to about one win and change. If the Angels are feeling extra peppy and want to work out some sort of rotation system involving matchups between Fuentes, Jose Arredondo, and Scot Shields, they could be even more effective in the ninth inning than they were last year.

News on players coming to Colorado rather than leaving it moves slower, but I am reading that the Rockies are going to finalize a deal sending anachronistic middle reliever Luis Vizcaino to the Cubs for career mediocrity Jason Marquis. Marquis is slightly better than a 250-year-old Livan Hernandez, but not a lot better. Anyway, the same logic as last year applies. The team is going to suck, so why bother spending money and (more importantly) playing time on guys who have had plenty of previous service time in the majors to prove that they aren't any good? The Rockies have a lot of prospect types to sort through still, and they don't have the "excuse" any more that they're a contending club. They also keep locking guys up from the farm into middle relief because they have "proven" starters ahead of them, which isn't helping the young players or the team. The trade for Marquis only makes sense if the Rockies have plans to flip him elsewhere, as they supposedly do for Huston Street.

How about this Andruw Jones story? Hard to believe the guy completely fell apart as a player so quickly. That doesn't happen to non-pitchers that often. Fans of the Tigers should be worried about what Jones' career path might mean for Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera, like Jones, is too fat to want to bend over and chase pitches low and outside. And Cabrera was never exactly in the kind of shape Jones was in when he was one of the most feared defenders in the majors. Say what you will about the Rockies' choice of investments, but the one guy they've (ever) given a long-term deal to, Todd Helton, has maintained at least some of his value for the whole run of the contract (thus far). Is Matt Holliday that kind of guy? Having seen him play so much over the past several seasons, I'm either in the perfect position to judge -- or too biased to give a meaningful opinion. I think that Holliday is definitely the kind of player who would still be playing hard and keeping himself in shape at the end of a seven- or eight-year contract. As for whether his health would allow him to maintain the same standard defensively, and as a baserunner, I am less certain. It's a moot point since the Rockies aren't trying to win.

I may be one of the last vocal defenders of the NBA's regular season but this particular year is becoming a drag. Trouble is, there are three teams that are self-evidently better than everyone else, and they can only match up so many times. Boston and L.A.'s Christmas showdown delivered on the hype, even if the home-cooking officials drained a lot of the drama out of the fourth quarter. But after that trying to watch the Bulls and Cleveland was tough. The Cavaliers are so much better than any of the other Eastern Conference teams besides Boston that they only have to play their starters for three quarters most nights. It's pretty hard getting worked up about Atlanta or Orlando -- neither could make a dent against Boston or Cleveland in a playoff series -- and some of the quality teams from past years in the east have fallen off, like Toronto, Washington, and even Detroit. In the West it will be interesting to see if the suddenly team-oriented Nuggets can finally win a playoff series. The race in the Northwest Division, between up-and-coming Portland, resurgent Denver, and the injury-wracked but still dangerous Jazz, should be of some academic interest. But everybody knows who pushes the meter in the NBA and the chances of a loaded Laker team not making the Finals again this spring are slim to nil.

A few NFL thoughts, since I'm watching the first game of the postseason right now: In the absence of a dominant offensive team in the league this year, you tend to look around for the best defense. That would be Pittsburgh, but their offensive line sure worries me. Baltimore's defense is still good, although not quite at Super Bowl level, and they have a rookie QB. The Giants had a better regular season than they did last season, but it takes something special to repeat as champs in the NFL, and I'm still not sold on their quarterback. His older bro in Indianapolis can't do all it by himself, Arizona, Philly, and Minnesota are just happy to be in the playoffs, San Diego shouldn't even have gotten that far. Atlanta's got another rookie QB. So whom does that leave, Carolina? Carolina and Tennessee. That sounds good. Not to football purists, I suppose, or people who don't like teal, but I see veteran quarterbacks, deep running games, good coaching, and stout defense. There's your Super Bowl.