Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Gregg Jeffries Regional - First Round

Check out an explanation of what is going

First Round Matchup: 1.RP Billy Wagner (3) vs. 16. RP Braden Looper (62)

Mets new closer easily topples the Mets old closer.

VICTOR: Billy Wagner

Billy Wagner is the surest thing in this year’s free agent market heading into the 2006 season. The pitcher most similar to him through Age 33 – Mariano Rivera. Other guys on that list include Trevor Hoffman, Randy Myers, John Franco, and Dan Quisenberry. Those really are some of the best of the best all-time relievers. Wagner is a four time All-Star who has twice garnered NL MVP votes. His 2005 season was the best in his career. Wagner had an ERA of 1.51, 38 saves, and 87 strikeouts in 77.2 innings.


Looper has the classic frame of a big league pitcher (6’5’’, 225 lbs.) and the stuff to back it up. His spotty 2005 season with the Mets will surely leave a bad taste in the mouths of teams looking at him as a potential closer. This is fair. Looper had a difficult time closing out games this year for New York. His problems were obvious upon closer inspection. Looper’s K/BB ratio dropped from a career best 3.16 in 2004 to a pathetic 1.08 in 2005. He struck out fewer guys and walked more – never a recipe for success. His K/9 rate went from 6.48 in 2004 down to 4.10 in 2005 while his BB/9 rose from 1.73 in 2004 to 3.34 in 2005. Those are drastic differences and are fairly clear indicators as to why Looper struggled the way he did in 2005. So we’ve established the fact that Looper had a less than great year as a closer in 2005. This doesn’t make him a bad reliever, it only means he had a less than great year. It happens. Comparing his 2004 and 2005 might be a mistake anyway considering his 2004 season was a career best season and out of line with the rest of his big league numbers. He isn’t as good as he was in 2004 (ERA+ 158, ERA 2.70, 60 Ks in 83.1 innings) and he isn’t as bad as he was in 2005 (ERA+ 106, ERA 3.94, only 27 Ks in 59.1 innings).

Looper is an extreme ground ball pitcher (1.92 GO/AO ration in 2005, 2.74 in 2004) who hasn’t had a season below league average in his entire big league career (beginning in 1999). He has always walked a bit more guys than you’d like and never struck out batters like the elite closers do, but he has done a consistently solid job in many different roles coming out of the pen. Looper should be a very nice “buy low” candidate in this crazy, oversaturated, overvalued relief pitching market.

Prediction: Signs with Baltimore, 3-year deal worth $7.75 million

First Round Matchup: 8.2B Mark Grudzielanek (32) vs. 9. P Byung-Hyun Kim (35)

Call me crazy, but I really like Byung-Hyun Kim as a sleeper candidate to make a difference somewhere in 2006. He’ll only be 27 next season, has experience as a closer and a starter, and has just over a strikeout per inning pitched in his career (570 Ks to 567.2 IP). Grudzielanek is finished as an everyday regular in my mind. To me the choice here is obvious.

VICTOR: Byung-Hyun Kim

Kim’s number one comparable per Baseball Reference: Octavio Dotel. It’s a very interesting name to me for a lot of reasons. Both have experience as starters and closers, both are known for high strikeout totals, and both are big question marks and free agents heading into the offseason. Kim will be 27 in January and carries a career ERA of 3.76 into 2006. His career ERA+ is 123. There is more to say about Kim (of course), but since we are only focusing on the good for now we’ll leave it at for now. Keep this in mind though: Kim has had a history of success (albeit not so much a recent history) and still has youth on his side. This is not a bad way for a guy to market himself to the many big league clubs needy for pitching.

THANKS FOR PLAYING: Mark Grudzielanek

His OBP has always been closely tied to his batting average. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing so long as his BA remains high, but at 36 years old it will be difficult to maintain. Another one year-deal might be a decent, stopgap investment for a team with a hole at second. The problem is we all know he’ll get more than this. There are even rumors circulating that he is only entertaining three-year deals. Beware any player with a career high of 45 walks especially one coming off a 26 walk year. If he hits .326 and slugs .436 like he did in his age 29 year, then you can not walk as much as you like and still be a very useful player. If that batting average even dips a little bit, to say….in the .280s or .290s, then you just aren’t doing enough to help a team. That’ll be the case with Grudzielanek in 2006 and beyond. He isn’t a good long-term investment.

Prediction: Re-signs with St. Louis, 2-years worth $6 million

First Round Matchup: 4. SP Ted Lilly (16) vs. 13. IF Abraham Nunez (51)

My apologies. Ted Lilly is not actually a free agent this year. There was much confusion by many surrounding his contractual status, but the bottom line is I suck. Lilly isn’t a free agent, so he loses. Congratulations Abraham Nunez!

VICTOR: Abraham Nunez

Nunez is lucky he is playing a fake free agent. Otherwise, I see little way he could advance in this tournament. In fact, his overall ranking (51) was far too high upon closer inspection. Nunez is a nice player to have on the bench. He is a switch hitter and can play three infield positions (3B, SS, 2B). Versatility is good. As far as other positive statements…..well there just aren’t many. He did pitch in a game in 2004 with Pittsburgh and even found a way to get the one batter he faced out. And it should not be forgotten that Nunez was 5th in the NL in triples in 2003 with 7 and 2nd in the NL in sacrifices in 1999 with 13. Don’t you hate it when in an attempt to make somebody sound good you have to reach so hard to find positive things to say it only sounds like you are making fun of their modest accomplishments? I sure do.


I bet I get this prediction wrong. Something very weird is going to happen with Lilly (traded, maybe even non-tendered) and he’ll wind up elsewhere just to spite me. I don’t see it happening, but it would be fun.

Prediction: Lilly remains a Blue Jay of course

First Round Matchup: 5. SP Paul Byrd (19) vs. 12. C Benji Molina (48)

Another matchup involving former battery mates opposing one another. Funny how that worked out again (Ausmus vs. Clemens faced off in a matchup that seems like it was weeks ago – oh it was? Man I’m slow). Byrd is a solid middle of the rotation starting pitcher. Molina is an aging catcher coming off a career year at the age of 30. Molina is still an above average catcher in this league and definitely a top-30 guy at his position, but paying him big bucks is just too risky when there are better alternatives out there that have yet to be uncovered. A catcher would have to be special to get a multi-year deal after the age of 30 – Molina is far from special (career OPS+ of 84, not good), so Byrd wins it by default more than anything else. Not to take anything away from Byrd by the way - he really has become a solid middle of the rotation starter and deserves to get some notice this offseason.

VICTOR: Paul Byrd

Paul Byrd is on a pretty nice run right now of four consecutive solid years. His number one comparable is Cory Lidle – isn’t that an absolutely dead on comparison? Byrd has walked 2.348 batters per 9 innings in his career putting him 13th on the active list. Jon Lieber is second (1.748), Rheal Cormier is 11th (2.299), and Cory Lidle is 12th (2.328). Byrd came out of nowhere to be an All-Star for the Phillies in 1999. My all-time favorite Paul Byrd story came during that summer in the middle of a brawl with the Atlanta Braves. Byrd was on the mound and Eddie Perez was at the plate. Tensions had been mounting between the two clubs all summer long and Perez finally took action after being plunked in the back with a pitch thrown by the high sock wearing Byrd. Benches cleared, people shoved, you know the drill. The only two players missing from all the fisticuffs? That would be Paul Byrd and Eddie Perez. Byrd, well known for being a devout Christian man, immediately fell to his knees and prayed for forgiveness and help through the ongoing brawl. Perez heard his prayer and, being the man of faith that he was, kneeled beside Byrd and joined him in prayer. This was all going on unbeknownst to anyone under a huge pile of gigantic men trying to knock each others heads off. It was only much after the brawl occurred that the story got out and it still gets a laugh out of me to this day. Anyway, Paul Byrd would be a nice fit in a lot of places. Guys that don’t walk batters will find jobs in the majors, you can count on it.


Older catchers are scary. Molina will be 31 in July and will get 3 years, maybe 4 on the open market. That’s all well and good for this upcoming season (even that point is highly debatable), but come the second, third, and (gulp) fourth years it is a disaster of a contract. Molina had a career year across the board offensively in 2005 (.295/.336/.446 with 15 homers) and has a well deserved reputation as a plus defensive catcher. He doesn’t walk (118 in 6+ big league seasons), but he doesn’t strikeout either (only 231 in his career). Molina has a career .309 OBP. That is troublesome. In the end, I stay far, far away from him.

Prediction: Signs with Houston Astros, 3-year deal worth $16.5 million

First Round Matchup: 3. SS Nomar Garciaparra (9) vs. 14. 2B Tony Graffanino (54)

Nomar Garciaparra and Tony Graffanino are, without a doubt, the top two free agent infielders with last names longer than ten letters that begin with the letter ‘G’. It is a bold statement I know, but that’s what I’m all about. After rereading that, I realize Grudzielanek also falls into this category. How weird is that? Anyway, I stand by my claim that Garciaparra and Graffanino are the best 10 plus letter G-men out there. I still think Garciaparra can be an impact guy somewhere. If he is healthy (that is one big if, of course – isn’t it always a “big if”? I don’t remember ever seeing a “little if” anywhere) then I think Nomar will be the absolute best bargain on this free agent market come the 2006 season. Graffanino has good value as a top notch utility guy being paid like a top notch utility guy, but somebody out there will jump all over him and give him a starting spot and the nice salary that goes along with it.

VICTOR: Nomar Garciaparra

Nomar can hit. Believe that. He is a career .320 hitter and has put up a lifetime .911 OPS. His worst season came in 2005 with the Cubs and it is tough to pin too much of the blame on Nomar for his still decent .283/.320/.452 line considering the year began with an absolutely horrible groin tear. Garciaparra attended Georgia Tech from 1992 to 1994 and had some pretty impressive teams while in Atlanta. Garciaparra was on a team with a lineup that included both Jason Varitek and Jay Payton and a pitching staff that included Brad Rigby, an eventual second rounder to Oakland who pitched in 73 big league games. That was one good college club.


Graffanino is actually a little bit of a better player than I had initially given him credit for. I still think he fits best as a backup somewhere (consider him a good version of Abraham Nunez), but he won’t kill you filling in as a starter in the short-term either. Graffanino will be 34 in June so what you see is what you get for the most part. He did get the benefit of having a career high in at bats in 2005 and responded with his best year ever across the board. Is it possible he has had the ability to be at least a league average ML 2B all along and just hasn’t gotten the opportunity? It’s possible, but I seriously doubt it. Graffanino is a good guy to have around in the clubhouse and is versatile enough to play anywhere in the infield. He is an okay fit for a team needed a stopgap at 2B (I’d put maybe barely ahead or just about even with Grudzielanek), but an even better fit as a utility guy getting 200-250 at bats off the bench somewhere.

Prediction: Signs with the New York Mets, 2-year deal worth $4 million

First Round Matchup: 6. 3B Bill Mueller (22) vs. 11. DH Frank Thomas (41)

Finally, one of the very best first round matchups out there. Here are two players I think will sign reasonable, fair contracts and perform either at the level of their new deals or even exceed them. Isn’t that a beautiful concept? Neither player is anything close to a guarantee though. Mueller will be 35 and Thomas will be 38 this upcoming season. Thomas has only 345 at bats in the past two seasons. There are risks everywhere. Mueller is still the cream of the crop at a premium position this offseason and Thomas, if healthy and in shape, can still potentially hit like few others in the game. There are risks and there is upside. Even after factoring in the age of both guys, I like the unique upside each provides. Both are solid buys this offseason, but the belief that Thomas will get healthy and experience a mini-resurgence at the plate just won’t go away. Thomas wins in a minor upset of two worthy combatants.

VICTOR: Frank Thomas

I could write about the Big Hurt forever. Thomas, Piazza, Clemens – guys like these make it very easy to find complimentary things to say. Thomas was one of my favorite hitters to watch growing up even though I despised the White Sox. He is without a doubt in my mind the best righthanded hitter of my generation and that may be understating how good he is. His 7-year stretch from 1991 to 1997 is beyond compare – his lowest totals in that run would make a .308/.426/.536 line. No year topped his strike shortened 1994 - .353/.487/.729 with 38 homers, 34 doubles, 109 walks, 291 total bases, 106 runs, and 141 hits. All of those numbers in 1994 came in a mere 399 at bats roughly 150 less than a typical year in that time span for him. His OPS+ for that same year was 212. Thomas is an absolute, sure fire, without a shred of doubt, Hall of Famer in my mind and I hope he can work out a deal to continue with the White Sox (his only big league club) until his Hall of Fame day comes.


This is the quote from Mueller from the person who sponsored him on Baseball Reference: "I want to be unselfish and worry about the name on the front of my uniform instead of the back." - Bill Mueller, Boston Herald, Feb 19, 2003. I’ve always been a big Bill Mueller fan – he was “Bill Mueller Phillie Killer” during his run with the Giants after all. Part of the fun of writing all these notes down is to have a full proof record of my opinions so that I can’t be accused of second guessing. I bring this up because I was all about Bill Mueller in the offseason leading up to the 2003 season. I didn’t hate the Bell signing (still don’t hate it), but I was going on and on about Mueller for days. Oh well.

Mueller is coming off of three productive years with the Red Sox (OPS+ of 140, 106, 112) and must still be considered at top 30 third baseman in this league. He remains a hitter with good gap power and a very strong batting eye (34 doubles in 2005 along with 59 walks and a .369 OBP). Plenty of teams are looking at third basemen this offseason, but I can admit I have absolutely no idea what kind of money or terms Mueller will get. His new contract will be one I eagerly anticipate breaking down.

Prediction: Signs with Los Angeles Dodgers, 2-year deal worth $6.5 million (player option for third year at $3.5 million)

First Round Matchup: 2. 1B Paul Konerko (5) vs. 15. P Hector Carrasco (57)

Konerko is a rare impact bat on the free agent market this year. Carrasco is a run of the mill pitcher going into 2006 without a clearly defined role. These quick, one sentence about each guy matchups must be a real treat to read. I could pretend to make some of these matchups closer than they are, but let’s face facts here. Konerko vs. Carrasco? Hardly a fair fight.

VICTOR: Paul Konerko

Konerko is coming off a career best season (.283/.375/.534 with 40 homers) at exactly the right time. He has put up big numbers in four of the last five seasons and has improved his overall numbers in each of those four successful seasons (2003 was a disaster of Burrell-esque proportions so we choose to ignore it – lord knows his agent will). Konerko was most famous early on in his career for being a top catching prospect in the Dodger organization. Then he was famous for being the key piece in two major deals – he was traded in a package to Cincinnati for Jeff Shaw and then traded by the Reds to the White Sox for Mike Cameron. Konerko has now settled in and matured into one of the most feared sluggers in the major leagues today.


Best name on the open market this year without a doubt – Hector Pacheco Pipo Carrasco Pacheco. It’s hard not to root for a guy with a name like that. By my count, HPPCP has been a member of 13 different major league teams and 14 total (Mets, Astros, Marlins, Reds, Royals, Diamondbacks, Twins, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Twins again, Rangers, Orioles, Cubs, and Nationals). That is quite a career. I bet Carrasco looks at it as an honor that so many teams have wanted him bad enough to acquire him so many times. I hope that’s how he looks at it anyway. It is far more palatable than any of the alternative theories on constant player movement. Carrasco is a really difficult guy to judge. He went into 2005 with Washington as the career journeyman reliever we all knew and loved. But a funny thing happened in D.C. – Carrasco was given a shot to start and ran with it. He went 1-1 in 5 starts down the stretch while putting up a 2.03 ERA. His 5 starts were just that – 5 starts. I hope no GM is out there thinking that Hector Pacheco Pipo Carrasco Pacheco can be a real life major league starter in 2005. The man is 36 years old – what’s that they say about old dogs and new tricks? If a GM sees the overall success Carrasco had in 2005 including his successful run as a starter and decides to make a nice, low reasonable offer for him to come in and work as a swingman out of the bullpen then that would be acceptable. Anything else is just chasing fool’s gold. For the record, Hector Pacheco Pipo Carrasco Pacheco is good. Really good. But is it any match for the greatest name of them all? I think not. The winner, and still champion, Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean Jacques Wamutombo.

Prediction: Re-signs with Nationals, 1-year deal worth $1.25 million

First Round Matchup: 7. RP Scott Eyre (25) vs. 10. C Mike Piazza (38)

I don’t like either guy – how could I have ranked Eyre the 25th best free agent? Eyre has been worked like a dog the past few seasons and he’ll wind up an overpaid, broken down middle reliever who will cost whatever team he signs with a first/second round pick. Piazza will be a 37-year old catcher/DH type coming off the two worst seasons of his career. Would you rather blow your money on middle relief or a fading slugger without a real position? This matchup comes down to what kind of contract each will receive – I think somebody will give Eyre more years than Piazza will get (baseball rule number one: don’t ever pay for middle relief unless it is a special, special player or it is on a one-year deal) and that swings this battle to the old catcher.

VICTOR: Mike Piazza

Piazza is the best hitting catcher to have ever played the game. He is the greatest player to ever come out of Norristown, PA and the most accomplished 62nd round pick of all time. He was flat out dominating for an entire decade beginning with his rookie year in 1993 to his last truly great season in 2002. That is ten years of dominance. His best stretch was from 1995 to 1998. Piazza was a catcher. Not a good one, but a serviceable one. For a catcher to hit like this…it really boggles my mind. During that stretch his worst line would have been .336/.417/.563 with 32 homers. His 1997 was one for the ages - .362/.431/.638 with 355 total bases, 40 homers, 201 hits, and 5 steals (!) in 6 chances. Piazza is a 12-time All-Star and winner of 10 straight Silver Sluggers (1993-2002). He has made over $110,000,000 in his career and was once involved in a megadeal that Sports Illustrated proclaimed the “Trade of the Century” (I still remember the cover to that week’s issue, the article itself was one of the best I have ever read too). Piazza was dealt on May 14th, 1998 from Los Angeles (I never in a million years thought he’d play anywhere but L.A.) to Florida for a package including Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich, Charles Johnson, and Gary Sheffield (Manuel Barrios was also included). Just about a week later (May 22nd, 1998) the Marlins dealt Piazza (there was never any doubt he wouldn’t be a Marlin much longer than the week that he was) to the Mets for young prospects Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, and Geoff Goetz. Fascinating trades all around which fit in nicely with the overarching theme of the really amazing, storybook career Mike Piazza has had. Baseball Reference has no real strong comparisons to him because no catcher has ever put up numbers quite like he has before. Piazza was (is) a one of a kind ballplayer.


Eyre is entering his Age-34 season coming off of three very solid years in San Francisco. He is a good reliever, but he’ll be overpaid soon enough. You can’t pay for middle relief. You just can’t do it. It’s a bad idea every single time. Nothing personal, Scott, you deserve what ever amount of money a team will foolishly throw your way, but you just don’t have enough of an impact on any one baseball game to warrant a big deal. Middle relief is the perfect spot to develop some young, homegrown talent that’ll only cost you around $315,000 a year. Scott Eyre was a marginal reliever at best until 2003 and his Age-31 season – do not forget this.

Prediction: Signs with Chicago Cubs, 3-year deal worth $11.25 million

Actual: Signs with Chicago Cubs, 2-year deal worth $7.20 million with a $3.8 million player option for 2008 and possible bonuses that could total $2.4 million over the three years


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