Top 100 Baseball Blog

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Questioning the New York Yankees' Decision to Trade for Aroldis Chapman

As we head into a new year, the biggest story in baseball is the recent trade the New York Yankees made to obtain flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds. Typically, such a move would be all about a playoff-caliber team adding a lockdown hurler whose fastball routinely exceeds 100 MPH, and who strikes out batters at a historic rate. Instead, unresolved domestic abuse allegations raise serious questions as to whether the trade should have been made at all.

Before we get into it, let’s establish a couple of things. First, the 27-year-old lefty has been sensational on the mound since defecting from Cuba and joining the Reds in 2010. In six major league seasons, he has combined for a 2.17 ERA, 146 saves and a mind-blowing 546 strikeouts in 319 innings, while allowing just 169 hits. Adding him to a New York bullpen that already boasts power arms like Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances all but locks down the final three innings of games. It is a potentially historic bullpen.

Second, although Chapman has been accused of a domestic violence incident from earlier in the year, he has denied the bulk of the charges. Florida police declined to bring charges due to inconsistencies in witness statements, but Major League Baseball is still conducting its own internal investigation. Until then he has the right of the presumption of innocence.

While Chapman’s culpability has yet to be determined, the Yankees’ decision to trade for him is highly questionable. Clearly, the temptation to bring in a pitcher of his caliber, at what was admittedly a discounted price because of present circumstances, was a motivating factor. But, at what cost was this decision made?

Domestic violence is a scourge that continues to plague our society, with high-profile incidents popping up at an unfortunate rate among professional athletes. In the past couple of years, outraged responses to NFL stars Ray Rice and Greg Hardy receiving perceived light punishments for their own domestic abuse cases have dominated headlines. Professional football has continued to flounder with the issue, struggling to get their response in line with public expectations and perception. Accordingly, scrutiny has intensified with each passing incident.

That all being said, it’s important Chapman receive due process. However, questioning his trade isn’t punishing him in advance. Barring a suspension, he will still be paid the same salary (he is arbitration eligible, but should make a good deal more than the $8.05 million he made in 2015) barring any suspension. Asking these questions is wondering why a team would want to get involved with a player embroiled in such serious charges. It’s wondering why a business would make a decision that seems to value a bottom line (wins) over doing the right thing. The Yankees indicated they did their diligence in evaluating the situation before finalizing the move, but barring the outcome of the investigation, how reliable can their own findings be?

Chapman has only one year to go until hitting free agency. It can be said that New York took only a modest risk from a baseball standpoint by sending four middling prospects to see if he and his troubles pan out. But that’s only if you take the humanity out of the situation.

Major League Baseball and the Yankees undoubtedly have numerous fans who have either been domestic abuse victims or know someone who has. It’s not easy to shake the bad taste in trading for someone still under the weight of such allegations. If they were to be questioned (and they already are by a City Council Speaker) as to why they made such a choice, it’s hard to imagine any reasonable non-baseball response.

Of course, many fans will downplay the seriousness of it all. They’ll hang their hats on the fact that there are just allegations at this point. No conviction or official finding of wrong doing. Of course they’d be right but then there are some things that should be left to play out before making the decision as to what you are and are not comfortable living with.

If the Yankees had declined to go after Chapman, they wouldn’t have been the first team to do so this offseason. The Los Angeles Dodgers already reportedly nixed a trade for the reliever after the allegations surfaced. In baseball, the acquiring top-notch pitching truly is an arms race. This continues to be borne out by seeing exactly what teams are willing to do to get the top talent.

The MLB investigation will eventually conclude. Until then, no assumptions should be made. However, waiting for a resolution before trading for Chapman seems like a reasonable and appropriate expectation. Taking such a stance could cost a team his services but it’s hard to place a price on integrity. For years, the Yankees have stood for success, tradition and class. Hopefully, their most recent trade won’t tarnish that reputation.

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Max Watt: The Boston Red Sox's Power Pitching Prospect

Scouting is an integral part of professional baseball. Teams employ and send out hundreds of employees tasked with finding the next great players. Although they monitor first-round draft talent, their bread and butter is trying to decipher the future of players who may not have quite as much polish. As a result, some come to believe so much in who they are evaluating that they continue scouting—for years if necessary— until they are able to bring them into the fold. Such is the case with the Boston Red Sox and pitcher Max Watt.

Watt, a solid 6’8” right-hander, grew up in New York. After graduating high school, he enrolled at Hillborough Community College in Tampa Florida. There he initially drew the attention of the Red Sox, getting selected in the 37th round of the 2013 draft. However, he did not sign and elected to attend Lynn University in Boca Raton, where he enjoyed a standout career.

His calling card is a big fastball, which can reach the upper 90s. With baseball in an era valuing high-end velocity, he is the type of young pitcher that is worth developing. Accordingly, Boston continued to monitor his progress and re-drafted him in 2015—this time in the 22nd round.

The 21-year-old Watt received his professional baseball indoctrination in a very small dose. After signing, he made two relief appearances with the team’s Gulf Coast League affiliate, striking out three in two innings without allowing a hit or walk.

It remains to be seen whether Watt’s future lies is as a starter or in the bullpen but someone with his tool set is capable of either. As he continues his baseball journey, keep up with him on Twitter, and continue reading to find out more about this exciting young pitcher.

Max Watt Interview

Who was your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: Growing up in Long Island, New York I was a Yankee fan. Derek Jeter was always my favorite because of the things I learned from him about how to handle yourself on and off the field in a professional way. He also showed how to be a leader as well. But my all-time favorites would be Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver because I loved that era of baseball, how those guys wanted the ball every start and how dominant they were with their fastball, knowing how to use it and where to put it. None of those guys were scared to throw inside.

Please talk a little bit about what life is like for a student athlete, drawing on your experiences at Lynn University.: The life of being a student athlete is interesting. You learn how important time management is. You have class 8:00 to 1:00, then practice from 2:30 to 6:00. Then study hall at night. You have to figure out when you can work out, maintain good eating habits and get your work done. But at Lynn the school is extremely helpful with student athletes, offering tutors, academic advisors who can help schedule your classes so you know you can get all of your classes set without missing practice and other sporting events. All that stems from the type of people that work there and how much they care about their student athletes. Coach Garbalosa always preached how important your degree was, and how you needed to work just as hard with academics as baseball.

If you did not start a career as a professional ballplayer, what field do you think you would have entered?: If I was not playing baseball I would most likely be studying to become a history teacher or possibly something in the marketing research field. I love history. Also, being a teacher would allow me to coach high school baseball as well.

How did you first find out that the Red Sox were interested in you, and what was your draft experience like?: Well it started my freshman year at Hillsborough Community College where I was drafted by the Red Sox in the 37th round, but I went back to school. This year at Lynn University, I talked to Tom Kotchman, and Willie Romay after a couple of my starts and maintained contact with them up to draft day. Both guys were extremely helpful with the draft process. The draft process was very interesting and extremely stressful because you're told a lot of different things but you have to take everything with a grain of salt. Patience is key on draft day, but finally when you hear your name and get the call it’s the greatest feeling in the world.

What has been your favorite moment thus far from your professional career?: My favorite moments I would say was when I walked into the locker room for the first time and saw Watt with a Red Sox logo next to it on the locker. The other moment was when I made my first appearance, finally putting the jersey on and starting the journey to chase my dream.

What pitches do you throw and which do you believe needs the most work?: I throw a four-seam and two-seam fastball along with a slider and changeup. Every pitch you throw can always be worked on, but for me I want to be able to have the control to throw my changeup and slider in any count or situation.

Who is one hitter from any time in baseball history that you would like to face, and how would you approach the at-bat?: I would want to face Manny Ramirez, but not when he was on the Sox; the 1999 Manny Ramirez with the Indians where he put up ridiculous numbers that year. I would go with two-seamers up and in and then soft stuff low and away.

What are your goals for 2016?: My goals are first to stay healthy and make sure to find a way to get better every day. I want to be able to throw any pitch in any situation, throw first-pitch strikes, and to help whatever club I’ll be assigned with to win a championship. 

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Exploring the 1927 New York Yankees

The 1927 New York Yankees epitomize dominance in athletics. Nearly a century later they are still mentioned any time a team is lapping the field in their particular sport. Led by future Hall-of-Famers Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the Bronx Bombers went 110-44 and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. Looking back at the squad reveals a number of compelling tidbits.

Ruth hit .356 with 60 home runs and 165 RBIs. Gehrig was every inch his counterpart at .373, 47 home runs and 173 RBIs. Somehow, the team had two additional 100 RBI men in second baseman Tony Lazzeri (102) and outfielder Bob Meusel (103).

Even playing in a year where the ball was particularly lively, the Yankees’’ offense was especially lethal. They scored an average of 6.30 runs per game, which were almost 1.5 runs more than the league average of 4.92. They were also almost a run better than the second-best lineup—the Philadelphia Athletics, who scored 5.43 runs per contest.

Despite the exploits of Ruth and Gehrig, the team MVP may well have been relief pitcher Wilcy Moore. The 30-year-old right-hander was signed as a rookie following five years in the minors and an off-season job as a farmer. In 1926 he had gone 30-4 for Greenville in the South Atlantic League, drawing the attention of the guys in pinstripes. With future Hall-of-Famers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock anchoring the rotation the rookie sinkerballer had to create a niche for himself from whatever opportunity he could find. That turned out to be their jack of all trades, as he went 19-7 with a league-leading 2.28 ERA in 50 games (12 starts). He also tied for the league lead with 13 saves, becoming one of the first “closers” before the title was recognized. He was never as effective again after that year, in part because of a perpetually sore shoulder that came from falling off the roof of his barn.

Only one pitcher on the entire Yankees staff had a losing record in 1927. That was right-hander Bob Shawkey, who was in the final season of an outstanding 15-year major league career. With a 2.89 ERA in 19 games (two starts), his 2-3 record made him more of a hard-luck loser than a liability.

The team had no strikeout pitchers. Hoyt led them with 86 punchouts, but those came over the course of his 256.1 innings. Shawkey whiffed batters at the most prolific rate, getting 4.7 of them for every nine innings pitched.

Although the team had an octane-powered offense, they were also very unselfish and played fundamental baseball. As a team, they collected 204 sacrifice hits on the season, including 21 (tied for team lead) by Gehrig and 14 by Ruth.

Although the Yankees had a winning record against all of their opponents in 1927, in particular, they really beat up the St. Louis Browns, taking 21 of the 22 games they played. Conversely, the team that gave them the most trouble was the 66-87 Cleveland Indians, who managed a 10-12 record against the champs.

The Yankees won 43 (or over a quarter) of their games by five or more runs. They were also tied for first place or in first place every day of the season.

The third game of the season came against Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics and resulted in a 9-9 10-inning tie.

Interestingly, the Yankees had the second-youngest offense (average age of 27.7) in the league that year, and the second-oldest (average age of 31.0) pitching staff. Apparently, it was just the right blend of youth and veteran influences.

Statistics via

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

An Interview with Former Relief Pitcher Jim Mecir

Job security can be difficult to attain in professional baseball given the ever-changing landscape. However, relief pitchers that prove they can consistently produce out of the bullpen are all but guaranteed to steer clear of the unemployment line. A perfect example of that is right-handed pitcher Jim Mecir, who enjoyed an 11-year major league career as one of the steadiest performers in his line of work.

Mecir was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the third round of the 1991 draft out of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. He began his career as a starter and found moderate results in his first three minor league seasons but didn’t emerge as a top prospect. However, prior to the 1994 season, he was converted to the bullpen and never started another game again (not counting rehab games).

After successful seasons in Double-A and Triple-A, he was brought up to the Mariners at the end of the 1995 season. His debut came against the New York Yankees in a mop-up effort, and he acquitted himself well, throwing 3.2 innings without giving up an earned run. To top it off, he also struck out veteran hitters Tony Fernandez and Paul O’Neill.

Despite his promising start, Mecir was included in a trade with first baseman Tino Martinez that sent them to the Yankees. Over the next two years, he posted an ERA over 5.00 but found his footing upon joining the Tampa Bay Rays in 1998. He went on to also pitch for the Oakland A’s (where he had his greatest success) and the Florida Marlins before retiring after the 2005 season. In 474 career games, he was 29-35 with a 3.77 ERA and 12 saves. Known for his screwball, he struck out 450 batters in 527 innings, while allowing just 482 hits.

Now a professional speaker, Mecir has found just as much success away from the game as he did on a baseball diamond. Keep reading to hear what he had to say about his career as one of the most dependable relief pitchers over the better part of a decade.

Jim Mecir Interview

Who was your favorite team and player growing up, and why?: I grew up on Long Island, New York in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  I liked both New York teams but my favorite was the Yankees.  My favorite player was Don Mattingly.  He was not only a great player but seemed like a great person too.  He was a team leader who set the example for the rest of the team.  He didn’t showboat or show up other players.

Please share a little bit about your draft experience in 1991.: It was a tough year for me.  I kept hearing whispers that I could be drafted around the fifth round.  It was a surprise to me since I played Division Two baseball.  I didn’t think they would draft me that high.  I hurt my forearm in the middle of the year and I stopped hearing my name mentioned.  I made a comeback and pitched my last three starts.  The last game was phenomenal and I convinced the scouts I was no longer injured.  I received a call from the Seattle Mariners that I was selected in the third round of the draft.  I was unbelievably excited and nervous at the same time.  It was the first time that I really believed I had a chance to play major league baseball.

You were drafted as a starter but made into a reliever—which got you to the majors.  Were you initially disappointed in being made to change roles?: I wanted to become a reliever.  I injured my arm in 1991 and didn’t recover until spring training, 1994.  I realized that my unorthodox mechanics, because of my club foot, were detrimental to the health of my shoulder.  I found that pitching more games, but with less innings, allowed me to stay healthy.

What pitches did you throw, and which was your best?: I threw a fastball, screwball and cutter.  The fastball is every pitchers best pitch.  I wasn’t overpowering but had good movement.  I tried to keep the ball on the ground.  The screwball was my go-to pitch.  It was the only pitch I had that I could get the hitter to miss.  It is a rare pitch, so hitters didn’t get a chance to practice against it, which made it more effective than other pitches.  I threw my cutter sparingly; it was more for show.

The first major league hitter you ever faced was Paul O’Neill in 1995.  What do you remember about that encounter?: I remember walking on the field and thinking it was a dream.  My mom was going to wake me up any second and tell me I had to go to school.  As soon as I believed it was real, Bob Sheppard (Yankees PA) announced my name and I wasn’t sure again if it was a dream.  I couldn’t believe that I stood on the mound In Yankee Stadium.  I dreamt of that moment my whole life.  I retired Paul O’Neill and pitched the longest outing of my big league career without giving up an earned run.  I also held Don Mattingly hitless in two at bats.

What is your favorite moment from your career?: My major league debut against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium.

Who was your favorite coach or manager, and why?: I have great respect for all my managers and coaches but my favorite coach was my college pitching coach, Rich Folkers.  He molded me into the pitcher I needed to be to succeed in the big leagues.  He taught me the screwball.  He was a coach you respected but also wanted to hang around. 

You played for the Oakland Athletics during the height of Moneyball.  At the time, did playing on those teams feel much different?: No it didn’t.  I tried not to get too caught up in media business.  We were a great team that had three stud starting pitchers for a couple of years.  Any team that has that always has a chance to win.

If there is something about your career you could go back and change what would that be?: I wish that I could have had better emotional control earlier in my career.  I developed it during the second half of my career but physically I wasn’t the same pitcher because of knee injuries.  Controlling the negative voice in my head would have led to more success early on.  It took a long time to realize that my biggest enemy was me.

Now that you are done playing, what are you up to?: I am a professional speaker that talks about overcoming adversity.  I also work with Ellen Schnur.  She is a trained improvisationalist for ImprovTalk.  We utilize the tools from improv and reinforce those lessons with stories from the mound to teach communication and teamwork skills to corporations.  It is a fun and interactive way to educate.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Reviewing the Unusual 1936 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

The National Baseball Hall of Fame formally opened in 1939 in Cooperstown, New York. However, the concept was established in 1936, and that year the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) was tasked with voting for the inaugural class to be formally inducted three years later. At the time, the BBWAA was only voting on 20th century players, as a special Veterans Committee reviewed candidates from the 19th century. For all the debate the Hall of Fame ballot causes today, it’s clear that’s a tradition rooted all the way back with what occurred on the whacky 1936 version.

226 ballots with 2,231 individual votes were cast in the 1936 election. 170 votes were needed for election, and with no voting restrictions and an average of nearly 10 votes per ballot, it’s truly surprising that more players didn’t make it in that first time.

47 players received votes on the 1936 Hall of Fame ballot but only five received enough votes for induction the first time around. The inaugural class was comprised of Ty Cobb (98.2%), Babe Ruth (95.1%), Honus Wagner (95.1), Christy Mathewson (90.7%) and Walter Johnson (83.6%). It’s shocking that given this group of titans of the game that there were no unanimous selections, and a guy like Johnson and his 417 career victories received the vote totals of a fringe candidate.

For the surprise generated at the lack of unanimity on those who did get in, the group who fell short may be even more jaw dropping. Because some writers likely didn’t vote for active players (who were eligible) because their body of work was not yet completed, I’ll only focus on the big name retired players who fell short. Nap Lajoie (64.6%), Tris Speaker (58.8%) and Cy Young (49.1%) were all well under the 75 percent of the votes needed. They all eventually made it in but the fact they had to wait even a year seems odd now.

At the time, there were no restrictions on active or retired status, so players who were still playing received votes. It’s important to note that many writers did not consider active players on their ballot; figuring that they would get their shot later on after hanging it up. Although he was at the point of his career where he was a manager who only occasionally put himself in games, future Hall-of-Famer Rogers Hornsby was the active player who received the most votes with 105 (46.5%).

The most inexplicable former player to receive votes was catcher Lou Criger (seven votes or 3.1%). During a 16-year career between 1896-1912 with six teams (known primarily for his time with the Boston Red Sox), he hit just .221 with 11 home runs and 342 RBIs. Best known for being the defensive-minded personal catcher of Cy Young on multiple teams, he was still considered one of the best at what he did during the Dead Ball Era. That being said, it’s a bit of a stretch that he received as many votes as future Hall-of-Famers John McGraw, Sam Crawford and Chief Bender combined on the 1936 ballot.

Another surprise was first baseman Hal Chase. While he was a fine player who was considered to have had the best glove of any player at his position up until that time, he also had a long and sordid reputation as a gambler and fixer of games, who was ultimately blacklisted from baseball following the infamous 1919 Black Sox World Series (of which he was involved through gambling but not as a player). He has the distinction of receiving the most votes (11) on this ballot without eventually gaining induction.

At the time of the 1936 vote, banned players were not excluded. Shoeless Joe Jackson, himself an alumnus of the 1919 Series, received two votes, a paltry tribute to his .356 career batting average. He would never appear on the ballot again.

Pitcher Dazzy Vance (one vote) and catcher Gabby Hartnett (zero votes) were the two players on the 1936 ballot who had to wait the longest to ultimately get in via the BBWAA, as they were finally both elected in 1955.

In total, only seven players/managers who received at least one vote on the initial BBWAA ballot did not gain eventual admission to the Hall of Fame. They include Bill Bradley, Kid Elberfield, Nap Rucker, Johnny Kling, Jackson, Chase, and Criger.

Despite the oddities of the 1936 ballot, it is also fair to surmise that writers didn’t have a blueprint from which to work when casting their ballot. They were setting the bar with their first vote and determining the criteria which would be generally use to measure all future classes. Additionally, access to players was much different. Some writers likely never saw many of the players on the ballot.  

That all being said, there may not be prescribed results for any Baseball Hall of Fame election but there are certainly anticipated outcomes. Clearly, the tradition of annual debate and head scratching began with the very first ballot and will likely continue into the future as long as candidates continue to be picked in the current manner. Although some may express frustration over the process, there’s no denying the amount of debate and interest it infuses into baseball, which is never a bad thing.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Some Thoughts on David Price Signing With the Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox, coming off back-to-back last place finishes, made a major step in the right direction of their future on Tuesday, signing ace David Price to a massive seven year, $217 million contract. The 2012 American League Cy Young winner was one of the most coveted prizes on the open market this offseason, so his acquisition is quite the coup despite the cost. Because of the magnitude of the move, it’s still generating quite the buzz, and from the standpoint of Boston there is very little to not like about the deal.

The initial talk about the Price signing was regarding the amount of money he received, with his $31 million average salary per year making him the highest paid pitcher in history. It may sound strange but the money should be merely a side note in this story. The Red Sox are one of the most successful franchises in professional sports and clearly felt they could absorb that kind of hit to their budget given the potential reward. There are perhaps three to five pitchers in the world who are as talented and established as the 30-year-old lefty. To get such talent, you have to open the wallet, which Boston did—a reported $30 million more than any other team in the running for his services.

Here are a few other thoughts on Price’s acquisition:

! Although they paid a king’s ransom in cash, the Red Sox got their ace without having to surrender any of their prospects or their first-round pick from the upcoming draft. Not only are such assets worth money, they can also be used down the line to help fortify the team in other areas of need. Signing one of the other top starting pitchers on the free-agent market would have cost the team the 12th overall pick in the 2016 draft, so being able to keep it is a shrewd and underrated aspect of this signing.

! Having spent the bulk of his career pitching in the American League East, Price is intimately familiar with his new opponents and pitching at Fenway Park. In fact, he is a stellar 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 11 career starts at his new home; a great sign that its cozy confines shouldn’t present too much of a challenge.

! Price is 38-13 in his career against the other teams in the division. In particular, he has dominated the Toronto Blue Jays, going 16-2 with a 2.41 ERA in 21 starts.

! At 2-7 with a 5.12 ERA in 63.1 career postseason innings, many have pointed at Price’s potential inability to finish the job if he can get Boston back into the playoff picture. Not only is that too small a sample size to generalize him as not a big game pitcher, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. During the regular season, he has arguably been at his best in late-season games, going 21-7 with a 2.92 in September and October—when pennant races are at their most tense.

! The consensus seems to be that Price is an outstanding teammate. Big salaries can bring big egos, so a big-budget team like the Red Sox can thrive when their best players also lead by example.

! Bringing in Price immediately releases an enormous amount of pressure from the other pitchers in Boston’s rotation. He is the obvious number one, and veterans like Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Clay Buchholz don’t have to worry about being miscast in roles that they would likely never live up to. Additionally, young hurlers like Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez should have less scrutiny, as there is no longer such an emergent need for them to not only develop quickly but develop into aces.

There is a lot to think about with this signing. There are never any guarantees in sports, especially when it comes to contracts. However, Boston clearly had a plan in mind heading into this offseason and they were able to accomplish it within whatever boundaries they established for themselves. They will now try to build that into a long-term plan and get back to the winning ways that had resulted in three World Series titles over the previous decade. At the very least, nothing could do a better job of making fans wish spring training would get here a little faster.

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Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Boston Red Sox: The Frugal Shopper's Guide to Rebuilding the Rest of Their Bullpen

The Boston Red Sox made an early splash this offseason, acquiring high-octane closer Craig Kimbrel from the San Diego Padres to anchor their bullpen. With the team coming off a last-place finish in the American League East, and a relief corps whose 4.24 ERA ranked 13th out of 15 teams, it’s a good bet there are more moves ahead for that unit. Although fans will anxiously wait to hear if Boston lands another well-known talent, it’s always prudent to carefully consider lesser-known players. Here are a few such free agent candidates that could help the team in the late innings in 2016.

In addition to the Boston bullpen just not being very good in 2015, their general lack of velocity was a glaring issue. Of the six relievers who made at least 40 appearances, three (Craig Breslow, Koji Uehara and Tommy Layne) averaged less than 90 MPH on their fastballs for the year according to Additionally, only Uehara averaged at least a strikeout per inning, meaning the team lacked relievers able to get out of jams while avoiding contact. Kimbrel (and his 97.3 MPH average fastball and 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 2015) will be a major boost but now there is an opportunity to build around him—and it doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition.

Brandon Morrow: The fifth overall pick of the 2006 draft has top-of-the rotation stuff but health problems that would make the biblical Job say “Wow.” The right-hander is now 31 and was last relatively healthy for most of a season in 2011. However, a problem may be that teams keep trying to shoehorn him into the more rigorous role of starting. While that may be dictated by his talent (44-43, 4.22 ERA and 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings in parts of nine major league seasons), his durability seems to be begging for a shift to the bullpen.

Morrow can still bring the heat (93.4 MPH average fastball in 2015) and that might play up even more on a 70-80 inning regimen a year. He pitched exclusively in relief in his first two seasons and acquitted himself well with the Seattle Mariners in that role.
Coming off yet another injury, he won’t command big bucks on his next contract. He’s even a candidate to be a spring training free agent invite. That being said, if the medicals looked alright, he’s an intriguing gamble for a team like Boston trying to reform their bullpen.

Mark Lowe: The 32-year-old lefty just completed his 10th major league seasons and seems to be getting better with age. He had the best year of his career in 2015, posting a 1.96 ERA across 57 appearances with the Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays. Despite solid career numbers of a 3.80 ERA and 303 strikeouts in 336.1 relief innings, he has been a baseball nomad, pitching for five different teams since 2012.

Lowe is actually a rare example of a southpaw who has better career numbers against right-handed hitters (.230 batting average) than lefty counterparts (.286 batting average).  He was particularly lethal against righties this past year, allowing just a .196 batting average and striking out exactly a third of the 118 hitters who dared step in to face him from that side of the plate.

After injuries impacted his ability to stay on the field and his effectiveness when he was able toe a rubber in 2013-14, he bounced back in 2015. His 95.5 MPH average fastball was his best since 2011, and he also boasted a career-best walk ratio by a significant margin. He looks to be a solid, lower-priced option that could really round out a bullpen and would almost certainly be available for a contract that wouldn’t exceed two years.

Edwin Jackson: It seems that the right-hander, who will be entering his 14th major league season, has been around forever but he will still be only 32 next year.
A career starter, he was turned into a reliever last season, he signed a four-year, $52 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. Unfortunately, he went just 14-33 with a 5.58 ERA over the next two years. That abysmal performance led to a move to the bullpen this past year and a mid-season trade to the Atlanta Braves. Overall, the transition was a positive one, as he made 47 combined relief appearances while permitting a 3.07 ERA and .218 batting average to opposing hitters.

Although he shows the occasional curveball and changeup, he is essentially a fastball-slider pitcher at this point in his career. With a 93.9 MPH average fastball in 2015, he still throws as hard as ever. Having spent a handful of seasons in the American League (including three with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2006-2008) he is no stranger to the different style of play.

It’s possible a pitching-hungry team might roll the dice and offer Jackson a contract to start. However, given the bleak years he had leading up to his switch to a relief role, and the relative success he had in that new job, a safer proposition would seem to be to let him keep doing it. He’s not likely to put up star numbers but is a veteran pitcher who could help a bullpen for a modest price.

The Red Sox are off to a fast start rebuilding their group of relievers. Kimbrel will obviously be the crown jewel of that unit. However, making him as dangerous a weapon as possible is surrounding him with talent to make the later innings all the more difficult for opponents. The Sox paid dearly for their new closer,  giving up four top prospects, and while they certainly have the money and young players to continue making trades and signing who they please, there are definitely more frugal options out there that could achieve similar results.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Why the Boston Red Sox Should Make a Run at Freddie Freeman

In the throes of a major rebuilding process, the Atlanta Braves are reportedly willing to consider selling just about anything and anyone that isn’t nailed down. Although they have already stripped themselves dangerously close to the bone at the major league level, there is still talent to be had, and their self-imposed refurbishment could be to the benefit of the Boston Red Sox—especially if the Braves could be convinced to give up their prize first baseman, Freddie Freeman.

First base was a series of ups and downs for the Red Sox in 2015. Beloved and bearded veteran Mike Napoli hit so poorly (.207) that he was sent to the Texas Rangers in August. Rookie Travis Shaw hit .270 with 13 home runs in 65 games but given he had never been considered a top-tier prospect, expecting him to continue producing on such a level is a risky proposition.

Technically, the Red Sox have first basemen already on the roster for 2016. Shaw will likely get a few at-bats here and there, but as things stand the bulk of playing time will go to Hanley Ramirez after it was determined he could no longer play in the outfield following a historically disastrous 2015 campaign in the field.  Having never played first base before should give the team their fans pause about handing the reins for yet another new position to the career shortstop/third baseman.

Ramirez is owed approximately $90 million over the next four years and is a career .296 hitter with power. If he is put in the right glove situation, he can still bring back a reasonable return on his contract. There are some ways to get him off first base in 2016, includeing trading Pablo Sandoval (easier said than done) and putting him at third; making Ramirez a jack of all trades until he can take over designated hitter full time once David Ortiz retires after next year; obtain another first baseman and do nothing until the end of spring training in the event injuries rear their ugly head.

Freeman would be a costly prize for the Red Sox, but one potentially worth opening up the proverbial wallet. The 26-year-old left-handed hitter has 162-game averages of .285, 22 home runs and 91 RBIs in his five-plus seasons as a major leaguer. He is also a patient hitter (.366 career OBP), which would fit well with the Boston team philosophy of seeing pitches and making pitchers work. While he doesn’t have a reputation for his glove, he is certainly serviceable. Perhaps the best aspect of bringing him on board is the fact that he is under team control through the 2021 season ($118.5 million remaining over those six years). For a player of his caliber, that is considered a steal in the ever-growing realm of baseball contracts.

For their part, Atlanta has denied they are actively shopping Freeman. His departure would not only create a talent void on their already depleted roster, but it would be sure to anger the team’s fan base, who figure to have little to cheer about in the next few years. However, any team truly looking to rebuild should be willing to listen on any of their assets. Their first baseman is a great chip, so putting him on the market is well within the realm of possibility.

A number of pundits believe the Red Sox gave up too much in their recent trade for their new closer, Craig Kimbrel. A trade for Freeman would likely cost more. Fortunately, the Red Sox still have one of the deepest farm systems in baseball. Although they’d have to give up some top prospects to pry the first baseman loose, it’s important to remember they are just that at this points—prospects. On the other hand, Freeman is under team control for a reasonable price throughout his prime years. That value cannot be understated. There’s no need speculating what prospects would make a deal work, as Boston has a number of young players that have wide-spread appeal. It will just come down to whether or not they’d be willing to part with the right combination to entice Atlanta to return potential phone calls.

The Red Sox have been seeking a long-term solution at first base since the departure of Mo Vaughn 17 years ago. They have had some good ones, but other than the five years Kevin Youkilis as a converted third baseman they have all been short term and more often than not, older veterans. It looked like Boston had their man a couple of times, only to see the player moved to another squad. Anthony Rizzo was a top prospect looking like the heir apparent but he was traded in 2010 in order to bring in established star Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez was signed to a massive contract in 2011 but traded the following year in an effort to bring financial relief. It just hasn’t worked out.

Obviously, with the Red Sox having won three World Series in the years since they last had a long-term first baseman, it’s not a necessity. However, adding a player of Freeman’s caliber would be a prudent move, especially considering the impending departure of Ortiz. Prospects are nice to have but so are established young players. Opportunities like this don’t come up all the time, so before any final decisions are made the team should consider long and hard about making a run at Freeman.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Jim Campanis Jr.: Former Seattle Mariners Catcher Prospect Recounts Career

Baseball fans are typically enthralled by highly regarded prospects. After all, they are the possible future of their respective team, as long as everything goes well with their development. Unfortunately, just being young and talented isn’t an automatic key to a lengthy big league career. Competition is fierce and there are never any guarantees. Jim Campanis, Jr., once one of the most coveted young catchers in the game, went through all of the ups and downs and saw his career end at the threshold of the majors. Years after he stopped playing, he has plenty to say about his career.

Baseball courses through the blood of the Campanis family. Jim Campanis, Sr. and his father Al Campanis both played major league ball, and Al went on to work in big league front offices. With a lineage like that, it was practically ordained that Jim Jr. would follow on their path.

Following a stellar high school career in California during the 1980s, Campanis upped his game even more at the University of Southern California. A catcher, he accumulated an array of awards and recognitions, culminating in his selection in the third round of the 1988 draft by the Seattle Mariners.

Although he put up very solid numbers in the minor leagues, he never got the promotion that would have made him the third Campanis in the majors. Following the 1994 season, he retired from playing, having posted career minor league numbers of a .254 batting average, 56 home runs and 239 RBIs in 575 games.

Since hanging up his catching gear, Campanis has led a busy life across varied interests. However, he is still deeply connected with his family game and on Opening Day, 2016 he will be releasing his book, Born Into Baseball, published by Summer Game Books. It will not only chronicle his career in baseball but also delve into other topics such as his grandfather Al’s controversial interview with Ted Koppel in 1987. It’s sure to be a fascinating read.

To connect with Jim, or to look for more information about his upcoming book, give him a follow on Twitter. Keep reading to see what he had to say during our recent exchange of emails.

Jim Campanis, Jr. Interview:

Your grandfather Al and father Jim were both major league players and involved in the game in other capacities; please describe their "baseball" impact on you.: I was literally “Born Into Baseball” so I wrote a book of dozens of baseball stories from my grandpa, dad and my experiences in the game we love so much. When I was five years old, I would shag batting practice and could catch giant fly balls so when I entered Little League I was pretty advanced compared to the other kids.  It kept me one step ahead all the way into pro baseball.  My very first memories in life are around baseball.

Who was your favorite team and player growing up, and why?: My grandpa was the GM of the Dodgers when I was growing up, so that was my team.  I also was a batboy and knew the players personally. They called me “Little Campy” and treated me very well, except for one guy who I wrote about in my book; the same guy my grandpa gave a bunch of extra chances after he kept screwing up.

How did you end up going to USC and what was your experience like there?: I always loved USC since my grandpa and Rod Dedeaux were friends. But Rod couldn’t offer me a full scholarship, so I verbally committed to Cal State Fullerton, who offered me a full ride. When I went to sign my letter of intent the secretary called in sick that day so it wasn’t prepared. I was disappointed but was told to return the next day. That night, Coach Dedeaux called and offered me Randy Johnson’s scholarship and I signed the next day with Don Buford. USC has the ULTIMATE network. My teammates included relatives of famous musicians, actors, producers, golfers, baseball players, football players and even two general managers. We really gelled as a group and I maintain friendships with dozens of guys from 30 years ago.

What are the most important traits of being a good catcher?: Profound knowledge of hitter’s weaknesses and tendencies. Calling a great game is more important than catching a great game. The thing about catching is if your name is mentioned on defense for anything but throwing out runner it’s a bad thing. If you are NOT mentioned in the game you played a GREAT game that day and no one knew except the pitchers.

What's the story of the party you threw as a teenager that was crashed by Bret Boone?: Yeah… My parents made the mistake of trying to take a little weekend vacation in like 1986.  A bunch of my USC teammates rolled to my parent’s house in Orange County and took over the high school party my sisters started.  We were charging kids at the door $5 and made several hundred bucks that night! Then Boonie and his local high school buddies rolled up. I had known Bret since he was 12, so we chatted up how great USC was and he said it was on his list of schools. He ended up coming in for the 1988 season and immediately made an impact on our team.  We were later teammate in the minors and are still friends.

What was your draft experience like, and how was playing in the minor league system of the Seattle Mariners?: This is a story in my book.  My grandpa told me I was drafted but would not tell me by who except that it was an American League team. So that night my mind was racing thinking I would be a Yankee or Tiger or Angel…but a freakin’ last place Mariner?  They are good now but in 1988 they were by far the poorest and cheapest organization in baseball. Yet they were stacked in the minors with high draft picks like Griffey. If I would have been drafted by the Royals that year my career would likely have been very different.

Who had the best stuff of any pitcher you ever caught?: That is impossible to answer since no one could consistently be lights out. Randy Johnson, Roger Salkeld, Mike Hampton, Jim Converse, Roberto Hernandez, Jeff Nelson, Ron Villone, Billy Swift and Derek Lowe come to mind as guys who were unhittable at times.

Your grandfather's interview with Ted Koppel in 1987 garnered huge national attention. What was its impact on you, as a college student at the time, and now later in life?: A BIG part of my book. When the last name on the back of your jersey said “Campanis” in the late 80’s and early 90’s everyone knew it from that interview. To this day, I still get people asking if I am related that that racist, which he wasn’t, and we have hundreds of examples of work with minority and international players and coaches to prove it.  Part of my motivation to write my book (due out Opening Day 2016) is to enlighten as many people as possible to the real man behind the controversy. We are hoping to re-write his legacy.

How disappointed were you that you did not reach the major leagues?: When you can’t control the outcome of things it’s frustrating. When I was on the 40-man roster in 1992, my Double-A manager called me into his office in late August to inform me I was going up to the big team for a cup of coffee in a few games. I was so excited. Three pitches into that game after he told me Willie Greene fouled a ball off and snapped my pisiform bone in my left wrist. Season over. No call up and taken off the roster never to return. That was literally a tough break that I couldn’t recover from physically or within the Mariners catching depth chart. I did have some “Bitter Years” as I chronicled in my book after my last release. It still feels like unfinished business and maybe another motivation for writing the book was to somehow get to the “Bigs” in another way. I’ve come to grips with it now but in my mid 30’s I was dealing with the loss of my ability to play baseball at an elite level ever again. It was like a death of someone close to me but I didn’t understand that until recently. 

Now that you are done playing, what are you up to?: I’ve done a lot of the things I dreamed about outside of baseball after I stopped playing. I’ve played guitar and written songs since I was 15, so I played in local bands, recorded and then took the music to my marketing jobs making jingles. Some are on the radio in LA! I also wrote a punk rock song this year that is currently on a Rap album (I know, Rap?) that hit #8 on the Billboard charts in September called “Sink or Swim” by the Kottonmouth Kings. Right out of baseball, I worked for radio stations selling airtime then moved into my own ad agency called “Campy Media” for the last 15 years. I’m doing that part time now as I’m getting into technology with SaaS (Software as a Service) for a Fortune 1000 company. Hey, gotta keep growing, right? The book “Born Into Baseball” is scheduled to be released on Opening Day 2016 from Summer Games Books. I’m very excited about the book and hope to share an insider’s view of our beloved game.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Thursday, November 19, 2015

David Ortiz: What He Means to the Boston Red Sox and Me

I’m a little late to the game in putting out a few thoughts about David Ortiz’s recent announcement that he will be retiring as a player following the 2016 season with the Boston Red Sox. A lot has already been written about his impending departure and legacy but I’ll add a bit more because it’s better late than never.

After Ortiz first joined the Red Sox in 2003, my initial impressions weren’t favorable. I had picked him up on my fantasy team, as experts had crowed about his potential to hit 20 home runs as part of a potent Boston lineup. However, by the end of June, he was hitting just .254 with four home runs, and splitting time with Jeremy Giambi. Then, all of a sudden, something clicked and he went on to hit .286 with 27 home runs over his final 75 games. Needless to say, it helped catapult me to my league finals and made me an instant fan.  It was also the springboard for his career that is now going into its 14th and final successful season in the Hub.

There’s little need to hash out Ortiz’s numbers. He has 503 home runs, 2,303 hits and been an integral part of three championship teams after the franchise went an agonizing 86 years without one. Without question, he’s on the Mt. Rushmore of all-time Red Sox greats. Only a vague connection to PEDs will possibly keep him out of the Hall of Fame.

While Ortiz delighted Boston fans for well over a decade, he could occasionally be a bit to take. While always seeming to be a great teammate, he also had a habit of finding the spotlight in unattractive ways like arguing over a scorer’s call or lamenting his contract status.

Ultimately, Ortiz’s positives overwhelmed any negatives. His jovial hand clapping between pitches and clutch hitting (There may be no scientific way to prove clutch play but try saying he wasn’t an absolute beast when the games meant the most) provided the kind of infectious fun that makes baseball so great. Even his controversial posturing after home runs made the game better (unless you were on the opposing team).

It wasn’t just his production that made Ortiz such a popular figure with Boston fans. He was much more relatable as an everyman than your typical modern athlete. With a moon face and a body type reminiscent to Babe Ruth, he didn’t cut the imposing figure of a chiseled Adonis. Additionally, his arrival in Boston after a failed stint as a top prospect of the Minnesota Twins gave him an air of redemption that everyone likes to see in sports and in everyday life. He did heroic things while appearing as someone you might encounter at your neighborhood bar. He is someone that even an author couldn’t make up.

2016 will be an extensive farewell tour for the man affectionately known as Big Papi. Fans and opponents will line up to heap him with praise and well wishes. Ultimately, he will be much deserving of it all and leave the Red Sox with a hole that will never be truly filled.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Tom Gamboa: A Baseball Life

In baseball, players typically receive all the glory when it comes to contributions to the game. After all, it’s a lot easier to recognize someone who has accumulated statistics or made a spectacular play that is captured on film. However, there are many other to be celebrated—those identify and help the players reach their fullest potential. One of the best in recent years is Tom Gamboa, who has handled numerous roles as scout, coach and manager, and is still building his résumé.

A college player in the 1960s, Gamboa was a good player but quickly realized that if he were to stay in the game he would need to do so in a different capacity. He initially found work as a scout and parlayed that into a career now in its fifth decade of various roles in baseball. He has managed 11 years in the minors, to the tune of a .532 winning percentage—including managing the Brooklyn Cyclones (the Single-A team of the New York Mets) for the past two years. He has also served as coach for a variety of minor league and major league teams.

Despite all of the great work he has done, his biggest moment in the baseball spotlight came in extremely unfortunate circumstances. In 2002, while coaching first base for the Kansas City Royals in Chicago’s Comiskey Park, he was the victim of an unprovoked attack by two fans who rushed him during the game while his back was turned. Fortunately, Gamboa was able to persevere and continue his career.

At the age of 67, Gamboa is still going strong with his baseball career. Although he is dedicated to the game, he is an even more dedicated father. Who knows when he will decide to call it a career and move on to something different. Honestly, that will probably never happen to this baseball lifer, who remains a behind-the-scene jewel of the game.

Tom Gamboa Interview

You had a great playing career with UC Santa Barbara; what position did you play and how long did you pursue a professional playing career?: I played mostly center field but also a little bit of first base. After college I played two years in Canada and was a player/manager and a two-year All Star, but I quickly realized there were a lot better players than me and my future would be in coaching.

How did you land your first job with a major league team (scout for the Baltimore Orioles in 1973)?: While in college I played four years of summer ball in the California Collegiate League with a team of the Baltimore Orioles and my manager became a top scout with Baltimore. With his influence I was hired as a scout in 1974, which started my 10-year scouting career.

Who is the best player you ever scouted in person?: Best players I scouted would be Ozzie Smith, Shawn Dunston, Gary Sheffield and Barry Bonds. Best players I was involved with signing would be Dale Sveum and Dion James.

Out of scouting, coaching or managing, which is the toughest, and which do you enjoy the most?: Scouting would be the toughest for me. Very difficult to project what type of player a high school youngster will be in five years. A lot of projection is involved and the competition gets so much better from high school to college to minor leagues to the major leagues!

What is the most talented team you have ever coached or managed?: My most talented team would be in Puerto Rico in the winter of 1988-89; the Mayaguez Indios. More than 20 players on that team went on to have extensive major league careers. The most notable would be third baseman Ken Caminiti, center fielder Steve Finley, right-handed pitcher Roberto Hernandez and right-handed pitcher Jeff Brantley. We won the Puerto Rican League Championship and finished second in the Caribbean World Series.

You were a 20-year-old John Smoltz’s manager for the 1987 Glens Falls Tigers. What kind of pitcher was he back then, and what kind of future did you think he had at that time?: Yes, in 1987 John Smoltz was only 20-years old and was already in Double-A. He had a high ERA and poor win/loss record due to lack of control, as he averaged over five walks per nine innings, yet he was voted best pitching prospect in the league as he had the best fastball and slider of any pitcher in the league. He was a can't-miss prospect by everyone. He simply needed more innings to refine his control, and he also needed more confidence in himself, which he obviously found very quickly as his rise to stardom in Atlanta came very quickly!

When your baseball career is finally over, what would you most like to be remembered for?: Unfortunately, I will always be remembered as the coach that was attacked in Chicago during a major league game as a coach with the Kansas City Royals, but I would like to be remembered as a baseball lifer that had an incredible passion for the game of baseball, and a fundamental teacher of the game who got the most out of his teams and players and also made them better people for having played for me!

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Craig Kimbrel to the Boston Red Sox: A Few Notes

The blockbuster trade the Boston Red Sox made Friday, sending four prospects to the San Diego Padres for All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, sent shockwaves through Red Sox Nation. While many welcomed the bold move, some expressed fear that the price tag was too exorbitant. While the true cost won’t be known for years, the move should be celebrated for now given the huge injection of talent it gives the team’s bullpen.

Here are a few thoughts about Kimbrel:

Some have indicated concern that 2015 was a career-worst year for the right-hander. However, he finished with a 2.58 ERA and 39 saves in 43 chances; not to mention 87 strikeouts in 59.1 innings. Those are elite numbers, folks. It’s not the 1.42 combined ERA he had the previous four+ seasons but it’s still darned good. If that’s a pitcher in decline, it’s still much better than what Boston has had in recent seasons.

Kimbrel started 2015 with a 4.74 ERA in April and May. From June on that number plummeted to 1.56, further debunking any theory that the 27-year-old is in any kind of definable decline.

I have never believed in the concept of pitching to the score but if there is any possibility there may be a nugget of truth behind it, Kimbrel might be the poster child. This past season he appeared in 18 non-save situations and racked up a 4.02 ERA with 25 strikeouts and an uncharacteristic 15 walks in 15.2 innings. Those numbers completely reversed themselves in 43 save situations, as he posted a 2.06 ERA, 62 strikeouts and just six walks in 43.2 innings.

It seems Kimbrel still has elite stuff. FanGraphs show his average fastball velocity of 97.3 MPH in 2015 was the highest of his career.

His success has also not been a result of playing against potentially weaker National League competition. In 45 career interleague games against American League teams he has 28 saves, a 0.92 WHIP, 13.8 strikeouts/nine innings and a 1.43 ERA.

Kimbrel has faced six New York Yankees batters in his career. He has struck out five of them.

Interestingly, Kimbrel has appeared in 41 career games where he was caught by former Boston catcher, David Ross. In those 41 innings, he allowed just nine hits and no runs.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew