Monthly Archives: November 2009

>Why the Mets Can’t Get No Satisfaction

>I’ll begin with a mildly depressing trivia question. According to Fangraphs the 2008 Mets leaders in WAR were, in descending order, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, and Carlos Delgado. Here’s the question: do you know who their seventh most valuable player was (again, by Fangraphs WAR)?

I’ll give you time to formulate an incorrect guess by listing my top 5 albums by the Rolling Stones, which I promise will be relevant (sort of) later on:

1. Exile on Main St.
2. Sticky Fingers
3. Some Girls
4. Let It Bleed
5. Between the Buttons

Now, away from Mick and Keith for a bit, and back to the Mets. The seventh most valuable Met in 2008 was Brian Schneider (*gasp*), who contributed a WAR of 1.6. And therein lies the problem. When a team spends $137 million on its players and features Brian Schneider as its seventh-best player, something went very, very wrong. Brian Schneider can get on the 7 train and not even be the seventh-best baseball player on board. That Schneider somehow was the seventh best player on the Mets illustrates the fundamental flaw in the recent rosters: a lack of mid-level talent.

To better demonstrate the gap in mid-level talent between the Mets and better constructed teams, I took the playoff teams from the 2009, 2008, and 2007 seasons, as well as the Met teams from those years and the 2006 team, and divided those team’s players into three categories: Stars, Guys, and PCs (Positive Contributors).

“Stars” are players with a WAR of 5+ (e.g. Zack Greinke, Joe Mauer, or the God of WAR himself, Albert Pujols).

“Guys” have a WAR of 4.9 – 2 (think Nick Swisher, Matt Cain).

“Positive Contributors” are players with a WAR of 1.9-0.1 (Luis Castillo, Livan Hernandez, almost any reliever, decent bench players).

Here is the breakdown of 12 playoff teams and the Mets, who, just in case you forgot, did not make the playoffs:

The playoff teams from the past three seasons have averaged just under 2 “Stars” and roughly 7.5 “Guys” per team, while the Mets averaged 1.67 “Stars” and 3.67 “Guys”, or about half as many “Guys” as an average playoff team. David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Johan Santana are all capable of being Stars, so looking ahead to next year, Stars should not be the problem. The problem with the roster for three straight years has been not having enough Guys, because Guys make the difference between a 80-something win team that just misses the playoffs and a 90-something win team that cruises into the postseason.

Now, as promised, here is how the Rolling Stones tie in. The 2006 Mets were like the Stones’ great album Sticky Fingers. Those Mets had their stars, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, who are the album’s big hits, “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses”. The 2006 Mets also had the mid-level “Guys” like Billy Wagner, Endy Chavez, and Jose Valentine, who are the under-appreciated songs, like “Sway” or “Moonlight Mile”. It’s the mid-level, good-but-not-great songs that carry an album to greatness in the same way mid-level guys carry baseball teams to greatness. The 2007 and 2008 Mets were like Goat’s Head Soup or It’s Only Rock and Roll: mailed-in works that had the heavy hitters (“Angie”, Carlos Beltran, David Wright) but not enough mid-level guys/songs to push them into the realm of a classic. Both teams and albums contained too much filler (Shawn Green, Damion Easley, “Hide Your Love”), which prevented them from being more memorable efforts. The 2009 Mets, who had no “Stars” due to injuries/ineffectiveness/whatever happened to David Wright, are appropriately enough Black and Blue, as neither were any good and both were quite forgettable.

What can the Mets learn from the Rolling Stones, other than the fact that you can’t always get what you want? Well, imagine you are Omar Minaya deciding how to piece together the Mets this offseason, and you only have around $25 million to spend, maybe. The fan base is getting antsy and the boss is getting angry, so you can’t put out another Goat’s Head Soup, or even worse,  Black and Blue, or you’ll get fired. You already have four guys capable of putting up 5+ WAR seasons, which is like already having “Miss You” and “Beast of Burden” written and recorded for the next album already. As for improving the rest of the team, you have two options. You can go all in for Matt Holliday, or you can pick up three or four “Guys”. Matt Holliday is the seductive option. He is a great hitter, a somewhat capable defender (excluding this), and he shaves his head, which gives him a grissiony Bruce-Willis-in-“Die-Hard” look. The “Guys” option is less attractive. You could pick up the much hairier Adam LaRoche, Mike Cameron, and maybe a couple of halfway-decent starters with the money that would otherwise be thrown at Holliday. Option 1, the Matt Holliday and nothing else option, is how you end up with a Goat’s Head Soup.  You surround the good stuff with filler and you get a forgettable album. Matt Holliday is the best free agent on the market, but if the Mets get him and no one else, the rotation/first base/catcher/Jeff Francoeur situation will be still be a disaster and the 2010 Mets win 85 games, tops. Option 2, the “Guys” option, is how you end up with the great Some Girls after churning out crap for a couple of years. You surround your big hitters with some up-tempo rockers, let a semi-clean Keith sing a song, throw in a Temptations cover, and then “Accio Some Girls!” you’ve made another five-star classic. The Mets already have their big hits written, they just need some above-average material to turn themselves into a classic.

Obviously, if the Mets can get Matt Holliday and three or four “Guys”, that would be the way to go, but it looks like maybe ownership can’t or won’t spend that much money. If that is the case, then either Omar Minaya, Jeff Wilpon, SPECTRE, or whatever shadowy organization really runs the Mets these days needs to focus on adding as many “Guys” as they possibly can. The 2009 Yankees won the series with 3 “Stars” and 11 “Guys”. The champion 2008 Phillies also had 3 “Stars”, but also had 7 “Guys” (and 25 “douchebags”). The 2006 Mets won the NL East with 2 “Stars” and 8 “Guys”. It’s those good-but-not-great players that push teams into the post-season, and it’s a lack good-but-not-great players that has kept the Mets out of the playoffs the past three years.

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>The Ben Zobrist Appreciation Society

>Compare these two second basemen in 2009:

Player A: .282/.397/.508, 31 HR, 28 2B, 4 3B, 93 RBI, 88 BB, 23 SB, 0 CS
Player B: .297/.405/.543, 27 HR, 28 2B, 7 3B, 91 RBI, 91 BB, 17 SB, 6 CS

Both players were excellent defensively. Player A was also hit by a major league leading 24 pitches, which should be a dead giveaway to his identity.

Player A is, of course, Philadelphia’s under-appreciated and often-beaned Chase Utley. Player B is Tampa Bay’s even more unknown utility-man extraordinaire, Ben Zobrist.

I’d briefly like to point out that Ben Zobrist quietly had a better season than any other major league position player. Again, Zobrist hit .297/.405/.543, 27 home runs, 28 doubles, 7 triples, walked 91 times, and stole 17 bases while registering time at every position on the diamond except pitcher and catcher. He spent the most time in RF and at 2B and was well above average defensively at those two positions. According to Fangraphs’ WAR (Wins Above Replacement, a metric for putting a player’s value in terms of wins), he was the most valuable position player in the majors this year – even more than god of WAR himself, Albert Pujols – yet the highest MVP vote he received was a single sixth place vote, which indicates that a lot of people missed his special year. My best guesses as to why Mr. Zobrist went unnoticed:

A.) He plays in Tampa Bay, and the Rays became old news this year, overshadowed by the Yankees and Red Sox.

B.) He didn’t have his own position, and I think utility guys often get looked over for that very reason.

C.) He’s on the older side (28) for someone establishing themselves in the Majors, yet somehow still looks like he’s twelve.

D.) A lot of his value comes from his defense, the most undervalued tool in the Major Leagues. Few pay attention to it at all, and those who do readily admit that their measurement systems for it are flawed. However, the Mariners won 87 games this year with a terrible lineup and a revolving door rotation (nine different pitchers made at least ten starts) because their defense was spectacular, the best in the Majors. The Seattle front office apparently figured out the secret of defense.

So again, look out for Ben Zobrist. Maybe this year was a just an aberration, but he was always a good on-base guy in the minors, and if he can maintain his defense, be ready to be hearing a lot more from Mr. Zobrist.

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>The Frustrations of Eli Manning.

>The “Manning face” has already been extensively chronicled by Bill Simmons, so I’m not going to discuss the actual face itself here. Briefly, “The Manning Face” is the mixture of disgust and frustration that often appears on Eli and Peyton’s faces. It can be consistently seen on Eli’s face after an interception or third-down incompletion, usually when the FOX camera cuts to him unstrapping his helmet as he walks to the sideline, looking like he showed up five minutes early to catch a train only to find out it already left without him.

Peyton still makes the face occasionally, but he now plays at such a high level that the face just makes appearances when a back misses a blocking assignment or when he’s thirsty and can’t find a paper cup on the sideline. Peyton’s “Manning Face”, because he no longer makes mistakes, is usually reserved for the failings of others. Eli will occasionally make the face when a receiver makes a different read than the one he did, but Eli Manning tends to reserve his displays of annoyance for the thing most responsible for all his frustrations: Eli Manning’s right arm.

Eli Manning has an ongoing on again/off again relationship with his right arm. He knows how to make all the reads, he knows where to throw the ball so only his receiver can catch it, knows when to step up and when to throw it away, and, unlike Peyton, he always knows where the paper cups are on the sideline. Eli is probably behind only his brother, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees in terms of mental proficiency at the quarterback position, but for four or five games every season, his right arm goes all Mr. Hyde on him and starts unleashing throws that make Tim Wakefield proud, throws that roughly follow the trajectory of a shot quail. Eli Manning sees an open Steve Smith and knows he has to hit his back shoulder, but Eli Manning’s right arm decides that it’s time to bring out the old knuckle-curve. After the throw is inevitable picked off and returned for a touchdown, Eli glances at his right hand in the same way baseball players sometimes examine their gloves after committing an error*, muttering to himself, “My dad was a NFL quarterback, my brother is a NFL quarterback, and now I’m a NFL quarterback. I’ve done this all my life, I know exactly what to do and how to do it, and I still can’t throw a damn spiral. This is all your fault, arm.”

*I swear Alex Rodriguez does this every time a ball rolls under his glove. He checks it for holes every time, because he’s Alex Rodriguez and it couldn’t possibly be his fault, yet he always looks genuinely surprised when he sees that his glove is in perfect condition. He may have shaken the choker monicker and that Madonna thing, but he nevertheless remains an extremely odd character.

The relationship between Eli Manning and his right arm is like the relationship between an elderly Art History professor and his projector, only the battle between professor and projector tends to be more one-sided. The professor needs the projector to display his slideshows, but the frustration he feels with technology is the same kind that Eli Manning feels with his right arm. For all his Ph.Ds, all the books he’s written, all the years he’s spent teaching, the professor remains utterly helpless against the wrath of the projector, and as smoke billows from his laptop and he is forced to cancel yet another class because IT cannot figure out how he managed to change the projector’s default language to Burmese, the professor feels the same maddening helplessness that Eli Manning feels whenever his arm betrays him.

Here are Eli’s arm slump numbers from the past three years:
2009 weeks 6-8: 53-107 (49.5%), 3 TD, 6 INT
2008 weeks 14 on (inc. playoffs): 74-137 (54%), 2 TD, 4 INT
2007 weeks 12-16: 79-174 (45.4%), 4 TD, 8 INT

Eli is usually good for one multi-game streak a year where he’ll throw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns, but the good news for Eli is that these slumps tend to last four or five games at the most and it looks like he’s just turned the corner again, so there remains hope for the Giants’ playoff dreams. Yes, Brandon Jacobs is running straight up for some reason, the defense is struggling with the schemes under their new coordinator, and they seems to lose two players to injury whenever one returns, but after Sunday’s victory over the Falcons, Eli’s arm appears to finally be back from its yearly sabbatical (384 yds, 3 TDs) and ready to carry the Giants. The New York Giants live and die with the right arm of Eli Manning. In 2008, the arm decided that it felt like starting the offseason early, and the Giants were eliminated by the Eagles in the divisional round. In 2007, despite fighting with Eli all December, the two reconciled in time for the playoffs and together they carried the Giants all the way to a Super Bowl victory.

Eli and his arm are like Simon and Garfunkel: lots of tension and breakups, but they have moments of absolute brilliance when they are together. Eli Manning’s arm is the key to the Giants success, and Giants fans can only hope that the only living boy in New York and his right arm will cease to shake their confidence daily, and will keep the customer satisfied like a bridge over troubled waters in America. Mrs. Robinson. Scarborough Fair/Canticle. At the Zoo.

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>2009 Dunndies: Pitcher Batting Edition

>These next two made-up awards will be given to the pitchers on either end of the hitting spectrum. First up, the Dean Chance award, given to the pitcher who displays exceptionally poor hitting. Dean Chance, the 1964 Cy Young Award winner, compiled a career 128-115 mark with an ERA of 2.92. Those numbers look absurd now, but it should be mentioned that Chance did most of his pitching off the high mounds of the 1960’s, so while his 3.08 ERA in 1966 would place him fourth among the leaders of the 2009 AL, behind Greinke, Hernandez, and Halladay, the collective 1966 American League had a 3.89 ERA, placing the entire group 15th, just a hair behind Josh Beckett. So the times apparently have changed a bit.

But of course, this award had nothing to do with anyone’s pitching abilities, other than the fact the eligible players must be pitchers. The award is named after Chance because he was an awful hitter, maybe the worst to ever wield a bat in the Major Leagues (warning: hyperbole). For his career, he put up this beautifully minimalistic .066/.113/.069 line. He had two career hits go for extra bases, both doubles. In 1966, he managed just 2 hits in 76 at-bats, striking out 54 times, walking three times and getting hit by one pitch, which adds up to a slash line of .026/.075/.026. So yeah, he was bad.

The 2009 winner of the Dean Chance award is: Ross Ohlendorf, Pirates.
Ohlendorf posted a .068/.083/.068 line in 59 ABs for the Pirates, which is actually somehow worse than Chance’s career line. Ohlendorf managed no extra base hits, one walk, and grounded into three double-plays, while only successfully sac-bunting four times (Note to John Russell: maybe just tell slugger to strike out on purpose from now on). He struck out in 39% of his plate appearances, and had an unbelievable 85% groundball rate (this may explain the double-plays). According to Fangraphs WAR, he managed to undo all of his pitching value with his horrible batting, making him a replacement-level player (read: bad). He was that terrible with the bat.

Now, onto the Bob Caruthers award for the best hitting pitcher. In 1886, Caruthers went 30-14 on the mound with a 2.32 ERA, and also led the American Association with an OPS of .974. He led the league/association/whatever in wins twice, winning percentage three times, and ERA once, all while putting up a career batting line of .282/.391/.400. I should mention that Caruthers was apparently stuck out in rightfield on the days he didn’t pitch, so he is really a pitcher in name only, but I didn’t feel like calling this the Babe Ruth award because that’s lame, so it’s the Bob Caruthers award.

The 2009 winner of the Bob Caruthers award: Micah Owings, Reds.

Micah Owings is at this point better known for his hitting than his pitching (7-12, 5.34, 18 HR allowed in 119.2 IP), but he still knows how to handle a bat. Dusty Baker will occasionally use Owings as a pinch hitter, and unlike most things Dusty Baker does, he had good reason to. Owings slugged .537 this year, exactly the same as Carlos Pena and Jason “Pasty” Bay (his career slugging percentage is actually higher, .547). He mashed 8 extrabase hits in just 54 at-bats, including 3 HR. Again, looking at Fangraphs’ WAR, Owings was a sub-replacement level pitcher (read: really bad), but was able to make up for most of the damage with his bat, making him roughly equivalent in value to Mr. Ohlendorf. So I guess pitcher hitting does matter, if only a tiny bit.

More awards to come . . .

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>Omar Minaya and Newton’s Third Law of Motion.

>Isaac Newton’s third law of motion roughly says this: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. I’ve worked at a summer science camp and successfully taught this idea to kindergartners, usually by letting a balloon fly around the room, and the kids usually can comprehend it. I admit that the kids who attend this camp are exceptionally geeky children, whose overeager parents ruin their summers by sending them to science camp, dooming them to lives of ridicule and asthma and nerdy baseball websites, but still, they can understand it because the law is not a particularly difficult concept to grasp. The law’s uses reach from billiards to actual rocket science. However, it does not apply to the successful construction of baseball teams.

Let me explain. Each year, Omar Minaya’s offseason strategy seems to be dictated by the failings of the previous year. In this bizarro Newtonian scenario, the previous year’s failure is the action, and Omar’s offseason moves are a reaction. Action > Reaction. The 2007 Mets imploded in epic fashion when they failed to get a big start out of anyone down the stretch (action), so Omar Minaya went out and got Johan Santana (reaction). The 2008 Mets bullpen imploded in equally epic fashion (action), so Omar asked for and received two closers from Santa (reaction). Now, these moves improved the team marginally, but simply fixing the previous year’s problem isn’t enough. Being a good general manager is about building the best team possible, anticipating new leaks and not just plugging the already dripping ones with chewing gum, ala Chevy Chase in “Vegas Vacation”.

A pool ball hit with a set amount of force at a set angle will ricochet around the table in a predictable manner, and will follow a similar path each time it is struck. Baseball teams aren’t so easily predicted. Players have down years, up years, they suddenly lose bat speed, they get injured, they get in taxicab accidents during snack runs, they can be Oliver Perez. It’s random and often unpredictable. The best strategy to combat the randomness is to construct a team strong in all areas, so a deficiency that inevitably develops in one can hopefully be overcome by strength in another. Building the best possible team doesn’t guarantee success, but it seriously improves the chances.

Omar Minaya fails because he doesn’t see the randomness. He still sees the pool table. His shot goes awry and he compensates by aiming a little more to the left or right. He gets a Johan Santana but neglects the bullpen. He rebuilds the bullpen, but then hands a AA infielder the starting left field job based on two months in the majors, and the catcher’s job to someone with a career .652 OPS in the minors based on one Fenway home run. He sees the 2009 Mets suffer from an absurd number of injuries and an embarrassing lack of power, and then looks for players who don’t get injured and hit home runs (I assume). This is a stupid way to build a team. It’s like busting on one hand in blackjack, and then refusing to hit on a 5 and 6 because you busted on the previous hand. Its different cards each deal. The shortcomings of last year don’t predict as much as Omar thinks because the 162 game season involves a ton of chance. Omar asks himself, “how can I fix the problem?” when he should be asking himself, “how can I put together the best team possible?” He reacts when he should act because he ignores the effects of chance.

Seeing the effects of chance is important. It prevents you from handing out two-year deals to the Julio Franco’s and the Marlon Anderson’s of the world, and it explains why giving a three-year deal to a relief pitcher is silly. Understanding that old injury prone players get injured more often explains why relying on a 40-year-old Moises Alou is stupid, and why relying on a 41-year-old Alou is unforgivably stupid. More importantly, it keeps you from thinking that just plugging the holes on a rotting ship is enough. Just adding K-Rod and Putz while failing to improve other areas isn’t enough. You can keep patching holes, but building a stronger ship is a better plan.

Imagine this plausible scenario. The Mets lacked power this year. Omar, after turning on his computer for the first time ever, will eventually stumble onto Molina’s page after Google searching “bENngie molina is he anygood please help interweb i might be fired?“, and he will see that Bengie Molina hit 20 home runs. He’ll miss the part where Molina only walked 13 times because Omar isn’t sure what “BB” stands for, and he asks beat reporter Marty Noble, who happens to be walking by on his way to a Matlock marathon. Mr. Noble explains to Omar that “BB” is a new Sabermetric whose formula looks like this. So Omar just sees the 20 home runs, and gives him a three year deal, and then gives Jeff Francoeur a three year extension just to make this made up scenario really horrible. Omar puts his feet on his desk and thinks to himself “power problem solved, mission accomplished” and proceeds to hibernate until spring training. Indeed, Molina may patch the home run problem, but does signing the Mario* of the Super Molina Bros. create the best possible team? Probably not, because Bengie Molina is an out-machine on a team that already has too many out-machines, and will likely cost more money than he is worth. Omar needs to ask himself if signing Molina creates the best team, rather than if he just patches a hole. Maybe the money spent on Molina would be more effectively spent elsewhere.

*He gets to be Mario because he’s the pudgiest looking one. I think Yadier can be Luigi, and I’ll make Jose Wario because he’s on the Yankees, and thus the evil one.

Omar Minaya’s problem is that he is a reactionary GM. He doesn’t realize that reaction is not a plan, it’s a response. Fixing a broken bullpen is a good idea, but maybe adding a corner outfielder is a better idea. Doing both is the best idea. The Mets will continue to fail until the distinction between active planning and reactive hole plugging is made.

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>The 2009 Dunndies: Bill Bergen Edition

>These Dunndies go to the players that subtracted the most from their teams. It’s not truly the least valuable player, as a September call-up with 2 at-bats has almost no real value, but rather the player who detracted the most from his teams ability to win games. So the award goes to the player who was not only terrible, but also managed to somehow accumulate a ton of playing time. The award is named after Bill Bergen, a catcher for the Reds and Dodgers, who posted a slash line of .170/.194/.201 in a mind-boggling 3228 plate appearances between 1901-1911, which is mind boggling because people kept giving him playing time, apparently because he had an absolute bazooka behind the plate. Bergen is the owner of the lowest career OPS+ (min. 3000 PAs) with 21. Cy Young, who pitched so often he was able to gather 3101 PAs, had a higher career OPS+ of 44 with his career .210/.234/.282 line.

NL Bill Bergen Award winner: Garrett Anderson, LF, Atlanta Braves

Mr. Anderson has a social security number, pays his taxes, and helps his land lady take out her garbage, but outside of the Matrix, he is a terrible baseball player. He put up a .268/.303/.401 line in 534 PA, struck out 73 times while walking only 27, and was good for a -11.8 UZR in left field. Garrett Anderson was bad, but not quite awful enough to see his playing time taken away. He was that special kind of ineffective where he was able to slowly accumulate negative value for the season, the special kind of bad that allows you to win a prestigious made-up award.

He was 1 for 1 in stolen base attempts, so kudos to him for that.

AL Bill Bergen Award winner: Yuniesky Betancourt

Betancourt already won the AL Jeremiah Denny award for his work at SS, but his hitting is equally awful. He showed off his statuesque fielding abilities with a UZR of -20.5, but he also posted an impossibly bad line of .245/.274/.351. which translates into OPS+ 65. He is an out-making machine on offense and a rock (as rocks don’t move much) on defense. He still, somehow, was able to make over 500 plate appearances between the Mariners and the Royals. He was worth -2.1 wins above replacement (WAR), which is to say his teams could have pulled a warm body up from AAA or the wavier wire, and that AAA guy would have made the team 2 wins better over the course of the entire season. An average shortstop like Stephen Drew would have made the team over 4 wins better singlehandedly. Betancourt was the worst everyday player in the majors, and its really not even close.

Betancourt was 3 for 6 in stolen base attempts, so I can’t give him credit for that, but he was the eighth hardest player in the Majors to strike out. That’s really the only positive attribute of his I can find. Unfortunately for him and the Royals, all those balls he puts into play end up turning into outs.

More Dunndies to come . . .

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>The 2009 Dunndies: Jeremiah Denny Edition

>Over the next few days, I will be unveiling my own post-season awards, named “The Dunndies” after multiple-defensive award winner Adam Dunn. The first awards, the Jeremiah Denny awards, are given to the player who managed to accumulate the worst zone rating (UZR) at every position. They are named after Jeremiah Denny, the last positional player to play without a glove. Catchers and pitchers are excluded for the awards, as UZR is unavailable for them.

The 2009 Jeremiah Denny winners, names followed by team and UZR, are:

National League
1B – Adam Dunn, Nationals, -13.8
2B – Luis Castillo, Mets, -10.4
SS – Miguel Tejada, Astros, -13.9
3B – David Wright, Mets, -10.4
LF – Adam Dunn, Nationals, -15.3
CF – Dexter Fowler, Rockies, -13.9
RF – Brad Hawpe, Rockies, -21.3

American League
1B – Billy Butler, Royals, -6.7
2B – Alexi Casilla, Twins, -9.6
SS – Yuniesky Betancourt, Royals, -20.5
3B – Mike Lowell, Red Sox, -10.4
LF – Delmon Young, Twins, -16.4
CF – Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox, -18.6
RF – Jermaine Dye, White Sox, -20.0

A few notes: First, obviously, a special congratulations to Adam Dunn, who won two Jeremiah Dennys by managing to be the worst defensive player at two separate positions. He was able to negate all his batting value with his miserable fielding, which is especially impressive because:
A.) he was one of the better hitters in the NL (his wOBA was good for 10th in the league)
B.) he did so playing the two traditionally least-challenging defensive positions.
This is actually an achievement unlikely to ever be repeated. Thus, I name all my awards “the Dunndies” to commemorate the 2009 fielding work of Adam Dunn.

Groundball pitchers should apparently stay away from the infielders in Queens, and flyball pitchers should stay away from the outfielders in Colorado. Interestingly enough, groundball pitchers often find success at Coors Field, and flyball pitchers would have plenty of room for error at spacious Citi Field. Just something to think about if you’re a free agent pitcher.

The Boston Red Sox had a miserable defense on the left side when they played Julio Lugo (UZR – 8.4) and Jason Bay (UZR -13.0) alongside Mike Lowell and Jacoby Ellsbury. Not surprisingly, Red Sox pitchers had more balls in play turn into hits than any other team, with a team BABIP against of .320. The right side featured a much stronger defense than the left, with J.D. Drew, Dustin Pedroia, and Kevin Youkilis all turning in UZRs well above average.

David Wright had a weird year, didn’t he? He logged positive ratings at third base the previous two seasons, yet in 2009 he was the worst defensive third-basemen in the National League.

The NL team is a much better offensive group than the AL team. I guess this is because especially terrible fielders in the AL can be hidden in the DH spot, whereas they are always exposed somewhere on the field in the NL.

More awards to come . . .

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>It’s all in the stripes.

>The Cincinnati Bengals are good. They’re 7-2, should be 8-1 if not for a freak play. Their defense is second in the NFL in points allowed per game, tied for fourth in the league in sacks, and tied for sixth in interceptions. The offense in middling, but they have a capable quarterback in Carson Palmer and the vintage version of Chad Ochocinco has reappeared. They’ve won based on their defensive prowess. It seems that every year there is a team like this, a team that feeds on the idea of not getting enough respect. The 2007 New York Giants claimed that they lacked the respect they deserved every week until they won the Super Bowl. The Bengals are the Rodney Dangerfield team this year. ‘”We keep doing what we’re doing, it’s going to make everybody respect us eventually,” said rookie running back Bernard Scott’.

The teams that make these claims are often young teams, hungry to be taken seriously and looking to get the recognition they feel they deserve. The Bengals have been awful for a long time, having only 2 winning records in the past 20 years. They were more recently known for a shameful number of arrests. They want to overcome that image of the Bungles. They don’t want to be a joke any longer.

Here’s their real problem though. They don’t just have to overcome decades of incompetence, the criminal behavior of their players, the fact that the face of the franchise legally changed his last name to a Spanish number (sort of). They have one more enormous obstacle that stand between them and respectability.

They have to overcome the uniforms.

And really, it’s a huge problem. Can you imagine them playing a serious January football game, in the snow in Cincinnati, wearing those ridiculous Tiger stripped helmets. Their jerseys look like something sold at Walmart to confused mid-40’s divorcees who like to prey on much younger men. Look Ladies, football for the fellows and tiger stripes for the fashion! Trying to be taken seriously as a team in those uniforms is like showing up to a business meeting dressed as a clown. It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are, nobody takes you seriously with a frizz of red hair and an enormous red nose.

Yes, the years of failure don’t help. It’s difficult to rewire a brain that immediately associates “Bengals” with images of the Three Stooges, but they have been one of the better teams this year. They already beat the defending champion Steelers twice. I think their problem lies on the surface. They will not be taken seriously by the media, no matter how far they advance this year, unless they change the uniforms. If you don’t want to be treated like a clown, stop wearing clown clothes.

There’s also this:

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>Season of Wither

>The 2009 Mets may have been the most disappointing sports team ever. The combination of high expectations (Sports Illustrated actually picked them to win the World Series) and a shiny new stadium were greeted by a team that is best illustrated with images of the Titanic. It wasn’t that the Mets were the worst team in baseball; they failed even at being the worst team in their own division. It was such a demoralizing season because they failed to meet every expectation placed upon them. They were plagued with a House-like number of mysterious injuries and a quality of play that would be unacceptable in backyard wiffleball. As the Mets’ star players succumbed one by one to injuries like the teenagers in Scream, the replace-Mets managed to drop popups, fall down on the mound, shield their faces in apparent fear of the ball, fall down in the outfield, commit every type of balk possible, fall down the dugout stairs, miss bases, inexplicably fail to slide, issue multiple bases-loaded walks, including one to Mariano Rivera, and hit into a game-ending unassisted triple play for only the second time in Major League history. Even after the Mets’ year mercifully came to its inglorious end, the fates decided that it was only fitting for the season to end with a Yankees-Phillies World Series, because at that point, really, why not? By the end, it became an ugly, often unwatchable season. In some perverse way though, I found myself enjoying every second of the spectacle.

The previous three Mets seasons had been painful in their own unique ways, a called third strike ending the 2006 NLCS, an epic late-season collapse in 2007, and a slightly less epic collapse in 2008 (because sequels, as everyone knows, are always lesser versions of the original). Those three seasons ended with pains which became the lingering memories of the year. The 2009 team, with a rebuilt bullpen, was supposed to finally end the pattern of misery. The Mets began their season encouragingly with a 2-1 win in Cincinnati, but the Citi Field opener foreshadowed the tragicomedy that was to follow. Future trivia answer Jody Gerut welcomed the Mets to their new home by hammering the third pitch the Mets’ Mike Pelfrey threw into the right-field corner for a home run, and Pedro Feliciano balked in the Padres’ winning run a few innings later. An especially drunk fan sitting behind me at the game slurred it best: “You’ve got to be kidding me.” The season of failure was on. After three years of this sort of madness, my fellow Met fans were beginning to expect the worst, and the Mets were often more than capable of acquiescing. Still, hope, the emotion that defines the game, was very much alive for the 2009 campaign. The Mets looked like a decent team and their top four guys, Reyes, Wright, Beltran, and Santana, were equal to or better than any other team’s top four.

Unfortunately, the U.S.S. Mets entered the chilly waters of iceberg alley in mid-May, and in what now I assume was a misguided attempt to bring attention to the national health-care debate, the Mets began sending players to the disabled list at an alarming rate. First went Oliver Perez with chronic inconsistency, followed by Carlos Delgado with old-man hip problems and Jose Reyes with speedy-man leg problems. By late June, the number of injuries became absurd as the disabled list grew daily, added to by John Maine, J.J. Putz, and Carlos Beltran. Somehow, the Mets still managed to hang around in their division, being only one game out of first when they arrived in Philadelphia for a Fourth of July weekend series. The Phillies proceeded to celebrate the birth of the nation with their favorite annual tradition, sweeping the Mets out of contention. Within two weeks the Mets were irrecoverably buried, Pompeii-style, in the standings, taking any and all remaining postseason dreams with them, and then, just to make things even more ridiculous, Johan Santana’s elbow exploded and David Wright was concussed by a Matt Cain fastball. They were both added to the now VIP-only disabled list. The Mets lineup and starting rotation throughout late August and September were possibly the worst group of players ever put together.

The 2009 Mets were supposed to be The Departed; not the greatest thing ever, but its still Scorsese, so pretty damn good. Instead, they were Under Seige, a massive let down if the movie expected is a Scorsese crime film. However, I found 2009 Mets to be enjoyable in the same way Steven Seagal films become enjoyable if you are able to suspend your expectations for passable acting and a vaguely plausible plot. Mid-season, I finally abandoned any hope for respectability, and I found myself able to enjoy the Mets for the beautiful, firework explosion that they were.

Non-sport fans and bandwagon jumpers wonder why people insist on sticking with teams that let them down over and over. Cubs fans come back year after year. Maybe the answer is that it makes the good times taste even better. Red Sox fans can tell you that better than I can. That team failed for 86 years, but when they finally won, even the moon turned red and got in on the celebration. Still, that doesn’t explain away Cubs fans. Maybe just the hope for better times is enough.

My personal hope is that one day I can be a grizzled old man who tells kids about how back in my day, I survived Luis Castillo dropping the pop up, Ryan Church forgetting that you have to touch third base too, and Jeff Francoeur protecting his face from the scary, scary baseball. I can tell them that I remember the horrible last loss at Shea Stadium and the awkward closing ceremonies that followed, where some fans actually booed poor Mr. Met. I can tell them I saw a lineup where Angel Pagan was often the most productive player, and a rotation where Mike Pelfrey, a six of clubs on another team, was the nominal ace. I hope I can tell them how much better it made it when they finally won it all, but I probably won’t. I don’t know if they’ll ever win. They’re the Mets, after all.

I can still hope.

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>The Resurrection of Tom Brady

>Not so long ago, Tom Brady was on top of everything. He was the best quarterback in the league, the leader of an undefeated New England Patriots team that had just steam-rolled over the league on its way to Super Bowl XLII. He was setting records with an unstoppable offense, throwing more touchdown passes in a season than anyone ever had. He was posing for cologne ads and dating a Brazilian model super enough to be known by just one name. This was a Tom Brady, however, different than the one everyone already knew. Long gone was the kid so thrilled to be playing in the Super Bowl that he smashed his helmeted head repeatedly against Drew Bledsoe’s like a madman in the players tunnel, for no reason other than to release his pent-up excitement. This Tom Brady was older and cooler and couldn’t be bothered to shave; he had played in the Super Bowl before, and he had won it all three times. This man wasn’t just quietly confident anymore; he was arrogant, scoffing at New York Giant receiver Plaxico Burress’ 23-17 prediction. “We’re only going to score 17 points?” he laughed in a press conference before the game. Just two seasons ago, Tom Brady was on the brink of perfection, the brink of football immortality as the greatest quarterback ever playing for the greatest team ever, and he damn well knew it.

It was disgusting to everyone outside of New England. The younger Tom Brady was easy to root for, while this unknowable golden god was not. The human Tom Brady was the University of Michigan backup, the 199th pick in the draft, and only became the Patriot’s starter when a Mo Lewis shot sent Drew Bledsoe to the hospital. This quarterback was easily identified with, the NFL equivalent of the last kid picked in dodgeball, the guy standing on the sidelines who could do it better than anyone else, waiting only for his shot to prove it. He was throughly likable right down to his last name: Brady, the non-threatening kind of name TV writers pick for a sitcom family, like Tanner or Simpson. Tom Brady could have easily been the name of the boy always tossing around a football who lived just two houses over. This boy grabbed his moment, and the unassuming kid with the cleft chin became the league’s star player, leading the Patriots to Super Bowl victories three times in four years. Somewhere along the way in the 2007 season though, Brady became the villain.

Maybe it was playing for head coach Bill Belichick, a divisive figure who takes pride in his Nixonian levels of secrecy and his barely concealed disdain for NFL customs like injury reports and post-game handshakes. Maybe it was fathering a child with one model while dating another one. Maybe it was just that the unshakable calmness with which he picked apart defenses had become a detached inhuman cool. Whatever the reason, Tom Brady was no longer relatable. Children still wanted to be like him, but it was becoming impossible for anyone over the age of 12 to imagine being Brady. Everyone knows what it’s like to be the underdog, but the playboy superstar wasn’t an underdog anymore. He became the establishment, the thing the hero tries to takes down in a movie. He was now the bully, Mr. Potter, the Monstars, Biff Tannen. Tom Brady, his team, and especially his coach mercilessly picked apart and ran up the score on anything in their way. Luke Skywalker had become part of the Evil Empire, and outside of New England, people rooted for the Empire to be destroyed.

Everyone knows what happened next. Being in the tabloids doesn’t stop ferocious defensive linemen from tearing through your offensive line and ripping your limbs off, and no amount of stylish scruff can give you time to find open receivers. The Empire was defeated when a gawky boy from Louisiana made a couple of miracle plays and finally emerged from the shadows of his father and brother. A new underdog was crowned king as Brady walked off the field. The Patriots, the greatest offense ever, were unable to even match Burress’ prediction of 17 points, scoring only 14. Immortality had been lost, and Tom Brady wasn’t laughing anymore.

Less than eight minutes into his 2008 season, Brady was screaming in pain. He was on the ground, his left knee having just been bent sideways by Kansas City safety Bernard Pollard, causing the ligaments to tear. The already humbled god had to be helped off the field by two trainers and watch his season end after less than a quarter of football. The Patriots were supposed to have been the beast again, able to take another shot at perfection after just falling short, but that dream snapped with Brady’s knee. First his unshakable confidence had failed him, and now his body did as well. The mighty Patriots, the team that always waited until you blinked first, the team that had the diabolical genius of a head coach, missed the playoffs without their star quarterback.

That brings us to today’s Tom Brady. His Patriots are again in first place, but they are not the same machine. They are led by a Brady that has been defeated, embarrassed, and made painfully aware that our human bodies are frail and can be broken. Videos of him laughing at Plaxico’s prediction have been watched hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube. He has been exposed as anything but perfect, knocked back down into the realm of mortals, but in the process he regained his humanity. Tom Brady, still the millionaire MVP with a supermodel wife, still the three time world champion, maybe the greatest quarterback ever, has somehow managed to become relatable again. He’s certainly not the smiling kid anymore, but he not the arrogant deity either. He’s become something else. We’ve all said things we shouldn’t have said, we’ve all gotten cocky with our abilities, and we’ve all been hurt. Tom Brady did all those things on a national stage, but his fallibility exposed him as a human being again. We don’t want our heroes to be superhuman anymore. We like Batman better than Superman, and we like this Tom Brady better because it’s comforting to imagine that like him, we have the ability to overcome our failings, to take our pain and our mistakes and somehow transform them into successes.

So who is the real Tom Brady? Is he the smiling kid with the backwards hat that can’t believe he just won the Super Bowl? Is he the overconfident jerk who lost the biggest game of his life? Or is he the humbled man trying to find his former stroke? Maybe he’s all of these things, and maybe he’s none of them. Most likely, he’s always just been some guy who can throw a football better than all of us, and our perceptions of him are the only thing that ever changed. Whoever he really is, I again proudly embrace the idea of Tom Brady. I like Batman and Marty McFly and Homer Simpson, I like the underdog looking for his first shot and the broken hero looking for just one more, and I like Tom Brady.

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