July 13, 2012

Is Defense Really as Important as People Say?

"Defense, to me, is the key to playing baseball" -Willie Mays
Now I am in no position to argue with Willie Mays, but I must respectfully disagree. Everyone talks about the importance of defense in every sport, but is it really as important as the analysts will lead you to believe?

To preface this, I must say that all my information is strictly stat based and, as we all know, the game is not played on paper. That being said, I think some of the information I found to be shocking.

Starting off, I will talking a lot about the Defensive Wins Above Replacement stat (The estimated amount of wins a player adds to a team, using his defensive numbers, compared to a AAA player replacement). The higher a players Defensive Wins Above Replacement (dWAR) is, the more valuable his defense is to his club. The players with the best dWAR in the NL is Darwin Barney, Second Baseman for the Chicago Cubs, with a 2.9. Second to Barney is his double play partner Starlin Castro with a 2.1. Now when we take a look at the Cubs overall, we can see that they are sitting at 33-52 at the All-Star break, a mere 0.5 games above the Houston Astros for the worst record in all of baseball. Turn to the AL, you will find Brett Lawrie, Third Baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays, edging out Brendan Ryan of the Seattle Mariners, 3.6 - 2.7, for the highest dWAR. The Blue Jays are playing pretty well with a 43-43 record, while the Mariners wallow at the bottom of the American League at 36-51.

Understandably, some people will criticize the fact that I am picking out a few players out of the nine men that take the field each game, so let me show those critics some team stats. The top team in dWAR in the league is the Toronto Blue Jays. As mentioned earlier, they have a .500 record, but they are 14 games behind the MLB leading New York Yankees. The Blue Jays have a 6.8 team dWAR so you would assume the Yankees must be close behind, but when you look at the numbers, the Yankees are a poor defensive team with a -2.1 dWAR. To simplify that a bit, that means if you made the two teams equal in the defense department, the Yankee's lead would really be close to 23 games. In fact, looking at all the Division leaders (LAD, PIT, WAS, TEX, CWS, NYY), the only team with a positive dWAR are the Pittsburgh Pirates at a 0.7. Meanwhile, looking at the teams at the bottom of each division, only two of the six have a negative dWAR, Philadelphia (-0.3) and Houston (-2.1).

Alright, you are all probably sick of me spitting numbers, but it all makes sense. Defense, while being very important, is completely reliant on the other facets of the game. In the case of the Blue Jays, they might have solid defense, but their pitching is a gaping hole in their team. Sitting in last in BBs and home runs allowed is basically a giant sign that their defense does not have a chance to help them out, seeing as those are two plays where defense is completely uninvolved.

In the end, good defense is just the icing on the cake. While it is nice to have a center fielder who can make an over-the-shoulder basket catch (i.e. Willie Mays), or a second baseman who never makes a mistake, if that player cannot hit, he is hurting the team more than he is helping.

July 7, 2012

MLB Playing Field. Is Everyone Getting Better/Worse?

I know some people will look at the title of this article and yell that the Yankees or Rangers are the greatest thing ever since Jeans were made. Yes, there are some teams that are just better than everyone else and are on the on top of their division but, most teams have improved and there are some division where all the teams are above .500.

As of July 6th, the whole AL East is above .500 or at .500. We are basically at the half way point of the season and the whole division is above .500? That is saying something about the talent level in that division and how it is now spread between most teams and not just a select few.

The Royals, who are still under .500, have become a better team each and every year. Why? It is called scouting and their farm system. The Royals are finally becoming a good team with fantastic young talent with Moustakas, Hosmer, and Myers (still in minors).

Also, the addition of the second wild card team levels the playing field. I know you are asking, Daniel, how does adding a team to the playoffs level the playing field? With that addition of the new team, many teams feel like they are now in the race. With that said, instead of dealing players away, teams would rather go out and buy players. With those trades, those teams out of contention then get prospects. These prospects are a chance but, if they pan out, it was well worth the trade. A historic one-sided trade with these implications was made with the Red Sox and Mariners in 1997.  The Red Sox dealt reliever Heathcliff Slocumb to the Mariners for Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe. The Mariners got what they wanted at the time but, Slocumb then only pitched 96 innings during the '97 season and the years after. What did the Red Sox get? The Red Sox got over 5,000 at bats with Jason Varitek and over 1,000 innings pitched out of Derek Lowe.

Recently, there was a trade made which explains exactly what I am talking about. Carlos Lee of the Houston Astros got traded to the Miami Marlins who are 4 games back of the second wild card seed. The Astros, in return, received two good prospects. Those prospects were Matt Dominguez and Rob Rasmussen. Dominguez was the #2 rated prospect and Rob Rasmussen was the #9 rated prospect in the Marlins farm system, according to MLB.com. The Marlins traded these two prospects because they needed a "now" guy. I do not have a crystal ball and cannot tell you that those two guys will pan out and the deal will then be one-sided but, there is a possibility.

If the MLB playing field is level and most teams are competing in their division and the wild card races, then baseball becomes exciting again. Now, we will not have another end to the season like we did in 2011 for a while but, more teams will be in the races and more fans will want to go out to games.

July 3, 2012

What Constitutes a "Real Fan"?

One of the more defining aspects of a team is their fan-base. Everyone knows that the Phillies have a historically judgmental fanbase. One that is as brutal to the opposing team as they are to their star player going through a tough spell.
2-Time Cy Young Winner's are not Heckle-Exempt

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the Oakland A's or the Florida Marlins of the past few years (now the Miami Marlins). Both teams are more well known for a lack of fans. 
And someone in between there, you have the bandwagoners. These people tend to stick to the standards. The Yankee's, Red Sox, or, for the more masochistic people, the Cubs. These people deserve very little respect. I say very little because the fact that they are even pretending to watch baseball is admirable and at least they won't distract you from a game.

To put it a little more simply, and take note that this is one man's opinion
A REAL FAN takes an interest in his teams goings-ons throughout the year, even if it is just checking in every couple of weeks
A FAKE FAN waits to see if there team will make the playoffs and gets excited about there team if they are doing well
A REAL FAN has a reason for being a fan. Daniel comes from a Red Sox centered family because in Buffalo, you are a Yankee's fan or a Red Sox fan, and since South Buffalo is predominately Irish, they have the Boston connection (same with a lot of my family). Even if your reason is that you played for the Marlins in tee ball and have followed that team since then, you have license to rep that team, as long as you stick through the tough times.
A FAKE FAN, when asked why they are a fan of a team, will respond with "I just am" or even "Wild Thing is my favorite player of all time". This excludes people who are fans of local team. Thats just expected.
A REAL FAN engages is a somewhat intelligent discussion about which team is better, usually biased, but never resulting in lasting animosity.
A FAKE FAN yells unintelligibly at people wearing the colors of the opposite team and go to games, not to watch their favorite player, but to pick fights to show how much "tougher they are".

The main reason I decided to clarify a real fan is that, a little over a year ago today, on Opening Day 2011, a man by the name of Bryan Stow was viciously blindsided by what is believed to be two people in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium, wearing his San Francisco Giants gear like a real fan. As a Dodger fan, I heard about how vicious and violent all Dodger fans are. Let me start this off by saying was happened to Mr. Stow is in no way excusable and literally makes me sick to my stomach to even think about it. But let me also add that the two men who attacked Mr. Stow are in no way Dodger fans. They may tell people that they are "hardcore" Dodger fans, but that is not the case. You see, I was there that night. I sat with two friends and my dad in front of a group of Giants fans. We might have made one or two snide remarks, but for the most part, I talked about how much I think James Loney is a bum and he discussed his distaste for one Giant's player or another. It was casual and friendly. This is how rival fans should act.

Now I understand that when two friends are fans of rival teams, it can get a little more hostile. That being said, team affiliations should never affect a friendship. A real fan of the game would understand that baseball, and all sports for that matter, are something to be mutually enjoyed. So whether you are a die hard fan who reads every box score 100 times over, or someone who goes to a game with Instagram already pulled up your phone, go to have fun, make memories, and enjoy your life.