Monday, February 25, 2008

Interlude II.

First off, a warm welcome to those of you who were led here by FoB (friend of the blog) Bill Simmons. The amount of support I’ve received from the rest of the baseball blogosphere has been deeply gratifying. This site has now been linked to by both and Deadspin, which might actually be illegal.

In honor of my first appearance in a Simmons column, here’s an email that I sent to him immediately after the Patriots lost to the Colts in the AFC Championship game a year ago. In light of recent events, I think the comparison bears repeating.

“The parallels between the 1996-01 Yankees and the 2001-06 Patriots are pretty eerie, when you think about it:

1) The Yankees won four championships in five years; the Patriots won three.

2) Both teams won their first championship with a squad that really wasn't all that impressive. The '96 Yankees had nothing on the '98-00 version, just as the Patriots' 2001 team looked nothing like the 2003-04 squad.

3) Both teams were huge underdogs in their first World Series/Super Bowl and won stunning victories. The Yankees lost the first two games - at home - to the Braves, who were the defending world champs and looked like they would be the team of the 1990s. The Patriots weren't given a shot in hell against the Rams, who won the Super Bowl two years prior and looked like they were in the midst of a dynasty run.

4) Both teams had an off-year the following season, then started Year 3 on a bad note - the Patriots got blown out by Buffalo, 31-0, and the Yankees started the 1998 season 1-4 and rumors were swirling that Joe Torre was about to get canned.

5) Both teams then went on truly historic runs of dominance. The Yankees went on a ridiculous 60-16 tear after their 1-4 start, finishing with 114 wins and tacking on 11 more in the postseason. The Patriots would go 35-3 after the loss to
Buffalo that included a 21-game winning streak.

6) Both teams had developed an aura of invincibility just as their run was about to end. The Yankees made it to the World Series in 2001 only because they came back from a 2-0 deficit against Oakland in the first round (and only won Game 3 because Derek Jeter made a smart play and Jeremy Giambi forgot to slide), then had to face the Mariners - who had broken the Yankees' own record for AL regular season wins with
116 - and dispatched them in five games. The Patriots had to go on the road to face the 14-2 Chargers and all-time TD record holder LaDanian Tomlinson, and won even though the Chargers had nearly triple the rushing yards and Brady threw three picks.

7) Both teams had their run of dominance end on a rare failure by one of their signature players, the Yankees when Mariano Rivera failed to hold a one-run lead in the ninth, the Patriots when Tom Brady threw an interception on a two-minute drill.

The analogy isn't perfect; for one thing, today's game wasn't the Super Bowl. On the other hand, it was Pats-Colts, which is a more compelling matchup than any game involving an NFC team. The fact that
Boston didn't come under a terrorist attack eight weeks ago also stretches the analogy a bit.

Nevertheless, it holds. And just as the Yankees gained even more respect for the way they went down swinging even in defeat, I have to say I hold the Patriots in higher regard now than I did 24 hours ago. That they made it to within 60 seconds of a Super Bowl with Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell as their best receivers, with a rookie kicker, with the roster devastated with injuries, with half the team recovering from the flu...that's a bad-ass performance. There's no shame in that.

But just as the Yankees learned, in the ensuing years, what the rest of baseball already knew - that winning a championship is very, very hard, even if you have the talent to make the playoffs every year – I have a feeling the Patriots are going to struggle to win another Super Bowl again with this collection of talent.”

A year later, and you can add one more piece to this analogy. The New York Yankees became the first baseball team to choke away a 3-0 lead in a playoff series, to the Boston Red Sox. The Boston – well, New England – Patriots became the first NFL team to lose their first game of the season in the Super Bowl, to the New York Giants. In this analogy, Dave Roberts’ Steal = David Tyree’s Helmet Catch.

The Yankees have gone to the playoffs every year since 2004, but the aura of invulnerability is long gone, and their solution to their repeated playoff failures has been to throw more and more money at the problem. It remains to be seen how the Patriots respond to their most recent loss, but I will be shocked and ridiculous impressed if they rebound from this to win another Super Bowl.

Moving on…I had a couple of sources from front offices around the league comment on my previous entries. One source stated that I shouldn’t be so sure that Justin Huber would be picked up off of waivers if he doesn’t make the roster out of spring training. His point was that the Rangers just snuck Chris Shelton off their roster, and no other team bit on him.

It’s an interesting comparison. Shelton’s two years older than Huber, and only hit .269/.381/.420 in Triple-A last year, but on the other hand he actually has two major league seasons on his resume which say he can hit, 2005 and 2006, which is two more seasons than Huber has. I stand by my original point, which is that given the alternatives at first base (or DH if Butler shows he can field the position), Huber might be the best option to play even if he did have options.

Anyway, it appears we’re going to find out if he can clear options or not; the Royals have just announced that he’ll be playing solely in left field this spring. I was starting to get worried there – it’s been months since he’s been asked to change positions. His one hope here is to make the team as a replacement for Jose Guillen while the latter serves his suspension, and then to hit like gangbusters for the first two weeks. Hey, it worked for Mike Sweeney in 1999.

Another source disagreed with my evaluation of Luke Hochevar, deriding him as having “average starter stuff at best, and I don’t see an out pitch there.” He made the very valid point that Hochevar’s velocity has never approached the numbers he was hitting on the gun for the independent Fort Worth team he played for right before the draft.

I completely agree that the Royals made a huge mistake in overemphasizing their most recent impression of him before the draft. Teams get into trouble all the time drafting a player based on a few well-timed good months, and conversely, guys who have a disappointing junior season (or senior season of high school) turn out to be draft steals more often than not. One of the best draft picks the Royals ever made was Johnny Damon, who was talked about as a possible #1 overall pick before his senior year, then let the pressure get to him and hit so poorly (he failed to hit .300 that year) that he fell to the 35th pick in the draft. The Royals signed him, he batted .349 in rookie ball, and there’s been no looking back. For an example of a guy the Royals drafted based entirely on his senior year performance, I give you two words: Colt Griffin.

But I still think Hochevar has the stuff to be at least a #3 starter. He might not have an out pitch, but he makes up for it by throwing four pitches that are at least average. He started for the Royals on the last day of the season and hit 90-91 on the gun, with good movement. But more and more I’m warming up to the idea of apprenticing him in relief, so long as the team has the roster space to accommodate him while not losing one of their other young arms.

Finally, Jorge de la Rosa appears to be making one of the strongest early impressions in camp, and the Royals plan to start him in place of Brett Tomko in the spring training opener this week. I think de la Rosa’s arm is way too lively to give up on, and for the life of me I can’t understand why no one has broached the subject of using him in the bullpen. You’ve got a lefthander who throws in the mid-90s but can’t throw strikes? Doesn’t the bullpen seem like the perfect tonic for a guy like that?

I’ll touch on this more later, but this yet another reason why I strongly dislike (I’m tempted to use the word “hate”) the signing of Ron Mahay. Suddenly the Royals have three left-handed relievers projected to break camp with the team (including Jimmy Gobble and John Bale), and they still have Neal Musser and his 0.49 ERA in Omaha last year lying around. They didn’t need Mahay, and now they’re in a situation where de la Rosa either gets a rotation spot or gets a one-way ticket out of town.


Anonymous said...

De La Rosa is the new Affeldt. I hope he puts it all together but I won't lose any sleep over his waiver. I've fretted enough over him, already. If Maroth is healthy I expect the Royals to go with him as the 5th starter...not that that is a good thing, just saying.

While on the subject of fretting, I hope that Huber does indeed have a strong spring and makes the team as a platoon outfielder, 1B, emergency catcher, etc. If he doesn't, well he'll be easier to pass thru waivers. More than anything else, whether its Huber or somebody else emerges or is acquired, I'd like to see the Royals field a solid lineup that is consistent from day to day and week to week. Enough of the Gathrights, Gloads, Germans, Costas, etc., placeholders that really belong on the bench or in AAA.

GSOAT said...

Interesting point about Mahay. But I disagree for one big reason, and it's something that has bothered me for years. If you are a "rebuilding team", why wouldn't you pick up a handful of veterans with 1 year contracts (Mahay wasn't a one-year contract, but still...) every off-season? Assuming 2-4 of them have decent years (especially left-handed relievers for Pete's sake), you can unload them for younger talent at the trade deadline. At every trade deadline, every "buyer" is looking for left-handed relief help, so assuming the Royals aren't competitive during Mahay's deal, they can still deal him this year or next for some prospects.

One more thing: please explain to me why baseball doesn't allow draft picks to be traded like the other leagues. The baseball draft is certainly more of a cr@pshoot than the NFL, NBA or NHL, but wouldn't stockpiling draft picks be the most logical way for Pittsburgh and KC to get out of their respective funks?

kcghost said...

You would like Huber to be given a chance somewhere. It's clear we haven't the faintest idea of what to do with him or would even use him if we did.

It is hard to get excited about DLR when the Royals brain trust sees Tomko as a better option. Good grief Tomko will be lucky to still be in the majors come July 1st. American league hitters are already standing around Royals Stadium waiting to get their hacks against him.

Anonymous said...

My hope is Bale wins the 5th starter spot, alleviating your lefty reliever/roster space concerns.

Also, didn't Milwaukee sorta sour on JDLR in a relief role already? Agree that the arm is intriguing, but have to admit he looks like he may never put it together in ANY role, IMHO.

ChasingMoney said...

Huber will not pass through waivers.
Hochever is gonna be a solid #2 0r #3 starter.
The Mahay signing baffled me too, especially now if Maroth wins the #5 spot.
Good stuff, Rany.

Nathan Hall said...

What possible purpose is served by making Huber play LF, when we have a huge hole in the linup at 1B? Is he a terrible firstbaseman, or is Ross Gload really all that? Please don't say Shealy. If anyone needs at least a few months in AAA to prove he can hit, it's him.

Cookierojas73 said...

I still don't get the Mahay signing, either. The only real solution to the "lefty logjam" (barring injuries) would seem to be to throw one of the others (Gobble?) into a multi-player deal of some sort, a possibility that seems remote at this time of the year.

Keith said...

Luke's average fastball was 92.2 according to Pitch f/x. I'd say his slider is absolutely an out pitch, too. Curve is pretty close as well...

Anonymous said...

Great point on Huber. If Shelton clears waivers, why wouldn't Huber? Shelton is, quite simply, better than Huber. Shelton has actually had some positive experience in the majors. He's a guy you wouldn't be embarassed to have on your 25-man roster. Huber, on the other hand, is just a huge question mark who has managed a career .850 OPS in the Pacific Coast League. That is not a monumental achievement. And it's not like Huber is any more versatile postion-wise than Shelton. They are both pretty crappy 1B/DH/PH's. All bat and no defense...and the bat isn't that good.

Nick Bates said...

Great insight on the Hochevar draft pick...which I hated from the second it happened. As far as breaking camp with three Lefties in the pen, don't we have to hope we can get a utility big leaguer or maybe some young righty for the one that does the best in Spring ball?

Antonio. said...

" NYRoyal said...
Great point on Huber. If Shelton clears waivers, why wouldn't Huber? Shelton is, quite simply, better than Huber. Shelton has actually had some positive experience in the majors."

This is an example only.

It's not just about who is making it through the waivers. It's about who is making it through when, what is thought of that player, who is interested and what space they have available.

Maybe Shelton struck Beane's fancy, but at the time, he didn't have room for him because he still had Nick Swisher under contract. However, now that Swisher has been traded, Beane really wishes he had the opportunity to grab one Chris Shelton, who is no longer available. As a consolation, he's going to pick up the wonderfully (in Beane's esteemed opinion) unappreciated Justin Huber.

ASMR Review said...

I'm not down on the Mahay signing because he's not really a situational lefty. He's pretty good against righties too. He can be a good setup man, who just happened to be left handed, while DLR, Musser and Gobble are situational lefties.