Quick and Dirty Analysis of Will Smith

I was in favor of trading Aoki. He’s popular and still provides some value at a reasonable cost, but he’s older, his skills are unusual for a corner outfielder, and they are likely to degrade sooner rather than later. Since he didn’t display the same power in 2013 as in 2012, you could make a decent argument that this was already happening to some extent.

I’m not here to talk about Aoki. I’m here to talk about Will Smith. I’m not a fan of Will Smith. I actually watch a fair number of Royals games. For various reasons they sort of became my AL team of choice. Part of this is reading a lot of Joe Posnanski and Rany Jazayerli. Part of it is their similarity to the Brewers. Part of it, more recently, is the number of former Brewers they employ. Anyway, I’ve seen Will Smith pitch a bunch.

What I’m worried about here is the Brewers not seeing through the superficial improvement that Smith showed last year moving to the bullpen. First let’s establish what smith is. Here’s his player comment from the BP annual last year:

In the move to the majors, Smith left his pinpoint control in Triple-A. While trying to adjust, he started leaving too many pitches in the middle of the zone. He comes by that BABIP honestly: 23 percent of all balls in play were classified as line drives. Control will continue to be key to any success as his fastball struggles to hit 90 mph and he lacks a plus pitch that can cause hitters to swing and miss. If he eventually sticks in the majors, it will be in the back of the rotation, although he could be used out of the bullpen as a long reliever and emergency starter.

So many red flags. Lots of hard contact, no strikeout pitch, average-at-best velocity, low ceiling. All of these strike me as pretty dead on.

The thing is, Smith pitched out of the bullpen last year and his superficial stat-line looked pretty good. He put up a 3.24 ERA in 33 and a third innings. Perhaps most impressively, he struck out 43 batters in just 33 innings while walking just 7. For a guy who has struggled to miss bats consistently that’s impressive. It was also a bit of a sham.

Smith was doing mostly LOOGY work last year, and while he did have 43 Ks in 33 innings, 27 of those came against lefties. He undeniably dominated southpaws, striking out exactly half of the lefties he faced. He had a 13.5 K/BB ratio against them. He managed to keep righties in check (they hit .235/.273/.412 against him), but there’s definitely some luck in those numbers. Righties his liners off Smith 18% of the time (13% for lefties) but his BABIP still stuck at a low .245 against them. That low BABIP kept his BA and OBP artificially low against righties, though you can still see that hard contact in the .412 SLG.

It is entirely possible that the Brewers see something here that they can develop and this will work out fine. I am, after all, just some guy on the internet. But what I see is a lefty with bad stuff who currently looks better than he actually is because he got to dominate lefties out of the pen over a very small sample size. I don’t think he’ll make it as a starter.

I didn’t expect to get a top-tier prospect for Aoki. I did expect them to get more than a low-ceiling LOOGY.

Who Does Number Two Work For?

What is Yovani Gallardo worth? Is he a “#2 starter?”

By most accounts Yovani Gallardo is having a bad year. It’s hard to dispute that opinion except to say that some of his peripherals aren’t as bad as the results have been.  Gallardo has been a divisive figure his entire time as a Brewer. In his younger days he teased everyone with ace potential, but his inability to put guys away consistently basically cemented him as a solid 2nd tier pitcher who would still occasionally flash brilliance, but who, more often than not, would be exiting having pitched about five and two thirds innings.

Gallardo has been, without question, a valuable asset and I’m not sure it was ever fair to hold him to such lofty expectations.   The fact is that since 2009 he has never thrown fewer than 180 innings in a season, and he’s very likely to exceed that total again. It is, in fact, very likely that he will exceed 200 IP for the third straight year. In addition to being quite durable outside of a freak Reed Johnson-related injury, he is also just 27 and under contract for one more year for $11.25 million with a team option in 2015 for $13 million. While he’s not super cheap, getting 200 innings of above average starting pitching on the open market isn’t cheap either.

If you’re another team looking at Yo, what do you see? Well, you probably see the troubling things first. Yo’s strikeout rate is a career low 7.2/9. You all already knew that.

Behind the strikeouts I suspect we have a guy who has actually adjusted pretty well to diminishing skills, but who has been victimized by bad defense.  For instance:

  1. We know the Brewers are the worst team in baseball at turning ground balls into outs. Yay.
  2. Yovani has a career high GB rate at 49.9%, and a 1.87 GB/FB ratio.
  3. His LD% is up a bit, but not catastrophically so. It was worse in 2010. And in any case,
  4. He has a career low FB% and
  5. Only 12.1% of those are leaving the yard, his lowest since 2010’s freakishly low 7.1%
  6. And if you’re looking for another indictment of his infield defense, his bunt hit % is also at a career high.

Anyway, while Gallardo is allowing more balls in play than he ever has before, the quality of a lot of those balls isn’t actually that great, and a more competent defense might have saved his ERA from looking like such a disaster. You can see this in his 3.80 xFIP.  Last year it was 3.55. Not a huge difference. Back in 2009 it was 3.71. I think Yovani Gallardo can still be an effective pitcher. The biggest problem with him is that even at his best, he’s really never been a top-flight trade candidate for a contender.  Here’s why.

So what’s a #1 starter (or a #2 starter, or 3 or whatever)?  We can debate this endlessly, but it’s definitely not as simple as #1= top 30, #2 = 30-60, especially for pitchers, and especially for pitchers you may trade.

The reason for this is simple: a team like the Tigers has 3 of the best ten pitchers in baseball this year by WAR, and none of those is Justin Verlander. Yo may be a “#2” pitcher in the abstract, but on the Tigers, a team that is contending and therefore more likely to buy at the deadline, he’s no better than a #5, if even that.  Contending teams, by their nature, employ good pitchers already.  It’s easy to have a hole in your offense. When the Brewers had Casey McGehee and upgraded to Aramis Ramirez, the upgrade was enormous. For a starting pitching staff though, adding any given pitcher displaces the #5 starter.

Gallardo’s career high ERA+ for a season is 112. On the Red Sox that makes him a #3. On Tampa this year that would squeak in as a #3 just ahead of Matt Moore, but really, c’mon.  He’s a 3 on the Braves with that number. Cards? 5. Pirates? 5.  Reds? 6. Maybe 7. Texas? 5. Arizona? 3. The Dodgers? 4.

See any 2s on that list?

ERA+ isn’t the best stat, but keep in mind that:

  1. 112 is Yo’s BEST EVER outside of an awesome rookie season where he only threw 110 IP, and
  2. He’s only at 86 this year, and
  3. His skills have been noticeably eroding, so
  4. It’s unlikely that he will be that good again.

Yo’s career FIP is 3.66. That makes him a 4 on the Cardinals, a 4 on the Reds, a 3-ish on the Braves, a 3 or 4 on the Red Sox, a 4 on the Rays, a 5 or 6 on the Tigers, a 3 on the Indians, and a 3 on the Dodgers.  Again, see any 2s on that list?

So Yo is a #2, probably for some teams. Some teams that have failed to develop starting pitching for a while. Some rebuilding teams.  Maybe a team filled with aging veterans.  But if you think you have a #2 pitcher who you can trade to a contending team, think again. They’ve almost certainly already got that guy. Consider further that in the playoffs your rotation is shortened. Does Yo make the Tiger’s post-season roster at all?

Yo can still be valuable to a contender, but he’s not jumping to the front of a rotation for a contender, he’s bumping the last guy out, and there are a ton of guys who are capable of doing that.

If the Brewer front office is going to be waiting for #2 offers to come in for Yo, they’re going to be waiting a long time.

Braun, Due Process, Etc.

But it’s better for us not to know the kinds of sacrifices the professional-grade athlete has made to get so very good at one particular thing. Oh, we’ll invoke lush clichés about the lonely heroism of Olympic athletes, the pain and analgesia of football, the early rising and hours of practice and restricted diets, the preflight celibacy, et cetera. But the actual facts of the sacrifices repel us when we see them: basketball geniuses who cannot read, sprinters who dope themselves, defensive tackles who shoot up with bovine hormones until they collapse or explode. We prefer not to consider closely the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews or to consider what impoverishments in one’s mental life would allow people actually to think the way great athletes seem to think. Note the way “up close and personal” profiles of professional athletes strain so hard to find evidence of a rounded human life — outside interests and activities, values beyond the sport. We ignore what’s obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It’s farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one area of excellence. An ascetic focus. A subsumption of almost all other features of human life to one chosen talent and pursuit. A consent to live in a world that, like a child’s world, is very small. – David Foster Wallace, The String Theory

Due Process

One thing that lawyers are good at, as a rule, is separating process from results. We have to because in the law if you screw up the process you will more often than not end with the wrong result.

We also (usually) understand why processes exist. Sometimes that reason is evil (to protect a business or a cartel from competition because they lobbied hard for it), but sometimes, and probably not often enough, that process is there to protect the little guy.  This is why I’d caution all of the players out there celebrating this suspension. I understand wanting clean game. I understand wanting to escape the pressure of using potentially dangerous drugs to compete. The fact remains, the way that MLB went about this was amazingly shady, and that the players have sacrificed a good chunk of their power by not backing up their cheating brethren with regard to the process.

Braun is guilty. I think at this point everyone knows it. You should have known it earlier. I knew it for sure (basically) when reports surfaced that he tested positive for synthetic testosterone. It’s easy to see poor storage causing a false positive. It’s much more difficult to see poor storage causing a foreign substance to appear. But frankly, none of that should matter to the players because whatever benefits they’ve gained from this minor victory in “cleaning up the game” is going to end up costing them.

Major League Baseball is not the government. The government is limited by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  It can’t try you twice for the same crime. It is subject to a series of rules governing how it collects and presents evidence. Think about what baseball did in this case.

  1. They lost using their own “due process”, but no problem, they just decided to punish Braun again.
  2. They did so by buying evidence and bribing bankrupt criminals.
  3. They fired their impartial “judge.”
  4. MLB broke the JDA by leaking  Braun’s failed test.
  5. They continue to lie about this.

I would actually very much like to know if any major leaguer has beaten a positive test before. Remember, we were not supposed to know about Braun.  Tests like this are absolutely not perfect and given the number of tests administered by MLB, if no one has ever won an appeal, than too many players have been suspended. If no one ever wins except you, you’re not really playing fair, and you’re definitely rigging something.

If you’re a player today, the game may be marginally cleaner than it was yesterday. You are also in more peril from your boss. If you fail a test, whether it’s a true positive or not, MLB can slander you with impunity. They can suspend you, and suspend you again. The can rig their process the whole way through with nothing but Hosannas from the media.  And it won’t even take a failed test, by the way. A piece of paper is sufficient. How many people will end up thinking Gio Gonzales is dirty after this for precisely that reason.

You think it can’t happen to you? You think that MLB wouldn’t want to gain sway over the players active in the union? You think they’d never do anything so dirty? Yeah, OK, keep telling yourself that.

Yesterday the MLB players union granted their bargaining opponents the ability to turn any player they choose into a pariah, and to make the union turn on them at any time and for any reason they choose. The process matters.

In the US criminal justice system we set up the default as innocent, until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We put safeguards into place to keep this presumption intact. They don’t always work, they’ve been attacked, and they’ve been muted thanks to a more vocal “law and order” voting block, but they’re still there. MLB was only kept in check by the union. At this point they are, for all intents and purposes, a dictatorship.


Players are not heroes. They are not inherently good people. Everyone who writes on this blog knows that, but way too many people seem to forget repeatedly even though we’ve been through Favre. Even though Michael Jordan is a complete douche nozzle. This message just never sinks in for some people.

I absolutely don’t care about Braun’s personal life. I don’t know him and never will. He’s always struck me a guy who is probably a jerk. He has an edge to him. I don’t know him and could be wrong. Maybe he’s the nicest guy in the world. But I don’t care because he makes my baseball team more likely to win a championship. That’s really all I care about. I do not understand seriously caring about anything else. Packer Fans who continued to cheer for Favre after he left make my brain hurt.  People still love their kings, apparently.

Finally, regarding all of Braun’s lying, lying is bad, m’kay. But if you happen to be in a protracted legal battle, a lot of what you say or do not say publicly is out of your hands. I hope none of you ever finds yourself in such a situation. Everything Braun said wrong may very well be completely on him, however it is absolutely impossible for any of us to tell what he could and could not say, and what he was ordered to say by his people.

Fun With The Play Index

The All-Star Break is boring, so here’s a stat dump from the Baseball Reference Play Index

Remember when Corey Hart used to be fast? He has the 15th and 16th most stolen bases in a single season for the Brewers with 23 in both 2007 and 2008.

Pods has the franchise record with 70 in 2004. After that it goes Molitor (45), Molitor (41), Molitor (41), Molitor (41).  Those seasons span from 1982 to 1988.

Most plate appearances by a Brewer in a single season? Rickie Weeks with 754 in 2010.  He made the most of that too, hitting .269/.366/.464.

Most HBP in a single season? You know it’s Rickie, in that same year. He led the league in both PAs and HBP.

Rickie does NOT lead the Brewers in most ABs in a single season. That honor hoes to Mr. Molitor with 666 in 1982. Rickie only had 651 official ABs in 2010.

Molitor has the single season record for triples with a league leading 13 in 1991. That probably pisses off Robin Yount, who owns the next 6 spots on the list. Carlos Gomez is lurking with 9 this year. Jeromy Burnitz had 8 triples in 1997. Triples are weird.

RBIs are so cool that Richie Sexson and Jeromy Burnitz are 3-4-5 on the Brewer all-time list, Sexson in 2001 with 125 (and who will ever forget that 2001 team), Burnitz with 125 in 1998, and Sexson again with 124 in 2003.

A Brewer has only had 100 RBI in a season 37 times.

Only 17 Brewers have had 100 RBI seasons.

Greg Vaughn never did it (98), which is amazing.

Casey McGehee did though.

Geoff Jenkins? Nope.  (95)

Rob Deer? Nope. (86)

Sixto Lezcano? Yes! (101 in 1979).

You know who has the franchise record for doubles. We love you Lyle.

But we shouldn’t punish guys for turning doubles into triples. The franchise record for 2B+3B belongs to Yount, who is first and second with 59 in 1980 and 58 in 1982.  Lyle is 3rd with Ram in 4th. Jeff Cirillo cracks the top 10 at #7 with 51 in 1996. Yay Jeff.

We all love sac bunts and no one was more money at getting one down than Don Money, who had 14 in 1978 and 10 in 1974. Paul Molitor is tied for 2nd with 10 in 1982. Actually kinda shocking they made the World Series doing that.

Greg Vaugh had 7 in 1990, good for 7th, which makes me want to go back in time and start a zine called Tom Trebelhorn Stole My Baseball. Jesus.

Yount had 6 in 1980. Cecil Cooper had 6 in 1979. Gorman had 6 in 1978. So much pointless sacrifice…

Who hates walking? Bill Schroeder, that’s who. Rock walked only 8 times in 1984 over 226 PAs. He walked only 16 times in 1987 over 270 PAs. Sandwiched between those two seasons we have Dick Davis who walked 16 times in 353 PAs in 1979.  But you all know who the true all-time Brewer walk-a-phobe is. That’s right. Yuniesky Betancourt walked just 16 times in 584 PAs in 2011. No one else in the bottom ten has even 475 PAs.

And finally, the 13th best OPS in team history belongs to Aussie catcher David Nilsson who hit .309/.400/.554 with 21 HRs in 1999. Who doesn’t miss the Lloyd-Nilsson connection? 

You can’t spell Ass Pan without Passan.

Note: This is by Rubie even though it was posted and (lightly) edited by me.

Yesterday, ESPN unleashed the latest news in MLB’s never-ending, never-escalating, “we’re really gonna suspend you guys, we’re totally serious, it’s coming soon” crusade to get to the bottom of whatever was happening at a glorified vitamin store in south Florida: according to the Mothership, Ryan Braun refused to answer any questions about Biogenesis or Tony Bosch when MLB investigators tried to interview Braun last month.

Of course, all the players MLB has tried to interview about Biogenesis have, on the advice of and at the urging of the MLB Players Union, refused to cooperate with the League. But that pesky detail didn’t get in the way of Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan, who decided it was time to dust off his hatchet and take aim at one of his favorite targets:

Ryan Braun is so, so good in public. This kills the people at Major League Baseball who believe he used performance-enhancing drugs and want to suspend him for it. He is handsome, well-spoken, authoritative. He projects as an alpha assurance special even in a sport of alphas.

Apropos of nothing, Take 1: “Alpha Assurance” totally sounds like it would be the name of one of the fragrances of that Old Style pit spray, with the commercials that feature a dude who’s a centaur or whatever.

Braun could swear the grass is blue and the sky green, flash a smile and sure enough some people would believe him. He’s that smooth.

“I have nothing to hide,” he likes to say. This is funny. For somebody with nothing to hide, Ryan Braun is a fireproof safe inside of an armed vault behind a Scooby-Doo pull-a-book secret door.

Apropos of nothing, Take 2: aren’t all safes fireproof? What the fuck good is a safe to store your valuables if it’s just going to burn down with the rest of your house?

And re: Scooby Doo: I always had a thing for Velma. I’m not sure why; it may have had something to do with the juxtaposition of the short skirt plus knee-high stockings and the oversized turtleneck sweater. She was like a mystery book where you got to read the first chapter and were just intrigued enough to want to read more.

Sorry, that got weird. Maybe we should start getting to the point here.

All he does is hide. When MLB asked him questions about his positive testosterone test more than a year and a half ago, he wouldn’t answer them, and now he’s all Mr. Fifth Amendment again as the league investigates players’ links to Tony Bosch, the alleged PED pied piper of the Biogenesis clinic near Miami.

To be all technical and lawyer-y for a second: I know Passan is using “Mr. Fifth Amendment” as a cheeky way to say “Braun’s not talking,” but he really shouldn’t, because: outside of a courtroom or a deposition or an interrogation by police officers, you don’t invoke your Fifth Amendment rights, and, more importantly, the Fifth Amendment is a right against giving a statement which incriminates you. And there’s really no indication that Braun went in and said: “I’m not talking to you about Tony Bosch because my answers could tend to incriminate me.” Instead, I think it’s likely that Braun (and everybody who’s been summoned before MLB’s crack investigation/Inquisition squad) told them to pound sand as part of a larger plan by the Players Union. More on that in a second.

Braun’s refusal to talk – first reported Tuesday by ESPN.com and confirmed by Yahoo! Sports – came as no surprise,

Which makes the premise for Passan’s column all the more bizarre, but whatever, we’re rolling here.

and not just because he has spent almost two years running from questions that could help clear his name. The MLB Players Association doesn’t want anyone saying anything, not after Bosch, his associate Porter Fischer and others have agreed to varying levels of cooperation with MLB. The unity of members is sacred, the strongest defense against a pursuit some within the sport fear has veered into witch-hunt territory.

I’m not sure it was intentional, but to say “the MLBPA doesn’t want its players giving statements because Bosch and Porter Fischer are cooperating with MLB” is really misleading. I don’t think the MLBPA is quaking in its boots at the thought of Bosch and Fischer turning Commissioner’s evidence, for the simple reason that Bosch and Fischer are (to use a term of art in the legal community) pieces of shit. If MLB’s case is built upon the word of two people who’ve, from all indications, shown a disturbing (but probably not surprising) tendency to shape their stories to please whomever’s willing to pick up their tab at Sizzler, then MLB doesn’t have much of a case at all. The MLBPA knows this, and it also knows that any lawyer worth his salt would eat Tony Bosch for breakfast and have time to sneak in 9 holes before noon.

That brings us to the larger picture: I suspect that the Union recognizes this Biogenesis nonsense is much, much bigger than Ryan Braun or Alex Rodriguez or even any of the 20 or so other players who might get suspended next week. What’s at stake isn’t merely Braun’s reputation, ARod’s career, or the livelihood of the lesser known players caught up in this scandal. This is about the continuing viability of the Joint Drug Agreement, and, on a much grander scale, the power of the Union vis-à-vis the Commissioner’s Office.

To be a little less obtuse: look at this from the Union’s perspective. The Commissioner (if what ESPN is reporting is true) is threatening to suspend a decent chunk of your membership pursuant to the terms of a drug testing program without a single one of those players flunking a drug test, under some amorphous concept of “just cause” (which, amazingly, isn’t freaking defined in the JDA). And not only that: the Commissioner’s going to treat at least some of these folks as second-time offenders, hammering them with 100-game suspensions because the Commissioner has concluded those players were lying about their association with Tony Bosch — which, in the warped mind of some underling in the League office, somehow constitutes an offense distinct and separate from the underlying association with Bosch and can be punished as such. (This is akin to charging someone with Super Duper Extreme Burglary because he robbed a home and then lied to the police about it. If that sounds kind of crazy, that’s because it, y’know, is.)

If you’re the Union, you have to take the hardest line possible against that kind of action (which, at best, is an aggressive interpretation of the powers bestowed on MLB by the JDA, and, at worst, is a gross abuse of authority), don’t you? And that means not only fighting MLB on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets, but also telling your charges: “They want to interview you? Fuck them. We aren’t participating in this farce any more than we absolutely have to.”

That, I believe, is why the players are refusing to answer MLB’s questions.

Of course, Braun could break from the pack if truth-telling were his ultimate imperative.

For one: when has any player openly defied the Players Union in the manner that Passan’s suggesting? Remember what happened when ARod wanted give back some of his salary so he could join the Red Sox ten years ago? For two: if you can think of any reason it would benefit Braun to piss off one of, if not the, most powerful unions in the history of the world, I’d love to hear it. I’ll hang up and listen.

It isn’t. It never has been. He drives his narrative, saying what he wants while dodging anything that might actually answer how he ended up entangled in this mess. Braun’s conduct throughout the process – the vehement denials against strong evidence, the unconscionable smearing of sample collector Dino Laurenzi, the grand and sweeping statements of innocence and, yes, the public vows that he has nothing to hide – have steeled MLB in its pursuit of him.

Keep this “steeled in pursuit” line handy, would you? I think you’ll find it comes in useful in a few moments, when Passan derides anyone who thinks MLB has a “vendetta” against Braun as a “Braun truther.”

Let’s skip past the rehashing of Braun’s successful appeal of his positive PED test, because yawn, and move on to this:

Baseball values the truth because it deserves it.

I wish I had the words to convey to all of you how hard I just rolled my eyes. I’m not the writer Jeff Passan is, so suffice it to say: I rolled my eyes really, really, really, really fucking hard just now.

Even if the rules are draconian – no professional sport has yet to have an honest discussion about PEDs, because it would go against so much of what the last decade-plus has established – they are rules the players themselves bargained through their union, rules by which they agree to adhere and rules with clear punishments for those who run afoul.

We can debate whether the punishments authorized by the JDA fit the crime, but that’s not really the point, because the problem isn’t with the punishments, the problem is with the rules, which fall woefully short of adequately detailing exactly when the Commissioner is authorized to impose those severe punishments in the absence of a positive drug test. And, to be sure, the Union and its lawyers deserve a healthy portion of blame for not insisting on a definition of “just cause” for a non-analytic positive in the JDA, but to say: “Well, you agreed to this” skips a whole bunch of crucial steps, the most important of which being: agreed to what, exactly?

Braun declined comment to reporters through the team Tuesday, like he’s done since releasing his statement following the Biogenesis link. The Braun truthers will do what they’ve done from the start and focus more on the peripheral aspects of the case – MLB’s supposed vendetta, or Bosch’s credibility, or the sample being spiked – because it’s easier to do that, to believe a smile and empty words, to rail against the system when the player is the one corrupting it.

Many Brewer fans, myself included, think Jeff Passan has something of a hate boner for Ryan Braun. They’ll cite as proof, for example, columns like the one we’re currently dissecting – where Passan pulls five words (“I have nothing to hide”) that Braun’s apparently said twice over the last year, pairs it with Braun declining to answer questions about Biogenesis (after being asked to do so by his Union), sprinkles in a pinch of “yeah, he beat the positive test, but you know that was bullshit, right?”, and then spends 1000 words rubbing his hands together at the thought of Braun being knocked from his pedestal.

Passan scoffs at the suggestion that he’s got it out for Braun, repeatedly insisting that’s he’s presenting all sides of the story. But when you categorize anyone who thinks Braun might’ve had a good point about the handling of his urine sample in the first appeal, or anyone who’s slightly disturbed at the measures the Commissioner’s office is apparently willing to employ to crush anyone associated with Biogenesis, as a “Braun truther,” and dismiss things like the credibility of the League’s essential witness as a “peripheral aspect of the case,” you can kind of see where we’re coming from, right?