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.

Talking Ron Roenicke

The Great Tom Haudricourt had some quotes from RRR yesterday. These are a couple of the quotes:

“We get rid of that bad May that we had and our season wasn’t so bad,”

This is my one of favorite JS Comment running jokes, where people say stuff like “If you take out the Super Bowl, the Packers are have not been awesome.” Its true, but…you can’t take out the good to prove something is bad.

Let’s humor Ron though, let’s take out the month where his team completely fell apart. Taking the month out, they won in 50.4% of their games. We’ll replace May with that percentage, instead of the next worst month (June). Doing that, they have the 8th best record in the NL. Even replacing the worst month means the Brewers are mediocre.

I know, managers say stuff just to say stuff, but say better stuff.

And then, well we had this:

I wanted to get Yuni (Betancourt) out there (on defense) when I thought we needed to win the games.

I wanted to get Yuni (Betancourt) out there (on defense) when I thought we needed to win the games.

I wanted to get Yuni (Betancourt) out there (on defense) when I thought we needed to win the games.

I wanted to get Yuni (Betancourt) out there (on defense) when I thought we needed to win the games.

Some Unanswered Questions from Ryan Braun

The sentiments from  Braun last week were a nice first step, but it wasn’t enough. There are hard questions he needs to answer in person, and here are some of them:

  • What’s Aaron Rodgers like? He seems awesome. I love the Packers
  • Does Aaron Rodgers ever talk about Favre?
  • Did you watch the Packer game on Friday? I was kind of mad at them for taking Rodgers out early. And I hate Jermichael Finley, do you hate him?
  • Remember that time you hit a HR to beat the Cubs and get the Brewers into the playoffs? That was awesome.
  • What was Ken Macha like?
  • Do you know why Buster Olney is so pro-ownership? He really seems kinda crazy.
  • What’s Yuni like?
  • Remember that time you grew your hair out? Do you think that was a good idea?
  • Brian Shouse always seemed kinda cool. What’s your favorite Brian Shouse story?
  • Packers
  • Are you on #teamrickie?
  • Talk about Anthony Witrado.
  • Do you think Jeff Passan is a cockroach?
  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Do you think people realize Dino Laurenzi is still employed by MLB?
  • How big is your TV? Mine is 46″ which is pretty big but I bet now I could get a bigger one for not that much money. Isn’t it crazy how cheap TVs have gotten in the last 5 years?
  • I bet you fly a lot since you’re on the Brewers, don’t you hate airports? I really hate them.
  • Why:    braun
  • Do you think the Packers should cut John Kuhn?
  • Remember when you led the Brewers to a bunch of wins in 2011? That was awesome.

The Brewers desperately want to move forward as best they can. Braun has taken step 1, now its time for Step 2.

BETTER ASK A LAWYER-TYPE: Defamation Edition!

Because the absurdity engulfing Ryan Braun needed another level of preposterousness, we learned this week that Braun’s being sued in Milwaukee County court by a fella who claims to be a (former) lifelong friend.

Because Paul and I have nothing better to do with our law degrees, we’ve endeavored to answer all your questions about the ins and outs of a defamation lawsuit, and this defamation lawsuit in particular, in our latest and greatest edition of BETTER ASK A LAWYER-TYPE.

OK, let’s get down to the basics. What’s a defamation lawsuit?

“Defamation” is our legal term for the concept of “you said something nasty and untrue about me to somebody else, and now people think less of me as a result.” (It’s taken from the Latin term “defamo,” meaning “to talk shit about.”) If somebody says something that’s not true and damages your reputation, you can ask a court to make that person give you money. Neat, right?

This sounds like a fun idea. Who can I sue? Can I sue the kids in elementary school who called me skunk-boy?

The most fun thing about the legal system is that you can sue anyone for anything! But you probably won’t have much luck suing your boyhood chums. For one thing, opinions are not actionable. “I saw Rubie having sex with a skunk” is actionable, because that’s a statement of fact. “I think Rubie smells like a skunk” probably isn’t, because that’s, like, your opinion, man.

So what’s this Ralph Sasson guy saying that Braun did to defame him, then? I read something that said he’s claiming that Braun’s people hired him to dig up dirt on the dude who kept Braun’s pee in his basement for two days, and then Braun tried to stiff him on the tab.

That’s in the lawsuit, but it’s apparently provided by way of background, because Sasson isn’t suing Braun for breach of contract — and, by the by, re: that background: Sasson says, back in 2011, he gets a call from Braun’s agent asking him to look into the background of an unspecified player who’d tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, only he didn’t know it was Braun at the time and only found that out later, and let’s stop right there for a second because

WHAT THE FUCK?

This high-powered agent for very, very rich baseball players reaches out to a dude living in Milwaukee with no apparent training as a private investigator who describes himself as a law student (more on that later) to do recon on one of those very, very rich baseball players, and (1) dude doesn’t realize immediately it’s Braun?, and (2) for emphasis’ sake, what the hell?

Anyway, back to the point — Sasson isn’t suing Braun for not paying up on those background checks, because, according to Sasson, Braun ultimately (and begrudgingly) did, but because after that, Braun was allegedly telling people that he and Sasson weren’t friends anymore because Sasson was rude to staff at Miller Park and was, and I quote, “crazy.” Those comments, says Sasson, weren’t true, and his reputation has suffered as a result.

His reputation with whom, exactly?

Well, that’s one of the delightful parts of this utterly delightful suit: Sasson says Braun’s allegedly untrue statements were made not only to Brewers owner Mark Attanasio and Packers demigod Aaron Rodgers (two people who, I suspect, couldn’t pick Ralph Sasson out of a lineup and probably didn’t have an opinion about his reputation in the first place, but that’s a separate issue), but also to members of Braun’s family — his mom and dad, and his brother — and Braun’s fiance.

Hold up: he’s suing Braun because Braun told Braun’s mom that he was crazy?

Yep. In a nutshell, part of the damage Sasson is claiming is that Ryan Braun’s mom now thinks he’s a nutbag who acts like a dick to people at a baseball stadium.

But …

I know. Don’t think too hard about it. Let’s move on to something else.

Alright. So Sasson’s made his allegations in the complaint. What are his prospects for success? How hard is it to win a defamation suit?

About the same as getting through the Quickman stage in Megaman 2 on the first try without stopping time. (Related: telling someone “Rubie’s nickname in college was Quickman” is most definitely grounds for a defamation lawsuit.)

Whoa. That’s hard.

And it’s potentially harder than that. In your standard-issue defamation case, the plaintiff — the defamed — has to prove only a couple things: that the defendant — the defamer — made the statement in question, and that the plaintiff’s reputation suffered as a result, because the law gives the plaintiff a couple of assists. For one, it’s presumed that the statement that was made is false. (You’ve heard the saying: “The truth is an absolute defense”? This is where that saying comes from: if the defendant can show that his statement was true, the plaintiff can’t recover.) For another, the plaintiff doesn’t have to prove that the defendant knew what he was saying wasn’t true. It’s enough that the defendant made the statement, it wasn’t true, and the plaintiff’s reputation was harmed.

Now, that’s the standard-issue case. There’s a whole ‘nother — and wholly more onerous — set of rules for matters involving statements about public officials or subjects of public interest, but you’re probably not that interested in reading about that and I’m not altogether keen on rehashing the Supreme Court’s (probably ill-fated) decision to wade into this particular area of law. Suffice it to say: if the statement in question is about a public figure or a subject of public interest, the plaintiff also has to prove (1) that the statement was false, and (2) that the defendant knew the statement was false or made the statement in reckless disregard of the truth.

Would those rules apply to Sasson’s case? He certainly doesn’t qualify as a public figure, and while Braun’s PED imbroglio has certainly been in the spotlight for months, the statements being complained about — that Sasson was a jerk to staff at Miller Park, or is crazy — are only related tangentially to all that drama. Still: it’s a long, hard road in a defamation case, whether the statement concerns a matter of public interest or not.

So, wait. Let me make sure I understand this. Braun can win the case if he proves that Sasson was rude to the vendors at Miller Park? Like, will that be part of any trial?

One of the fun — and by “fun” we mean “crap-your-pants-level terrifying” — parts of any defamation case is that you have to be willing to expose all of your dirty laundry. It’s sort of a catch-22 in that the defamed often ends up making the situation much worse. In this instance it’s entirely possible that, should this case go to trial (and it won’t), Ryan Braun could find some vendor who thought the guy was rude and Sasson might end up with the story of how he ordered three Lites when you can only order two at a time, and only tipped a quarter, and told the vendor he had an ugly hat and stupid shoes. This is one of my favorite parts of any defamation trial. (I’d also say that “rude” is a matter of opinion. Like crazy.)

But what about “crazy”?

Well, “crazy” is an interesting word. 99% of the time something like that is going to fall into the realm of “opinion” and an opinion, not being a statement of fact, is not actionable. Crazy is mostly used in the hyperbolic sense. If Braun had told his dad that Sasson was, like, clinically crazy and Braun’s dad was a psychiatrist and they drugged Sasson and committed him and he ended up lobotomized like in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (spoilers! Also: Chief is a boss) he might have a defamation case. But a standard, every day “you so crazy” isn’t really what we’re looking for here.

What’s the deal with these “requests to admit” that Sasson submitted with his lawsuit?

In a civil case, when you don’t have to worry as much about someone’s pesky constitutional rights, courts try to encourage the parties to get down to the nub of the dispute as best they can. So, in civil cases, you have things like requests to admit, where you try to eliminate areas where there aren’t dispute so you can focus on the areas where there are. For example, in a hypothetical car accident case, you might ask the other party to admit to the road conditions, or what time of day the accident happened, or that your medical bills are reasonable.

The requests to admit that Sasson sent to Braun are … well, they’re a little unusual. According to the Journal Sentinel, Sasson has asked Braun to admit that he was ‘roided up as far back as his days at the U, that he cheated academically at Miami, that he lied to Rodgers about using PEDs, and, perhaps most entertainingly, that Braun’s been humpin’ around on his fiance and that he’s been humpin’ around on each and every one of lady friends dating back to high school. What, exactly, that has to do with Braun allegedly telling people that Sasson is wacko I’m not sure, and I’d bet Braun’s attorneys will point that out.

And while we’re talking about attorneys: you’ll see repeated references in the lawsuit that Sasson’s proceeding pro se, that is, without the assistance of legal counsel. In general, unless you’re filing a case in small claims court, this is a very bad idea. Pro se litigants are obligated to follow the same court rules, rules of evidence, etc., that attorneys are bound to follow, and when you don’t have an attorney on a case like this, you end up doing things like issuing requests to admit that ask Braun to acknowledge he tested positive for “steroids,” or using vague, undefined words like “amorous relationships,” or making reference over and over to a non-disclosure agreement (that Sasson was allegedly forced to sign) without attaching a copy of that non-disclosure agreement to the complaint.

What’s the most unintentionally hysterical line in the Journal Sentinel article about Sasson’s lawsuit?

I’m so glad you asked this. Near the end of the article is this line:

“Sasson, who says he is a law student…”

How great is that? Most of the time, when a reporter includes that parenthetical explanation of what a person does for a living, they’ll go: “Rubie, a cumquat farmer and amateur blogger, ate twelve tacos…” But the furthest the Journal Sentinel is willing to go with this cat is that he says he’s a law student, like they’re not even going to bother to take the two minutes to confirm with the Taft Law School (which is apparently a thing) that Sasson is studying there. Instead, they’re all: “That’s what dude says. I dunno, you figure it out.”

Huh. This almost seems like a bit of convenient piling-on by a dude whose gravy train left the station.

That’s certainly one way to read this filing. But at the same time, given everything that’s happened in the last few months, having everything that’s alleged in this suit turn out to be true would be like the fourth-most shocking event in this neverending whirlwind of nonsense.

Who’s Bunting?

Most of the sacrifice bunts in 2011 and 2012 under RRR came from the CF position. Carlos Gomez used to sac bunt a lot, and he was platooned with Nyjer Morgan, who also was a sac bunt aficionado. The Gomez/Morgan pair combined for 37 sac bunts in 2011 and 2012.

Since Gomez got good at the plate he’s stopped sac bunting and he (was, sigh…) playing everyday so the bunt happy platoon partner was gone. As a result the Brewers as a whole have seen their bunting stats go down. So with RRSMB not having a post in almost two weeks and the Brewers not being all that interesting, let’s bring JUDGEMENT to RRR for who he is deploying to bunt this year.

(Before we start, I recognize this is really dumb and simplistic. Bunting is usually all about context and these numbers are context free, you can usually make a case for anyone bunting if the situation was right. Like I said, dog days of August).

Let’s first start with players with zero bunts this year: Lucroy, Francisco, Weeks, Segura, Aramis, Braun, Gomez. A few of these guys are probably incapable of putting down a bunt, but its very nice to see guys who used to bunt like Segura, Gomez and Lucroy aren’t bunting anymore. JUDGEMENT: fantastic

One other zero bunt guy not mentioned: Yuniesky Betancourt. Yuni is terrible, we know this so its not worth rehashing too much. He’s a double play machine and first pitch pop-up rally killer. So it makes sense that he’d lay one down occasionally, but he hasn’t bunted in over 900 (gross) PAs with the Brewers. There’s probably an argument he can’t bunt, but he had put down 15 sac bunts the two years with KC before coming to the Brewers so it seems odd they haven’t gotten him to put one down at least once in 900 (ugh) PAs. JUDGEMENT: try something guys?

Logan Schafer: 9 bunts. That seems fairly high, but Schafer has a sub .600 OPS and decent enough speed that he’ll be a threat to beat it out. JUDGEMENT: cool beans

Norichika Aoki: 7 bunts. At first glance this seems high, but then you look closer and what the hell happened to Aoki this year? His OPS is below .700 and he’s been all sorts of terrible since May. If he’s not hitting and is still a decent threat to beat out a bunt the JUDGEMENT on this is that its no big deal and its sad that its not a big deal because if your RF bunts and it doesn’t bother you – you probably should hope for a new RF.

Bianchi, Maldonado, Gindl, Scooter: 5 total bunts. JUDGEMENT: whatever.

And that’ll do it for Brewers that have bunted this year.

No grand conclusion other than its hard to get too mad at how RRR has been bunting this year. Now if we can just talk about that “steal” of home the other night….

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.