Friday Q&A, pt. 1: Baseball stuff

Via email (on Thursday), Regina writes:

Hey Ted!  I work at a middle school, surrounded by billygobs of Yankee fans. I am wearing my T7L “The Dickey Strikes Back” t-shirt, and received one complaint (actually, not to my face) that it was inappropriate.  Thoughts?  I am also wearing a blue sock and an orange sock with my blue/orange Reebok sneakers that I spied on Shannon Shark’s blog. They are a year old and have never been worn outside.  Too much?  I value your opinion.  Should I turn my shirt inside out, or bask in the warm glow?

What? No! Wear it with pride! Are we not in the peak of the anti-bullying movement? Assuming you’re not breaking any sort of workplace dress code (and more on that will follow), be a role model to the middle schoolers and show them you’re not afraid to swim upstream when celebrating something as important and monumental as R.A. Dickey’s Cy Young Award victory. In other words:

Yes, and I don’t think it was all that close. By WAR, Wright beats out the next guys in the division by more than a full win. His total in that stat was bolstered by his massive uptick in the notoriously capricious defensive metric UZR, but so was the NL East’s second-best — Jason Heyward — and Wright plays the more premium defensive position and far outpaced Heyward offensively.

By offense alone, the only guy who hit appreciably better than Wright in the division was Giancarlo Stanton, and Stanton played in 33 fewer games due to injury. Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz, whose park-adjusted 149 OPS+ narrowly topped Wright’s 143, would have had a strong case had he not missed nearly all of August with a foot injury.

Don’t forget it: David Wright is really, really good. For whatever reason, fans of every team get frustrated with their club’s best players on occasion. But Wright didn’t stumble into becoming the best player in franchise history. It’s a pretty safe bet that no prospect any team would ever consider trading for anybody will ever become as good as Wright, and a reasonable wager the Mets won’t see another homegrown position player as good for at least another 25 years or so.

Well, pitcher wins are fluky, so it’s hard to expect another 18+ win season from anyone pitching for the Mets next year unless the Mets come into a lot more offense. But the complete list of starting pitchers who have been as good or better than Dickey since he joined the Mets in 2010 is pretty short, and every guy on there is someone you’d probably call an ace. Here are the fellows who’ve thrown at least 500 innings with an ERA+ of 125 or better since 2010: Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Jered Weaver, Johnny Cueto, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, Cole Hamels, Felix Hernandez, Gio Gonzalez, David Price, R.A. Dickey and C.J. Wilson.

Dickey’s the oldest of the bunch, but his marked improvement in strikeout rate in 2012 suggests he’s not really slowing down. At this point, it’s fair to say he does have a true history of success. And he has improved pretty steadily since he became a full-time knuckleballer. With every passing year, Dickey’s more likely to fall victim to injury, but provided he stays healthy he’ll likely be good for at least a few more years. It’s not as if the league still lacks exposure to his pitch at this point.

Dickey is an outlier even among knuckleballers, so it’s very hard to predict his future. But Phil Niekro had his best three-season stretch starting in his age-38 season. Tim Wakefield stayed pretty consistent into his 40s. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect Dickey to repeat his 2012 performance, but I don’t think the concern in re-signing him should be whether he’ll remain effective for the next few seasons. It’s whether he’ll be effective enough to justify the cost over the cost of his replacements on a team with a very finite payroll and massive holes to fill elsewhere.

Wait, the rook who needs to know his place or the guy to put said rook in his place?

The former almost has to be Jordany Valdespin, based on reputation. I’ve been accused of unfairly ripping Valdespin on the podcast, so I won’t say more. My concerns have far more to do with his approach than his attitude anyway.

The latter? I’m hardly a club insider and I don’t want to make myself out to be something I’m not. But I heard a couple stories I can’t share here toward the end of the 2012 season that speak pretty well of Wright’s clubhouse leadership. It was far more productive and decent than “know-your-place” type stuff and, again, I don’t think anything provided behind the scenes is as valuable as what can be measured on the field. But my understanding is that Wright demonstrates a much more assertive personality when the cameras are off than he ever does in post-game interviews and such.

Sorry to be vague.

That’s a pretty wonderful hypothetical, and I don’t have a great answer. Are they expanding roster sizes? Mike Trout continues playing both ways forever. Probably guys like Robinson Cano and Adrian Beltre, too. And it would probably take a while for teams to fully exploit the system, so there’d be a period in which not all that much changed while teams started re-working their Minor League systems into separate instructional branches for defensive players and hitters. With zero focus on defense, could more than a handful of players develop into David Ortiz-style mashers?

And moreover, how would run scoring around the league change if every team could field a lineup full of David Ortizes and a defense full of Rey Ordonezes and Brett Gardners? Would they balance each other out due to the diminished batting average on balls in play, or would enough home runs be hit to bring back the late 1990s? Someone with math, get on this please.

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