Top 100 Baseball Blog

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Questioning the New York Yankees' Decision to Trade for Aroldis Chapman

As we head into a new year, the biggest story in baseball is the recent trade the New York Yankees made to obtain flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds. Typically, such a move would be all about a playoff-caliber team adding a lockdown hurler whose fastball routinely exceeds 100 MPH, and who strikes out batters at a historic rate. Instead, unresolved domestic abuse allegations raise serious questions as to whether the trade should have been made at all.

Before we get into it, let’s establish a couple of things. First, the 27-year-old lefty has been sensational on the mound since defecting from Cuba and joining the Reds in 2010. In six major league seasons, he has combined for a 2.17 ERA, 146 saves and a mind-blowing 546 strikeouts in 319 innings, while allowing just 169 hits. Adding him to a New York bullpen that already boasts power arms like Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances all but locks down the final three innings of games. It is a potentially historic bullpen.

Second, although Chapman has been accused of a domestic violence incident from earlier in the year, he has denied the bulk of the charges. Florida police declined to bring charges due to inconsistencies in witness statements, but Major League Baseball is still conducting its own internal investigation. Until then he has the right of the presumption of innocence.

While Chapman’s culpability has yet to be determined, the Yankees’ decision to trade for him is highly questionable. Clearly, the temptation to bring in a pitcher of his caliber, at what was admittedly a discounted price because of present circumstances, was a motivating factor. But, at what cost was this decision made?

Domestic violence is a scourge that continues to plague our society, with high-profile incidents popping up at an unfortunate rate among professional athletes. In the past couple of years, outraged responses to NFL stars Ray Rice and Greg Hardy receiving perceived light punishments for their own domestic abuse cases have dominated headlines. Professional football has continued to flounder with the issue, struggling to get their response in line with public expectations and perception. Accordingly, scrutiny has intensified with each passing incident.

That all being said, it’s important Chapman receive due process. However, questioning his trade isn’t punishing him in advance. Barring a suspension, he will still be paid the same salary (he is arbitration eligible, but should make a good deal more than the $8.05 million he made in 2015) barring any suspension. Asking these questions is wondering why a team would want to get involved with a player embroiled in such serious charges. It’s wondering why a business would make a decision that seems to value a bottom line (wins) over doing the right thing. The Yankees indicated they did their diligence in evaluating the situation before finalizing the move, but barring the outcome of the investigation, how reliable can their own findings be?

Chapman has only one year to go until hitting free agency. It can be said that New York took only a modest risk from a baseball standpoint by sending four middling prospects to see if he and his troubles pan out. But that’s only if you take the humanity out of the situation.

Major League Baseball and the Yankees undoubtedly have numerous fans who have either been domestic abuse victims or know someone who has. It’s not easy to shake the bad taste in trading for someone still under the weight of such allegations. If they were to be questioned (and they already are by a City Council Speaker) as to why they made such a choice, it’s hard to imagine any reasonable non-baseball response.

Of course, many fans will downplay the seriousness of it all. They’ll hang their hats on the fact that there are just allegations at this point. No conviction or official finding of wrong doing. Of course they’d be right but then there are some things that should be left to play out before making the decision as to what you are and are not comfortable living with.

If the Yankees had declined to go after Chapman, they wouldn’t have been the first team to do so this offseason. The Los Angeles Dodgers already reportedly nixed a trade for the reliever after the allegations surfaced. In baseball, the acquiring top-notch pitching truly is an arms race. This continues to be borne out by seeing exactly what teams are willing to do to get the top talent.

The MLB investigation will eventually conclude. Until then, no assumptions should be made. However, waiting for a resolution before trading for Chapman seems like a reasonable and appropriate expectation. Taking such a stance could cost a team his services but it’s hard to place a price on integrity. For years, the Yankees have stood for success, tradition and class. Hopefully, their most recent trade won’t tarnish that reputation.

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Max Watt: The Boston Red Sox's Power Pitching Prospect

Scouting is an integral part of professional baseball. Teams employ and send out hundreds of employees tasked with finding the next great players. Although they monitor first-round draft talent, their bread and butter is trying to decipher the future of players who may not have quite as much polish. As a result, some come to believe so much in who they are evaluating that they continue scouting—for years if necessary— until they are able to bring them into the fold. Such is the case with the Boston Red Sox and pitcher Max Watt.

Watt, a solid 6’8” right-hander, grew up in New York. After graduating high school, he enrolled at Hillborough Community College in Tampa Florida. There he initially drew the attention of the Red Sox, getting selected in the 37th round of the 2013 draft. However, he did not sign and elected to attend Lynn University in Boca Raton, where he enjoyed a standout career.

His calling card is a big fastball, which can reach the upper 90s. With baseball in an era valuing high-end velocity, he is the type of young pitcher that is worth developing. Accordingly, Boston continued to monitor his progress and re-drafted him in 2015—this time in the 22nd round.

The 21-year-old Watt received his professional baseball indoctrination in a very small dose. After signing, he made two relief appearances with the team’s Gulf Coast League affiliate, striking out three in two innings without allowing a hit or walk.

It remains to be seen whether Watt’s future lies is as a starter or in the bullpen but someone with his tool set is capable of either. As he continues his baseball journey, keep up with him on Twitter, and continue reading to find out more about this exciting young pitcher.

Max Watt Interview

Who was your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: Growing up in Long Island, New York I was a Yankee fan. Derek Jeter was always my favorite because of the things I learned from him about how to handle yourself on and off the field in a professional way. He also showed how to be a leader as well. But my all-time favorites would be Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver because I loved that era of baseball, how those guys wanted the ball every start and how dominant they were with their fastball, knowing how to use it and where to put it. None of those guys were scared to throw inside.

Please talk a little bit about what life is like for a student athlete, drawing on your experiences at Lynn University.: The life of being a student athlete is interesting. You learn how important time management is. You have class 8:00 to 1:00, then practice from 2:30 to 6:00. Then study hall at night. You have to figure out when you can work out, maintain good eating habits and get your work done. But at Lynn the school is extremely helpful with student athletes, offering tutors, academic advisors who can help schedule your classes so you know you can get all of your classes set without missing practice and other sporting events. All that stems from the type of people that work there and how much they care about their student athletes. Coach Garbalosa always preached how important your degree was, and how you needed to work just as hard with academics as baseball.

If you did not start a career as a professional ballplayer, what field do you think you would have entered?: If I was not playing baseball I would most likely be studying to become a history teacher or possibly something in the marketing research field. I love history. Also, being a teacher would allow me to coach high school baseball as well.

How did you first find out that the Red Sox were interested in you, and what was your draft experience like?: Well it started my freshman year at Hillsborough Community College where I was drafted by the Red Sox in the 37th round, but I went back to school. This year at Lynn University, I talked to Tom Kotchman, and Willie Romay after a couple of my starts and maintained contact with them up to draft day. Both guys were extremely helpful with the draft process. The draft process was very interesting and extremely stressful because you're told a lot of different things but you have to take everything with a grain of salt. Patience is key on draft day, but finally when you hear your name and get the call it’s the greatest feeling in the world.

What has been your favorite moment thus far from your professional career?: My favorite moments I would say was when I walked into the locker room for the first time and saw Watt with a Red Sox logo next to it on the locker. The other moment was when I made my first appearance, finally putting the jersey on and starting the journey to chase my dream.

What pitches do you throw and which do you believe needs the most work?: I throw a four-seam and two-seam fastball along with a slider and changeup. Every pitch you throw can always be worked on, but for me I want to be able to have the control to throw my changeup and slider in any count or situation.

Who is one hitter from any time in baseball history that you would like to face, and how would you approach the at-bat?: I would want to face Manny Ramirez, but not when he was on the Sox; the 1999 Manny Ramirez with the Indians where he put up ridiculous numbers that year. I would go with two-seamers up and in and then soft stuff low and away.

What are your goals for 2016?: My goals are first to stay healthy and make sure to find a way to get better every day. I want to be able to throw any pitch in any situation, throw first-pitch strikes, and to help whatever club I’ll be assigned with to win a championship. 

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Exploring the 1927 New York Yankees

The 1927 New York Yankees epitomize dominance in athletics. Nearly a century later they are still mentioned any time a team is lapping the field in their particular sport. Led by future Hall-of-Famers Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the Bronx Bombers went 110-44 and swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. Looking back at the squad reveals a number of compelling tidbits.

Ruth hit .356 with 60 home runs and 165 RBIs. Gehrig was every inch his counterpart at .373, 47 home runs and 173 RBIs. Somehow, the team had two additional 100 RBI men in second baseman Tony Lazzeri (102) and outfielder Bob Meusel (103).

Even playing in a year where the ball was particularly lively, the Yankees’’ offense was especially lethal. They scored an average of 6.30 runs per game, which were almost 1.5 runs more than the league average of 4.92. They were also almost a run better than the second-best lineup—the Philadelphia Athletics, who scored 5.43 runs per contest.

Despite the exploits of Ruth and Gehrig, the team MVP may well have been relief pitcher Wilcy Moore. The 30-year-old right-hander was signed as a rookie following five years in the minors and an off-season job as a farmer. In 1926 he had gone 30-4 for Greenville in the South Atlantic League, drawing the attention of the guys in pinstripes. With future Hall-of-Famers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock anchoring the rotation the rookie sinkerballer had to create a niche for himself from whatever opportunity he could find. That turned out to be their jack of all trades, as he went 19-7 with a league-leading 2.28 ERA in 50 games (12 starts). He also tied for the league lead with 13 saves, becoming one of the first “closers” before the title was recognized. He was never as effective again after that year, in part because of a perpetually sore shoulder that came from falling off the roof of his barn.

Only one pitcher on the entire Yankees staff had a losing record in 1927. That was right-hander Bob Shawkey, who was in the final season of an outstanding 15-year major league career. With a 2.89 ERA in 19 games (two starts), his 2-3 record made him more of a hard-luck loser than a liability.

The team had no strikeout pitchers. Hoyt led them with 86 punchouts, but those came over the course of his 256.1 innings. Shawkey whiffed batters at the most prolific rate, getting 4.7 of them for every nine innings pitched.

Although the team had an octane-powered offense, they were also very unselfish and played fundamental baseball. As a team, they collected 204 sacrifice hits on the season, including 21 (tied for team lead) by Gehrig and 14 by Ruth.

Although the Yankees had a winning record against all of their opponents in 1927, in particular, they really beat up the St. Louis Browns, taking 21 of the 22 games they played. Conversely, the team that gave them the most trouble was the 66-87 Cleveland Indians, who managed a 10-12 record against the champs.

The Yankees won 43 (or over a quarter) of their games by five or more runs. They were also tied for first place or in first place every day of the season.

The third game of the season came against Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics and resulted in a 9-9 10-inning tie.

Interestingly, the Yankees had the second-youngest offense (average age of 27.7) in the league that year, and the second-oldest (average age of 31.0) pitching staff. Apparently, it was just the right blend of youth and veteran influences.

Statistics via

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

An Interview with Former Relief Pitcher Jim Mecir

Job security can be difficult to attain in professional baseball given the ever-changing landscape. However, relief pitchers that prove they can consistently produce out of the bullpen are all but guaranteed to steer clear of the unemployment line. A perfect example of that is right-handed pitcher Jim Mecir, who enjoyed an 11-year major league career as one of the steadiest performers in his line of work.

Mecir was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the third round of the 1991 draft out of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. He began his career as a starter and found moderate results in his first three minor league seasons but didn’t emerge as a top prospect. However, prior to the 1994 season, he was converted to the bullpen and never started another game again (not counting rehab games).

After successful seasons in Double-A and Triple-A, he was brought up to the Mariners at the end of the 1995 season. His debut came against the New York Yankees in a mop-up effort, and he acquitted himself well, throwing 3.2 innings without giving up an earned run. To top it off, he also struck out veteran hitters Tony Fernandez and Paul O’Neill.

Despite his promising start, Mecir was included in a trade with first baseman Tino Martinez that sent them to the Yankees. Over the next two years, he posted an ERA over 5.00 but found his footing upon joining the Tampa Bay Rays in 1998. He went on to also pitch for the Oakland A’s (where he had his greatest success) and the Florida Marlins before retiring after the 2005 season. In 474 career games, he was 29-35 with a 3.77 ERA and 12 saves. Known for his screwball, he struck out 450 batters in 527 innings, while allowing just 482 hits.

Now a professional speaker, Mecir has found just as much success away from the game as he did on a baseball diamond. Keep reading to hear what he had to say about his career as one of the most dependable relief pitchers over the better part of a decade.

Jim Mecir Interview

Who was your favorite team and player growing up, and why?: I grew up on Long Island, New York in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  I liked both New York teams but my favorite was the Yankees.  My favorite player was Don Mattingly.  He was not only a great player but seemed like a great person too.  He was a team leader who set the example for the rest of the team.  He didn’t showboat or show up other players.

Please share a little bit about your draft experience in 1991.: It was a tough year for me.  I kept hearing whispers that I could be drafted around the fifth round.  It was a surprise to me since I played Division Two baseball.  I didn’t think they would draft me that high.  I hurt my forearm in the middle of the year and I stopped hearing my name mentioned.  I made a comeback and pitched my last three starts.  The last game was phenomenal and I convinced the scouts I was no longer injured.  I received a call from the Seattle Mariners that I was selected in the third round of the draft.  I was unbelievably excited and nervous at the same time.  It was the first time that I really believed I had a chance to play major league baseball.

You were drafted as a starter but made into a reliever—which got you to the majors.  Were you initially disappointed in being made to change roles?: I wanted to become a reliever.  I injured my arm in 1991 and didn’t recover until spring training, 1994.  I realized that my unorthodox mechanics, because of my club foot, were detrimental to the health of my shoulder.  I found that pitching more games, but with less innings, allowed me to stay healthy.

What pitches did you throw, and which was your best?: I threw a fastball, screwball and cutter.  The fastball is every pitchers best pitch.  I wasn’t overpowering but had good movement.  I tried to keep the ball on the ground.  The screwball was my go-to pitch.  It was the only pitch I had that I could get the hitter to miss.  It is a rare pitch, so hitters didn’t get a chance to practice against it, which made it more effective than other pitches.  I threw my cutter sparingly; it was more for show.

The first major league hitter you ever faced was Paul O’Neill in 1995.  What do you remember about that encounter?: I remember walking on the field and thinking it was a dream.  My mom was going to wake me up any second and tell me I had to go to school.  As soon as I believed it was real, Bob Sheppard (Yankees PA) announced my name and I wasn’t sure again if it was a dream.  I couldn’t believe that I stood on the mound In Yankee Stadium.  I dreamt of that moment my whole life.  I retired Paul O’Neill and pitched the longest outing of my big league career without giving up an earned run.  I also held Don Mattingly hitless in two at bats.

What is your favorite moment from your career?: My major league debut against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium.

Who was your favorite coach or manager, and why?: I have great respect for all my managers and coaches but my favorite coach was my college pitching coach, Rich Folkers.  He molded me into the pitcher I needed to be to succeed in the big leagues.  He taught me the screwball.  He was a coach you respected but also wanted to hang around. 

You played for the Oakland Athletics during the height of Moneyball.  At the time, did playing on those teams feel much different?: No it didn’t.  I tried not to get too caught up in media business.  We were a great team that had three stud starting pitchers for a couple of years.  Any team that has that always has a chance to win.

If there is something about your career you could go back and change what would that be?: I wish that I could have had better emotional control earlier in my career.  I developed it during the second half of my career but physically I wasn’t the same pitcher because of knee injuries.  Controlling the negative voice in my head would have led to more success early on.  It took a long time to realize that my biggest enemy was me.

Now that you are done playing, what are you up to?: I am a professional speaker that talks about overcoming adversity.  I also work with Ellen Schnur.  She is a trained improvisationalist for ImprovTalk.  We utilize the tools from improv and reinforce those lessons with stories from the mound to teach communication and teamwork skills to corporations.  It is a fun and interactive way to educate.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Reviewing the Unusual 1936 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

The National Baseball Hall of Fame formally opened in 1939 in Cooperstown, New York. However, the concept was established in 1936, and that year the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) was tasked with voting for the inaugural class to be formally inducted three years later. At the time, the BBWAA was only voting on 20th century players, as a special Veterans Committee reviewed candidates from the 19th century. For all the debate the Hall of Fame ballot causes today, it’s clear that’s a tradition rooted all the way back with what occurred on the whacky 1936 version.

226 ballots with 2,231 individual votes were cast in the 1936 election. 170 votes were needed for election, and with no voting restrictions and an average of nearly 10 votes per ballot, it’s truly surprising that more players didn’t make it in that first time.

47 players received votes on the 1936 Hall of Fame ballot but only five received enough votes for induction the first time around. The inaugural class was comprised of Ty Cobb (98.2%), Babe Ruth (95.1%), Honus Wagner (95.1), Christy Mathewson (90.7%) and Walter Johnson (83.6%). It’s shocking that given this group of titans of the game that there were no unanimous selections, and a guy like Johnson and his 417 career victories received the vote totals of a fringe candidate.

For the surprise generated at the lack of unanimity on those who did get in, the group who fell short may be even more jaw dropping. Because some writers likely didn’t vote for active players (who were eligible) because their body of work was not yet completed, I’ll only focus on the big name retired players who fell short. Nap Lajoie (64.6%), Tris Speaker (58.8%) and Cy Young (49.1%) were all well under the 75 percent of the votes needed. They all eventually made it in but the fact they had to wait even a year seems odd now.

At the time, there were no restrictions on active or retired status, so players who were still playing received votes. It’s important to note that many writers did not consider active players on their ballot; figuring that they would get their shot later on after hanging it up. Although he was at the point of his career where he was a manager who only occasionally put himself in games, future Hall-of-Famer Rogers Hornsby was the active player who received the most votes with 105 (46.5%).

The most inexplicable former player to receive votes was catcher Lou Criger (seven votes or 3.1%). During a 16-year career between 1896-1912 with six teams (known primarily for his time with the Boston Red Sox), he hit just .221 with 11 home runs and 342 RBIs. Best known for being the defensive-minded personal catcher of Cy Young on multiple teams, he was still considered one of the best at what he did during the Dead Ball Era. That being said, it’s a bit of a stretch that he received as many votes as future Hall-of-Famers John McGraw, Sam Crawford and Chief Bender combined on the 1936 ballot.

Another surprise was first baseman Hal Chase. While he was a fine player who was considered to have had the best glove of any player at his position up until that time, he also had a long and sordid reputation as a gambler and fixer of games, who was ultimately blacklisted from baseball following the infamous 1919 Black Sox World Series (of which he was involved through gambling but not as a player). He has the distinction of receiving the most votes (11) on this ballot without eventually gaining induction.

At the time of the 1936 vote, banned players were not excluded. Shoeless Joe Jackson, himself an alumnus of the 1919 Series, received two votes, a paltry tribute to his .356 career batting average. He would never appear on the ballot again.

Pitcher Dazzy Vance (one vote) and catcher Gabby Hartnett (zero votes) were the two players on the 1936 ballot who had to wait the longest to ultimately get in via the BBWAA, as they were finally both elected in 1955.

In total, only seven players/managers who received at least one vote on the initial BBWAA ballot did not gain eventual admission to the Hall of Fame. They include Bill Bradley, Kid Elberfield, Nap Rucker, Johnny Kling, Jackson, Chase, and Criger.

Despite the oddities of the 1936 ballot, it is also fair to surmise that writers didn’t have a blueprint from which to work when casting their ballot. They were setting the bar with their first vote and determining the criteria which would be generally use to measure all future classes. Additionally, access to players was much different. Some writers likely never saw many of the players on the ballot.  

That all being said, there may not be prescribed results for any Baseball Hall of Fame election but there are certainly anticipated outcomes. Clearly, the tradition of annual debate and head scratching began with the very first ballot and will likely continue into the future as long as candidates continue to be picked in the current manner. Although some may express frustration over the process, there’s no denying the amount of debate and interest it infuses into baseball, which is never a bad thing.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Some Thoughts on David Price Signing With the Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox, coming off back-to-back last place finishes, made a major step in the right direction of their future on Tuesday, signing ace David Price to a massive seven year, $217 million contract. The 2012 American League Cy Young winner was one of the most coveted prizes on the open market this offseason, so his acquisition is quite the coup despite the cost. Because of the magnitude of the move, it’s still generating quite the buzz, and from the standpoint of Boston there is very little to not like about the deal.

The initial talk about the Price signing was regarding the amount of money he received, with his $31 million average salary per year making him the highest paid pitcher in history. It may sound strange but the money should be merely a side note in this story. The Red Sox are one of the most successful franchises in professional sports and clearly felt they could absorb that kind of hit to their budget given the potential reward. There are perhaps three to five pitchers in the world who are as talented and established as the 30-year-old lefty. To get such talent, you have to open the wallet, which Boston did—a reported $30 million more than any other team in the running for his services.

Here are a few other thoughts on Price’s acquisition:

! Although they paid a king’s ransom in cash, the Red Sox got their ace without having to surrender any of their prospects or their first-round pick from the upcoming draft. Not only are such assets worth money, they can also be used down the line to help fortify the team in other areas of need. Signing one of the other top starting pitchers on the free-agent market would have cost the team the 12th overall pick in the 2016 draft, so being able to keep it is a shrewd and underrated aspect of this signing.

! Having spent the bulk of his career pitching in the American League East, Price is intimately familiar with his new opponents and pitching at Fenway Park. In fact, he is a stellar 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 11 career starts at his new home; a great sign that its cozy confines shouldn’t present too much of a challenge.

! Price is 38-13 in his career against the other teams in the division. In particular, he has dominated the Toronto Blue Jays, going 16-2 with a 2.41 ERA in 21 starts.

! At 2-7 with a 5.12 ERA in 63.1 career postseason innings, many have pointed at Price’s potential inability to finish the job if he can get Boston back into the playoff picture. Not only is that too small a sample size to generalize him as not a big game pitcher, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. During the regular season, he has arguably been at his best in late-season games, going 21-7 with a 2.92 in September and October—when pennant races are at their most tense.

! The consensus seems to be that Price is an outstanding teammate. Big salaries can bring big egos, so a big-budget team like the Red Sox can thrive when their best players also lead by example.

! Bringing in Price immediately releases an enormous amount of pressure from the other pitchers in Boston’s rotation. He is the obvious number one, and veterans like Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Clay Buchholz don’t have to worry about being miscast in roles that they would likely never live up to. Additionally, young hurlers like Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez should have less scrutiny, as there is no longer such an emergent need for them to not only develop quickly but develop into aces.

There is a lot to think about with this signing. There are never any guarantees in sports, especially when it comes to contracts. However, Boston clearly had a plan in mind heading into this offseason and they were able to accomplish it within whatever boundaries they established for themselves. They will now try to build that into a long-term plan and get back to the winning ways that had resulted in three World Series titles over the previous decade. At the very least, nothing could do a better job of making fans wish spring training would get here a little faster.

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