Friday, March 11, 2011

If High Expectations Cause Failure, Why Does Ken Rosenthal Suck So Much

I really didn't have time for this, but now I've seen it quoted by far too many people to just let it go. Anyway,

Oh no! The 2011 Milwaukee Brewers are just like the 2010 Seattle Mariners! And they were terrible! Everyone panic! They both saw an ace pitcher get hurt in spring training! And they were both widely talked about as contenders! And… uhm…Something else!

Or so says Ken Roesnthal who starts an article comparing the Brewers and Mariners with this idiotic drivel:

The news that Zack Greinke hurt his ribs playing basketball evokes memories of Aaron Boone, whose hoops-induced, season-ending knee injury in 2004 prompted the Yankees to acquire Alex Rodriguez.

Gah! Let me tell you a little something about the then 30-year-old third baseman with the mysterious power spike in his 29 and 30 year old seasons. He wasn’t very good. He put up these splits in 2003:


Now that’s not terrible, but it followed a year in which Boone played all 162 games with an OBP of .314. It’s very possible that age was starting to take away Boone’s on-base skills. Boone’s highest ever OPS+ was a 113 in 2007 with the Marlins in limited action, but as a full timer he generally hovered around average. The idea that the Yankees would not consider signing A-Rod because they had Boone is silly in that 1. A-Rod is way better than Boone and 2. A-Rod almost signed with the Red Sox.
In 2003 A-Rod did this:


His OPS+ was 147. His lowest OPS+ as a Yankee came last year with 123. He was also regarded as a good defensive SS (or better than Jeter) who was somewhat wasted at 3rd. Imagine A-Rod’s VORP and WARP and WAR with a SS replacement number instead of a 3rd base replacement number. Anyway the point is that A-Rod is so much better than Aaron Boone ever was that it’s not worth talking about, and that mentioning any of this in the wake of a minor rib injury to a pitcher on a small market team is complete insanity. Or inanity. Take your pick.

I’ve got a more recent and ominous parallel: Cliff Lee.

You mean an awesome pitcher with a history of playing great in the post-season?

A year ago the Mariners were drawing praise for their offseason makeover, just as the Brewers are this spring. Then Lee suffered a right lower abdominal strain in mid-March and remained out until April 30. The Mariners still were in contention when he returned, but unraveled in May and ended up losing 101 games.

Let’s count the stupid:

1. The fact that two teams are “drawing praise” means absolutely nothing, and is certainly not a negative. You know who else is praised for their offseason moves? The Yankees and Red Sox. They do alright.

2. An abdominal sprain is a muscle tear. Zack Greinke has a broken bone. Broken bones, as a rule, always heal better than muscles, tendon, and ligaments. The two are not really comparable in any meaningful sense.

3. “The Mariners were still in contention when he returned”. So they played well without Lee and then stunk it up with him? And this proves what, exactly?

4. As any baseball fan knows, the Mariners had one of the worst offenses in the history of baseball last year. That is not hyperbole. Here, read this.

The Brewers are not going to collapse in such fashion. In fact, they are likely to contend even though they will be without Greinke for at least three starts.

I’ll bet he only misses two, but the important thing is that the Brewers have 2 off days in the first two weeks of the season and have some ability to work around this problem without too much damage.

But all winter I’ve wondered if the Brew Crew are the Mariners of 2011, overrated by fans and media after a series of impressive moves, better on paper than in reality.

They’re not. Look, the Brewers may suffer all sorts of injuries or bad years or what have you, but they are simply not the Seattle Mariners. Last year the Seattle Mariners, an AL team which employs a full-time DH, scored 513 runs. That is comically bad. But keep in mind that in 2009 they only scored 640 runs which is still comically bad. Only the Pirates (bad) and Padres (pitchers park, and also bad) scored fewer. The KC Royals scored more runs than the Mariners in 2009.

And that 2009 Seattle team that went 85-77? It was outscored by 52 runs. Anyone with a decent understanding of baseball could see that Seattle was in for a huge regression to the mean, and that they could not be expected to contend. From 2009 to 2010 the Mariners gained some pitching, but they also lost Adrian Beltre and only got 57 games out of Russell Branyan. In other words, a terrible offense basically lost its two best players.

The Brewers on the other hand feature a borderline great offense that scored 785 runs in 2009 and 750 last year. These two teams could not be more dissimilar.

I’m still wondering.

Dude, I just explained it.

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin did a better job in the offseason than Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik did in 2009-10; Zduriencik acquired Lee, third baseman Chone Figgins and outfielder Milton Bradley, but left his club with too little offense.

Note that we just glossed over Beltre and Branyan.

In truth, not even big spenders like the Yankees and Red Sox can patch every hole, and mid-revenue clubs such as the Brewers often are decidedly imperfect. Melvin fixed his starting rotation without compromising his offense, a nifty trick. But the additions of Greinke and righty Shaun Marcum cannot mask every flaw.
Here are the problems, in no particular order:

No, they don’t, but they make up for a lot. In particular, they fix an absolutely terrible starting rotation, by far the Brewers’ biggest problem. Cliff Lee had no impact on the Mariners’ biggest problem.

Rotation depth

Oh good god. Look, adding two starting pitcher does in fact increase your rotation depth. The Brewers had rotation depth last year only in the sense that Randy Wolf isn’t much better than Carlos Villanueva. The Brewers added two starters who are much better than everyone but Yo. That increases their pitching depth.

The issue will surface immediately, thanks to Greinke’s injury. And a full-blown crisis is possible if something happens to one of the Brewers’ other starters: Marcum, right-hander Yovani Gallardo and left-handers Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson.

Yes, if you have 3 ace-caliber starters, and two of them get hurt, your team will suffer greatly. This is true for every team that has 3 ace-caliber starters. However, if Randy Wolf or Narv-Dog get hurt, that’s really not much of a problem. Chris Narveson has been a nice surprise, but he’s not a kid. He’s 29 and has floated around the majors. There are many Chris Narvesons out there. Randy Wolf is 34 and has been getting shelled for awhile now. He may be better than replacement level, but not by that much.

Also, Greinke’s injury isn’t serious.

“If you look at our current starting pitching, the five guys we have to start the season are tremendous,” left fielder Ryan Braun said before learning of Greinke’s injury. “But if you look after that, we don’t have a lot of proven depth.”

Ryan is just being nice. Three guys are tremendous, and 2 guys are just guys.
It goes on like this for awhile, but let’s skip ahead because what this ultimately comes down to is a writer making an asinine comparison based on the nonsensical idea that the Mariners cracked because of high expectation, and therefore the Brewers will crack because of high expectations:

Listen, I’m not trying to pick on the Brew Crew; Fielder’s final season before free agency could prove memorable for the franchise. The Cardinals took a major hit when they lost right-hander Adam Wainwright to a season-ending elbow injury. The Cubs’ early defensive lapses are alarming. The Reds look like clear favorites, but it’s not as if they’re invincible.

I can see the other side of this — Greinke making a quick return, the bullpen becoming a strength instead of a weakness, Fielder, Braun and Co. going nuts offensively. But I remember how excited so many people were about the Mariners last spring. And I cringe, fearing the expectations for the Brewers are just too high.

Fortunately for Ken, he’ll never have to face the pressure of high expectations.


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