Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Vilification of Ryan Braun or a Lack Thereof

By now most of us Baseball fans have been bombarded with the news of NL MVP Ryan Braun facing a 50-game suspension for the failure of a drug test. The lead story was presented by ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn. In their article Ryan Braun tests positive for PED, they report that according to sources that Braun was found to have an elevated testosterone level. Braun has maintained his innocence and is appealing the findings.

Ok, so where are the cries of outrage from the mountaintop. Sure, there are some that are calling for him to be stripped of the MVP award (which based on comments from some Baseball writers who have an MVP vote he won't be stripped) but many of those are coming from those who thought Matt Kemp should have won the award. What I find interesting is that there are many out there who are taking a stance of cautious comments rather than yelling that Braun is a cheater and guilty. Why is that.

I'm not saying that Braun should be vilified, but why isn't he being vilified as Rafael Palmiero, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez were and still are. With the exception of McGwire (who was, and still is in certain areas, one of the most beloved figures in Baseball history), the other five were arrogant, vain, conceited and therefore vilified and treated as if they were guilty from the beginning of the allegations of their steroid/PED use. It is irrelevant for this discussion whether they were guilty or not (which we now know they were for Palmiero, Bonds, Rodriguez and Ramirez) but have we as Baseball fans moved on from the finger pointing, prognosticating and perceived judgments? Or is it as simple as Ryan Braun being a nice guy and a humble well respected figure unlike such arrogant individuals like the aforementioned Bonds, Rodriguez, Clemens and Palmiero. Maybe perception is everything.

The question is, what will the perception of Ryan Braun be after this situation. Will he be vindicated? Will he continue to be respected if it is found to be true that he indeed took a synthetic testosterone willingly? If not taken willingly, will people disregard it as a mistake and give him a free pass though many of the same people refuse to do so in terms of Bonds who claims he took what he took due to a trainer's advice and Palmiero who said it came from a B-12 shot? I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens with the appeal.


For Further Reading:
- Click here to access Will Carroll's article What we know and what we don't know about Braun's positive test for an informative explanation on what is going and what we might expect to come in the future regarding Braun's failed test from dated November 11, 2011

Read more:

Friday, December 9, 2011

Who is Hiroyuki Nakajima

Lost amid all the news regarding such free agent signings of Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, CJ Wilson and Albert Pujols was that the New York Yankees had the winning bid for the right to negotiate with Saitama Seibu Lions SS Hiroyuki Nakajima. By the posting rules established between the Nippon Baseball League and Major League Baseball, the Yankees and representatives of Nakajima have thirty days in order to negotiate a contract. If they reach an agreement, then the Lions would receive the posting bid, which according to the Yakyu Baka website was approximately $2.5 million dollars. If an agreement cannot be reached between the team and the player, then the money put up by the Yankees will be returned to them and Nakajima’s rights would return to the Lions. Before I get into my impression of the Yankees bidding for Nakajima, let me go into who Hiroyuki Nakajima is.

As I stated earlier, Nakajima is a SS who plays for the Saitama Seibu Lions of the NPB’s Pacific League. He is a 10-year veteran who will turn thirty in July. He is a career .302 hitter with the Lions with 149 HRs and 664 RBI. His best season with the Lions was in 2009 when he batted .309 with 22 HRs and 92 RBI. In 560 at-bats, Nakajima had a career high 173 hits (31 2B/3 3B/22 HRs) with 113 strikeouts, 75 walks and 20 stolen bases (in 32 attempts) and scored 100 runs. Nakajima’s OPS was .891 (.398 OBP/.493 SLG). He won the Japan Series MVP award in 2008, was multiple time All-Star, won a Gold Glove in 2008 and in the same year was elected one of the Best Nine at the SS position (award voted on by journalists for the best player at each position). Nakajima also played for Japan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic where he batted .364 and .516 on-base percentage helping Japan repeat as World Baseball Classic Champions.

Some of you might be asking yourselves why would the Yankees bid on a SS when they have Derek Jeter signed up for the next two years (possibly a third year due to a player option). Apparently Yankees GM Brian Cashman believes that Nakajima would be a utility player since he was quoted as saying "He’s not a starter for us, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a starting player". Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine vouches for Nakajima ability by saying the following: "He has excellent range to his left…He’s a very good low-ball hitter and a real dedicated player". It is believed that Nakajima would be an infield utility player with Eduardo Nunez.

So what does this mean for Nunez?
It seems that he is not as untouchable of a prospect that he once was. Nunez seemed to have some difficulties this past season especially in the field when Derek Jeter was on the DL with a calf injury. There have been rumors that the Yankees have been open to listening to trade offers including Nunez.

Will Nakajima accept a contract offer?
To be honest, I’m not sure. He is the Captain of the Lions and leaving Japan for a backup position might not be what he expected when he asked to be posted. Nakajima has not made any comments aside from extending thanks to the Yankees for their bid for his potential services preferring to leave the negotiations to his representatives. In the end, I think it will all come down to whether or not Nakajima’s desire to play in the MLB outweighs his desire to be an everyday player.

The dark horse in all this is the potential Yankee bid for Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish. Darvish and Nakajima are good friends and maybe the Yankees brass feel that by having Nakajima on the team, it might be easier to sign Darvish (if their bid is deemed to be the winning bid). This is all speculation on my part so take it for what it is worth.

We’ll know by January 6, 2012 whether or not Nakajima will be wearing Yankee Pinstripes.


For Further Reading:
- Click Here to access Hiroyuki Nakajima's career statistics from the Nippon Professional Baseball website
- Click Here to access David Waldstein's article Yankees Win Right to Negotiate With Japanese Shortstop from the New York Times Baseball Blog page dated December 7, 2011
- Click Here to access a number of articles written by Gen on the Yakyubaka website regarding the Yankees and Nakajima, various dates
- Click Here to access a chart detailing which Japanese players were posted, the posted bids and whether or not they were signed by Yakyubaka

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Neftali Feliz as a Starter for Texas

I know I've touched on this situation a few times in the past feeling that things that aren't broken shouldn't be messed with. The example of Neftali Feliz being converted to a starter by the Texas Rangers is one such scenario where I feel that if something isn't broken then it shouldn't be messed with. This came up due to a Twitter post by Jayson Stark of ESPN (@jaysonst) who mentioned that the Texas Rangers might be one of the teams that would be dabbling in the closer market if it was the right guy. Now it was announced on November 21, 2011 that the Rangers had signed former Minnesota Twins closer Joe Nathan to a two-year, $14.5 million contract with a club option for a third year and a buyout which in effect made the move to place Feliz in the starting rotation. I responded to Stark's comment by saying that the Rangers already had a closer and that was Feliz. As with Twitter, others can comment on posts and my comment was answered by @MLBDirt.

He (or she I'm not actually sure) stated that Feliz should start since he was a starter in the minors. As I stated before, I'm of the frame of mind that if something is not broken then it shouldn't be messed with. With 72 saves in the last two (74 saves in three total seasons), an All-Star appearance in 2010 along with his 2010 AL Rookie of the Year award it seems to me that there isn't any doubt where Feliz's strength lies. But let me take off my blinders for a second and elaborate on another point.

It is my impression that in the Baseball world, there is a mentality that it is harder to cultivate a front line starter than a front line closer. That it is easier to just plug someone into the closer role and have him succeed rather than doing so with a starter. Historically the closer role was dominated by starters who could no longer start due to age or injury and by starters who were not very efficient in the starting role due to diminished stamina or ineffectiveness in the starting rotation. Case in point might be Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees. I believe that the mentality has changed with the increased development of closers at the High School and College level, as well as, with more attention placed on the role of closers in the Minor league level. Let me go back to my conversation with @MLBDirt on Feliz.

So @MLBDirt believes that Feliz would better help the team as a starter. This is exactly what they said:

Feliz has more value as a SP. I agree with moving him back into rotation. Rays have proven closers are replaceable...I really liked him as a starter in the minors and I think he can still be a top of the rotation guy.

Ok, I'll bite on the dangling hook. I decided to check out Feliz's stats to see how his numbers looked as a starter. Feliz was signed by the Atlanta Braves as a free agent in 2005. He would be part of the trade that sent Elvis Andrus, Jarrod Saltalamacchia Matt Harrison and Beau Jones to Rangers for Ron Mahay and Mark Teixeira on July 31, 2007. The season I will look at is 2008.

Feliz split time between Clinton LumberKings of the Midwest League Western (A) and Frisco RoughRiders played in the Texas League South (AA). Feliz had a combined 10-6 record with a 2.69 ERA in 27 starts and 127.1 innings pitched. He gave up 38 earned runs 89 hits, with 153 strikes and 51 walks for a WHIP of 1.10. So he has the stuff to be a closer at least at the mid level minors and we know that he can dominate hitters at the major league levels for at least an inning or two. My question is can this "flip-flopping" between closer and starter work with Feliz. I can't help to think of the situation with Joba Chamberlain and to a certain degree Phil Hughes of the New York Yankees. It can be said that Chamberlain was severely damaged, especially in his psyche with the constant changing of his duties within the Yankees rotation. Hughes seems to have adapted better to returning to the rotation after spending a dominant turn as the Yankees' 8th inning option in 2009.

Time will truly tell if this move by the Rangers works. They seem to be serious about the move this season as opposed to the move last Spring training. If it works, then Feliz can be a feasible compliment to Holland and Harrison in the rotation (if C.J. Wilson departs via free agency). If it doesn't work, then Feliz should move back to the closing role with Joe Nathan as the 8th inning role. To me, that's a more attractive option given that I still believe that he should remain the closer, a position that we know he can successful in. We'll see how it plays out.


For Further Reading

- Click Here to access Neftali Feliz's career Major League career statistics from Baseball
- Click Here to access Neftali Feliz's career Minor League career statistics from Baseball
- Click Here to access Jason Kim's article Texas Rangers: Why Converting Neftali Feliz into a Starter Won't Be Pretty from dated February 26, 2011