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chaut stove season

a special season is upon us. one we look forward to all year. this special season commemorates events of thousands of years past.

in the days of king solomon, solomon was both the king of the nation of israel and the general manager of the local team, the jerusalem stars. the stars had grown tired of being dominated by the philistines and amalekites in the eastern mediterranean league by their unholy brand of Base-Ba'al.

solomon saw an opportunity when phlebas the phoenician came on the free agent market, a highly-touted left fielder who made his name playing for the city of tyre.

phlebas was a fine fielder and an extraordinary hitter, yet his contract expectations were said to be enormous. he was rumored to want 19 million shekels each season over eight seasons. solomon checked his treasury, and though he was wealthy enough to afford to pay the 19 million shekels over one season, no one believed he could afford to pay phlebas the full eight seasons. in the face of arguments and predictions of financial doom from his advisors, solomon signed the eight-year contract for the full amount.

once phlebas took the field, a miracle occurred; the nineteen million shekels was mystically replenished each season, and phlebas was paid from the treasury over all eight seasons. never did the weight of the unprecedented contract hold down the development of the team. phlebas went on to win 2 MVP awards in that period and the stars clinched five championships in eight years. 

the flags from those championship years flew proudly over the stadium grounds for a thousand years until the romans demolished the stadium in 70 A.D. to build a Super Target and a Bed, Bath, and Beyond on the site.

so much for flags flying forever.

in honor of this miracle, every year we celebrate chaut stove season  - marked by the refrain "why is this jon heyman tweet different from all the other jon heyman tweets?" - every day for eight days or until the yankees have signed all the good players, whichever comes first.


well, the chaut stove is glowing red hot right now. a lot has happened in the last week or so.

the big news is the penny signing i think there's a lot to like about it. there's been some discussion about durability for penny. it's a real consideration, but it's nothing to lose sleep over. i bet penny throws more innings than lohse this year. he's been compared to two other recent signings in terms injury issues. some of this has revolved around one of my baseball pet peeves - lumping very different players together with the same qualifier. in this case "injury prone"; e.g., "why do the cardinals need another injury prone pitcher?" well, yes, penny is injury prone. but all injury prone pitchers are not created alike. check out these numbers.



3 season IP total

3 season IP avg

5 season IP total

5 season IP avg

Brad Penny






Randy Wolf






Rich Harden






while wolf has had two solid seasons in a row, he's also closing in on 34 and has had a number of seasons of poor durability in recent history. rich harden is just not regularly putting out the innings, though he clearly has a higher ceiling than either of the others. penny, by contrast is a pretty steady 160 inning man. when we say he's injury prone, that means he misses 6-8 starts a year usually. harden may have provided more value, but penny is the surer bet to meet your innings needs. as for wolf, i'm glad we're not paying him to be 36 years old. 

nor does it seem that penny has lingering effects from his shoulder injury in 2008. consider that penny's average FB speed over his career has been 93.4 mph. last season it was 94.0 mph, his best EVER speed. penny's problems last year probably had little to do with the injury. he brought his K rate down a bit off his career K rate (5.66 k/9 v. a career 6.29). he did generate fewer of his hallmark groundballs (43.7 % v. a career 45.3%). he got unlucky with LOB (67.1%). he was also playing in boston in the toughest division in baseball for much of the season with some suspect defenders (mike lowell, julio lugo, youkilis at third) in the infield for a groundball pitcher (generating a .336 BABIP during his part season there). i'll leave more in-depth looks for the pitch f/x guys (guy?). but i think any hazard in taking him on is far outweighed from the good we're likely to see from him. 

* * *

the penny analysis leads us to another question: where to next? well, i'm glad you asked. if you haven't been following the rants by our local grumpy robot over on, you've been missing a treat. bender's twin has put together position-by-position reviews of the team at catcher(focusing on backup), left field, and, his most interesting piece so far, third base.

azru makes an interesting case that freese projects by all measures to be a 2 WAR type 3b - not a bad piece for league min for the next three seasons. this makes investing in the series of 2.5-3 WAR free agents (beltre, crede, derosa, etc.) at third a pretty questionable business, since that extra win or so would come at a multi-million dollar price (as a quibble, i will say some folks could definitely call beltre more a 4 win player than a 3 win player). even so, it's important to remember that replacement value at third is not, for the cards, replacement value. if we pay for a free agent, we'll be paying for the benefit over and above a 2 WAR type performance from freese.

this raises the compelling question of how we can make the club better in other areas. the obvious one is in LF - matt holliday would be a substantial improvement (4 or 5 WAR) over internal options. however, while that may be a sensible place to spend gobs of money this year,  it may not be over the next four, five, six years. there's a big step down to the next best LF options, probably mike cameron, then bay and damon, worth about 3 or 4 WAR (meaning a 2 or 3 WAR improvement over craig). i heard noises about damon wanting 3 years, which i have no interest in, and you probably know my thinking on bay. 

the other obvious place to spend would be to fill the fifth starting role. one of the luxuries of having a farm with garcia and boggs coming out of it is that we could drop some money on a smoltz or a bedard or a duchscherer or a sheets in hopes of having a surprise key performance, yet not be totally stuck if the injured remain injured. smoltz seems like the most plausible of that list, though sheets has a higher ceiling. those options  could plausibly offer a 2-3 WAR bump over a mix-n-match of starting pitching options.

note that with carpenter, penny, and lohse already in the rotation our memphis squad is sure to get plenty of calls; hoping that a squad headed by a guy coming off TJ surgery will cover all the needs created by injury and a full rotation spot may be wishful thinking. duncan has already made noises about not wanting to vest garcia with a spot if his inning count is going to be capped around 80 or 90 innings because of his recovery.

* * *

another big event this year was the rule 5 draft. i really like our results this year, even though they were greeted with some yawns on the boards. ben jukich was our major league rule 5 draft pick. once described as having the best curveball in the A's system, he remains a left-handed groundball artist (running a consistent 50% GB rate). he started 17 games for the reds AAA affiliate last year and appeared in relief numerous times. his K rates have run at 7.76 k/9(last year); 5.96; 7.19; 7.10; 8.41. his control has remained good since his promotion to the high minors: his bb/9 range from a low of 1.59 to a high of 3.50.

contrast him, say, with lance lynn - minor league career GB rate of 47.4%, career K/9 of 7.73, and he comes out looking pretty reasonable. major caveat - lynn is five years younger.


jukich is definitely no loogy, either. his splits show no strong bias towards batters of either handedness; he had an FIP of 4.52 to LHB and 4.19 to RHB this year.

i'm not saying jukich is any kind of sure thing; he's marinated far too long in the minors to say that. but he's never had a shot at the big show. my goal for him is brad thompson with at least two pitches, but i think he could be a sleeper candidate to show us even more. he's a groundball artist and a curveball specialist who's going to spend spring training with dave duncan, adam wainwright, and chris carpenter. if he's ever gonna shine, this is his big chance. 

matt meyer is a similarly interesting type. he was taken in the AAA draft from cleveland, which means that we only need to keep him on the memphis roster, not the major league roster, all year to keep him. a perennial reliever, he's had k/9's from 7.94 to 10.80 over numerous levels, averaging out around 9 or so. meyer has NOT been a control artist, though, tossing out some real wild seasons, culminating in a 8.18 BB/9 at AA this year. he's very promising against lefties with a minor league career 10.62 K/9 and a 53% GB rate. he's actually remarkably similar to our internal loogy option - tyler norrick; a ton of K's and a ton of walks. this is another exercise in throwing things against the wall to see what sticks, but meyer seems like a pretty sensible thing to throw at the wall. tyler norrick, part II, is an almost cost-free pick up that can only help us. 

* * *

as the resident old-man poster, i should say a couple words about the white rat, since i think i am the only one among the mods who clearly recalls that period.

whitey was one of many managers who PLAYED THE GAME - albeit, not very well - and a brick in the seamless wall of 130+ years of managers that do not include a single pasty-faced spreadsheet reader living in his mother's basement.

whitey and his teams made me fall in love with baseball. they were everything you have ever heard about them. lightning fast, thrill a minute. a bunt, a single, a stolen base. nobody swung for the fences but jack clark (who hit 22 HR in 1985 - imagine what would happen to a cleanup hitter who hit 22 HR today!).

if you went for extra bases it was on the speed of your legs, not the muscles in your arms. in 1985, willie mcgee slugged .503 . . . with just 10 home runs. 

vince coleman stole more bases in 1985 that 19 of the 30 major league teams did last year. in 1986, he had an OBP of .301, reaching base 201 times; he stole 106 bases. he was caught stealing only 14 times. that's the whiteyball game plan; you get on base and 50%+ of the time, you're taking the next one.

it was nothing but fun to watch.

baseball is forever outlined for me in the bold lettering of 1985 Topps cards (succeeded by the miserable wood paneling 1986 sets), with 'the heat is on' playing in the background. i don't have anything really clever or interesting to say about whitey the man; i was way too young to see him as anything but the archetype of the grandfatherly silent manager i just assumed should and did run every club; i saw the similarly wise and wizened faces of sparky anderson and earl weaver grinning on my Topps cards. i was not in a position to appreciate what made him special. 

in retrospect, though, i feel honored to have lived at a unique time in baseball history, watching a team run by a true innovator. somebody who latched on to the advantages of these gargantuan stadiums with thin layers of turf laid over concrete and 424 foot centerfield fences. whitey saw you could make a baseball bounce like a pinball, and that's what the games felt like -- flashing lights and rocket shots. an excitement that's different from what today's teams generate. 

when his place in the hall of fame was announced though, i had no real reaction, and very little to say. in my head, he had always been there.