How the MLBPA betrayed the union ethic

By Travis Reitsma

I’m a union guy.  I grew up in a union family and spent parts of my childhood on the picket lines with both my mother and my father (a legal secretary and a power worker).  I’m very proud of this.  No amount of union bashing, working class oppression, or general idiocy can make me less proud of where I came from.  It’s a big reason I pursue media coverage of labour in my academic life and a big reason I am a social activist.

It is my firm belief that unions are an institutional bulwark against the ravages of capitalism, to paraphrase my supervising professor.  I don’t draw much of a distinction between everyday unions representing secretaries, power workers and teachers, and “richer” unions such as the ones that represent highly paid professional athletes.

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On the Pirates signing of Clint Barmes

Sometimes I get the feeling that teams just sign free agents because they can and not because they need to.  Case in point, the Pirates signing of Clint Barmes to be their everyday shortstop for the next two seasons at a grand total of 10.5-million.

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Justin Verlander and the power of narrative

By Travis Reitsma

I want to start off by saying congratulations to Justin Verlander on a well-deserved Cy Young Award.  Had I been voting, I would have selected him to win.  He posted a ridiculous season leading the AL in ERA at 2.40, tERA at 3.09 and SIERA at 2.99.  He also led the league in wins with 24, and when someone wins that many games in a season, you can probably assume it was a very good season.

There’s little question that Verlander is a deserving Cy Young Award winner and the Baseball Writers Association of America apparently thought so too, naming him just the ninth unanimous winner of the award since its inception in 1956 joining Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana (all twice), Denny McLain, and Ron Guidry.

Verlander’s naming was so much a slam dunk that there was zero drama ahead of the award announcement this afternoon.  That has been the narrative really since he no-hit the Blue Jays back in May.  From about mid-August onward, no one questioned his winning the award; the narrative was set in place.  The only question was how much consideration should he get for the MVP award?  The problem isn’t that Verlander doesn’t deserve the Cy, it’s that the narrative set in place months ago clearly dictated just how convincingly he won.  It should have been much, much closer than it was and for once, it was a Yankee who lost out because of narrative.

C.C. Sabathia had an outstanding season in 2011.  He actually led the American League in pitcher fWAR at 7.1 compared to Verlander’s 7.0, although Verlander did have a sizable advantage in rWAR at 8.6 to 6.9.  Sabathia also finished ahead of Verlander in FIP, xFIP and finished only slightly behind him in SIERA.  Despite this, Sabathia didn’t even finish second to Verlander…or third!  Sabathia was a far superior pitcher in 2011 to both Jered Weaver and James Shields, yet he finished behind them as well.

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Of course, none of this takes into account the divisions in which Verlander and Sabathia play.  Sabathia pitches many of his games against the offensively gifted AL East, while Verlander pitches most against such “daunting” lineups as the Indians, Royals and Twins.  Verlander also plays in a much more pitcher-friendly park than Sabathia.  Despite this, Sabathia put up at least comparable numbers across the board and actually had a significantly lower home run rate.

Here’s a quick rundown comparing the numbers of Verlander and Sabathia against the AL East and Central divisions.

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As you can see, the numbers are fairly similar between the two.  Verlander has a sizable advantage against both divisions in hits, but Sabathia has a strong advantage in home runs allowed.  Would Verlander have been such a slam dunk, no doubt, unanimous winner if he were on the Yankees?  Would Sabathia have at least finished second in voting had he pitched his 2011 season on the Tigers?

I’ll reiterate, I do think Verlander should have won this award, but the narrative crafted by the media throughout the season made Verlander not just a Cy Young Award winner, but painted him as having one of the finest pitching seasons of all time and has also made him a serious contender for the MVP.

Although fWAR puts Verlander behind not only Sabathia but also behind five other AL position players, he did lead all of baseball in rWAR (for pitchers and position players) lending at least some credence to him being considered for the AL MVP; not that WAR stats should be the end all and be all in MVP voting.

The 2011 Justin Verlander season is a perfect example of how media-crafted narratives have a significant influence on award voting and how we think of a given player’s season.

Predicting the W-L record of the 2012 Blue Jays using WAR

By Eric Han

Sky Kalkman of Beyond the Boxscore updated his WAR spreadsheet today. What’s a WAR spreadsheet? Well, it’s a magical tool that lets you punch in a bunch of numbers, and shoots out some other numbers in return! It’s kind of cool.

To be specific, the tool uses an inputted value of a team’s total plate appearances, weighted on base average, baserunning value, fielding value, total innings pitched, and earned run average, and estimates the total WAR value, and thus the estimated win count, of that team.  You can download it here.

I assumed in this exercise that the Jays’ roster for 2012 is roughly the same as they had at the end of the 2011 season.

Hit the jump for my predictions for the position players:

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The value of Arizona’s middle infield

By Travis Reitsma

Yesterday, former Blue Jay Aaron Hill signed a 2yr/$10-million extension with the Arizona Diamondbacks after the team declined his $8-million option just a few days prior.  Hill hit well in his late season stint with Arizona after coming over in an August trade with the Jays along with John McDonald for Kelly Johnson, but finished the season with an underwhelming .246/.299/.356 slash line, hitting just eight home runs.  Although he rebounded from an absolutely disastrous 2010, his .356 slugging percentage was a career low and a far cry from his 2009 mark of .499.  He actually posted a lower WAR in 2011 than he did in 2010.

So, did the D’Backs overpay Hill?

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In a weak and expensive free agent market for starting pitchers, Danks and Floyd may be better options.

By Travis Reitsma

When C.C. Sabathia re-signed with the Yankees almost immediately after opting out of the remainder of his deal, making him the richest pitcher in baseball history, the free agent market for starting pitchers went from not great to bad.  Only two others achieved ‘Type-A’ status in Rangers’ lefty C.J. Wilson and the Phillies’ Roy Oswalt, who’s well past his prime and is a significant injury risk.

Another intriguing option is Japanese righthander Yu Darvish who is expected to be posted by his NPBL team sometime this offseason, but with a posting fee, Darvish could end up costing his North American team over $100-million; a risky proposition for a pitcher who has never thrown a pitch in the Majors.  There are also ‘Type-B’ options Mark Buehrle, Hiroki Kuroda, Edwin Jackson, Aaron Harang, Bruce Chen, and Freddy Garcia and other notables such as Erik Bedard, Aaron Cook, Bartolo Colon, Zach Duke, Livan Hernandez, and Jon Garland.

In other words, there are some decent options, but no game changers outside of Wilson and Darvish who probably aren’t true number one pitchers themselves.  The problem with trying to acquire starting pitching on the free agent market is just how expensive it is.  Take a look at these contracts given out to starting pitchers last year:

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Should the Blue Jays sign Jonathan Broxton?

By Eric Han

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN reports that several teams, including the Toronto Blue Jays, have shown interest in Dodger’s closer, Jonathan Broxton. Good idea? Bad?

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