Good teams don’t blow this many saves right?

Geez, can’t a fan’s gut instincts ever be right?

Here are the thoughts of Marlins fans [OK me] after Heath Bell’s blown save on Tuesday:

Good teams don’t lose games when they rally from 7 runs down. Good teams don’t blow these many save opportunities. I mean it’s probably happened before, in the way that everything has probably happened before in MLB, but you probably gotta go way back.

So I set out to find a National League [the DH league is dead to me] playoff team who were at the bottom of the league in terms of blown saves. I had to go all the way back to the 2011 World Champion St Louis Cardinals.

  • 2011 Cardinals blown saves – 26
  • 2011 NL average blown saves – 20
  • 2011 Marlins blown saves – 19
  • 2012 Marlins blown saves – 12
  • 2012 NL average – 10

But surely those Cardinals didn’t have a game were they were down 7, came back and blew the game in extra innings? No they had one where they were down 8, came back and blew the game in extra innings. It happened against the Reds, it happened at home and it happened almost one year to the date of the Marlins loss, on July 6th 2011.

Alright, alright, but before those Cardinals, what other playoff teams …

  • 2010 – Cincinnati & Philadelphia were above the league average in blown saves, but not significantly
  • 2009 – LA Dodgers made the playoffs and led the league in blown saves

I could go on, but its a sunny day. Turns out that blown saves may be a better indicator of a team that has a lot of late leads, more than it is an indicator of whether a team can make the playoffs. So ask not for whom the Bell trolls, Oviedo and Bonifacio will soon be back.

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Will The Miami Marlins Waste The Mike Stanton Years?

Will the Miami Marlins waste the Mike Stanton years? First let’s define the Stanton years.

Under the current MLB CBA which expires this year, a player is eligible for free agency after 6 full years of service. One of the main reasons the Marlins didn’t bring Stanton up from the minors until June last season, is to avoid having the 2010 season count as a full season and thereby extend the period of time they control him. Which means that this 2011 season, his 2nd year in MLB, is technically the first of six he needs to file for free agency [The Freedom from Loria Act]. That would keep Stanton a Marlin through 2016, five more seasons after this one.

Except that no team would sign Stanton to yearly arbitration-determined salaries, between the 2013 [he’s a Super 2] and 2016 seasons, only to lose him for nothing the following season. Therefore, at the latest and maybe earlier, the California native would likely be traded before or during the 2016 season when he would be only 26 years old. Mike Stanton’s next non-arbitration contract could make him the highest paid player in MLB. Jeffrey Loria won’t write that check, unless Mike takes up painting. That’s why I believe that Stanton’s Marlins years will realistically last 4 more seasons past this 2011 season.

So who will the Marlins surround Stanton with? I go through each position player — forget pitching and injuries for now — and indicate what I think can be expected — using ESPN and Fangraphs [UZR/150] statistics to compare with other National League players — based on past performance.

Bottom line, unless there’s a Bizarro World Marlins farm system out there somewhere, this franchise doesn’t appear to have enough offense or defense based on its current position players and their performance to date to compete — Phillies and Braves are like the Patriots and Jets — during the next 4 Stanton seasons.

See the position players listed below:

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Bona Fides For Bonifacio

How does one obtain a Marlins Fan bona fides? First you have to fan invest [explained here] in the team. Ideally, you would take a seemingly indefensible situation and attempt a reasonable defense. For example, defending a manager’s [Fredi Gonzalez] handling of a pitching change which resulted in a grand slam. I also fan invested in Emilio Bonifacio last year, see here. [No I don’t see a pattern]. Do any readers have equivalent defenses?

My Marlins fan bona fides established, let me tell you about why you should care about a player who has zero power, a career .306 OBP coming into the 2011 season, much speed, and no real success as a base stealer.

Speed, defensive versatility and maturity. The unfortunate recent minor [Stanton and D. Murphy] and major [Dominguez] injuries have one possible bright spot. A great opportunity for Bonifacio to prove himself. He got his season off to a great start in last night’s loss with productive at-bats and a key defensive play. Bonifacio had a great start to the 2009 season as well, but that start involved an inside-the-park grand slam. By having success in an area he could not expect to repeat, his grand slam turned out to be the Marlins worst success since Chuck Carr’s grand slam in 1993. I swear, but won’t look it up, that Carr’s next 42 outs were fly balls.

Carr went on to infamously talk himself out of MLB in 1997. After popping out to third base on a two balls, no strike count, Carr was questioned by manager Phil Garner [Brewers]. Carr replied to Garner in third person: “That ain’t Chuckie’s game. Chuckie hacks on 2-0.” He was released from the club shortly thereafter.

Bonifacio did not hack last night. But Bonifacio’s versatility was on display, as he played RF-3B-CF, made good defensive plays in both the outfield and infield, had 2 hits and a sacrifice. Using up my ‘season-extrapolation-after-only-one-game-allowance,’ earned here, for Gaby Sanchez. I think that 2011 will be a very good year for him. Then again I may just 2 months away from badgering 790’s Jonathan Zaslow on why the Marlins released Bonifacio on his radio post-game shows.

A Fan’s Ode To Renyel Pinto

Do you remember where you were when you heard that Renyel Pinto had been released last year? I meant his June 23rd release by the Marlins, not his August 21st release by the St Louis Cardinals. I was at a family dinner, which also included a priest, and I still cursed. Even the US victory over Algeria in the World Cup that day provided little solace.

You see I had fan invested. Fan investing involves taking limited knowledge of a sport, mixing it with tribal-like allegiances and attaching oneself to a potentially dubious, but convenient, product. As a sports fan, my goal is to approximate what I once heard someone say sarcastically about my hero *William F. Buckey Jr.’s politics: “He chose his side like a fanatic, and defended it like a philosopher.” Well, as you will soon click and learn, I got at least half of that right.

For my first defense of Pinto, I brought Fredo Corleone into the discussion. For my next defense of Pinto, I realized that I needed a little more muscle, so I brought in Jack Bauer. One month later Pinto was gone. Can’t help thinking I could have done more, or less. Even Wes Helms very funny interview on March 18th with the 790 Radio Station, in which he jokingly calls out Pinto for being the least manly Marlin last year, did not soften the blow.

Great start for the Marlins fans last night, especially against the hated and hateful New York Mets. Speaking of giving up on players too soon, did you see what Cameron Maybin did on opening night for San Diego? Although in his case, we know from recent interviews that that the final decision to release came from ownership, not the baseball people. Please remember that somewhere in Pawtucket, Andrew Miller is throwing in the mid 90’s.

* – Turns out that the original quote came from Thomas Babington Macaulay who was speaking of Edmund Burke. Coincidentally enough, Burke’s offspring also came to be released by a professional baseball team, the New York Highlanders. However, Burkey, as he was known, was so embarrassed by his intellectual father, that he had changed his name to Stubby Magner, no relation to Honus.

Larry Beinfest: Hyman Roth’s Progeny?

Tom Hagen, he of German-Irish descent, quote from G2:

Roth, he … he played this one beautifully

Hyman Roth meet Larry Beinfest. The kid’s been running molasses out of Jamestown, Greenboro, Jupiter and New Orleans. He always make money for his partners and eventually, he’ll do the same for some of his prospects. They just need to be patient.

If you’re the Marlins getting ready for 2011, there is one financial constraint you have to work around. The next prospect with a chance to continue the recent string of rookie successes — Coghlan, Sanchez, Stanton and Morrison — cannot use up a year of arbitration in 2011. Which means, as Juan Rodriguez from the Sun-Sentinel explains, that Matt Dominguez won’t make it to the majors until “probably after the late-May arbitration cutoff date.”

So these were Beinfest’s options coming into Spring Training:

  1. Announce that 3B was Emilio Bonifacio’s job to lose
  2. Announce that 3B was Wes Helms’ job to lose
  3. Announce that 3B was Matt Dominguez’s job to lose
  4. Announce that there was an open competition for the job

Option #1 would have brought threats of violence from the Sabermetric community. Option #2 would have brought threats of violence from Wes Helms. His role and future with the Marlins appears set. No need to risk a .150 average in mid-May to potentially ruin the good vibes. So it came down to option #3 or #4.

The risk with option #4 is that Dominguez has a nice spring under the radar and now the Marlins have created a PR problem — New Ballpark = Caring = PR problem — when they send him down at the beginning of the season. Think of it this way, the Marlins had to decide under which option Dominguez would perform better this Spring and then select the other option. The choice on how to handle Dominguez came down to under the radar or as a top gun.

Evidence of the top gun expectations choice is that Dominguez was touted as one of the best fielding 3B in MLB right now and that only hitting would be a question mark. Once Dominguez struggled, now the Marlins have a prospect who probably accepts that he needs additional time in the minors instead of thinking that he belongs in the majors right away.

Somewhere, likely in Hell, Hyman Roth is smiling through a persistent cough and a urinary tract infection. If the Marlins trade for a 3B before the regular season begins, please ignore all the above.

The Rodriguez article is copied in full at the end of the post.
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Emilio Bonifacio and his Selectively Tough Critics

After “Michael Jackson,” the phrase “why is Emilio Bonifacio playing everyday” was the most popular worldwide search term in Google last week. Or maybe it just seems that way. Earlier in the week, Juan Rodriguez’s Sun-Sentinel blog basically told Marlins fans, ‘you may wanna back off, Bonifacio might not be going anywhere.’ That blog post made sense because Bonifacio has become the favorite target of local sports talk shows callers [no doubt only temporarily supplanting Freddi Gonzalez, who is filing in ably for Randy Shannon until football season begins]. I was going to describe those callers as hyper-critical and illogical, but since I already noted that they called sports radio shows, that would be redundant.

Later in the week, Dave Hyde weighed in with a balanced take on Bonifacio, pointing out positives, for example how his OBP has improved by month. However, the negative crescendo reached its peak with Joe Sheehan from Baseball Prospectus on the Jonathan Zaslow radio show on Friday. Joe really doesn’t like Emilio. I believe the nicest thing he said was that ‘Bonifacio really wasn’t really a MLB player.’ I enjoy the analytical approach which sites like Baseball Prospectus have opened up to us fans. But in listening to Sheehan, the limits of statistical analysis, or more accurately, the limitation of statistical analysis without imagination, became evident.

What’s the point in just saying that Bonifacio’s OBP and OPS need to improve? If you say it with enough invective does it become more interesting? The real questions worth analyzing are whether Bonifacio can be expected to improve or how long the Marlins can afford to continue to play someone with his current level of stats. Clearly the Marlins believe he will improve [as he has begun to do so already]. Those who say that Bonifacio should not be playing are in effect stating that he will not improve. Based on what? Do they discount the improvement he has already shown? Are they aware that many good players struggled early in their careers?

I had a post where I discussed Dan Uggla’s performance by month during his first 3 seasons and made certain assumptions based on that [namely that if the Marlins were to trade him, they should do so right after the month of June]. If someone had replied that 3 years was not enough of a track record to assume how he would perform in his 4th or 5th seasons, I think that would be a fair point to make, especially if someone could back it up with examples.

That is the area that I expected someone from Baseball Prospectus to get into. But that’s not what Sheehan did [it took me a while to realize that he wasn’t just another angry white man from Aventura]. I looked up Bonifacio’s stats, he has 500 MLB at bats. In those 500 at bats, Bonifacio has walked way too little and struck out way too much, but are Bonifacio’s critics saying that after 500 at bats, you pretty much know what type of MLB hitter someone can be?

That doesn’t make sense to me. Even my late night cursory look at other 2B revealed that Brian Roberts had a similar poor start to his career — perhaps not coincidentally when Roberts was 23 & 24 years old — check out their stats at the beginning of their careers:

Bonifacio: 500 AB / .244 AVG / .296 OBP / .310 SLG

Roberts: 401 AB / .244 AVG / .294 OBP / .327 SLG

Also, keep in mind the following facts about Emilio Bonifacio:

  • He is 24 years-old.
  • He is really fast.
  • This is his 3rd organization in 3 years. In practical terms, he’s worked for 3 different bosses, 3 different management teams, while living in 3 different cities / homes.
  • Bonifacio is learning a new position at the MLB level, 3B.
  • The Marlins baseball operations — widely regarded for their ability to compete with minimal payrolls — believe enough in Bonifacio to have traded for him and then stuck with him through major struggles.
  • He’s hitting just 4 points less than Jeremy Hermida.
  • He is really, really fast.

I love stats. But the type of people who used those stats to beat up on players without also conveying that they are just guessing about the prospects of that player’s development — a guess, by the way, which is at odds with the collective opinion of Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill and Freddi Gonzalez — strike me as just a cut above a fan yelling obscenities at the ballpark, especially when they avoid criticizing someone like Beinfest with the same amount of intensity.

The reason I equate the two is that just like I assume that fans who specialize in obscenity-laced tirades at the ballpark would never speak that way, especially without the alcohol, face to face to the athlete. Similarly, analysts or commentators who go after someone like Bonifacio, rarely attack those ultimately responsible for putting him in the lineup [i.e. Larry Beinfest] with the same amount of gusto. The reason they don’t in the case of Beinfest, is that he has a very good reputation [and memory, no doubt] in MLB. As such, those who pull their punches when it comes to those who are putting Bonifacio in the lineup, are glorified bullies in my book.

They represent a new set of MLB powers that be, armed with too many spreadsheets and too little humility. If they ever get tired of baseball, they probably would fit right into Washington DC. To paraphrase Nick Carraway, I think ‘they’re a rotten crowd, the whole damn bunch put together.’

The MLB Roller Coaster

Paying close attention to a major league baseball team would cure any casual fan of any preconceived notions of how things should be. In 2009 alone, the Marlins have had 7-game winning and losing streaks. Sandwiched between two Lindstrom blown saves, their bullpen had a streak of over 24 scoreless innings.

Take Emilio Bonifacio. He has gone from one of the hottest players in baseball to having Marlins fans wondering if he will ever make contact again. Check out Bonifacio’s splits as a switch-hitter, they are dramatic. As a left handed batter, he has struck out in 20 of 62 at-bats [as opposed to 2 of 22 at-bats as a right-handed batter] and has less power than from the right side. Those numbers scream out for a platoon role as right-handed batter. But not so fast [pun intended], he’s a lead-off man and has yet to draw a walk from the right side of the plate this year. Yesterday, he gets his first start at 2nd base and turns in a great defensive play to save a run and the lead and also goes 2 for 5 at the plate, the last hit a double off K-Rod from the left side of the plate.

Go figure.

Take Matt Lindstrom. After his blown save last Friday, which took his ERA from 1.5 to 10.8, he proceeded to save 2 games within 24 hours in New York. But his ninth inning yesterday was a good example of the unpredictability of MLB.

Yesterday, the Marlins beat the Mets by scoring two runs off of J. J. Putz, the Mets designated 8th inning relief pitcher. If Putz were with the Marlins, he would be their highest paid player–since counting is what I do, 11 Mets would fit that description. Then the Marlins bring in their closer and the line score indicates no runs, no hits, no errors, Lindstrom gets the save, end of story. Not exactly. In my last post, I had a defense of manager Freddi Gonzalez’s use of Lindstrom, so no Lindstrom-hater here. But check out his ninth inning:

Score FLA 4 / NYM 3

M Lindstrom relieved L Nunez.

G Sheffield hit for F Rodriguez.

G Sheffield walked.

C Beltran walked, G Sheffield to second.

D Wright struck out looking.

R Church grounded out to first, G Sheffield to third, C Beltran to second.

F Tatis hit by pitch.

O Santos hit for R Castro.

O Santos popped out to shortstop.

0 Runs, 0 Hits, 0 Errors

So I’m listening to the game at ‘work’ on MLB.com Gameday audio [getting the Mets broadcast for perspective], and I’m dying with every ball. Veteran radio listeners are always tipped off by the crowd reactions, so I suffer each ball twice since I’m hoping I misinterpreted the crowd reaction. After watching Putz get burned by walking the first 2 batters, Lindstrom proceeds to do the very same thing! It’s too late to erase my blog post defense, so like Freddi Gonzalez, I have to [spiritually in my case] hang with Lindstrom–speaking of spiritually, you might root for Lindstrom a little harder if you knew that he did missionary work as a teenager–since I figure another blown save might ruin his career, so I’m really pulling for the dude. He then hits Tatis!

Now I’m worried about manager Freddi Gonzalez’s job. Another Lindstrom blown save and it will get ugly. Momentarily, I slip into a tribal warfare mentality. We can’t have a Cuban-American manager sacrificed for this wild Swede, we just can’t have it! I regain my composure. Karma now all moving in the ‘save’ direction. Mets broadcasters are not too happy that Manuel’s pinch hitter was fetched from the bullpen. I visually imagine them sharpening long knives like an old style barber on a leather strap in case it does not work out. Santos pops out. No runs, no hits, no errors, many frayed nerves. On to Wrigley. Man, it’s still April!

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See article about Lindstrom’s missionary work below.

Life experiences help Lindstrom

Sunday, February 22, 2009  – Buster Olney

When Florida Marlins relief pitcher Matt Lindstrom was young, maybe 12 or 13 years old, he decided he wanted to go on a mission for his church. He made that decision before he developed into a major baseball prospect and before there was a real lure for him to continue to pursue baseball. When he was 17 years old, he could throw 90-94 mph.

But Lindstrom stuck to his plan and went on his two-year mission to Sweden, the homeland of his great-grandfather.

“It was an incredible experience,” Lindstrom said in a phone interview. “I came away with stuff I’ll always have my whole life.”

Lindstrom lived in seven cities and saw the whole country, and he stayed in Stockholm for eight months. He did service work, doing things such as cleaning up yards in homes owned by elderly women. They’d get up early in the morning and work until night in Sweden’s rapidly changing climate. When Lindstrom was in the southern part of the country in the summer, daylight would just be fading at midnight.

“It was just crazy, having that much daylight,” Lindstrom recalled.

And he remembered the winter day when he stopped work for lunch at 1 p.m. and when he stepped outside again, it was pitch-black.

Lindstrom grew an inch and put on 10 pounds when he was in Sweden, but his development went beyond his height and weight. Had he chosen a different path, he could have been in college or perhaps could’ve played minor league baseball during that crucial time in his life. Instead, he did something else besides baseball. Lindstrom believes it helped him physically, because he wasn’t throwing a baseball every day, as well as emotionally.

“At that age, you are still maturing, still growing into your body,” he said. “Pitching too much at that age could be detrimental to your health. I think it helped me to take that time off and mature into my body, I thought.

“But beyond that, I can’t imagine being a major leaguer at such a young age,” Lindstrom said. “There are temptations that baseball brings with it, and in the two years, I matured spiritually as well.”

Lindstrom told his father that if he had signed at 18 years old, he’s not sure he would’ve been as equipped to make the same decisions he made after his two-year mission.

When he returned to the U.S., the velocity of his pitches was down to 86-87 mph, but within five years, his fastball reached 100 mph. Late last season, he emerged as the Marlins’ closer. He is well-armed as he prepares for the 2009 season, in velocity and in perspective.

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