Wednesday, April 7, 2010

9 comments Jon Heyman Has a Very Broad Definition of the World "Surprise"

Last year at this time Jon Heyman wrote an article about the 30 players he thought were going to breakout in 2009. He listed 30 players who he predicted were going to break out, which I thought was an excessively large list. I stated at the time this was 3% of the players in the major leagues that Jon Heyman predicted could break out in 2009. I called it the equivalent of just throwing names against the wall and hoping some of them stuck. Well some of them did...of course some had already broken out, but that is beside the point.

Not knowing how to top himself for this year, Jon Heyman decided to list his breakout teams for this year. There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball and Heyman has listed seven of them who could be surprise teams this year. I am pretty sure that is 23% of the teams in MLB that he believes could be surprises this year. That seems like quite a broad list to me for teams who could surprise.

He even throws in two NL West teams into the "surprise" list, which is weird because it seems like he thinks nearly the entire division is going to surprise everyone. To me, a "surprise team" is a team few expected to do well, but ended up doing well. I like how Heyman doesn't stray away from his "throw it all against the wall" brand of journalism when it comes to making lists so he will end up being right about one of these teams and look like a genius.

The Rays aren't just some tiny-market upstart anymore.

What the fuck? Is it 2008 or something? We know this. They made the World Series in 2008. In fact, they won the AL East in 2008 and had a down year last year where they won 84 games, which isn't terrible for a down year in the AL East.

They are, by all accounts, ready to again compete with the Yankees and Red Sox in what is almost inarguably baseball's best division.

Not to bring up 2008 again, but they actually did better than those teams only 2 years ago. They competed with those teams last year. They went 9-9 against Boston and 7-11 against the Yankees. Sure, that's not great, but it wasn't a strong year for the Rays anyway and a losing record against the Yankees was to expected for most teams.

The praise is almost universal among scouts and everyone else who saw the Rays' winning act during spring training, where they've gone an MLB-best 19-7 entering Thursday's games.

Spring training statistics...ever so not useful for really determining the strength of a team.

Indeed, the Rays have overwhelmed teams on occasion. And it's not just the established young stars. Sean Rodriguez, who came to Tampa Bay last summer in the Scott Kazmir trade, has been about the best player in Florida, batting .467 batting and slugging .883 slugging to earn a spot on the major league club.

And clearly because Spring training statistics are so useful, Sean Rodriguez is going to hit .400 this year and smash the major league record for slugging percentage. It's happening people, get used to it.

This team isn't only about youth and talent, it's about versatility, and it hasn't been determined yet whether Rodriguez will play second base or right field. Ben Zobrist, an All-Star last season who defines versatility,

Webster's definition of Zobrist: He who provides versatility.

Zobrist may be the only player in the league who's equally adept at as many as five positions (though Seattle's Chone Figgins may be another).

"Zobrist may be the most versatile player in the league, unless you want to count the other versatile players in the league."

Last year Zobrist played all of 5.2 innings at third base and he played a whopping 13 innings at first base...and still managed to commit an error. I find it a bit of a stretch to say a guy who has played a little bit over 2 whole games at two of the positions he is "adept" actually adept at these positions. He didn't even make a play at third base and of the eight chances he had at first base, he made an error on one of them.

I'm just here to fact check, not to judge (that's a lie), but I don't know if Zobrist is really adept at 5 positions.

This is still a team on the rise, and unlike with the Yankees and Red Sox, there are no significant questions about creeping age.

But unlike the Red Sox and the Yankees the Rays do have some budgetary constraints with their current budget for players. So, the current Rays players (like Carl Crawford) will creep up in age with another team in all likelihood. Regardless, this really doesn't have much to do with whether they are a surprise team or not.

The every-day lineup has no such issue. Left fielder Carl Crawford and first baseman Carlos Pena were both All-Stars last year and both are free agents after this season, and sometimes that spurs players on to even better things.

This is a good thing, but also a bad thing.

They'll stay for the full year, provided the Rays do what everyone figures they'll do, which is contend. "If we're playing well, I don't think that has any impact on us,'' Maddon said.

Translation: If the Rays are not doing well, these players are getting their asses traded.

There is no doubt this Rays team has a ton of talent, which is exactly why they aren't a team that could really surprise everyone this year...because we already know they are good.

"It's going to be a dogfight between the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. They are all about equal,'' one executive from an AL East team said. "The one difference is the depth of the Yankees and Red Sox. If they don't have it, they can go out and buy it.'''

How the hell can the Rays be a surprise team if everyone is expecting them to contend with two other teams in the AL East for the AL East title? Not only that, but they are expected to compete with the World Series champs. Isn't this the very definition of "not a surprise" if everyone expects them to do well?

Nonetheless, the Rays have been the most impressive team in Florida. They may just steal a playoff spot.

I still don't get how it makes sense for a team who won the AL East and won 84 games the year before is a surprise team.

Six more teams that may surprise...


1. Colorado Rockies

They are the chic pick in the NL West, and understandably so.

If they are the chic pick in the NL West, how the hell are they going to surprise anyone? Doesn't that mean they are expected to do well? Why do I feel like I am taking crazy pills? They won 92 games last year and were the Wild Card in the National League. They were the 4th best team in the National League (3rd by record) and didn't even have their best pitcher, Jeff Francis. They started off 18-28 and then won 20 of 25 games under new manager Jim Tracy, who is managing them this year, and made the playoffs.

So basically, it shouldn't shock anyone they are going to have a good year, since they had a good year last year. This is a worthless choice for a surprise team.

"Everyone loves them out here,'' one Arizona-based scout said.


Ace Ubaldo Jimenez and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez could be on the cusp of stardom, and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (the trendy MVP pick) is already there.

So knowing all of this, wouldn't we expect this team to be good. If you expect something then it isn't a...sur---(waiting for Jon Heyman to finish the word) when something happens unexpectedly, you got surpri---(still waiting).

Fine, I give up. Like I didn't expect the Saints to win the Super Bowl, so I was surprised they did. Yeah, the Colorado Rockies are the opposite of that...making them not a surprise.

2. Minnesota Twins

They are clearly taking their first year in Target Field seriously, having run up their payroll to close to $100 million.

The Twins won the fucking AL Central last year. They routinely do this. Only someone who doesn't follow baseball would even begin to think the Twins could surprise anyone by winning the AL Central this upcoming year.

But they have added some smart pieces like veterans Orlando Hudson and Jim Thome to a balanced team that usually plays the game the right way under manager Ron Gardenhire.

They play the game the right way. They hit the ball when it is pitched to them and pitch the ball when the opposing batter comes to the plate. For extra "right way-edness," they also try to get the opposing team out when they hit the ball.

"The Twins have power, defense and speed,'' one AL scout said. "I like them very much.''

Out of Heyman's first 3 teams, two of them actually made the playoffs last year and the other team made the World Series the year before that. Only a crazy person would say these teams could surprise anyone this upcoming year.

3. Atlanta Braves

Ok, maybe...but I am taking away points since many people think the Braves are going to surprise this year. I would also like to add, this is the 4th team that Heyman has listed which could surprise us all. Why not just name every team in the majors as a surprise team? Don't half-ass it, just go all out.

One nitpicky question about the Braves is the mix. Their spring clubhouse is split into two rooms, with one for the rookies and those not guaranteed to make the squad, and that may not be the best idea for unity.

This is an incredibly picky question about the Braves. When has anyone heard of a Bobby Cox managed team struggling with chemistry or having players who cause problems? For God's sake, even Gary Sheffield was on his best behavior in Atlanta and J.D. Drew somehow managed to not suck for one season (I am kidding Red Sox fans...sort of). I never worry about team unity problems with least until the end of this year.

4. Arizona Diamondbacks

Nobody should be fooled by great offensive stats in Arizona, but in the words of one Cactus observer, Justin Upton (.367, five homers) has been "a monster.'' Mark Reynolds (.354) also has looked locked in since signing his new deal, and Chris Young (.315), Stephen Drew (.382) and Conor Jackson (.364) all have hit great, as well.

Yet again, we are basing this surprising team on Spring training statistics. I think we should take these player's averages and subtract 100 points from them and that will be much more accurate measure for these player's batting average around October.

It's fine to pick them as a surprise team, but at least base it on something other than Spring training. I don't think I am over the fact Heyman listed 7 teams as ones who could "surprise."

But once Webb returns, their rotation is among the best in the league.

There we go, this is something that can be used which is a valid way of advocating them as a surprise team.

5. Cincinnati Reds

I agree with this one. This is a team that could be a surprise team if they make the playoffs. Many people expect them to be good, but not good enough to make the playoffs.

6. Cleveland Indians

Talented Fausto Carmona (3-0, 0.45) looks like he may have regained his form this spring, and if so, that will be a big boost.

Yes, because that will give this team one good pitcher on the staff. Clearly, one pitcher is all a team needs to surprise. What kind of surprise does he expect Cleveland to give everyone this year? Not losing 100 games? Winning 70 games? I am a little confused because the bar is set pretty low for this team to surprise anyone.

I guess I always think of a surprise team as a team that makes the playoffs or almost makes the playoffs and has a better year than expected. I wouldn't count a team that is expected to win 70 games that wins 77 games as really a surprise team. It may just be me.

Justin Masterson could be a star once he shows better control.

Delmon Young could be a star once he starts hitting for average and power. Scott Olson could be a star once he prevents the other team from hitting the pitches he throws.

See what I am doing here? I know Masterson is young, but he improves the one thing that is preventing him from being a better pitcher, then yes, he will be better. But we can't just magically ignore what is holding him back. Masterson is young, but he hasn't shown great control at very many levels in the minors. So it appears poor control is part of how he pitches, so this problem may not go away. I am talking in circles, but a temporary problem is one thing, but for nearly every player that has one problem holding him back...if he fixes that problem, then yes, he could become a star depending on his skill level.

The Indians did a great job augmenting their prospect list last summer, and should be much better in years to come. But it would still be a surprise if they compete with the White Sox, Twins and Tigers in the AL Central.

So if they compete with those other teams then this will be a surprise? I can buy this, but the problem is that this isn't happening at all. If they did this, then they would be a surprise team, but I am still confused as to how the Twins could surprise people if they are expected to compete for the AL Central title.

Heyman is done listing his 7 "surprise" teams and two of them made the playoffs last year and overall he could have cut this list in half and it would have been a better list. He listed way too many teams that could least in my mind.

Now Heyman has some notes from around the majors. Let's get snarky...

The Mariners, who are concerned about their starting pitching depth, are trying to bring back Jarrod Washburn for a deal that's lower than the one they gave Erik Bedard, who got a $1.75 million guarantee and $7.5 million ceiling after an injury-racked season. The Royals are believed to be offering significantly more money.

Of course the Royals are interested in Washburn. They see a pitcher who is 34 years old and will in no way benefit them in the future or present and think, "this is a guy we have to have." Washburn could help the Royals go from 65 wins to 69 wins this year.

But it's thought that Washburn would prefer a return to Seattle, where he thrived last year.

Why would any player voluntarily go to the Royals, unless no other team wants him? (Looks at Jason Kendall)

Congrats to class act Garret Anderson, who has won a spot with the Dodgers.

Unfortunately, there is no congrats to the Dodgers because they have just landed themselves a 38 year old hitter who had a OPS+ of 86 last year and a blistering OBP of .303. Putting him in against RH pitchers sounds great until you realize he actually hit better against LH pitchers last year. He was actually an average player against LH batters. Also, he plays left field like a corpse would play the outfield. He makes Manny Ramirez look like Andruw Jones (ok, I may be going overboard).

Congrats Dodgers, you have landed yourselves a great clubhouse and a professional hitter, which is baseball lingo for "he is old and used to be good at hitting."

Jamie Moyer couldn't decide which he would rather do -- win 300 games or pitch in his 50s. "Interesting question,'' he said. He will pitch at 47 (and with 258 career wins) as the Phillies' No. 5 starter after a brilliant spring game against the Yankees.

I swear to God, when Jamie Moyer pitches in the majors for 30 years and gets 300 wins, then gets elected to the Hall of Fame I am going on a five state crime spree. Moyer really hasn't been a terrible pitcher, but if he gets in the Hall of Fame and Bert Blyleven doesn't because Moyer has that magical "300 wins" number, while Blyleven doesn't...I will have a seizure if this ever happens. There will be blood.

The Pirates plan to bat their pitcher eighth for now. Interesting idea, but that alone probably won't turn them into a pennant contender.

You mean batting the pitcher eighth isn't going to allow them to win the pennant? You don't say! Somewhere Tony LaRussa thinks this is a brilliant idea. To be fair, the Pirates do have Ronny Cedeno in the 8th/9th spot, so a pitcher might actually be a better option over him.

Maybe Jon Heyman should make a list of hitters that will surprise us this year. It would include Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Kendry Morales, Matt Holliday and a few other surprising hitters like that.


KentAllard said...

Wouldn't Moyer just about have to pitch into his 50s to win 300 games? I always admit I don't know anything about baseball these days, but it seems a little unusual for a #5 pitcher to average 21 wins over the next two years, which he would have to do to win 300 and quit before 50. Not that anyone would quit under those circumstances.

Bengoodfella said...

Moyer would probably have to pitch into his 50's to hit 300 games. He is, like you said, 42 games short so I think he is probably 3 years away and he will be 48 in November. I don't they are mutually exclusive things at this point.

To hit 300 wins he will probably need to pitch into his 50's.

FormerPhD said...

Gee, the Twins are real surprising you know with their two MVPs on the roster and there playoff appearance last year. They might shock people by making the playoffs again!

Also Colorado has made the playoffs the past two seasons and made the fucking WS in one of them. How in the world are they surprising? Now if Heyman had said "they'll surprise people by being terrible," then ya, that'd be surprising. But a good team playing well? Wouldn't expect it.

You know who might also shock some folks? The Phillies and Yankees. Hear they have some talented players over there.

This list is only applicable to people who still think small market teams can't compete and who clearly don't follow baseball at all.

And Kent, you had the same thought I did. Jamie, would you rather pitch well into your 50's or pitch into your 50's. "Interesting" question indeed.

FormerPhD said...

their* playoff appearance. Stupid grammar.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, this was a terrible list wasn't it? The Twins are usually one of the best teams in the Central and the Rays made the World Series two years ago, just like the Rockies did.

I don't know what Heyman's definition of surprise is, but its not mine. I hear the Red Sox and the Cardinals may make some noise this year and surprise some people.

Maybe Scott Boras told Heyman to write this list and he did. I don't know, that's all I have for an explanation.

Victor Catano said...

Why not list Pujols and the Cards as well? You're listing a division champ, the reigning wild card team, and a team two years removed from an AL pennant.

And please,Moyer in the hall? Modern medicine has made a lot of the benchmark numbers irrelevant. Didn't we already have this discussion with a pre-steroid Rafael Palmiero? He was an above average player, but not great. He got to 500 HR and 3000 hits mainly by playing for a long time at a consistant level.

It's hall of fame, not hall of consistent. You're going to have to go beyond raw numbers,

Bengoodfella said...

That's what annoys me the most, is that Heyman will do his "break out" or "surprising teams" list and then list teams or players that have already broken out or are already good. Other than the fact, he listed 7 teams, 3 of the teams he listed are already expected to be good or make the playoffs.

I hate the term, but Moyer is an accumulator of numbers and I don't like his name being brought up in any way with the Hall of Fame. If you are an above average pitcher and pitch long enough you will have good stats. It doesn't mean you are a Hall of Fame candidate.

ivn said...

Moyer has also played on some very very good teams over the last half of his career.

Seriously these "surprise teams" columns are a fucking waste. Your only options are to pick some team that won 88 games last year or wing it and go with KC or Baltimore and look like a jackass by the All Star Break. Say you know what? I think the Chargers will really turn some heads in the NFL next season.

Bengoodfella said...

Ivn, Moyer had a pretty good ERA+ over the last part of his career, so he was a good pitcher. He was also on good teams as well.

Regardless of what teams he was on, the Hall of Fame should not come calling for him.

The column wouldn't be a waster if he could list 2-3 teams that may make the playoffs and aren't considered to be able to do so. If he had cut the list down and not listed actual good teams, it might have been better.