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Thursday, March 03, 2005

Free Calvin Pickering

Interesting article in the KC Star by Jeff Passan on the ongoing debate between sabermetrics and scouting revolving around the Royals Calvin Pickering.

It's no secret that I've been one of those "stat geeks" who've long argued that Pickering deserves his chance to play everyday - especially in light of what the Royals have there now (Ken Harvey, aka Grimmace). Passan does a decent job of explaining both the sabermetricians and scouts arguments relating to Pickering and even discusses the PECOTA projections of Baseball Prospectus that I wrote about last month. What is especially interesting is his description of the great shape Pickering is in after a stint at a performance institute in Tempe in the offseason.

"He's 28 now. He's in the best shape of his baseball career, shedding most of the belly. He drinks protein shakes. He still hits behemoth left-handed home runs."

He's stronger and leaner - the major knock against him by the scouting world.

But it occurs to me that this is a discussion that we shouldn't even be having for two reasons.

To help me get through the long winter I bought a copy of the book Weaver on Strategy: The Classic Work on the Art of Managing a Baseball Team by Earl Weaver and Terry Pluto originally published in 1984 but lightly revised in 2002. In the chapter on "The Lineup" Earl says:

"On my bench I emphasized hitting, because the bench guys are around for offense. Often they're not as good defensively as the regulars. What they will do is step into the lineup if some of your nine guys aren't producing offensively."

It seems to me that more recent managers have clearly emphasized defense over offense in the makeup of the bench. One only has to lament the Cubs bench of the last few years that featured such lightweights as Tom Goodwin, Jose Macias, Neifi Perez, Calvin Murray, Paul Bako, Damian Jackson, and Rey Ordonez. But like much of what Weaver says his point makes sense when you give it a moment's thought.

Question: In what ways can a player who doesn't start most effect winning baseball games?

Answer: Obviously, by coming in at a crucial time and getting the big hit that wins a game or starting against a pitcher that gives a particular regular trouble. If the bench player is a good defender he may be used as a defensive replacement but how often have you seen a game won or lost on a play made by a defensive replacement? I would hazard a guess that its more than 10 times more often that a bench player makes his contribution offensively than defensively.

Given the above it is reasonable for a team to devote at least one spot to a player with primarily or even only offensive skills. After all, the Royals broke camp last season with a pinch runner in Rich Thompson (an experiment that was quickly called off after it was apparent the 2004 Royals had no offense and worse pitching).

The second reason we shouldn't be discussing whether Pickering will get a roster spot is because there should be ample room for hitters if teams would stop carrying so many pitchers. Again, in the chapter on pitching Weaver says:

"I know alot of teams carry ten pitchers on the roster, but I believe going with eight or nine."

The reasoning he gives is much like that above - the last position player on the team will help you win more ballgames by performing in key situations than will the 10th pitcher who will pitch only in blowouts. Of course, when this book was published ten pitchers was pretty standard because of the four-man rotation, today teams often carry twelve. I would love to see the Royals (or any team for that matter) go back to the four-man rotation and spare themselves 20% of their games being pitched by a pretty bad pitcher in accordance with Weaver's Seventh Law: "It's easier to find four good starters than five. "

So what should the Royals 25-man roster look like? Here's my wish-list:

OF Terrance Long
OF Eli Marrero
OF David DeJesus
OF Abraham Nunez
OF Matt Stairs
3B Mark Teahan
SS Angel Berroa
2B Tony Graffanino
UT Ruben Gotay
UT Chris Truby
1B-DH Calvin Pickering
1B-DH Mike Sweeney
1B-DH Ken Harvey
C John Buck
C Alberto Castillo

SP Zack Greinke
SP Runelvys Hernandez
SP Brian Anderson
SP Jose Lima
RP Jimmy Gobble
RP Jeremy Affeldt
RP Scott Sullivan
RP Mike MacDougal
RP Jamie Cerda
RP Nate Field


Anonymous said...

That's a great idea. Love it. Calvin Pickering should play more. He should be on a team in the AL, at the least. Why he doesn't play more means other teams in baseball are that much more inept to not know how to use a power-hitting DH walk machine.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree! Calvin Pickering is a great asset for any team, but for some reason he has fallen throught the cracks and is not given a fair chance. Maybe if he was arrested for continual drug abuse like Darryl Strawberry and some of the other offenders, maybe then they would give him chance, after chance, after chance. Instead, you have a terricic guy that is dedicated to the sport, a good role model not to mention one outstanding hitter and player! This is a person that should be rewarded. Calvin, you have fans and I am one of them. Hopefully, one day these teams and coaches will wake up and realize what they have!

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