31 January 2006

Gonzo and Mohr, RW/ RR Update, 1935 Detroit Tigers...

The Red Sox came to terms late last night with FA SS Alex Gonzalez on a one year, $3 million dollar contract. Gonzalez is 29, and has played his entire career for the Florida Marlins.

There are two ways to look at the signing of Alex Gonzalez- in a vacuum, or in tandem with the other moves made this year. I don't think I need to spell out for those familiar with Gonzalez as an offensive player, what the move means in a vacuum. Since it isn't in a vacuum, and it's irrelevant, I guess that's my way of saying- he sucks with the stick.

What I think is essential to the deal is it's brevity, it's low pricetag, and the fact that Gonzo is plus defensively. While not a valid defense of the Marte trade, the ledger does end up at spring training with us having gone from Johnny Damon and Edgar Renteria to Coco Crisp and Alex Gonzalez. Considering that Damon and Renteria are owed $13 million and $10 million a piece, respectively, and Crisp and Gonzalez get $3 per- there's another element to this equation.

Damon vs. Crisp is a tough call, mostly because it seems that Crisp's CF defense is not completely quantifiable. He played there earlier in his career prior to Grady Sizemore's acquisition, and did a fairly good job. It did improve while he was there, however, and continued to improve by leaps and bounds upon his move to LF for Cleveland. Translating that performance is tough- Epstein claimed to have done his homework on the matter, and to be sufficiently excited about. Now, setting aside the possibility that he was selling the trade, this at least leads me to believe that Crisp will be, at worst, league average defensively. Maybe that's an over-optimistic assumption, but it seems fair to me.

Damon's defense has shown to be on the slight decline, and though he's always been an extremely durable player, his second half in 2005 proved that his performance can slip due to injury. If his shoulders continue to be an issue, it will sap him of a lot of power, and turn him into an aging Juan Pierre clone with less speed. A lot is made of his bad arm- it's really bad, and funny to watch- but I don't think that
a) it's as detrimental to the overall success of a team as it's made out to be
b) we got that significantly better a CF arm in Crisp

It is worth noting the following, as well- Crisp out hit Damon last year with more raw power in a pitcher's park (with Damon in a hitter's park). Damon showed the signs of slight decline (drop in BB rate, power, and range) and effects of injury at age 31, and is moving to a pitcher's park. Crisp has progressed each of the last three seasons offensively, has never been on the DL, and is 26 years old moving to a hitter-friendly environment. My take is on-the-field wise, they're a wash in 2006, and Crisp takes strides ahead starting in 2007. Value-wise economically, Crisp wins easily- Damon isn't worth $10 million more.

The Gonzo vs. Renteria comps are a bit more difficult, and have a bit more to do with off-the-field issues, namely, whether Edgar Renteria will ever be as healthy as he was in 2003. Nearly everyone who watched enough Red Sox games last year noticed something wrong with Renteria's mobility and his back. Being 30 and declining both at the plate and drastically with the glove, the options for the Red Sox seemed to be the following:
  • Retain Renteria, give him another chance to rebound

  • Sign Furcal, then trade Renteria

  • Trade Renteria, sign or trade for a short term solution, emphasizing defense

  • Obviously, the Sox went with the third option, and I think it's the best. Furcal would have been an expensive risk, and would have eventually stripped the Sox of leverage in trading Renteria- there's no way they got someone as great as Marte for him in that situation, and they wouldn't have been able to wait on it, as you'll remember- Furcal went fast (presumably because he needed to get surgery and wanted to be signed before that happened).

    So we got a valuable piece for Renteria, used it to fill our CF spot, and signed a defensively above average player to a short contract. The Sox still have SS-capable Dustin Pedroia progessing quickly, along with Jed Lowrie lower down in the ranks. In addition, you could also sign a FA SS again in the next offseason- Julio Lugo would be your only real option there, however.

    The Sox also signed OF Dustan Mohr to a minor league deal, who is a candidate to serve as Trot Nixon's platoon partner. With Bobby Kielty, Austin Kearns, Craig Wilson, and Richard Hidalgo all reportedly available, I'm still hoping the Sox use their pitching depth to acquire someone more likely to produce consistently than Mohr (who struggled mightily in COL last year). To me, the best option is Kearns, with the added benefit of his being able to take over (potentially) for Trot in 2007.

    Beth Stelarczyck (sp?) is a fucking joke. It's all this stupid meta- reality TV act that they all do, playing up to these stupid roles. No one is dumb/ evil/ lame enough to cackle into a camera like an actual witch and detail, in excess, how her plans for evil domination are coming to fruition on a fucking reality TV gameshow. Come on. It's the Omarosa thing. It's a bunch of bullshit.

    But I'm really writing because of the "scenes from next week," which show Alton and Jodi potentially hooking up. Now, setting aside the prodigious nature of Alton's athletic achievments this season, which alone should fetch him someone closer to a Cara or a Cameron (when she was still around) because he's "the" guy there- the one the ladies want- looks wise, it's a fucking insult for Alton to take up with Jodi.

    Sorry, when you're carved out of fucking mahogany, running laps around other guys that consider themselves mannish athletic types, you have a good looking face and clearly are the nicest guy there- and you're layin' down with the surfboard with eyes (and frosted blue eyeshadow... all the time... when competing too) you're wasting all our time. Honestly, it just isn't fair to have all that and not use it to better results. With great power comes great responsibility, Alton. Don't fuckin' forget it.

    On a more serious note- I really think if you put an Atlanta Hawks jersey on Alton today he could get some serious minutes and not embarass himself. I don't even know if he's a good basketball player- but it really doesn't matter, does it? He's extraordinarily athletic, strong, and quick. You telling me he can't outrun some of those guys and put a ball in a round basket? Please.

    Full disclosure- I don't happen to think that the 1935 Detroit Tigers were one of a short list of the "greatest teams of all time." I do, however, have a fondness for what I know about a handful of players on the team, and I do believe that they were an undeniably great team, with an offensive firepower not seen in many clubs before or since.

    The '35 Tigers had four Hall of Famers in their starting nine- 1B Hank Greenberg (one of my favorite players of all time), C Mickey Cochrane (ditto that- he also managed the team), OF Goose Goslin, and 2B Charlie Gehringer. Gehringer's #2 and Greenberg's #5 were retired by the team. Among the then 8 team AL roster, Detroit lead the league in BBs, BA, OBP, SLG and OPS+ and runs scored. They were second in H, 2B, 3B, HR and SB. All this in the second most pitcher-friendly park in the league- Navin Field (only Yankee Stadium was tougher on hitters).

    Hank Greenberg, in 1935, was 24. He had just entered what would be a phenomenal 7 year career peak, each year putting up OPS numbers over 1.000 and playing stellar defense. Four of the Detroit starting eight positional players had seasons that were above league average on a pronounced level- Greenberg, Cochrane, Gehringer and OF Pete Fox. Here are their four respective brilliant seasons in a bit more detail:


    The remaining four- Goslin, 3B Marv Owen, SS Bill Rogell, and OF Jo-Jo White were all at or below league average. Rogell was a defensive wizard, but Owen was a poor defender and only a league average hitter. White was easily the weakest Tiger on the team, being sub-standard on both sides of the ball (82 OPS+, -8 FRAA).

    The Tiger pitching staff was adequate- playing in such a pitching friendly environment certainly helped Tiger pitching at Navin Field, allowing them to lead the league in wins, CG and SHO while being second in ERA, SO, H and runs allowed. Their ERA+ was third in the league, however, behind New York and Boston, due in large part to the contextualization of their performance (and the fact that the Yankees had a dynamite staff in '35). They were middle of the pack in runs allowed per game in road games, giving up 4.95. New York, Boston and Chicago had lower figures.

    Tommy Bridges and Schoolboy Rowe were the SP stars for the 35 Tigers. Bridges and Rowe had nearly identical seasons, in some respects- similar IP, ERA, ERA+, CG, W, hits and earned runs allowed. Whats interesting is how Bridges managed to outperform Rowe despite allowing many, many more baserunners.


    Bridges appeared to have a lot of luck, were Rowe had very little.

    The Tigers bullpen was certainly one of it's strong suits as well. The Tigers got 313.2 IP from it's primary bullpen pitchers (many of those innings were spent during the 22 spot starts spread out among them)- all four of them. They gave 64.1 IP to three other pitchers- Clyde Hatter, Firpo Marberry, and Carl Fischer- but all were below league average and likely not very high-leverage.

    Chief Hogsett, Joe Sullivan, Vic Sorrell and Roxie Lawson all had ERA+s above 100, with Hogsett contributing 96.2 IP purely out of the bullpen.

    The 1935 World Series was between the Tigers and the NL champ Chicago Cubs, who were 100-54, and likely a better team than Detroit- Hall of Famers Gabby Hartnett, Chuck Klein, Billy Herman. Should-be Hall of Famer Stan Hack, and a pitching staff with an ERA+ of 121, lead by 20 game winners Bill Lee and Lou Warneke.

    To compound matters, after splitting the first two games, Hank Greenberg, Detroit's best hitter, breaks his wrist late in the second game, forcing Marv Owen across the diamond to play first, and Flea Clifton- an even worse hitter than Owen- to take 3B.

    After this devastating loss, the Tigers rally and win Game Three behind Schoolboy Rowe in a thrilling, 11 inning victory at Wrigley Field.

    Down 3-1 in the 8th inning, the Tigers have Jo-Jo White, Cochrane and Gehringer due up in the inning. Starter Bill Lee was still in to begin the inning, but after a walk to White and a double by Gehringer wrapped around a Cochrane pop-up, Goose Goslin came to the plate with runners on second and third and only one out. Goose proceeded to wrap a 2-R single off Lee, forcing Cub manager Charlie Grimm to go to his relief ace, Lou Warneke. Warneke came in to face Pete Fox, Billy Rogell and Marv Owen with a runner on first and one out. Fox promptly came in and singled, moving Goslin to second. Rogell followed with a base hit of his own, moving Fox to third. The Tigers had scored three runs, and taken the lead.

    Then, for an insurance run that would prove to be vital, Rogell attempted to steal on Gabby Hartnett. Breaking for second, Hartnett fired quick- catching Rogell, but allowing the speedy Goslin to break for home once he'd committed to the throw. After Owen lined out, it was 5-3, Tigers.

    After being retired in the 8th, the Cubs then came to bat in the 9th against Schoolboy Rowe, pitching his second inning of relief. After pinch hitter Ken O'Dea singled in Stan Hack with one out, Augie Galan hit a sac fly to score Chuck Klein, and the Cubs had dramatically come back to tie the game. Rowe escaped with another out, unscathed. In the 10th, Freddie Lindstrom hit a 2B off Rowe, and with their best hitter in Gabby Hartnett, Grimm elected instead to bunt Lindstrom over to 3B. With the winning run on third and one out, Rowe got Frank Demaree and Phil Cavaretta to ground out consecutively, and the Tigers came to bat.

    Billy Rogell lead off with a single, but Marv Owen subsequently botched the sac bunt, and Rogell was forced at 2B. Flea Clifton came to bat with a runner on first and one out. Clifton hit a groundball to Lindstrom, playing out of position at 3B (normally a CF). Lindstrom botched the groundball, and everyone was safe. First and second with one out, Schoolboy Rowe coming up. Larry French was able to strike Rowe out, but even with two outs, there was a runner in scoring position and the top of the Tiger order coming up.

    It didn't take long- Jo-Jo White took a Larry French pitch back up the middle to score Marv Owen with the run that would win Game Three. Rowe got Stan Hack, Chuck Klein and Walt Stephenson in order to put the Tigers up 2 games to 1.

    The Tigers won Game Four in a pitcher's duel, 2-1, with Alvin "General" Crowder besting Chicago's Tex Carleton. Rowe couldn't hold off Chuck Klein (2-R HR) in Game Five, and so the Series headed back to Detroit with the Tigers a game away from a championship.

    Game Six was nearly as thrilling as Game Three. With the score tied going into the 9th inning, Stan Hack lead off the visiting half with a triple off Detroit pitcher Tommy Bridges. With a runner on 3rd and nobody out, Chicago had SS Billy Jurges, P Larry French (.141/ .161/ .153 on the year), and leadoff hitter Augie Galan coming up. After Bridges struck out Jurges, Cubs manager Charlie Grimm sent SP Larry French out to hit for himself. Instead of pinch hitting, where a well placed groundball or medium-deep flyball would give the Cubs the lead, French meekly grounded back to the pitcher, who held Hack at 3B and recorded the out. Augie Galan flew out to RF, and the threat was over. The Tigers now faced French with Clifton, Cochrane and Gehringer due up.

    Clifton struck out to begin the inning, and it appeared the heartbreaking failure to score hadn't reached French. Mickey Cochrane stepped in next, and while anyone could excuse surrendering a hit to Cochrane, French began to unravel. With a man on first and one out, Gehringer moved the runner over with a well placed ground ball to 2B. Goose Goslin came to bat with the World Championship standing on 2B and 2 outs. Goslin got a fastball from French, and yanked it off the RF wall at Navin Field, a "single" (easily a 2B, maybe more) that scored the walk-off World Series winning run.

    No Series MVPs were named in those days, so I'll name one- Pete Fox, who hit 385/385/577 with 10 hits, 4 RBI and 3 2Bs in 6 games. Tommy Bridges comes in a close second for going 2-0 with a 2.50 ERA and the STOP for the ages by holding Hack at 3B for three straight outs.

    [Here is the "simulcast" of this post and the other like it at BASEBALL'S GREATEST TEAMS]

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