Monday, January 21, 2008

Setting Up His Failure

Another Monday, another mailbag. Another mailbag another marge-simpsonesque groan of exasperation.

There's a question about Austin Kearns. After a paragraph praising his play, the answer sez:
I would like to see him hit 35 home runs and drive in 110 runs. I've been told many times by members of the Nats' front office that Kearns is the club's second-best player behind Ryan Zimmerman. Now it's time for Kearns to put up Zimmerman-type stats. I hope the second half of the 2007 season was an indication of what Kearns is capable of, as he hit .285 with 11 home runs and 44 RBIs.

I won't point out the logical fallacy of how if his second half is what he's capable of, then doubling it doesn't get him close to the targets, cause that's the low-hanging fruit. But is 35/110 a reasonable expectation?

No way in hell. And if that's what you're expecting out of him, he's never going to make you happy. How many players do you think hit 35/110 last season? Lower. Nope. Lower. Yeah, you got it! Good guess!

Here's the list:
Howard (why doesn't he have a nickname?)
Carlos Pena (who knew?)
Big Papi.

That's it. That's what the 'expectations' of Austin Kearns are. Think he's going to meet that? No way. And there's no sense in even putting the bar up there.

Think I'm being unfair (of course I am! It's a blog! We're supposed to do cheapshots!)? Let's lower it to 30/100. So how many batters hit that last year? Nope. Lower. Even Lower. Hey, you got it again!
Add Cabrera, Berkman, Beltran, Pujols, Lee, Morneau, Adrian Gonzalez (who knew?) and David Wright to the list. All (save for Gonzalez) have won or easily COULD have won an MVP over the last three seasons.

Could he hit it? Yeah, perhaps. He's got a ton of potential. But more likely, he's going to be a 25/90 kinda guy with where he's probably going to hit in the lineup (5th or lower).

But with Kearns, those counting stats sort of miss the point of what makes him so great. He's not going to be someone who's going to excel in the triple crown stats. What makes him good He has decent mid-range power. He hit's a decent number of doubles. He has a good eye, walking enough to give him a solid on-base percentage. Lots of little things add up into an ok offensive player.

When I looked at his '07 season closely earlier this offseason
, I came to what was (even for a Kearns fanboy) a pretty surprising conclusion; he's one of the four or five best right fielders in the NL.

His offensive stats were hampered by RFK, but if you put them into context, he was basically a league-average offensive performer. And it's his defense -- easily the best range in the league -- that puts him over the top. Various defensive metrics have him 10-20 runs better than an average right fielder, putting him into that first tier of RFers overall.

Will his counting stats go up in the new park? For sure. I'm going to be bidding high on this guy in my roto draft this year. But you need to have reasonable expectations of his numbers. And to really value the guy, you need to look beyond those numbers. He's a solid, solid player.


  • Great analysis, Chris.
    I think Kearns is a very important part of this team. He doesn't need to put up huge numbers, especially with what (I hope) will be a breakout season for Pena. With his 'D', and a budding superstar in Milledge, I feel very comfortable with our starting 3 in the OF next year. Dukes is a complete wild-card, so if we get anything at all from him it will be an added bonus.
    Off-Topic: Belliard is looking good in the Dominican league, even though his team has been getting killed by Cibao (they have Tejada and Furcal, among others)

    By Blogger Rob B, at 1/22/2008 12:57 AM  

  • Good post, Chris. One of the interesting things to me to watch for both in this past year and this upcoming year are the implicit expectations of sportswriters who covered baseball during the "steroids era." I'm sure somebody with your BBRef acumen could conjure up graphs to show this, but 35/110 wasn't an outrageous expectation from 96-06 when you didn't crack the top 5 in HR in either league if you didn't hit in the neighborhood of 40, and some years even that wasn't enough to get close. Expectations about performance are going to have to adjust back to something more like late -80s, early 90s-ish era, I think, when if a guy hit 35-40, he was a bonafide threat to win the HR title that year, and a guy who hit 25 consistently was a legit power threat. When you go through a decade of that, it's not just the players that get pumped, it's the expectations of what those players can produce, too.

    That said, your larger point about Kearns is right, I think. He does everything slightly better than most, making a really solid player overall. Singling out one or two stats, though, he's not going to jump out as "one of the best." Amusing to me that he seems like the kind of guy you have to watch every day to really appreciate. Maybe the Rocket sees a ton more power potential in him than

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/22/2008 4:40 AM  

  • I hope more of the fans who pay attention 365 days a year read this post. Far too many are looking to run Autin Kearns out of town, considering him a failure for not achieving the numbers Ladson pushes.

    He and Lopez together only netted the Reds Gary Majewski, Bill Bray and Ross Clayton (and an A-ball pitcher). I am not sure exactly what they think we can get for Kearns alone, especially when they don't value him highly.

    By Blogger Positively Half St., at 1/22/2008 7:19 AM  

  • The 2008 Bill James Handbook has Kearns as the top defensive RF in the NL. They have a "+/-" defensive metric that evaluates defensive ability and Kearns lead all RFs in that categories over the 2005-07 span by a significant amount.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/22/2008 7:48 AM  

  • Chris: Don't worry about being unfair to Ladson. He's a dofus. When is going to assign us a real beat writer over this Expos-holdover?

    Seriously, you didn't even comment on the part where he calls Bowden to slobber over a Marrero home run. This guy would fit right in as a White House pool reporter.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/22/2008 7:52 AM  

  • Hey, don't forget Teixeira (132 games, 30HR, 105RBI,) or Dunn (40HR, 106RBI)

    But you've made an excellent point again on how Ladson sucks at his job. Wish he had stayed in Montreal, but at this rate, he will probably get hired to give his "expert" analysis for MASN next season.

    By Blogger HB3k, at 1/22/2008 11:13 AM  

  • To be fair, Ladson's pretty good at his main job, reporting. Although he has a tendency to let his grudges and opinions filter what he does and how he covers it, he often gets information that the other writers don't because of the access he's been able to gain.

    But his opinions? Yeesh. The guy's best off when he sticks to the facts.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 1/22/2008 11:16 AM  

  • Can I just chip in with a quick point that is slightly off topic.

    What the hell do you guys have against Montreal? MLB between the strike and their ownership dismantled a well run organisation in a knowledgeable baseball city. I'm a Nat's fan and pretty devoted too, but it gets me down how as soon as anyone can they have a go at Montreal. Sure Lansdon can be an idiot, that has nothing to do with where he came from.

    Back on topic, Chris this is great analysis, keep it up.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 1/22/2008 11:34 AM  

  • Ben,

    No one is taking a cheap shot at Montreal. They all just wish Ladson was left there when the team moved. That's it. No digs at Montreal were made.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/22/2008 11:52 AM  

  • Many apologies. Didn't mean to over react. Bit of a sore spot and all that.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 1/22/2008 11:55 AM  

  • I'm adding this to the list of Ladson-isms that "don't make no sense". With 24 HR/91 RBI's, even Zimmerman didn't put up Zimmerman anything like 35HR/110RBI numbers last year. It might make sense if Kearns had the benefit of the original evaluation of Zimmerman, which (IIRC) was that he's a great fielder, and the offense would be a bonus.

    Since there's no named attribution, much less an on the record quote, we don't know precisely what the members of the Nats' front office have said to Ladson. Since Kearns certainly has excellent defense and decent offense, I'm not ruling out the possibility of varying interpretations of what "second-best player behind Ryan Zimmerman" means. (Since this is Washington, DC, this kind of parsing is easy. Didn't a sitting president once say that something depended on what the definition of "is" is?)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/22/2008 4:18 PM  

  • For those who think that the Nationals will do well this year, I just ran some 2008 salary numbers.The possible starting rotation of Hill, Patterson, Redding, Bergmann & Chico would have a payroll of $3.25M!!!! And that "massive" expenditure is going to compete with the Braves, Mets & Phillies rotations.

    Meanwhile the position players, including Johnson, would have a payroll of $37.95M and the bullpen $12.37M.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/22/2008 5:27 PM  

  • hooker -

    Would it make you feel better if the Nats dropped $9M on Kyle Lohse or Livan Hernandez to bring that number up to $12.25M? Does that make us more competitive with the Mets, Phils and Braves (none of whom, btw, are looking at truly "lights out" rotations)?

    By Blogger Nate, at 1/22/2008 5:45 PM  

  • Nate
    Chill out! You misunderstood the purpose of the comments. I don't care what they spend. I was attempting to poke fun at Ladson comments that he thought the Nats would be competitive in 2008. For the record, I would trade Kearns, Cordero & Lopez for whatever young talent I could get. I would also trade Guzman if the Nats had a another shortstop that they could use.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/22/2008 10:04 PM  

  • I would prefer to start the season with young prospects in the starting rotation and leave room for developing prospects rather than fillng the pitching staff with mediocre $10 million arms. It is my opinion that the Nats are in much better pitching shape than they were in the past two years, and show signs of greater improvement in the upcoming years.

    Chris, your evaluation of Austin Kearns hit the mark and on top of his baseball ability he seems to be a team guy. The Nats will do well to find other players like Kearns. It certainly doesn't make sense to trade Kearns, Cordero and Lopez unless the Nats get more in return and have the ability to fill the vacant positions in the lineup. Moreover, I think the Nats are well beyond their rebuilding phase.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/23/2008 6:03 AM  

  • Bob L
    Lopez is a free agent after 2008 and Cordero is a free agent after 2009. They have three choices with each of the above players: sign them to a long term deals,get something for them or lose them in free agency and get draft choices. For the second straight year, the Nats have not attempted to sign Cordero to a long term deal when they had the opportunity. WHY?? At least, Cordero is a Type A free agent and should bring 2 high draft choices if he resigns elsewhere.

    After last year, Lopez is asking for a raise to $5.2M for 2008 (Nats are offering $4.9M).And, the Nats are thinking of starting Belliard at 2B. Therefore, is Lopez worth that kind of money and does anybody want to sign him to a long term deal? And, Lopez is neither a Type A or Type B player and would bring the Nats no draft choices if he resigns elsewhere. That being the case, what caliber of player do you think a team would give up for a player they can sign next year for nothing.

    The only chance the Nats have to acquire a young veteran starting pitcher is to trade some combination of Kearns, Cordero, Rauch, Lopez & a prospect.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/23/2008 8:19 AM  

  • Hooker -- The players you list are all "usual suspects" in the trade rumor mill. It seems to me that Bowden has probably heard offers for them, and not pulled the trigger. Given Bowden's history of making interesting trades (for players like Milledge, Pena, and Dukes) I'm wondering who another GM would offer for these perennials that Bowden would consider an improvement on what he's already been offered. As far as young pitchers go, I'm also wondering who he would consider an improvement over the young pitchers we auditioned and drafted last year.

    I also think it's something of a paradox to look for a "young veteran" if we're concerned about losing players to free agency. No matter who we sign, if he sticks at the major league level, he'd be eligible for free agency in about 2012 -- so we could be discussing trading our pending free agents for younger veterans in perpetuity.

    As far as losing Cordero and getting draft picks for him -- wouldn't it work the same way as Bowden did with Soriano? Soriano chose to test the market. We didn't match Chicago's numbers, but we did offer him arbitration. Since he didn't accept, we got the draft picks. IIRC, the reason Bowden gave for keeping him after the trade deadline was that players offered in trade seemed less useful to him than the draft picks -- who became Detwieler and McGeary.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/24/2008 12:21 AM  

  • Arl
    The Soriano draft choices were use to select Smoker and Jordan Zimmermann not McGeary....The young veteran pitchers who would be an improvement would be either Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum of the Giants.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/24/2008 2:46 PM  

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