Ask BA

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me, because I worked on the book when it was part of the STATS Inc. library, but yet it always does when the annual Bill James Handbook arrives less than a month after the regular season ends. Now produced by Baseball Info Solutions and published by ACTA Sports, the book arrived in my mailbox on Saturday, chock full of interesting statistics and some musings from Bill.

A few random highlights:

• According to BIS, Brendan Ryan saved more runs with his glove (27) than any player in baseball this year. I wouldn’t have guessed that. The worst defender was Yuniesky Betancourt, at -21 runs. I could have guessed that.

• Mariners teammates Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro Suzuki tied for the major league lead in home runs saved with five each.

• The best baserunner (apart from basestealing) was Elvis Andrus, who took 44 bases more than an average player would have. It wasn’t close, as Austin Jackson ranked second with 27 extra bases. Factoring in steals, Juan Pierre was the top overall runner with 54 extra bases. Jason Kubel was the worst runner by either measure, -35 bases without steals, -37 including steals.

• Hong-Chih Kuo had a sensational year, leading all relievers in save/hold percentage (saves plus holds, divided by saves plus holds plus blown saves) at 97 percent (34 for 35, and he won the game the one time he blew a save or hold), as well as opponent OPS (.403).

• At 421 feet, Josh Hamilton’s homers had the longest average distance of all players who hit at least 10. Carl Crawford surprisingly ranked second in the American League at 412 feet. Rookie Ike Davis tied Marlon Byrd and Mark Reynolds for the National League lead at 415 feet.

• Ubaldo Jimenez topped all starters by averaging 96.1 mph with his fastball, and throwing 1,783 pitches clocked at 95 mph or above.

• Bill’s formulas calculate that Alex Rodriguez is a better bet to break the career RBI record (47 percent) than the home run mark (33 percent); that Brandon Morrow, who narrowly missed with a 17-strikeout one-hitter in August, is the most likely big leaguer to eventually throw a no-hitter (22 percent); and that Roy Halladay is the active pitcher with the best chance to win 300 games (42 percent).

There’s much, much more, but I have your questions to answer and the 2011 Prospect Handbook to edit.

    Can you think of any other trio of consecutive first-round picks that has made as big an impact as quickly as Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey? The Giants' 2006-08 first-rounders have to be the greatest collective stretch of draft "home runs" in recent memory.

    Andrew Somberg

    Middlebury, Vt.

I came up with two collections of consecutive first-rounders that made comparable quick impacts: the White Sox’ Jack McDowell, Robin Ventura, Frank Thomas and Alex Fernandez (1987-90), and the Orioles’ Gregg Olson, Ben McDonald and Mike Mussina (1988-90).

In 1992, two years after each of their final first-rounders were chosen, both of those groups were going full throttle in the major leagues. McDowell (20-10, 3.18) and Ventura (.282, 16 HR, Gold Glove) were all-stars for Chicago. Thomas (.323, 24 HR, American League highs with a .439 OBP and .975 OPS) finished eighth in the AL MVP balloting and Fernandez (8-11, 4.27) was a solid if not well-supported starter. In Baltimore, Mussina (18-5, 2.54) was an all-star, while Olson (2.05 ERA, 36 SV) could have been and McDonald (13-13, 4.24) reached double-digit victories for the first time. Both of those teams finished in third place in their division, however, while San Francisco just captured a World Series championship.

Andrew’s question got me wondering about which consecutive first-rounders had the greatest total impact ever. Here are my all-time top five:

1. White Sox, 1987-90: Jack McDowell, Robin Ventura, Frank Thomas, Alex Fernandez
2. Mariners, 1993-96: Alex Rodriguez, Jason Varitek, Jose Cruz Jr., Gil Meche
3. Orioles, 1988-90: Gregg Olson, Ben McDonald, Mike Mussina
4. Brewers, 1985-87: B.J. Surhoff, Gary Sheffield, Bill Spiers
5. Blue Jays, 1991-93: Shawn Green, Shannon Stewart, Chris Carpenter

The 1987-90 White Sox and 1988-90 Orioles rank first and third, which bodes well for the 2006-08 Giants. Other active combinations that could make a run at that top five are the 1998-02 Phillies (Pat Burrell, Brett Myers, Chase Utley, Gavin Floyd, Cole Hamels), the 2002-04 Rays (B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, Jeff Niemann) and the 2003-06 Diamondbacks (Carlos Quentin, Stephen Drew, Justin Upton, Max Scherzer).

    How excited should we be about Reds lefthander Aroldis Chapman? It seems that many of the young hard throwers can't taking the stress of throwing upper-90s fastballs again and again, with Stephen Strasburg the lastest example. Couple that with the fact that he's managed by Dusty Baker, who always seems to have pitchers getting seriously hurt, and I think Chapman is a major injury waiting to happen. Regardless of that, if he follows the Neftali Feliz path and becomes a closer by the all-star break next year, will that end up being his role for good? Or would a team actually move a lights-out closer to the rotation after he anchors the bullpen for a couple of seasons?

    Darryl Stiver

    Toronto

In little more than a year since defecting from Cuba, Chapman already has set records for the largest bonus for an amateur player ($16.25 million) and the hardest fastball ever recorded in a major league game (105.1 mph).

I share Darryl’s concerns about Chapman’s possibility of getting hurt, especially because the human arm may not be designed to throw a baseball as hard as he does. But injuries are a risk with any pitcher, and there’s nothing in his mechanics that’s especially worrisome.

I’ve believed all along that Chapman is destined for the bullpen. While his fastball may be devastating, he rarely has shown consistent secondary pitches or command. It’s worth seeing if he can become a starter, but he’s the Reds’ best closer option right now and should wrest that job from Francisco Cordero in 2011.

If Chapman dominates as a closer, it would be tough for Cincinnati to try to move him back to the rotation down the line. There has been talk that the Royals should consider doing this with Joakim Soria, but they have kept him in the bullpen.

The only elite closer I can find who became a starter early in his career and without much previous starting experience in the majors is Hall of Famer Rich Gossage. Gossage led the American League with 26 saves for the White Sox in 1975, went 9-17 (but made the AL all-star team) as a starter with Chicago in 1976, then returned to the bullpen with the Pirates in 1977.

    I listened to the recent 2010 draft podcast, and it was insightful as always. One topic that you folks brought up was a comparison of sorts between two unsigned draft picks, Diamondbacks first-rounder Barret Loux (2010) and Yankees second-rounder Scott Bittle (2008). Loux was granted free agency while Bittle had to re-enter the next year's draft. Can you explain why they were treated differently?

    T.J. Crawford

    Boston

Their situations were identical, but unfortunately for Bittle, he didn’t have as high a profile as a second-rounder as Loux did as a No. 6 overall choice. Both pitchers had missed time with arm problems in the past before starring as juniors, then failed postdraft physicals after agreeing to terms. In both cases, they didn’t have a specific injury but the teams that drafted them were concerned about the wear and tear on their arms and how long they’d hold up in the future.

Though he desperately wanted to sign—at the time, he emailed me medical reports that gave him a clean bill of health—Bittle wasn’t offered free agency. He returned to Mississippi for his senior season and missed the last six weeks of his senior season with a strain in his shoulder. The Cardinals signed him for $75,000 as a fourth-rounder in 2009, and he missed all of 2010 after having shoulder surgery in April.

Loux, a sandwich-round talent who was overdrafted in part because he’d accept a below-slot bonus, agreed to $2 million before he failed Arizona’s physical. While the Diamondbacks could be made whole by getting the No. 7 overall pick in the 2011 draft if they failed to sign Loux, he would have been left in a tough spot as a senior with questionable health. MLB acted fairly toward Loux by granting him free agency, though Bittle deserved the same treatment, as will future pitchers in similar situations.

Incidentally, Loux has yet to sign in the two months since he became a free agent. He has worked out in front of several clubs, but I can’t find one that has made him an offer.

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