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Deleted Scenes: My SI.com debut

The first thing I ever did for SI.com was write the Friday entry for “Fungoes,” the site’s first attempt at a baseball blog. After Ben Reiter, Albert Chen, Alex Belth and Jon Weisman tackled the six divisions over the first four days of the week, I would write a “Wild Card” entry on any topic of my (and my editor’s) chosing on Friday. My very first Fungoes entry, on April 6, 2007, concerned the Diamondbacks’ brand new uniforms and color scheme. With Arizona having replaced that uniform set on Thursday night, this seemed like as good a time as any to add this to the pieces I’ve salvaged from my personal archives. As with the other articles that were lost in the site’s redesign in June 2014, this is the version I submitted, presented here unaltered and prior to any editing by SI.com’s editors. The many embedded links (blantantly imitating the style of Paul Lukas’s Uni-Watch, but with his blessing) are from the original, as well, so my apologies for the many that now lead to dead ends and since-deleted pages.

If Jerry Seinfeld’s right that we baseball fans really just root for laundry, then it only seems appropriate that, after all of the words spilled on new faces in new places (or rather, old faces in new laundry), we spill a few on the laundry itself. This year, the Diamondbacks and Reds have entirely new looks. New designs were sorely needed in both cases, though both could have done better than what they ultimately came up with. The Reds became victims of the dreaded black drop shadow in 1999 and, though they are one of the few teams with some historical claim to black as a team color, the Reds always looked better when they either stuck exclusively to red and white, or used navy instead of black. Their new duds do greatly reduce the amount of black in their color scheme, but that blasted drop shadow is still there.

The Diamondbacks were the clear choice for worst uniform in the majors from the moment they entered the league in 1998 (so much for Buck Showalter’s reputation as a traditionalist, even a dirt path to the pitchers mound couldn’t make up for the Snakes’ seemingly endless combinations of purple, teal, gold, and black). They’ve finally toned things down, but now they just look like the Astros. Despite the lack of creativity in the D-backs’ new design (see also the Washington Nationals), their wholesale color scheme change is actually rather historic.

Many teams have added or deleted third or even fourth colors (such as the Mets, Royals, Rangers, and Reds flirtation with black drop shadows in recent years). Some have completely inverted the significance of their main two colors (see the Angels and Rangers, who went from predominantly blue with red highlights to the reverse, and, in the case of the Rangers, back again). Others have made gradual changes to their color schemes, such as the Padres switching from yellow and brown, to yellow, orange, and brown, to just orange and brown, to orange and blue, to blue and “sand” over the course of a quarter century. Still others have made what amount to changes in tint, the most extreme being the Astros, whose colors had always been based in orange and navy, but who switched to rust and black in 2000. Similarly the White Sox have always used some combination of navy, black and red, though at different times they’ve reduced their color scheme to just one of the three, the most striking recent examples being their early ‘70s duds, the home versions of which looked exactly like their current home unis but whereas the current versions are entirely black and white, the 1971 to 1975 versions were entirely red and white.

What the Diamondbacks have done, however, is to change their entire color scheme in the course of a single winter, something that has only happened twice before in modern major league history. The first time was in 1948 when the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had always worn some combination of blue and red, adopted the colors of the Pittsburgh city flag, the black and gold since worn by the city’s other two major sports franchises, the NFL’s Steelers and NHL’s Penguins. The second came in the wake of Charlie O. Finley’s 1961 purchase of the Kansas City Athletics. The Athletics too had worn only shades of blue with occasional use of red throughout their history in Philadelphia and Kansas City, but in their third year under Finley they took the field in colors Finely dubbed “kelly green,” “Fort Knox gold,” and “wedding gown white.” Mickey Mantle said the A’s, “should have come out of the dugout on tippy-toes, holding hands and singing.” The Mick’s homophobia aside, that sort of strong reaction was exactly what Finely was going for. His A’s didn’t just use their green and gold on stripes and text, they wore bright yellow vests and pants with green hats, green undersleeves, and green stirrups. Remember, this was back when uniforms were wool and the last active player to sport a moustache during the regular season was Frenchy Bordagaray in 1936. (Actually, there was a third instance, but the Brooklyn Dodgers flirtation with green lasted just one season before they returned to their traditional Dodger blue, whereas the other two changes persist to this day, even despite such horrors as this).

What exactly the Diamonbacks are trying to accomplish with their new colors is more difficult to discern. The team’s official press release stated that the new colors were “chosen to better represent the personality and beauty of Arizona.” I get that. The connection between their new shade of red and the rocks in Sedona is obvious. But when the Pirates and A’s made their palette changes, they distinguished themselves in the process. No other major league team before or since has worn Finley’s green and gold or Pittsburgh’s yellow and black. The Diamondbacks, however, look almost exactly like the Astros, who have been wearing “brick red” and black since 2000, supposedly in tribute to the importance of railroads in Houston’s history (which only makes sense for a team first named after a gun and then for the city’s connection to the space program). Then again, anything that will prevent things like this from happening has got to be considered an improvement. It’s just troubling that something so historic could seem so uninspired.

  • Game of the Week: Braves 3, Phillies 2, 11 innings. A seven-inning pitchers duel between veteran Tim Hudson and wunderkind Cole Hamels erased by a Braves comeback on a game-tying, ninth-inning two-run home run by Brian McCann and an eleventh-inning game winner by Scott Thorman.
  • Player of the Week: Miguel Cabrera – 7 for 10 with 5 walks, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 6 RBIs and 5 runs scored. Cabrera made just three outs in fifteen plate appearances over three games against the Nationals.
  • Performance of the Week: Felix Hernandez vs. Oakland, Tuesday April 3 – 8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 12 K
 
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Posted by on December 4, 2015 in Deleted Scenes

 

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Deleted Scenes: The Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips extensions

When Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips signed extensions on the same day, April 10, 2012, I wrote an analysis of their deals for SI.com. However, after discussion with my editor, I reworked the initial draft, dumping the nuts-and-bolts analysis of the two players and their contracts in favor of expanding my points about the impact of those extensions on the market for second baseman going forward. The published article can be read here. However, in light of the Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler trade and news of the Reds’ interest in trading Phillips, I thought it would be worth posting the original draft here.

Tuesday was a bad day for any team hoping to fill an organization hole at second base by making a big free agent splash in the next couple of years as two of the top second basemen in baseball, Ian Kinsler of the Rangers and Brandon Phillips of the Reds, both signed contract extensions that will keep them under the control of their current teams through 2017. With those contracts, just two of the top eight second basemen in baseball over the last three seasons (per Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement) are due to become free agents before 2015, and of those two, one, the Phillies Chase Utley, has been diminished by a degenerative knee condition, and the other, the Yankees’ Robinson Cano, seems like a lock to be extended by his current team before reaching free agency after the 2013 season. That alone works in favor of both extensions, which were handed out by teams whose time is now, the two-time defending American League pennant winning Rangers and 2010 NL Central champion Reds.

On the surface, the extensions and the players who signed them are very similar. Both men are slick-fielding second basemen who have averaged in excess of 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases over the past six seasons, thanks in part to their hitting-friendly home ballparks. Phillips’ deal was for $72.5 million over six years. Kinsler’s was for $75 million over five years plus a club option for a sixth season. A closer look reveals a larger gap between the two men and the money they’ll make, though the difference in the latter corresponds appropriately to the former.

First, the contracts. Phillips’ extension is being reported as a six-year deal, but the first year of that deal is 2012, and he’s making effectively the same salary on his new deal as he was making on his old one, which was set to expire after this, his option year. Phillips’ 2012 salary increased from $12.25 million to $12.5 million with his new deal. When you’re talking about big money contracts in major league baseball, a quarter million dollars is a rounding issue, so, really, Phillips’ contract is for $60 million over five years, significantly less than the $75 million Kinsler is guaranteed over the next five seasons (which includes a $5 million buyout for his team option in 2018, or year six of his new deal). Indeed, if you lop off that buyout, Kinsler’s average salary over the next five seasons will be $14 million, while the top salary of Phillips’ contract will be the $14 million he’ll earn in 2017, the result of a series of $1 million increases starting from his $10 million salary in 2013.

So, Kinsler will make more, but he’s also the better player, and the gap in quality between the two appears larger than the gap in their contracts. From that alone it seems safe to say that the Rangers will get more bang for their buck than the Reds. One of the ironies about the comparison between the two is that, while Phillips has won the Gold Glove in three of the last four seasons, advanced stats have shown Kinsler to be the better fielder in each of the last three years. Ultimate Zone Rating has Kinsler leading by a little, but John Dewan’s plus/minus system and the historical stats published in volume three of his Fielding Bible have Kinsler in front by a lot, having saved 47 runs to Phillips’ 18 over the last three seasons.

On the other side of the ball, the gap is easier to see. Over the past three seasons, Kinsler has averaged a .262/.352/.465 line with 24 home runs and 25 stolen bases, while Phillips has averaged a .284/.338/.445 line with 19 homers and 18 steals. Over that span, Kinsler leads Phillips in on-base percentage and slugging percentage despite hitting for an average 22 points lower. That shows you how much more patient and powerful Kinsler is at the plate. In two of those seasons, Kinsler hit 30 home runs and stole 30 bases, and in the last two combined, he walked more than he struck out, setting a career-high with 87 unintentional walks in 2011. Phillips, meanwhile, has topped out at 20 homers, 25 steals and 45 unintentional walks over the last three years.

What’s more, Kinsler is one of the highest-percentage basestealers in the game. In 160 career attempts, Kinsler has been caught just 24 times, an 85 percent success rate. Phillips, by comparison, as been caught 21 times in the last two seasons in just 51 attempts. His resulting 59 percent success rate is poor enough that he would help his team more by never attempting another steal than he would by continuing to run into outs 31 percent of the time.

Add up Kinsler’s advantages at the plate, on the bases, and in the field, and it’s clear that he’s a significantly better player than Phillips despite being comparable on the surface. Using Baseball-Reference’s WAR (hereafter, bWAR), Kinsler has been worth an average of 4.7 wins above replacement to the Rangers over the last three years compared to an average of just 2.9 wins above replacement for Phillips over that same span. That’s not meant as a knock on Phillips. Only six second basemen in all of baseball have averaged more wins above replacement over the last three seasons: Cano, Utley, Dustin Pedroia, Ben Zobrist, Kinsler, and Howie Kendrick, the last of whom is in a dead-heat with Phillips at 2.97 bWAR per year since 2009. Remove Utley, and that means there are just four second basemen in baseball who are clearly better than Brandon Phillips. As for Kinsler, who ranks fifth on that list, he’s closer to the top dog, Cano, than he is to Kendrick and Phillips.

Kinsler also has the advantage of being almost exactly a year younger than Phillips, who will turn 31 at the end of June, though with Kinsler’s option, both could turn 36 before their contracts expire. That pushes both contracts right up against the danger zone for middle infielders in terms of decline, but that isn’t a major gamble given the potential for both men to earn their keep in their early 30s. However, because Kinsler is a better player, he has more room for decline, again not only justifying his larger price tag but making his larger deal, which would be worth $80 million over the next six seasons if his $10 million option for 2018 is picked up, the better bet to earn out on the field.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2013 in Deleted Scenes

 

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Postseason Coverage: Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012

I have five pieces up on SI.com today, so rather than send out five tweets about them, I thought I’d put the five links here for one-stop shopping. They are:

Enjoy!

 
 

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