Thank You Albert Pujols

Ironically enough, it would seem as though the St. Louis Cardinals have a guardian angel watching over them.

In a coup that would have made William of Orange proud, the Los Angeles Angels residing in Anaheim snatched Albert Pujols for a cool $254 million. The 31-year-old spurned not only his hometown Cardinals but also the Miami Marlins who had reportedly offered him a tax-free $275 million (although the Marlins have denied this figure). The coup was a shock to the baseball world and most importantly the Cardinal fan base that have had the pleasure of watching one of the most consistent players in MLB history for the past decade. At this point, it would make sense for Cardinal fans to feel dejected or betrayed.

They shouldn’t. Instead, they should be thanking Albert Pujols.

Albert Pujols has done more than his fair share for the St. Louis franchise and with his departure to the Angels in this Christmas season, he is just the gift that keeps on giving for the Cardinals.

It isn’t news to anyone that Albert Pujols is already on the decline. He is coming off the worst season of his MLB career, posting a line of .299/.366/.906 to go along with a 5.4 bWAR, also the worst of his career. The last two seasons have seen his numbers drop significantly across the board. Hardly a good sign for a power hitter on the wrong side of 30.

Speaking of 30, the Angels should have considered talking to Donald Trump before they went ahead and signed Pujols. No one definitively knows Fat Albert’s age and even though his official birth date, January 16, 1980, tells us that he is 31 years of age, there is much speculation that Albert could be at least a couple of years older. As we know of course, those Dominican’s can be about as honest with their ages as Lindsay Lohan in a jewellery store.

Pujols’ undetermined age and declining numbers don’t necessarily mean that he will steadily decline year after year. However, I bet the guys in Vegas aren’t giving him the best odds to stay consistent into his mid 30’s. Assuming that he will be less than spectacular for the majority of his future time in an Angel’s uniform is a pretty easy thing to do given the evidence.

Related: To Sign or Not To Sign?

$254 million is a lot of money over 10 years. $25.4 million a year in fact. $25.4 million doesn’t seem like too much when your guy is mashing. $25.4 million seems like a lot more when the only mashing your superstar is doing is with the Idaho potatoes in his kitchen.

$100 million contracts rarely work out. The Angels have possibly the worst contract in baseball on their roster. They are still paying Vernon Wells for 3 more years at over $20 million per season (minus the $5 million eaten up by the Blue Jays). Now they have added almost another $20 million with the acquisition of C.J. Wilson.

And here I was thinking the Miami Marlins were the next franchise in line to fill the shoes of the New York Mets.

The only precedent the Angels, Cardinals and Marlins were able to look back and gather information upon is Alex Rodriguez’s most recent 10 year $275 million soon-to-be debacle of a contract. A-Rod is on the serious decline but, not surprisingly, that didn’t deter any of Pujols’ potential suitors. Rodriguez’s 3.6, 3.2 and especially ugly 2.7 bWAR in his last 3 respective seasons are a clear indication of age and injuries getting the best of him. That, and steroids.

Superstars are mortals. Albert Pujols will inevitably decline. It may not be this season, or next season, or the next but it will happen. It will happen soon enough to overshadow virtually any beneficial production that Pujols would have provided the Cardinals with. Unless a World Series is in the not too distant future for Pujols and the Angles, this contract will be a disaster.

The Cardinals got lucky.

They are fortunate to have avoided a contract that would no doubt have had their hands tied in a nice sheepshank for what would have felt like an eternity. The split wasn’t mutual but the St. Louis Cardinals now have a fresh start on the heels of losing their Hall of Fame manager and star first baseman.

Sometimes a fresh start is exactly what a franchise needs.

Cardinal’s GM John Mozeliak better make sure he has Albert Pujol’s new address. He ought to send him a Christmas card with a big thank you and maybe a few x’s and o’s.

While he’s at it, he might as well put one in the mail for Jerri Dipoto too.

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ESPN Investigates Spydome: Fair or Foul?

ESPN reporter Amy Nelson (above) might have some explaining to do.

ESPN: The Magazine looks as though they have recruited the spy kids to investigate the “suspicious” activity of a mysterious white man in the stands of the Toronto Blue Jays home stadium. At least, I’d hope the investigating was done by kids because the kind of logic portrayed in the ESPN article yesterday could only be considered sensible if it had come from the computer of an elementary school student.

ESPN reporters Amy Nelson and Peter Keating are reporting that the Toronto Blue Jays have been stealing signs from the outfield bleachers of the Rogers Centre. Apparently, a white man perched in the out there has been relaying signals using hand motions to the Toronto hitters.

Nelson and Keating have back up their claim with anecdotes from a few unnamed sources as well as carefully selected stats, mostly from the supposedly unbelievably successful 2010 season. Some guys on the unnamed (now named Chicago White Sox) team had seen a man making the motions in the stands as far back as 2009.

Wow, the evidence is overwhelming.

The argument presented in the ESPN article is flawed in a manner that would be expected out of the average person. You would think that the worldwide leader in sports would be smarter than the average person.

As the saying goes, stats are for losers.

The stats presented as clear-cut evidence in the article are hardly that. The selectively chosen stats are clearly picked out by the writers to fit the ultimate conclusion of the piece.

Luckily, due to the mass media of our modern world the excess of statistics discounted by Amy Nelson and Peter Keating are readily available for us.

Dustin Parkes over at his blog “Getting Blanked” gives a great run down of the many flaws to the ESPN allegations. A must-read for anyone remotely interested in the topic.

At his press conference, Alex Anthopoulos gives some real smart answers to the accusations. The answers make you realize why he’s such a good GM. Why didn’t ESPN go over game footage to find the man in white? Why didn’t they talk to any managers, league officials etc.? The list goes on.

What many people have also failed to bring up is the style of hitting implemented in the 2010 season by Cito Gaston and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy. The ESPN article points out the very high percentage (48.9) of pitches swung at by Toronto hitters that lead to the league leading 257 home runs hit.

However, there is no mention anywhere of the swing big or go home approach of Cito Gaston and his staff. Not many people outside of the Blue Jay loop are probably aware of that but for claims this outrageous I would have thought that the homework done by ESPN wouldn’t be so strikingly similar to a 12 year olds math homework finished 5 minutes before class started.

ESPN also attempts to use the substantial differences in the home and away OPS’ of Escobar, Bautista, Wells, Lind and Hill to prove a point. However, Nelson and Keating do not cite the far superior road average and OPS’ of John Buck and Edwin Encarnacion, who’s OPS in 2010 was more than .200 points higher on the road.

Moreover, ignoring the Justin Verlander no-hitter at the Rogers Centre is just another one of the many overlooked pieces of evidence from the crew over at ESPN.

A high school psychology student could tell you that these claims are based on the very common human error of confirmation bias – defined as a tendency for people to favour information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true.

It’s a pathetic display by ESPN to publish such a poorly constructed article for the purpose of generating buzz and page views.

Using Vernon Wells’.552 OPS with the Los Angeles Angels at home in 2011 is hardly evidence that connects the Blue Jays with sign stealing. Personally, I would connect his brutal home OPS to have something to do with that average that sits at .210. But hey, that’s just me.

Vernon Wells’ OPS at home was a whopping .276 points higher in 2006. I guess they were stealing signs back then too, eh?

The excessive quantity of circumstantial evidence in the article doesn’t include the possibility of a simple anomaly in an oddly successful power numbers season for the Blue Jays, which can be explained to certain a degree by the Cito Gaston effect as mentioned above.

On top of all this, the writers of the article don’t seem to realize that even if their claims are true, the Toronto Blue Jays organization must be really bad at cheating. Maybe they even hired the same people who helped investigate the allegations because their home record is 28-27 while their road record is 30-30.

I mean, it must have taken some kind of genius in the Blue Jay organization to come up with the idea to cheat with a team that is in no position to compete for a post-season spot.

Good thing the brains at ESPN figured out that 4th place mediocrity in the AL East and stealing signs from the outfield bleachers go hand in hand.

It’s comforting to see that Nelson and Keating finish their article with such a decisive conclusion:

“By themselves, these numbers are circumstantial evidence. Unsupported by data, the four players’ accounts might describe a scheme of uncertain impact. And without proper context, the Yankees’ decision to mask their signs could be chalked up to paranoia. But together, the numbers, the stories and the actions indicate one certainty: Every pitch to a Blue Jay in Toronto is worth watching.”

I’m hearing now that the National Enquirer is embarrassed by the lack of integrity exhibited by ESPN.

Now that’s sad.

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Vernon Wells Resurgence

The rejuvenation of Vernon Wells this season has been a thing of beauty and it couldn’t be happening to a better guy.

In December of 2006 Vernon Wells signed one of the most lucrative contracts in major league history worth $126 million over 7 years. Since then Wells has struggled duplicating the success that warranted that massive contract. The poor play culminated last year with the worst power numbers of his career. Wells only 15 home runs while driving in a mere 66 runs, and hitting a mediocre .260. Vernon Wells’ trademark short and sweet stroke had become long and slow. He had been cast off by media and fans who continually speculated ways to get rid of him, which was all but impossible because no one was willing to take on his hefty contract. It truly seemed like there was no hope that “V-dud” could rebound from another average season.

Fast-forward to June 2010. Vernon Wells is once again smacking the ball the way he was when Toronto Blue Jay fans initially fell in love with the fun-loving center fielder. V-dub already has 13 home runs, 37 RBI’s, and is batting a cool .306.

If only fans had known in 2009 what we now know in 2010. Wells’ left wrist, the one that was fractured in 2008 never completely healed. The torn cartilage in his wrist forced his swing to be slow and took the pop out of his bat. Wells looked more like a fool than he ever had in his career. He was swinging at pitches well out of the strike zone and coming up lame in clutch situations batting .205 with runners in scoring position. However, Wells’ didn’t complain at all causing a huge up roar in Blue Jay land. During the off-season Wells did have wrist surgery, which seems to be a big part of his success in 2010.

As I said at the beginning, Vernon Wells’ comeback couldn’t be happening to a nicer guy. Now I haven’t personally met Vernon Wells but from what I’ve seen on TV and his attitude throughout this entire ordeal, there is no doubt in my mind the he is a great guy. Wells is not going to be the player that makes excuses for his play, and is not the teammate that is going to throw you under the bus. That’s just not his style. He is the one that is putting a shaving cream pie in the face of a teammate. Wells obviously not shy from the media spotlight has also had some great segments with Cabral Richards, better known as Cabbie. His bits with Cabbie bring out his true colours. They show what an entertaining guy he can be and that he is a genuinely decent person. Vernon Wells is a player that I want to root for.

With that being said, can Vernon Wells keep hitting at the same rate that he is hitting this season? As long as he stays healthy I see no reason why he shouldn’t keep hitting the way he is. Right now he is on pace to hit 39 home runs and knock in 111 RBI’s. It’s not like he hasn’t been in this position before in his career. He has hit for over 100 RBI’s three times before and on two of those occasions has had over 30 home runs. But it’s not just the numbers that are a tell-tale sign this year. It’s also the way he is hitting the ball. Anytime pitchers are coming inside on him, it always seems like it’s not quite inside enough. Vernon Wells is mashing the ball, especially the inside pitches. There have been so many times this year when Wells has been robbed of hits just because he has hit the ball right at someone. I’m sure this probably happens to most of the good hitters in the league and these things usually even out over the course of 162 games as long as a player keeps hitting the ball in a similar manner. The fact that I watch Vernon Wells on a day-to-day basis makes it seem a little unfair. He could easily have an average 15-20 points higher than it is right now if some of those balls that he ripped had gone somewhere else.

On the other hand, one major flaw in  Wells as a hitter gives can give you a bit of a queasy feeling. Vernon Wells cannot hit the ball to the opposite field. As this season has gone in it is apparent that fewer and fewer pitchers are purposely trying to come inside and sneak one by Vernon Wells. The game plan is to be keep the ball on the outside part of the plate, and throw the curve/slider low and outside and make him chase it. Then, like a typical developing teenage power hitter, Wells’ tends to try to pull the outside pitch and ends up hitting a routine ground ball to the left side of the infield. Wells’ looks as though he has never been taught to hit the ball the other way. The problem pitchers have is when they get behind in the count and are forced to throw the ball in the strike zone, they make a mistake, or they are just plain stupid.  The good thing for Wells is that these instances happen often enough, and because he is hitting so well he is able to take advantage of these opportunities.

Oh yeah, despite what people seem to be saying about his defence, Wells keeps on making good play after good play in center field. Once again showing why he is a 3 time consecutive gold glover.

No matter what happens with Wells’ play in the future, him and the Toronto Blue Jays are going to be together in the years to come. Since he signed the big 7 year, $126 million contract, everyone knew that Wells would have a tough time proving that he would be worth the money. So far it is evident that he has not been worth it. Through the first third of the 2010 season Wells has done his best to win over Blue Jays fans. For the most part he has succeeded. As for the contract, I don’t think Vernon Wells will ever be able to show to Toronto Blue Jays fans as well as the rest of Major League Baseball, that at the end of the day, he is indeed worth the money.

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