Importance Of A Farm System

How important is a farm system? Take a look at who is out on the diamond tonight in Game 1 of the World Series:

PHILLIES

C - Carlos Ruiz - Product of the Phillies farm system
1B - Ryan Howard - Product of the Phillies farm system
2B - Chase Utley - Product of the Phillies farm system
SS - Jimmy Rollins - Product of the Phillies farm system
3B - Pedro Feliz - Free agent signing
LF - Ben Francisco - Acquired in trade with the Indians. The players given up were all players in the Phillies farm system
CF - Shane Victorino - Rule 5 draft pick
RF - Jayson Werth - Free agent signing
DH - Raul Ibanez - Free agent signing
SP - Cliff Lee - Acquired in the same trade with Ben Francisco, so like Francisco, an indirect product of the Phillies farm system.

YANKEES

C - Jorge Posada - Product of the Yankees farm system
1B - Mark Teixeira - Free agent signing
2B - Robinson Cano - Product of the Yankees farm system
SS - Derek Jeter - Product of the Yankees farm system
3B - Alex Rodriguez - Hard to classify. He was re-signed this offseason, so he could be considered a free agent signing. He was originally acquired in a trade where the centerpiece was Alfonso Soriano. However, while Soriano was a product of the Yankees farm system, there was a serious bidding war for him when he "retired" from Japan to come to America.
LF - Johnny Damon - Free agent signing
CF - Melky Cabrera - Product of the Yankees farm system
RF - Nick Swisher - Acquired in a trade with White Sox for Wilson Betemit. Betemit was acquired from the Dodgers for Scott Proctor, a product of the Yankees farm system.
DH - Hideki Matsui - Free agent signing
SP - CC Sabathia - Free agent signing

10 or 11 (depending on how you classify A-Rod) out of the 20 starters in game 1 of the World Series can be tracked to each respective team's farm system, either directly or indirectly. Phil Hughes just came into the game too, a direct product of the Yankees farm system.

Neither of the Phillies nor the Yankees would be here without the free agents they signed. It's not as if free agent signings are not important. However, a team's backbone is its farm system, even when it has a $200 million payroll. Seriously, name a good prospect that came out of the Yankees farm system between the Yankees last World championship and today. Don't get me wrong, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia were massive additions to the Yankees this season - but Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, Joba Chamberlain, and Phil Hughes have developed over the past couple seasons too.

Teams live and die by their farm systems. The only way to create a consistent winner is through a strong farm system.

2009 Championship Series Odds

I should have stuck with the odds for my picks in the division series. Only the Angels pulled off an upset, and that was an extremely minor one at that. I only correctly picked the Yankees to advance, so maybe I am due for some better luck. Once again, odds in the series will be updated as games take place, but my picks will not change.

AMERICAN LEAGUE - Angels vs. Yankees

Yankees won series 4-2

Odds of winning series: Angels 0%, Yankees 100%

My pick: Yankees in six games. They are simply too good. There will likely be several bullpen battles in this series, and New York will expose the Angels overrated bullpen, particularly Mike Scioscia's irrational confidence in Kevin Jepsen. Yeah, Jepsen throws hard, but the Yankees will hit him even harder. It's hard to believe it has been eight years since the Yankees were in the World Series, and begrudgingly I have to say that it's even harder to believe they will go nine. This sure looks like the team that will break the "drought."

NATIONAL LEAGUE - Phillies vs. Dodgers

Phillies won series 4-1

Odds of winning series: Phillies 100%, Dodgers 0%

My pick: Dodgers in seven games. I feel very uncomfortable picking either team in this series (probably not surprising since I picked against both of them in the division series). The Dodgers have been fading slowly all year. The Phillies are good, but not back-to-back World Series kind of good. When in doubt, I guess I will go with the numbers. Cliff Lee faded some down the stretch, and though he looked terrific against the Rockies, he won't reel off such spectacular starts against LA. Clayton Kershaw will have at least one dazzling start. Most of all, the Dodgers bullpen won't melt down, like the Phillies one is bound to at some point in the series. Overall, this is a battle between two good, experienced teams. This could be a memorable series.

Kenji Homeward Bound

Kenji JohjimaSurprise! The Mariners lost a catcher today. Kenji Johjima has opted out of his contract, opting to finish his career in Japan. We've seen this before, back when Kazuhiro Sasaki did the same thing. Kenji is much more noteworthy though. He leaves $16 million on the table in a deal that was largely maligned, and has now vanished.

I'm not paying much attention to the official response from the M's front office. There are the usual thank yous and appreciation towards Joh's contributions that come with a move like this. They are deserved. Kenji stepped into a black hole, and was a contributor for two years. Injuries certainly hampered him this year too. He always gave the Mariners everything he had on the field, and he proved to many nay-sayers that a Japanese catcher can play in the big leagues. Maybe I'd feel differently about Kenji if I had worked with him (like all the pitchers that grumble about him), but I have no bad feelings towards the guy. The Mariners were better with him the past four years, and I hope he gets a hero's welcome upon his return to Japan.

All that said, I'm ecstatic for the Mariners too. Kenji's extension was the worst deal of the Bavasi era, and Kenji did the team a huge favor by opting out. In my eyes, Adam Moore and Rob Johnson were clearly the tandem for 2010, leaving an $8 million catcher in AAA for a couple years. That's not a good deal for the Mariners, and obviously not what Kenji had in mind when he signed the extension. It would have been a bad situation for everyone.

Jack Zduriencik is right, the M's catching depth took a hit today. Kenji had the experience, and though his skillset wasn't worth $8 million at this point, it's hard to find a catcher that consistently makes contact and throws out 50% of baserunners. Nobody available can replace him. However, we are talking about finding a third string catcher. There are guys like Eliezer Alfonzo, Kevin Cash, and Rob Bowen available, all backstops with MLB experience that should come at the league minimum. Internally, Jamie Burke and Guillermo Quiroz are still around too. That's only what a cursory search (i.e., thinking of names off the top of my head) got me. Give this front office a little time to think about it, and there is a good chance they come up with some other names.

We've seen what this front office can turn money into. Last year they signed Russell Branyan, Mike Sweeney, and Ken Griffey Jr. for about $8 million. This organization is better with the Kenji contract money back in the front office's hands. Sure, the organizational catching depth is weaker, but the team will find someone who can handle the AAA pitching staff, and short stints in the majors from time to time. Happy trails to Kenji, and happier days are ahead for the Mariners.

2009 Division Series Odds

An extension of my projected standings formula is predicting the odds of a team winning a series. I will update this daily, since each game played impacts the odds in the series. Odds are based on run differential, the team's strength of schedule, and the current state of the series. Here are the odds, along with my personal pick (which won't change daily), based mostly on my gut and nothing else:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Twins vs. Yankees - Yankees won series 3-0

My pick: Yankees in four games. Even if the Twins weren't exhausted after their epic tiebreaker with the Tigers, they would be huge underdogs. I think Minnesota will get one in the Metrodome, but much more is a bunch to expect.

Red Sox vs. Angels - Angels won series 3-0

My pick: Red Sox in five games. These are two evenly matched teams. Maybe this is the year the Angels finally get past the BoSox, but I hate the Angels. The fan in me refuses to let me pick them, especially with numbers that give their opponent the slightest of edges.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Rockies vs. Phillies - Phillies won series 3-1

My pick: Rockies in four games. I'm picking with my heart here, as the Rockies are my favorite NL team. However, they finished the season as hot as they have been all year, and Raul Ibanez's defensive deficiencies should be exposed in Coors Field. It's not a huge stretch picking Colorado.

Cardinals vs. Dodgers - Dodgers won series 3-0

My pick: Cardinals in five games. The Dodgers have been fading all season, and the Cardinals are a much better team than the one that started the year. The formula is blind to both, so I think the odds are not so lopsided. However, the NL West featured way stiffer competition than the NL Central. Los Angeles was clearly the better team during the season, but the Cardinals have the best position player in this series (Albert Pujols) and the best pitcher (Chris Carpenter). It's hard to pick against that, especially against a fading team.

Projected MLB Standings: 2009 Review

The regular season is over, and thus project standings Fridays are over until 2010. The projected standings live on through the playoffs, though through the series odds page I update nightly.

Even thought we are now in the middle of the playoffs, it is still Friday. This post will officially wrap up the 2009 projected standings. I kept track of the a team's projected record each time I updated the standings, just to take a look at the results at the end. They are summarized in the table below.

The analysis is very simple. Each team's projected records were sorted from worst to best. The most extreme record was thrown out. This was either the team's highest win, or highest loss, total. This is the record in the "outlier" column. The median is the middle record in the data, the mode the most common record, Q1 is the record in the middle between the worst and median record, while Q3 is the record in the middle between the median and best record. The minimum and maximum are self-explanatory, as is their actual record. Teams are sorted alphabetically by city name. Click on the chart to enlarge it:


The projected standings give a good feel for how the season went. Several teams, like the Yankees and Twins, surged. Teams like the Dodgers and Pirates faded. Looking at the outliers, it's clear just how useless the projected standings are for the entire first month. I figured many teams would have wacky projected records, but almost every team's most extreme record was from the first week. Don't be surprised if the projected standings debut the first Friday in May next year.

Tigers Did Not Blow It

A bunch is being made of Detroit's "collapse" at the end of the season, allowing the Twins to force a tiebreaker, and ultimately win the division. True, the Tigers are the first team to have a three game lead with four games to go and not make the playoffs. However, that is hardly the entire story.

I have been working on a season review post, based on the projected standings throughout the year. Below is the quartile data for the Minnesota and Detroit's projected records throughout the season. I'll explain more about what that means in the whole post dedicated to it. For now, think of it as the variation in the team's ability throughout the year:

TEAMMINQ1MEDQ3MAXMODEFINAL
Tigers 85-77 86-76 87-75 88-74 99-63 87-75 86-76
Twins58-104 80-82 81-81 84-78 87-75 84-78 86-76

In the projected standings, the Tigers were one of the most consistent teams this season. They only finished a game off of their expected finish. One one hand, that puts them in their lower quartile (strengthening the belief they faded), but it's only one game. I have a hard time calling that a collapse.

On the other hand, the Twins meddled around .500 a majority of the year, but in the end finished only one game off of their maximum (which they reached on July 3). On September 18 they were still projected to win just 82 games.

Clearly, the Twins surged much more than the Tigers faded. Both happened, but Minnesota needs to be given much more credit than calling Detroit's finish a collapse gives them. The Tigers faded ever so slightly, and that gave Minnesota just enough daylight with their furious finish.

Give credit where it is due. The Twins grabbed the AL Central title from the Tigers. The Tigers did not just give it away.

Above Average, Which Is Extraordinary

Brandon MorrowWhat a win last night for the Mariners! Even with the team out of playoff contention, this game meant plenty. For me, it was the best game of the year. With win number 82 in the bag, the 2009 Mariners guaranteed themselves a winning season. Purely from a win-loss standpoint, it only guarantees that the M's will finish a tick above league average. After a 101-loss season though, it is a remarkable achievement.

The last team to go from 100 losses one season to a winning record the next is the Kansas City Royals, who finished 83-79 in 2003 after going 62-100 in 2002. For the next team, you have to go back to 1989, when the Orioles finished 87-75 after going 54-108 the year before. The Rangers have pulled off the feat twice in their history, in 1985-1986 and 1973-1974. The A's have done it twice as well, 1979-1980 and 1967-1968.

There are others who have gone from 100 losses to a winning record as well. It is not unprecedented for a team to improve as much as the Mariners have this year, but it is special.

History says that it is uncertain whether teams like the 2008-2009 Mariners keep up their success. The 2003 Royals proved to be a one-year wonder. Kansas City ended up losing more than 100 games in each of the following 3 seasons after 2003. The Orioles finished 76-86 the year after their 1989 turnaround, and sunk even further (to 67-95) the year after that. Each time the Rangers pulled the feat they took a step back the next year - to 75-87 in 1987, and 79-83 in 1975.

Then there are the A's. They were 64-45 in the strike-shortened 1981 season, and 88-74 in 1969. In particular, their late '60s turnaround led right into their dominant early '70s run, when they won three consecutive World Series.

If there are baseball gods, they favor the Mariners. Consider the way the M's got win 82. The scoring opened up with a Ken Griffey Jr. home run, which automatically makes a game special. Could it be that Griffey got his final home run as a Mariner in such a momentous victory? It's possible.

Aside from Griffey though, it was fresh faces leading the charge against the A's last night. Brandon Morrow figured out how to throw strikes, and completely dominated. The last start of his season could not have been any more positive. It's even more exciting coming on the heels of Felix's 19th win. It's easy to imagine those two anchoring the top of the rotation for years to come, if Morrow consistently gets the ball over the plate.

There was Adam Moore too, the freshest face of all. Kenji Johjima had to leave the game with an injury, and it was Moore who replaced him. All he did was hit his first major league home run. Then, finishing up the game was an overpowering Shawn Kelley. It was one of those games that can't help but make you feel good about the team's future. Hopefully it is symbolic that these were the guys headlining win 82, the game that clinched this remarkable turnaround.

Enjoy the 2009 Mariners for what they are, a remarkable turnaround story. It's a feat worth celebrating all by itself, and should be since many teams have slipped after pulling off such a big turnaround.

Enjoy the 2009 Mariners for what they might be too - a prelude to bigger and better things. This franchise completely cleaned house after last year. It is a new day, a new way, as their marketing slogan promises. Fresh faces highlighting the most significant win of 2009 only reinforces the feeling that the M's are heading in the right direction.

It was a great win last night on many levels, and this has been a great season on many levels. Sure, there are no playoffs, but that's just one distant cloud in the sky, and it can't do anything to obscure the beautiful colors as the sun sets on 2009 for the Mariners.