Sunday, January 31, 2016

Goodbye and Good Luck to you, Jean Segura

It all started innocently enough. 

As a kid, it was easy enough to say -- at least in theory -- that I wanted to collect everything. Sure, being a kid, I really didn't realize what that meant, but I legitimately thought I could try over the course of my life to collect it all.

When I got back into collecting about two years ago, I tried to approach collecting in the same way. Soon after that, I realized how impossible trying to do that would be -- what with trying to make up for 25 years of not collecting, all the 1/1 cards issued, all the player collectors out there who would fight me tooth and nail for their guys' cards, and, well, the fact that I did not win the PowerBall three or four times before getting back into collecting.

Shortly after that, I decided that I'd try to collect only Brewers. And why not? After all, that's my team and it's been my team since 1978 -- the first year I truly remember paying attention to baseball as a six-year-old little boy.

I'm an ambitious sort, so I like to set goals -- both short term and long term. I view collecting as many Brewers cards as I can part of an ambitious long-term collecting goal. I know I'll never "complete" the team sets -- once again, I'm not the only Brewers collector out there, I'm not the only one trying to get the printing plates and superfractors and all that, and I still haven't won the PowerBall even one time.

Pretty much as soon as I decided to write a blog, then, I started thinking about player collections. Being an obsessive, I wanted a decent number of PCs over the entirety of Brewers history so long as I had a good basis for including a player as a PC. I look at statistics, I thought about my favorite players when I was a kid, and I thought about my interactions with many of the players when I was a tween/teen chasing autographs before and after Brewers games.

Then, I looked at the 2014 team. I choose a few guys who had been with the team for a decent amount of time -- Yovani Gallardo, Rickie Weeks, and Ryan Braun. I chose a couple of guys that had arrived more recently but still had a pretty decent amount of service time: Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy.

And, I wanted a younger player -- one I could start on now and watch develop and accumulate a collection over his career.  For that spot, I chose Jean Segura.

Strangely, for me, I chose Segura without looking at his underlying statistics. I say that is strange because I've been a big fan of the statistical, sabermetric approach to baseball since finding Bill James's Baseball Abstracts in my local library when I was about 14. I learned more math from Bill James than I did from my algebra class, I'm pretty sure.

Yet, with Segura, I ignored the warning signs. He started out like a house of fire in 2013 -- almost entirely based around a very lucky BABIP in the first two months of the season. In the first half of 2013, he slashed at .325/.363/.487 -- with a batting average on balls in play at an unsustainable level of .349. He didn't walk enough: only 25 walks in 620 plate appearances. But, he was young, right? He could improve, right?

Sure, he could improve. But he didn't. He suffered through a nightmare season in 2014, slashing at .246/.289/.324 -- but needing a .319/.364/.389 September to bring his yearly totals up to only mildly horrible. Even worse, his 9-month-old son Janniel died suddenly from an illness in July. He was welcomed back to the team a week later by Brewers and Nationals fans giving him a standing ovation and Stephen Strasburg giving him a bit of time to compose himself and appreciate the support, but there was no way to know how much that loss hurt him and took his attention away from baseball -- as it had to have done.

2015 became an extremely important season for Segura. He needed to show that he was closer to the player of 2013 over 2014. He really did not do that, hitting .257/.281/.336 and walking just 13 times in 584 plate appearances

In other words, we're talking about a guy who might be regressing rather than developing. We're talking about a player who was not getting better and, in fact, he was getting worse. His WAR scores from Baseball Reference from 2013 to 2015: 4.0, 0.6, -0.0.  That's not a guy who is helping your team.


This is especially true when you have the number 6 prospect in all of baseball -- Orlando Arcia -- playing your same position and rising to Triple-A after putting up a .307/.347/.453 slash line at the age of twenty in Double-A.

So, when news of Jean Segura's trade came across the wires yesterday, it was not a surprise. In fact, perhaps the biggest surprise is that it took this long to find a suitable trade partner.

For my part, I've decided that I'm not going to keep Segura as a player collection. This has been coming for a while. I'd pretty much decided that as soon as Segura was gone from Milwaukee that he would be gone from being a player collection.

So, all these cards are great and all, but from now on, he's just another Brewer.

What did the Brewers get for Segura? A mid-rotation starting pitcher in Chase Anderson, a clearly-in-decline Aaron Hill (who is in the last year of his contract) to pair with Scooter Gennett, and Isan Diaz, a super young shortstop/second baseman who was the D-Backs second round pick in 2014. Diaz is a long ways away, but he showed good pop, decent speed, and a good bat in the Pioneer League last year (312 plate appearances, 13 HR, 12 SB/7 CS, .360/.436/.640) at the age of 19. Oh, and $5.5 million to cover Hill's salary.

All in all, this is probably a good move for both teams. The Brewers get rid of Segura to help clear the way for Orlando Arcia, they get one year of a second base platoon before finding something better or hoping for something to emerge, and they get a starter to help bear the load in the rotation while waiting for Josh Hader and others to emerge from the minor leagues -- not to mention the high-end potential that Diaz has.

The Diamondbacks get Tyler Wagner along with Segura. Wagner started for Milwaukee three times last year and got lit up, but he won the Double-A Southern League ERA title last year. Fangraphs said last year that Wagner is likely a "5th starter . . . as it's starting to look like Wagner is the sneaky guy that holds down a rotation spot for five years before anyone notices."

I really do hope that both Wagner and Segura have great success for the Diamondbacks all year except against Milwaukee. But, that hope for success for them doesn't mean that Segura has to remain a player collection for me.

So goodbye, Jean.  Thanks for the reminder to trust performance gaps that I can see with my own eyes before anointing someone else as a PC.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Rocked by the Suburbs

It's human nature to wonder from time to time what people think about you. Sure, psychologically speaking, you'll find more self-help websites preaching to you that you shouldn't care, but we all do it from time to time.

I'm lucky in the blogworld, though, that my reputation and personality is pretty clear: I'm the oddball guy. I love oddballs. Oddballs and the Brewers. I can say honestly that it has nearly always been in my nature to seek out things that are a bit different and to glom on to those things that I like while dispatching those I don't like. 

In card collecting, what that's meant is that I have a healthy appreciation for cards not issued by Topps, Donruss, Fleer, Upper Deck, Score, or Pacific as part of their regular sets. If a card came from police officers, as a giveaway at a stadium, in a regular-issue book/magazine, from a cereal box, with potato chips, dog food, or a fast-food meal, I will probably like it just a little bit more than if it's just another of the four inserts per pack or some stickergraph.  

That's my nature.

Thankfully, all y'all seem to know that about me.

For instance, I received a PWE this week from Tony Burbs of Wrigley Roster Jenga

Yeah, not all that original to go to Ben Folds, but it's a great song. I mean, I can relate to being male, middle class, and white, and the lyrics give me a built in theme post musically! So let's rock the suburbs and go through the great cards -- and oddballs -- that Tony sent to me.

1.  Rockin' the suburbs just like Michael Jackson did

Let's be clear: this song is irony, and it is intended to make light of things that are definitely first world problems. Being clever is a skill, and it seems a number of reviewers weren't clever enough to figure out that Ben Folds was, indeed, employing irony when writing this song (real irony, not 10,000 spoons when you need a knife irony).

So, Michael Jackson rocking the suburbs? Sure -- back in the early 80s, what self-respecting 10-year-old didn't try to moonwalk?

Not that I could, but everyone who tried dancing ever in the early and mid-1980s had to try to throw a moonwalk into their repertoire. Michael Jackson in 1983 was a 100% badass. 

What cards did Tony send me that go with this?

Police cards from the late 1990s from Prairie du Chien -- in the western part of the state on the Mississippi RIver -- of course. I've never been to Prairie du Chien, so I've never had the pleasure of visiting PDC's third-best place to go: Valley Fish & Cheese.

By 1997, the Brewers or their baseball card sponsors had given up on the preachy, long-winded advice from the early 1980s to pithier, terser statements more easily remembered by a five-year-old.

For instance, here's the 1982 back of Robin Yount's card extolling the virtues of the buddy system when swimming.

By the time 1997 rolled around, kids apparently couldn't be arsed to read five sentences or draw parallels between turning double plays and swimming in pairs. Instead, we get the truncated version of the same advice on the back of Eddy Diaz's card:

It seems off that a card from a guy from Venezuela would feature advice about ice skating in pairs. Then again, by this point, the card makers had given up on the charade of having a player giving advice, and, instead, have an anthropomorphic ball with odd, soulless eyes and matchstick arms and legs advising kids not to swim or ice skate alone. 

And Brewers fans wonder why the team sucked in the late 1990s? Clearly, everyone had given up and said, "aw, to hell with it. No one will notice anyway."

2.  Rockin' the Suburbs just like Quiet Riot Did

Damn, Ben Folds nailed it with this song. An angry band to allow us white, middle-class kids (and those of us like myself who grew up as far less well off than middle class but lived in middle class worlds) to express our anger by singing along with a song.

It's a weird video with the padded cells and all with the late Kevin DuBrow behind the metal mask. Just remember to Bang Your Head!

Cards? Oh yeah, I almost forgot. We're talking about cards here.  Let's see...let's go with the four remaining weirder cards.


Darren Ford was drafted out of high school in the 18th round of the 2004 draft by the Brewers. He liked playing for the West Virginia Power, racking up a .299/.372/.424 line in 820 plate appearances there with 12 homers and 100 stolen bases in 176 games. Ford eventually was traded to the Giants with another minor leaguer for Ray Durham in 2008, and he made it to the majors for 16 total plate appearances (33 games) in 2010 and 2011. He is 30 now and he signed up to continue as organizational depth for the Giants on January 13, 2016.

Otherwise, we've got a 1990 Robin Yount Watertown Police Department card. I've been to Watertown in my life; when I was a little kid, my mom dated a guy who lived there. Strange place.

Then, we've got the King of Clubs, Cal Eldred. I'm not sure I'd want to be on the king of clubs playing card if I were a pitcher, but I'm guessing Cal didn't have much input into that decision.  

Finally, it's the weird one. The unnamed player -- clearly Robin Yount -- on a card with a half-empty beer stein as the team's logo with a fake interview on the back about how the team he's on is "flat and faceless, with no identity, no personality, and no pizazz." The "Confex Baseball Enquirer" tried hard to be funny, and that's probably why it is really not all that funny at all.

3.  Rockin' the Suburbs just like Jon Bon Jovi did

Jon Bon Jovi is okay. 

I liked Deadliest Catch for a while. What can I say.

I mean, Bon Jovi's songs are catchy -- whether solo or with the band that bears his revised last name -- but they are a lot like cotton candy...lots of sugar, sweet for a while, but in the end full of air and unsatisfying.  At least to me. Your mileage may vary. 

But, with that in mind, I'm grouping the last cards I scanned from the PWE together because, while they are cool and all, they are just "normal" cards from the big guys.

Don't misunderstand -- I like these cards. For the most part, our only option these days comes from Topps, and they put out some pretty good cards. Upper Deck may return to baseball some day, and that would be cool too because they had some nice designs in their time as well.

That said, 9 times out of 10, I'll take the weird.

And that, folks, is number 10.  To make the song better, I recommend playing the video at double speed and watching the badass dance moves that dude throws down.

Tony, thank you very much for the great PWE!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Meet the Brewers #19: John Kennedy

On the same day -- May 18, 1970 -- that Brewer #18 Greg Goossen was sent to the minor leagues outright, another Brewer was placed on waivers and sent to Triple-A: John Kennedy.

Kennedy did not make his debut as a Brewer until the bottom of the 7th inning in the second game of the season. He debuted by pinch running for Goossen, who had pinch hit for Mike Hegan. Kennedy then played first base for the rest of that game. 

1970 McDonald's Milwaukee Brewers
Kennedy was a 28-year-old utility infielder with the Brewers when the season started. Marvin Milkes, the GM who quit at the end of the 1970 season -- likely allowed to resign before he was fired (interesting side note: Milkes went next to be the GM of the New York Raiders in the World Hockey Association in 1972 for 8 months, then, nearly 10 years later, he became the GM of the Los Angeles Aztecs in NASL just before it folded) -- sold Kennedy's contract to the Red Sox in June of 1970 rather than getting a player. Perhaps Bud Selig needed to pay for a new shipment of used Buicks.

Anyway...Kennedy. Kennedy was born on May 29, 1941. Coincidentally, he shared this May 29 birth date with a more famous John Kennedy, the future president who turned 24 on John Edward Kennedy's birthdate. Even more coincidentally, as his SABR biography points out, the baseball player was signed by the Washington Senators in 1961 and broke in with the Senators in 1962.

It was a rather auspicious debut. Pinch hitting in the bottom of the sixth inning against the team that was the Senators previously -- the Minnesota Twins -- Kennedy stepped up and promptly homered in his first major league at bat and, in the process, broke up a no-hitter. Still, JEK was never a power hitter; his career high came in 1964 when he hit 7 homers in 521 plate appearances. 

The highlight of his career came in 1965, when Walter Alston used Kennedy as a late-inning defensive replacement for much of the season (104 games played, 120 plate appearances). The Dodgers went on to win the World Series that year, and Kennedy was on the field at the end of the seventh game when the Dodgers won.

1994 Miller Brewing Milwaukee Brewers
Two stories seem to have followed Kennedy around for his career. The first is one Kennedy probably told hundreds of times: that, on one occasion, a letter meant for him went to the White House; by 2010 when the SABR biography writer asked, the letter was from Kennedy's fiancee.

The second story is, as you might guess, one of infamy from Ball Four in an entry dated June 18:
John Kennedy flew into a rage at Emmett Ashford over a called strike and was tossed out of the game. Still raging, he kicked in the water cooler in the dugout, picked it up and threw it onto the field. Afterward, we asked him what had gotten into him. He really isn't that type. And he said, "Just as I got called out on strikes, my greenie kicked in."
Kennedy told that story to some 250 kids and adults at the Elks home in Rockland, Maine, in December of 1971.  Kennedy claimed that the remark had been made in a joking fashion, saying, according to the newspaper, 
that he had vowed that anywhere he spoke he would relay the tale and try to impress upon young people the evils and dangers of taking drugs. He told the young ballplayers that it would be physically and mentally impossible for any athlete to perform effectively if he took drugs.
Ah, that 1950s mentality still in full force and effect.

Kennedy repeated his statement about that being a joke in 2010 to his SABR biographer as well, saying that he and many of the 1969 Pilots -- and, by extension, a number of the 1970 Brewers -- felt violated by Bouton's book. Kennedy admitted, though, that "Now, though, looking back on it, it all seems pretty tame."

Kennedy went on to manage here and there in baseball -- a couple of years in the Red Sox system in the late 1970s and four seasons in two different independent leagues in the mid-2000s in particular.  In the time in between, he served as a scout who admittedly did not sign anyone who made it beyond Triple-A. As of 2010, he and his wife were living in Peabody, Massachusetts.

There are three to four cards of Kennedy as a Brewer. I say three to four because his Mike Andersen Postcard from 1970 probably calls him a Brewer but it features him with a logo-less helmet. Otherwise, he also appears with the Brewers on his 1971 Dell Today's Team Stamp and the two cards that I have, shown above.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Gimme a Smack

It's funny how cereal companies no longer tout their sweetness by incorporating the word "Sugar" into its name. Remember "Super Sugar Crisp"? That cereal went from being "Post Super Sugar Crisp" to now being "Post Golden Crisp." According to this survey, Golden Crisp is comprised of 52% sugar. That one is just second on the list of highest sugar content, though.

Topping the list is another of these name changers. Checking in at a whopping 57% sugar is the inaptly named "Honey Smacks." I remember eating these as "Sugar Smacks" -- like in the commercial from 1981 below.  It didn't hurt that I'd usually get baseball cards in these cereals, but I do wonder whether I developed my sweet tooth thanks to these breakfast cereals.

These days, the only "Smack" that I don't have any remorse in dealing with is Jimmy from Talking Smack Cards. Jimmy does not post a ton, but he keeps his want lists up to date (so, I shall be trying to find a few cards I can send his way soon).  Jimmy sent me an email to let me know that he had a few cards I needed off my wantlist, and those cards arrived from California while I was in California. How appropriate.

Jimmy made a nice dent in my 2009 Topps wantlist and obliterated my 2015 Topps Update list.  Let's start with the recent cards first:

The top row features two players who are still Milwaukee Brewers, while the bottom row features new Detroit Tiger K-Rod and new Seattle Mariner Luis Sardinas. K-Rod apparently had photos of former GM Doug Melvin in a compromising position, as that is the only real way to explain why Melvin kept resigning him while new GM David Stearns basically gave Rodriguez to the Tigers for a shortstop in A-ball and a player to be named.

Sardinas was theoretically the centerpiece of the trade with the Rangers last offseason for Yovani Gallardo. In reality, Corey Knebel is looking more like that centerpiece. Some folks are saying that the 23-year-old Knebel should close for the Brewers in 2016; I tend to think Jeremy Jeffress should do that, because it would be easier to trade Jeffress if he turns out good at it.  Anyway, in exchange for Sardinas, the Brewers received former Yankee prospect Ramon Flores.  Flores has shown a good batting eye in his minor league time -- slashing in his 7 minor league seasons at .275/.363/.405. He doesn't really hit for power or steal basis, though, so his value is entirely dependent on his batting average.

You can't have cookies for breakfast!!! 

But, you can get 2009 Topps cards out and check them out!

I loved Cookie Crisp.

Of course, we haven't been able to pull baseball cards from cereal boxes for something like 20 years now, and you can eat all the Cookie Crisp cereal you want. 

This world is upside down, if you ask me. 

Of the guys pictured above, two of them are still with the Brewers -- Braun and his manager Craig Counsell. With the news that the Brewers signed Chris Capuano to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training, though, I'm thinking Manny Parra can't be far behind. I mean, he is a free agent. Let the memory live again -- the memory of Manny Parra as the next great lefty in Milwaukee -- okay, first great lefty in Milwaukee (because Dan Plesac and Mike Caldwell don't count)....

Sing it, Grizabella! 

Jimmy, thank you very much for the great cards!