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November and December, 2009

It's the end of the decade. Time to evaluate the best players of the past ten years and to prognosticate who the best players of the next ten years will be. Asher and Keith have collaborated to provide lists, rankings, stats, and commentary for the All-Decade Team.

Amidst a blockbuster deal with so many moving parts, it's difficult to get a firm grasp on who came out ahead. The Mariners have clearly positioned themselves as 2010 contenders, but did they pay too hefty a price for one roll of the dice? The Blue Jays have declared themselves to be in full-blown rebuilding mode, but how long before they can again field a competitive team?

Of course, the Phillies' side is most baffling of all. They swapped one group of prospects for another and one ace pitcher for another. It might take a health care bill-sized article to cover all of the nuances of this trade, so Keith just takes a stab at one: Cliff Lee versus Roy Halladay.

Coming off an injury that sidelined him for all of 2008, Alex Gonzalez of the Marlins (/Reds/Red Sox) uncharacteristically improved as the season went along. A shift to Fenway Park aided him as well. Several other players went the opposite route in 2009, behaving more like Gonzalez did in his heyday. Here, then, are the players that fell the furthest off the face of the earth in 2009.

You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold'em, know when to walk away, and when not to bite on an aging player coming off a career year. Here are five winners and five losers from the winter meetings in Indianapolis, according to Keith's winter meetings roundup. reports that the Atlanta Braves have signed Billy Wagner as their new closer for 2010 with a vesting option for 2011, replacing the inconsistent tandem of Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez.

Wagner is second among relievers with over 150 career saves in ERA+ (182), but sixth on the all-time saves list, tenth in raw Linear Saves, and eighth in Linear Saves only counting seasons with 10 or more saves. In 2008, Wagner's most recent season as a closer, he had -1.5 Linear Saves despite an ERA of 2.30 and an ERA+ of 183.

Coming off his second Tommy John Surgery last year, the 38-year old was used as a setup man and managed a 1.72 ERA, 237 ERA+, and 15 strikeouts per nine innings pitching primarily in his AL debut in the unfriendly confines of Fenway Park. It may be time to face the facts - Wagner is better suited to the setup role than he is to being a closer, particularly at this stage of his career.

Of course, Wagner would never have signed with a team that had an established closer in the fold and most teams would not want to commit $7 million to a setup man. Perhaps Bobby Cox can get Wagner to be more successful in save situations in the final season of his Hall of Fame managerial career.

In all honesty, our 2009 Linear Saves data isn't as exciting as our 2008 data. There was no perfect save season, no new single-season saves leader, and no one passed Lee Smith in career Linear Saves. Still, there are some interesting nuggets, including Mariano Rivera passing another milestone, Brad Lidge staking his claim as the least consistent reliever of all time, and someone with an ERA of 4.40 nearly leading baseball in Linear Saves.

November 21, 2009 - Temporarily Dominant Pitchers We all know about Fernando Valenzuela, Vida Blue, Dwight Gooden, and Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, four pitchers who had magnificent bursts onto the scene but could never match their early career brilliance. What do they all have in common? Could it be that their success, while fleeting, was also the product of their environment and not necessarily a product of their own talent? Let's have a look.

Many people considered the Colorado Rockies to be the biggest surprise team of 2009 and the Chicago Cubs among the biggest disappointments.  Both teams did about what Keith had expected them to do.  He missed Colorado's win total by five victories, but had them winning the NL West, a division he had underestimated as a whole.  He also correctly predicted the Cubs would miss the postseason, overshooting their overall winning percentage by just 15 points.

This isn't to say that his predictions were immaculate.  Keith missed three teams' actual win totals by more than 15 games, the worst of which was a 27-win differential.  That's pretty embarrassing, so Keith sat down to examine why he was so wrong about each club.

November 10, 2009 - Dave Stieb Asher recently became obsessed with the difference between pitching in the AL and pitching the NL during the Designated Hitter Era, something he probably should have paid more attention to for the last half decade or so. Better late than never, this new obsession has caused him to re-assess the value of a pitcher he has not paid as much attention to as he should have, though he still doesn't think Dave Stieb merits a look for the Top 200.

It's that time of year to renew the annual debate over individual postseason honors. Richard has narrowed the National League Cy Young race down to five candidates, although it is really just a pair of Cards that stand between Tim Lincecum and his second straight Cy Young Award.

November 4, 2009 - Pitching in the AL vs. the NL What does the enormous and extensive list of players whose ERA was better in the National League than in the American League tell us? Lots. It tells us about guys we've been overrating, about guys we've been underrating, and about another way of evaluating overall pitcher talent. In at least a couple of cases, it tells us that a whole generation of American League pitchers has been undervalued, but that isn't the most striking revelation.

November 4, 2009 - Pitching in the AL vs. the NL Think your favorite awesome pitcher was one of the greatest of all time? You must make sure you are considering all the factors - home ballpark, era pitched in, defensive help behind him, expansion eras, strike seasons, and steroids make up a few of the most important factors to consider. Another important factor is whether a guy pitched most of his career in the American League or the National League, as sometimes the league is all the difference.

11/3/09: The Offseason Begins - The World Series may not be over yet, but for 28 teams, the offseason has already begun. The Rays and the Pirates signaled that beginning by completing the first trade of the winter: Akinori Iwamura for Jesse Chavez.

For the Rays, the move was basically made just to get some return on their salary dump. They did not plan to exercise their $4.85 M option on Iwamura with Evan Longoria, Jason Bartlett, and Ben Zobrist slated to start around the infield. The 26-year old Jesse Chavez went 21-30 with a 4.36 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in the minors, but the minuscule chance that he develops into something more than the 12th man on the pitching staff is better than no return at all, I suppose.

Iwamura provides a similar glove as Freddy Sanchez did for the Pirates, plus a more consistent bat. He is also younger and cheaper than Sanchez, who signed a two-year, $12 M extension with the veteran-loving Giants a few days ago. The Pirates not only have a far better value now in Iwamura, but received former Giants first-round draft pick Tim Alderson from their deadline trade of Sanchez. --KG

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