"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
March 31, 2005
BASEBALL: Mets in the Central
Here's one thing I noticed in pulling together my NL Central report. If you're not keeping score at home, the list of former Mets presently employed in the NL Central includes the following:
March 30, 2005
BLOG: Your Call Is Important To Us. Please Stand By.
As you may have noticed, nearly all other blogging here has come to a standstill as I've been working on my division by division previews via the EWSL reports. The good news: only one more division to go. The bad news: the NL Central, being the biggest, is the most time-consuming. I'm still aiming to get it put to bed before the NL season opens on Monday.
March 29, 2005
BASEBALL: 2005 NL West EWSL Report
Part Five of my 2005 EWSL review (Established Win Shares Levels are explained here, the AL East EWSL report is here, the AL West EWSL report is here, the AL Central EWSL report is here, the AL EWSL standings are here, and the NL East EWSL report is here). Again, recall that the 23-man rosters used here will slightly depress the team win totals: as I demonstrated with the AL standings, the total EWSL for the league requires rounding up by about 7-10 wins per team.
San Diego Padres
RAW EWSL: 235.33 (78 Wins)
This is a deceptively old team, but with the opening in the West created by the Bonds injury, they're well-positioned to make a run. The biggest question marks heading into the season are at the head of the rotation: can Jake Peavy pitch at something like last year's level for a full season's workload? (An ERA of 3.27 rather than his major-league-leading 2.27 would be fine if he can carry 220 innings; striking out better than a batter per inning was a good sign). And does Woody Williams still have some gas in his tank?
EWSL has Khalil Greene with an age-adjusted 29 Win Shares, which would be good for the MVP if he was in the AL (where nobody rates at over 28). This suggests to me that the age adjustments are overrating guys who play everyday at his age, but we'll see. If Greene can take a step forward with the bat and continue to dish out great glove work, he could come close to that.
San Francisco Giants
With 1/2 Season of Bonds
Normally, the absence of any injury adjustments in EWSL isn't a big deal. Maybe Steve Trachsel will be back at the All-Star Break, but I didn't list him, whereas I listed guys who are out for April. But the combination of Bonds' huge impact and the level of uncertainty as to when he'll return creates havoc - the whole division turns on him. The 1/2 season Bonds rating - which also includes half a season of rookie Todd Linden - is probably the best guide.
I had expected the age adjustments to go through the Giants' lineup like Sherman through Georgia, but actually the really gruesome adjustments are for the 33 and 35 year olds, and most of these guys have already crossed that bridge.
Deivi Cruz may be overrated here - he shouldn't get that much playing time - but then, the age of Vizquel and Durham and Alfonzo could keep him busy.
Of course, the longer Bonds is out, the fewer big games the Giants will play, and the better Benitez will be . . . the Giants really need Lowry and Williams to develop (although Williams has had a crummy spring and nearly lost his job) to offset the age and mediocrity of Rueter and Tomko. Then again, it's always been mysterious how Rueter wins games year in and year out, but he keeps on going.
Los Angeles Dodgers
RAW EWSL: 211.83 (71 Wins)
The Dodgers have a sort of slapped-together look, neither young nor old, no real stars but Gagne, but they should at least be playing meaningful games into late August or September. A look at the lineup tells you they really needed to re-sign Beltre, but that's not exactly news; it goes double when his replacement is a glove-first shortstop who's unlikely to handle Dodger Stadium well. I've said it before, but this could still be the year for Hee Seop Choi . . . Having Alvarez and Dessens on hand will be necessary with Erickson and possibly (later in the season) the unreliable Edwin Jackson taking their shots at the fifth starter job. Perez is probably the actual staff ace, unless Penny gets 100% healthy, but nobody seems to like to admit that.
The Dodgers also have in camp Norihiro Nakamura, who almost signed with the Mets a few years back and who still needs to be called "Chief."
By the way, the new Bill James Handbook's Win Shares figures are missing career and pre-2004 figures for a number of players who had gaps in their careers - Scott Erickson and Olmedo Saenz, for example, didn't appear in 2003 and are thus listed as if they were rookies in 2004. I had to go back here for their 2002 Win Shares.
RAW EWSL: 174.50 (58 Wins)
Strangely, despite the departure of by far their best player, the D-Backs seem poised to rebound from last year's shipwreck. Like the Dodgers and Padres, this is a team built for adequacy, only just a little less so. Cintron should eat either Counsell's or Clayton's lunch by mid-season.
I could easily have given Snyder the rookie rating, but giving that boost to both him and Hill would have spotted them 18 unearned Win Shares at catcher, and most teams only aspire to that.
RAW EWSL: 125.00 (42 Wins)
EWSL, being a rating based on established major league performance, breaks down in the face of a team with nearly no established players, like the Rockies. Still, the absence of any bankable productive players beyond Helton, Kennedy and Jennings - with the latter two being dependable pitchers but hardly guys you want anchoring a rotation - is a pretty strong indicator of a last-place team, so I'm comfortable with the ultimate position here, notwithstanding the fact that Arizona is the one that lost the 111 games last year.
Helton accounts for just under 25% of the Rox' Raw EWSL, compared to Barry Bonds accounting for 17.5% of the Giants' . . . I could have rated Closser as a rookie, I suppose, but I try to do that only when there's no major league data to go on.
March 28, 2005
BASEBALL: Hauling Down The Jolly Roger
If you look at the schedule, the Bucs were 76-40 and led the second-place Giants by 7.5 games on August 22, but went 14-23 thereafter, including losing their next 7 straight meetings with the Giants, a very efficient way to blow a lead. Only one of those games was decided by one run; the Pirates' pitchers got clobbered, allowing 5.4 runs/game in those meetings, while scoring just 7 runs in 7 games. By September 19, when they won their last meeting with the Giants, the Pirates were 3.5 games back. Corruption? Not that I know of, but it was certainly a dramatic collapse.
March 24, 2005
BASEBALL: Posner on Steroids
7th Circuit judge/author/academic/blogger Richard Posner, in the course of a critique of the War on Drugs:
Oddly, one of the strongest cases for prohibiting drugs is the use of steroids by athletes. The reason is the arms-race character of such use, or in economic terms the existence of an externality. Ordinarily if a person uses a drug that injures his health, he bears the full costs, or at least most of the costs, of the injury. But if an athlete uses steroids to increase his competitive performance, he imposes a cost on his competitors, which in turn may induce them to follow suit and use steroids themselves, provided the expected costs, including health costs, are lower than the expected benefits of being able to compete more effectively. There is no offsetting social benefit from an across-the-board increase in athletes' strength. Football games are no more exciting when linesmen weigh 500 pounds than when they weigh 200 pounds; and baseball would be totally unmanageable if every player could hit every other pitch 1000 feet.
POLITICS: Not This Again!
The Powerline guys are hot on the trail - maybe too hot, because this doesn't look like a slam dunk just yet, but they may have a point - of showing that a memo purportedly circulated by Senate Republicans touting the political advantages of the emergency legislation on the Terry Schiavo case is actually a hoax, maybe perpetrated by Democratic staffers. Of course, we shouldn't get carried away with the need to show this is a hoax. To any mature adult, after a little reflection, the memo's not that damaging - what, you think politicians don't care if something's a political issue? Grow up. (We elect people with known convictions so the convictions will act as a check on political opportunism, but we don't expect poiliticians to act in a vacuum as to the electoral consequences of their acts; precisely the contrary).
That said, it's certainly worth figuring out if the WaPo and other news outlets got hoaxed here, and by whom.
WAR: French Voters Face Reality
I can't think of anything that would amuse me more than the prospect of French voters rejecting the EU constitution. And it looks as if French protestors have been getting mugged by reality as well.
LAW: Making Schiavo a Federal Case
Charles Krauthammer has a characteristically tremendous column on the complexities and the tragedy of the Schiavo case, one that excerpts can't do justice (link via Vodkapundit). I don't necessarily agree with it all, but he covers a lot in a short space. I'll quote his conclusion:
For Congress and the president to then step in and try to override that by shifting the venue to a federal court was a legal travesty, a flagrant violation of federalism and the separation of powers. The federal judge who refused to reverse the Florida court was certainly true to the law. But the law, while scrupulous, has been merciless, and its conclusion very troubling morally. We ended up having to choose between a legal travesty on the one hand and human tragedy on the other.
I may or may not write more on this later, although I've probably been the wiser for steering clear of this so far. Putting this woman to death is an appalling tragedy and injustice, and the financial and other conflicts between her interests and her husband's are too overpowering to credit his uncorroborated word, regardless of whether his intentions are pure or not, which I can't judge. But standing for federalism has to mean something even when it has nasty consequences in individual cases. I know that's frustrating, especially as it means listening to lectures from fair-weather federalists who will about-face at the drop of a hat on federal court interventions in state procedures. I know there's a felt need for the Right to exercise the same determination to save the innocent as the Left does to save the guilty. But one of the essential principles of conservatism is that you set the best laws in advance and you stick with them even when you don't like the results.
March 23, 2005
LAW: This Is America?
The Secretary of Agriculture ("Secretary") appeals the District Court's award of attorney's fees and costs to several milk marketing cooperatives under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412 (2000). The underlying litigation involved a dispute between the cooperatives and the Secretary over the price of Class III butterfat. The Secretary argues that the District Court erred in concluding that the milk cooperatives were "prevailing parties" under EAJA and in calculating the amount of the award.
So, to summarize, we have a federal cabinet secretary setting - fixing - prices for dairy products, a staple commodity. And we have a federal court overturning this price-fixing, solely because - if you read the rest of the opinion - the Secretary failed to jump through enough bureaucratic hoops, requiring the price to be restored to a different price previously fixed by the same federal department. And we then have a federal court ordering that taxpayer money be given to a "milk marketing cooperative" for the benificient public service of filing a lawsuit over the absence of bureaucratic hoop-jumping.
In the immortal words of PJ O'Rourke, written long ago enough now to make you weep at how little has changed:
[F]arm policy, although it's complex, can be explained. What it can't be is believed. No cheating spouse, no teen with a wrecked family car, no mayor of Washington, DC, videotaped in flagrante delicto has ever come up with anything as farfetched as U.S. farm policy.
BLOG: Never Lift Alone
A lesson to remember. At least don't bench press.
POP CULTURE: A Word In Edgewise
I'm not sure if the link works, but this Today Show interview with Jennifer Aniston is just a clinic in bad interviewing - this dude is obviously so star-struck and overexcited about getting an "exclusive" interview he barely lets her get a word in edgewise and winds up eliciting absolutely no information from his subject. You can almost see her move from preparing to answer, to mentally drifting, to feeling sorry for the poor sap.
BASEBALL: Up, Up and Away!
As baseball fans, we have certain expectations, grounded in experience - our own lifetimes' experience, as well as the collective experience of 130 years of the game's history. Among those expectations are a set of boundaries about how players age: some burn out early, and some bloom late, and some are remarkably consistent. But age comes to all.
Until Barry Bonds.
At any time in the game's history, if you had to identify the everyday player most likely to show dramatic and sustained improvement compared to his prior accomplishments, about the last person you'd pick would be a 35-year-old slugger with a first-ballot Hall of Fame career already behind him. And the fact that Bonds has done precisely that is so fundamentally jarring to our expectations that we'd be talking about him doing something unnatural even if we'd never heard of steroids. You can point to his talent, but plenty of players had the same talents, the same determination, and plenty of players today have access to the same conditioning and equipment. Yet Bonds stands alone, and even if he's out for half or all of 2005, that's why the questions won't go away. More than anything else, even more than Bonds' own prickly personality or the shape of his head, that explains why the steroid debate has come down so hard around Bonds. Because we can't seem to explain Barry Bonds any other way.
How unique are Bonds' accomplishments? There are many ways to measure, and many have tried. But I wanted to get to the heart of the Bonds enigma: not the greatness itself, or even the greatness at an advanced age, but the dramatic improvement at that age compared to his own prior self. The closer you look, the more unique Bonds is.
To measure Bonds' improvement, I set up a study. First, I needed to decide what to study; I focused on comparing Bonds' seasons from age 35 to age 39 (2000-2004) to his career averages as a hitter through age 34. Second, I needed a measuring stick, one that was readily available and wouldn't be distorted by changes in offensive conditions over time (after all, a lot of players' careers look more volatile than they are because the league scoring average has changed over time). I settled on OPS+ (i.e., On Base Plus Slugging - OPS - compared to the league average OPS and adjusted for park effects), which is compiled at Baseball-Reference.com; Bonds has posted the top 3 OPS+ seasons of all time in 2001, 2002 and 2004. OPS itself isn't a perfect metric, but it's a quick and dirty way to estimate offensive value. And through the Similarity Scores charts, you can get a player's OPS+ through age 34; Bonds' was 163, combining a .559 slugging percentage and .409 OBP through 1999, the numbers that got him voted to the All-Century Team and won him three MVP Awards.
Third, I needed a group to compare him to. We know Bonds is unusual, so rather than establish a similar-through-34 control group, I selected a group designed to capture as many players as I could find who had big slugging seasons after age 34; using Baseball-Reference.com's age-based leaders, I picked out every player who finished in the top 10 for a single season at age 35 through age 39, or in the top 10 for their career after that age, in any of four categories: OPS+, Slugging, Home Runs, or Extra Base Hits (the latter to pick up guys from the pre-home-run era). I then went through each season from age 35 to age 39 and divided each player's OPS+ at that age to his own career OPS+ through age 34. To keep fluke small-sample-size seasons out, I limited the study to seasons of 400 at bats or more.
I believe the criteria worked; I came up with 76 players (plus Bonds), including nearly everyone I could think of who had a big year in their late 30s. The 400-at-bat thing knocked out six players who had no seasons between 35 and 39 of that many at bats - John Lowenstein, Johnny Grubb, Bill Dickey, Ed Delahanty, Estel Crabtree, and Bob Thurman. The remaining 70 players collectively gave me 248 seasons to study. Of those:
*159 (64%) were below 100, meaning their OPS+ was lower than their career mark. This is unsurprising; most players that age decline, and for the great ones, the bar is high (Ty Cobb came in below 100 for his age 35 season when he hit .401; for what it's worth, the lowest figures in the study were 49 for Carlton Fisk at age 38 and 52 for Nap Lajoie at 39).
*44 (18%) were between 100 and 109, meaning less than a 10% improvement over career norms.
*19 (8%) were between 110 and 114, for a total of 222 (86%) showing less than a 15% improvement.
Let's look more closely at the 31 seasons (including Bonds) at a 15% or greater improvement:
Wow. Bonds absolutely towers over everyone else in his ability to . . . tower over himself. Was the young Bonds really such an underacheiver that he was leaving historic levels of talent untapped when he batted .336/.677/.458 for what looked like his career best season at age 28? Note that, of the other seven players to clear a 25% improvement in one season, two - Bob Johnson and Phil Weintraub - are marked with a * because those seasons came in 1944 against war-depleted competition (another, Ellis Burks, was a teammate of Bonds when he had his big year in 2000). The things Bonds has done are just not done.
Here's a fact almost as impressive as what's above: while Bonds has topped his career norms by at least 17% five years running, no other player among the other 70 in the study was even able to post five straight seasons above 100. And remember, this is in a study deliberately stacked to include guys who aged well. (Other than Bonds, Gaetti's the only 39-year-old on the chart). Only three players did it four times - Galarraga, Downing, and Edgar Martinez. Six players other than Bonds cleared 110 three times, and five (shown above) cleared 115 twice.
Those three groups have some overlap, amounting to ten players who showed something like a sustained improvement past age 34: Galarraga, Downing, Edgar, Burks, Henrich, Aaron, Molitor, Gaetti, Cy Williams, and Darrell Evans. There are some common threads with these guys: Edgar, Molitor, Burks and to some extent Galarraga had big chunks of their twenties wrecked by injuries, while Henrich was in the military from 30 to 32 (Bonds, by comparison, played less than 140 games only once between 1987 and 1998, and that was the strike season). Downing, Molitor, and Edgar had been switched to DH in their late 30s, Downing having started out catching and Molitor, at second base (even so, Downing's career high OPS+ was at age 28, Molitor's at 30, Edgar's at 32). Cy Williams was a home run hitter who just hadn't done well in the dead ball era; he was 32 in 1920. In other words, the guys with some similarities to Bonds' late-career charge are few and not all that similar. No wonder people think he's doing something unusual.
Read More »
[At some point, I'll try to update this post to include the complete list of the other players in the study]
« Close It
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:21 AM | Baseball 2005 | Baseball Studies | Comments (21) | TrackBack (1)
March 22, 2005
OTHER SPORTS: Title IX Loosens Up
What's debatable is whether Title IX even serves any purpose in college athletics at this stage. If the idea is to create opportunities for women in college athletics, that exists now, and it wouldn't dry up and blow away without government coercion. The main source of resistance to Title IX has nothing to do with discrimination as such and everything to do with money and specifically with football: specifically, the fact that many schools would prefer to have equal numbers of male and female scholarship athletes in non-money-making sports, but because football teams are enormous and have no analogue among female sports teams, a whole host of male sports have to suffer to meet the 1:1 ratio. And because football is the #1 moneymaker even at many small schools, you can't get rid of it to solve the problem, even if you otherwise wanted to.
BASEBALL: NL East EWSL Report
Part Four of my 2005 EWSL review (Established Win Shares Levels are explained here, the AL East EWSL report is here, the AL West EWSL report is here, the AL Central EWSL report is here, and the AL EWSL standings are here). Again, recall that the 23-man rosters used here will slightly depress the team win totals: as I demonstrated with the AL standings, the total EWSL for the league requires rounding up by about 7-10 wins per team.
RAW EWSL: 241.17 (80 Wins)
Yeah, you could've knocked me over with a feather: the Marlins in first place? (Just wait until we get lower in the division). When you look at the roster, with solid players all over the lineup and good young starting pitching, it makes a lot more sense, especially when you remember that they are just a year removed from winning it all. Still, there may be a playing time glitch with the outfield - Conine and Aguila can't get that many Win Shares if Cabrera, Pierre and Encarnacion are playing that regularly, and Delgado's arrival means that Cabrera and Conine are done playing first base except in emergencies.
If you looked carefully at the AL, you'd see that the top age-adjusted EWSL for any player was 28 for A-Rod, Mark Teixeira and Adrian Beltre; the steep youth adjustment for a 22-year-old pushes Cabrera ahead of that, and he doesn't even rate as the top player in the NL East (and just wait until we get to Pujols and Bonds).
If you look at Defense Independent Pitching Stats for 2004, one pitcher towers above all others as far as his ERA overstating how well he actually pitched in 2004: Al Leiter, who has returned to the control issues of his youth (now more from excessive nibbling at the corners) while striking out fewer and fewer batters - K/BB of 117/97 last year in 173.2 IP. It's been inspirational watching Leiter squeeze the last drops out of his declining abilities, but the jig should be about up this season.
RAW EWSL: 261.67 (87 Wins)
Probably the real class of the division, and trailing the Marlins only by a hair when EWSL is adjusted for age. Removing Bowa from the picture should improve the Phillies' outlook, although the starting pitching is still highly suspect, and Citizens Bank Park doesn't help that. Seriously, late September, pennant race tied, key series between Florida and Philly - don't you have to pick the Marlins, with the starters they can throw out there?
Rany Jazayerli penned a nice tribute to Abreu on the Baseball Prospectus site (subscription only), although "A Star No One Sees" is a bit dramatic, as few BP readers are likely to be unaware that Abreu is a superstar. He pushed his value to new heights last season by improving the little things - 40 steals in 45 tries, career high in walks, just 5 GIDP in over 700 plate appearances (while batting with enough men on base to drive in 105 runs).
Kenny Lofton is likely to disappoint, so Byrd and Michaels will have opportunities to pick up playing time; Byrd, age 27 and stock at an all-time low, could be a sleeper in some NL fantasy leagues. Polanco has some of the same playing time issues as Conine with the Marlins, but (1) that offsets the fact that Utley is rated only on part-time play and (2) Polanco could get playing time at third if Bell struggles or gets hurt (or if Thome goes down, and Bell slides over to first). Doesn't "Chase Utley" sound like the snooty boyfriend in a John Hughes movie?
RAW EWSL: 206.50 (69 Wins)
Third place? Not likely, but EWSL sees this team as nearly even with the Mets and Braves. I'm not sure this lineup works defensively, but anything they can do to keep Chavez on the bench and Johnson in the lineup will help. Castilla is aging better than expected, although he's still not that good, even with all the RBI he had last year at Colorado. . . If Frank Howard can be the "Capitol Punisher," will Nick Johnson be "the Filibuster"?
New York Mets
RAW EWSL: 204.83 (68 Wins)
On the whole, it's not hard to see, looking player by player, why the Mets have the greatest upside and downside from these figures than any team in the division. The key to the team becoming a legitimate contender is Reyes and Matsui exceeding the numbers above, but they could just as easily be hurt again . . . you'd think Wright should do better, but the age 22 multiplier assumes that players his age are often transitioning from half- to full-season play; 16 Win Shares isn't an unfair expectation for a 22 year old in his first full season, no matter how talented . . . Pedro last year, even in an off year, had the second-highest strikeouts-per-inning of any 32-year-old pitcher in the game's history, higher than Clemens or Ryan at the same age (but behind Hideo Nomo, so maybe that doesn't mean so much).
The teams here are close enough that the Mets would be rated in third last week before downgrading from Trachsel and Phillips to Ishii and Castro, although they'd be behind Philly and Florida if you added two wins for the difference between Minky (10 WS) and Delgado (16). Or so I tell myself, but Delgado does seem a much better candidate to rebound to where he was two or three years ago than Minky.
Bear in mind once again that, where there are questions about players on the end of the bench/bullpen, I err on the side of the more established player; Victor Diaz will also be in the mix, and the bullpen's still unsettled.
RAW EWSL: 208.67 (70 Wins)
"You predicted the Braves to finish last?"
"Well, see, I have this system . . . "
"Must be something wrong with the system."
I should probably add an arbitrary adjustment that starts the Braves at 100 wins regardless of who the players are. But as long as I'm rating them by the same system as everyone else, last place it is, albeit by just a hair behind Washington and the Mets. Everyone gets bad breaks, but the Braves always seem to save theirs for October, so it's always a question of what can go right, not wrong. It's not hard to see how they beat these numbers: Marcus Giles, Hudson and Smoltz stay healthy for a full season. One or two of the bullpen castoffs has the usual 1.80 ERA. Mondesi and Jordan break down but get replaced by Langerhans and Chipper in the corners, and Andy Marte comes up to play third.
Or, they could be the 1965 Yankees.
I didn't realize until just now that Chipper's 33. Time does fly . . . I'll get to this another day, but someone should do a study now that we actually have a fairly large number of examples of starters who became closers and then went back to starting (Derek Lowe, Kelvim Escobar, etc.)
March 21, 2005
I can't let pass without comment the death, at the ripe old age of 101, of George Frost Kennan, the great foreign policy analyst and author of the concept of "containment" of the Soviet Union. Kennan was one of the giants - he wasn't always right but he was hugely influential and incisive. You can read his NY Times obit here, plus more from David Adesnik here and Daniel Drezner here. I spent more time reading Kennan than almost any other academic writer in high school and college, especially his work on the peace of Versailles and the unsuccessful U.S. intervention in Russia during the Russian Revolution, the subject of my senior thesis in college. Kennan was an unsparing critic of Woodrow Wilson's impractical idealism, and a lively reconstructor of the Russian and American scenes of the era.
I wouldn't, as Instapundit does, call him "the Wolfowitz of the Cold War," given that Kennan spent more of his time battling hawks (like Paul Nitze, who also only died only recently) than doves; Kennan was mortified by the extent to which containment developed into an active military policy. Kennan's cold-blooded realism hasn't worn well over time, although I'll admit that I found his view initially appealing. One insight Kennan gets too little credit for is his prediction, from the very outset of the Cold War, that the internal tensions of the many nationalities within the Soviet Union would eventually tear the USSR apart.
WAR: Putin, Up Close and Personal
There was a great article in the March 2005 issue of The Atlantic profiling Vladimir Putin (it's available on the web only to subscribers but worth reading however you can get it). Paul Starobin, the author of the piece, makes the point that Putin doesn't fit neatly into Western efforts to either embrace him as a democrat or denounce him as a dictator, and divides the profile in three parts: Putin the fighter, the Chekist (i.e., his KGB background), and the religious believer. On the first point, Starobin's profile draws an obvious parallel to Theodore Roosevelt, as Putin was a weak, sickly kid who by force of will transformed himself into a judo champion. On the latter point, Starobin notes that Putin is apparently a devout follower of the Russian Orthodox church - a fact that, as with the religious Tony Blair, helps explain why Putin hit it off immediately with George W. Bush. (One amusing fact I didn't know: down the hall from Putin's Kremlin office is a private Orthodox chapel built by Boris Yeltsin in what used to be Josef Stalin's living quarters. The irony is delicious).
Starobin also notes that Putin views the battle against Islamic terrorism as Russia's to win, and of course that's another reason why he's seen as a key ally in the war on terror, for all the faults of his regime and the difficulties he's given us in Iraq and Iran. The best allies in this fight are the ones who see themselves not as coming to U.S. aid but as themselves having a stake in the fight, like Israel, India, and Australia (one reason Blair has taken so much heat is because not enough people in Britain share his view that the fight is Britain's).
March 20, 2005
BASEBALL: His Head Got Bigger, But . . .
Did Barry Bonds' ex-girlfriend implicate him more deeply in the steroid scandal? Of course, from ESPN's writeup, she doesn't necessarily sound like the most credible witness (disgruntled ex-girlfriends can be like that as witnesses).
This whole thing has just been depressing, even the Bonds part, and that's coming from someone who has no love for Bonds. (I'll have more on the historic uniqueness of Bonds's late-career power surge some time in the next week or two). I'll actually confess I was a bit surprised to see the evidence mounting heavily against Mark McGwire. Yes, I know Big Mac got to be a huge guy and had the big power years in his mid-30s, but (1) he was a guy with a huge frame when he came into the league, and always looked like he'd fill out and (2) after all, you'd expect the home run record to be broken by a guy who broke the rookie home run record. Maybe it was too easy to ingore the warning signs because he already fit the part.
Anyway, nobody involved has covered themselves in glory - this is a story with no heroes - from the players, agents, trainers, owners, league and union executives and dealers who were all either in on it or actively looking the other way, to the reporters and politicians looking to grandstand or use the scandal to settle scores with guys they never liked. And who keeps leaking all this grand jury stuff? Yuck.
BASEBALL: The Missing Submariner
Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald has a long profile today of Byung-Hyun Kim, not that there's any real information about why he hasn't been pitching - his problems increasingly seem to be mental rather than physical:
"It's a mystery. It has us totally befuddled," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "There's no physical problem. I just don't think he's responded to the pressure of playing in Boston and I take responsibility for that." Said Sox manager Terry Francona when asked if the 26-year-old Kim could resurrect his career: "I think he can do it. I'm not sure he wants to do it here."
Yet, the results have clearly been physical:
"He was a prodigious worker. In fact, it was an issue with us," [Joe] Garagiola [Jr.] said. "Kim would throw all the time. We'd finish a game and you'd hear this THUMP, thump, thump and he would be throwing in the cage." This spring, finally, Red Sox officials have had success in getting Kim to back off his workouts. Sox officials believe his fastball touched 90-91 mph in side sessions before exhibition games began, but Kim was clocked between 84-86 mph in the 2 2/3 innings he pitched prior to coming down with the flu. The reason for the drop in velocity? That, too, remains a mystery. Kim is healthy. He is 26. But some Sox officials believe that the demands of pitching in a baseball-obsessed town like Boston has completely overwhelmed the pitcher, whom most everyone believes is sensitive, delicate, even fragile.
[B]y the middle of last season, Kim was a lost cause. His velocity was down considerably -- Sox officials attribute this largely to Kim's unhappiness -- and his desire to play in Boston was destroyed. Kim went 5-6 with a 5.34 ERA at Triple-A Pawtucket and finished 2-1 with a 6.23 ERA for the Sox, and there wasn't a team in baseball that would touch him and the balance of his $10 million contract over the winter.
For what it's worth, Kim returned to pitch a single perfect inning and strike out one today against the Pirates. It's been reported that the Mets are interested in Kim, and of course I've always been a huge fan of sidearmers as well as picking up guys who have had great K numbers, decent control, and are still young and healthy. That said, the Sox are looking for someone to eat Kim's contract, and that could be tough to take, plus the Mets aren't really a low-pressure environment, although they do have a number of other players from Asia, including the Korean Jae Seo if he ever makes the roster. Perhaps more importantly, there's a huge Korean community in Queens, centered in Flushing (large sections of which look like an Asian city), and perhaps Kim would feel more at home here and get to know more people outside of the game.
"He was at 84 miles an hour," said one major league scout. "I thought my [radar] gun was stuck. He might have touched 85. He's just a shadow of the pitcher he was in Arizona. This is a guy who threw in the 90s when he was in Arizona, and his slider had incredible movement. Now, his slider is flat."
March 19, 2005
BASEBALL: Alomar's Sunset
A sad end to a great career - though in some ways less sad than if he'd played this year in Tampa and played badly - as Roberto Alomar hung up his spikes today. David Pinto, as always, has perspective on Alomar's career, which after five years' time to forget the last few seasons will yet again be remembered as an easy choice for Cooperstown, a lifetime .300 hitter who was, over the twelve years of his peak (1991-2001) the total package of average, power, speed, patience, good defense at a key position, and clutch hits in the postseason, perhaps most memorably his home run in the 12th inning of the deciding Game Four of the 1996 ALCS.
The Mets announcers today were, predictably, ripping Alomar, noting that one reason the Mets got rid of him may have been to avoid having his poor work habits rub off on Jose Reyes, and speculating that Alomar's decline may have stemmed from a loss of competitive drive. Personally, I suspect that Alomar may not have been much of a conditioning fanatic, and that may have contributed to his sudden decline as well as the injuries that finished him.
Or not; maybe there was nothing he could have done. While I defended the Alomar deal at the time, one of the most (almost accidentally) prescient things I've ever written was this, from my 2002 Mets preview column:
Warning: Baseball-Reference.com lists the most similar player to Alomar at the same age as Robin Yount, with Ryne Sandberg third and Joe Morgan (probably the player, along with Jackie Robinson, most genuinely similar to Alomar's talents) seventh. Yount, the AL MVP at 33, lost 71 points off his batting average at 34 and was never again an above-average player. Morgan went from .288, 22 homers, 113 runs and 49 steals to .236, 13 HR, 68 R and 19 SB, and never again scored more than 72 runs in a season, only hitting above .250 one more time. Sandberg dropped from 26 homers to 9, lost 100 points off his slugging average, and was never a star again. Joe Torre is also on the statistical list and fell off sharply at 34, but the fact that the Similarity Scores system thinks Joe Torre, the second-slowest man in baseball in his prime (ahem, Rusty) was similar to Robbie Alomar shows why you can't take it too literally. The news isn't all bad: Frankie Frisch tailed off slowly, Robinson started missing games but stayed productive, and Charlie Gehringer at 34 batted .371 and won the MVP Award. Similarity Scores aren't destiny; all they do is give us the cautions of history. History says that even players as good as Alomar - including several players with similar talents - can just lose it overnight at his age.
(You can check out those comparables now here and their remaining career totals compared to Alomar here; Yount and Sandberg turned out to be eerily good guides to the way Alomar's career would play out).
BASEBALL: Roto Team 2005
For those of you who are interested to see where I put my money in my 2005 Rotisserie draft, held last Saturday (March 12), here's the roster - AL league, traditional roto rules (4x4, 12 teams, $260 for 23 slots, 10 reserves):
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The first striking thing here is, no $1 players; that's gotta be a first. This team is a throwback, and a break from my usual patterns, in spending big money - too much money, really - on a primo closer and base thief. Still, there are only two players in the AL who stole more than 36 bases last year, and the other one batted .244 last season. (Foulke was the league's most expensive closer, and I regretted getting him when guys with a shot at a piece of the closer job elsewhere started going for low single digits, like Howry at $2, Jorge Julio at $3 and Jason Frasor at $1.
You can see my panic in the starting pitching column, especially the money I spent on Lilly, my first starter. I can't entirely bank on the five guys I have, so it will be a big help if Chen comes through or Felix Hernandez gets a major league look this year. I'm also heavily invested in the A's dealing Eric Byrnes to create space for Thomas and/or Johnson somewhere in the OF/1B/DH rotation, and on Baldelli getting back in enough time to chip in some value in the second half. I'm actually not that high on Beltre, but he is young and a heck of a hitter, and he'll be worth that price if he comes within 60 points of last year's .334 average. As for Bartlett, his low SB% in 2003 and dropoff in attempts last season don't bode well for him as a big stolen base threat, but at that price he's worth the hope that he'll win the everyday job, notwithstanding a Tom Kelly-inspired organizational tendency to break in youngsters very slowly and in stages.
I didn't set out to have seven Blue Jays and four A's; with Toronto, that's just where the opportunities were. Hudson is the only returning player from last year's draft (although I've often owned Howry, Menechino, and Carter before), and he's the very picture of the kind of player you want in a roto draft - still young, not too expensive, safe everyday job, some power, some speed, and thus contribution in all categories and the hope of maybe busting out with a big improvement in one or more of them.
In the end, even with a few dollars' overspending here and there, I like most of my players, but I'm less confident that they hang together well as a team; batting average and Wins in particular could be a problem. While I like Bonderman's upside a lot, his team's not that good, and the same goes for Lilly. As for Escobar, we'll soon enough find out where his ceiling is - either 2004 was the setup for a career year, or it was the career year.
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BASEBALL: Stirrup The Drink
The professional sterility of the full length baseball pant, and the occasional monotone bobby-sock/knickers look of J.T. Snow and a handful of others, are draining the cheer and boyish charm out of the aesthetics of the game. . . Stirrups are as important to the game as a dark blue-clad umpire, a white-chalked field, a dark-green fence, or the team logo on the cap's crown.
Speaking of boyish charm, one of the charms of spring training is some of the amateurish fields on which the games are played; I was watching a Yankees-Indians highlight today from Winter Haven and Tino Martinez hit a home run that basically landed in the neighbor's yard, as a large house was right over the back of the stands.
BASEBALL: Not Another Kaz Deal!
First, the Mets brought in Kaz Matsui. I'm pretty optimistic about Matsui this season, but he last season was a mild disappointment with the bat and a catastrophe with the glove (despite a glove-wizard reputation in Japan) before his season was cut short by injury.
Then, they dealt Scott Kazmir, still thought by many to be a potential future rotation ace, for Victor Zambrano, who promptly went down with an injury.
Now, the Mets are pursuing Kaz Ishii, apparently offering in return to deal Jason Phillips while his stock is down.
This would be a bad deal coming and going. Phillips' lousy season last year disabused anyone of the idea that he's any kind of star-caliber player, but I still think he can hit enough to provide decent insurance on the aging Mike Piazza behind the plate and, in a pinch, the injury-prone Doug Minky at first. Piazza is almost a certainty at this juncture to spend a 2- or 3-week stretch on the DL, and possibly months; if Phillips is dealt (with the team having dumped its top catching prospect in the Kris Benson deal), the Mets' only option will be lifetime .212 hitter Ramon Castro, who batted .135 last season.
Phillips is hardly untouchable, though, and dealing him for something resembling a productive rotation starter would be worthwhile. Despite the Dodgers' desperation to land a catcher, Ishii is not that guy; the huge dropoff in his strikeout rate last season (from 8.57 to 5.18 K/9) eliminated the advantage that had offset his dismal control (career rate of 5.80 BB/9). With the Mets' defense shaping up to possibly be outstanding this season, I'd rather give anothers shot to with Jae Seo, who will at least throw strikes and take his chances with the defense.
UPDATE: Rob at 6-4-2 notes that "Phillips made league minimum last year, while Ishii will make $3.23M in 2005, and is owed $5.4M overall with a 2006 buyout clause." The news just gets better and better . . .
SECOND UPDATE: Shea Hot Corner has a roundup of reactions from other Mets blogs, a disturbing number of which seem to like this train wreck of a deal. If I actually thought Ishii would be a league-average-ERA innings-eater, I'd agree; I think he's more likely to have an ERA that would make Chan Ho Park cringe. And Rob from 6-4-2 notes in the comments that the Dodgers may be eating some of Ishii's contract, although frankly I'd rather they just ate Ishii.
March 18, 2005
BLOG: All Politics Is Local . . .
. . . and so, apparently, is fast food, even at the usually one-menu-fits-all McDonald's. Behold the McTurco.
BASEBALL: AL Predicted Standings
If you've followed my EWSL reports thus far (Established Win Shares Levels are explained here, the AL East EWSL report is here, and the AL West EWSL report is here, and the AL Central EWSL report is here), you'll notice that the total wins for the American League's 14 teams don't add up to 1134, i.e., 81 wins per team. Assuming for the sake of argument that the AL finishes with a .500 record in interleague play, however, 1134 wins have to come from somewhere. That's not necessarily a flaw in the system; I rate 23 players per team, but each team will get a few wins from the end of the bench and a few more from new arrivals (I don't have figures handy but if I recall correctly the average team uses something like 35-40 players a year). There's also a natural process at work: if the established players in the league were producing exactly what they did last year, there would be no room for the turnover in personnel - new arrivals, old players departing - that is a constant in the game.
Specifically, EWSL produces enough Win Shares for 74.7 wins per AL team in 2005 before applying the age adjustment, and 71.2 wins after. That does seem low to me, but there you have it. If we project those totals upwards proportionally across teams - a debatable assumption, I know, but an unavoidable one if we're trying to keep the system essentially objective - what do the age-adjusted EWSL standings look like?
For the most part, that looks just about right to me, and naturally it looks a lot like last year's standings. In general, I would expect the Twins and Indians to be most likely to exceed these records, and maybe the Tigers, although it's debatable at whose expense (although a few wrong turns could lead the Royals to a 110 losses).
Let's also stack up how the age adjustments affect various teams. Here's a table showing the net age adjustment to each team's record, with 100 being a team with no adjustments, higher being a team that was adjusted updward, etc.; in short, the teams most likely to have young, improving talent are at the top, the teams that depend most on declining older players are at the bottom (although given the nature of the method, pure rookies aren't included):
Of course, it's probably not a coincidence that the teams most likely to see decline from their established talent are the teams with the most of it, and it's no surprise that the overall trend is for the league's established players to decline. For completeness, here are the standings you'd get from EWSL if you don't apply the age adjustment:
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BASEBALL: Fenway's Other Monster
Dick Radatz has died, in a fall down stairs at his home. "The Monster," a Fenway legend in the early 60s and more recently a radio personality on WEEI, was 67. Radatz wasn't a man given to restraint, either on the mound, in his personal life (as the obit notes, he weighed around 400 pounds at times and was a heavy smoker), or on the air.
There are many candidates for "first modern reliever," depending how you draw the line, but other than Ryne Duren, who was less durable and whose success was shorter-lived, Radatz, a tremendous workhorse, was the first reliever to put up modern-day strikeout numbers over a period of years - he struck out 627 batters in 557.1 IP in just over four years in Boston, with a high of 181 in 1964 - and one of the first star-quality flamethrowers to make a career in the bullpen. R.I.P.
UPDATE: Rich Lederer has more. Also, check the comments here re: Radatz vs. Mickey Mantle.
POLITICS: In Praise of Claudia Rosett
Hugh Hewitt argues for a Pulitzer Prize for the Wall Street Journal's Claudia Rosett (hat tip: Roger Simon) for her work on the Oil-for-Food scandal, her dispatches on North Korea, and more. Rosett has done tremendous, tremendous work, and should indeed be honored for it.
(And, it is worth noting these days, she didn't need Susan Estrich to get her a job, either, any more than did Susan Lee, Peggy Noonan, Dorothy Rabinowitz, or Mary O'Grady - the WSJ has quite the stable of brilliant op-ed page reporters and writers who are women).
POLITICS: There Goes Da Judge
Gerry Daly has a great why-didn't-I-write-that post breaking down the rates of Senate confirmation for each president's noominees for the federal Courts of Appeal going back through Truman. The numbers here punch a hole in the Democratic talking points that seek to obscure what's going on by lumping in District Court nominees, who will wield a good deal less national influence.
Here's the key table, showing the percentage of nominees to get approved, although you should be sure to read the whole thing:
One of these things is not like the others . . . Gerry traces the break in the pattern to Reagan, although I'd point to the last years of the first President Bush, when George Mitchell decided to bottle up all of his nominees and run out the clock to the election. Either way, things got significantly worse under Clinton, but the Clinton experience was nothing compared to the wholesale obstruction we're seeing today, which is all the worse because it's obstruction of nominees with majority support.
UPDATE: I fixed the Bush number up from 36.8% to 40.7% - Gerry had been counting in 9 judges who were actually nominated by Clinton in January 2001, due to the fact that the Congress elected with Bush was already in session. I agree with him that those shouldn't be counted for Clinton, either, since they were basically lame-duck stunt appointments (although John Marshall might disagree).
SECOND UPDATE: Dales explains why the number looks high:
I went to the Library of Congress search engine on Presidential nominations, and chose a search on all nominations referred to the judiciary committee during the 107th Congress, and then counted how many nominations were to Circuit Courts. The correct number is 61.
That's technically true, if you're counting nominations rather than judges, and it does give a flavor of the duration of the obstruction at issue here, but I would not count those guys twice. Then again, I'm not sure how many judges are similarly double-counted in the prior administrations, since he appears to use a consistent methodlogy (i.e., this also double-counts anyone Clinton renominated in consecutive sessions). I'm pretty sure we're still at a number significantly lower than the Clinton years once you adjust, but I can't have a lot of confidence in the table at this stage.
THIRD UPDATE: Gerry has more in the comments, one conclusion of which is that - as far as the actual percentage of different individual nominees who were confirmed, the numbers are 73% for Clinton and 61% for Bush. Note that a lot of the Republican efforts to stymie Clinton gave way in his second term, while the Democrats are pledging to shut down the Senate over this. (Also, Clinton nominated two Supreme Court justices who have been reliably liberal votes on nearly every significant issue, and both were easily confirmed; just try to imagine Democrats giving similar consideration to Bush appointees who would vote as consistently conservative as Ginsburg and Breyer have been consistently liberal).
I actually don't object to the use of the filibuster for limited purposes in judicial confirmation fights - to delay a nomination sufficiently to ensure adequate fact-finding and to buy some time to build opposition to a nominee. Although, in the usual case, most of that function is discharged by the process of having the Judiciary Committee conduct a reasonable investigation of the nominee. But that's worlds away from the present system, in which the Democrats are insisting that it is right and proper that a nominee chosen by a duly elected president and supported by a majority of duly elected Senators can and should be prevented indefinitely from getting a vote.
Of course, even this analysis assumes that conservative and liberal judges are otherwise equally fair game. But they aren't; despite an extensive scholarly and media campaign dedicated to obscuring this reality, the simple fact remains that in the great majority of cases involving liberal/conservative splits over Constitutional matters, adopting the conservative position creates rules that can be overriden by democratically elected legislators, either in Congress or in the states, whereas in a large proportion of such cases, the liberal position, often with little or no explicit textual support in the Constitution, removes issues - the death penalty, abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. - from democratic debate (whereas the more "activist" conservative rulings, other than on the issue of racial preferences, at most tend to allocate power as between Congress and the states, leaving one or the other with the power to act). It is all the more illegitimate to use the tactics adopted by the Democrats in the service of permanentlt stripping democratically elected bodies of power to decide issues of importance to the public.
UPDATE: Dales also discusses the filibuster of Abe Fortas, which is precisely the type of limited filibuster I would approve of, but which may fall by the wayside as collateral damage of the Democrats' recent abuse of the filibuster. And, of course, the ability to filibuster legislation is an entirely separate controversy that shouldn't be affected by any of this.
March 17, 2005
BASEBALL: Fear Leads To Anger
BASEBALL: Two Sickels
You should definitely be reading John Sickels' blog community Minor League Ball (one of many blogs I myself don't read nearly frequently enough). Sickels is pretty much Mister Minor Leagues. Here's Sickels doing what he does best, and summarizing his rankings of which are baseball's most star-studded farm systems. And here he discusses the comps to Mark Prior at the same age (be very afraid!).
BASEBALL: Trachsel of My Tears
The news just gets worse for the Mets, as Steve Trachsel is now likely out for the year. David Pinto thinks Trachsel "shouldn't be difficult to replace," but I disagree. You'll recall that, when Trachsel first came to the Mets, he started in an awful funk, 1-6 with an 8.24 ERA in 39.1 innings in his first 8 starts in 2001, leading to a brief demotion to Norfolk. But since his return in June 2001, Trachsel has been everything you could ask for from a pitcher of his unspectacular pedigree: in 116 starts over more than 3 1/2 years, he's 49-41 (.544, vs. 219-317, .409 for the rest of the team sine June 8, 2001), with a 3.66 ERA in 715.1 IP, almost never missing a start. He's averaged 8.67 H/9, 1.03 HR/9, 3.16 BB/9, and 5.65 K/9 over that span. Compare that to 20-28, 4.03 for Glavine as a Met; the next time Benson or Zambrano has an ERA below 3.80 in more than 100 innings will be a first. Even Pedro's ERA was higher last year than 3.66, albeit in Fenway. And that production has come relatively cheap, with the Mets paying just $3.8 million per year, a pittance compared to many other contracts out there for far less successful and effective pitchers. Trachsel's been durable and relatively cheap for some time now. Guys like that don't grow on trees; ask Texas or Kansas City or Cincinnati.
It's true enough that Traschel benefits from Shea Stadium, and that his declining strikeout rates and good luck on balls in play marked him anyway as a guy likely to decline this year, but we shouldn't underestimate what Trachsel has meant to the Mets the past four years.
BASKETBALL: Crusader Kingdom
After several years of close calls against major powers Kentucky and Kansas in the NCAA tournament, Ralph Willard's Holy Cross basketball squad finally racks up a postseason victory - the school's first since 1981 - with a road win at Notre Dame to open the NIT.
March 16, 2005
BASEBALL: Platoon The Kid!
I know I'm something of a broken record on this point, having urged that the aging and injury-prone Cliff Floyd and the declining Rafael Palmeiro could both benefit from a platoon arrangement to keep them fresh and healthy and alleviate their growing ineptitude against lefthanded pitching. But I've got one more candidate for a platoon: Ken Griffey. It'd be a shame to move Griffey to an AL team to DH, losing the value of his glove, but something has to be done to try to keep him healthy. And the splits are getting more and more pronounced:
The same problem arises as with Floyd: how do you justify making a guy with that salary a platoon player? Well, you accept that this is the best way to use him. And how do you tell a guy with a big ego that he's now a platoon player? Sell it to him as regular rest, I guess, although for a guy who thought he was chasing Hank Aaron for much of his career, that'd be hard to take.
BLOG: Technical Blegs
1. I am inundated with "Internal Server Error" messages every time I try to post, which keeps resulting in lost posts or double posts. Is there any solution to this?
2. Does anyone know if the new MT-Blacklist makes it possible, as the older version did, to delete multiple spam comments/trackbacks at once?
I always hate it when technical issues like this wind up consuming big chunks of the time I have to deal with the blog.
POLITICS: Always Rather Slippery
BASEBALL: So, How Do I Look?
POLITICS: Jeff Gannon, Call Your Office
OK, for all the folks up in arms about Gannon asking the president a loaded, biased question, let's take on another White House correspondent, Elizabeth Bumiller of the New York Times:
Bumiller described Wolfowitz as "a chief architect of one of the most unpopular wars in history." The president was clearly surprised by the opinionated slant of the question, as was just about everyone in the room. After laughing, President Bush responded, "That's an interesting start."
BASEBALL: 2005 AL Central EWSL Report
Part Three of my 2005 EWSL review (Established Win Shares Levels are explained here, the AL East EWSL report is here, and the AL West EWSL report is here). Again, recall that the 23-man rosters used here will slightly depress the team win total.
RAW EWSL: 189.5 (63 Wins)
Yes, the team with the most youth-driven upside in the division is also the the three-time defending champs, as the Twins continually reinvent themselves. As with last year's Rangers, EWSL is almost certainly lowballing Mauer and Morneau by rating them on partial season totals, although in Mauer's case that could yet be all the Twins get if his knees won't hold up to catching every day. Obviously, getting more than 1 WS worth of production out of Joe Mays would be a big plus as well, but EWSL reminds us that this would require him to exceed what he's been able to give the Twins in recent years.
Juan Castro and a couple of other non-hitters are in the infield mix, with some sources giving the 33-year-old Castro the inside track at shortstop. I'm treating Restovich as a rookie since he's never had 60 at bats in a season.
Chicago White Sox
RAW EWSL: 215.5 (72 Wins)
The White Sox' primary problem, with the decline of Frank Thomas into an injury-prone .270 hitter, is a lack of star power - this is a fairly well-balanced roster, but teams with Mark Buehrle or Juan Uribe or Scott Podsednik as their best player do not win championships. Of course, like the rest of the division, these guys are built to take on the Twins, not the Yankees.
You tell me which one you would call the White Sox' third starter - but at least Garland is young and still could show the improvement EWSL projects . . . Willie Harris probably won't be the odd man out for too long, since he can play second and the outfield.
RAW EWSL: 174.33 (58 Wins)
The Indians are rated pretty weakly here, but that's a consequence of holes in the pitching staff and at shortstop (you could add 3 or 4 wins to the total by rating Alex Cora instead of Peralta). The outfield and middle infield mixes still look fluid, and also include Cora and Brandon Phillips on the infield side. The bullpen has a titular closer in Wickman, but I wouldn't bet on him holding the job, given his age, injuries, conditioning, recent performance and an abundance of qualified alternatives.
Gonzalez, of course, is ailing again, which is why it's futile to list him as the starter.
Before you give up on Sabathia, recall that he's two years younger than Ben Sheets, who just finally had his big breakthrough last year.
RAW EWSL: 193.83 (65 Wins)
The Tigers, like an undersea mountain, look like they are about to peak without ever breaking sea level. This should be around a .500 team, especially if Bonderman has the big breakout season a lot of people are expecting from him. They're also reportedly trying to deal Urbina for something of more immediate use than a second closer.
EWSL docks the Tigers one win for cutting Alex Sanchez, which tentatively replaces him on the roster with Nook Logan. While the move may turn out to be for the best - Sanchez wasn't really helping the cause, given his poor defense and atrocious percentage base thieving - it definitely makes the Tigers lineup, in which Logan and Chris Monroe are battling for the center field job, a little less of a proven commodity.
Kansas City Royals
RAW EWSL: 126.2 (42 Wins)
Gack. The Royals promise to make the mediocre teams that constitute the middle class of the AL Central look a whole lot better. What a dismal team, even compared to the hopes with which they entered 2004. 52 wins is not a fair projection, but then, EWSL recognizes that a lot of things have to go right for the first time just to get this team to 100 losses.
Then there's nearly the team's sole cause for optimism, Zack Greinke, who Jay Jaffe and Studes have identified as a guy who could take a step back this year because he was lucky on balls in play in 2004. I wouldn't go shining that Cy Young Award the Baseball Prospectus guys are hinting at just yet.
EWSL underrates John Buck, who gets credit for 4 Win Shares for 2004 based on about a half-season's worth of games; he should actually project out to about 10 or 12 EWSL, not 5 (a similar analysis could apply to Greinke). On the other hand, it seems strange after all these years to be rating Calvin Pickering as just a second-year player. . . I penciled in Teahen as the starting 3B when Chris Truby went down this week with a broken wrist. The Royals may say they don't intend to rush Teahen, but without Truby there isn't even another credible alternative at third, so why keep Teahen waiting? When you add in the rookie adjustment, EWSL actually adds four wins to the Royals' total when you swap an everyday rookie Teahen for scrub outfielder Abraham Nunez.
March 15, 2005
BASEBALL: "Former Yankee Baseball Star"
I was incensed Sunday night when watching NBC and the teaser for the 11pm news, referring to Dwight Gooden's arrest after a fight with his girlfriend, said, "a former Yankee baseball star in in trouble with the law." Former Yankee? You say that in the very city where Gooden won the Cy Young, the Rookie of the Year . . . oh, the indignity.
On the other hand, as my wife pointed out: "if he's beating his wife, let him be a Yankee."
March 14, 2005
POLITICS: The Status-Quo Based Community
Jonah Goldberg absolutely nails a point I've been meaning to make, and in precisely the same terms: that if you actually paid attention to the anonymous quotation from which many left-wing bloggers draw the phrase "reality-based community," and the real-world context in which it was offered (assuming the quotation's accuracy, which with Ron Suskind is far from certain), what many on the Left are proclaiming fealty to is really a status quo-based community, in which present realities - in particular, present governments - are assumed to be unchangeable. Applied to the Arab/Muslim worlds, the Left has spent its time trying to argue over how we deal with the existing regimes, rather than how to change them. Applied to Social Security, it means arguing about the cost of transitioning from the current system rather than starting with the question of what kind of system is sustainable and beneficial over the long haul.
At first glance, this seems ironic: isn't it conservatives who have spent years mocking liberals for promoting unrealistically utopian plans for radical change, and isn't it liberals who used to use the mantra, popularized if not coined by Robert Kennedy, of not seeing what exists and asking "why" but dreaming things that never existed and asking "why not"? Well, yes. But there's a critical difference. When the Left has proposed radical changes, they tend to involve things like altering social structures (say, to eradicate gender differences), or instituting big, complicated government programs with all sorts of potential for unforeseen consequences (think HillaryCare). In other words: trying to change human behavior. Whereas conservative initiatives aren't about changing the longstanding nature of the people to suit the government, but about changing governments to suit the longstanding nature of the people. Democracy in the Middle East? Well, it's worked for hundreds of years and has been successfully installed in many and varied other situations. More private control over Social Security, health care, education? Well, all of human experience shows that people are more responsible when making decisions for themselves. Nothing in conservatism says you have to worship the status quo, but you do have to respect tradition and history as guides to how people behave. The status quo based community somehow manages to take the stasis without getting the reason for it.
March 11, 2005
BASEBALL: Floyd and Diaz
I had meant to ask this question a few months back - I wonder if, as long as Mike Cameron is settled in right (at least once he's healthy enough to go) the Mets might be wise to consider platooning Cliff Floyd and Victor Diaz in left field. I am, of course, on record as believing that platooning is a good way to deal with an aging player's declining skills, stamina and durability (the latter being a perennial problem with Floyd since his youth, but hopefully regular rest could keep him healthier) while still taking advantage of the things he can do, plus it would give the Mets a look at Diaz before handing him an everyday job. And the numbers bear out the notion that Floyd would benefit from a platoon situation:
(I don't have useful splits for the right-handed hitting Diaz, since he's only got 51 big league at bats)
BASEBALL: 2005 AL West EWSL Report
Remember again that EWSL, by rating only 23 players per team (whereas a typical team employs closer to 35 or 40 players in the course of a season), tends to understate by a few wins the wins a team can expect to compile. I'll run an adjustment for that when we get to the end of the AL, but for now the wins totals are mainly for comparison to the other teams.
Angels of California at a City That's Sort of But Not Quite a Suburb of Los Angeles and Includes Disneyland
RAW EWSL: 244.33 (81 Wins)
His name was Best, Best of the West . . . It remains to be seen how serious McPherson's back troubles are; that could put a big crimp in the Angels' power, depth and flexibility, particularly with Kennedy already hurt and Tim Salmon down for the count. Perhaps McPherson will be the new Glaus in more ways than one. . . It seems odd to me, given his great finish last year, that Rivera isn't being penciled in for a larger role on this team. . . The age adjustment's weakness can be seen in the projected improvement of K-Rod, although by Win Shares he actually should improve by virtue of having more save opportunities (it's close to impossible for him to improve his pitching, at least not without becoming Gagne).
RAW EWSL: 208.5 (70 Wins)
My gut tells me the A's will be a force to be reckoned with this season. But EWSL is much more sober about the rebuilding job the team needs to suffer through before the A's can be considered a bankable contender rather than a maybe-if-everything-breaks-right longshot. Do the math and you'll see that the bulk of the problem is that Oakland has handed over 3/5 of the starting rotation to guys with no major league track record of success. That may be an inspired move, but even so we could be talking "2002 Marlins," "1990 Braves" or "1968 Mets." Recall that Mark Mulder's ERA as a rookie was 5.44; Rich Harden's was 4.46. Even the Cox/Mazzone Braves can't boast a success rate with rookie (or, like Haren, still unproven) pitchers that's any better than a 50/50 proposition - think of Steve Avery (5.64 ERA), Tom Glavine (4.56), Jason Schmidt (5.70), Odalis Perez (6.00), and Bruce Chen (5.47). And except for Chen, those guys all went on to be good pitchers. The point here isn't that the A's won't have success with Haren, Meyer or Blanton, but that it's highly unlikely we'll see all three of them getting the job done in 2005, and more likely that two out of three will take more lumps than the A's can afford if they expect to win 90 games this season with a good-not-great offense (this isn't the 1999 Indians).
Unlike the likes of BJ Upton, I'm rating Nick Swisher as an entirely non-established rookie, since he only got 60 major league at bats last season. He should be expected to break in well, since he's a little old for a rookie. . . like Rivera, I had expected when the A's traded for Charles Thomas that they had bigger plans for him than being a bench player (if the A's succeed in trading Byrnes, that would open up a job for Thomas and/or Dan Johnson in left).
RAW EWSL: 218.83 (73 Wins)
Jamie Moyer, who's 42, couldn't break eggs with his fastball, and probably less than a 50/50 shot to still be pitching when he's 43, led the Mariners pitching staff in strikeouts last season, with 125. The staff is deep but not terribly impressive.
I rated Reed as a rookie, since he had just 58 at bats last season, although he certainly made the most of them (3 WS). He'll have an uphill battle to hit for average at SafeCo, but as Ichiro has shown, it can be done (not that the park hasn't taken a big bite out of Ichiro).
RAW EWSL: 189.67 (63 Wins)
In case you hadn't noticed, EWSL doesn't like teams with a shortage of established, accomplished pitchers. The Rangers, with only two starting pitchers with as many as 3 EWSL and a few more weak resumes in the bullpen, fit that bill perfectly. Teixera seems like the most likely bet to lead the league in homers, although the race should be tight with guys like A-Rod, Manny, Beltre, Sexson, Vlad and maybe somebody like Chavez busting out a big year (there's also the off chance of a Sosa revival).
Analyzing the Ranger pitching staff is a little dicey - it's hard to say at this point, at least from where I sit, who the rotation will be after Rogers, Drese and most likely Young. I'm actually skeptical that Park will make the Opening Day roster. On the other hand, the Rangers still have upside: it's easier for a team with established sluggers to suddenly get some unexpected pitching success than the other way around.
March 10, 2005
BASEBALL: Bad Omen
BASEBALL: Stubbed Toe
He's got a great future behind him: how quickly the legendary Toe Nash turned from a heartwarming human interest story who might be a real prospect to a has-been/never-was with a depressing rap sheet.
WAR: About Time
At long last, an anti-bin Laden fatwa.
Not the strong horse, anymore.
BASEBALL: Who's Afraid of EWSL?
Also, check out Brian Gunn's eulogy for Rick Ankiel's pitching career.
March 9, 2005
BASEBALL: Mr. 4000?
One tends to overlook the possibility due to his late arrival in the United States, but with 924 career hits through age 30, Ichiro Suzuki now needs 2076 more hits for 3000. Difficult? Extremely. But impossible? No way. In fact, five players have gotten more than 2076 hits after age 30 (Pete Rose, Sam Rice, Cap Anson, Honus Wagner, and Paul Molitor), and a sixth (Ty Cobb) got 2053. Five of the six - all but Anson - were in some sense similar hitters to Ichiro, with Rice, Cobb and Molitor all being fairly lean guys who held their speed into their late 30s (Wagner did as well, but Wagner was built like a truck and was the game's most powerful hitter from his mid-20s to mid-30s). Impressively, four of the six managed to churn out the hits without the benefit of the 162-game schedule; Anson was 32 the first time his team played 100 games in a season, and the Cubs averaged 127 games per year from age 31 to the end of Anson's career, reaching a 140 game schedule only once, in 1892.
Now, I wouldn't put the Japanese leagues on a par with the U.S., but it has to be worth something that Ichiro already had 1278 hits when he arrived in the U.S. (he broke in at age 19 in Japan), giving him 2202 hits already as a professional ballplayer. In the majors, only one player had rapped out more than 2085 hits through age 30 - Cobb, with 2361. 1798 hits would get Ichiro to 4000 between the US and Japan, and that's definitely do-able (it's 90 less than Doc Cramer) if he plays through age 40, as it amounts to five years averaging 200 hits a year (Ichiro has averaged 231 hits a year over the past four seasons) and five more averaging 160 hits a year.
In either event, of course, it will take a remarkable performance. But Ichiro has shown he's a remarkable player.
BASEBALL: 2005 AL East EWSL Report
Time to kick off the 2005 division-by-division EWSL reports (Established Win Shares Levels are explained here). And where else could we start but the home of the reigning World Champeeen Boston Red Sox?
The Hated Yankees
RAW EWSL: 325.2 (108 Wins)
Every time I think the age adjustments are just too brutal on veteran players, I remind myself that they are based on my actual results from last season. Of course, more years' data will help, but the fact is, we generally underestimate how consistently the aging process erodes players' productivity. What you see above is right on the two big things: (1) the Yankees would win close to 110 games if everyone performs to their recent levels of established success; and (2) given the advanced age of the roster and the declines already underway, that's not gonna happen. Is 90 wins (tweaked upward a bit by the contributions from those last few roster spots) too few? We'll see.
I prefer to err on the side of the more established player, here by listing Damian Rolls here instead of Bubba Crosby . . . typically, the Yankees have a large number of other familiar faces in camp besides these guys. Steve Karsay may also have a key role in the bullpen if he can get up to 100% at some point and stay there.
World Champion Boston Red Sox
RAW EWSL: 295.66 (99 Wins)
Yes, Number Two is back in its old familiar preseason slot, ring or no ring; either way, Yanks-Sox remains a tight race. You can clearly see that Damon merits his spot as one of the three real stars of this team along with Manny and Schilling. The Sox get a boost from a deep bench, which they could need - bet on seeing Payton in for Nixon and Youkilis in for Mueller, and not only by choice.
Obviously, Wakefield may end up in the starting rotation, and John Halama and Byung Hyun Kim could play major roles (although the Sox would probably trade Kim if he shows signs of being able to pitch), but this is what I expect the Sox staff to look like if healthy, and Mantei seems to be further along to being counted on than Karsay with the Yanks.
Injury-wise, other than the strength of Schilling's ankle, Wade Miller is the big wild card here; he's the rare pitcher whose numbers will benefit from moving to Fenway, if he's able to stay in the rotation.
RAW EWSL: 224.17 (75 Wins)
I believe it was George Bernard Shaw who, in reviewing a book, remarked that the book was both good and original, but that unfortunately the parts that were good were not original, and the parts that were original were not good. So it is with the Orioles, who are both young and talented, but for the most part, the guys who are young are not talented, and the guys who are talented are not young. If the O's hope to break the chains of mediocrity and finish single digits out of the Wild Card, they need some real development from the back end of their starting rotation. Bedard looks promising, and Chen put up good numbers last year at AAA, but lesser men have gone to their graves waiting for Bruce Chen. On the other hand, I continue to be skeptical of "Melvin Mora, superstar," and Sosa and Palmeiro are riding powerful waves of downward momentum.
It remains to be seen if Ryan can finally wrest the closer's job from Julio now that Ryan has finally lived up to the hype that surrounded him five years ago, but if Julio is adequate, the O's may benefit from having the monster in the bullpen handle the 7th/8th inning crises rather than the ninth. Ryan's comparables at the same age include a number of guys like Stanton, Cadaret and Assenmacher who pitched forever.
If you're wondering, Kurt Ainsworth's season last year brought his raw EWSL down to zero (of the players I rated last year, only one entered 2005 with a negative raw EWSL: Tyler Yates of the Mets, who followed that performance by blowing his arm out).
Toronto Blue Jays
RAW EWSL: 181.66 (61 Wins)
Youth: the great leveler, bringing up the Jays as it brings down their top three division rivals. Not that they will catch anybody but Tampa, and Tampa is young as well. Toronto still has a nice core with Wells, Halladay, Hudson and Lilly, plus Koskie's not a bad short-term guy to have, plus the bullpen makes up in depth for what it lacks in front-line quality. But there are way too many stopgap solutions here, with the outfield corners iffy and the left end of the defensive spectrum filled by guys who have no business DHing, like Hillenbrand, Johnson and Hinske. These are solvable problems, but no solutions are yet on the horizon.
The catching situation is unsettled, with Quiroz needing to prove himself to unseat two older guys who have never had full-time gigs, although Zaun has actually had some decent years with the bat. The third catcher, Greg Myers - who had a career year of his own in 2003 - is so old he came up with the Blue Jays before Pat Borders. I guess Ernie Whitt wasn't available . . .
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
RAW EWSL: 162.5 (54 Wins)
Welcome home to the basement? This team, like last year's Rangers, is almost impossible to rate on EWSL because so many guys are rated on a partial season's worth of playing time. Unlike last year's Rangers, though, there's nobody here likely to bust out with Teixera or Blalock type power. I cheated a bit here in listing Baldelli, who may be out for as much as half the season, and Upton, who will probably start the year in the minors, although I expect Upton to get in excess of 400 plate appearances when all is said and done, and Upton actually gets the shaft here because I rated him on his actual 2004 major league performance, in just 159 at bats. He'll almost certainly contribute double-figure Win Shares unless he gets buried in Durham. I listed Cantu because he's the only one of the reserve infielders he's battling for playing time who batted above .212 last season, and given Alomar's recent history, don't be surprised if Cantu takes his job.
Obviously, Lee will beat 6 WS if he stays healthy; he put up 12 in 2002 and 13 in 2003, still poor numbers for an everyday 1B but at least reflective of an everyday player.
Kazmir also gets the short end, but as with Upton I tried whenever possible to use actual performance numbers. You look at this rotation and tell me how Kazmir isn't going to be the staff ace by the middle of May. . . successful teams just don't start a season with guys like Rob Bell in the rotation . . . measured by Win Shares Above Average, there were three pitchers in baseball at -9 or -10; two of them (Fossum and Hideo Nomo) are in camp competing for jobs with the Rays.
March 8, 2005
BASEBALL: EWSL Explained
A reference post explaining the status of Established Win Shares Levels as of March 2005.
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EWSL is short for "Established Win Shares Levels." EWSL combines two statistical measurements originated by Bill James: Win Shares (WS) and Established Performance Levels (EPLs).
Win Shares seek to measure a player's total contribution to a team's bottom line win/loss record, in the case of non-pitchers through combining batting and fielding contributions. The system makes the assumptions that a team's total wins can be rationally connected to its runs scored and allowed. Thus, each player is assigned a share of the team's total wins based on his contribution to scoring and preventing runs. As a result, a team's total "Win Shares" will always be equal to three times its number of wins (1 share per win would be too small to quantify the differences between players).
I can't explain Win Shares here at any length, but the relatively uncontroversial batting components of the formula are based on James' well-known "Runs Created" formula. The parts of the formula that are more debatable are the was in which the system divides defensive credit between pitchers and fielders and among fielders, including the fact that it gives extra credit to pitchers who have a lot of saves. Anyway, WS is widely accepted as a good, if imperfect, shorthand for a player's value.
EPLs take a weighted measurement of a player's accomplishments in any given category over the prior three years, giving the most weight to the most recent. Here's how EPLs work: entering 2001, Manny Ramirez had smacked 45 homers in 1998, 44 in 1999, and 38 in 2000, so his EPL was ((38 x 3) + (44 x 2) + (45))/6 = 41 (rounded off). In other words, Manny entered the 2001 season as having established himself as a 41-homer guy. Fortuitously enough, that's exactly how many homers he hit in 2001. It doesn't always work that way, but EPL is a pretty good shorthand for what a guy has proven he can do at the major league level.
In simplest (raw) form, EWSL simply takes a player's WS totals over the past three seasons and runs them through the EPL formula to get an EWSL.
The First Level Adjustments
Raw EWSL is not a projection of the future but a record of past performance, but obviously a major reason to look at EWSL, and a major reason why I've added a variety of adjustments to EWSL when compiling them into team totals, is to provide a look at a team's available established talent for purposes of estimating where they stand entering a season. To translate raw EWSL into something useable on a team level, a number of adjustments must be made.
Not all players have a three-year major league track record to work with, and that's where the first level adjustments come in. It's a judgment call, but if a player has only two seasons with any sort of significant playing time (more than, say, 100 plate appearances, although that's not an ironclad rule), I'll just use the prior two seasons rather than all three, and divide by 5 rather than 6. (Note that this is just for guys with no previous major league experience, and not for guys who were hurt; if a player appeared more than three years ago or if he missed most of a season with injuries, that season goes into the calculations. What I'm looking to exclude is seasons when the player was playing but not in the majors.) Those players are marked with a #. Players similarly rated on just the prior season - not divided by anything - are marked with a *.
For true rookies with no track record, I've used arbitrary adjustments based on projected playing time, rather than work in my own assessments of the player's quality. Those players are marked with a +. For the reasons explained in this post, I'm now using 12 WS as the write-in figure for rookies who are projected to play every day, 6 for rookie bench players under age 30, 3 for rookie bench players age 30 and up, and 4 for rookie pitchers, both those projected for a rotation slot and those in the bullpen.
The Second Level Adjustments
As explained in this post, players between the ages of 21 and 28 systematically outperformed their EWSL in 2004, while players between the ages of 29 and 39 systematically underperformed their EWSL. If you think about it, this is entirely unsurprising: young players tend to improve, older players tend to decline, and EWSL amplifies that process because a 28-year-old player's EWSL carries his stats from ages 25 to 27, while a 35-year-old player's EWSL carries his stats from ages 32 to 34. But in baseball, it can be a long way from 25 to 28, or 32 to 35.
Based on my study of my results from 2004, explained at the link above, I'm applying a second-level age adjustment this season, adjusting EWSL by the following factors by age:
Those are the actual results from 2004, with four exceptions. First, I'm not using these adjustments for players who are already getting the rookie adjustment; that would be double-counting. Second, I'm using the age 21 adjustment as well for players under 21 who aren't rookies, since there's insufficient data on players that young. Third, the actual factor for age 35, 0.52, struck me as too dramatic to be a reliable predictor; I've added an arbitrary "fudge factor" to bring that up closer to the other age factors, while keeping it the lowest. Fourth, it can't be realistic to expect players 40 and over not to decline, despite last year's stellar performances (in a small sample size) by the very aged; I dropped that from 1.00 to 0.85 to get a more realistic assessment. Even that may be too generous, but then the over-40 population is still heavily weighted towards the best pitchers in baseball.
One thing I don't have a systematic way of dealing with is previously healthy players who are already injured entering the season. Those are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and where possible noted in the team comments.
Putting It All Together: The Team EWSL Figures
I'll continue last season's method - partly intended to save labor and avoid embarrassing mistakes in estimating who's going north with which team - of rating 23 players per roster, 13 non-pitchers and 10 pitchers. This gives us a number somewhere in the vicinity of an actual win total for a team, and avoids over-crediting teams whose benches are deep in discarded ex-regulars. In theory, I'd have a playing-time adjustment to factor in the natural limits on how many at bats a team can have, but to my mind it's a fair tradeoff that teams with exceptional depth get a bit of an advantage, since that depth often comes in handy during the regular season.
To make the method more transparent, I intend, in this year's ratings, to list EWSL in three columns: raw, adjusted, and then age-adjusted. I'll be eliminating the "weighted age" figures, since the age adjustments take care of that and those were a beast to figure out once I worked in the adjustments, although when I have more time later in the season I may go back and compute team weighted ages.
If you want a look back, here's last year's EWSL reports:
Anyway, EWSL is the most ambitious project I do around here, and I hope to make it a regular practice to get all six divisions done by the start of the season. Hope you find EWSL useful and interesting.
UPDATES: If you're wondering why the team totals sometimes don't add up, remember that the reported EWSL are rounded numbers, but team-level compilations are from the unrounded figures, and the individual adjustments are also made from unrounded totals.
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March 6, 2005
BASEBALL: Quick Links 3/6/05
[T]he way the shirts read Nationals across the front gives me the creepy feeling I'm watching the National League All Star team sans the All Stars. It'd be much less confusing and infinately cooler to have NATS embossed across the front.
*While there's not a ton of new stuff there, it's always worth checking out Rich Lederer's three-part interview with Bill James (conducted in December) here, here and here at Lederer's new home, http://baseballanalysts.com.
POP CULTURE: The Waterworld of Rock
A friend of the site sends this link and notes, "I think we will see actual Chinese democracy before anyone ever sees this album."
Well, in a world where Brian Wilson can finally release "Smile," anything can happen, but I'm not holding my breath. And it's possible that after all the waiting and tinkering, a new Slash-less Guns n' Roses album would be more like the NBA career of Lloyd Daniels than like the late-60s reemergence of Elvis.
BASEBALL: Age and Established Win Shares, Revisited
Back in November, I took an initial look at how Established Win Shares Levels correlated to 2004 performance, grouping the results by age. But, the data I was using was the raw EWSL - i.e., actual three-year Win Shares totals at the major league level - not the adjusted figures I had used for making the team-by-team EWSL computations. To refresh your recollection, I had included in those calculations:
1. Adjustments for players who hadn't played any significant major league time in 2001 or earlier, calculating EWSL by ((2002 WS * 2)+(2003 WS * 3))/5;
2. Adjustments for players who hadn't any significant major league time in 2002 or earlier, just slotting in their 2003 WS; and
3. Arbitrary WS totals for 2004 rookies: 10 WS for players projected to have everyday jobs, 5 for projected rotation starters, 3 for projected bench players, and 2 for projected relief pitchers.
If I'm going to add an age adjustment to EWSL, I would presumably want to do it after including these adjustments for the limited data - and so, to evaluate the accuracy of last year's figures, I recalculated them based on the adjusted figures. Here's the new chart:
As you can see, the improvement by young players is considerably less dramatic if you adjust for the fact that many of them don't have major league track records (in an ideal world, I'd use MLEs of minor league Win Shares, but I don't think those exist anywhere). Also, I broke out the 20- and 21-year-olds, since the one 20-year-old I listed last year was Edwin Jackson, who I had mistakenly thought was ahead in the race for a rotation job, so his lack of playing time in 2004 doesn't really say much about the method itself.
Will I use these factors for age adjustments? I think this year I will - as well as publishing the raw and pre-age-adjusted EWSL figures - and just tweak the figures over time, but I'm going to think long and hard about the age-35 number. I don't think it's actually realistic to project players to lose half their value at 35, even if that's exactly what happened to a sample of 21 players last year.
What, specifically, about the arbitrary adjustments? There were 6 rookies who I had penciled in as regulars (average age: 25), and gave them an arbitrary 10 WS. In fact, led by Khalil Greene, the six averaged 12 WS (74 WS for 6 players), reflecting the high quality of player who gets handed a regular job as a rookie in spring training (the other five were Kaz Matsui, Bobby Crosby, Aaron Miles, Adam LaRoche, and Joe Mauer).
Then there's the rookie bench players, given 3 WS in last year's system. There were also six of them (average age: 27), and they averaged 5 WS in 2004 (28 for 6), mostly due to Termel Sledge (15) and Jose Castillo (8) snagging regular jobs by year's end. But the number is 7 (26/4) if you leave out the two 30-year-old bench players, Kit Pellow and Cody McKay. The emergence to regular jobs of a few guys is relatively representative of bench players, so for now I'll up the projection to 6 for bench players who are under 30, and leave it at 3 for 30-and-up minor league veterans.
There were just three projected rotation starters given a 5 WS write-in: Jackson, Matt Riley, and Tyler Yates (average age: 23). Riley and Yates were disasters, and the three compiled the grand total of 1 WS. That's a small sample size, but this year I will cut the projection to 4 out of a desire to avoid over-projecting young pitchers.
The relief pitchers, on the other hand, fared well - there were four of them (average age: 26), and they averaged 5 Win Shares (21 for 4 players), led by Akinori Otsuka. Not every season produces a 32-year-old Japanese reliever, so I'll just harmonize the rookie pitcher numbers by dishing out 4 WS for all rookie pitchers.
Anyway, EWSL will never be a true projection system, as opposed to just a systematic way of analyzing past performance. But I think tweaking the adjustments based on the first year's experience should make it a little more useful in evaluating where teams stand in terms of the available talent in 2005. With my look back at the 2004 results wrapping up, I should be ready to start running the 2005 numbers shortly.
UPDATE: Yes, there are double-counting issues with the arbitrary plug-ins and the age adjustments, so going forward I don't intend to apply age adjustments to rookies.
March 4, 2005
BASEBALL: The Big Y
One of the great tantalizing hopes of the Mets farm system is 20-year-old Yusmeiro Petit, who needs a nickname - for now, "the Big Y" will do - until I can remember how to spell his name. Jason Mastaitis has links to this Newsday report:
Drafted as a 16-year-old, the beefy Venezuelan has rocketed to the top of the prospect list by jumping two levels last season. He was first among all minor-leaguers in strikeouts per nine innings (12.92) and ended his climb at Double-A Binghamton, where he is expected to start this year.
Petit's minor league numbers are out of this world: in 214 career innings in the minors (all as a starter), he has posted a 2.23 ERA and averaged 5.73 Hits/9IP, 0.42 HR/9, 2.15 BB/9 and 12.00 K/9. Now, Petit has thus far thrown only 12 innings above A ball, so it's premature to pencil him in for greatness. But everything I've seen about him suggests an obvious parallel: Sid Fernandez (Paul White makes the comparison here). Like Sid, Petit is a big guy - listed at 230 pounds in some recent sources - but lacks the high-grade heat usually associated with big strikeout pitchers, and thus his spectacular minor-league successes (like Sid's) are sometimes written off as not able to be duplicated at the big league level. But, like Sid, he has a not-really-secret weapon that doesn't show up on the radar gun:
A high-tech lab in Birmingham, Alabama, revealed why batters have so many problems hitting Yusmeiro Petit, even though he doesn't reach 90 mph.
"I just can't hit him. You just can't pick the ball up off him." - Red Sox outfielder Brandon Moss
Sounds like a guy who's built for Shea.
March 1, 2005
BASEBALL: Love For Willie
Hey, it's march. We can dream.
LAW: Supreme Court Invalidates Article V
The Supreme Court today held, in Roper v. Simmons, that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of defendants convicted of capital crimes if the defendant was under age 18 at the time of the crime, on the grounds that such a punishment would be "cruel and unusual" within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment.
On its face, this may sound like the typical stuff of Supreme Court decisions. It is not. In fact, the Court has, at least as far as the death penalty is concerned, abolished the traditional mechanism for constitutional amendments by act of state legislatures embodied in Article V. A little explanation of the decision is in order to set the stage here.
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The Court had reached the opposite conclusion on execution of under-18 murderers and the like as recently as 1989, and its decision today, written by Justice Kennedy, does not even attempt to argue that its 1989 opinion had been wrongly decided; instead, it concluded that the meaning of the phrase "cruel and unusual punishments" had changed in the intervening 16 years.
The Court begins by following the interpretive method it used in its 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia (discussed here in one of my first-ever blog posts), which similarly overturned a recent precedent ("Penry") that had permitted executions of mentally retarded defendants:
Three Terms ago the subject was reconsidered in Atkins. We held that standards of decency have evolved since Penry and now demonstrate that the execution of the mentally retarded is cruel and unusual punishment. The Court noted objective indicia of society's standards, as expressed in legislative enactments and state practice with respect to executions of the mentally retarded.
(Emphasis added). The Court rested today's conclusion that "standards of decency have evolved" on two major items of evidence. First, changes in state laws and practices:
30 States prohibit the juvenile death penalty, comprising 12 that have rejected the death penalty altogether and 18 that maintain it but, by express provision or judicial interpretation, exclude juveniles from its reach. . . . In the present case . . . the practice is infrequent. Since Stanford, six States have executed prisoners for crimes committed as juveniles. In the past 10 years, only three have done so: Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia. . . .
(Emphasis added). In short: "A majority of States have rejected the imposition of the death penalty on juvenile offenders under 18, and we now hold this is required by the Eighth Amendment."
What is really bizarre here, as I've noted before here and here, is the idea that new state laws can change the meaning of the constitution. In this case, the Court has determined that the actions of four state legislatures and one state court have accomplished a change in the meaning of the Eighth Amendment that would otherwise require an amendment to the Constitution.
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress . . .
Not much ambiguity there: to change the Constitution's effect on a particular law or rule, you need two thirds of the states or two thirds of both Houses of Congress just to propose an amendment, and three-fourths of the states (38, at present) to ratify one. By today's decision, that can be whittled down to four legislatures and one state court. (And note how this sets the stage for doing away with the role of the legislatures in this process entirely and handing over the consensus to, say, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and a few friendly courts in Vermont, Hawaii, etc.) And - unlike in the usual Article V situation - there's no indication that those legislatures knew they were changing the Constitution, and thus the deliberative process devised by the Framers is completely eviscerated.
Strangely, the Court at one point even tries to shift the burden of showing the constitutionality of state laws onto the states: "Petitioner cannot show national consensus in favor of capital punishment for juveniles but still resists the conclusion that any consensus exists against it." Of course, silly me, I always thought a state law didn't require a "national consensus," it just required a bill to go through the state legislature. So much for "laboratories of democracy" - consensus, apparently, now requires uniformity.
(Would the Court reach a similar conclusion about the malleability of the meaning of an amorphous term like "liberty" in the Due Process Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment? Maybe more states should pass laws against abortion - remind me again how many were on the books at the time of Roe v. Wade - I think it was 49).
The Court's reliance on the infrequency of such executions is also odd - that could just as easily be proof that the safeguards are effective in limiting the use of the death penalty to situations where it is appropriate. Besides, nothing in the constitution says prosecutors have to use a particular tool repeatedly or have it declared unconstitutional.
Second, the Court points to treaties and foreign law:
Our determination that the death penalty is disproportionate punishment for offenders under 18 finds confirmation in the stark reality that the United States is the only country in the world that continues to give official sanction to the juvenile death penalty. . .
As for foreign law, I can't well add to Justice Scalia's discussion of the foreign law issue in his dissent:
Unless the Court has added to its arsenal the power to join and ratify treaties on behalf of the United States, I cannot see how this evidence favors, rather than refutes, its position. That the Senate and the President-those actors our Constitution empowers to enter into treaties, see Art. II, §2 - have declined to join and ratify treaties prohibiting execution of under-18 offenders can only suggest that our country has either not reached a national consensus on the question, or has reached a consensus contrary to what the Court announces.
(Emphasis in original). Scalia goes on to note the myriad ways in which the majority of foreign laws differ from our own, ranging from the Fourth Amendment to the Establishment Clause to the right to trial by jury, and castigates the other Justices for ignoring foreign law except where it suits their purposes. As usual, he's right: when you start using interpretive standards that place no limits at all on how judges decide cases, you can't well expect to get any sort of consistency in return. There's just no chance that today's majority would consider any change in state or foreign law as evidence that "standards of decency have evolved" in a way that would produce a result favored by conservatives. Zero.
UPDATE: Orin Kerr notices that it appears that most of the "evolving" of standards here was done after the 1993 murder and 1994 conviction for which the defendant was sentenced to death. In other words, his sentence was constitutional under then-current standards when it was imposed, and of course he is no longer a minor.
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