Baseball Crank
"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
April 30, 2005
BLOG: Following Tracks

One of the nice things about reaching a certain level of visibility as a blogger is that people you've never heard of link to you, and so just by checking your referrer logs you can stumble on interesting blogs. (I lost track of who was linking to me once I joined the massive, impersonal "Blogs for Bush" blogroll during the election).

The Frinklin and Fred Show seems to have a rather unique sense of humor, as you can see from these recent entries on eating popcorn with chopsticks and scented pencils. (Frinklin also links to an ecstatic, spoiler-filled review of the new Star Wars flick by director Kevin "Silent Bob" Smith).

Then, on a similar theme to the Star Wars fest, Matt Barr at New World Man (a Rush homage, I presume) says of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie:

I can't tell you how good it was. . . I had too much invested in it. I read the books when I was beginning my teen years, and they supplanted the Wrinkle In Time series as my favorite books.

If you collected X-Men comics when you were young, like I did, to the point where the numbers 94 and 137 mean something to you, you remember that when you saw the X-Men movies you couldn't really get a sense of how good or bad they were because they were, in their way, so faithful to what you were familiar with. Same with Hitchhiker's Guide. There's some new stuff, but they bent over backwards not to stray too far from the book. The sheer delight of watching something so "yours" from your youth come alive in a theater, right down to the bowl of petunias thinking "oh, no, not again" as it falls to the surface of Magrathea, is thrilling.

Put it this way. If you're my age, you remember how you felt when the score began and the words STAR WARS appeared on the screen at the beginning of Episode I. (That it was all downhill from there is immaterial.) Same deal.

I'd always heard about the Hitchhiker's Guide book, but never got around to reading it. Any opinions on whether (leaving aside the issue of persuading my wife to watch it) I should wait and read the book before seeing the movie?

UPDATE: I should add that, like Vodkapundit and Michele, I am getting very excited for the final Star Wars installment very much in spite of my better judgment, although I'm worried it may be a bit much to take the kids to despite the fact that they're dying to see it. Phantom Menace had its entertaining portions - particularly the scenes with Liam Neeson and the Darth Maul fight sequences - but it's hard to rewatch, due mainly to Jar Jar and those fish-face aliens with the Charlie Chan accents, as well as the unforgivable decision to turn The Force into a biological phenomenon. Attack of the Clones was better, and has been subjected to a lot of unfair criticism (although it too could have done without the fish-face guys), but it also had many disappointments, notably a display of Lucas' leaden touch with romance. Both films are better re-watched in spurts rather than trying to sit through the whole thing.

This one, though, really needs to have been done right. And I'm getting my hopes up that it has been.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:38 PM | Blog 2002-05 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
April 29, 2005
BASEBALL: 5x20

Continuing on the Tom Glavine kick, comments here got me thinking about Glavine as a Hall of Fame candidate, and specifically about the fact that he has won 20 games in a season five times. How much of a lock is a 5-time 20-game winner for Cooperstown?

Not certain. But aside from winning 300 games, there are few achievements more likely to send a pitcher to the Hall of Fame than a large number of 20-win seasons. With the aid of Aaron Haspel's search engine, I put together a list of all the pitchers who have won 20 a significant number of times.

Among pitchers who pitched primarily before 1900, winning 20 five times was no guarantee of immortality; 10 of the 22 pitchers to do it are in the Hall. All but one of those (Al Spalding, who's in for a variety of reasons) did it at least 7 times, and there are guys on the outside looking in with as many as 8 20-win seasons. A good example of why can be seen with Jim McCormick, an 8-time 20-game winner who went 20-40 in 60 starts in 1879 and 26-30 two years later. (For what it's worth, Cy Young holds the record for 20-win seasons with 15).

Among pitchers who pitched mainly since 1900, there are 39 pitchers with three 20-win seasons; 6 are in the Hall, 30 are not, and three are ineligible (Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling are still active and Ed Cicotte is banned).

Among 4-time 20-game winners, 10 are in and 13 are out; the post-war pitchers in the latter group are Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Johnny Sain, Dave Stewart, Luis Tiant and Wilbur Wood.

Among 5-time 20-game winners, 8 and in, 3 are out and Glavine's still pitching. Among those with 6 or more, 16 are in, 3 are out and Roger Clemens is still pitching. In short, only 6 pitchers have won 20 five or more times in the last century or so without making the Hall.

So, how do you not make the Hall with 5 or 6 20-win seasons? Well, three of the six are not all that modern; Pirates teammates Deacon Phillippe and Jesse Tannehill, both 6-time 20-game winners (like their teammate, 4-time 20 game winner Sam Leever) both had their last 20-win season in 1905, and neither won 200 games. 5-timer George Mullin was 21-21 in 1905 and 20-20 for a pennant winning team in 1907, and even his 29-8 season in 1909 had more to do with Ty Cobb hitting .377; Mullin's ERAs were barely better than the league for his career. 5-timer Hippo Vaughn was a great pitcher in the late teens, but had a very short career and won just 178 games. 5-timer Carl Mays is probably the most similar to Glavine of this group, with a 207-126 career record and a 2.35 ERA in four World Series, but Glavine never killed a man with a pitch. 6-timer Wes Ferrell, the most recent of the bunch (his last 20-win season was in 1936), retired with 193 career wins and a 4.02 ERA. Ferrell was a tremendous pitcher in his prime and a much better hitter than his brother, who's in the Hall as a catcher, but the era and parks he pitched in did his numbers no favors, and he was finished as an effective pitcher at 29 (his ERA in just under 500 innings after age 28 was 5.41). (How good a hitter was Ferrell? In 612 at bats from 1931-35, he batted .294/.493/.361 with 29 home runs, 101 runs scored and 123 RBI).

So, if Glavine's 5 20-win seasons alone don't make him a lock for Cooeprstown, they get him so far that little else is needed.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:11 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Health and Freedom

I agree completely with the Radley Balko post on pharmacists and abortion quoted in the third item of Jon Henke's post here. I also agree with Henke, in his second item, that "pro-choice" feminists are being hypocritical (what else is new?) in opposing freedom of women to choose whether to have silicone breast implants. I'm no fan of implants, but given the shoddy plaintiff-lawyer science used to attack them, the choice should really belong to the women who want them.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:36 AM | Politics 2005 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)
WAR: D'Oh Canada

Austin Bay (link via Instapundit) thinks Canada is a failed state that could collapse and splinter . . . I understand why Bay thinks Quebec could and probably should secede from Canada, and while it may or may not be true that the current scandals engulfing the ruling Liberal Party could provide an impetus for Quebec's separatists to gain power and demand secession, I don't really follow the logic of why this would result in Anglophone Canada crumbling into bits as a result. It's certainly true that the Canadian West is politically a poor fit with Ontario, but no moreso - and for many of the same reasons - than America's red and blue states are at odds. Thus, even if we do finally see Quebec go its own way, there's no reason why the rest of Canada shouldn't remain intact.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:31 AM | War 2005 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
April 28, 2005
BASEBALL: Tom Glavine, Double Agent

Picking up on a thought here:

PERAH/9HR/9BB/9K/9
A3.418.530.653.085.52
B3.568.900.713.094.60

Now, if you signed Pitcher A as a free agent and got the numbers in row B out of him, you'd feel like you got your money's worth, wouldn't you? Well, except for one little problem:

PERAH/9HR/9BB/9K/9
C2.868.690.892.945.60
D9.3714.153.054.572.83

If you take out his performance against the Mets and Braves, A is Tom Glavine's pitching record as a Brave, and B is his record as a Met; astonishingly similar, actually. But C is Glavine's record against the Mets, and D is his record against his former teammates in Atlanta. Glavine went 16-7 career against the Mets, a .696 winning percentage compared to .620 against all other teams. With the Mets, he's gone 1-7 against Atlanta, .125 compared to .455 against all other teams.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:17 PM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Missing Trachs

I noted last month that the Mets would find Steve Trachsel hard to replace, given how well he'd pitched from June 2001 (when he returned from a brief trip to Norfolk) through the end of 2004, a period of more than three and a half years. Well, David Pinto's Day by Day Database gives us a chance to revisit Trachsel's numbers and compare him to others for that period. See if you can guess, before you click the link, which of the following pitchers is Trachsel, and which are Leiter, Glavine, Clemens, Mussina, Maddux and Mulder:

PGSIPERA
A1146993.46
B1257783.53
C1247653.54
D115736.13.62
E111770.23.62
F116715.13.66
G113742.23.73

Of course, some of those guys pitched in the AL, and Trachsel himself, much like Leiter and Glavine, may find it hard to return to that level. But it's still an impressive run.

Speaking of returns from injury, one of the hot issues right now is what to do with Mike Cameron, specifically whether the Mets are likely to be able at some point to get good value if they trade him. I was thinking that one of the teams that could actually use Cameron is the Hated Yankees, who (1) with the Sierra injury are down to at most 9 guys on the roster you could write into the starting lineup on consecutive days with a straight face and (2) could desperately use a defensive upgrade from Bernie in center field. But aside from the difficulties in doing a Mets-Yankees deal, there's another problem that points to a bigger issue with the Yanks: for all their money, aside from the core players they won't part with, they've got nothing left worth trading for. That's one reason for Yankee fans to worry: while the current roster is still the strongest in the game, I have trouble seeing how they can make a significant deal in season this year. They're thin on prospects, they won't and shouldn't part with their surplus in middle relief, and you can't sign free agents in July. That will mostly leave them picking over guys whose teams will dump them for a song just to get rid of their contracts. For once, George may have to dance with the roster that brung him.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:12 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Filibuster Buster

Dale Franks argues in favor of a Dick Morris proposal to force the Democrats filibustering judges into an old-fashioned full-time round the clock Jimmy Stewart/Strom Thurmond-style shut-down-all-other-Senate-business filibuster. It's a good idea both now and in the future, and in many ways preferable to formally abolishing the filibuster entirely. There will be times when it's worthwhile to do a real filibuster; the Abe Fortas nomination in 1968 was an example, where the nomination was delayed only a week on grounds that more time was needed to air serious ethics charges that ultimately caused Fortas (a sitting associate justice nominated for Chief Justice) to resign entirely from the bench. But the need to do real filibusters would end the practice of multiple indefinite filibusters on strictly partisan or ideological lines.

I don't agree that the first shot at this should be one of the less nationally significant judges, though; the Republicans might as well lead with their strongest cases.

Meanwhile, Orrin Judd thinks it's a death knell for the Democrats' filibuster efforts when Al Gore gets involved.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:26 AM | Politics 2005 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
WAR: Taylor Trouble

David Adesnik points to this WaPo op-ed arguing that the U.S. should press Nigeria to turn over former Liberian leader Charles Taylor to the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. While I'm a skeptic about international courts generally, the only issue here seems to be whether we should adhere to a prior agreement that removed Taylor from power, and at least this piece suggests strong evidence that Taylor hasn't held up his end of the bargain. He should be reminded that deals we make with dictators are easily voided if they don't comply.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:16 AM | War 2005 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
April 27, 2005
LAW: The Least Dangerous Branch?

The newly permalink-enhanced Sultan of Snark, Mickey Kaus, touches on a crucial point in explaining why he believes filibusters are more, not less, appropriate for judges rather than legislation:

In the post-Warren era, judges don't just have tenure, they have almost uncheckable anti-democratic power. The constitution has been durably politicized in a way the Framers didn't anticipate. Practically every legislative issue can be--and is--phrased in constitutional terms (e.g., as a case of "rights"). Activist Democratic judges would start by supervising the fine points of democratically-passed abortion laws, trimester-by-trimester, and take off from there. Activist Republicans would overturn laws approved by the elected Congress when they don't sufficiently affect interstate commerce. The only hope, given these dueling tribes of activists, is that in the Senate's confirmation deliberations each faction will cancel out the extremes of the other, Bork-style, resulting in either the confirmation of a) a principled non-activist or b) a mushy middle-of-the-road consensus candidate. The filibuster can force such a compromise.

(Emphasis added). Much of the problem with the filibuster debate has been the "pox on both houses" tendency of commentators to treat liberal and conservative judges as if they were two sides of the same coin. They are not. As a practical political matter, I understand well that if you eliminate the filibuster for Republican judicial nominees (which I've advocated doing on a more limited scale), you can't well get it back for Democratic ones, although when Republicans hold a Senate majority during a Democrat's turn in the White House you always retain the option of voting judges down. But in discussing the merits of the two sides' competing visions of the Constitution*, Republicans need to make it clearer that conservative judges should be given an easier path to confirmation than liberal judges, and for precisely the reason Mickey identifies.

Because the fact is, conservative judges are pro-democracy in ways that liberal judges are not. The core ideology of people like Justice Scalia is the idea that judges need to rest their rulings on a foundation of democratic legitimacy - to draw their power solely from the express consent of the governed - rather than from some higher law never expressly enacted by the people in any form. By and large, this means not striking down legislative enactments if one can't find clear evidence that the people previously spoke to the issue in the Constitution itself.

Specifically, liberal judicial decisions have tended to take issues away from the democratically elected branches: on abortion, the death penalty, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, etc., it's liberals who argue that the Constitution removes choices from federal and state governments, even when it is clear that the people, in ratifying the constitutional provision in question, never consented to such expressions of judicial power. The list of such decisions is too long to recount here, but includes the especially undemocratic movement towards deriving authority from international law (in which the consent of the governed is irrelevant, and accountability impossible).

Counter-examples of conservative "activism," by contrast, generally tend at most to reallocate powers among the various branches of government rather than rule them out of the democratic sphere entirely. When the Supreme Court tells Congress that something like the Violence Against Women Act exceeds the commerce power, it leaves the people's representatives in the states with plenary authority to legislate in that area. When the Court limits the ability to sue states in federal court under the 11th Amendment - probably the most controversial area of Rehnquist Court "activism" - it leaves the people's representatives in the states with the ability to accomplish the same ends in state court, or through alternative state-law remedies, if that is what they want. By contrast, the Dormant Commerce Clause cases, which restrict state power, generally leave Congress with the ability to enact nationwide economic policy. If the Court had struck down the Independent Counsel statute, as Justice Scalia proposed, there would still be special prosecutors (as there are again today). And, of course, if the Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, many states would go ahead and repeal their old statutes banning abortion.

Where there have been a few legitimate counter-examples of conservative judges pushing to limit the scope of democratic governance in the way commonly done by judicial liberals, they have been in the heartland of express constitutional provisions: protecting freedom of political speech during elections (the campaign finance reform cases), preventing government from making preferential distinctions on the basis of race (the affirmative action cases), recognizing an individual right to bear arms or requiring just compensation for government takings of property. There are fair arguments over the original meaning of such provisions, but judicial conservatives can hardly be accused of making up the Fourteenth Amendment's concern with race discrimination.

(Of course, at this point, some liberal readers will no doubt complain about Bush v. Gore, which is often cited as an example of activism. Bush v. Gore was a unique case, of course, and I won't revisit all the arguments I made about it here, here, here and here. But recall that (1) the Supreme Court in that case did nothing to limit the authority of the Florida Legislature or Florida's executive branch; the decision was strictly limited to striking down a judicial remedy derived after the fact without a basis in statute; (2) the Court actually sided with the people's elected representatives in Florida, specifically the Secretary of State, who was given statutory responsibility over the matter; and (3) the Court's conservatives wanted to resolve the case on the basis of an express Constitutional command, in Article II, that left the final say to the Florida Legislature. You have to work awfully hard to distort this into a decision taking power from the elected and accountable representatives of the people).

In short, when confirming judges, the first question should always be this: is this person, on the bench, likely to remove power from its legitimate source, the consent of the governed? Of course, there will be hard questions about how to read what the Constitition and statutes are meant to say. But the clear track record shows that judicial conservatives of the Scalia/Thomas type can be trusted to err on the side of democracy; judicial liberals can not, and should therefore be regarded as the greater danger to democratic self-government. And O'Connor/Kennedy-style "mushy middle-of-the-road consensus candidates," as Kaus puts it, are as likely as not to join the liberals, in addition to joining in some "activist" conservative-leaning decisions, thus making everyone unhappy. The fact that the appointment and confirmation process is the only way short of impeachment (which I, as a practicing lawyer, oppose for all the reasons identified by Ted Olson) to ensure that the bench is filled with people who respect the need to draw power from the consent of the governed is precisely why filibustering conservative judges is particularly misguided and illegitimate.

UPDATE: To clarify a point noted in the comments: my point here is, there may well be an argument for filibustering liberal judges on grounds that they are likely to exercise "uncheckable anti-democratic power," but that argument just doesn't fly for conservative judges.

Read More »


Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:12 AM | Law 2005 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (1)
April 26, 2005
BASEBALL: High Risk

OK, I'm just listening on the radio here, but Mike Piazza - who just entered the game as a pinch hitter in the 9th inning - just ran the risk of getting thrown out going first to third on a single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. On Raul Mondesi's arm, no less. Gulp.

UPDATE: So, Cliff Floyd pops out to lose the game. Grrr.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:43 PM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Lumber Company

After last night's action, the Mets are second in the league in runs scored, 6th in OBP but tied for the lead in HR. While it's still early to judge any individual player, through 20 games, Mets non-pitchers have 631 at bats - about a full season's worth for a regular player. What have they done with those at bats?

ABH2B3BHRRRBIBBKSBCSAVGSLGOBPHPBGDPSF
63117731124989065127135.281.447.3505174

That's a portrait of a player with a solid base of offensive skill, maybe could improve the K/BB rate and cut down a bit on the DPs. But not bad at all for an entire team.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:10 PM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Crooked Nails?

Trouble for Lenny Dykstra:

Lenny Dykstra's longtime friend and business partner has accused the former Philadelphia Phillies center fielder of using steroids and gambling illegally during his baseball career in a civil lawsuit, according to a newspaper report.

Lindsay Jones, Dykstra's former partner in a lucrative car wash business, alleges the ballplayer advised him to bet thousands of dollars with a bookmaker on selected Phillies games in 1993, Dykstra's best year in the majors, the Los Angeles Times reported in Sunday editions.

Jones, who is seeking to regain interest in the car wash business, said in a sworn statement that the baseball wagers were a form of payment to him, made "on the basis that Lenny would cover all losses, and I would use the winnings to live on."

[snip]

The suit also includes a sworn statement from a Florida bodybuilder and convicted drug dealer who said Dykstra paid him $20,000 plus "special perks" during their eight-year association to "bulk up" the once-slight ballplayer.

[snip]

The bodybuilder, Jeff Scott, told the Times in an interview that he injected Dykstra with steroids "more times than I can count," and that Dykstra stepped up his steroid use in spring training of 1993 because it was a contract year.

While the sources here are of dubious credibility, I have little doubt that Dykstra used steroids; the guy bulked up way too quickly from being skinny in his Mets days, and returned way too quickly to his original size as soon as his playing career ended.

As to the gambling, while gambling in general seems in character for Dykstra, I'd like to believe he wasn't stupid enough, especially in the immediate aftermath of the Pete Rose debacle, to bet on baseball, even indirectly (it would be a more interesting rules question if a player advised a friend to bet on games but took no financial stake in the bets). Presumably, there will be some effort to investigate this. For now, he's saying it ain't so.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:27 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)
WAR: Canada For Sale

It turns out that one of the beneficiaries of Saddam's payoffs was a company 4.6% owned by Paul Martin, the Canadian Prime Minister. I'm shocked, shocked.

Saddam knew well where to spend his money.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:23 AM | War 2005 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
April 25, 2005
POP CULTURE: Phil: The Monster Who Sometimes Likes to Eat a Cookie

Jonah Goldberg has an amusing column on Cookie Monster. Who else but Goldberg would invoke Marcus Aurelius and Hannibal Lecter in defense of a muppet? I particularly liked this point:

The whole point of the Cookie Monster character was to have a character who was silly because he ate so much. If Cookie Monster were a Greek god, he'd be the god of gluttony. Wouldn't it have been more honest and simply better to implore kids not to be too much like the Cookie Monster rather than make the Cookie Monster like everyone else? We all understand we shouldn’t be like Oscar the Grouch.

Who says that making Cookie Monster into moderate eater will improve kids' behavior anyway? Indeed, for years, Cookie Monster has devoured not only cookies, but things which merely look like cookies, including plates, Frisbees, and the moon. If Cookie Monster is so influential, why haven't I heard more about kids going to the hospital after trying to eat plates?

Frankly, it doesn't take a very bright 4-year-old to grasp that Cookie Monster's behavior is not acceptable. But it's funny.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:08 AM | Pop Culture | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
WAR: That Big Meanie John Bolton

You would have to labor long and hard to come up with a crueler parody of the modern Democratic party than the opposition of Democrats to a male appointee to a serious national security position on the grounds that he is too hard on his subordinates or is a "bully". (See here for a typical example of this rhetoric). Yet, somehow, that is where they have found themselves with John Bolton. Andrew Jackson must be rolling over in his grave.

Look, most people have worked for difficult or abusive bosses at some point in their careers; nobody likes them, and they can in many cases be counterproductive. But most of us also understand that the more serious the task and the higher the pressure, the more leeway you give a guy who gets results, and when you are talking about national security, the balance ought to tip decidedly towards getting the job done. This PTA-focus-grouped attack is all too reminiscent of the cringe-inducing line Dick Gephardt used over and over again during the 2004 primaries about how Bush "would get a mark on his report card: doesn't play well with others." Um, Dick, we're not talking about kicking over a tower of blocks here.

And Democrats wonder why they lost men by 11 points in the last election. From the election results you can infer that women didn't buy this either, of course, but I suspect that this sort of thing - placing politeness above effectiveness - has a particularly strong fingernails-on-the-blackboard effect on men.

(Of course, it's not like Bolton groped the woman who's complaining about him, or drove her off a bridge; that would be just plum dandy. For that matter, these same self-appointed anti-meanie brigades were strangely silent when Kerry and Dean were the Democratic front-runners. But John Kerry would never act badly towards subordinates, and Howard Dean would never yell at anyone).

For a twofer, Democrats have somehow allowed themselves to be publicly maneuvered, against what must be their better judgment, into the posture of defenders of the corrupt, hypocritical, anti-American, anti-Semitic United Nations. Win-win!

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:19 AM | War 2005 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Yet Another Look at Steroids

Michael Lewis has a long piece in the NY Times Magazine on steroids.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:14 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (1)
POLITICS: EU Living Standards

Will Collier takes a look.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:09 AM | Politics 2005 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
POP CULTURE: Bruce is Back

I've got the first single off the new Bruce album, and unfortunately it sounds like we're back to the mopey, acoustic Bruce, although I'll wait and hear the whole album. Thought for the day, from Springsteen: "Talking about music is like talking about sex . . . Can you describe it? Are you supposed to?"

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:05 AM | Pop Culture | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
POP CULTURE: Muncha Buncha

If you noticed his recent appearance on "Law & Order: Trial by Jury,"
Richard Belzer has now played the same character, Detective John Munch, on six different series, granting that half of those are of the Law & Order franchise - he's also been a regular character on L&0-SVU and Homicide, as well as appearing on the original L&O, The Beat, and The X-Files, the last being perhaps the most improbable because it was on another network.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:57 AM | Pop Culture | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
April 24, 2005
BASEBALL: The White Sox Channel the Dodgers

As Chicago enjoys its major-league-leading record, I think back to Los Angeles. But not the Dodgers crew that, until its current three-game skid, had the most wins -- I have in mind the 2003 vintage. That team had a notoriously awful offense, ranking last in many batting categories. It was also involved in a considerable number of one-run games, as it employed a "small ball" strategy to manufacture runs. The dominant pitching staff ended up keeping the club in contention.

The White Sox, while perhaps not at the same level of offensive futility, is nonetheless pretty unimpressive themselves. They have the AL's lowest on-base percentage at .300. Despite their 20 homeruns (good enough for 4th in the league), their slugging percentage of .408 and OPS of .707 put them at 10th. Meanwhile, the pitching staff has been awesome. Its top-ranked 3.18 ERA is 0.34 better than the next competitor. It also boasts the second lowest opponent OPS at .650.

With this kind of formula, I question whether the White Sox can remain atop the majors for much longer. I know that, with the Dodgers, it certainly wasn't enough to be a real force.

Update: By the way, nine of Chicago's first fifteen wins are by one run.

Posted by Robert Tagorda at 11:57 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
April 21, 2005
BASEBALL: Grand Mientkiewicz

Minky goes deep with the bases loaded in the second off Al Leiter, his first career grand slam. I love a 3-run lead with Pedro on the mound.

UPDATE: Make that 6-1 in the second. Leiter just doesn't have it tonight.

7-1, and Cliff Floyd has stolen two bases in one inning. Don't see that every day.

LAST UPDATE: Well, that was satisfying. The radio guys were discussing the fact that we saw little of Pedro's fastball tonight and whether that was because he was pitching on regular (4 days) rest for the first time this season. Hardly mattered, but we'll see how that goes later in the year.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:33 PM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
WAR: She Da Man

Condi Rice speaks out for democracy in Belarus.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:20 PM | War 2005 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
April 19, 2005
RELIGION: New Pope

Breaking. No name yet.

UPDATE (which I'm correcting on the fly): It's Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, 78 years old, reportedly now Pope Benedict XVI, one of the few cardinals appointed before the papacy of John Paul II. Ratzinger is considered, in common parlance, a "conservative" on matters of Church doctrine. He's the 265th pope, and - I believe - the first German. [Correction: first in a very, very long time; this article on papal names says the first German pope was in 996]

MORE: Sam Ser in the Jerusalem Post on Ratzinger's time in the Hitler Youth (membership was compulsory - the Nazis, you will recall, were big fans of compulsion - but Ratzinger was exempted from activities due to his religious studies) and his years in Nazi Germany (he lived under Nazi rule from age 6 to 18, and only becoming a priest saved him from induction into the SS). All of which may make the timing of this unfortunate.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:19 PM | Religion | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
LAW: Chain of Causation

If I wasn't busy enough, this morning brought a decision from the Supreme Court in a major private securities litigation case, the first significant such decision from the Court since 1995, requiring pleading and proof that a stock declined in value as a result of alleged misrepresentations before suit can be filed. I'd been closely watching the Court's site waiting for this one to write it ip and circulate (see, the blogging skill set has its professional benefits). And now, another institution sends up closely watched signals . . .

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:13 PM | Law 2005 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: BABIP Research

Clay Davenport looks at the numbers and finds that pitchers who make the majors are slightly but consistently better at preventing hits on balls in play in the minor leagues than are pitchers who don't. (Subscription required)

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:30 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
April 18, 2005
FOOTBALL: Too Short

RIP Sam Mills, a hero to undersized athletes everywhere.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:19 PM | Football | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Pigs Fly . . .

And Aaron Heilman throws a 1-hit shutout, among the things happening while I've been too tied up with work and other stuff to blog (as the papers noted, there have now been 23 complete game 1-hitters in Mets history, but still zero no-hitters; what are the odds of that?). Certainly is shaping up like a classic Mets season - improbable wins, improbable losses, low-scoring games with late comebacks, lots and lots of strikeouts.

Matsui's been disappointing thus far, but I just don't get the boos and calls for him to be replaced with Cairo. Maybe Matsui's back really is worse than we think, but if not, he's still got more upside than Cairo, who played to 100% of his upside last year and still was only just OK.

I'll be in and out of blog this week, hopefully back to blogging regularly after April 22.

UPDATE: I see where Kerry Ligtenberg, who I'd been stumping for as a possible addition to the Mets pen, has signed a minor league deal with the D-Backs.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:52 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (1)
April 17, 2005
BASEBALL: Out West, A Study in Contrasts

Prior to the start of today's games, the five NL West teams occupied the top six spots in on-base percentage. The Giants and the Diamondbacks were practically tied for number one, with .367 and .366. The Dodgers' .359 were right behind them. At numbers five and six, the Rockies and the Padres had .349 and .348.

By contrast, three of the four AL West teams ranked in the bottom sixth: the Mariners' .307 put them at 25th, the Angels' .301 at 26th, and the A's .289 at 28th. Texas had a respectable .338, which was good enough for 11th.

I doubt that these rankings will hold for much longer, but they're interesting to note in the first 10+ games of the season.

Posted by Robert Tagorda at 6:30 PM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
April 13, 2005
BASEBALL: Compare and Contrast

Hopefully, one of these things is not like the other.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:37 PM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BLOG: Quick Links 4/13/05

I've still got little or no time to read, let alone write (I've got a big brief to the Second Circuit due April 22, and between that and other stuff it will be crazy until then). But a few quick links collected in recent weeks, before they get totally out of date:

*Go check out Vodkapundit for color photos of World War I.

*Ann Althouse has some important background on CNN prosecutor Nancy Grace.

*This Instapundit post is a good place to start on the scandals brewing in Canada. Captain Ed has been all over this.

*The Soviets once had a false alert that could have launched a full-out nuclear war (via Studes).

*Speaking of Studes, his previous column had a funny excerpt from the Daily Show on Barry Bonds.

*Until he died, I didn't know that Barney Martin, who played Morty Seinfeld, had "served as a navigator in the Air Force during World War II before starting a 20-year career as a New York City police detective."

*I like Byung-Hyun Kim and all, but the guys has a 6.30 career ERA at Coors Field, mostly compiled in his Arizona heyday. In other words, even if he gets his act back together, don't expect this to end well.

*I begin to suspect Derek Zumsteg has too much time on his hands when he has time to come up with 26 different reasons to suspect Mariner Moose is not actually a moose at all, and many of them aren't even funny, they're just things like "Antlers are not wide, large, or heavy enough."

*The fact that Seymour Hersh says something does not make it even slightly more likely that it is true. (via Instapundit)

*More bad guys bite the dust

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:59 AM | Blog 2002-05 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Power Surge

Orioles speed merchant Brian Roberts has hit four home runs already this season, one shy of his career high. I should have seen this coming. Roberts smacked 50 doubles last season, and even considering that a number of those were "leg" doubles, guys in their twenties who hit that many doubles tend to hit more home runs in following seasons (Roberts is 27). Roberts also cut his groundball/flyball ratio last season to 1.09 from 1.37 the prior year, although he's as unlikely to stick to his current pace of 0.36 G/F as he is to slug .931 for a full season. But 15-20 homers, maybe a little more than that, might not be such a big surprise.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:50 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (1)
April 10, 2005
BASEBALL: Break on Through

Today's Mets game was as classic as a 6-1 victory in the first week of the season could possibly be. You really had to see it, Pedro and John Smoltz bringing their best stuff - Pedro hitting the mid-90s with his fastball on the way to a complete game 2-hitter (and keeping the pitch counts low enough that you didn't even worry about him going out for the 9th inning), Smoltz tying his career high with 15 strikeouts through the first 7 innings, to the point where the Mets announcers were discussing whether Smoltz had a chance to strike out 20. For a long while there, it looked like the 1-0 lead the Braves had staked Smoltz to would be all he needed, until Carlos Beltran nailed a line drive home run to right field. That got Smoltz out, and I just had that feeling that Cliff Floyd was going to go deep against the next pitcher, as he did, followed by a double for Minky and a homer for Wright, and all of a sudden all the frustration of the 0-5 start was washed away.

Oh, there was frustration. Perhaps the most vivid demonstration was Saturday night, when the ever-combustible Aaron Heilman gave up a second inning grand slam to Brian Jordan, and the cameras cut to Willie Randolph with what looked like a perfect addition to the Bill Simmons pantheon of faces - the Willie Randolph "Why Did I Ever Take This Job" Face, which was topped only when they panned down the dugout to Pedro and he had the exact same expression on his face.

For the record, Pedro has now struck out 21 and walked 3 while allowing 5 hits in 15 innings. You can say "small sample size" all you like, but it's been a damn long time since the Mets had anyone who could do that even in a 2-start sample. Hey, as long as Pedro continues to improve on his career ERA and K/9 . . .

Wright is really starting to remind me of Robin Ventura. The comparison he usually draws is to Scott Rolen, but Ventura was at least 90% of the player Rolen is, and Wright could do much worse.

I continue to fear the Mets' non-Pedro pitchers, other than my inexplicable faith in Victor Zambrano, who (1) managed a 35-27 career record in Tampa Bay, giving him almost half of the .500-or-better seasons in Devil Rays history, and (2) has whiffed 20 batters in 19 innings with a 3.79 ERA as a Met. But I'm really feeling good about the everyday lineup. Floyd has looked rejuvenated, to the point of throwing out two guys at home on Saturday night. Beltran, as he showed last October and again today, has icewater in his veins. And if the high/next highest comps on Wright are Rolen and Ventura, the matches for Jose Reyes are Barry Larkin and Rafael Furcal. Reyes is just one exciting baserunner, as he showed in legging a routine groundball single past second into right center into a double today.

Need the pitching to come through. If it doesn't, we'll have to settle for sending a championship team out to play only once every five days.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:04 PM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Not Right

Something still appears to be wrong with Javier Vazquez, as he pitched poorly again last night after being shelled by the Cubs in his first start. At least this time he managed 7 whiffs in 7 innings, and a few good starts after this could yet make the Opening Day disaster look like a blip. But if I was a Diamondbacks fan, I'd be concerned.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:01 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
April 8, 2005
BASEBALL/LAW: Lawyer for Bonds Trainer Pleads Guilty

Defense attorney J. Tony Serra pled guilty on Tuesday to misdemeanor federal income tax evasion charges for failing to pay more than $40,000 in taxes. Serra has been involved in the BALCO steroids case:

As famous for his rumpled suits and love of marijuana as he is for delivering blistering cross-examinations, Serra has railed against what he sees as government overreaching in criminal prosecutions. He's now defending Greg Anderson, a personal trainer for San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds. Anderson is accused of distributing steroids along with three others at the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative in U.S. v. Conte, 04-0044.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:25 PM | Baseball 2005 • | Law 2005 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS/LAW: Conflict of Interest

Well, look at who's confusing his roles of public prosecutor and campaigner:

Eliot Spitzer was accused on Wednesday of blurring his role as New York attorney-general with his political ambitions to run for state governor after his campaign office paid Google to link a search for "AIG" to a website promoting his gubernatorial bid. AIG, the world's largest insurer, is at the centre of investigation by Mr Spitzer and others regulators into alleged improper accounting.

The linked website on Google www.spitzer2006.com collects campaign contributions and posts messages to supporters. It is headlined Spitzer for NY Governor, with the message: "Good Guys Can Finish First. Sign up Now and Join The Fight!"

The thing about Spitzer is, of course, that he's never yet been put to proving one of his high-profile cases in court; he generally targets heavily regulated public companies, and such companies generally can't survive a court battle with the government. But it makes for good press.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:28 AM | Law 2005 • | Politics 2005 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: New Toy

Still having fun with some of the new toys at David Pinto's site - can it really be true that Ichiro is batting .509 on the road since the All-Star Break last season?

UPDATE: Here's another: visiting players of the 1980s with the best slugging percentages at Shea.

Same for the 1990s (no surprise to see Chipper and Brian Jordan near the top of that list).

Same for 2000-04.

You can run the same search for your favorite team (here's the all-time list for Coors Field, which is less dramatic than I'd expected).

Or, one last eye-opener: the feared 1975-79 Red Sox offense, on the road.

I should add the disclaimer here: The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at 20 Sunset Rd., Newark, DE 19711.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:04 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (1)
BASEBALL: Downer

Well, the Mets sure know how to take the enthusiasm out of you. Nothing like getting swept by a mediocre team to start the season on the wrong foot. All in all, even with yesterday's shutdown by Aaron Harang, I'm still very optimistic about this team's offense and defense, and despite the early 3-run homer on Opening Day you can't help but be impressed by Pedro's first outing. But the pitching staff is a disaster. I've never really trusted Tom Glavine, who's now 3-7 with a 6.22 ERA since the beginning of last August. Ishii and the bullpen have been as bad as advertised, Trachsel's down for half the season or more, Benson's hurt already . . . not a good sign.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:38 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
April 7, 2005
POP CULTURE: The Preachy Monster

Another sign that we'll never again see children's entertainment that actually places entertaining children first: Cookie Monster is shilling for moderation in eating cookies. Wile E. Coyote wouldn't even get on the air today. "Sesame Street" has always been both educational and moralistic, and that's a good thing. But Jim Henson understood that a little plain old childish mischief is what made the show work well enough to keep kids coming back for more letters and numbers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:07 PM | Pop Culture | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Hazing

Willie Randolph laced into Victor Diaz with a profanity-laden stream of insults today... well, actually he didn't, but he's batting him eighth, behind career .215 hitter Ramon Castro, which amounts to the same thing. This, after Randolph batted David Wright 8th during the spring. This has no logical basis - you bat your weakest hitter 8th in the NL, not a blossoming slugger like Wright or even a guy like Diaz who's only playing, in an outfield corner, because of his bat.

Unless Randolph somehow got the idea that starting at the bottom of the order is a necessary learning experience for a young hitter. Where would he get that idea? Well, in Randolph's major league debut with the Pirates in 1975, he batted leadoff. He was still hitting leadoff two weeks later and batting .115. For the season, Randolph batted .130 in the leadoff spot, but .250 elswhere. He finally started hitting in a doubleheader where he batted 8th and went 3-for-6. In 1976, as an everyday player with the Yankees, Randolph spent 103 games in the 8 hole, and only in 1977 did he begin to bat leadoff regularly.

So, perhaps Randolph is generalizing from his own experience.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:57 PM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Screw Up

Turns out that the memo pushing the legislation to save Terri Schaivo's life on, among others, raw partisan political grounds was after all created by a GOP staffer working for Mel Martinez, who apparently - I assume without reading the thing, unless he's a complete idiot - handed it to arch-liberal Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, who in a rare display of aisle-crossing was supporting the bill but obviously was not doing so for purposes of putting heat on other Democrats. Instapundit has the links. (UPDATE: Patrick Hynes has a more direct apology).

I like this quote, from hyper-partisan New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg:

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a member of the Rules and Administration Committee, wrote to the panel's leaders last week to ask for an investigation into the "document, its source, and how it came to be distributed."

"Those who would attempt to influence debate in the United States Senate should not hide behind anonymous pieces of paper," he said.

And this one:

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in an interview Friday that he considered it "ludicrous" to suggest that his party created the document and said Republicans were using such talk to divert responsibility.

"I guess the best defense is a good offense -- that's their theory," he said.

And this one:

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said he believed that the memo originated with the GOP because it is "totally consistent" with how the Republicans have operated for the past four years. "They just shouldn't lose their memos," he said.

And now that that's settled, I hope Lautenberg, Reid and Biden can all get to a substantive discussion of these memos circulated among Senate Democrats.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:27 AM | Politics 2005 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Dump the DH

Michele noted the dubious anniversary yesterday of the introduction of the DH. I had long tolerated the DH rule - and, more controversially the hybrid DH/no DH AL/NL setup - maybe just because it's what I grew up with. But I've recently come to the conclusion that, like Astroturf in outdoor parks, it's time for the DH to go. I have two major reasons for this.

Eliminating the DH would have two overdue beneficial effects. First, it would reduce the number and stress of pitches thrown by starting pitchers (it's easier to get past Al Leiter in the lineup than David Ortiz), improving the ability of pitchers to go deep in games and to stay healthy. Seeing more of the best starters and less of marginal middle relievers is good.

Second, the DH is an extra everyday player. The more everyday players, the more opportunities for some teams to spend more money and thus gain advantages solely through their financial position. This is especially true of DHs, who tend to be well-paid veterans rather than cheap rookies. (Of course, the fact that dumping the DH would reduce payrolls by eliminating well-paid jobs is precisely why the union would never let it happen).

In other words, eliminating the DH would mean better pitching and less economic inequality. It's time for the DH to go.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:30 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
POP CULTURE: News The Boss

Mmmmmm . . . new Springsteen album April 26. I haven't kept up with all the Bruce news, but I am concerned that he's touring solo for this album, which makes it sound suspiciously like the subpar "Ghost of Tom Joad" album.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:25 AM | Pop Culture | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
April 6, 2005
BASEBALL: What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Nothing quite says "Yankee fans" quite like booing Mariano Rivera for blowing the third game of the season.

Who's Rivera's daddy now? Though I must say, Simmons is awful cocky here for a guy whose team is 1-2 and who wrote that Keith "Foulke's gritty October performance vaulted him past Rivera as the premier money reliever in baseball" just a day or so before Foulke got tagged for a walk-off homer by Derek Jeter.

Of course, it's a long season. But any Yankee fan tempted to boo Rivera should contemplate how all those banners got there the past 9 years.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:05 PM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (1)
BLOG: You Can't Handle The Truth

This is just appalling:

At Daniels Farm Elementary School in Trumbull, Connecticut, [principal Gail] Karwoski's teachers grade papers by giving examples of better answers for those students who make mistakes. But that approach meant the kids often found their work covered in red, the color that teachers long have used to grade work.

Parents objected. Red writing, they said, was "stressful." The principal said teachers were just giving constructive advice and the color of ink used to convey that message should not matter. But some parents could not let it go.

So the school put red on the blacklist.

Read the whole thing . . . what on earth is wrong with these people? Criticism, constructive and otherwise, is one of the harsh realities of the world. Do they really think kids who are sheltered from this fact will prosper later in life? Heck, in high school - granted, I went to an all-boys Catholic high school - we had a history teacher, best teacher I ever had, who wrote the high and low grades on the board and handed back tests in descending order, meaning that some poor schlub got the indignity of being fingered as the guy who got a 22 on a test.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:49 AM | Blog 2002-05 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (1)
BASEBALL: Omens of Spring

With real games being played, we're just a day or two from completely forgetting spring performances. And mostly just as well, despite the fact that some managers still determine jobs based on spring stats.

But there could, nonetheless, be good news there for some sluggers:

Could David Ortiz be in for even a bigger year than the monster season he had in 2004? It wouldn't come as a shock to number-cruncher John Dewan. The Stats Inc. researcher says you normally can't put any stock in spring training numbers, but there is a possible exception.

"A hitter that has a tremendous spring training does correlate to a better-than-normal season," Dewan writes. "In precise statistical terms, a hitter with a positive difference between their spring training slugging percentage and their lifetime slugging percentage of .200 or more alerts us to a step forward in the coming season.

Dewan looked at hitters with 100 or more career regular-season at-bats and 36 or more 2005 spring training at-bats through last Monday. The top 30 hitters who met his criteria included Ortiz, who ranked 19th on his list with a 269-point difference.

Fantasy leaguers take note: Andruw Jones of the Braves ranked first, with a .682 difference between spring slugging percentage (1.175) and career (.493). Former Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra ranked 10th, with a 331-point spread.

I didn't see the original Dewan article - was it on ESPN? Personally, I expect a step back for Ortiz, but I am very bullish on Andruw Jones this year, just as many people are despairing that he will ever have the year.

Erik Siegrist over at Baseball Prospectus (subscription-only) has a more detailed list of spring's winners and losers.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:40 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
April 5, 2005
BASEBALL: Heilman's Chance

Looks increasingly like Aaron Heilman may end up taking Kris Benson's slot in the rotation for the next few weeks (although for Saturday he's unavailable), as the Mets' hopes for ever putting the "on paper" 2005 Mets on the field grow dimmer. In December 2003, I looked at the prospects for guys who get pounded as badly as Heilman as rookies. Me, I'd still give Jae Seo the shot.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:25 PM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)
RELIGION: Not Looking Very Hard

I'm still digging out from the combination of work and Opening Day, but this one is a classic, from Powerline on Saturday: the NY Times ran a web obit of Pope John Paul II that included carefully pre-arranged criticisms of the Pope - including from an "eminent Swiss theologian, who was barred by from teaching in Catholic schools because of his liberal views" - but still included a space marked "need some quote from supporter."

Typical Times. How hard, really, is it to find not only a supporter of the pope but one of equal prominence to an "eminent theologian"? The National Review certainly didn't have trouble locating supporters of this pope.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:20 AM | Religion | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
April 4, 2005
BASEBALL: Did You Know . . .

That Pedro's career ERA at Shea Stadium is 1.17?

(The bad news: that's just against the Mets).

All that and more at David Pinto's new Retrosheet-powered pitcher database, which stretches back to 1974. Mets fans will particularly enjoy this excerpt, the 50-start stretch wherein Dwight Gooden went 37-5 with a 1.38 ERA, struck out 8.24 batters per start, and tossed shutouts in almost a quarter of his starts. I can remember talk that Gooden was "babied" at the time, but looking back it's unbelievable the workload he carried for such a young pitcher: over a year and a half he completed half his starts and averaged more than 8 innings a start.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:56 PM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Lightenberg For A Song

With today's bullpen implosion, perhaps the first of many (although I wouldn't have expected Looper to be the culprit), I thought it might be worthwhile to wrap up a post I'd started and not finished this morning . . . I was very disappointed to see the Blue Jays release Kerry Ligtenberg last week. We hear a lot of talk among analysts about how important it is to get decent relief pitchers for a song these days. Well, the Jays are eating Ligtenberg's $2.5 million contract; anybody else can have him for the league minimum. A team like the Mets, desperate to shore up their bullpen, ought to jump on Ligtenberg with both feet.

Entering last season, Ligtenberg was one of baseball's more reliable relievers, with a 3.06 career ERA since 1997 and four straight years of 52 or more appearances since missing 1999 to injury. Let's look at Ligtenberg's core performance numbers last season, compared to his career:

YearHR/9UIBB/9K/9GB/FB
Thru 20030.992.958.370.81
20040.982.958.020.81

UIBB/9 is unintentional walks/9 IP. As you can easily see, Ligtenberg was basically the same pitcher as ever last season, notching a slightly lower strikeout rate but otherwise doing all the same old things. So why did he get the boot? Well, you know where this is going: balls in play. It wasn't that the balls in play against him were hit particularly hard; according to the Hardball Times, Ligtenberg's LD% - the percent of balls in play that were line drives - was .152 compared to an AL average of .177. His Fielding Independent Pitching ERA was 4.39, and his DIPS ERA was 3.77.

So how did Ligtenberg end up with a 6.38 ERA and a pink slip? Four things:

*A rough calculation indicates that the batting average on balls in play against Ligtenberg shot up from .284 to .386 (I'd use the more sophisticated comparisons done by Jay Jaffe and the Hardball Times guys, but I needed to be able to compare to the 1997-2003 edition of Ligtenberg). That could easily be bad luck and bad defense at work, and it goes a long way to explaining why his H/9 jumped from 7.40 to 11.95.

*The percentage of balls in play against Ligtenberg going for doubles rose from 5.3% to 8.5%. That can also be partly explained by the Blue Jays' outfield defense, although it's possible that some of it is also Ligtenberg getting hit harder. Still, you don't expect to see a guy getting smacked for a lot more doubles if he's surrendering the same old number of fly balls and home runs and has a good record allowing line drives.

*The number of GIDP against Ligtenberg dropped from 1 per 43 at bats to 1 per 189 at bats. This may well be attributable to the defense, in combination with a slightly elevated number of stolen bases.

*His rate of intentional walks doubled, from 0.61/9 IP to 1.15/9 IP. As I've noted before, intentional walks tend to be an occupational hazard of middle relief work, and Ligtenberg got stuck with an awful lot of them last season. The intentional passes were solely responsible for the rise in his walk rate, and it's not his fault.

Anyway, even if you accept that Ligtenberg was somewhat responsible for his poor performance last season, there was a reason:

Health-wise, Ligtenberg says there's no lingering effects from the inflammation in his left hip that pretty much crippled his season last year when he was 1-6 with a 6.38 ERA.

"The hip feels good," he said. "The first 10 days I wasn't feeling real good and we made an adjustment. The last three weeks my hip has been good, it hasn't been an issue."

Of course, he's going to say that. And maybe he'll have another rotten year this year, or have injury troubles, if someone gives him a shot. But I wouldn't be even mildly surprised if he threw 60 appearances with an ERA around 3.00. Wouldn't you rather see him do that for the Mets than for the Braves?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:12 PM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Pumped, But Not Up

We've all had a good laugh, and deservedly so, at the expense of Alex Sanchez, the first player to (apparently) get caught using steroids. Apparently it was easier for the Tampa Bay speed merchant to take steroids than take a pitch. As my older brother put it, "We can only guess how many of Sanchez's two home runs might have been the result of steroids... " Ex-teammate Brandon Inge:

He's the farthest guy from testing positive that I ever thought would happen . . . You'd think a red flag would go up in someone's mind. I can't believe it. When I heard his name, I thought it was a joke. You don't need steroids to bunt like he does. Actually, I'd think he'd be taking the opposite of steroids.

That said, the idea of a speedy guy taking steroids isn't that far-fetched; if you think about it for a few minutes, the name "Ben Johnson" may come to mind.

Of course, there's still Inge's other point:

I didn't think anyone would test positive. Everyone had enough notice, I mean they've been talking about it since midseason of last year.

Yes, Sanchez is apparently an idiot.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:04 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (1)
BASEBALL: See The Ball, Miss The Ball

I was forced to watch the Yankees-Red Sox game tonight on the YES Network, which meant choking down the usual Hated Yankees propaganda along with the game. But there was one point that Paul O'Neill made that, while familiar enough in some respects, I hadn't really thought of this particular way before. O'Neill - who freely admits that he couldn't hit Randy Johnson at all - was explaining that, because of Johnson's height, long arms and sidearm delivery, his release point is way further behind a lefthanded hitter's back than most lefthanded pitchers. The particular problem this causes is that a lefthanded hitter, just to see the ball at its release, has to turn to look more towards the first base side than usual - thus opening up his hips and effectively bailing out on the pitch from the moment it is released.

Of course, not all lefthanded hitters have been helpless against Johnson - the Yankee broadcasters noted Don Mattingly as a guy who hit for a good average against him, albeit mainly before Johnson had really mastered his command - but Johnson's unusual release point does start them out in a terrible hole even before you start to talk about his velocity.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:25 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
April 2, 2005
BASEBALL: Sweating the Small Stuff

I haven't been thrilled with some of the Mets' smaller moves lately. On the one hand, it was a good sign that the team didn't hang on to Joe McEwing or Andres Galarraga out of sentiment. On the other hand, you have the team signing Kelly Stinnett, only to release him three days later on discovering that he was hurt. Then there's the latest, dealing Matt Ginter to the Tigers for Steve Colyer. Ginter's nothing special, and I'm sure he's probably out of options (whereas Colyer is headed to Norfolk), but Ginter was at times a useful swing man, and Colyer thus far has shown no indication that he can throw strikes. And Benji Gil . . . I guess he can hit at AAA, but really.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:28 PM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
April 1, 2005
BASEBALL: NL EWSL Standings

As you can see below, I've finished my EWSL (Established Win Shares Levels) review of the National League. As I did with the AL (the reasoning is explained here), I'll now wrap the review by adjusting the team win totals upward to get enough wins (1296, for a 16-team league) to get to .500, i.e., 81 wins per team.

Specifically, EWSL produces enough Win Shares for 73.6 wins per NL team in 2005 before applying the age adjustment, and 71.2 wins (almost exactly the same as the AL) after. (Note also that I'm using the half-season-of-Bonds figures for the Giants). If we project those totals upwards proportionally across teams, what do the age-adjusted EWSL standings look like?

NL EastW-LGBNL CentralW-LGBNL WestW-LGB
Marlins95-67--Cardinals96-66--Padres88-74--
Phillies94-681Cubs89-737Giants87-751
Nationals84-7811Astros77-8519Dodgers80-828
Mets82-8013Reds73-8923Diamondbacks77-8511
Braves81-8114Pirates70-9226Rockies63-9925
Brewers60-10236

These, like the AL standings, mostly look right to me (other than the Braves), much as I'd like to be more optimistic about the Mets. Boy, these would be some pennant races, huh? Two divisions decided by one, and the Phillies beat the Cubs for the Wild Card. And with the adjustments we now see the strength of the NL East, with no losing teams in the division.

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):

TeamAdjustment
WAS104
FLA102
PIT101
ATL100
AZ100
CHC99
COL99
NYM98
CIN98
NL Avg97
LA97
MIL96
STL95
HOU93
SD92
PHI92
SF88

You'll see there's nobody in the NL who gains as much as the Twins, who were +11%, but only the Giants are anywhere near the age of the Red Sox and Yankees (they'd be slightly worse, at 87, if I rated Bonds on a full season, but still not as old as the top two AL teams). On average, NL teams lost less to the age adjustment (96.7) than AL teams (95.3). Lastly, the non-age-adjusted standings:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:25 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (1)
BASEBALL: 2005 NL Central EWSL Report

We come, at long last, to the sixth and final installment 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, the NL East EWSL report is here, and the NL West 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. Now that we have all the NL teams, I can run a similarly adjusted standings table soon.

St. Louis Cardinals

RAW EWSL: 261.83 (87 Wins)
Adj EWSL: 265.83 (89 Wins)
Age Adj EWSL: 252.72 (84 Wins)

PosAgePlayerRaw EWSLAdj EWSLAge-Adj EWSL
C22Yadier Molina*247
1B25Albert Pujols393953
2B35Mark Grudzielanek13138
SS30David Eckstein121211
3B30Scott Rolen323229
RF38Larry Walker171714
CF35Jim Edmonds303020
LF37Reggie Sanders161613
C232Einar Diaz333
INF25Hector Luna245
OF34John Mabry776
1235So Taguchi443
1330Roger Cedeno777
SP127Mark Mulder161617
SP230Chris Carpenter666
SP330Matt Morris998
SP430Jeff Suppan10109
SP526Jason Marquis888
CL32Jason Isringhausen11119
R232Julian Tavarez887
R331Ray King665
R437Cal Eldred443
R534Al Reyes221

My age adjustments, based on last year's experience across all major leaguers who were rated on EWSL entering 2004, project a 37% improvement for 25-year-old players. Of course, in last year's sample there weren't any 25-year-old hitters whose Established Performance Level was .337/.644/.420, leading to EWSL of 39. (This assumes the truth of Pujols' reported age, a subject I won't revisit here). However, if you look historically at Pujols' most-comparable players, you'll see that the guys at the top took a small step backwards at age 25 - DiMaggio, Foxx, Vlad Guerrero (Ted Williams was in the military). On the other hand, two of his ten comps, Foxx and Joe Medwick, won the Triple Crown at 25, Frank Robinson won the MVP, and Aaron and Joe D won the batting title, so I wouldn't be losing much sleep. Just saying that 53 Win Shares is a bit much of an improvement for a guy already performing at Pujols' elevated level.

(Of course, it's not just that DiMaggio is the most similar player to Pujols; what's more impressive is that for age 21-23, the most similar player to DiMaggio is Pujols. Think about that.)

Speaking of comparables, they also provide a caution on Jim Edmonds, who hits the magic 35 this year. I ran a quick weighted average, and Edmonds' comps, on average, aged OK at 35, sliding from .291/.537/386 to .287/.499/.365, about a net 7% dropoff, albeit with a severe drop in playing time, from 462 at bats to 310. But even the good performance is largely the doing of Ellis Burks batting .344 at 35; of the 8 usable comps (Wally Berger and Hack Wilson retired after age 34), three (Tim Salmon, Larry Doby and Mo Vaughn) wiped out completely, ending Doby's and Vaughn's careers and possibly Salmon's, two others (Fred Lynn and David Justice, both in some sense genuinely similar players) dropped off sharply, Lynn from .287/.499/.371 to .253/.487/.320, Justice from .286/.584/.377 to .241/.430/.333. I can't tell you what will happen with Edmonds, but he's part of a larger issue, masked to some extent in EWSL by Pujols, of age creeping up on the Cardinal lineup. (I guess if you're a fourth outfielder - or a fifth, or sixth - you have to be happy backing up a starting three of Edmonds, Walker and Sanders.)

Staying on the age thing, do we also need a new model for the aging process for .300 hitters with modest supporting skills? Grudzielanek, like Joe Randa and Mark Loretta, has aged surprisingly well. Then again, there's Jeff Cirillo.

Chicago Cubs

RAW EWSL: 231.17 (77 Wins)
Adj EWSL: 236.67 (79 Wins)
Age Adj EWSL: 234.26 (78 Wins)

PosAgePlayerRaw EWSLAdj EWSLAge-Adj EWSL
C28Michael Barrett121214
1B29Derek Lee232320
2B32Todd Walker161614
SS31Nomar Garciaparra191916
3B27Aramis Ramirez181819
RF36Jeromy Burnitz141412
CF25Corey Patterson151521
LF32Todd Hollandsworth776
C233Henry Blanco332
INF32Neifi Perez776
OF29Jerry Hairston887
1233Jose Macias443
1326Jason Dubois+166
SP124Carlos Zambrano161620
SP224Mark Prior121215
SP328Kerry Wood121214
SP439Greg Maddux131311
SP528Ryan Dempster111
CL32LaTroy Hawkins121211
R234Joe Borowski665
R339Mike Remlinger554
R434Chad Fox221
R530Glendon Rusch665

Obviously, Prior could easily surpass 15 Win Shares, but he could fall short as well; this is a fairly reasonable estimate in between. Zambrano, on the other hand, I suspect peaked last year, although if he can maintain something close to that peak for a few years, that's a heck of a pitcher.

Basically, the Cubs are behind the Cards because they lack depth - Dempster's got an ugly recent track record, the bullpen's a bit shallow, and there's really no competent left fielder on hand unless Dubois really seizes the job and cranks out 25-30 homers. The ifs can come true, there are just more of them than with St. Louis, where the ifs are all about avoiding declines rather than hoping things will happen that haven't happened before.

Houston Astros

RAW EWSL: 186.17 (62 Wins)
Adj EWSL: 217.00 (72 Wins)
Age Adj EWSL: 202.04 (67 Wins)

PosAgePlayerRaw EWSLAdj EWSLAge-Adj EWSL
C36Brad Ausmus997
1B37Jeff Bagwell232318
2B39Craig Biggio181815
SS28Adam Everett#101214
3B29Morgan Ensberg#101211
RF28Jason Lane*467
CF23Willy Taveras+0012
LF29Lance Berkman292926
C232Raul Chavez111
INF29Mike Lamb776
OF36Orlando Palmeiro554
1237Jose Vizcaino776
1325Chris Burke+006
SP127Roy Oswalt161616
SP242Roger Clemens171714
SP333Andy Pettitte10107
SP427Brandon Backe#334
SP525Ezequiel Astacio+004
CL28Brad Lidge#111316
R228Chad Harville#111
R328Mike Gallo#223
R427Dan Wheeler333
R525Carlos Hernandez111

The Astros are both overrated here (since I don't account for Berkman's knee injury at all) and underrated (since Lane, a solid-looking player, is valued as if he's a bench jockey). On the whole, I'd lean to the latter (I can't help but think they'll get more than 7 WS out of Pettitte), but this will nonetheless be a sad, sad season in Houston, as the aging of Bagwell and Biggio grows more urgent while the loss of Beltran, Kent and Wade Miller makes itself felt. By mid-season, it should be clear that an era has ended.

Yes, the Astros are reportedly moving Biggio back to second, although that doesn't affect the calculations here, since either way the alternative is a raw rookie, Taveras or Burke. In the abstract, the move makes sense if Biggio can presumably handle second no worse than his outfield play, which was poor in center, and his bat is better suited to the middle infield at this stage. In practice, though, all that matters is Taveras vs. Burke, since those are the options. Unless Biggio is being shopped to a contender later in the year, that is.

Cincinnati Reds

RAW EWSL: 195.00 (65 Wins)
Adj EWSL: 198.63 (66 Wins)
Age Adj EWSL: 193.66 (65 Wins)

PosAgePlayerRaw EWSLAdj EWSLAge-Adj EWSL
C31Jason LaRue131311
1B30Sean Casey222220
2B27D'Angelo Jimenez191920
SS33Rich Aurilia996
3B35Joe Randa13138
RF25Austin Kearns9913
CF35Ken Griffey11117
LF25Adam Dunn232332
C229Javier Valentin332
INF29Ryan Freel#101211
OF23Wily Mo Pena#8912
1225Felipe Lopez668
1332Jacob Cruz222
SP132Paul Wilson776
SP229Eric Milton665
SP332Ramon Ortiz887
SP427Aaron Harang333
SP526Brandon Claussen*000
CL31Danny Graves665
R222Ryan Wagner#224
R337Kent Mercker554
R435David Weathers664
R535Ben Weber443

Speaking of sad, what a collection of broken dreams and disappointments make up the Reds' starting rotation. . . When you build your offense around the longball and lard up your pitchint staff with guys who see more gophers than Bill Murray in Caddyshack, you've pretty much designed a team that's equally ill-suited to any ballpark.

Looking at Dunn, I wonder: would he, and other big NL sluggers, have lower WS totals if they played in the AL, even if they performed in the same way? The DH means more offense across lineups and thus reduces the value of any given hitter (i.e., the offensive pie is bigger when you replace Al Leiter with Frank Thomas, so each slice is smaller).

Pittsburgh Pirates

RAW EWSL: 172.17 (57 Wins)
Adj EWSL: 183.20 (61 Wins)
Age Adj EWSL: 184.20 (61 Wins)

PosAgePlayerRaw EWSLAdj EWSLAge-Adj EWSL
C40Benito Santiago887
1B28Craig Wilson141417
2B24Jose Castillo*4810
SS27Jack Wilson171718
3B27Ty Wigginton111111
RF33Matt Lawton12129
CF28Tike Redman9910
LF26Jason Bay#101213
C226Humberto Cota*111
INF29Rob Mackowiak121210
OF30Daryle Ward555
1227Bobby Hill333
1329Ben Grieve776
SP123Oliver Perez101012
SP228Kip Wells111112
SP331Mark Redman10108
SP428Josh Fogg778
SP526Dave Williams111
CL39Jose Mesa776
R227Mike Gonzalez488
R333Salomon Torres885
R429Brian Meadows444
R526John Grabow*111

The Buccos have the benefit of a stable starting rotation and a deep bullpen, which ought to count for something. Fifth place is what it counts for, when your most accomplished player is Jack Wilson. You gotta have stars, no matter what your depth and baalance is.

Yes, I know they sent Grieve down to AAA, but there wasn't another established player worth rating in his place. I do think he should be able to eke out a Dave Magadan-like second career as a pinch hitter who's a tough out, even absent power, speed or defensive abilities.

Milwaukee Brewers

RAW EWSL: 145.83 (49 Wins)
Adj EWSL: 164.63 (55 Wins)
Age Adj EWSL: 157.83 (53 Wins)

PosAgePlayerRaw EWSLAdj EWSLAge-Adj EWSL
C35Damian Miller13138
1B28Lyle Overbay#121417
2B30Junior Spivey10109
SS22JJ Hardy+0012
3B29Russ Branyan665
RF30Geoff Jenkins151513
CF32Brady Clark998
LF29Carlos Lee222219
C230Chad Moeller444
INF29Wes Helms776
OF28Chris Magruder111
1225Bill Hall668
1335Jeff Cirillo332
SP126Ben Sheets141415
SP229Doug Davis10109
SP326Chris Capuano#222
SP428Victor Santos222
SP528Gary Glover223
CL26Michael Adams+355
R235Ricky Bottalico332
R325Jeff Bennett*123
R429Matt Wise221
R528Wes Obermuller#334

The less said by me about this team the better; I want to believe the Brewers are turning things around, but clearly this roster does not yet contain personnel capable of doing that. I'd expect Sheets to do better than this, but the point here is that last year's performance is not yet his established level. And after Sheets, the deluge.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:24 AM | Baseball 2005 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)