Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 29, 2008
BASEBALL: Johan Who?

Emma Span, in what is sadly a typical sports column at Slate, writes at length about why it's a good thing for the Yankees and Red Sox that they did not sign Johan Santana, yet manages to say not a single word about the marginal value of Santana himself. Her general thesis, about free agent excesses and the value of building from within, may be sensible enough, but to apply that to the specific case you need to actually look at the player and his salary and ask whether he is worth the money. Span looks at neither.

PS - Speaking of Slate, Bill James has an essay there on Craig Biggio and why James fell out of love with him once he got popular. Or something like that, anyway. I wonder if his point about Biggio making his living off bad pitchers is broadly true of declining veterans.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:37 PM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

Bill James's piece was interesting to me, mostly because he seems to be recanting on his long-stated belief that there's no such thing as a clutch hitter.

Posted by: Jerry at February 29, 2008 7:11 PM

I think this makes me admire Biggio more. Just like you have to admire Dave Kingman. When an athlete realizes he hasn't been blessed with optimum tools and adapts to create a long career for himself (by producing more value than his gifts should have produced), how can you not be impressed?

Kingman's nervous system (just like those of all but the tiny fraction of gifted athletic freaks) was too slow to allow him to wait to see the pitch before deciding to swing. He adapted by guessing pretty well and going deep when he did. When he guessed wrong, he struck out. But he knew he had to start his swing early. And he had to go deep to stay around.

Posted by: stan at March 1, 2008 8:48 AM

First, let me say that I believe Santana will be a fine addition to the Mets for several years to come. Let me also say that I am VERY glad he is no longer in the AL Central, though I would have liked the Tigerrs and Indians to have had to face him 4-5 times each every year.

That being said, I am also glad the Yanks and Sox did not sign him. It is my feeling that the current environment in baseball, while better than a few years ago, is not healthy for the game. When so few teams carry the financial clout as the Yanks, Sox and to a lessor degree the Mets it creates a competitive balance that is not good for the game. Additionally, it begins to drive prices at the stadium to the point where most families can not afford to attend games.

As nice as it is to sit back in a recliner and watch a ballgame, baseball is a game best enjoyed at the stadium. That is also the problem with baseball and kids. Football gained its popularity being shared by the family at Sunday dinner with a plate in your lap and gravey on your shirt as the family sat and watched their favorite team on TV. Yes, the stadium and tailgatting are great experiences too, but Sunday dinner is what made football.

Baseball was made at the ballpark. It is a game best enjoyed on a summer evening or5 afternoon, at the stadium. The ballpark is a great place to relax and get away from the pressures of the day. That is what baseball has forgotten and is the main reason why it has lost its position as the #1 sport in the US.

In my opinion, and I think the facts support my position, the rise in salaries has made decision making in baseball more about money than common sense and therefore, more about making a profit than accomodating the customer or fan. You never see doubleheaders scheduled anymore. Why, not because it is hard on the fan (customer) or even the players, but because the team will lose a gate.

Until baseball becomes more fan and family friendly, it will not regain its place in American society. I hope they wake up quick. They are getting more competition for the kids every day.

Posted by: maddirishman at March 1, 2008 9:20 AM

Well said, and timely for the Met fans on this page. The final season at Shea and the future at Citi are decidedly anti fan and family, featuring jacked up ticket prices and reduced seating.

Posted by: abe at March 1, 2008 10:07 AM

he seems to be recanting on his long-stated belief that there's no such thing as a clutch hitter.

I think that's a slight overstatement. He's long argued that for the great majority of players, there
s no such thing as a talent for clutchness. What he said is that for nearly everyone, it evens out in the end.

That said, there are two subtleties worth noting in there: one, that there is a very small number of guys that do have demonstrable clutch ability. He didn't ever spell it out explicitly, but by reading between the lines and supplying one's own data, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Lou Brock may fit into that limited slot. To me, Gibson is the best example.

Also, James has always acknowledged that even if clutchness isn't a "skill," it very definitely matters in the evaluation of a player's value. Luck, skill, or a combo of the two, a 7-2 record with a 1.89 ERA in 9 World Series starts, or 18 WS homers matters a lot in the final evaluation.

Posted by: Mike at March 1, 2008 10:08 AM

Having grown up watching the Cardinals I would say that Bob Gibson was the best clutch, "money", player I ever saw (Brock not so much). When rules are changed because of a player (lowering of the mound), it is an indication of how dominating the player is. Gibson pitched at a time when there were many outstanding pitchers (Koufax, Seaver, Marichal, Carlton to name a few), but he was the best. when the mound was lowered it was stated that it was a direct result of the season Gibson had in 1968.

Brock, while an outstanding player and a deserving HOF'er, also hold the record for career K's (a product of leading off a getting more AB's than most) and was not the clutch performer that Gibson was.

Reggie in the playoffs and World Series also fits this profile a a clutch player, but it should be noted that in the regular season he did not enjoy the same distiction.

Posted by: maddirishman at March 1, 2008 10:53 AM

I don't have his regular season "clutch" stats, and I won't argue with your perceptions having seen him contemporaneously. But Lou Brock's WS stats over 21 games and 87 ABs are eye-popping:

16 R, 13 RBI
7 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR
5 BB
14 SB, 2 CS

And keep in mind, he compiled those numbers in the 60's against Ford, Lomborg, Lolich, McClain, etc. The dude raked when it mattered most. Along with Gibson, he's a big reason they won 2 series and came within a Curt Flood outfield slip of a third.

Posted by: Mike at March 1, 2008 6:09 PM
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