Baseball Crank
"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
July 29, 2011
BLOG: Not Quite Dead

Yes, I know it's been reaaaaal quiet around here lately. I'm basically swamped at present at work and with life. I can still be found on Twitter, which of course is a lot less time-consuming than blogging. Hope to be back here soon.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:50 PM | Blog 2006-16 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
July 19, 2011
BLOG: Open Thread 7/19/11


Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:00 PM | Blog 2006-16 | Comments (59) | TrackBack (0)
July 15, 2011
LAW/BASEBALL: The Roger Clemens Fiasco: What the Hell Just Happened?

Originally published at Grantland

If you’re a baseball fan half-watching the news reports from the Roger Clemens trial, you probably have a lot of questions right now. Like: Didn’t the trial just start? How did it end so quickly? What the hell is a mistrial anyway? The Baseball Crank is happy to answer them for you.

1. How Mistrials Work

The simple legal explanation is that a mistrial occurs when something goes wrong during a trial that would make it impossible to uphold a guilty verdict. Rather than waste time finishing the trial and getting a verdict that would have to be thrown out on appeal anyway, the judge simply halts the proceedings and sends the jury home. Judges have a lot of leeway to decide that a mistrial is necessary; as Chief Justice John Roberts explained in a 2010 case for which a mistrial was declared because the jury had deadlocked, “Trial judges may declare a mistrial ‘whenever, in their opinion, taking all the circumstances into consideration, there is a manifest necessity’ for doing so” — a fairly open-ended rule. If you’ve ever watched Law & Order, you’ve seen this happen a hundred times — and while mistrials aren’t as common in the real world as they are on TV, they’re a routine feature of the criminal justice system. Sometimes the court will rule that the defendant’s rights have been compromised so badly he or she can’t be retried, but mistrials more often allow the government to try the case again.

The roots of the rules against retrying a criminal defendant come from the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which provides that you can’t be tried twice for the same crime. But the Supreme Court has held since 1824 that it doesn’t necessarily violate the Double Jeopardy Clause to try a defendant again if the jury never reached a verdict. And the rules for deciding when a second trial would be unfair to the defendant are also somewhat elastic — as the Supreme Court put it in 1973, there’s no “rigid, mechanical rule” for deciding when a mistrial makes a second trial impossible. Instead, the judge has to decide things like whether a second trial would drag the defendant through unfair delays, whether it would give the prosecution an unfair advantage to have a second bite at the apple (for example, where a prosecution witness failed to show up for trial or performed badly, or where the defense revealed a surprise strategy), and whether the mistrial was engineered on purpose by the prosecution’s misconduct. In Clemens’ case, Judge Reggie Walton hasn’t ruled yet on whether Clemens can be tried again, and has set a September 2 hearing date for arguments by the lawyers. So, in all likelihood, even if he makes a quick decision, a new trial is not going to start until October at the earliest, and could be many months later.

2. How Did This End Up as a Mistrial?

Clemens is on trial for perjury in his answers to Congressional investigators and in Congressional hearings in February 2008. Because his statements to Congress happened in Washington, D.C, he’s on trial there before the same judge who heard the perjury case against Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Perjury cases are a strange animal, because the prosecution generally has to prove the facts the defendant lied about, that the defendant knew he was lying, and that the lies were about something that was significant to the investigation or hearing.

There was a lot of skirmishing before the trial over what evidence the judge would let in. Clemens’ former trainer, Brian McNamee, supposedly has physical evidence that Clemens took steroids, and Clemens is in big trouble if the jury believes that evidence. (His lawyer says it was faked.) But another key witness would apparently have been Andy Pettitte, Clemens’ longtime teammate in Houston and in the Bronx and one of the few people to escape an admission of steroid use with his reputation largely intact. If the jury believed Pettitte’s testimony that Clemens told him he’d used HGH, that would not only show that Clemens lied, but that he knew he was lying — so Pettitte’s testimony was obviously crucial.

One of Judge Walton’s rulings before the trial was that prosecutors couldn’t call Pettitte’s wife, Laura, to essentially repeat things Pettitte had told her he’d heard from Clemens, since she hadn’t talked to Clemens herself and would just be adding another voice to make Pettitte’s testimony sound more credible. But on just the second day of the trial, prosecutors played a videotape of Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings quoting from an affidavit given by Laura Pettitte. That’s a double foul — not only did the prosecutors get her statements in front of the jury after the judge ruled they couldn’t, they did it without putting her on the stand to be cross-examined. Judge Walton, explaining that “I don’t see how I un-ring the bell” once it’s been heard by the jury, immediately stopped the trial and ended up declaring a mistrial at the request of Clemens’ lawyer.

Judges don’t always declare mistrials when juries hear evidence they’re not supposed to — there’s a lot of evidence that goes into even a short trial, and not all of it is make-or-break. Often judges just tell a jury to disregard what they just heard, and the legal system assumes that they obey those instructions. But Pettitte is clearly the second-most-important prosecution witness after McNamee himself, and likely the harder one for Clemens to discredit, with his soft-spoken demeanor, sincere faith and contrition for his own HGH use and none of the seediness of McNamee. Especially with the prosecutors having already violated another of Judge Walton’s rulings — referring in opening statements to HGH use by Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch and Mike Stanton — Judge Walton concluded that this one was too big to let pass.

3. Will Roger Clemens Stand Trial Again?

Now, it’s the great question of 2005-07 again: is that all for Roger Clemens? Will Judge Walton decide that it’s unfair to Clemens if he has to be retried?

It seems likely that the case can be tried again fairly quickly — the parties are ready and well-financed, the witnesses aren’t hard to find. So the arguments will most likely center on whether this was a stunt the prosecution pulled on purpose and whether it gets some unfair advantage from starting over or from having heard the defense’s opening arguments. Certainly Rusty Hardin, Clemens’ lead lawyer, is likely to make much of the argument that the prosecutors knew full well they were introducing evidence the judge had told them not to use. Judges don’t like being disobeyed. But he may have a harder case arguing that there’s any real advantage gained by the prosecutors or that they actually wanted a mistrial. After all, the government has already wasted a ridiculous amount of money on this case when the Department of Justice has much bigger fish to fry (people lying on Capitol Hill is the ultimate dog-bites-man story, and usually on subjects that pretend to be more important than baseball), and it won’t look good for these prosecutors if possibly the biggest case of their careers gets thrown out for good over this. And it’s much harder, if not impossible, for a defendant to argue that the court shouldn’t have called a mistrial when the defendant asked for one — as Hardin did here. So the likely outcome is another trial.

As for Clemens, he’s learning the hard way that criminal cases, unlike baseball games, sometimes make you wait a long time to find out who won and who lost. But it would be the most ironic ending of all if Judge Walton decides that the prosecution tried to get an unfair advantage and has its case erased from the books.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:10 PM | Baseball 2011 • | Law 2009-16 | Comments (0)
July 14, 2011
BASEBALL/LAW: No Decision For Clemens

My latest at Grantland.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:20 PM | Baseball 2011 • | Law 2009-16 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Streakers

A great look at the all-time record for reaching base safely in consecutive games - Ted Williams, 84 games in 1949. H/T The article doesn't precisely say who is #2 on the list, but notes that inclusive of his hitting streak, Joe DiMaggio reached safely in 74 straight games in 1941. If he's #2, that puts Williams 13.5% ahead of the number two streak - only half as big as Joe D's margin over the second-longest hitting streak, but far enough ahead to probably rate a slot on my list of baseball's most impressive records.

If you're wondering: in DiMaggio's streak, 74 games from May 14-August 2, 1941, he batted .404/.468/.731, scored 74 runs and drove in 73, with 120 hits, 34 walks and 2 HBP; he struck out just 6 times and hit into only 3 double plays, and the Yankees went 55-17 and buried the competition, building a 12.5 game lead. In Williams' streak, 84 games from July 1 to September 27 in the heat of a ferocious pennant race, he batted .371/.518/.695 with 81 runs, 80 RBI, 112 hits, 92 walks, 0 HBP, struck out 19 times and hit into 12 double plays, and his team went 60-24, pulling from 8 games back of the Yankees before the start of the streak to a tenuous 1-game lead. DiMaggio's BABIP during the 74-game streak was .369; Williams' was .340. DiMaggio, of course, played in a vastly more difficult park.

DiMaggio played 139 games in 1941, and failed to reach base safely in just 6 of those. Williams played 155 games in 1949, and also failed to reach base safely in just 6 of those (5 of them in June, when Williams slumped .300/.442/.582). The difference is that 1941 was a huge year for Joe D - he batted .357/.440/.643, his third-highest career OPS compared to a lifetime mark of .325/.398/.579. For Williams, 1949 was little better than an average year, the 8th best OPS of his career and just below his career batting average - .343/.490/.650 compared to a lifetime mark of .344/.482/.634. (Although Williams did set career highs that year in the counting stats - plate appearances, at bats, hits, runs, RBI, homers, walks and total bases - and won the MVP).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:09 AM | Baseball 2011 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
July 13, 2011

On the whole, I'm OK with the Mets trading K-Rod. I'd like them to make an effort at their reasonable goals for the season - third place, over .500, not wholly out of the Wild Card race before September - but they only lose a little in removing K-Rod and can replace him with Bobby Parnell, who has essentially been rehashing the Heath Bell career path (great fastball, good K/BB ratio, awful BABIP) and like Bell should eventually find his groove as a closer if given enough rope. It's interesting that the Mets included some cash in the deal, but that's just another way of saying the Brewers didn't take on his entire contract.

On the contract-mischief front, Jay Jaffe has some fun at the expense of Scott Boras' hissy fit over K-Rod being dealt to a team that will use him as a setup man.

The tougher question is whether to deal Carlos Beltran, who is having a good year and whose departure really would tank the season. For now, it looks like the Mets are wisely looking to dangle Beltran on the market but only for a premium prospect price.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:44 PM | Baseball 2011 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The Very Worst

Interesting essays here and here looking at some of baseball's worst-ever players, or at least players who in one way or another were famously bad. A few of the Deadspin piece's potshots are unmerited (how can you discuss Billy Martin's playing career and ignore its most famous feature, his .333/.371/.566 career postseason batting line?), but it's still entertaining if you don't take it too seriously. I hadn't really known about Tommy Dowd's fielding (he not coincidentally led the 1899 Cleveland Spiders in plate appearances), or Gus Weyhing's HBP record (Weyhing, better known as the last man to play without a glove, hit 79 batters and threw 105 wild pitches in 102 starts his first two seasons, age 20-21. Yet before they moved back the mound when he was 27, Weyhing had a 3.16 career ERA - ERA+ of 119 - and a .588 career winning percentage, having posted an average record of 30-21).


Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:27 PM | Baseball 2011 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
July 12, 2011
BASEBALL: The Economic Case Against The DH

My debut column at Grantland.

PS - Welcome new readers! Stop and look around, there's more than a decade's worth of stuff here; baseball, politics, pop culture, law, etc. Check the sidebar for some of the highlights.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:09 PM | Baseball 2011 • | Baseball Columns | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Designated Hitters and the Economics of Baseball

Originally published at Grantland

Baseball is a game of traditions. It comes as no surprise, then, that nearly four decades after it was adopted, the game and its fans still have not fully embraced the Designated Hitter rule. Most of us can recite in our sleep the traditionalist arguments against the DH — it creates halfway players, it reduces strategy, it’s not The Way Things Have Always Been. But those arguments are matters of taste. Other arguments against the DH — the havoc it creates with postseason and interleague play, especially in the age of the unbalanced schedule — are more a function of the rule existing in only one league. Still others, such as whether the DH rule contributes to the ever-diminishing workloads carried by frontline pitchers, remain open to debate; it’s hard to separate the evidence from other long-term trends in the game.

But let’s instead focus on another aspect of the DH rule: the practical effect of the rule on the game’s economic structure, and why the economic effects of the DH rule are precisely why we can neither get rid of it nor extend it to the National League.

A major league roster has 25 players, but the cost of those players is not evenly distributed, and neither is their impact on the team’s success. Most teams carry 11 or 12 pitchers, of whom five starters and perhaps three relievers will play critical roles. A National League roster has eight everyday players and a four- to six-man bench; in the American League, the DH means there’s one extra everyday player, generally at the expense of one bench job. Due in part to the expansion of bullpens, platooning is far rarer today than it was two decades ago, so there’s a wide gap in pay and playing time between true regulars and bench players. So, an NL team has about 16 crucial jobs, an AL team 17. But wait: A typical team will be able to fill about seven of those jobs with players who don’t have enough service time to demand high salaries. The reality is that adding another regular can take a team from nine to 10 jobs that truly require a major outlay of cash.

The numbers bear this out. The average AL payroll was $92.8 million from 2006 to 2010, while the average NL payroll was $80.1 million. If you look only at teams with winning records — working under the theory that those are the teams actually trying to spend enough money to compete and succeed — the disparity is even larger: The average winning AL team had a payroll of $108.4 million compared to $88.7 million in the NL. That’s a $20 million-a-year difference.

Is the DH rule to blame for this? It’s obviously not the only reason, but certainly it’s a contributing factor.

Over the same five-year period, the 14 American League teams employed something like a full-time DH in 57 out of 70 possible seasons. (“Full time” is defined here as 300 or more plate appearances with at least half the player’s games at DH.) The average salary of those players? $6.8 million. And that doesn’t include the cost of DHs who break down due to age or injury. Travis Hafner made more than $8 million in 2008, Ken Griffey $2.3 million in 2010, and neither made it to 300 plate appearances. Frank Thomas had a $12.5 million salary when he was with the Blue Jays in 2008, Pat Burrell was making $9 million from the Rays in 2010, Shea Hillenbrand $6 million from the Angels in 2007. All three were cut early in the year and were signed for a song by other teams.

The financial impact of the Designated Hitter rule also widens the gap between big- and small-market teams. Just compare the haves and have-nots: Over the same five seasons, the average AL team that finished .500 or worse had a payroll of $71.1 million, indistinguishable from the $72.0 million average in the NL but $37.3 million behind the winning teams, while the NL teams trailed the winners in their league by $17.6 million. Some of those American League teams kept their costs down by just giving up. Sure, a well-run small-market team can compete by filling roster spots with players who haven’t reached free agency yet and thus are paid below their market value. But the more roster spots there are to fill, the harder it is to use the farm system to keep up with the teams that are buying high-end veterans on the open market, especially the big sluggers who generally fill the ranks of DHs. The average age of the starting DHs in the AL over that period? 32.7 years old. Aside from Billy Butler on the 2007-08 Royals, no American League team employed a DH under the age of 25, and the only AL franchises to use a regular DH under age 29 were the Royals, Twins, Rays, and Blue Jays. And the DH gives roster flexibility to the biggest players in the free-agent market. The Yankees, for example, could move guys like Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui there near the end of big contracts to make room for still more high-priced acquisitions.

The disparity in labor costs makes the National League more attractive to owners in the free-agency era. Two teams were added to the National League when Major League Baseball expanded in 1993, matching it with the American League. Then came the 1998 expansion and realignment. Tampa Bay and Arizona were added, and Commissioner Bud Selig managed to move the Brewers from the American League to the National League. The Rays and the Diamondbacks agreed that they could be shifted to another league without their consent, but when Selig floated a plan to realign them in 2001, the Rays expressed interest in going to the NL; the D-Backs, facing transfer to the AL, fought the plan. With another realignment scheme in the air this year, Astros owner Drayton McLane is singing the same tune.

Yet the same payroll considerations are why we are stuck with the DH. The MLB Players Association will fight tooth and nail to avoid losing those high-paying jobs, and, as was the case with steroid testing, owners seem to have higher priorities in the zero-sum negotiations with the union than fixing structural problems for the greater good of the game. In the case of the DH, the big-market AL teams have no financial incentive to reduce their competitive advantage, and the NL owners have no real stake in reducing the AL owners’ cost of doing business. Unless and until all the owners are willing to make financial concessions in other areas to bring an end to the DH rule in the AL, we’re stuck with it as is.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:08 PM | Baseball Columns | Comments (0)
July 11, 2011
POLITICS: Love It or Leave It

So, a member of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors - Jeff Stone, a Republican - has proposed splitting the state of California, with San Diego and the largely rural, Republican-leaning south east of the state becoming "South California," and LA remaining with the liberal coast and northern part of the state. You can follow the link to the LA Times for the map of what his proposal would look like. Secession proposals of this nature are a hardy perennial on the Left and Right alike, and are almost always bad ideas, although there is at least a fair argument that California as currently constituted is (1) too large any longer to serve the role of responding to local needs unmet from Washington that is a major part of why we have a federal system in the first place (as the LAT notes, "[t]he proposed 51st state would be the fifth largest by population, more populous than Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania"), (2) essentially dysfunctional, and (3) particularly unresponsive to the needs of the 13 million residents of the 13 counties in question.

But what's really interesting here isn't a proposal by one member of the board of one county, but rather the response by a spokesman for Governor Jerry Brown:

"If you want to live in a Republican state with very conservative right-wing laws, then there's a place called Arizona," Brown spokesman Gil Duran said.

Now, I don't know about you, but saying that millions of residents should just leave the state if they don't like California's liberal laws, dysfunctional finances and horrendous business climate doesn't really disprove the point that the Sacramento elite really and truly do not care about the Republican-leaning parts of the state or the people in them. California's unemployment rate is 11.7% compared to 9.1% for the nation as a whole (given California's size, I'd guess without doing the math that means the rest of the country may be as much as a full three points below CA). Even the NY Times says California's budget crisis may be the worst in the nation, with a $26.6 billion budget deficit comprising nearly a third of the state's budget. California owes $2,362 in debt per resident of the state, and pays a 20% premium to borrow money compared to better-run states; its A- credit rating from Standard & Poor's is the worst in the nation. A recent budget deal only barely convinced S&P to avoid an immediate further downgrade, and S&P is still concerned that the deal doesn't solve the state's long-term "backlog of budget obligations accumulated during the past decade."

Gov. Brown's office may think that's a record to get cocky about, but maybe it's time California showed a little humility about the failures of its political culture and business climate, and learned a few things from its more conservative neighbors - and maybe even from some of its own citizens.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:15 PM | Politics 2011 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: All Hot Streakers

Looking at the All-Star lineups, it's striking how many of these guys - especially in the AL lineup - have been up and down the past few years.

AL Lineup

1: Curtis Granderson: .253/.334/.486 since 2009, including .249/.327/.453 in 2009, .247/.324/.468 in 2010.

2: Asdrubal Cabrera: .294/.346/.425 since 2009, including .276/.326/.346 in 2010.

3: Adrian Gonzalez: .304/.403/.545 since 2009, the one long-term bankable bat in the AL lineup.

4: Jose Bautista: .272 /.393/.580 since 2009, including .235/.349/.408 in 2009. Also .239/.324/.398 from 2004-08.

5: Josh Hamilton: .319/.370/.550 since 2009, including .268/.315/.426 in 2009.

6: Adrian Beltre (first All-Star lineup ever to feature two guys named Adrian?): .291/.333/.483 since 2009, including .265/.304/.379 in 2009.

7: David Ortiz: .265/.359/.512 since 2009, including .238/.332/.462 in 2009.

8: Robinson Cano: .315/.361/.525 since 2009, his breakout year, but followed a .271/.305/.410 season in 2008.

9: Alex Avila: .257/.345/.433 since 2009, including .228/.316/.340 in 2010.

NL Lineup:

1: Rickie Weeks: .272/.358/.478 since 2009; Weeks hit .234/.342/.398 in 2008 and played only 37 games in 2009.

2: Carlos Beltran: .292/.381/.482 since 2009, including .255/.341/.427 in 2010. Beltran hasn't played 100 games in a season since 2008, although he's been healthy again this year.

3: Matt Kemp: .282/.346/.494 since 2009, including .249/.310/.450 in 2010.

4: Prince Fielder: .284/.408/.545 since 2009, had a slight off year at .261/.401/.471 in 2010.

5: Brian McCann: .283/.366/.480 since 2009; has been consistent, had slight off year at .281/.349/.486 in 2009.

6: Lance Berkman: .268/.389/.497 since 2009, including .248/.368/.413 for two teams in 2010.

7: Matt Holliday .315/.396/.532 since 2009.

8: Troy Tulowitzki: .296/.369/.542 since 2009, actually having a modest off-year this season at .268/.337/.488; missed 40 games in 2010.

9: Scott Rolen: .284/.346/.460 since 2009, including .241/.276/.398 in 62 games this season - Rolen has 5 homers and 9 walks.

None of this is to say that these are unworthy All-Stars; some may be, but the larger point is how few really bankable superstars there are at present (to be fair, Miguel Cabrera is one and is stuck behind Gonzalez, and a few of the other superstars of the Pujols/A-Rod variety are hurt). It's just odd to have quite this many guys starting the All-Star Game who were seen as being on the ropes some time within the past three years.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:03 PM | Baseball 2011 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
July 7, 2011
BLOG: Literary Atrocity

I used to like Roger Ebert, back when I was a teenager and he was a prolific, conversational movie reviewer, always challenging the highbrow pretensions of Gene Siskel. In time, I came to see Ebert, like Peter Gammons these days, as a sick, old man whose view of the world was curdled by his illness and his political bile - not just that their political opinions come from people I respected in other fields (I can live with that), not just that they're wrong, but the combination of ignorance and aggressive, often bigoted vitriol coming from people I don't especially care to read for their politics in the first place. I may forgive them some of this as being the sickness talking, but that doesn't make it go down any easier. And in time, in Ebert's case, with the benefit of hindsight I came to realize that he'd never really been that good a judge of movies in the first place.

All that said, I agree wholeheartedly with this column by Ebert about the literary atrocity inherent in rewriting The Great Gatsby. Yes, very old literature like Shakespeare can sometimes be usefully abridged or translated for modern schoolkids, but there is no earthly reason to think that anyone who can't read F. Scott Fitzgerald's 20th century American prose has any business reading any version of the book. As Ebert - who is still a fine writer, after all - puts it:

Any high school student who cannot read The Great Gatsby in the original cannot read. That student has been sold a bill of goods. We know that teachers at the college level complain that many of their students cannot read and write competently. If this is an example of a book they are assigned, can they be blamed?

In a note at the end, Ebert suggests that the dumbed-down version of the book may be targeted to an ESL audience, which makes it less alarming, but still a fairly misguided concept.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:37 PM | Blog 2006-16 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
July 6, 2011

You too can ask President Obama a question on Twitter, using the hashtag #askobama. Of course, the tiny fraction of those tweets to be answered will doubtless be carefully screened, and the answers vetted before posting them. I'd say Saturday Night Live should satirize this, but it already did, the last time something like this was tried as if it was a totally brand-new idea, in March 1977:

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:31 AM | Politics 2011 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)