"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
Baseball 2002-03 Archives
July 28, 2004
BASEBALL: Drinking Bernie's Foam
Al Bethke has a lengthy roundtable discussion with a bunch of other knowledgeable Brewer fans about the Brewers' pitching-driven resurgence this season after more than a decade of slumbers.
December 29, 2003
BASEBALL: Calderon Gone
Sad news with the death of Ivan Calderon, who was murdered Saturday in what sounds like a gangland-style killing. Calderon had his ups and downs, but was the best player on his team in 1987 (when he batted .293 and smacked 28 home runs for the White Sox) and 1991 (when he batted .300 and stole 31 bases for the Expos). His career was derailed by injuries at the age of 30 (or so), and he last appeared in the majors at age 31 in 1993.
Calderon, on why he preferred playing in Montreal: "The games go quicker, and you can get back to the clubhouse and eat."
BASEBALL: Split Deck of Cards
Was there a team in baseball with more dramatic platoon splits up and down the lineup in 2003 than Tony LaRussa's Cardinals? I doubt it. You'd be sorely tempted to throw nothing but lefthanders against the Redbirds if you saw these splits:
But then, you'd want to re-consider when you look at the other side of the ledger:
If the Cards think they are 'solving' a problem with lefthanded pitching by dumping Drew and Tino, they may be mistaken; those guys were actually doing a good job of inducing teams to throw lefthanders at the rest of the lineup. It's harder to project what this means going forward, since some of these splits (e.g., Renteria and Matheny) are unlikely to remain as dramatic in the future.
December 23, 2003
BASEBALL: It's Not Just The Defense
Josh Heit, trying to find a silver lining in Aaron Heilman's disastrous debut season, looks at David Pinto's new defensive metrics and suggests of Heilman:
The conventional wisdom is that he sucks and needs to go back to AAA. However, he did lose 8.6 outs (137 expected) to his defense (I’d probably blame, in order: Roger Cedeno, Robbie Alomar, and Joe McEwing. The Mets do keep showing up near the bottom of David’s studies, if you look at some of the other data sets). He may have just suffered a string of bad defense.
I'd like to believe that's the core of the problem too, but . . . well, I don't doubt that Josh is right that Heilman suffered from bad defense (although it's a bit unfair to blame Alomar, given that he was traded on July 1 and Heilman threw most of his innings after that). But Heilman's problems ran a good deal deeper than defense. The real problem is that Heilman allowed 41 walks and 13 home runs in 65.1 innings of work, an unsustainable rate (5.65 walks and 1.8 HR/9 innings, if you're keeping score at home).
On the other hand, Heilman struck out just over 7 men per 9 innings, so he must have been fooling someone. I thought I'd take a look, via Aaron Haspel's search engine, to see how many other pitchers have had a season like Heilman's and see if (1) any of them managed to pitch effectively despite the walks and dingers or (2) any of them ever developed into good pitchers. I ran the search for pitchers who issued 40 or more walks and allowed 10 or more homers in a season of less than 70 innings.
Unsurprisingly, the results were ugly. Only 5 of the 17 pitchers had ERAs below 5.60, and only one (Bill Scherrer at 4.36 in 1985) had an ERA below 4.70. Let's review the list, from best ERA to worst:
1. Bill Scherrer, age 27. 1-3 with a 5.98 ERA the rest of his career, all in relief.
2. Brian Oelkers, age 25. Never pitched in the majors again.
3. Dave Campbell, age 26. Never pitched in the majors again; went into broadcasting.
4. Bob Gibson, age 27. No, not that Bob Gibson. 6-7 with 11 saves and a 3.90 ERA the following year in 92.1 innings, but basically washed out of the majors after that.
5. Jose Mesa, age 33. Mesa got worse the following year (5.36 ERA) before recovering to save 97 games with an ERA of 2.76 his first two years in Philadelphia. Has to be considered a modest success.
6. Mike Mohler, age 24. Had a little success in the majors, with a decent year and a half as a middle reliever at ages 26-27 after being returned to the minors. Career high in wins: 6. Career record: 14-27, 4.99 ERA.
7. Steve Barr, age 24. Never pitched in the majors again.
8. Matt Karchner, age 29. Notched 15 saves and a 2.91 ERA the following year, then regressed and appears to have left the game after three seasons of struggles.
9. Doug Bochtler, age 27. Pitched just 21 more innings in the majors.
11. Dave Boswell, age 25. A 20-game winner the previous year, Boswell threw just 29 more major league innings. I believe he had injuries.
12. Jon Garland, age 20. The youngest of the bunch and still a work in progress; Garland managed a 3.69 ERA in 117 innings the following year and has been just below a league-average starter since then.
13. Heath Murray, age 28. Has pitched just 12 major league innings since.
14. Clint Hartung, age 27. Never pitched again and was converted to an outfielder.
15. Bob Welch, age 37. Retired immediately thereafter.
16. Dick Starr, age 30. Never pitched in the majors again.
17. Roy Halladay, age 23. Had a 10.64 ERA in 2000, arguably the worst season a pitcher ever had in that many innings. Was returned to the low minors but returned a completely reworked pitcher the following year (2001), with a much higher strikeout rate. Won 19 games in 2002 and AL Cy Young in 2003.
This is a fairly grim list, although not completely hopeless. Heilman's 24 and had no prior major league success, so the best comps include some of the most successful ones, like Garland and Halladay, but still includes plenty of disasters. Of course, Halladay's stuff was electric before his blowout in 2000, and Garland also has physical gifts that Heilman lacks. Heilman also struck out more batters than any of these guys but Gibson, although the higher-K members of the group aren't a hopeful bunch.
Heilman was just plain bad in 2003, defense or no defense, and history suggests only an outside chance that he'll ever be an effective major league pitcher.
December 19, 2003
BASEBALL/WAR: Worse Than We Thought
I'm sure you saw this linked in many places, but if you didn't: this is just beyond the pale.
BASEBALL: Low Status
So, according to Bob Raissman, Brian Cashman's office is set up so people have to walk through it on the way to the men's room?
Real morale-builder, that Steinbrenner. Of course, Page Two reminds us that there are many worse jobs than Cashman's; this job description was particularly unappealing:
In the track-and-field world, there are certain young men who are summoned to perform a peculiar task. Prior to a sprint, the starting blocks must be held in place. The job consists of sitting on the ground, placing a foot behind each block, and gently applying pressure. The hazards may be few, but they are specific. Should one allow the blocks to slip, wobble or (gasp) make a distracting noise, it could lead to a false start, or even disqualification.
BASEBALL/POLITICS: Ruben the Cat
Kevin Drum linked last Friday to a page on the White House site about India, the Bushes' cat. I, too, had been unaware that the Bush family had a cat, but more amusing is this tidbit:
Named for former Texas Ranger baseball player, Ruben Sierra, who was called "El Indio"
Just cracked me up that the President of the United States has a cat named after Ruben Sierra.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:58 PM | Baseball 2002-03 | Politics 2002-03 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Union Don'ts, Part II
Brian Gunn at Redbird Nation points us to this statement by Harvard Law prof Paul Weiler - a labor law expert who teaches a seminar on sports law at HLS and had written a textbook on the subject - on the A-Rod mess:
It's a basic feature of collective bargaining that's to stop the bosses from insisting that one of the workers take less money in order to keep a job, . . . The difference is, he's not a nurse making $22,000 a year, he's making 22 million bucks a year. But it is that basic principle that they want to adhere to.
Professor Weiler either misses several key points or at least is quoted in a way that obscures them; the difference here is a lot more significant than the money:
1. Unlike your typical employee working under a collective bargaining agreement, A-Rod has a guaranteed contract. Thus, the Rangers may threaten his ability to keep his job, but they can't take away his $25 million salary.
2. A-Rod didn't agree to less money to keep his job; he agreed to it to take a better job, with a winning team in a big market.
If accepting less money to play for a winner was good enough for Michael Jordan, why can't Rodriguez be allowed to do the same thing? Frankly, the idea that this will lead teams to screw their players out of contracts isn't persuasive; few teams can afford to just punitively bench a guy who is a good player making millions a year, and if they cut him, he can sign elsewhere and keep the money. The parade of horribles presented by the union just bears no relationship to the real world of Major League Baseball.
The owners have been in the wrong on many occasions in baseball, but this isn't one of them.
BASEBALL: Union Don'ts
So, the Player's Union has (for now) killed the Red Sox' deal for A-Rod because they refuse to let a player renegotiate his contract for less money than he signed for. There's apparently a rule in the Collective Bargaining Agreement on this (David Pinto has more; start here and scroll down).
Leaving aside the language of the rule, I think the Players' Union's position is stupid and bad for the players. First, if the goal of the union is to get big contracts for the players, this is an incredibly stupid way to go about it. Look at this from the perspective of the Rangers: one of the biggest fears owners have in signing big contracts is that the team's needs will change and they won't ever be able to get rid of the guy. By telling the Rangers they can't trade A-Rod if the deal is contingent on a restructuring he himself accepts, you are forcing them to keep stewing in their own juices with a player they'd rather trade, and all because Tom Hicks signed A-Rod to a big contract. Think: what effect will this have on Hicks' willingness, or the willingness of other owners, to sign such megabucks deals in the future?
If I'm the union, I want to do everything I can to make teams think of top-of-the-market free agent contracts as the thing to have. Every team wishes they'd signed Barry Bonds or Greg Maddux in 1993, or Reggie in 1977.
A-Rod is -- other than the aging Bonds -- the best player in baseball today. He just won an MVP Award; the year before, he set the all-time single-season home run record for a shortstop. He's stayed healthy, busted his butt for the Rangers and done everything you could ask him to. And yet, as things stand today, most teams are thanking their lucky stars they didn't sign A-Rod; the owners think of his contract as a disaster for the Rangers. The Boston deal could change that, and help show that a player with the game's biggest price tag can be part of a positive story; keeping Rodriguez bolted in place will just underline the folly of the contract, and deepen the resolve of individual owners - even without collusion - never to give anybody that kind of money again. Why on earth would the union want to do that?
Joe Sheehan argues that critics of the union's position are using a double standard:
There's a reason why Tom Hicks and John Henry have the net worths that they do, and I'd imagine that both would laugh you out of the room if you ever suggested that there were touchy-feely reasons for leaving forty million bucks on the table. Why they get to be businessmen, while Alex Rodriguez gets held to a different standard, passes understanding.
Gene Orza from the Players Union makes a similar point in an email to David Pinto:
Why should A-Rod be held to a different standard then the owners with whom he's negotiating? He's being asked to forfeit something like 50 million dollars; you think Tom Hicks and John Henry got to where they are today by walking away from that kind of money? A-Rod shouldn't be allowed to tear up his contract in the same way that Tom Hicks shouldn't be allowed to.
These guys are the ones with a double standard. Isn't Hicks allowed to tear up the contract if A-Rod holds out for more money? Is Orza really saying that if a player wants to renegotiate -- or just wants to sign a long-term deal before his current contract is up -- the owners have to say, "I'm sorry, I can't tear up the contract and give you more money, come back when you've played out the end of the deal"? If that's the rule, it's news to me. In fact, owners do this every day. A-Rod just wants the same rights that Tom Hicks has: the right to put more of his own money on the table if that's what it takes to win. Shame on the union for telling him otherwise.
December 16, 2003
BASEBALL: Um, We Got Him, Too
Aaron Gleeman has the rundown on why Mike Cameron should hit a little better at Shea than he did at Safeco, where he had just horrendous home/road splits. I have mixed feelings about the Cameron move, since I generally believe in the notion that a rebuilding team should focus its energies on rebuilding, and signing a 31-year-old outfielder whose primary asset is his legs seems a little too Vince Coleman-ish to me. Then again, like Matsui (at least by reputation), Cameron is a spectacular defensive player and not terribly overpriced; this is more like the acquisition of Cliff Floyd than like the catastrophic acquisitions of Mo Vaughn and Tom Glavine. He'll definitely help in the short run, and in particular the Cameron/Matsui/Reyes combination up the middle should do wonders for the Mets' pitching staff. On the downside, Cameron's low batting average and high strikeouts will make him a prime target for the boo birds when the team inevitably slides well below .500.
Also of note: Cameron's steals dropped off to 17 last year from 34 and 31 the prior two years, and steals are something that usually doesn't come back. Despite their speed, neither Cameron nor Matsui should be expected to run much. But the team will look far different on the basepaths than in the era of Olerud, Ventura, Zeile, and Vaughn.
Further on the downside is this: Cameron's comps at baseball-reference.com are as follows:
Similar Batters through Age 30 Ruppert Jones (946) Dave Henderson (939) Tom Tresh (938) Tommie Agee (936) Cory Snyder (934) Dwayne Murphy (930) Johnny Briggs (929) Darrell Evans (928) Larry Hisle (926) Ray Lankford (921)
This list is worrisomely similar to the one I noted at the time for Matt Lawton when he arrived in NY; everyone on the list but Evans (who's not really a similar player) and Lankford was washed up or close to it by age 31.
I'm much more opposed to the Mets' rumored interest in Brian Jordan, who's exactly the type of player that got them where they are today, and who would seal off the outfield; I'd much rather start the season with an opening to audition young players alongside Cameron and Floyd than with a set-in-stone veteran lineup.
Or, of course, Vladimir Guerrero; the great ones, when still young, are always worth it. If the Mets signed Guerrero, it would overnight begin to make sense to gear up to win now.
BASEBALL: From The Department of, "They Never Learn"
Hey, Phillies phans: if you liked Jose Mesa and Ricky Bottalico, you'll love Roberto Hernandez! This about says it all:
Hernandez, 39, will serve as a middle innings reliever with the Phillies. With Atlanta last season, Hernandez went 5-3 with a 4.35 ERA in 66 games. He allowed 104 base runners in 60 innings, while striking out 45.
(On the upside, at least they're only giving him a 1-year, $750,000 deal, so maybe Ed Wade has learned a little something).
BASEBALL: Carl Everett?
I mean . . . Carl Everett?
Then again, since Major League Baseball owns the Expos, I guess they figure they can recapture most of his salary in fines . . .
So, Guerrero is gone, to where yet we don't know. Vazquez is gone. Even Michael Barrett is gone, to Oakland . . . the Expos still have a few young guys who can play some ball (Nick Johnson, Jose Vidro), but overall, this team is a disgrace. At least a contraction draft would have assured a fair distribution of the Expos' players.
Last month, MLB.com asked the rhetorical question, "How much does Frank Robinson love managing?" I guess we're going to find out.
December 15, 2003
BASEBALL: KazMat's Record
This Baseball Prospectus analysis from two years ago is still the only thing I've seen trying to give a systematic review of significant Japanese hitters and how their numbers would translate in the U.S. Clay Davenport estimates Kazuo Matsui's 1997-2001 numbers as averaging out to .283/.543/.374 with 41 homers, 79 walks, and 119 strikeouts (interestingly, KazMat doesn't steal bases despite a reputation for blinding speed).
Davenport's translations seem to overproject Ichiro and Hideki Matsui, specifically their home run power (Tsuyoshi Shinjo comes in closer to his Japanese numbers). I'd expect the same from the new Matsui - maybe a .280 hitter with 20 homers instead of 40, especially at Shea.
December 14, 2003
BASEBALL: The Great Dodger
Since I noted this for Andy Pettitte, let's check in on the record Kevin Brown left behind in LA: not so shabby, for all the griping about his contract. Yes, Brown lost 2002 and half of 2001 to injuries, a risk everyone knew the Dodgers were taking when they signed a 34-year-old pitcher to a 7-year contract. But consider his place on the club's all-time list: Brown leaves LA with a 2.83 ERA, just shy of the top 10 in Dodger history; his .644 winning percentage ranks him 9th in club history. In fewest baserunners/inning, even pitching in a more hitter-friendly Dodger Stadium than in years past and in as great a hitter's era as the National League has seen since the Depression, Brown ranks first at 9.90 (a 1.1 WHIP, for you rotoheads), ahead of Koufax and Drysdale and Sutton and Dazzy Vance and Rube Marquard. Then, go down to ERA+ (ERA adjusted for league and park context), and Brown's first again, by a long shot, at 149 (49% better than the league) to 132 for Ron Perranoski and 131 for Koufax, with Andy Messersmith and Vance close behind.
Yes, it's tough to compare 872.2 innings of Brown to 2324.1 of Koufax, 2757.2 of Vance, 3432 of Drysdale or 3816.1 of Sutton. But that's not the point. The point is, when you even have to explain why a guy wasn't the best pitcher you ever had on a franchise over a century old, it's hard to say he didn't live up to his end of the bargain.
December 12, 2003
BASEBALL: Thought For The Day #2
The Dodgers better hurry up and finalize the sale of the team. Sure, you can argue some sense for letting Quantrill walk, or cutting loose Kevin Brown, and it undoubtedly made sense to get rid of Brian Jordan and Andy Ashby. But the overall impression is a team desperate to dump salary, afraid to take it on (I still thought they should have jumped at Manny Ramirez, and they may miss a chance to bid on Nomar as well), and generally frozen in place, probably until some time in January or later. Not good news, if you expect this team to contend in what should still be a competitive division next year.
December 11, 2003
BASEBALL: Yankee Go Home
Unlike Dr. Manhattan and Michele, I'm not a Yankee fan and (for the most part) have no problem discussing Andy Pettitte's departure rationally. Then again, I've been pretty well swamped at work lately, so I don't have the luxury of time to go in depth here . . .
1. This is the first time I can ever really remember the Yankees going through what every other team's fans have suffered through repeatedly, a significant player walking away despite the team's ardent efforts to keep him (they didn't really bust a gut trying to keep Wetteland). Granted, the "going home" aspect makes this more like John Olerud's departure from Queens . . . which I still maintain was the beginning of the end for the Mets.
2. Although baseball-reference.com identifies the most-similar pitcher through age 31 as Mike Mussina, I think the best comps for Pettitte are Chuck Finley and Tom Glavine, both of whom pitched effectively well into their thirties. I suspect that Pettitte might have arm trouble, but that's an irrational superstition on my part that has trouble thinking the Yankees really, truly wanted to keep him. In fact, Pettitte cut his walks dramatically (and apparently permanently) when they expanded the height of the strike zone in 2001, and he set a career high in Ks in 2003, so his numbers show no sign of slowing down.
3. On the other hand, I won't exactly be signing him up for an NL rotisserie team now that he's in Minute Maid Field.
4. Bringing in Kevin Brown, as rumored, is a mixed bag. Brown was actually a good deal better than Pettitte this season -- he even pitched more innings and struck out more batters, besides having a 2.39 ERA -- and has a decent chance to be better next year. But he's a bigger durability question, expensive as sin and not a good investment for that seventh year of his contract in 2005. You get Brown this year, you'll need to be going out for more pitching help next year as well. (On the other hand, I'd rather be the guy who replaces Pettitte with Brown than the guy who replaces Brown with Jeff Weaver).
Greg Maddux is still useful if he's cheap, but he won't be cheap and he's unlikely to get any better than he was this season. If I'm the Yanks, I'd rather try to see if Randy Johnson's available (More on the goings on in Arizona when I've got time to blog again).
5. Pettitte's 149 wins rank him 9th on the Yankees' all-time list, but his .656 winning percentage doesn't make the top 10.
6. This season's outstanding performances in the playoffs give Pettitte a solid career record in the postseason with the Yankees, albeit not an outstanding one:
December 7, 2003
For Yankee fans wondering what you're getting in your new starting pitcher, consider this comparison for the years 2001-2003:
Answer: if you're not getting Mike Mussina, you're getting as close a facsimile as you could possibly ask for without violating Mussina's copyright, except 8 years younger and -- for now at least -- a whole lot cheaper. In fact, the ERA+ and Innings Pitched figures suggest he may actually have been more valuable the past three years. Like Moose, his main problem is the gopher ball. Will he win in New York? Well . . .
ERA of NL starting pitchers in 2003: 4.41
Vazquez 2003 ERA + 5.67% = 3.42
Clemens/Pettitte/Wells/Mussina 2003 ERA: 3.84
Yeah, I think he can win a few games with the support the Yankees can give him. Vazquez' health is a bit of a question mark -- as with any pitcher, really -- but unless Nick Johnson can put together a full, healthy season some day, he's a steal.
November 30, 2003
BASEBALL: A Little Crusader In Him
The Crusader, the Holy Cross campus newspaper, notes that Marlins manager Jack McKeon attended HC for a year in 1952 before moving on to Seton Hall and later Elon College in North Carolina, where he got his degree.
(Link requires registration)
BASEBALL: The Other Shoes
You know, this is just top-of-my-head speculation here, but shipping Curt Schilling to Boston is a pretty clear indication that the Diamondbacks have finally switched gears from "win now at any cost" to getting rid of at least one aging, high-priced vet who would have helped the team in the short run . . . one sign of a good organization is the ability to recognize when the window of opportunity to win has shut, and the ability to drop the pretense and squeeze maximum future value out of the remaining aging talent on the roster. In Arizona's case, of course, there are some big ones: Randy Johnson is 40, Luis Gonzalez is 36, Steve Finley is 39, and all three still have value. (This is on top of recent departures like Tony Womack, 34, and Mark Grace, 40).
The Arizona Republic has more, although it doesn't sound as if a youth movement is in the offing. The paranoid side of me wonders if pursuing Johnson would be Steinbrenner's next move to counter the Schilling signing; it might actually make some sense, if you think that Johnson could fill Clemens' slot, but I'm not sure the Yanks would want to part with the young talent needed to make the deal if they're still shopping for outfield help.
November 29, 2003
BASEBALL: An Uninvited Guest
CNN reports: Naked, bleeding man seeks help at Cal Ripken's house on Thanksgiving.
November 26, 2003
BASEBALL: Case Not Closed
David Pinto takes on the Elias Sports Bureau's statistics supporting Buster Olney's argument on ESPN.com that teams that make productive use of outs (generally through the deployment of one-run strategies -- bunts -- and other methods of emphasizing moving baserunners at the expense of hitting away) tend to gain a significant advantage in the postseason. Leaving aside Pinto's account of the institutional politics at play here, let's look at Olney's core statistical argument, in which he leads off by arguing that the Marlins
dominated the Yanks, 9-5, in productive outs -- in keeping with a longstanding post-season trend.
This is the Productive Out, as defined and developed by ESPN The Magazine and the Elias Sports Bureau: when a fly ball, grounder or bunt advances a runner with nobody out; when a pitcher bunts to advance a runner with one out (maximizing the effectiveness of the pitcher's at-bat), or when a grounder or fly ball scores a run with one out.
There have been 142 post-season series since 1969. In 130, one team or another has had an advantage in Productive Outs -- and in 62.3 percent of those 130 series, the team with the advantage in Productive Outs has prevailed. Factor in the 12 series in which opposing teams have tied in Productive Outs, and it can be said that teams with a deficit in POs have won 34.5 percent of post-season series.
* * *
[By contrast, t]he Athletics have failed to advance beyond the Division Series in the last four years, and it's probably not a coincidence that they have never won the battle of Productive Outs. In 19 games over those four series, their opponents have produced 23 PO's, Oakland 15.
Base on balls are a fundamental piece of the Athletics' offensive philosophy, but statistically, they have shown to have slightly less significance than Productive Outs in the post-season. Teams that have had the advantage in walks have won 60 percent of the time. (Teams with an advantage in singles have won 63.8 percent of the series, and teams with an advantage in home runs have won 70.4 percent - which makes sense, as Steve Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau noted, because it is the one offensive result in which a run is assured).
David raises two initial objections to Elias' definition of the Productive Out, which he suspects is "rigged" to generate a favorable result:
[I]f you move a runner into scoring position with two outs, doesn't that count for something? And besides, didn't Pete Palmer show 20 years ago that trading an out for a base always decreases run potential?
Well, yes, and yes, although on the second point I'm at least open to persuasion that the dynamics of regular season baseball are in some way materially altered by the characteristics of postseason play, in which a higher quality of pitching figures disproportionately (such as, as I've noted before, Mariano Rivera averaging over 150 innings pitched in relief per 162 games). But the problems with the definition run quite a bit deeper than David has addressed in his initial post on this issue. If your thesis is that teams should try to make productive outs, shouldn't you be measuring the number of times they try to do this, rather than the number of times they succeed? Otherwise, it's like measuring steals but not caught stealings. (Of course, I realize that such a study might be impossible, but recognizing that you've loaded the question by only looking at successful baserunner movement is the first step to recognizing the flaws in this measurement).
Now, leaving runners stranded on base is unquestionably a bad thing, and more to the point, it runs precisely counter to the whole point of making Productive Outs. But the fact that, at least in a small sampling, the team leaving more runners on base was actually successful more often than not at least suggests that both moving and failing to move baserunners, as an indicator of success, is simply a symptom of having more baserunners in the first place.
If Olney wants to show that the study he relied on wasn't skewed but was really a meaningful measurement, he can always come back with a comparison to the success rate for the team that gets more men on base -- a number that is conspicuous by its absence from his article. Like I said, I really am open to persuasion that moving baserunners takes on added importance in the postseason; absent statistical evidence, my gut tells me it does. But the proof, as of now, just isn't there.
November 25, 2003
BASEBALL: A Lefty Moves On
Too busy to blog this morning -- I was late at the office last night and never got around to wrapping up my analysis of the Aleto opinion, which will have to wait until after Thanksgiving -- but I couldn't let the day pass without saying a word or two about Warren Spahn, who died yesterday at age 82. You probably know the details, but the key facts about Spahn:
*You can draw the line for "modern" baseball in a number of places, but for pitching records the clearest dividing line is the arrival of the lively ball in 1920, which required pitchers to bear down against every hitter or risk allowing a home run. Since 1920, Steve Carlton is second all time in wins with 329; Spahn is first, 34 wins ahead of him at 363. And unlike the stars of the 1960s-70s, only one season of Spahn's prime (1963) overlapped with a pitcher-dominated era.
*Winningest lefthander in baseball history.
*Served his country with honor and distinction in World War II:
In 1943, Spahn went into the Army. He served in Europe, where he was wounded, decorated for bravery with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart and was awarded a battlefield commission. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge and in the battle for the bridge at Remagen, Germany, where many men in his company were lost.
*Spahn's military service had the added result that he didn't win a game until age 25. Perhaps that helped him -- his arm didn't get worked hard until he was old enough to handle it -- but it's just as possible that he would have won 380-390 games if he hadn't served (much like Grover Alexander, who would have won 400 if he hadn't taken a year away at the pinnacle of his career to go to the front in World War I).
*Won 20 games a staggering 13 times.
*Loved the game so much he went back to the minor leagues for a few years after being cut by the Mets and Giants at age 44.
Now, to be fair, Spahn had a few advantages in his major league career; he pitched in pitcher's parks most of his career, and almost always had outstanding offenses behind him, led by Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews. Baseball-reference.com doesn't list his context-adjusted career ERA in the top hundred. But then, between 1946 and 1963, his "ERA+" rates as better than the league by 10% or more 16 times in 18 years, and in all but two of those years he threw at least 257 innings (and the offseasons were one of 245 and the 1946 season, when he wasn't yet an established starter). He faced 1000 batters in a season 17 years in a row. That kind of consistency in a starting pitcher is one of baseball's rarest gifts in any era.
November 24, 2003
BASEBALL: Making a Schilling
Well, so much for the slow news week . . . one of the problems of writing for a long-running television show, or a series of books or films -- this problem is particularly acute for soap operas -- is what you might call "drama fatigue": the difficulty of getting the audience to emotionally invest itself once again in some crisis of the characters, after the viewers/readers have been through the wringer so many times with the same characters and/or similar plotlines. The TV show ER has had to work incredibly hard to sustain this kind of tension; JK Rowling has excelled at recreating it anew in each of the Harry Potter books, at each stage escalating both Harry's social humiliations and his peril.
After a while, you start to run out of room to stretch out the tension. Madonna, for example, has reached a similar point with regard to being shocking; she's running out of new tricks. Every saga that depends on new and more stunning revelations eventually comes to and end.
Except the Red Sox. Just when Sox fans thought they couldn't come any closer to victory, couldn't taste any bitterer defeat, wouldn't again fall into the trap of hoping and believing, along comes a 3-run lead against the Yankees in a 7-game series, with Pedro in command . . .
And after that, the cries went up anew: we will never believe again. We won't have our hearts broken again. How, you might ask, does one tug at those heartstrings again? How do you shock, again?
Trade for Curt Schilling. There's nothing but good in this move. It's raising the ante, calling Steinbrenner's bluff, and attacking the Sox' perennial weak spot, depth in the starting rotation. (And the early ESPN report on this deal, assuming it pans out, also explains why Peter Gammons gets the big bucks).
And somewhere in this favored land, the Mudville fans are dreaming once again . . .
November 20, 2003
BASEBALL: Kotsay in Oakland
I try to read Will Carroll's columns at Baseball Prospectus when I can; Carroll does a great job reporting on and analyzing injuries, and there's really nobody else out there who compares to his work in this area. Carroll alone is probably worth the subscription price. Anyway, Carroll's fairly optimistic about Mark Kotsay's ability to recover from the back trouble that ruined his 2003 season. The addition of Kotsay, the poor man's Trot Nixon, suggests to me that the A's are continuing their recent trend of moving towards valuing defense and away from their earlier emphasis on high-OPS players as the likely candidates for bargain shopping. But throwing Ramon Hernandez into the deal does suggest to me that the A's are up to something else and looking to clear roster space.
I'm less enthused about them dealing Ted Lillly for Bobby Kielty, but more on that later.
BASEBALL: Wagner and Millwood Revisited
Tom at Shallow Center took issue with my analysis of the Billy Wagner trade, in which I argued that "Wagner has to help [the Phillies'] bullpen, but the victory will be Pyhrric if they can't re-sign Millwood." His point:
Millwood was exactly the stud we hoped he'd be in the season's first half, even mixing in a no-no to boot, but fell apart in the latter half of the year. Scott Boras, his agent, will shop him hard, and probably will land him somewhere, at a huge cost -- that's what Boras does, after all. Millwood's new team then will cross their fingers and pray that he's a legit No. 1. Millwood never was that kind of guy with the Braves, and he wasn't one with the Phils. He's a good pitcher, but until he shows me a Maddux/Schilling/Clemens level of domination, I don't think he should be paid as such.
That's a fair argument, and I agree completely with Tom's drumbeat in favor of bringing back Curt Schilling instead of Millwood. I still think Millwood's a solid pitcher, assuming he's healthy, and thus a good investment in the abstract, but I can understand the frustration of Phillies fans for his reversal of his usual pattern in falling apart in the second half this season, and the fact that Millwood is useful doesn't mean you bring him back if he's asking for an unreasonable pay raise. My point is a more basic one: if you don't re-sign Millwood and don't replace him with a comparable starter or one who's an upgrade, such as Schilling, then spending the money to shore up the bullpen instead by the addition of the highly-paid Wagner is no substitute, and in fact is a bad idea if it means you passed on keeping that money available to spend on starting pitching.
November 19, 2003
BASEBALL: RIP Ken Brett
Ken Brett, George's older brother who was known as a good hitting pitcher (George called him “the best athlete in the family,”), has died; Brett was only 55 and had suffered from a lengthy battle with a brain tumor. Brett is only the latest member of the Royals teams from the George Brett era to pass on at a relatively young age: Dick Howser and Dan Quisenberry also died of brain tumors, Darrell Porter died suddenly last summer, Al Cowens died last April, Tony Solaita was shot to death in 1990, and Vada Pinson died in 1995. (Aurelio Lopez, who pitched briefly for the Royals in 1974, was also killed in a car accident in 1992).
BASEBALL: NL MVP
Honestly, I don't have a strong opinion on the NL MVP race, and given my intense dislike for Barry Bonds, it's probably not wise to get in an argument about the issue. My sense is that if you just look at the numbers without context, Pujols should have had the award, because the difference in playing time makes up for Bonds' advantage in productivity (i.e., his astronomical OBP). But Bonds' missed time included a bunch of time following his father's death, and he could afford to take those days off in part because he had contributed so heavily to the Giants having a big lead. I can't really fault the voters for giving Bonds a break on that score.
November 18, 2003
BASEBALL: AL MVP
It should come as no surprise to long-time readers that I'm very happy to see Alex Rodriguez finally win the AL MVP award, for which he's been a serious contender nearly every year since he became an everyday player in 1996, and which he has basically been robbed of on more than one occasion.
To my mind, there were only three serious candidates: Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Carlos Delgado. Nobody else was in their league offensively. Look at the AL rankings, starting with Win Shares (which includes defense) and some of the Baseball Prospectus offensive rankings and VORP, BP's overall (defense-included) ranking, as well as Runs Created and per 27 outs and some of the key counting stats:
Bear in mind that the Win Shares and BP stats are park-adjusted, while RC and RC/27 aren't. When you take account of the fact that the numbers race was so close even on the offensive end between A-Rod, a mediocre defensive first baseman on a non-contending team and a poor-fielding left fielder who was benched in the middle of the pennant race, it becomes clear that Rodriguez properly got the benefit of the doubt even before you consider his near-misses in the past.
November 15, 2003
BASEBALL: Piazza on the Block?
Rumors and counter-rumours are swirling about Mike Piazza possibly requesting a trade and/or announcing himself willing to accept a trade (not exactly the same thing but with the same likely outcome). Will it happen? Who knows?
Emotionally, I'd be sad to see him go; Piazza's a gutty guy, he's bonded with the fans, he can still hit and he's still fun to watch. Unlike some proponents of dealing Piazza, I don't see the need to run the guy down just to
Of course, trading Piazza makes all sorts of sense in the abstract, and it's fun to theorize that you could deal him to make salary space for Alex Rodriguez, who seems born to play for the Mets. Personally, I'm not adverse to parting with Jose Reyes to get A-Rod; Reyes may be young and on the way up, but if you're looking at contending in 2005-2007, what's the likelihood that Reyes will be better at that point than A-Rod? A rebuilding team generally doesn't trade hot prospects for stars in their primes -- but superstars are another story. Remember, A-Rod still won't be 29 until late July, and he's slugged .600 or better four years in a row. I have high hopes for Reyes, but given his injury history, my bet is that Rodriguez at 35 will still be better than Reyes at 27.
All that said, the only team that seems to have much interest is the Baltimore Imbeciles, who operate under the perpetual delusion that they are a contending team despite the following facts:
*Even in the rebuilding year of 2003, they gave more than 1400 at bats to players 33 or older.
*Of the six players with 12 or more Win Shares on the 2003 O's, two (Jeff Conine and Sidney Ponson) are no longer with the team, and Melvin Mora's 31 and batted .233 the only time he ever got 500 at bats. That leaves Luis Matos, Brian Roberts, and Jay Gibbons -- solid role players all, but hardly the core of the 1993 Indians.
*The Red Sox won 95 games this season and finished second in Baltimore's division. This ain't the AL Central here.
If Lee Mazzilli is worth even a cent of the money he's being paid by his new employers, he'll tell them to let somebody within spitting distance of contention take a flier on Piazza.
But so far, I haven't seen any sign that any such team will. So I'm not getting too exercised yet over the rumors.
November 14, 2003
BASEBALL: Cy Gagne
As I explained last month, my usual suspicion of giving the Cy Young Award to a reliever is ameliorated by the relatively high workload of Eric Gagne (77 games, 82.1 IP -- Gagne appeared in nearly half the Dodgers' games, including 65 of their 85 victories) and by the low workloads of the leading NL starters, Mark Prior (30 starts, 211.1 IP), Jason Schmidt (29 starts, 207.2 IP), and Kevin Brown (32 starts, 211 IP). (Livan Hernandez pitched more but wasn't as effective). And once you put Gagne on the table at all, his performance level was just so dominating in so many high-leverage situations that you have to give him the award. Consider: with the Dodgers locked in a tight wild card race, Gagne allowed a home run to Vladimir Guerrero on August 20 and this was the only run he allowed after the All-Star Break: 37 IP, 14 hits, 9 walks, 61 strikeouts and an 0.24 ERA. If you can't give a man an award for that, when can you?
November 10, 2003
BASEBALL: Wagner Deal
I've been mostly out of blog here the past week due to an exceptionally busy stretch at work; I'll be busy again this week, but it's not clear yet if things will ease up enough for at least a little blogging. It hasn't been a particularly newsworthy baseball week other than the Billy Wagner deal. While it's always sad to see a guy like Wagner leaving a team he's been through so much with, he has (like most non-Rivera closers) also had enough bad experiences (in Wagner's case, in the Divisional Series) over the years to wear out his welcome with at least some Astros fans.
It's really impossible to evaluate the deal until we see what both teams do the rest of the offseason. If the Astros use the money to shore up their starting rotation (they're rumored in some sources to be hot and heavy after Andy Pettitte, although Peter Gammons says otherwise), it may be a good deal; Dotel and Brad Lidge can clearly take the slack in the bullpen. As for the Phils, Wagner has to help their bullpen, but the victory will be Pyhrric if they can't re-sign Millwood.
October 31, 2003
BASEBALL: Manny Roulette
I'm fascinated by the Red Sox decision to put Manny Ramirez on waivers, thus allowing any major league team to claim him, provided they pony up the 5-year $100 million price tag remaining on his contract. The move has been widely interpreted as a dare to the Yankees to take on Ramirez, and the Boston Herald reports that that's where Manny would like to land.
There are three obvious points:
1. Manny is the best hitter in the American League, as one can see from a variety of available evidence; he was second the AL in OPS in 2003 and in 2002, and led the AL in Equivalent Average (EqA, the Baseball Prospectus offensive metric) in 2003 and in 2002. As a general rule, you don't give up players like that lightly when you are a contending team, as the Red Sox indisputably are.
2. Manny's a bit of a dog and a bit of a hot dog, and alienated a lot of people this season. There are some people who would like to get rid of him for that alone, plus he's not a real good fielder or baserunner, and tends to be injury prone.
3. As a general rule, very few players are worth $20 million a year for five years, given the cost of available alternatives, and still fewer who are turning 32 next season. Assuming that the Red Sox have a reasonably fixed budget, that's money that could be spread around to pay for a lot of players.
The trick, though, is not to make any one of these points a knee-jerk reaction ("Manny's great, you can't let him go!" "He's a bum anyways!").
So, do you let Manny walk? I figure the Yanks won't get him, actually; teams with lesser records get first call, and among other teams, he fits too well with the hitting-desperate Dodgers, who just yesterday cut Brian Jordan and Andy Ashby to clear some major salary space. Manny would slide right into the role vacated by Gary Sheffield in LA.
Personally, while I can see the overall logic, my take is that if you're trying to win now, you need to put the extra money into improving other parts of the team right away; the problem us that because there's really no weak spots in the lineup to add offense back to make up for losing Ramirez (unless you expect the Sox to bag Vladimir Guerrero, who's the only remotely available player who'd be an upgrade), the move only makes sense if (1) you're going to turn around and use the cash to shore up the starting rotation or (2) you're actually trying to save money instead of trying to win.
Shoring up the rotation, though, isn't as easy as it sounds; pitching is hard to come by even when you have the money to spend. There are only seven free agents who might give the Sox some real bang in the rotation:
Of those, Clemens remains most likely to retire; the Yankees will not allow themselves to be outspent by Boston on Pettitte; Maddux is old and not all that durable; Foulke, while an outstanding closer who probably has the stuff to be a starter, is nonetheless an unproven commodity as a starter; and Loaiza has a long record of mediocrity behind his one year of big success (in which he threw about a fifth of his innings against the Tigers). That would leave the Sox with just two genuine places to spend the money -- Colon and Millwood. This is problematic as well: first, those guys would know they can drive a hard bargain; the Phillies in particular will likely make a big push to re-sign Millwood; and Colon's conditioning doesn't exactly suggest he'd be a better long-term investment than Manny. (The possibility of a swap of Ramirez for former Red Sox pitching prospect Curt Schilling is more intriguing).
Besides, there may be cheaper ways to help the rotation. I still think you can get part of the way by investing some patience in Kim and Fossum, although it may be that Kim needs another change of scenery (I'll be very happy with Jim Duquette if he starts next season with both Kim and Foulke at Shea Stadium, but that's another story). Yes, $100 million's a BIG CONTRACT -- but I don't see where the Sox wind up coming out ahead on replacing Ramirez.
October 30, 2003
BASEBALL: Moving On Over
Mike's Baseball Rants has at long last abandoned the good ship Blogspot; check him out at his new address, http://www.all-baseball.com/mikesbballrants/index.html. Rest assured that the Joe Morgan bashing will not be affected by the move.
October 29, 2003
BASEBALL: Lost in Translation
(John gets a few facts off as well, but the commenters set him straight).
BASEBALL/POP CULTURE: Deacon Phillippe
I see that Reese Witherspoon had a baby boy, and named him "Deacon." Now, given that her husband is actor Ryan Phillippe, this would make the boy Deacon Phillippe. Well, since Deacon isn't exactly a common first name these days, that set me a-thinkin': is he named after the six-time twenty-game winner (born Charles Louis Phillippi) who pitched for Honus Wagner's Pirates in the early part of the century, won 3 games in the inaugural World Series, never had a losing season and finished his career with an admirable 189-109 record and a 2.59 ERA despite not arriving in the major leagues until age 27? Is Ryan Phillippe a relative (the original Deacon died in 1952), or perhaps a baseball fanatic? Or was there some other origin to the original Deacon's nickname (a literary reference I'm missing here?) that the new baby shares in common?
Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:03 PM | Baseball 2002-03 | Pop Culture | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: The Facts Do Not Conform To The Theory
The situations one would want to look at in trying to determine the Clutchness of a player would seem to me to be the following:
- Runners in scoring position
The first two are self-explanatory. "Close and late" is defined as "results in the 7th inning or later with the batting team either ahead by one run, tied or with the potential tying run at least on deck."
In other words, how does someone do when the game is on the line? When the going gets tough and the tough get going. When the s--- hits the fan. When the men are separated from the boys. When (insert your own cliche here).
Here are Derek Jeter's post-season numbers [batting/OBP/slugging] in those situations from 2000-2003, combined...
Runners in scoring position: .214/.421/.357
Runners in scoring position with two outs: .188/.381/.375
Close and late: .176/.263/.323
As The Mad Hibernian notes below, Dan Okrent is taking over as ombusdman at the New York Times; ScrappleFace had a great comment on this.
Besides rotisserie baseball, Okrent should be revered by baseball fans everywhere for an even more important discovery: he's the man who discovered Bill James and introduced him to a mass audience, over some resistance from traditional journalists and "fact-checkers" who just assumed that James' opinions and analyses could not be correct because they conflicted with conventional wisdom. Dr. Manhattan saw the significance for the Times of James' challenge to conventional wisdom back in July: "This story has additional resonance in light of the Jayson Blair scandals."
Yes, it does. Okrent will need that same iconoclastic streak if he wants to make a dent in the way the NYT peddles conventional wisdom today.
October 27, 2003
BASEBALL: Moral Victory
One of the more tiresome arguments we often hear trotted out by Yankee partisans whenever they face the Red Sox is that the rivalry is one-sided; to Yankee fans, the Sox are just another foe to roll over, and the only wins that matter are championships.
The reaction of many Yankee fans to the team's World Series defeat this year gives the lie to this; as the New York Daily News reports, many Yankee fans are looking back at the defeat of the BoSox in the ALCS as a moral victory:
Like many of the five dozen or so fans who gathered outside Yankee Stadium to give thanks and perhaps snag an autograph from a favorite player, Boaz found a silver lining in the season - at least they beat Boston.
"They could never have lived that one down," said Boaz, an unemployed market researcher from the Bronx.
"To knock our archenemies out of the World Series and keep the curse alive meant more to me than beating the Marlins," crowed Tony Apuzzi, 37, a New Rochelle schoolteacher.
And, of course, some Yankee fans reacted with a tried and true strategy:
The crowd was at one point taunted by a small group of neighborhood kids who had discovered a novel way of dealing with defeat - switching sides. They proved their newfound allegiance by chanting "Let's Go Marlins" at the Yankee fans.
"The Yankees, man, forget them," said a disgusted Ricky Nigagliono, 13. "How can they let another team win on their home field?"
"The Marlins, they're nice," said Roger Reyes, 12. "The Yankees, they got old people, that's why they're wiped out."
October 26, 2003
BASEBALL: Drafting The Kids
One thing I laughed at last night was Harold Reynolds saying that the Marlins' success disproved the idea that you shouldn't draft high school pitchers (gee, who do you think he was talking about?), given that Josh Beckett, Brad Penny and Dontrelle Willis were all drafted out of high school. Of course, this might be a more salient critique if the Marlins had actually drafted all three of these guys, but instead they got Willis in the Matt Clement trade and Penny in the Matt Mantei deal. Nobody ever said picking up prospects who had already had some minor league success was unusually risky just because they had been drafted out of high school.
No, for once I think Phil Rogers is right: you can't really draw any broad lessons from the Marlins. A few small lessons, perhaps -- I may take a look at some of those -- but the bottom line is that this was a pretty good team that got hot and got lucky at just the right time.
October 25, 2003
BASEBALL: The Cavalry Never Came
Well, this time the cavalry didn't come. Flamethrowing ace on the mound, a 2-run lead, 5 outs away from the championship -- you were thinking, as I was, "here we go again." The comeback begins. But this time, that's how it ended. In fact, Josh Beckett threw just 11 more pitches after getting to the talismanic "5 outs" mark, getting a GIDP from Nick Johnson, flies to what's left of Death Valley in left from Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui, and a weak grounder from Jorge Posada.
Beckett also, in the process, saved the idea of the complete game. After watching Mark Prior and Pedro Martinez -- arguably the best pitcher in each league this season -- wilt in the heat of defending a 3-run lead in the 8th inning, managers everywhere had to be revising even further downward their willingness to let their hoss finish what he started. Tonight, pitching on 3 days' rest, Beckett finished the job. Not bad for a guy whose career record stood at 9-11 with a 3.69 ERA entering the All-Star Break this season. My hat is off to Jack McKeon; he was right on the call for Beckett on 3 days' rest, and I was wrong.
Did the Yankees choke, in losing such a hard-fought series to an opponent over whom they were favored? I explored this question at length two years ago:
It really all depends how you look at the postseason. There are those, like me, who believe that baseball games are basically determined by four things: (1) talent, including not just physical talent and skill but the collection of abilities ranging from concentration to judgment of the strike zone and on the basepaths that separate good players from bad ones; (2) strategy; (3) matchups, i.e. the fact that the righthanded-swinging 1953 Dodgers would fare much better against Randy Johnson than would the 1927 Yankees; and (4) timing or luck, which may or may not be the same thing. The first is paramount over the long regular season, provided that the strategy isn't so totally awful that a team squanders its ability to put the best talent on the field. In the postseason, though, the other three factors loom much larger because the games are closer, they're head-to-head rather than against a cross-section of the league, and with fewer games a single blunder can turn the tide.
* * *
But there are also those, most prominently among pro-Yankees sportswriters, who view the postseason as a sort of mythical proving ground where true champs are separated from "phony" stars who don't really "have what it takes" . . . Thus, winning in the postseason becomes proof of a form of moral superiority, or is seen as somehow revealing who is truly the better team. The media loved, for example, revelling in how the Mariners' 116 wins "don't mean anything now" once they lost to the Yankees -- as if the entire regular season was an illusion and in 6 games the shadows had now been cast off to reveal, with Platonic insight, the actual form of the best team in the American League. We heard variations on this line for three years, but the problem with the argument is that it provides no room for the best team to lose - if you lose, by definition, you are no longer "a champion."
Did they choke? Sometimes you put your best pitcher on the mound, and he gets beat. Happens to everybody. Except the Yankees, we were told. We were told wrong.
(On a personal note, my predictions for the postseason wound up 4-3, but one thing I called before the NLCS: "Great matchup of young arms, with Josh Beckett and Kerry Wood making The Leap and Prior already there.")
October 24, 2003
BASEBALL: Wells Falls Down On The Job
Two questions about the Yankees' Game 5 fiasco:
*If David Wells knew before the game that his back felt bad, why didn't he tell Torre to have somebody up in the bullpen just in case? Why did Contreras apparently come in without being properly warmed up?
*Isn't it possible that Wells' back tightening up had something to do with the fact that his last start was on one day of rest, awfully short rest for an aging pitcher who's already not the picture of fitness?
BASEBALL: Beckett's Charge
I have to agree with David Pinto, who crunches some hypothetical numbers on the topic, that starting Josh Beckett on 3 days' rest in Game Six would be a necessary evil if thge Marlins' backs were against the wall (although recall that the Red Sox didn't do that with Pedro in the ALCS even when it meant starting John "Line Drive" Burkett), but starting him with a 3-2 series lead is just not a good idea and reeks of Bobby Cox-style foot-shooting. In fact, I'd say that while it looks like he's going for the jugular, Jack McKeon is really managing scared, afraid to keep his ace in the hole for Game Seven. I'm not even 100% sure that I buy McKeon's core assumption here -- that Carl Pavano is so much better than Mark Redman that it's worth throwing both Pavano and Beckett on short rest, although Redman wasn't the same pitcher in August and September as he'd been at the beginning of the season.
October 23, 2003
BASEBALL: "Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for the house in blackjack."
Bill Simmons has some choice words from the oppressed and traumatized denizens of Red Sox Nation, who are pining for regime change (hint: Bobby Valentine's available):
While watching the NFL, my wife once asked me, "Which guy is the quarterback?" She literally knows nothing about sports. Yet last night after the Bernie Williams hit in the eighth, she kept asking, "How come that guy is still pitching?"
* * *
The Ethiopian guy who collects the money looks awful. Like he hasn't slept in days. I ask him if he's doing OK. He says, "I have never felt so awful. Not even when my own father died ... my own father. I have only been in this city for a few years, so I'm new to this. I don't know how you people do this. In my neighborhood are lots of college kids from New York, and they were cheering after the game ended. I am a peaceful man ... a PEACEFUL man I tell you ... but I swear to you I went outside looking to fight some Yankee fans ... just awful."
BASEBALL: I Think Baseball Is Trying To Kill Us
I really, after rooting my guts out against both of these teams, didn't think there was any way I'd get emotionally involved in this World Series, and although I've been in a Yankee-hating rut I managed to skim by Games 1-3 without doing so. But tonight (like Aaron after Game 1) it was all there again: Clemens, a big comeback, an extra-inning marathon, the specter of Mariano, a walk-off homer. Man, I'm exhausted.
I've been skeptical of the Marlins' ability to stay with the Yankees, and they needed this game to make this a series; now we've got one, and it will head back to the Bronx to end it all.
A handful of thoughts during the game:
I liked Derrek Lee's attempt to fake the pickoff throw getting away in the first inning -- he did this spin move where he looked like the ball had been overthrown -- but Soriano wouldn't bite. . . Bottom 1, they're getting sappy about Clemens already. But this might not be his last appearance; presumably he'll be ready to relieve in Game 7 (on 3 days rest) if it goes that far, and maybe Game 6 as well. . . . the Thundersticks are back! . . . that kid who caught Cabrera's homer looked pretty psyched . . . Clemens looked early like he had nothing; I was ecstatic when I saw Weaver get up in the first . . . they showed the list of guys who had 4 or more World Series wins and were undefeated, and except for Jack Coombs they were all Yankees . . . Bernie slapped the first pitch of the second for a single so effortlessly you'd think he was hitting off a tee . . . they keep comparing Clemens going out while still effective to Koufax or Jim Brown, but that's ridiculous; those guys were young and still the best in the game. They mentioned Elway, who's a better comp . . . I have to say, Clemens really isn't a bad hitter for a guy who rarely swings a bat . . . Carl Pavano showed tonight what the Expos saw when they traded Pedro for him and Tony Armas . . . yup, Urbina's still got the Red Sox thing going . . . top of 10, Buck & McCarver talked about Jeter swinging for the fences with two outs, but it looks like Chad Fox had the same thought since he went way up and in on the first pitch . . . they mentioned Giambi having just 5 RBI in the postseason, but he deserves plenty of the credit for winning Game 7 against the Sox for those two homers; they've been a bit overshadowed . . . it's still wierd to see people dripping sweat and fans in tank tops for October baseball . . . I thought for sure Cabrera would end the game in the bottom of the tenth . . . I agreed with McCarver that it was crazy to walk the bases loaded and then bring in Looper cold with no margin for error, but he sure made McKeon look good . . . not to cast aspersions on the guy, but Weaver looks stoned; it's just the overall look, with the narrow eyes, the pasty complexion, the scruffy hair and the cap pulled down too far . . . now, both Alex Gonzalezes are heroes in Florida.
October 22, 2003
Eugene Volokh complains that he got the following non-response from ESPN.com to his email about Gregg Easterbrook's firing:
From: ESPN Support
Thank you for contacting us.
We appreciate your interest, but that is currently not a feature on ESPN.com.
He then notes that other readers got the response I got:
Date: Tue, 21 Oct 2003 08:54:13 -0700
Thank you for contacting us.
We appreciate your comments and are considering your opinion. We will
It appears that Volokh's problem was that he selected"Other" rather than "NFL" in the drop-down subject menu on ESPN's contact page.
Meanwhile, Ralph Wiley throws out the ceremonial first race card in ESPN.com's post-Limbaugh/post-Easterbrook era:
Dub's theory on baseball curses is that everybody sort of avoids what he calls the truth about them; teams that were -- or are -- historically dismissive and smugly cruel about its black folks -- those are the teams that stay cursed. . . . Maybe one day the Cubs and the Red Sox will get out of historical denial, ante up and kick in, pay off whatever their psychic debt is, and move on.
Um, a little history? Since the breaking of the color barrier, six all-white teams have won the World Series:
The Yanks waited nine years to integrate -- longer than the Cubs but not as long as the Cardinals (three World Championships since 1947), and when they finally brought in Elston Howard, Casey Stengel reportedly watched him in spring training and remarked, "they had to go and get me the only n_____r in the world who can't run." But that history's lost on Wiley and his race-is-everything meme. (Wiley also throws in a shot about the Marlins playing "non-sabermatrician style," but I'll leave that for another day).
Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:00 AM | Baseball 2002-03 | Football | Politics 2002-03 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
October 21, 2003
BASEBALL: Another Reason to Hate The Yankees
Now, I've got a number of reasons to hate the Yankees and to lose a good deal of the fun of watching baseball when it's a series between the Yanks and an overmatched opponent, as it appears we're seeing now. Those reasons go back to my grammar school days as a lone Mets fan in the late 70s and early 80s, getting backed over by more than a few Yankee bandwagons.
One of the most common reasons for disliking the Yanks got some concrete affirmance yesterday with the release of Major League Baseball's final salary figures, showing that the Yankees spent $164 million on their major league payroll this season, compared to $119 million for the next-highest team (the woeful Mets), $106 million for the next-highest playoff team (the Red Sox), and $54 million for the Marlins. Even relatively wealthy clubs like the Braves ($95 million) and Cubs ($83 million) were left in the dust.
Let's put that in percentage terms:
Outspent the #2 team by 37.8%
That's just orders of magnitude beyond anybody else in the game, outspending even the #2 team by more than a third. Try starting a rotisserie league some time with an extra $100 on your budget and see how hard it is to win. And the stated payroll ignores a bunch of other factors: certain payments to ex-players; payments to bonus-baby minor leaguers; $5 million for Joe Torre; more money for player scouting, advance scouting (you hear so much in the postseason about the Yankees' vaunted advance scouts), etc. The real gap is considerably larger.
As Doug Pappas of the Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) estimated (even using the lower figure of $149 million from the Yankees' season-opening payroll), the Yankees were by no means the smartest or most efficient team in the game in spending their money to produce winning baseball, in terms of marginal dollars (above the minimum payroll) per marginal win (above the record you'd expect from a replacement level team); they just had a whole lot more to throw around.
Here's the problem: like most fans, I tend to like to look at the game through the eyes of a general manager or manager, and ask myself, if I were running the show, what would I do? Who would I trade, who would I keep? That's the stuff of Hot Stove League intrigue and second-guessing (and first-guessing) that makes the game fun and worth the investment of time in crunching stats and the like to really understand why teams win and lose.
But when you look at the winning teams and ask yourself what they are doing right, you come to a cold realization: no matter what he does, the general manager of your favorite team can't emulate the Yankees or duplicate their success. Nobody else has Brian Cashman's budget. Could other GMs do what Cahsman does; could other managers do what Torre does? We can't find out, because they won't get the chance unless they get hired by the Yankees, and then they won't have competition from an equal.
There are usually two related counter-arguments to this. One is to say that Mets and Red Sox fans can't talk, since our teams are among the best-funded and in any event, look how poorly the Mets spent the money they did have this year. Fair enough, but (1) as you can see, even the Mets still aren't in the Yankees' neighborhood, (2) as Pappas points out, even with the Yankees having made some good decisions with their farm system and the like, they have also spent plenty of money unwisely, but can afford mistakes others can't, and (3) the issue isn't how good a particular rival is, but whether they could ever compete on an equal footing with the Yankees.
In fact, the Yankees almost certainly could and would spend even more money if pushed to do so. When the Yankees go after a free agent, do they get him? Nearly always; I can hardly remember one they really wanted and didn't get. When a Yankee's contract is up, do they run the risk of losing him, as happens to every other team? Other than Tino Martinez, who they let go to pursue Giambi, the last major free agent loss before this season was John Wetteland, and even then the Yanks didn't expend a lot of energy to keep him, given that Rivera was ready to move up (in fairness, the Yanks did let Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza go this year, but replaced them with other expensive middle relievers).
The second objection is the Baseball Prospectus line, which is to argue that Steinbrenner is making a return on his investment and other teams could afford to spend more as well. First of all, it's obviously not true that everyone else can afford to spend money like the Yankees, or it would be likely that at least someone else would try to do so. Second, since when is the fun in the game asking yourself, "if I were a billionaire owner, how much money would I spend on the team, given market size and the eslasticity of demand for tickets and premium cable TV"? That's a long way from why most of us fell in love with the game as kids.
October 20, 2003
BASEBALL: Squish the Fish
OK, my Yankees-in-four prediction didn't hold, but the Marlins leave New York having scored just 4 runs and used four of their five starting pitchers. I still don't see a long series.
October 19, 2003
Things you maybe didn't know about Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria: in 1968 he wrote a book drawing life lessons from the Peanuts comic strip. You can see the book jacket here. I actually own the book second-hand and have read it, although I can't seem to locate my copy at the moment. It's typical of the genre, philosophical but not deeply so, and painfully earnest in its approach; you would probably only enjoy reading it if you're a serious Peanuts afficionado, as I was at one time (as a kid I read nearly all the strips going back to 1952 as well as a biography of Charles Schultz). Of course, I also found it a bit amusing for the time-capsule nature of a book commenting on life in 1968.
October 18, 2003
BASEBALL: Yankees in Four
Yes, I'm going out on a limb here, and yes, I may be reacting emotionally. But where the postseason is concerned, gut-level predictions are often as effective as more rational ones. My predictions for who would win the postseason serieses are 3 for 5 so far, missing only the two Cubs serieses.
The template here is 1999: the Yankees defeated the Red Sox and went on to face the mighty Braves, who had triumphed in an epic and exhausting six-game series with the Mets. Great things were expected of that series, but it was a massive anticlimax, with the Braves rolling over and playing dead for the Yanks. The only reservation I have here about a similar prediction is the fact that the Yankees have to start Wells on very short rest in Game One. But I fully expect the Marlins, after all the hype and exceitement, to be flat against the Hated Yankees.
October 17, 2003
BASEBALL: Your Marlins Fans
Dave Barry has the scoop on Marlins fans:
I'm a huge Marlins fan. I've been following this plucky team ever since they beat the San Francisco Giants, which was, what, nearly a week ago. I live and die by this team! When they win, I drink champagne and dance all night. This is also what I do when they lose, because there is no point in wasting champagne. But I dance in a more subdued manner.
(Hat tip to Baseball News Blog).
Of course, this is unfair; Marlins fans are very devoted to players like Dan Marino and (what's that you say? Oh.) . . . seriously, ownership has treated Marlins fans with poorly disguised contempt, yet twice in seven seasons, they've been treated to a World Series. It hardly seems fair either way, and it's no poor reflection on Miami fans if they've been bandwagon-jumpers, and tentative ones at that. But really, there were other fans who deserved this more.
BASEBALL: Post Not Alone
Turns out the NY Post wasn't the only one, according to a posting on Romanesko:
10/17/2003 12:23:32 PM Posted By: Jim Romenesko
Well, I feel a little better this morning (but plenty tired; it's a two-coffee morning for sure). If you haven't figured out from the post below or some of the others on this site, I'm not entirely rational where the Hated Yankees are concerned (the Mets, yes, as much as I've suffered with them over the years, but not the Yankees) . . .
You've probably seen sci-fi or horror movies where there's one character who's hyper-rational (usually a scientist) and keeps insisting that there's no such thing as (insert the film's particular horror here) until something happens (usually a face-to-face encounter) that makes it sand-poundingly obvious that this is precisely what's at work. This year's LCS had to have that effect on people who argued that curses, hexes, jinxes and just plain bad mojo surrounding the Red Sox and Cubs were just a myth of some sort (if you could buy stock in Dan Shaughenssy, he'd be up 50% at the opening bell this morning). Adding insult to injury was the Sox losing twice with San Pedro de Fenway and the Cubs losing back to back with Prior and Wood.
I'm not even sure I have the heart to soak up much of the commentary; I haven't seen Lupica's inevitable "Yankees have more class than loser Red Sox, their pathetic fans and their little dog too" victory lap column, although I guess I'll make time to read Bill Simmons' next attempt to place this in the Levels of Losing (pretty high, I'd guess, what with the involvement of Clemens).
UPDATE: Simmons weighs in:
Twenty minutes after the Yankees eliminated the Sox, I called my father to make sure he was still alive.
And that's not even a joke. I wanted to make sure Dad wasn't dead. That's what it feels like to be a Red Sox fan. You make phone calls thinking to yourself, "Hopefully, my Dad picks up, because there's at least a 5-percent chance that the Red Sox just killed him."
Bill also explains why he had that "now I believe in the Curse" moment. Read the whole thing.
Also: The New York Post prematurely buries the Yankees (maybe they were counting on this); David Adesnik goes straight to Lamentations; and Art Martone's wrapup includes the quote of the day:
Finally, for those ripping Grady Little for leaving Pedro out there a few batters too long, it could be worse: in 1925, Bucky Harris left a 37-year-old Walter Johnson in to lose Game 7 of the World Series 9-7 after leading 6-4 entering the bottom of the seventh inning; Johnson went the distance in the game (in a torrential downpour, no less), allowing 9 runs on 15 hits, including 8 doubles and two triples (the 25 total bases surrendered by Johnson in one day is a World Series record unlikely to be broken), including the game-winner, a 2-run ground rule double by Kiki Cuyler into the darkness in right field with two outs in the bottom of the eighth.
BASEBALL: The Dream Dies
Dreams do come true in life. David does beat Goliath. Hollywood endings do happen.
But not in the Bronx. The New York Yankees were put on this earth for one reason -- to remind us that Goliath usually wins, and that Hollywood endings are the stuff of dreams precisely because life so rarely works out that way. Cubs fans believed; Red Sox fans believed. Yankee fans just expect, and they are yet again rewarded. Yankee Stadium remains the place where dreams go to die.
Let's back up a bit, skipping around as I made notes . . .
Inning 1: You could tell this was a big one when Clemens got a standing O on the first pitch of the game.
Bravest guy in the house? Right behind the dugout on the 1B line, there's a guy in a Mets jersey. At a Yankee-Red Sox game. Only in New York.
Why is Soriano hitting leadoff, and Giambi hitting seventh? This is nuts. The lineup should be Johnson and Jeter 1 and 2 (either order has its advantages), then Giambi, Posada, Soriano, Bernie.
Pedro left his fastball at home. I've said in the past that at his peak, I'd rather have San Pedro de Fenway on the mound to pitch the big game than anyone else, ever. His peak looks gone, but I'd still take him over anyone today but Randy Johnson.
Inning 2: Enrique Wilson throws the ball away . . . bad sign for the Yanks. Defense can kill you in games like this.
Inning 3: Lots of full counts on both sides, it seems.
Doesn't Karim Garcia look like one of the Sheens? And David Ortiz definitely has the Mo Vaughn glare going.
Inning 4: Nixon does it again! I almost missed that one, it happened so fast.
I almost feel bad for Clemens at this point. Mussina comes in to relieve.
It occurs to me that if the Sox win, the two wild cards match up in the Series. But at least on the AL side, there's not much doubt that we're watching the two best teams in the league right now, is there?
Jeter rushes to the bag to turn the 6-3 double play; for the first time since I've watched Jeter, he looks desperate, less than 100% certain the Yankees will win.
Inning 5: Giambi has the solo homer. Solo homers in a game like this, you don't mind so much; let the Yanks keep hitting fly balls.
The announcers are talking about instability -- the Yanks have sure gone through some players this year.
Top 7: Nomar swings at Nelson's first pitch of the night. Jeff Nelson. Why?
Bottom 7: Pedro's thrown just 79 pitches through 6; maybe I was wrong about the deep counts. 9 outs to go. I'm thinking: maybe the Sox need to win this game -- what better way to get even the most jaded Sox fans' hopes up (only to dash them cruelly, at the hands of a fly-by-night franchise) than to vanquish the Yankees in the ALCS? It'd be like the US hockey team losing the gold medal match after beating the Russkies in 1980.
The announcers are officially in "Red Sox victory lap" mode, which proves George Santayana's point.
8 outs. Posada flies out deep to Damon. 7 outs.
Matsui is grimacing something fierce; for all of his face-of-stone look, Matsui can really wear his heart on his sleeve sometimes.
Pedro to Giambi, throwing 92, 93. His velocity's increasing. Giambi homers; Damon just misses catching it. 4-2 Sox. Sox still may need one more run to put this away.
Millar falls down, can't get to the bag, I write down, "uh oh . . . it's a game again . . . this is bad." Play has that kind of look to it.
Pedro starts out up and in on Soriano. Warning? I've got your warning right here. Is this the last inning for Pedro?
Rivera's up in the pen -- down 2, but Torre smells blood.
1-2 to Soriano, Pedro hits 94 on the gun. Jeter doesn't look worried anymore; none of the Yankees do. 2-2, Pedro goes outside, 95 mph.
Pedro throws one belt high, right in Soriano's happy zone -- but just outside. Whiff.
Top 8: Nelson's back. 2-0 pitch goes way inside to Manny . . .
Wells comes in; this is like the All-Star Game, one top starter after another. Ding dong; Ortiz goes deep off Wells, looks like Wells is buying the keg for the next game. So much for the tight game. 8 homers now, they say, in 26 games vs. Yankees; that works out to 50 on a full season.
Bottom 8: Pedro still has trouble throwing strikes to Nick Johnson (this may not be coincidental to Johnson's strike zone judgment).
Jeter doubles. Bernie drives him in. Grady sticks with Pedro to face Matsui, and Matsui doubles. Second and third, one out. Now, McCarver says they should have brought in Embree to face Matsui.
Posada up; gotta get Posada, Giambi's on deck and we'll see Embree to face Giambi.
My notes here: "tie game Damon can't throw . . . Sox doomed . . . Rivera will come in - can't win"
Embree saws off Giambi, Wilson comes up and is hit for. McCarver's still harping on Little leaving in Pedro to face Matsui and Posada, like Red Sox Nation won't do that tomorrow. McCarver: "Sometimes the manager has to overrule the superstar." I pointed out two years ago why this is BS coming from McCarver, who loves to recount the story of Bob Gibson demanding to keep the ball to finish Game 7 in 1964.
Timlin vs. Garcia, now; 2 on 2 out, 3-0 count. Timlin walks him. Will Soriano repeat Game 7 heroics from 2001? Walker wow! What a play to rob Soriano. On the replay it's like watching two separate games - Yankees whirling around the bases, fans starting to rise -- and there's Walker, snagging the ball.
Top 9: Need a base hit from Walker here to take the lead. 1-1. 1-2. Rivera has the hammer . . . a flair to Soriano . . . out.
Bottom 9: Jeter whunts - whiffs on the bunt, but it's not strike 3 yet; now it is. Timlin's still in; for some reason I'd thought they'd changed pitchers. He's been so good in this postseason and Bernie so bad, it's a question of whether something will give or momentum will hold. Walker wow! again, this time a leaping grab. So much for the iron glove reputation. So much for something giving.
Top 10: Ortiz chugs into second with a double, and this time they run for him. Ortiz just is Mike Easler, in a lot of ways - big, scary-looking guy, scary hitter, a bit of a late bloomer. Millar's too eager here, jumping at Rivera's first offering. Popup.
Bottom 10: Wakefield's in, not Williamson. Why? Bring in the closer; screw getting a lead, if somebody else gives up a run, the game's over. Plus, Wakefield brings Mirabelli with him, so Varitek (due up next inning) goes out, and Ortiz is already out.
Top 11: Nothing good can happen as long as Rivera's still out there. Contreras is probably next. Mirabelli looks . . . well, like a bad hitter up there.
Bottom 11: Torre won't warm up anyone else; he doesn't want the Sox to think they've got hope of outlasting Mariano.
Boone . . . TV turned off. Headed downstairs to blog. Not happy about how this season turned out. You suffer all year with a dreadful team, you get a little involved in the postseason, and at the end of the day it's the Fish and the Damn Yankees. That's just the way life is sometimes.
October 16, 2003
BASEBALL/POLITICS: Baseball and Politics
Dan Drezner has a post on the connections between sports and political affiliations. I don't really buy it, but it's interesting reading. Maureen Dowd uses a Cubs lede to a typically incoherent column. And Jonah Goldberg rips on something I'd meant to get to: the ridiculous New York Times editorial (No longer web-accessible) effectively rooting for the Red Sox, which is practically a parody of the old line about a liberal being a man too fair-minded to take his own side in an argument. Leaving aside the Times' bias (i.e., the fact that the paper part owns the Red Sox), the sentiment is wholly one of, shall we say, guilt at siding with the winners.
It's not that I object to New Yorkers rooting for the Sox; like most Mets fans I know, I'm pulling for them mostly out of hatred for the Yankees. And I wouldn't object to the same sentiment from an out-of-town paper; I was pulling for the Cubs, after all. It's that the Times is supposed to be one of the Yankees' home town papers, and has certainly never been exclusively a paper of Mets partisans. But the Times won't take the side of its own readers.
Calpundit points us to a new website that pays tribute to one of the game's most controversial figures, Walter O'Malley. The site is run by his son, former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley.
BASEBALL: There's A History Here
October 15, 2003
BASEBALL: On To Game Seven
I figured this out the other day . . . you would think, what with the Yankees' mystique and their storied history, that the franchise's record in Game Sevens would be the stuff of legend. You would be wrong. The Yankees have not won a Game Seven in 41 years, since Bobby Richardson caught McCovey's liner to end the 1962 World Series. Their overall record in deciding* Game Sevens? 5-6:
1926 World Series: Loss. Babe Ruth caught stealing to end the game.
Curse? Did someone say Curse?
* - Not including their loss to the Giants in Game Seven of the best-of-nine 1921 World Series.
BASEBALL: The Upside
Well, Burkett was Burkett, failing to last four innings or hold the Yankees to one run per inning pitched, which would have been a modest victory by Burkett standards. The only good news: Pettitte has thrown 92 pitches through five innings, so he may not make it all the way to Rivera.
UPDATE: The Red Sox get to Contreras. Will we see Rivera in the 7th, a la Goose Gossage in the Bucky Dent game?
UPDATE: Ortiz ties the game. Do you run for him here, 0 out and representing the tying run at 1st?
UPDATE: Jon Miller on Mueller's single: "Jeter made a dive to his left and can't get to it!" How often we hear that.
UPDATE: Torre has Varitek walked to load the bases for Damon. Why do that with two outs?
UPDATE: Platoon player no more: Grady lets Todd Walker hit with the bases loaded and two outs against the lefty.
UPDATE: Red Sox leave the bases loaded. They're gonna need those runs they left on the table.
UPDATE: Gabe White comes in to tie up Trot Nixon with a man on second in the ninth. I assume after that we'll see Rivera. Keeping the lead at 1 is huge here, so Torre can ill afford to save Rivera for tomorrow.
UPDATE: Well, that didn't work. Nixon goes very deep off of White. It will now require a first-class piece of Red Sox history to blow this one, not that that's all that improbable.
UPDATE: First pitch strike to Giambi. Good sign.
LAST UPDATE: Well, I was right at the outset: the key to this game was running up Pettitte's pitch count so the Sox got to see the Yankee middle relievers. On to Game Seven.
BASEBALL: Bamboo Bats
As if there hasn't been enough advancement in bat design to favor hitters, I keep getting unsolicited emails from a company hawking bamboo bats. I have no idea if they're any good, but those things are scary looking.
October 14, 2003
On October 12, 1929 at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, the Chicago Cubs entered the bottom of the seventh inning of Game Four of the World Series with an 8-0 lead; starter Charlie Root was cruising. A safer lead, you will rarely see in postseason competition. And it all unraveled horribly in a long rally highlighted by a fly ball lost in the sun by Hack Wilson; when the inning ended, the Cubs had let in 10 runs and trailed 10-8.
Like the 1986 Red Sox, those Cubs rallied to lead in the next game (they trailed 3-1 in the Series after Game 4), but blew that one as well, surrendering 3 runs in the bottom of the ninth to lose 3-2. As Bill James observed, with the stock market crash following shortly thereafter, Cubs fans must have thought the world was coming to an end.
Tonight will undoubtedly bring back memories of that horror.
UPDATE: Game over, Cubs go quietly into that good night. Man, the Cubs and Red Sox both facing elimination or advancement at the same time -- you can't buy that kind of bad karma.
BASEBALL: Ugh, Ugh, Ugh.
Just heard on ESPN Radio: John Burkett's regular season career record against the Yankees: 0-6, 8.59 ERA. You can't sum up the last 85 years of Red Sox history better than this: the Sox are facing elimination tomorrow night at Yankee Stadium, and they're starting a 38-year-old pitcher who had a 5.15 ERA this season. They'd be better off with Denny Galehouse.
Frankly, if he was healthy (concerns about his shoulder have been cited as a reason for leaving him off the ALCS roster), I'd far rather see Byung Hyun Kim starting this game, bad experiences at Yankee Stadium or no. Kim posted a 2.78 ERA and a 49/15 K/BB ratio in 55 innings dating back to June 10 this season, and didn't allow an earned run in 12 September outings, allowing just 7 baserunners in 13 innings. At least Kim would've had a hope of giving you some scoreless innings.
BASEBALL: ALCS Game 4 Notes
"They shouldn't throw at me. I'm the father of five or six kids."
Both drama and the likelihood of a dramatic letdown were in the air at Fenway last night, as the teams and Major League Baseball tried everything from extra security to giving the night off to the non-players involved in Saturday's kicking spree in the bullpen to a tearful apology from Don Zimmer, who promised not to get in any more brawls until he's 80. I'm sure the presence of Tom Ridge in the stands was purely coincidental (or maybe not), although the umpires did helpfully force Jeff Nelson to unbuckle his belt and turn his glove inside out to make Ridge feel at home . . .
This was actually the first of the ALCS games I'd gotten to see on live TV rather than radio + highlights. One verdict: Bret Boone has a lot fewer interesting things to say than Al Leiter does. Couldn't they have found a player who wasn't related to anybody on the Yankees?
Unfair stat: a FOX graphic pointed out that Doug Mirabelli led the majors in passed balls this year. The broadcasters pointed out that Doug Mirabelli caught all but two innings of Tim Wakefield this year. Coincidence?
Boone did have a point, albeit a predictable one, that if the AL wins the World Series, Hank Blalock will be owed a playoff share for the All-Star Game home run that gives the AL team home field advantage in the World Series.
Notes on replays: you can really see, in slow motion, the way the knuckleball doesn't spin when it's thrown correctly. In a sense, the knuckler's gimmick isn't its movement, as is often said, so much as its absence of the movement that batters expect on other pitches. It's also the case that the mega-slow-mo replay - which immediately looks like aged footage (I keep expecting the swings broken down to be Graig Nettles and Fred Lynn) - makes guys who swing and miss look utterly foolish. At least when you watch in normal time, you get a better sense of how hard it is to hit a baseball. And watching Johnny Damon throw reminds me: there are few things in baseball that must be more embarrassing than having a pitifully weak outfield throwing arm that just lofts throws in to the infield. It's emasculating.
Fly ball pitchers have had their moments in postseason play; consider Catfish Hunter, or Jack Morris. But Mike Mussina needs to cut down on the home runs if he's going to get back to winning games in October. As for Todd Walker, the name "Adam Kennedy" starts to come to mind.
Key difference in the game: Jorge Posada lining out to Manny Ramirez in the fifth with two outs and the bases loaded; Jason Varitek, after jogging in from the bullpen in his catching gear to pinch hit, improbably beating out a potential DP grounder to drive in what would turn out to be the key insurance run in the seventh. The call at first was the right one - Varitek was safe - and the attention to the call reminded me that someone more important to security than Tom Ridge was in the house: longtime National League umpire Cowboy Joe West. You may remember the burly, combative West for, among other things, body-slamming Dennis Cook in a brawl some years ago. Don't mess with Cowboy Joe.
The rundown that ended the seventh was just ugly, with Varitek getting caught off first and Nixon ultimately tagged out at third. Not exactly Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez evading all tags in the 1986 World Series.
Man, you could see that Hideki Matsui was pissed at himself when he dove for Timlin's high outside pitch to strike out to end the 8th. He was grimacing by the time he finished his swing.
It didn't turn out so badly, but I was convinced at the time that bringing in Jeff Nelson was a disaster waiting to happen. I know managers hate to let the crowd dictate their decisions, but here it was clear that (1) Nelson was overexcited and (2) the crowd's "Nelson, Nelson" chants were getting to him. I wonder if Grady Little actually helped Nelson settle down after he threw his first pitch way, way inside, by charging out (in what was obviously a pre-determined stunt) to have his belt and glove checked. Nelson looked in plenty of trouble out on the mound before that; better to save the stunt for later in the series against somebody who was pitching well. Nelson settled down considerably after that.
I knew the Yanks would have trouble with Scott Williamson when he got the high strike on his first pitch in the ninth . . .
Next up: David Wells vs. Derek Lowe. Career numbers at Fenway:
With John Burkett reportedly up in Game Six, the Sox need this one.
October 11, 2003
BASEBALL: LCS Chaos
Another absolute classic last night; I brought work home but had so much trouble tearing away from the game to get much done, I wound up being up until 3am. . . . I didn't get to see quite as much of today's mayhem, unfortunately - I caught chunks of each game - but I'm sure it's just a coincidence that "Roger Clemens" and "bench-clearing brawl" were yet again to be found in such close proximity . . . they're reporting that Jeff Nelson and Karim Garcia may face criminal assault charges for kicking a Red Sox grounds crew worker in the bullpen at the end of the game. Ugh.
The odds that we'll be watching the Yankees mercilessly destroy the Cubs in a week and a half are definitely on the rise.
I assume the Frank McCourt who just bought the Dodgers - described as a "Boston real estate developer" is no relation to the former high school English teacher who wrote Angela's Ashes.
October 9, 2003
BASEBALL: No Omen
Another too-busy-to-blog day, but before we get rolling with Game Two, I'll leave you with your depressing Hated Yankees postseason stat of the day:
Since 1995, the Yankees have played in 19 postseason serieses (not counting this one), and won 15 of them. They have won the first game of a series 12 times and lost 7 times. How does that break down?
Record when winning the first game: 9-3.
It's not how you start against the Yankees. It's how you finish.
October 8, 2003
BASEBALL: Digging The Longball
Barely halfway into Game 2 of the NLCS and Game 1 of the ALCS, we've already had 15 home runs in the LCS. I guess we've got our storyline (and so much for the Marlins' stinginess with homers).
If you're wondering, no baseball blogging this morning because I was tied up with work and other stuff and didn't get to see much of the Cubs-Marlins game last night, which had the look of an instant classic (with Mike Lowell channeling Kirk Gibson). Al Leiter seemed a bit nervous and soft-spoken but insightful in the little I caught of his commentary; more on that later in the NLCS.
October 7, 2003
I did pretty well with my Divisional Series predictions - 3 out of 4, missing only the Braves-Cubs series. So, just to get on record before the first pitch . . .
Yankees-Red Sox: Given the history, you'd be bonkers to pick the BoSox, as much as I'd love to see them topple the Hated Yankees. The fact that Pedro won't be available to start until Games 3 and 7 is also not encouraging, given Boston's typically thin rotation, plus the top of the Sox bullpen doesn't exactly stack up to Rivera. The Red Sox can win this series if Pedro has two big games and they batter their way into the Yankees' suspect middle relief (even if the Yankees win the series, I suspect the Sox will get one game where they get to Weaver and score 11 or 12 runs), but the odds are not good. Yankees in six.
Cubs-Marlins: This is a tougher call. The Marlins just have everything going right now, but then a lot of what worked against the Giants was the kind of magic that can vanish overnight. The Cubs, meanwhile, got past the Braves without getting Sammy Sosa out of his late-season deep freeze. Great matchup of young arms, with Josh Beckett and Kerry Wood making The Leap and Prior already there. Key players in this series: Joe Borowski and Kyle Farnsworth, who will be asked to do away with the Marlins' late-inning magic and give Dusty enough confidence to not ride his starters into the ground. And Sosa, of course; the Giants didn't hit a single home run against Florida's pitching. The Cubs don't get on base enough to win without the longball, but with four games at Wrigley, that seems unlikely.
This time, I think Florida's luck runs out. Cubs in seven, and a rematch of the 1932 and 1938 Serieses to follow.
October 6, 2003
BASEBALL: Featuring Scott Williamson in the Role Originated By Calvin Schiraldi
Except this time, the sinkerballing reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliever got the last strike. It would have been too much to see this Red Sox team go down for the want of a closer -- have you ever seen a team with so many closers, but none who could close a game (well, maybe the 1997 Mariners)? Williamson, Kim, Lowe, Timlin, Wakefield and toss in the guys who auditioned this season (Howry, Person, Todd Jones). But tonight, Lowe got the job done.
Before that . . . Man, Barry Zito's curveball is a thing of beauty; there are some pitches you cheer for and some that leave you breathless, but the only appropriate response to Zito's curve is a wolf whistle . . .
On the other hand, when I'm watching the game with my six-year-old son, I could do with a few less ads for 'Skin'. (To say nothing of last night's unsubtle single-entendre ads for Enzyte, the "natural male enhancement").
OK, Manny shouldn't have been doing his Jeff Leonard imitation in the sixth inning after his game-breaking home run, but Tom Brenneman and to a lesser extent Steve Lyons were treating him like he'd spit at a fan or something. Get off the high horses, guys; like we didn't know Manny was a bit of a hot dog at times? The guy's had a rough postseason.
The Damon-Damian Jackson head-to-temple collision was the scariest thing I've ever seen on a baseball field (live, that is; the death of John McSherry was worse). It gave me that football injury, I-hope-he-walks-again feeling as soon as I saw Damon wasn't moving. Now, the fans who gave the Red Sox a hard time while Damon was prone on the field -- they are a fit target for some fresh-off-the-shelf Canned Sportscaster Outrage.
[Lileks moment here - I interrupt this blog post when I hear my daughter fall out of bed. Heard the sound upstairs, knew right away what it was, had her up by the time she was awake enough to start crying. Hey, I got to do something to make up for spending the whole evening in front of the ballgame]
Anyway, the collision reminded me of one that looked almost as hairy at first but that both guys walked away from, the 1988 face-to-face collision between Mookie Wilson and Lenny Dykstra that ended with Mookie's teeth marks across Lenny's nose.
The transition from Chad Bradford to Ricardo Rincon (or vice versa, as in Game 4) has to be a jarring one; Bradford's got that wacky submarine delivery and the long, snapping arms to complete the picture, while Rincon has to have the shortest arms I've ever seen on a major league pitcher.
On to the ninth . . . Steve Lyons was awfully jocular talking about Bill Buckner in the ninth inning, for a guy who was a member of the 1986 Red Sox himself; maybe he's still bitter that they traded him away. (Hey 'Psycho': never be insulted to be traded for Tom Seaver).
I could just tell there was going to be trouble almost immediately after Scott Williamson came into the game; he wasn't pitching, he was aiming. You could see it in the way he was winding up and sort of pointing his arm rather than a natural motion. Grady Little just had no choice but to get him out of there after he walked Guillen.
But Lowe got the job done. Next stop: the Bronx.
Three sources suggested Sunday that Hudson's injury might have stemmed from an alleged altercation on Friday night at Q, a Boston nightspot.
According to a security guard and a member of the bar staff, Hudson got into a skirmish with a Red Sox fan and threw several punches, including one that clipped a bartender.
"It was a big melee. He was throwing haymakers,'' said the security guard, who spoke on the condition his name not be used.
"Honest to God, he's 160 pounds and it took eight big guys to hold him back,'' the staff member said of Hudson. "It was five minutes of mayhem.''
Hudson was unavailable for comment about the alleged incident on Sunday night, and the manager of Q, Noel Gentelles, strongly denied that any clash had taken place.
"Tim and Barry (Zito) were both here, and they couldn't have been nicer,'' Gentelles said. "Barry even played with the band. There was no altercation.''
Now, going out for a beer or three in the middle of a playoff series is no crime, but this is just stupid, stupid, stupid. If the A's can't get past the Red Sox because of this, Hudson deserves all the grief he'll get.
(Link via Sons of Sam Horn)
October 5, 2003
BASEBALL: 95 Years
Maybe it's just me, but the Cubs' postgame celebration didn't look like a team celebrating the death of a semi-artifical 95-year-old monkey on their backs; they seemed rather subdued (albeit not like the Yankees, who looked like they were looking for the clock to go punch out their time cards). FOX's focus on the 95 years since the Cubs won a postseason series was a neat storyline, but the players seem uninterested in it -- which is as it should be. It's Dusty's job to keep them focused on the real goal, which is ending that other 95-year drought since the Cubbies were Champions of the World.
In the meantime, if you're looking to brush up on your Cubs history, my column here profiles the 1918 Cubs (among other teams), while this post notes that the team the Cubs beat in the 1908 pennant race on the notorious Fred Merkle "boner" play -- the 1908 Giants --was actually the greatest on-base machine, relative to their league, of the past 110 years.
October 4, 2003
BASEBALL: Got the Trots
Trot Nixon has his Carlton Fisk moment tonight, keeping the Red Sox alive to torture their fans another day. It had to be a better feeling than seeing Don Zimmer on Thursday night's Yankees-Twins telecast, sitting there in his Yankee uniform and smiling as he wrapped up an interview about the 25th anniversary of the Bucky Bleeping Dent game. What an absolute classic tonight's game was, with great pitching performances by Ted Lilly, Derek Lowe, Mike Timlin, Scott Williamson, Chad Bradford and Jim Mecir. Memories of 1999 abounded, with Manny in a 1-for-series slump and Pedro warming up down in the Fenway bullpen.
It may surprise you to learn that I'm not a baseball rulebook afficionado, but those who are will have a field day with this one between Nomar's re-play on Chad Bradford's quick pitch, the play where Tejada was called out while arguing that he should have scored on an obstruction play, and Eric Byrnes overrunning home plate and getting tagged out at the backstop. The Tejada play brought back memories of David Cone and Chuck Knoblauch holding the ball to argue calls, but in this case it's more excusable if Tejada didn't understand that it was a live play -- but what's the Oakland third base coach for if not to get Tejada safely to a base while this is going on?
Bobby Valentine on the A's mental state for Game 4: "If they're angry they're cool; if they're feeling sorry for themselves, they're in trouble." That's Valentine in a nutshell. He's right, of course. Ted Lilly had this look on his face all night like, "tell me again why I'm not winning this game?" Maybe he always looks like that.
Marty Marion was nicknamed "the Octopus" for his leaping grabs, but Mike Timlin looked like he was auditioning for the moniker with some of his spears tonight. Scott Hatteberg had some jumping to do as well, due to a few too many high throws from the left side of the Oakland infield.
On another note, nothing looked scarier today than Robert Fick's very intentional-looking collision at first base with Eric Karros; if you didn't see the play, Fick was running up the first base line and held his hand out to basically knock the glove off Karros' hand after he's already caught the throw from Kyle Farnsworth for the force-out. It definitely brought back visions of Todd Hundley barreling into Cliff Floyd back in 1995, to horrific effects on Floyd's career for several years. Jason Steffens has the postgame reaction to the combative Fick's latest antics (you may remember his suspension for his part in a massive brawl and his use of obscene gestures when he was with the Tigers), and David Pinto has some harsh words for Fick as well.
BASEBALL: Separated at Birth
I can't be the first one to notice that Matt LeCroy is a dead ringer for the guy who used to play Tim Allen's sidekick on Home Improvement . . . and Ken Macha kinda reminds me of a cross between Larry David and Dick Cheney.
Back to the Sawx game.
BASEBALL: Bonds Part 2
Well, Bonds got some relief from his teammates today, but it didn't matter much because the pitching didn't hold up. Let's re-run the chart for the full series; it looks a bit less lopsided now:
(Note that this includes a 4-run inning in which Bonds had a sac fly.)
BASEBALL: One Man Band
How important has Barry Bonds been to the Giants in this series? The Giants have yet to score in an inning when Bonds doesn't get on base. Let's break this down through three games:
That's a man who needs some support.
BASEBALL: Fool Me Again
As late as the end of last season, you could fairly ask whether Mark Prior had advanced to the same class as pitchers like Greg Maddux. By tonight, you felt bad for Maddux trying to keep up with Prior. In fact, either Prior or Jason Schmidt is probably the leading starting pitcher in the NL Cy Young race, although their slim workloads (30 starts, 211.1 IP for Prior, 29 starts, 207.2 IP for Schmidt, 32 starts, 211 IP for Kevin Brown) probably means the award will rightly pass to Eric Gagne (77 games, 82.1 IP).
You could tell how "on" Prior was by how many hitters in the fearsome Atlanta lineup were swinging at pitches that were way, way out of the strike zone - pitches at their eyes, pitches a foot outside. The fact that Prior's control was off in the early going made him that much more unpredictable, and the hitters that much more defensive, by the end of the game. You know the saying, "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me"? Well, with good pitchers it's almost the opposite -- see hitters hack at a few bad pitches it's probably the result of impatience. But see a whole lineup of guys do it all night, and that's almost always because the pitcher's got something special going.
That said, my initial reaction was that leaving Prior out there to throw 133 pitches once the Cubs had an insurance run seemed foolhardy. The biggest risk isn't hurting his arm -- although with a once-a-decade ace like Prior, that's a constant worry. And it's not Prior blowing the game -- he was going too good to think that bringing in Joe Borowski was a surer bet. The biggest risk is wearing him down for the postseason, which isn't a sprint anymore so much as a quarter-mile run.
There is a counterargument, though: it's Game 3, and Game 5 is in two days. Prior won't pitch again until the NLCS, so he may get an extra day's rest. And though our knowledge of pitching injuries and fatigue is still largely anecdotal, there's a lot of people who would agree that it's not the muscle-tearing long outing that does you in so much as the trying to bounce back before the arm had healed up from it. As statheads have been conceding all season, maybe Dusty knows more than he sometimes lets on.
October 1, 2003
BASEBALL: Mazzone. Leo Mazzone.
If you want yet another reason to be amazed at Leo Mazzone, you can look at Jaret Wright's line with the Braves (counting last night's outing) compared to his line from the rest of 2002-03:
Yes, small sample size, and yes, it's a little unfair to include Wright's work as a starter in Cleveland. But the point is, the Braves can take a guy who's about as ineffective as you can get, and there he is a few weeks later pitching in the 7th inning of a close playoff game, pushing his ERA with the team below 2.00.
September 30, 2003
BASEBALL: 2003 NLDS/ALDS Picks
Late night at the office last night, so no time for real blogging this morning. Just some time to finish up my thoughts to get on record before the first round starts:
Yankees-Twins: You have to assume the Hated Yankees juggernaut will crush the Twinkies, who haven't even won a game against the Yanks since May of 2001. Key to the series will be Johan Santana, the type of nasty young lefty flamethrower who can just dominate a series against the odds. Think the Astros and Marlins regret letting Santana go in the 1999 Rule V draft? Also key to any play for an upset will be Shannon Stewart, who's thus far made the highly questionable Bobby Kielty deal pay off; Stewart's the one guy on the Twins who can really put the ball in play against the porous Yankee defense. Totally pointless stat: Twins starting pitchers batted .286 this season. More important stat: I saw in the paper the other day that Santana, Brad Radke and Kyle Lohse had won 25 of their last 30 decisions.
Red Sox-A's: I like both these teams and wish they both had cracks at the Yankees. Oakland roared down the stretch as usual, but without Mark Mulder they don't look as scary in the postseason against a healthy Sox team with - strangely enough - a healthy San Pedro de Fenway.
Marlins-Giants: Echoes of 1997, although this is a stronger Giants team against a weaker Florida team. Jason Schmidt and Sidney Ponson are key here; the Giants' starting pitching has wobbled pretty badly down the stretch. I smell a Florida upset.
Braves-Cubs: I'll be pulling for the Cubbies, and certainly the Braves' pitching makes them vulnerable. But there's too much offense here to favor the Cubs. Could go either way -- of course, so could any short series -- but I'm sensing a Braves return to the NLCS.
September 29, 2003
BASEBALL: Coming Up Short
Another of the stories that needs to be remembered in analyzing a lost opportunity is Mike Sweeney's injury. Sweeney remains the Royals' best player, and he was batting around his usual numbers -- .321/.540/.440 -- when he went down in June. He's more than that, though; for the season, Sweeney batted .363/.579/.459 with men on base, .398/.648/.493 with men in scoring position, .339/.431/.429 in the late innings of a close game. But after returning from the DL, Sweeney (while relegated to DHing) batted just .260/.379/.325 the rest of the way. In a race that was airtight until the last 2-3 weeks, that's a significant blow.
BASEBALL: Don't Cy For Me
Now, long-time readers know that I'm a big fan of San Pedro de Fenway here, but even though he was baseball's most effective starting pitcher this season, and at the risk of contradicting what I just said below about Maddux, I just can't see giving Pedro another Cy Young Award this season:
1. He only won 14 games.
Not only did Pedro not pitch for nearly a month, but in Pedro's 11 no decisions, he threw less than 7 innings five times. He also left after 7 five others. Now, 7 innings should get you a decision in today's baseball, so including those in the case against Pedro may not be fair; let's take a look at those five starts:
March 31 (Opening Day) in Tampa: Martinez leaves with a 4-1 lead after throwing 91 pitches, having allowed a run in the seventh. Hard to fault him here; it was Opening Day, he had a comfortable lead against a rotten team, and Alan Embree and Chad Fox imploded in the ninth inning to lose the game 6-4.
April 27 at Anaheim: Again, Martinez is lifted after allowing a run in the seventh; he leaves with a 4-2 lead after throwing 101 pitches. A lot of pitchers might have been pulled at that point, so it's unfair to give him all the blame for the fact that Brandon Lyon and Chad Fox each allowed runs (in the 8th and 9th) and the Sox had to go 14 innings to reclaim victory.
June 21 at Philadelphia: Martinez throws 92 pitches, leaves with a 2-1 lead. This one really looks like a game where you'd want your ace pitcher to go 8 with a shaky bullpen. Mike Timlin lets Jim Thome go deep in the 8th to tie it; in the absence of a lefthander, you'd rather have seen Pedro pitch to Thome than a famously gopher-prone righthander. Jason Shiell lets Thome go deep in the 12th, and he and Rudy Seanez blow the game in the 13th.
July 7 at Yankee Stadium: The most notorious of the bunch; the Hated Yankees tie the game 1-1 in the sixth, and Martinez leaves after 7 having thrown 115 pitches. Byun-Hyung Kim blows it in the 9th. Verdict: pitching the 8th might not have made a difference, and Martinez had thrown plenty of pitches here.
July 12 at Detroit: Martinez throws 105 pitches, Red Sox take a 2-1 lead in the top of the 8th, the 24-66 Tigers tie it up in the bottom of the 8th off Embree and the game goes 11. This one's really not Martinez' fault so much as the bullpen's.
Interesting that each of these games was on the road, and all were before the All-Star Break. Even if you exonerate Martinez in each of these five games, the team's overall 4-7 record in his no-decisions, combined with his starting only 29 games in the first place, really has to lead you to conclude that Martinez just wasn't a big enough factor to win the award. That leaves the field to Roy Halladay, Tim Hudson and Esteban Loaiza. (Note that the A's were 10-1 in Hudson's no decisions). I think I'd give the award to Hudson, myself; he carried a heavier innings load (240) than Loaiza (219), but had a considerably better ERA (2.70) than the other two (2.96 for Loaiza and 3.25 for Halladay).
Here's an eye-popping novelty stat: 13 major league pitchers struck out at least 178 batters this season. Only one, major league whiff leader Kerry Wood, walked as many as 60 batters. (After that, you get to Nomo). Doesn't that, together with the growing dominance of the game's best closers, say something? Perhaps that the gap between the best and the rest is growing? Or that the best pitchers are now working harder on throwing strikes because they realize the importance of both K and BB to pitching?
Then again, it could just be a fluke. The 2002 list looks quite different.
BASEBALL: Taking His Turn
Lost in the controversy over Greg Maddux's durability and conditioning (addressed by Baseball Musings here, here and here) is the fact that Maddux led the National League in starts, with 35 (Roy Halladay led the majors with 36). Granted, that's just 1 extra start over guys like Millwood and Vazquez and teammate Russ Ortiz, but at Maddux's age there's something to be said for just showing up every fifth day and knowing what it takes to get you there.
That said, the criticism that Maddux might be able to go deeper in games if he was in better shape seems a fair one. Maddux threw 100 pitches in a game just four times this season (the last time on July 22), and averaged just under 82 pitches per start.
Tom of Phillies blog Shallow Center defends the meanness and negativity for which Philadelphia fans are famous:
We should be applauded, not denigrated, for demanding better of our teams. The Red Sox and the Cubs may be lovable losers, but they're still losers. Boston and Chicago deserve better, but they're too wussy to realize it. We in Philadelphia know we deserve better. That's why we boo when Pat Burrell fans, again, on a pitch about six feet outside, or when the Eagles, in their new, publicly financed stadium, look as adept as a peewee football team tripping through its first scrimmage.
September 26, 2003
BASEBALL: The Devil's Theory of Joe Morgan
September 25, 2003
BASEBALL: Living Down To Expectations
Tom Glavine leaves tonight's game without a chance for a decision, which should cap off his season's record at 9-14. Here's what I predicted on December 5, 2002 following the Glavine signing:
Glavine likely has one horrible train wreck of a year coming, with a revival to a battered veteran squeezing out one last good in in 2004 or 2005. At best, he's Kevin Appier all over again . . . This contract will probably do in Glavine's bid for 300 wins: you heard it here first, he's going 7-15 in 2003.
Well, looks like I was a little pessimistic, but not by much. And we've got three more years of Glavine to look forward to.
BASEBALL: Falling Short
Well, the Marlins' big victory last night probably seals the NL wild card race; a 3-game lead with 4 to play is a bit much.
With one more game in San Diego and three in San Francisco, the Dodgers bullpen will be pushed to the limit on a pair of milestones. Eric Gagne notched save no. 55 last night; he needs two to tie Bobby Thigpen's single-season record and three to break it, although he's also still (hold your breath) not blown a save this season in a regulation game (as you'll recall, he did blow the All-Star Game). And Paul Quantrill, who made his 86th appearance last night and who's also wrapping up a tremendous year, needs to pitch in all four remaining games to be the first pitcher since Kent Tekulve in 1987 to pitch in 90 games in a season; it's only been done seven times, six of them between Mike Marshall (3) and Tekulve (3) and the other by Wayne Granger.
September 24, 2003
BASEBALL: The Closer
Counting this season, five pitchers in baseball history have had 30 saves and 100 strikeouts in the same season more than once; two have done it in back-to-back years. The five? Bruce Sutter, Rich Gossage, Trevor Hoffman, and now Billy Wagner and Eric Gagne. Only Hoffman and Gagne have done it in consecutive seasons; only Wagner and Gagne (assuming no disaster outings this week) have had sub-2.00 ERAs both times as well (Sutter did it once, as did John Wetteland, John Hiller, Robb Nen, Bryan Harvey, and Willie Hernandez); only Gagne among the five has had fewer than 20 walks in either season (Harvey's the only other one to match that), let alone both, and besides Gagne - with his two 50-save seasons - only Hoffman and Wagner have cleared 40 saves in one of the seasons (also matched by Harvey, Nen, Wetteland, Armando Benitez and Ugueth Urbina). Gagne also now holds the record for most whiffs in a 30-save season, with 135 through last night; Sutter had 129 in 1977.
Verdict: he's got a ways to go to prove himself the best or even the most dominant, but Gagne has already staked a real good claim to be the most overpowering closer in the four decades since closers started becoming something of a steady job.
September 23, 2003
BASEBALL: More Team Defense
David Pinto has an incisive new look at team defense; now, if he can combine this with his metric that counts extra base hits into team defense, he'll really have something special.
POLITICS/BASEBALL: This Means War
The Command Post reports that John Kerry has accused Howard Dean of being - gasp! - a fan of the Hated Yankees. Dean, of course, is a transplanted New Yorker, and that wouldn't go over well in New Hampshire. Dean is denying this scurrilous charge.
I've been baseball-deprived lately, since the radio in my office died; because I'm usually in the office too late to see games on TV, the radio is my lifeline. Gotta get that fixed, pronto.
BASEBALL: You Chose Wrong
As the White Sox fade to grey there's delicious irony for Mets fans in noting that one of the key decisions that did in the Sox was the decision to dump D'Angelo Jimenez and replace him at second base with Roberto Alomar. (Long-time readers of this blog will note that I've been fascinated for some time with Jimenez, the on-again, off-again former Yankees infield prospect, who has shown a recurring tendency to confound his supporters and critics alike.) Check out their numbers since Alomar arrived in Chicago and Jimenez in Cincinnati:
BB+ = BB+HBP
You'll recall that I noted at the time that Jimenez was in a terrible but not very long-term slump when the Sox dumped him; maybe that was a wake-up call, but maybe the Sox just panicked after 59 bad at bats and cost themselves a valuable performer. Oops.
On the other hand, I'll admit that I was more optimistic about Alomar than this here, although I was less so here; the biggest problem is that the Sox forgot to platoon Alomar, as he wound up hitting .191 against lefties.
September 22, 2003
BASEBALL: Catching Up To The Launch Pattern
If you've been following the Pythagorean projections all year, it's no surprise that the Astros have surged in the NL Central of late -- although their continuing underachievement is rather odd for a team with such a great bullpen.
September 19, 2003
BASEBALL: Bad Media
Proving once again that media groupthink and the thrall of cliched conventional wisdom is not limited to news coverage of politics, Bill Simmons blasts HBO for running a Red Sox documentary that wound up wallowing in "the Curse."
September 18, 2003
BASEBALL: Teams On Base
Given the positive reaction to my study of the great slugging teams, I thought I'd take a look at the teams with the greatest on base percentages in a single season, relative to the league. This time, I'll just run the "modern" teams rather than the too-old-time-to-be-quite-legitimate teams, drawing the line at 1893, the point at which the pitching conditions (mound distance, number of balls for a walk) and length of the season started more nearly resembling the modern game. Here are the 19 post-1893 teams that finished at least 9% above the league:
A few things jumped off the page here. First, the teams that dominate the OBP category have done so by a far narrower margin than the great slugging teams; we've got just seven teams here, and just three since 1910, that finished more than 10% better than the league, whereas the top slugging teams were in the 15-22% range. Second, as Rob Neyer and others love to point out, slugging and OBP go together like chocolate and peanut butter: 7 of the top 10 modern slugging teams reappear here (including a reprise by the unheralded 1965 Reds). Another of those teams, the 1950 Red Sox, just missed the cut (beating the league OBP by 8.2%), but is tied for the highest team OBP of the 20th century (.382, tied with the 1930 Yankees and 1921 Tigers; you can run the decimal places and tell me who comes out ahead if you like; the 1894 Phillies, with four .400 hitting outfielders, and 1894 Orioles remain the only teams ever to crack the .400 barrier). Third, the name "John McGraw" comes to mind: McGraw played for three of these teams and managed three others (credit should be shared with Hugh Jennings, who got drilled by 40-50 pitches a year for those Orioles teams, and with Roger Bresnahan, the on-base star of the Mathewson-era Giants). Other teams on the list make you think instantly of Babe Ruth, Earl Weaver (Weaver's 1971 O's are known for four 20-game winners, but a .422 OBP from Merv Rettenmund and a .365 OBP from Mark Belanger had more than a little to do with that), Ty Cobb (the 1915 Tigers didn't have the top 3 in the league in RBI for nothing), and Wade Boggs. There are also remarkably few recent teams, which makes the 1976 Reds' dominance that much more impressive. And, of course, there's an awful lot of pennant-winning teams here, as you'd have guessed.
Although one suspects that the repeat presence of McGraw teams suggests that -- as analysts today would argue -- a focus on OBP can be a choice, the fact that the leagues have often been quite compressed (the 1980 National League is one extreme example, with the Cardinals' .329 league-leading figure compared to a league average of .321) would suggest that even without thinking about OBP, managers have mostly stayed within a narrow band in assembling their teams. On the other hand, even a 5-7% advantage in OBP can mean a lot of runs. And it does seem that the spreads are widening in recent seasons, with the 2001 Mariners beating the AL average by 9.4%, the 2002 Yankees by 8.3%, and the 2003 Red Sox by 8.4% through Tuesday, and the 2001 Rockies leading the NL by 8.3% (the biggest margin of the 1990s was actually the 1994 Yankees at 8.4%).
For what it's worth, the top old-time teams were the 1876 Chicago White Stockings, 27.4% above the league at .353 compared to a league average of .277, and the 1875 Boston Red Stockings of the National Association, 24.9% above the league; the top legitimate (non-Union Association) 1880s team was the 1886 Chicago White Stockings, 16% above the league. One reason I included the 1890s teams in the list above rather than lumping them back here was that I had a hard time convincing myself that the game played by the 1897-98 Orioles was really that different from the game played by the 1902 Pirates or the 1905 Giants.
UPDATE (Through 2004 season): The 2003 Red Sox actually wound up 9.4% above the league (.360 compared to .329), and thus should be listed with the 2001 Mariners in 13th place on the chart.
BASEBALL: 110/110 Again
13 Lou Gehrig
With his 44th home run in the first inning Tuesday night, A-Rod made it six in a row.
September 17, 2003
BASEBALL: The Happy Recap
I was listening to the Mets radio broadcast the other night and Bob Murphy said that the Mets "certainly have no hope of any postseason action this year." Now, I've been realistic about this fact since April, but there's knowing you have no hope, and then there's hearing Bob Murphy say that there's no hope.
If there's been one unflagging constant with Murphy over his 42 seasons as a Mets broadcaster, leading up to his retirement after this season, it's that there was always hope. In 1962, the Mets started with a three-man broadcasting team of professional broadcasters Murphy and Lindsey Nelson and former player Ralph Kiner. Under the arrangement at the time, two of the announcers would do the TV broadcast and one would do the radio broadcast, and they would rotate every few innings. The choices could hardly have been better: the broadcasting team stayed unchanged for 16 seasons (Nelson retired in 1977), and Murphy and Kiner are still here. Murphy and Nelson were inducted in the broadcasters' wing of the Hall of Fame, and Kiner was inducted as a player in 1975. After the late 1970s, Murphy moved to radio full-time, while Kiner became part of the TV team; the past decade or so he has mostly worked either with Gary Thorne or, more recently, Gary Cohen.
Through it all -- including years on end of lousy baseball -- Murphy remained at all times the eternal optimist, the soul of a franchise whose stock in trade is the improbable comeback and the miracle team: "If Bruce Boisclair can get on here, Ron Hodges will come to the plate with the potential tying run on deck . . . " And he rarely had a harsh word for anyone, even the surly and despised Dave Kingman, who Murphy always referred to, most formally, as "David Arthur Kingman." Murphy always played it straight, as well: he's always left the analysis to the color man, preferring to just give you the game and the occasional anecdote to keep things moving. Just the same, you could always tell from the sound of his voice if the Mets were winning or losing, if a deep drive headed out of the ballpark was good news or bad. And if the Mets won, he would always announce the postgame show with, "and now, it's time for the happy recap." Probably Murphy's only regret as a Mets broadcaster, and one he has mentioned often on the air, is that the Mets never did get a no-hitter, despite some very close calls (especially by Tom Seaver).
Murphy is retiring after this season; although he can still call an entertaining game, you can hear him slipping on the air, and I'm sure he's tired of the travel. I'll miss him; he's been the voice of the Mets all my life, and for a variety of reasons I've listened to an awful lot of baseball on the radio over the years. Thanks for giving Mets fans everywhere hope. We'll need it.
September 12, 2003
BASEBALL: Head on over . . .
. . . to Redbird Nation, which has had some great posts this past week, including a look at great baseball names and a proposed system for measuring the drama of particular games.
BASEBALL: Mets Shortstops
With Jose Reyes out for the season, finishing at a more than respectable (for a 20-year-old shortstop) .307/.434/.334 with 13 steals in 16 attempts and 47 runs scored in 69 games, a pace for 30 steals and 110 runs. Reyes was totally overmatched early on, batting just .209 through July 11, but once he caught on, he hit an impressive .355/.486/.395 the rest of the way.
Reyes' propensity for hamstring injuries, combined with his season-ending ankle injury, are causes for concern. Still, given the history of Mets shortstops, you'd have to believe that he won't have to keep this up for very long at all to be the best the Mets have had at a position that has long been a sore spot for the franchise.
Well, to look at that question objectively, I took a look through Bill James' Win Shares book, as well as at online calculations for the 2002 and 2003 seasons. Through September 7, Reyes ranked fourth on the Mets with 12 Win Shares, which projects out to 28 if he could keep this up for a full season's worth of games. How does that stack up against Mets shortstops of the past? I looked at the shorstop with the most Win Shares for the Mets for each season of their history:
Bear in mind, here, that a Win Share is a third of a win, so an everyday player who's worth 10 Win Shares (just over 3 wins) isn't contributing all that much. Some observations:
*Average Win Shares, Mets starting shortstops: 9.83
*Total Win Shares, Mets starting shortstops over 42 seasons: 413. Total Win Shares, Robin Yount: 423.
*The Mets have twice won the National League pennant (1986, 2000) without a shortstop who contributed 3 wins to their bottom line.
*The single-season high is 19 by Bud Harrelson in 1971; Harrelson was a good player in his prime, with a good glove and decent plate discipline in a run-starved environment; you could fairly argue that he's the only good shortstop the Mets have ever had, and certainly over any sustained period of time. Reyes has a ways to go to match Harrelson's whole Mets career. But one more full season anything like this year, though, could well make him the best single-season shortstop in club history in short order.
*Vizcaino, in 1995, is the only shorstop to lead the Mets in Win Shares. Of course, when Jose Vizcaino is your best player, you aren't going anywhere.
*We won't mention Alex Rodriguez here.
September 10, 2003
BASEBALL: Leiting It Up
What's most impressive about Al Leiter's second-half surge isn't his ERA (1.60 compared to 5.57 in the first half) of even his W-L record (although it's pretty impressive to go 6-2 in 10 starts for this aimless Mets team), but the revival of his K/BB and HR numbers, from a dreadful 71/63 (with 11 HR in 97 IP) to 56/26 -- nearly a strikeout per inning -- and just 1 HR allowed in 62 innings. I can't tell from watching him what he's doing differently, but he really hasn't been the same pitcher.
September 9, 2003
BASEBALL: 75 Years Ago Today
This weekend's series between the Yankees and the Red Sox was a classic of the genre in one sense -- high tension, important games, surprising results -- and a dud in others, given that two of the games were entirely lopsided routs by the Sox.
Yankee Stadium has seen high drama before, and 75 years ago today was one of the most dramatic scenes ever set in the Bronx. Let's set the stage:
1. The Yankees
The Yankees, of course, had been a doormat of a franchise before the 1920 arrivals of Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel and the lively ball era, with an ignominious defeat by Boston in 1904 as the Yanks' only pennant race exposure. After a wild three-way race in 1920 (involving Ruth breaking his own single-season home run record in June, a deadly beaning by Yankee hurler Carl Mays in August and the September suspension of half the White Sox' lineup for fixing the World Series), the Yanks rose to win consecutive pennants in 1921-22 (losing in the Fall Classic to the rival Giants), and christened their new stadium with a World Championship in 1923. After setbacks in 1924-25, the Yanks won the pennant in 1926 (losing a 7-game series to the Cardinals), and then put on a legendary show of dominance in 1927: 110 wins, first place from Opening Day to the clincher on Labor Day, out-homering their opponents 158-42, a .307 team batting average and a 3.20 team ERA, scoring 6.33 runs/game and allowing 3.89 runs/game. As I've noted previously, the 1927 Yankees were the greatest slugging team in modern (post-1888) baseball history, with the Ruth/Gehrig/Meusel/Lazzeri/Combs "Murderer's Row" blasting opponents into submission. They cemented their place in the firmament with a sweep of the Pirates in the World Series.
1928 . . . the Yankees roared out of the gate at a 39-8 clip, and through a July 1 doubleheader sweep of the A's, they looked every bit as devastating as they'd been in 1927: 52-16, a .765 winning percentage (a pace to finish 8 games ahead of their 110 wins in 1927), and a 13.5 game lead in the American League. The Yanks were scoring 6.49 runs/game while allowing 4.24. George Pipgras, the weak link in the Yankees' pitching staff in 1927 (10-3, 4.11 ERA), had won 14 games already (Pipgras was 8-1 at the end of May), a 32-win pace; Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock had won 10 apiece, rookie Al Shealy had won 7, 22-year-old rookie Hank Johnson 5, and newly acquired veteran Stan Coveleski 5.
The new acquisitions were important because the Yanks couldn't rely on three mainstays of the 1927 staff. 33-year-old Dutch Ruether, a hard-drinking veteran, had been let go before the season, to be replaced by Coveleski. Sidearming swingman Wilcy Moore, who'd won 19 games and saved 13 with a 2.28 ERA as a 30-year-old rookie in 1927, came down with a sore arm (50 games and 213 innings split between starting and releiving will do that); Moore threw just 60.1 innings in 1928 with a 4.18 ERA (the league ERA was 4.04, down slightly from 1927). Worst of all was Urban Shocker, one of the AL's best pitchers in the 1920s (his average record from 1920-27 was 20-12) and 18-6 with a 2.84 ERA in 1927; Shocker, suffering chest pains so severe he couldn't sleep lying down, had to be released by the Yankees July 6 having made just one appearance, so he could move to the thin air of Denver in hopes of regaining his health.
From July 2 through September 8, though, the Bronx Bombers just weren't the same team, going just 36-31 as they frittered away their lead. As the season wore on, the pitching depth evaporated: Shealy and Coveleski won just 1 more game all season between them. Pipgras also slowed down, highlighted by a 24-6 loss in Cleveland on July 29 and -- amazingly -- a 4-2 loss when Pipgras returned to start against the Indians again the next day. But the real problems were on the offensive side; the pitching was actually better in this period (allowing 4.00 runs/game), but the offense fell off badly, to 4.25 runs/game. I don't have dates for the injury, but Tony Lazzeri, who batted .332 and slugged .535 with a .397 OBP, separated his shoulder and wound up missing 37 games, in which the Yankees went with rookie Leo Durocher at second; Leo's bat couldn't keep up with his glove or his mouth, and he managed to slug just .338 with a .327 OBP, both figures below the league average. Bob Meusel fell off from .337 in 1927 to .297 and missed some games, and Earle Combs and the catchers were off as well. On the other hand, the Babe cracked 24 home runs between May 29 and August 1, and Gehrig batted .374, so neither of them seems to have faded much in the summer sun. Growing worried, the Yankees started to turn over the roster in late summer, bringing in rookie catcher Bill Dickey on August 15 and veteran Senators starter Tom Zachry (who'd surrendered Ruth's 60th homer the year before) on August 23.
2. The A's
If the Yankees had risen to dominance in the 1920s, the A's were still recovering from falling on hard times. One of the dominant franchises from the AL's 1901 founding until Connie Mack's 1914 fire sale, the A's crawled up from 7 straight last place finishes to become a perennial also-ran in the pennant races from 1925-27. 1928 looked the same, as the A's rolled out to a workmanlike 39-30 start, good for a respectable second place to the mighty Yankees. This was one of the strangest teams ever assembled. The young talent was astonishing and already in its prime: Jimmie Foxx was just 20, but Al Simmons was 26, Mickey Cochrane 25, Max Bishop 28, Mule Haas 24, Lefty Grove and George Earnshaw 28. But then there were the super-veterans: Ty Cobb, acquired the previous season (when he'd played regularly and batted .357), was 41; new acquisition Tris Speaker was 40; Eddie Collins, in his second season back in Philly, was 41; ageless pitcher Jack Quinn was 44 (Quinn would pitch until he was 49).
Mack intended to open the season with Simmons in center field and Cobb and Speaker at the corners, but spring training made clear that this would be a defensive disaster; Bill James, in the Historical Abstract, quoted a writer at the time who remarked that Cobb couldn't come in, and Speaker (once the greatest of defensive players) couldn't go back. Simmons was hospitalized with tonsilitis and swollen ankles to start the season, an inauspicious beginning.
Speaker left the lineup for good after a May 21 collision in the outfield with Bing Miller, and Cobb -- hitting .332 at the time and still playing daring baseball on the basepaths -- followed suit after being hit by a pitch on July 27. Meanwhile, Simmons had taken Speaker's place, and Mack worked Foxx into the lineup more as the season progressed, first as essentially a utility player at first, third and even (on 19 occasions) catcher, and ultimately as the everyday third baseman while Jimmy Dykes platooned at first with former minor league slugging legend Joe Hauser.
After the doubleheader sweep on July 1, the A's caught fire in a very big way, going 50-17 heading into their September showdown with the Yankees. While the offense surged from 5.26 to 5.81 runs/game, it was the A's' pitching that really made magic, cutting the team's runs allowed per game from 4.62 to 3.37. Through July 1, the A's were basically leaning on 3 pitchers: Quinn had 9 wins, Grove and Rube Walberg 8 each, with 5 wins for Howard Ehmke, 4 for Ossie Orwoll (who doubled as a part of the first base mix when Hauser and Dykes were injured in late August), and 3 for knuckleballer Eddie Rommel. When the A's got hot, though, Grove was ascendent, winning 14 in a row, including all 13 starts in this stretch. Here's the breakdown of the A's record in each of the pitchers' starts (including Grove's and Rommel's wins in relief):
(I'm leaving out a few spot starts). As you can see, Grove's hot streak wasn't a coincidence; he was the one who really carried the team, along with Quinn and Rommel -- the team was a combined 26-2 and allowed 2.5 runs/game in their starts during the run, while Grove and Rommel won 6 games in relief in this period. The emergence of Earnshaw, who was purchased from the minor league Baltimore Orioles May 28 and didn't win a game before July 1, was also a factor, replacing the ineffective Orwoll in the rotation (Orwoll started just once, in a doubleheader on September 8).
By the morning of Sunday, September 9, the Yankees' lead was gone, and the A's stood at 89-47, a half game ahead of the Yankees at 88-47. The new upstarts had taken the champs by storm, setting the stage for an epic doubleheader at Yankee Stadium to kick off a four-game series.
3. The Scene
As reported in various sources, 85,265 people crammed into Yankee Stadium that afternoon to watch these two titanic teams, loaded to the gills with baseball immortals, grapple for the pennant. Although I'm not sure if the news had reached New York, the drama was underscored by the fact that Shocker died that day in Denver, from what was later revealed to be a severely enlarged heart (he was 38).
The first game, matching Quinn and Pipgras, was something of an anticlimax, as Pipgras tossed a shutout to win 5-0. The second featured a less exciting pitching matchup of Walberg and Fred Heimach, but the two teams took no chances, with Rommel relieving on just one day's rest (he started September 7) for the A's, and Waite Hoyt doing the same for the Yankees. The Yankees took advantage, with Meusel -- on a hot streak by then -- cracking a grand slam in the 8th off Rommel for a stirring 7-3 victory. After a day off on Monday, the teams matched up again on Tuesday, September 11, Grove against Hank Johnson, but the Yankees beat Grove 5-3 on Babe Ruth's 49th home run, a 2-run shot in the 8th (for the season, the Yankees were 6-1 against Grove, who was 24-8 overall, which helps explain why he didn't draw a single MVP vote). The A's beat Hoyt the next day, but the damage was done, the tide turned back, and the Yankees cruised the rest of the way (and went on to sweep the Cardinals in a massively lopsided World Series) while the A's stumbled through the rest of their season-ending 24-game road trip.
The A's would have the last laugh, winning the next 3 pennants and two World Championships while the Yankees' pitching unraveled over the next 3 seasons. But on September 9, 1928, it was the Bronx Bombers who held the day in one of baseball's great pennant race showdowns.
SOURCES: Some of the material here was taken from Retrosheet, baseball-almanac.com, baseball-reference.com, baseball-library.com, the Historical Baseball Abstract, Baseball Dynasties, and Charles Alexander's bio of Ty Cobb.
September 7, 2003
BASEBALL: The Pickoff Face
Ever notice how, when they cut to the pitcher making a pickoff throw, you can see it in his face if he's got the guy dead to rights? It was clear as day on Al Leiter's face tonight when he nailed Marlon Byrd.
September 4, 2003
BASEBALL: From the Department of Bitter Ironies
Carlos Baerga is batting .339 for the Diamondbacks.
Rey Sanchez is batting .352 for the Mariners.
Rey Ordonez was hitting .316 for the Devil Rays before he got hurt.
Armando Benitez has a 1.77 ERA and hasn't allowed a home run since going over to the AL.
And Mike Stanton, he of all that Yankee glory, is now 2-6 with a 4.91 ERA.
September 2, 2003
BASEBALL: Team Defense In Flux
If defense in general and team defensive efficiency in particular is an under-reported phenomenon in baseball (at least, under-accurately reported), then in-season changes in team defensive efficiency is really invisible. Let's see if we can remedy that a little.
On July 7 (about a week before the All-Star break, roughly 86-88 games into the season), I decided to take a look at the Baseball Prospectus numbers for team defensive efficiency (i.e., number of balls in play becoming outs), which update daily. Here's where they stood at that point, leaguewide and by team:
Defensive Efficiency Report -- Updated 07-JUL-03
All stats courtesy of Baseball Prospectus; you can check out the current reports here. Without reprinting those in their entirety, I can see a few major trends:
*The AL as a whole is down from .7102 to .7088 (.7062 for the second half), a rather dramatic falloff in this context.
*Large drops (comparing 1st half to current percentage):
Angels, .7242 to .7147
Orioles .6876 to .6970
I'll admit that I couldn't spot a clear pattern that would tie the shifts to personnel changes in the second half, although obviously some of these teams have changed some starters. It is true that some of the teams showing improvement are out of the pennant race. But the trendlines for a number of teams have shifted, and with them can go their fortunes.
P.S., Hopefully the Prospectus guys will include in-season breakdowns as their premium site brings in more revenue to support the kind of stat sorting that is routine on the bigger sites.
August 29, 2003
BASEBALL: Giles for Perez
I honestly don't know enough about Oliver Perez -- beyond the fact that he's a young pitcher with high strikeout rates but little or no success thus far at the major league level -- to really evaluate the Pirates' deal of Brian Giles to San Diego, with Perez as the chief consideration in return. But to be fair to the Pirates, remember this:
*The Pirates aren't any good and won't be any good for a few more years;
*Giles will be 33 next season, and will never be more marketable.
For all that, I'm suspicious of trading a superstar-level hitter principally for an unproven young pitcher. And you have to conclude this: the deal is a dramatic no-confidence vote in Pittsburgh's young starting rotation. A team that thought Josh Fogg and Kip Wells and Kris Benson were going to be the anchors of a good rotation would not make this deal. (In Benson's case, pessimism is clearly warranted by his season-ending shoulder injury).
August 27, 2003
BASEBALL: Batting Third, Timo Perez . . .
No, never mind, I'm not ready to talk about that.
BASEBALL: Some People Tell Me Walkin' Cruz Ain't Bad
Just whenever you are ready to think that plate patience and strike zone judgment (the two are not the same thing) can't be taught, a player with a couple years' experience becomes a teammate of a guy like Barry Bonds or Rickey Henderson or Edgar Martinez, and a light goes on (or back on). Witness Jose Cruz (still depicted by ESPN in a Blue Jays hat), who after drawing a decent number of walks in 1999-2000 drew just 45 and 51 as an everyday player in 2001 & 2002, respectively. This season: 445 at bats, 83 walks, which helped make Cruz a big part of the Giants' early success.
Lately, while he's kept walking, Cruz has stopped hitting, batting .216 and slugging .289 since the All-Star break. In fact, since May 11, he's batting .243 and slugging just .399. But his season OBP remains a respectable .364.
BASEBALL: On the Nose
Entering last night's action, Jeff Bagwell's lifetime batting average stood at as precisely .300 as it gets: 2100 career hits in 7000 at bats. (Bagwell went 2 for 3, so he's still above the line).
August 25, 2003
BASEBALL: The Wisdom of Joe Schultz
As I've mentioned, I'm currently reading Ball Four. If you've read the book or are otherwise interested in the short, unhappy life of the Seattle Pilots, you can check out this link for audio of in-season radio interviews with the Pilots' incisive, forward-thinking manager, Joe Schultz.
BASEBALL: Corner Turned?
Has Alfonso Soriano righted the ship? Soriano started this season even hotter than last, and even I -- a long-time skeptic of Soriano -- was starting to think he was really that good. 28 games into the season, he was batting .378, and even drawing a decent number of walks. But I should have remembered that this is precisely what often happens to guys who have big breakout seasons: a month or so in, they look even better before it all unravels. After May 1, Soriano just coasted on that early hot streak, to the point where Joe Torre benched Soriano for consecutive games in Texas August 6-7 (and for a hitter, what harsher punishment is there than being benched against the Rangers?). Here's the breakdown:
Well, it's better, anyway. But viewing Soriano as a .300-hitting, top-of-the-order, MVP-candidate type of player may have always been a one-year wonder.
Read More Â»
UPDATE: I'm trying, but I don't know where those > marks keep coming from, so I can't get rid of them. UPDATE AGAIN: I'm trying David Pinto's suggestion from the comments. I haven't had this problem with tables before. THIRD UPDATE: The second commenter spotted the real problem, which was that I had extra carets in the table, which replicated as I was copy/pasting the HTML coding for the table (I can do tech, but only by rote).
Â« Close It
August 24, 2003
BASEBALL: Rethinking a Rethinking
Dr. Manhattan notes something I'd thought about myself: that Tom Tippett's analysis of balls in play against pitchers (which I noted here) -- which concluded that at least some pitchers do have an effect on balls in play, in a revision to Voros McCracken's groundbreaking theory -- is significant because many of the recent advances in fielding statistics have been premised upon the idea that the fielders alone control a team's overall rate of hits on balls in play.
Of course, still absent (I think) from a lot of the analyses of defensive stats is the other wild card: park effects. Until we make sense of the components of park effects, we can't really unravel the balance between pitchers and fielders on balls in play.
August 22, 2003
BASEBALL: Harden Times
Reports of Rich Harden's easy dominance of the American League have been premature; Harden got shelled last night by the Red Sox even after extra rest for a tired arm. With Ted Lilly getting clocked in his last start, Tim Hudson getting drilled with a line drive and now Mark Mulder on the 15-day DL, the A's starting pitching is more vulnerable than it's been in some time.
August 21, 2003
BASEBALL: Baseball's Blair
The Sacramento Bee has fired a reporter who did a story that appeared to be, but wasn't, filed from the ballpark, with quotes from other sources. Of course, those quotes are mostly useless and writing stories from the telecast isn't that far from the days when regional reporters would broadcast from ticker reports -- but the point is, the guy was giving a false impression that the paper couldn't tolerate.
At least somebody's checking these things now.
BASEBALL: Baseball Websites
One of my pet peeves is the status of major baseball websites (the news sites, not the commentary/analysis sites). Maybe I just go to the wrong sites -- I tend to frequent ESPN's MLB page, CBSSportsline, and sometimes CNNSI's baseball page or USAToday's. A couple of common complaints:
1. Popup ads.
I'm not someone who will boycott sites with popups, but a battery of popups makes it much less likely that I'll make a site a daily read, or drop by there to pick up a quick piece of information. Even for active players, I much prefer to get stats (other than current-year stats) from Baseball-Reference.com, which loads quickly, searches easily and lacks popups.
2. No Standings on the Front Page
Standings are the lifeblood of Major League Baseball, even moreso than box scores. There's no reason you shouldn't see a sidebar on the front page with the divisional and Wild Card standings. (The latter is particularly important, yet also neglected by many newspapers, even though (1) it impacts many more teams' playoff chances and (2) the wild card race is often both close and complicated, so the average fan may not have the standings straight in his head). CBSSPortsline even makes room for its "power rankings" on the front page, but no standings.
3. Difficulty Searching for Stats
Again, both baseball-reference.com and some of the rotisserie-themed sites beat the major operators here; on ESPN.com, you have to click through several pages to get to where you can pull up an individual player's stats, whereas BR.com lets you run a name search from the front page. Advantage: Sean Forman.
* * *
Both ESPN and CNNSI have moved in the direction of making the front page look more like a magazine cover, with a big headline and picture. But a webpage should open with the table of contents, not the cover, with lots of links to the information you want. I could go on -- maybe some other day I'll critique the actual stat pages, which each have their pluses and minuses -- but the main point here is that baseball websites simply don't seem to be designed with the people who use them in mind. That's a shame.
August 14, 2003
BASEBALL: Fun With Statistics
Esteban Yan got a hit in his only at bat this season -- lowering his career slugging average by 1500 points. Yan, who had never batted in the minor leagues either, hit a home run in his first major league at bat in 2000. His batting line now reads 1.000/2.500/1.000.
August 12, 2003
BASEBALL: As Night Follows Day
Overheard on tonight's Mets broadcast:
Gary Cohen, 7:55 p.m.: "With a 3-run lead, one out and nobody on base, it looks like Aaron Heilman will pitch to Barry Bonds. It might be the only time we see him pitched to all night."
Bob Murphy, less than ten seconds later: "There it goes!"
I'm still loading the old columns up; for the historically minded, here's my analysis from three years ago yesterday of the Hall of Fame's selection of Bid McPhee (Hall of Fame columns rarely get dated). For more, you can always browse the "Baseball Columns" category, and I'm overdue to add some of the more lasting ones to the sidebar.
BASEBALL: For Sale
Dan Lewis is hawking some amusing T-Shirts and stuff over at his site, including what appears to be Mr. Met with the slogan, "I'd go to the ballpark . . . but it's easier to cry at home".
BASEBALL: Cardinals Heaven
Brian Gunn over at Redbird Nation is reliving the ups (and downs) of the St. Louis Cardinals Baseball Club over the past 25 years or so; you can catch part one here and part two here. It's a great read.
I'm not ready yet to talk rationally about 1987.
August 11, 2003
BASEBALL: Saves Interruptus
I guess the All-Star Game doesn't count against Eric Gagne's save streak.
August 10, 2003
BASEBALL: Rehab Update
Looks like Mike Piazza needs more time to nurse his groin. Er, or something like that; actually, he seems more concerned about getting back to game shape. No need to hurry -- the Mets are going nowhere with or without him, so he might as well come back 100%.
August 8, 2003
POLITICS/BASEBALL: That Face!
(OK, not everyone's going to get that joke. Actually, I've been reading Jim Bouton's Ball Four -- for the first time, it will surprise some of you to learn -- and Bouton describes Mossi as looking "like a cab going down the street with its doors open")
BASEBALL: Duffy's Cliff
The Mets announcers were in high dudgeon the last two nights over the hill in Minute Maid Field -- comparing it to a mini golf obstacle -- after Timo Perez almost got hurt chasing a fly ball up the hill. Ted Robinson compared it to the old Crosley Field in Cincinnati, which had a slight incline in center. But the better analogy is to Duffy's Cliff. As MLB's Red Sox site explains:
What was Duffy's Cliff?
In 1934, Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey arranged to flatten the ground in left field so that Duffy's Cliff no longer existed and became part of the lore of Fenway Park.
Out on Cape Cod when I was in college we met an old man who remembered Duffy's Cliff; he said it was really quite a hill to have to scale on the fly. Must've been quite a sight.
BASEBALL: The Brockton Bomber
Baseball Nerds has a look at Letterman sidekick Biff Henderson's turn at bat for the Brockton Rox of the Northeast League. While I'm at it, if you're looking for some D-Backs blogging, you can check out Wil Everts (also of Baseball Nerds) at his blog.
BASEBALL: The Next Generation
So, I was out in the back yard (such as it is) with my 6-year-old son a good part of last weekend, working on his swing. Every male baseball fan starts this early with his sons, and it's frustrating because we all start too early. I remember when he wasn't two yet, and we had him hitting from his knees with a fat bat off a wobbly Fisher-Price tee and we all shouted "yay" whenever he hit the ball. His response: "More yay!" Well, he is my son.
Now, he's old enough; I was pitching to him and letting him pitch to me. One of the oddities of playing whiffle ball with a 6-year-old . . . ordinarily, you don't want to dive too far for a pitch because you can't get enough force behind it when you're swinging off balance. But here I had the opposite problem: when you swing level at a pitch in your wheelhouse, you can slow the bat down and make sure you don't hit it too hard. But when you swing at a pitch in the dirt, you're hacking to make contact, so you can't really do that. Unfortunately, one such swing came on a pitch where (as often happens at his age), his delivery turned him around 180 degrees. Result: line drive off the back of his head. That ended Saturday's session, but he came back Sunday and had to be dragged back into the house. Progress.
All I really want is to make sure he can play competently enough to enjoy Little League. Much in contrast to my own experience. For all my enthusiasm for the game, I spent a grand total of one season in organized baseball, in the town recreational "T-Shirt" league (team: the West Nyack Whales), the league where they let everyone play no matter how bad they are. One day we got no-hit by a kid who looked about 12 (this was the 9-year-olds league). We went 1-8 in a 9-Saturday season, and due to a combination of bad eyesight and horrendous hand-eye coordination (I'm no good at video games, for the same reason) I never even managed a foul ball. My only skill was getting hit by pitches; I was drilled 5 times in the first 7 games, although I did at least score a run to contribute to our only win after getting hit in the head.
That ended my hardball career; I played some intramural softball in college, not well but not quite as badly (I got the occasional hit). I'm hoping my son can at least get more out of playing the game than that.
August 7, 2003
BASEBALL: Bring That Kid Up!
The Mets announcers just reported that Mike Piazza hit a 2-run homer in the 9th inning tonight in Norfolk.
BASEBALL: Jason Giambi, Gold Glover?
Looking through the graphs of in-season Win Shares through August 2, 2003, I noticed something really odd: Dodgers shortstop Cesar Izturis is credited with 7.11 Win Shares, all of them in the field. I wonder what player holds the record for most Win Shares in a season entirely from defense. All I could find on this in Bill James' book was that Bill Bergen was the last regular player to regularly have no offensive Win Shares in a season.
I thought I'd look more closely at who the system rates as the best defensive player at each position in each league, both cumulatively and per inning (with more than 100 innings):
Jason Giambi? Terrence Long? I think maybe I need a little more convincing on the merits of the defensive system.
BASEBALL: Welcome, Worn Out
Well, it took Armando Benitez a lot less time to wear out his welcome in the Bronx than it did in Baltimore or Queens. Of course, the Yankees get double the pleasure by sending Benitez to a team (Seattle, for Jeff Nelson) that they are likely to face in October. The fact that Benitez cleared waivers doesn't exactly bode well for his price on the free agent market this off-season.
ESPN is surprised that Benitez got traded, but citing Benitez' 1.93 ERA is rather deceptive, since he's allowed as many unearned as earned runs, and has allowed 6 walks (and 8 hits) in 9.1 IP with the Yanks.
Nelson's been much tougher: 37.2 IP, 47 K, 14 BB, 3 HR. He's allowed more hits than in the past, but that's something he has less control over. Yankees 1, idiots who blasted Pat Gillick for not making trades just for the sake of making trades, 0.
BASEBALL: Stan Gets Some Love
Jeff Merron's list of the most underrated athletes of all time properly picks Stan Musial to head up the list; I've written before on this topic. Bill James:
He was never colorful, never much of an interview. He makes a better statue. What he was was a ballplayer. He didn't spit at fans, he didn't get into fights in nightclubs, he didn't marry anybody famous. He hustled. You look at his career totals of doubles and triples, and they'll remind you of something that was accepted while he was still active, and has been largely forgotten since: Stan Musial was one player who always left the batter's box on a dead run.
I'd also agree with Merron's James-inspired choices of Arky Vaughn and Lefty Grove, but not with Goose Gossage; the Goose should be in Cooperstown, yes, but there are others more deserving, and others in the Hall whose memories have faded to a greater extent.
POLITICS/BASEBALL: Straight Talk?
I knew there was a reason I still like the guy: John McCain's recommended summer reading list includes "Moneyball." (It also includes Margaret Carlson's book; McCain understands that the way to the Beltway press corps' heart is to plug their books on a national radio show). Then there's his latest "Pork Report":
From the Defense Appropriations Bill:
*$12 million for the 21st Century Truck. This program has been around for years and not once has the Department of Defense requested funding for it. While I'm sure we all would love to jump into a truck that could be in a James Bond movie, I'm not sure it is appropriate for the Department of Defense to pay for it.
*$3.4 million for the Next Generation Smart Truck. I suppose this is what we will drive before the 21st Century Truck is ready.
James Taranto has rightly wondered whether politicians can blog, but McCain is one of the few who at least has the right attitude: he's contrarian, he's sarcastic, he speaks before he thinks, and he doesn't much care who he offends. Come to think of it, those are the same reasons why he unraveled as a presidential candidate.
Now if only he'd renounce his support for Shoeless Joe Jackson . . .
August 5, 2003
BASEBALL: One-Two Punch
You can pick a number of candidates for glory in the White Sox recent run, but the leading ones have to be Carlos Lee and Paul Konerko. Since June 24, Lee is batting .322/.611/.348 (compared to .255/.431/.314) and has driven in 33 runs in 37 games; Konerko, who slumbered through the season's first three months at a .185/.265/.260 pace, has batted .341/.671/.372 with 25 RBI in 30 games since July 1.
BASEBALL: New Home
John Perricone moves to a new home; check it out. Now, if he could only get rid of that bar at the bottom.
August 2, 2003
BASEBALL: Dan Duquette Sings!
In "Damn Yankees," of course. It's probably more entertaining than Don Zimmer's hemorrhoid commercials.
BASEBALL: Seo Long
Rough start for Jae Seo today; the home run to JD Drew following the grand slam by Bo Hart was a classic example of a young pitcher throwing another pitch before getting his composure together after giving up a big blow.
August 1, 2003
BASEBALL: Barry and the Babe
So Barry Bonds gets cocky about Babe Ruth; I guess nobody warned him what happened to Pedro when he did the same thing (hint: there was a D involved. And an L.) And some people want to argue that Bonds really is better than Ruth was.
Well, Bonds is putting together a nice resume. But, even if you put aside more sophisticated measurements like Win Shares (entering last season, Ruth led 756 to 523, leaving Bonds quite a ways to go even counting some 60-70 Win Shares since then), let's keep a little perspective here:
1. Batting Average:
Babe Ruth - .342 Career average.
Barry Bonds - .295 career average, 16 consecutive seasons batting below .342, 1 season batting above .342.
2. Slugging Average:
Babe Ruth - .690
Barry Bonds - .595 career average, 15 consecutive seasons slugging below .690, 2 seasons slugging above .690.
3. On Base Percentage:
Babe Ruth - .474
Barry Bonds - .428 career average, 15 consecutive seasons w/OBP below .474, 2 seasons w/OBP above .474.
(Yes, I know about the differences in offensive context, but believe me; it doesn't bridge that gap. And talk to me when Bonds has had a season like 1916, when Ruth won an ERA title, won 23 games, threw 9 shutouts, pitched a 14-inning 2-1 victory in the World Series and, for good measure, cracked 3 home runs in a season when he threw 323.2 innings without allowing a batter to go deep on him even once).
BASEBALL: Why Call Robin?
Fun fact, for those of you still scratcing your heads over why the Dodgers would trade for Robin Ventura: Adrian Beltre has gone hitless 49 times this season, including 23 times in 42 games against the rest of the NL West. I don't have comparison stats, but that seems like a lot of ofers to watch without losing faith in a guy.
Beltre's batting .440, slugging .600 and has a .462 OBP in 6 games this year at Coors Field; in the other 36 games against NL West opponents, here's his line:
Stuff like that is hard to sit through. As for the Yankees' acquisition of Aaron Boone, it's worth noting that Boone's OBP (.339) is actually slightly lower than Ventura's (.344), and Boone's was .314 last season. Clearly, though, the Yankees are looking to Boone for power.
July 31, 2003
BASEBALL: Barra Whiffs Again
The normally sensible Allen Barra bemoans the lack of young superstars in the game compared to 9 years ago. Of course, you don't have a crop of young talent like that all the time. This isn't as dumb as Barra's prior version of this article for Slate, but how you can write about the dearth of young talent in the game and ask "Where Have You Gone, All You Young Joe DiMaggios?" without once mentioning the name Vladimir Guerrero is beyond me. And cut the crap about no potential 300-game winners; between 1912 and 1961 (that's 50 years, if you're counting at home), only three pitchers broke in who would win 300 games (Lefty Grove in 1925, Early Wynn in 1939, and Warren Spahn in 1942; the game didn't debut a 300-game winner for almost 20 years between Spahn and Gaylord Perry in 1962).
A's get Jose Guillen. Although he looked promising when he first came up, due mostly to his reported youth, I'd mostly soured on Guillen before this year, since he'll swing at anything and he's been stuck in reverse since he arrived in the league. Interesting that the A's picked him up after a hot first half he's unlikely to build on, but he doesn't have to hit .337 to help, he just has to outhit Terrence Long. Plus, he's got a cannon of an arm.
BASEBALL: More, More, More
Aside from the merits of the deal, one thing I like about the Red Sox' acquisition of Scott Williamson is the attitude behind it -- the greed and audacity the Sox will need to learn from Steinbrenner if they're going to keep pace with him over the long haul. Think about it: the Sox had given up a productive everyday player (Shea Hillenbrand) to get the guy who's now their closer, and both Byun-Hyung Kim and the bullpen as a whole have pitched well since he was installed as the closer. But rather than say, "our bullpen's pitching well now, we don't have to worry about it," the Sox went out and brought in another accomplished high-end reliever. That's how you stop thinking "Wild Card" and start thinking "spray champagne on Bud Selig."
July 30, 2003
BASEBALL: Slugging Sox
Through Monday night, the Red Sox -- as a team -- are slugging .501. No major league team has ever slugged .500 before. The team slugging average record is a prestigious one; the record is currently held by the original "Murderers' Row," the 1927 Yankees, who slugged .489.
But of course, raw slugging averages aren't everything; slugging averages have varied widely over the years, from a low league average of around .300 in the pit of the dead-ball era to a high of almost .450 in the NL of 1930 and the AL of the late 1990s.
So, if you divide a team's slugging average by the league's slugging average, you get a relative number -- how much above or below the league a team is. Now, let's see how the 2003 Sox stack up to the all-time leaders; I've listed every team that finished 15% or better above the league average:
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Like a lot of "relative to the league" lists, this list is dominated by 19th century teams, some of them from short-season leagues (less than 120 games) and/or leagues of dubious "Major League" status like the Union Association or the National Association (which is not officially classified as a "major" league). There are also some severe park effects at work. So let's re-run the list with just the teams from after 1888, and for good measure we'll leave off the Coors Field teams:
Now, we're talking about a much more exclusive club -- this list is a who's who of famous great teams, including three Ruth/Gehrig Yankee teams. The 1927 Yankees, of course, were just playing a different game from everyone else. The surprise entry is the 1965 Reds, the last year for Frank Robinson in Cincinnati and Vada Pinson's last big year, as well as Pete Rose's breakout season, the rookie season of Tony Perez and a career year from Deron Johnson, who drove in 130 runs. (For Sox fans who are wondering, the 1977 "Crunch Bunch" just missed the list, at 14.8% over the league). If these Red Sox can keep up with this crowd, they're in excellent company.
UPDATE (Through 2004 season): The 2003 Red Sox slid to a .491 slugging percentage at the end of 2003, breaking the 1927 Yankees' record but falling short (compared to a league average of .428) of the 15%-above-the-league threshold to earn a place on the chart above.
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BASEBALL: The Traders
Nice column by Buster Olney on the personal dynamics of deadline deals between GMs. The column is a reminder of what a jerk Dan Duquette could be, and why it was bad business for Billy Beane to let Moneyball be written; it's also, come to think of it, a reminder of why the NY Times was so mismanaged lately as to let Olney leave when he was one of the few sportswriters at the Times who wasn't a hidebound old codger. My favorite vignette:
Dan Duquette, the former Boston GM, infuriated his peers by not returning phone calls, and sometimes, when he did return calls, Duquette remained silent -- a passive-aggressive approach, [Padres GM Kevin] Towers thought. The other GM would feel compelled to fill the uncomfortable silence and surrender more information that Duquette might use. Towers decided to wait out Duquette's silence one day. Each man was on a speakerphone, and when Duquette stopped talking, so did Towers, for more than 10 minutes.
"Kevin, you there?" Duquette finally asked.
"Yeah, Dan, I'm here," said Towers, feeling a small sense of accomplishment.
July 29, 2003
BASEBALL: DIPS Revised
Tom Tippett at Diamond Mind Baseball had an important article last week looking closely at hits on balls in play and concluding that some pitchers, at least, have more control over them than Voros McCracken's initial studies revealed. This isn't shocking news; McCracken's own research and that of others has already backtracked from the extreme position that pitchers have no effect on hits on balls in play, and Tippett's research still makes clear that -- at least in modern baseball -- the pitcher is usually not the driving factor in BABIP. (The conclusions are different for guys like Walter Johnson and Pete Alexander, who appear to have had more control over hits on balls in play).
Read the whole article. There's also been a bustling discussion of this over at the Baseball Primer.
BASEBALL: Deja Pedro
With 18 starts down, Pedro Martinez now has the exact number of starts and innings as in his injury-shortened 2001 season. How does his performance stack up?
July 27, 2003
BASEBALL: More on Wiley
I've been remiss in not adding a link on my blogroll to Eric McErlain's Off-Wing Opinion, a site with a similar baseball and political bent to this one. McErlain has a bunch of links (including a link to this site) elaborating on recent controversies about sabermetrics and race, including a half-hearted attempt by Ralph Wiley to deny that his charge of racism against Bill James was a serious thing. What's scary is that Wiley apparently tosses around these charges so often that he doesn't think it matters that he made the charge without bothering to look at the facts.
July 23, 2003
BASEBALL: Old Man Bronx River
Jesse Orosco joins Armando Benitez in the Yankee bullpen. Which should help; Orosco's uses are limited to 1-2 lefty batters and he hasn't pitched well this season, but his performance in recent years suggests he can still help in a pinch.
The Yankee pitching staff when Orosco was a rookie:
SP Tommy John
CL Rich Gossage
Also, if you haven't checked it out, John Sickles of ESPN has a good rundown on the prospects dealt thus far this trade season.
July 22, 2003
BASEBALL: Cool Site
July 20, 2003
BASEBALL: Minor League Development
Dayn Perry at Baseball Prospectus looks at the minor league pitching careers of good and bad major league pitchers and finds little difference in quality, but that the bad ones spent more time in the minors. In short, a study that raises more questions than it answers. He notes that he excluded late-career returns to the minors, but I can't shake the feeling that some of the bad ones had good numbers because unlike the good ones, their subpar stuff kept them in the minors after they'd learned how to pitch.
BASEBALL: Kielty for Stewart
Like most people, I had the whipsaw effect on the Twins dealing Bobby Kielty for Shannon Stewart: my gut reaction was, "that's a good deal, Stewart's a .300 hitting leadoff man in his prime and Kielty's not really established himself as a regular," but once I sat down to look at the numbers, it became obvious that the Jays (and Billy Beane disciple J.P. Ricciardi) got the better end of the deal. Kielty's already a similar hitter, and he's 3 years younger and a lot cheaper, while Stewart can't throw and has the kind of offensive skill set (does a little of everything well but nothing outstandingly well) that ages badly.
*Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system rates the most comparable player to Stewart as Carl Furillo (obviously, PECOTA doesn't consider outfield assists), and Furillo batted .344 two years later. But the list does include a number of guys (including Derek Bell, Bernard Gilkey, Al Cowens, Harvey Kuenn, and Hoot Evers) who were at or near the end of the productive part of their careers. Kielty's are more ambiguous and less similar, but do include some guys like Leon Wagner and Bernie Williams who were just entering powerhouse primes.
*Gleeman runs averages, but I thought I'd do Established Performance Levels for the two for 2001-03. For the uninitiated, EPL for, say, hits for 2000-02 would be (((H in 2000) + ((H in 2001)*2) + ((H in 2002)*3))/6. You have to prorate the formula a little when you use the season in progress, though (I just divide by, say, 4.5 if we're at the absolute halfway mark, or a number similarly adjusted for (Team Games)/162
Here's Stewart and Kielty for 2001-03:
As you can see, it's not completely crazy for a contending team to prefer Stewart, who's more established and puts the ball in play a lot more. But Kielty's already a better hitter, and consider the trendline: maybe this is just Ricciardi's management looking down on steals, but Stewart's steals vs. his GIDP have dropped from 27-9, to 14-17, to 1-6, which suggests a guy who's losing a step.
But who beat the Twins in the ALCS last year? The Angels. What do the Angels do well? Put the ball in play. Fighting the last war . . .
July 19, 2003
BASEBALL: Ballpark Weather
July 18, 2003
BASEBALL: 2003 Mid-Year A.L. East DIPS Report
Here's the fourth in my series of posts analyzing pitching staffs through Defense Independent Pitching Stats; see here for an explanation and my report on the NL East, here for my report on the NL Central and a few more notes on the method, and here for my report on the N.L. West. In short, DIPS is is intended to tell you how a pitcher would perform if an average number of balls in play against him were turned into outs by his defense; I'm using the rougher formula for quick in-season analysis, and as I've explained before it appears that the formula is more accurate for A.L. pitchers. Today: the A.L. East. All stats through the All-Star Break:
The Hated Yankees
The top guys' DIPS ERAs are pretty much in line with actual ERAs. The rest of the numbers tell us one thing we already knew -- the Yankee defense isn't good -- and one thing that was less obvious, which is that Pettitte and Weaver have taken the brunt of the lumps resulting from this (which is not surprising, since Clemens and Mussina put fewer balls in play and Wells doesn't get many ground balls). In fact, Weaver really hasn't pitched that badly -- 110.2 IP, 9 HR (0.73/9IP), 29 BB (2.36 BB/9IP), 62 K (5.04 K/9IP) -- so much as he's been unlucky. Hammond, who's been touched for 44 hits in 39.1 innings, has pitched better than his ERA.
I had to laugh last night seeing footage of Rivera next to Benitez; Benitez made him look like he was the bat boy or something. Of course, we know who we'd rather face in a tough situation . . .
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The Red Sox
* - Combined stats with both teams.
Derek Lowe was good and more than a little lucky last year; this year, he's been both a lot less effective and a good deal less lucky, although what the defense taketh away, the offense giveth back in spades. I can't say DIPS truly exonerates John Burkett; while the method assumes that most pitchers have similar BABIP (batting average on balls in play) over time, I've noted before that Keith Woolner has identified Burkett as having the worst career BABIP of any pitcher with a substantial career over the last two decades, in enough innings to make you think there's something non-random about it.
The presumption, though, is that what DIPS leaves out usually evens out over time, which is particularly good news regarding Casey Fossum's struggles this year and also mitigates Ramiro Mendoza's problems to some extent, while deflating Byun-Hyung Kim a bit.
The Blue Jays
* - Combined stats with both teams.
Another crummy defensive team accross the board (plus Acevedo's had bad defense behind him in both the Bronx and Toronto). You have to figure things get a little better, though, for Escobar (86/38 K/BB ratio and just 7 HR allowed in 87.2 IP) and Lidle (76/33 K/BB with 15 HR allowed in 125.1 IP) the rest of the way. Halladay is yet another of the Robin Roberts family of pitchers (Schilling's at the head of that class) with 19 HR allowed compared to 21 BB (of course, David Wells has walked just 6 guys all year as against 16 HR). It looks like, as in the early 50s (the heyday of Roberts and Don Newcombe), the reaction to a rise in plate patience will be an increasing number of pitchers who throw strikes and don't worry about the longball.
The sharp declines of Omar Daal and Rodrigo Lopez this season are far less dramatic than advertised, when you look at the DIPS numbers; both have fairly decent K/BB numbers, and Daal hasn't been hit too hard by the home run ball. Sidney Ponson's breakout year is for real (just 35 BB and 9 HR in 126 IP); Jason Johnson's isn't. The chances of Pat Hentgen and Rick Helling pitching effectively again? Any way you slice it, slim just left the building. And Travis Driskill has done some nice long relief work this season (check out that 29/6 K/BB ratio in 39.2 IP); the Orioles could do worse than giving Driskill another shot at the rotation in place of one of the guys who have already qualified for their pensions.
The Devil Rays
I knew I was in trouble when I couldn't really figure out which Rays pitchers matter (correct answer: none of them).
Yes, in the grand scheme of things, it matters little that Dewon Brazleton isn't quite as bad as he looks. The main lesson here is that the Rays shouldn't give up on Joe Kennedy just yet (although some rumors have them doing just that); on the other hand, while Kennedy has avoided walks and homers, his strikeout rate is so low that you have to think he still isn't 100%. Victor Zambrano and Jeremi Gonzalez, by contrast, have succeeded only by dint of luck so far. The Rays can afford to be patient with Zambrano, who has a good arm, but his present success may leave them less prepared for the inevitable downturn. And I thought Lance Carter was pitching better than this; he isn't doing any one thing badly so much as just doing nothing particularly well.
Steve Parris' line in 43.2 IP: 12 HR, 13 BB, 14 K. Does Parris let the batters call for a high or low pitch? They gotta get their swings in, after all.
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July 17, 2003
Matt Welch compares the media to the dumb baseball owners who get mocked by the sabermetric crowd. You could extend the analogy and say the NY Times is the Mets in this picture, wasting its prime position in the op-ed market by overpaying for a bunch of untalented or over-the-hill columnists (Dowd, Herbert, The Krug, Safire) and ignoring the vast pool of cheaper or free talent out there (even on the Left). (Or maybe I just like comparing Krugman to Mo Vaughn). Seriously, wouldn't you rather read 2 columns a week apiece from a selection of good bloggers like Kevin Drum or Megan McArdle and less-nationally-known columnists like Josh Marshall, Mark Steyn or Lileks than 3 a week from Dowd and The Krug? You could easily replace the whole slate, keep the page as a liberal page with 1 or 2 conservatives/libertarians/other non-liberals, and vastly improve the quality (even some of Krugman's fans think he's better suited to a weekly magazine piece on economics than 3 hack jobs a week).
But that would be the smart thing to do.
Hey look, it's Ralph Wiley writing about -- what else -- racism! This column starts out halfway sensible -- at least this time, Wiley has some half-decent excuses for playing the race card -- but then check out this section on why young black baseball players feel disrespected by the game:
It is usually the American-born blacks' records and place that are resented instead of celebrated. For example, it's the stolen base that is denigrated as a weapon by baseball sabermaticians like Bill James, at precisely the time when a Rickey Henderson steals 130 bases in a season. There are sour grapes when a baseball man uses stats to tell you a stolen base isn't important. Any time a baseball manager will give up an out for a base, as with a sac bunt or groundball to the right side, any time a base is so precious, then it goes without saying that the stolen base must be important. Not the CS, the caught stealing, or stats of success rates, but the stolen base itself.
This is an extraordinary display of crackpottery even for Wiley, who overlooks three rather important facts in his quest to label Bill James a racist:
1. James has always been a huge Rickey Henderson fan, arguing that he was a far better player than Don Mattingly in their primes, calling him the greatest leadoff man ever years and years ago and urging fans in the mid-80s to appreciate the great leadoff men (notably Henderson and Tim Raines) while they were in their primes.
2. James has actually bemoaned the decline of steals even as he argued for them; on an aesthetic level, he was a big fan, explicitly so, of the elements of speed brought into the game after the breaking of the color line.
3. James was, you know, right. And citing evidence that managers today still ignore him doesn't change that.
Wiley couldn't be bothered with little facts like who's right, though, since it undercuts his narrative.
BASEBALL: More Benitez
Deal is finalized; while I'm disappointed that the Mets abandoned a potential to get a comp draft pick and gave the Yankees a talented pitcher on the cheap -- Cliff Floyd must be getting some serious deja vu over the fire sale at Shea -- I just can't suppress the feeling of joy at sticking Yankee fans with the October Arsonist. (And a laugh when one of the Rotisserie ball info services dryly noted that the Yankees did not intend to have him replace Mariano Rivera as the closer. Gee, thanks for that insight).
While in most cases I'm skeptical of the impact of short relievers, I still maintain that if the Yankees had had Benitez since 1995 and the O's and then the Mets had Rivera, the Yankees would have won just 1 World Championship in that period (1998). Not only would Benitez have blown some of the many leads Rivera protected in close-run serieses, but Benitez' incompetence in big games was a major factor in the Yankees beating the Orioles in 1996 and the Mets in 2000.
BASEBALL: All-Star Game Running Diary
July 16, 2003
BASEBALL: Yankee Blow Save!
No time to blog this in detail -- I don't generally blog from the office -- but I can't help checking in to register my glee at the thought of the Yankees dealing for Armando Benitez. Apparently the Yanks will eat his contract, too, in exchange for some low-level prospects.
Downside: in exchange for those prospects and the cash, the Yanks get a potential first-round draft pick if Benitez walks as a free agent, a pick the Mets could really have used.
BASEBALL: The All-Star Game
For once, Bud Selig was vindicated, although cause and effect seem hard to identify here -- this was the most exciting Midsummer Classic in several years, and the managers did keep several of the everyday starters (such as Alex Rodriguez and Garret Anderson) in the game a while rather than doing mass substitutions after the third inning.
There were certainly some high, fast home runs in this one, as you would expect when people go deep off the likes of Billy Wagner and Eric Gagne.
Let's hope Gagne's not affected by his meltdown, his first blown save opportunity of the year. He's currently on pace for 54 saves -- striking distance of Bobby Thigpen and a shot at being the first man to save 50 in a season twice (well, except that Smoltz is on pace for 59, so Gagne might well steam in behind him).
I was watching Hank Blalock's interview after the game, and really had my first experience of watching a big-league star and thinking "man, he's just a kid."
They mentioned that Jamie Moyer was the third guy to be a first-time All-Star in his forties, and I missed who the other two were. On, unsurprisingly, was Satchel Paige; the other was Connie Marrero. But Paige started his major league career at age 41 (or so), Marrero at 39. Moyer's been in the majors since age 23, which makes him much more unique.
Bill James on Moyer in 1994, after only his second season (out of 7) with an ERA below 4.66: "Good chance of remaining effective."
July 15, 2003
BASEBALL: Burnitz Gone
Not much to say about the Burnitz deal: the Mets wisely got what they could for Burnitz, while the Dodgers really had to add a hitter to replace Brian Jordan. Note that the Mets will end up paying Burnitz $9 million this year for 234 at bats.
I'm glad to see Rickey back if only because it clears him off the same Hall of Fame ballot as Tim Raines.
BASEBALL: 2003 Mid-Year N.L. West DIPS Report
One reminder is that pitchers with very high ERAs -- the high sixes and above -- are usually both unlucky and bad -- many of them show a DIPS ERA well below their actual ERAs. Also, anything can happen in a small sample -- Randy Johnson had a less than perfect April, but his DIPS ERA of 3.01 is just fine, and suggests that a healthy Unit will be the same as ever despite allowing 30 hits in 23.1 IP so far. Also of note: Brandon Webb's 3.37 DIPS ERA may not quite stack up to Dontrelle Willis' 2.89 DIPS ERA, but it does mark him as the real deal as a good young pitcher (and here I had once thought it was just the Mets), while more-heralded teammate John Patterson really did pitch quite badly in 41.2 innings.
The rest of the division:
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DIPS ERAs close a bit of the gap among the Giants' youngsters. Kurt Ainsworth still gives up too many homers, and Jesse Foppert's good strikeout rates have been undermined by too many homers and too many walks.
The DIPS system sees the Dodgers' pitching success as highly unstable; both Nomo and Ishii have starred this season almost entirely on the basis of good defense and good luck, which may not last into the second half; the system punishes them for their miserable control. But don't adjust your monitor: Eric Gagne really is twice as good as his 2.03 ERA. Best closer in baseball? Well, Rivera and Smoltz still have the postseason resumes. But Gagne's there.
Standard caveats about Coors Field pitching stats apply. Jimenez hasn't been good even when you correct for defense, but behind him the bullpen tandem of Speier and Steve Reed have been wonderful. Shawn Chacon has also put up numbers that are impressive in this context.
Few rays of light in a lost season, but Adam Eaton is one. I'd suggest that the Pads look to deal Herges and maybe Hackman as well to contending teams desperate for setup men (Brian Cashman, call your office). UPDATE: A commenter reminds me -- I'd missed this in the news -- that Herges was dealt to the Giants on Sunday.
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July 14, 2003
BASEBALL/POLITICS: I Called This One
"I guess the "Soysage" backers at PETA are saying they knew the Milwaukee Sausage Race would lead to violence some day ("Now you see the violence inherent in the system!")"
"Now, PETA recommends that, in order to set a nonviolent example to offset the recent brawls and 'beanings' in MLB, the Brewers should field a Sausage Race participant that does not represent the violence inherent in meat production"
BASEBALL: Bill James vs. Bambino's Curse
This article from The New Yorker on Bill James will be of obvious interest to many visitors to this blog. Enjoy!
A lot of the people who were predicting immediate greatness for Hank Blalock last season wound up groveling with embarrassment, only to see Blalock make the adjustment to the majors this year with a vengeance. Early in the year, we saw the same hand-wringing from some sources about Mark Teixeira after a weak April (.188 with 2 home runs).
Texeira's overall numbers (.251/.471/.338) are nothing special, but the 23-year-old rook batted .282/.507/.358 in May and .264/.529/.360 in June, and is slugging .485 so far in July. He may yet wind up with a rookie season to be proud of.
(BTW, I'm still disappointed that his name is pronounced Ta-SHARE-a, not Tex-AIR-a).
BASEBALL: Harden Up
Jayson Stark has the hype on Rich Harden, soon to be the Oakland fifth starter and perhaps a fourth to go with Hudson, Zito and Mulder.
July 13, 2003
BASEBALL: Joe Morgan
Listening to Joe Morgan talk about Hee Seop Choi on tonight's broadcast, and he made a fairly unremarkable point (in response to Jon Miller lauding Choi's patience and OBP) about how there's a fine line between patience and losing your aggressiveness . . . it just got to me how Morgan is awfully grudging in ever saying anything nice about patience at the plate, which I could understand coming from, say, Bill Robinson or Ray Knight, but it's bizarre coming from a guy who drew 110 walks in a season 7 times in 9 years. (Apparently, if you believe tonight's excuse, Morgan thinks that power hitters should swing the bat more).
BASEBALL: Cub Reporter
The Cub Reporter has upgraded his site to Movable Type, by the way. Go check it out.
July 11, 2003
BASEBALL: Baseball in Washington, D.C.?
Today's Washington Post has an interesting story on the support (or alleged lack of support) for the Baltimore Orioles found in Washington, D.C. I expect the PR battle to continue to heat up.
BASEBALL: Cleon's Due
Rob Neyer cops to something I'd meant to call him on: his all-time team lineups should have named Cleon Jones over Kevin McReynolds as the all-time Mets left fielder (granted, it's very close, and it's worth noting that McReynolds finished third in the 1988 NL MVP ballotting, compared to seventh for Jones in 1969, when he hit .340). Read Neyer's whole explanation.
BASEBALL: Crazy From The Heat
Tung Yin has some pointed observations comparing the flap over Dusty Baker's recent comments on white people and the heat to the brouhaha in Toronto over the relative lack of black players on the Blue Jays (well, other than the team's best-paid players, that is). I haven't commented here yet on the Dusty Baker thing, which has been good for some entertaining synthetic outrage around the media and the net. I mean, seriously, do you think anyone was genuinely hurt or offended by his comments? And I've got a little bit of perverse admiration for Baker for not backing away from comments he obviously believes.
Just the same, the episode is a good reminder of why one shouldn't reach for a racial generalization unless it's absolutely necessary, and I'd agree that Major League Baseball would be wise to reprimand Baker publicly, to preserve the principle that such comments should generally not be made.
What interested me more is this: Baker started talking about white people handling the heat poorly as a way of explaining a bad start by Shawn Estes in early July. But if Baker believes that Estes doesn't handle the heat well, why didn't he say that? He's managed Estes for most of his career, after all, so he should know. And if Estes doesn't have a particular problem with pitching in the heat, why even raise the issue?
Now, I didn't have time to do a larger study of white ballplayers' patterns or track down game-by-game results even for Estes, but one thing we can easily look at: Shawn Estes' record in the hot weather months. How has Estes done?
I checked the 2000-2002 period for a sample, and at first glance the answer is mixed: Estes' ERAs in that period were 4.22 in April, 3.13 in May, 3.76 in June, 4.72 in July, 5.38 in August, and 6.02 in September/October. That could be a pitcher who has trouble with hot weather, but it looks a lot more like a guy who just plain wears down as the season goes on -- how else do you explain a September/October ERA 60% higher than his June ERA, or his 3.64 ERA before July 1 compared to 5.34 for the rest of the year? I'd say the switch that flips on July 1 every year without fail probably has more to do with cumulative fatigue than with heat, no? In fact, I strongly suspect that Estes has one of the most pronounced tendencies to collapse in the second half of any major league player. It's certainly well-known to those who have followed his career.
Which makes you wonder why Dusty instead chose to attribute Estes' struggles to his race instead of his annual pattern. Was Dusty trying to somehow challenge Estes' toughness, or maybe convince him that his problem is with heat rather than fatigue? That assumes that Baker thought in advance about what he was saying. Or, assuming that Baker didn't deliberately set out to plant his foot in his mouth, maybe he was just in denial, trying to avoid the obvious fact that his pitcher's struggles will only get worse as the season wears on.
BASEBALL: 2003 Mid-Year N.L. Central DIPS Report
Continuing on with Tuesday's theme, let's look at Defense-Independent Pitching Stats (DIPS) for the NL Central (stats through Tuesday's action), but again with a caveat: the rough DIPS formula seems to persistently produce higher DIPS ERAs for the NL as a whole than the league ERA. This split doesn't show up for the AL; for 2002, the NL DIPS ERA/ERA split is 4.37/4.10, but the AL split is 4.52/4.46. I assume this is because pitchers, when batting, put a far smaller number of well-hit balls in play, thus leading to fewer hits and many fewer doubles and triples than DHs (who's more likely to double when he puts the ball in play -- Edgar Martinez, or Al Leiter?). In short, they're dealing with a different selection of hitters.
I'm not an expert on statistical significance, but in general, a variance of less than about a half a run in this context means that the pitcher's performance is basically in line with his ERA. I'm less surprised by bigger variances for relief pitchers, since they work fewer innings, and (especially for non-closers) under conditions where their ERAs are often subject to the whims of other relievers.
The main news here is that Shawn Estes, owing to his stinginess with the longball, isn't quite as bad as his 5.51 ERA, and that Kerry Wood's problems with walks and homers mean they shouldn't go putting him on the cover of Sports Illustrated just yet (oh, wait . . . ).
The rest of the division, including one very big surprise:
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The Cards' pitching has really been dismal behind Woody Williams and Matt Morris (and Morris himself has been pretty disappointing). The main revelation here is that Garret Stephenson's 4.30 ERA doesn't nearly reflect how badly he's pitched (19 homers, 47 walks and just 61 K in 113 innings; Stephenson has survived so far because he's allowed just 100 hits).
So, who's disappointed in Wade Miller? OK, 3.99 isn't perfect either, but for a pitcher at Minute Maid, not bad. Also, once again, one of the biggest gaps is a reliever pitching well (Dotel). The big story of the Astros staff, though, is that they're in the top half of the league in fewest HR allowed; Wednesday night, Robertson became the first pitcher on the staff to allow more than 10 home runs on the season.
Yes, the Reds' only two half-decent starters have been worse than they look; everybody stinks here. But the good news is that Dempster and Riedling shouldn't be as disastrous as they've been so far.
Yes, that would be the All-Star Mike Williams. The real long-term bad news for the Bucs, given their need to develop young arms, is how bad Lord Fogg has been, and that Kip Wells has been more lucky than good.
First of all, those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it -- and Ben Sheets' workload this season has had a real "Cal Eldred 1993" feel to it. Sheets is one of an unusual number of pitchers with nearly as many homers allowed (24) as walks (29). Challenge 'em?
But the big news here -- this will come as a shock to anybody who's watched the Brew Crew this season -- is that the team's best starter has been . . . Glendon Rusch???? Bad luck and bad defense has added nearly four runs to Rusch's ERA. Consider the record through Wednesday: 82.1 IP, 9 HR (0.98/9IP, not great, but not bad), 36 BB (3.94/9IP, more than you'd like from a control pitcher, but no wild man), 60 K (6.56/9IP, pretty good, actually). What's missing? 128 hits (13.99/9IP!). Some observers blame Rusch's approach with men on base (opposing hitters are batting .406 with a double every 10 at bats with men on base against Rusch this year vs. .313 with the bases empty; for 2000-02, the breakdown was a more modest .294 vs. .273), but it's hard to tell if that's a skill or a symptom of bad luck. It's true that, by this formula, his career DIPS ERA (through Wednesday) is now 4.37 compared to a career ERA of 5.20 in nearly 1000 career innings, suggesting that maybe something more than luck is at issue here. But I still think he's a guy worth taking a flyer on, for a team that's rebuilding. Back to Shea, perhaps?
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Slate carries a stinging assessment of the 2003 Mets subtitled "How to survive the summer at Shea Stadium." I was surprised that the answer didn't involve adult beverages or controlled substances. Josh Levin starts off with a bang:
This year's New York Mets were assembled by recently ousted General Manager Steve Phillips, perhaps the only GM so bad that he acquired a stalker. The team Phillips built, 39-50 at this writing, fits snugly into what might be called baseball's "underachieving overdog" model. Start with a massive payroll: $116.9 million on opening day, second only to the Yankees. Add old players flailing about in an attempt to re-enact their past glories. Finally, subtract all young players with the potential to get any better. If rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for General Motors, then rooting for this year's Mets is like rooting for a used Oldsmobile with a persistent urine smell. Maybe it used to have flash and run well, but my God, what the hell happened in there?
Read the whole thing. Only when I read this piece did I make a connection: the Mets have given Jeromy Burnitz the same thing they've gotten in return -- not only did they miss his good years in Milwaukee (although Burnitz has actually played quite well this season), but he missed the days of fun baseball in NY.
Also, I hope you didn't miss Aaron Gleeman's ode to Mike Cameron, the most underrated player in baseball. And Art Martone had a rundown (registration required) of the Win Shares All-Stars, through July 3:
July 10, 2003
BASEBALL: Bratwurst Victory Marred By Violence!
Add another darkly humorous chapter to the bizarre history of baseball mascots: Pirates 1B Randall Simon is being investigated by the Milwaukee DA's Office for knocking over the Italian Sausage during the famous Milwaukee Sausage Race by hitting her (yes, the Italian Sausage is a woman, and no, I'm not going there) with a bat from the visitor's dugout. The Italian Sausage fell into the Hot Dog, leaving the Bratwurst to race to a dramatic victory.
I guess the "Soysage" backers at PETA are saying they knew the Milwaukee Sausage Race would lead to violence some day ("Now you see the violence inherent in the system!"), and we know what John Rocker thinks of Simon. But let's consider some other dramatic moments in mascot history:
*The time Billy the Marlin, skydiving into Joe Robbie Stadium on Opening Day, had his head blow off (the costume head, that is) in the wind. SportsCenter had a field day (Bring Me The Head of Billy The Marlin!). The head was eventually found near a highway some miles from the stadium.
*The 1985 Pittsburgh drug trial, when it was revealed that the Pirate Parrot had been dealing drugs to the players. If I remember right, he kept them in the nose of his costume.
*The time Mets catcher John Stearns got annoyed at Braves mascot Chief Nok-A-Homa, tackled him and chased him off the field.
*When pitcher Don Schulze (who also later had a disastrous tour of duty with the Mets in 1987) sued the San Diego Chicken for tackling him while running the bases; Schulze claimed that the Chicken had caused permanent injury to his arm (wanna bet the Italian Sausage and the Hot Dog file suit against Simon?)
UPDATES: I actually didn't see video last night (I was busy finishing the new Harry Potter book), but MSNBC has pictures and an amusing lead headline ("Pirate Grilled For Whacking Sausage"). My prediction: Simon can avoid criminal charges by blaming the attack on the Pirates' all-yellow "Turn Back The Clock" 70s uniforms. Prediction #2: The Italian Sausage gets a standing ovation tonight.
Also, co-blogger The Mad Hibernian asks, "does targeting the Italian Sausage make it a hate crime?"
July 8, 2003
BASEBALL: 2003 Mid-Year NL East DIPS Report
One of the major questions that comes up by this point in the season is: who's for real? It's late enough, just past the halfway mark, that we are apt to start giving some weight to this year's stats. But as we well know by now thanks to Voros McCracken, pitcher stats can be heavily influenced by luck and defense on balls in play. Thus, a pitcher who's success is dependent on those factors may be a bad bet to keep it up.
So, I decided to use Voros' rough in-season Defense-Independent Pitching Stats (DIPS ERA) calculations* to take a look at how a few interesting pitchers stack up when you take balls in play out of the equation.
* - Scroll down to the bottom of this post for details on the formula; the formula I used may need to be adjusted downward a bit, given that it produced a DIPS ERA of 4.50 for the National League as a whole compared to a league ERA of 4.32. The AL numbers were closer, with a DIPS ERA of 4.55 for the AL compared to a league ERA of 4.54.
I'll run a few of these here and do more later this week if time permits. Let's start with the NL East (all stats through Monday night's action):
For the Mets, I'll just run the four starters who have significant innings, plus the Mets' "All-Star" closer, Armando Benitez:
For the most part, the DIPS formula actually suggests that the Mets' primary pitchers have been even worse than it appears, especially Glavine, Trachsel and Benitez. This seems odd, since the Mets' defense is one of the worst in the National League at turning balls in play into outs, and David Pinto's adjusted calculations (taking extra base hits into account) also have them near the bottom.
The good news: Jae Seo is for real, with just 20 walks allowed and 7 home runs in 102.2 IP. Seo is a rarity, a "Tommy John-type" pitcher (low BB, low K, low HR) who's not lefthanded and not a sinkerballer (in fact, these days, most control specialists are big fly ball guys like Brad Radke and Rick Reed).
On to the rest of the division:
Read More Â»
For the Marlins, let's look at the vaunted young arms in the rotation:
Main lesson: the Marlins' most and least successful starters are closer together than they appear. Of course, this doesn't take account of park effects, which may be helping Dontrelle Willis in particular. And Willis may not be a legit 2.13 ERA guy (who is?), but he's been plenty effective nonetheless.
DIPS appears once again as The Great Leveler: it turns out that Horacio Ramirez and Russ Ortiz haven't really pitched that much better than even the struggling Shane Reynolds. And yes, John Smoltz is amazing, but nobody's that good.
DIPS is pretty down on the Expos pitchers (or up on the Expos' defense, depending how you look at it): basically everyone on the staff either allows too many home runs or doesn't strike anyone out. The exception is improbable closer Rocky Biddle, who's getting the job done with whiffs and just 2 homers allowed in 42.1 IP, thus allowing him to post respectable numbers despite a ghastly 5.31 BB/9IP. Advice to Rotisserie owners of Claudio Vargas: sell.
With the Phils having the most-efficient defense in the NL, you'd expect DIPS to downgrade some of their pitchers. Of course, none of that will matter much if the defense plays like this all year, but Millwood's status as staff ace should become clearer as the year wears on (and Millwood's defensive support looks even worse when you consider that one of his starts was a no-hitter), while Randy Wolf's breakout year looks a lot shakier when you consider that more than 1/6 of his hits allowed this year have left the yard, and Brett Myers is likewise way over his head.
* - Unfortunately, there seems to be some confusion over McCracken's formula; it appears that, as of 2001, the formula was as follows:
DIPS ERA = ((IP*2.4)+(H*.83)+(HR*11.05)+(BB*2.81)-(SO*1.59)) divided by ((IP*0.71)+((H-HR)*.244)+(SO*.097))
This is the corrected version at the end of the comments section in his Baseball Primer piece, although admittedly it still doesn't give me the results Voros reported for 2001 -- it consistently gives results around 0.15 higher. So, perhaps the DIPS ERAs I'm reporting here will be a bit higher than they should, and as noted above, the NL DIPS ERA as a whole is out of whack with the league ERA. If anyone's aware of an improved version published since then, let me know.
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BASEBALL: More Moneyball
If you missed it at the time (I did), this Baseball Primer interview with Michael Lewis from last month had some interesting stuff about how little Lewis knew about his subject when he started out, the resistance he encountered in getting people to talk to him, and how bitter and narrow-minded some sportswriters really are. The Primer is also hosting a chat room session with Lewis next week.
BASEBALL: Pick Your Poisons
Fran Healy tonight was moaning, after Jason Roach gave up a home run to Vinny Castilla that turned out to be the difference in the game, that Roach should have walked or pitched around Castilla, with a man on first and two out, to get to Shane Reynolds. I can't agree -- OK, Reynolds, once a decent hitter, is batting .034 and hasn't batted above .100 in three years (although he did single after Castilla's homer). But first of all, when you're rebuilding, what's the point of bringing along a young pitcher like Roach if you're afraid to find out if he can get out a washed-up hacker like Castilla? Second, why be afraid of Vinny at all? Sure, he'll hit one out now and then, but the guy came into the game sporting a .290 OBP and a .418 slugging average. Third, why not want Reynolds leading off the next inning -- not only is he a lousy hitter, but you'd rather the other manager have an excuse to leave the guy with the 6 ERA out there for one more crack at him.
Also some fun mind games with John Smoltz, who looked very unhappy to have to trim his white undershirt, which hung just slightly out from his short sleeve uniform. We've come a long way from Dazzy Vance bleaching his ragged white sweatshirt to pitch against a backdrop of Monday afternoon white laundry in Brooklyn . . .
July 7, 2003
BASEBALL: Jimenez Gone
Looks like I was wrong about the fallout in Chicago from the acquisition of Robby Alomar; rather than benching Joe Crede and his sub-.300 OBP, the Chisox have ditched D'Angelo Jimenez, dealing him to the Reds.
As I pointed out earlier in the year here and here, Jimenez was off to a great start this season, but his banishment from the White Sox leaves you wondering whether he's hurt or whether, like Jeremy Giambi and Bruce Chen, there's something more seriously wrong with his attitude that continually causes new organizations to sour on him.
Jimenez ought to be in demand: he's allegedly only 25, and he makes very little money. But let's look at how his season split; I'll project the totals (other than the "games" column, which shows the games played by the White Sox for those dates) out to 162 games for comparison's sake:
Clearly, there was something very wrong with Jimenez lately -- the complete loss of power and plate discipline, the collapse of his batting average. But note that the latter line is 59 at bats; hardly a decent sample size to justify panic. Bottom line: ditching D'Angelo Jimenez can't have been based on his performance.
July 2, 2003
BASEBALL: Robby Gone
So the Mets have dumped Roberto Alomar, on the White Sox, for three minor leaguers (mainly minor league closer Royce Ring), while the Mets will swallow virtually all of Alomar's remaining $3.9 million contract. I suppose I'll be frustrated if Alomar goes all Tony Fernandez on us (Fernandez, who the Mets cut in early 1993 looking for all the world like he was washed up, batted .306 the rest of the way for the Blue Jays, drove in 9 runs in the World Series that year, and went on to play until 2001), but at this point it hardly matters. I don't know much about Ring (I'd never heard of him before yesterday) and know even less about the other two, but at this point, any value the Mets could get is worth a try, and while minor league closers (especially ones whose fastballs don't crack the mid-90s) aren't famously good investments, Ring does have a solid college pedigree, and bringing in a potential replacement for Armando the Arsonist (who last night cost Aaron Heilman his first major league win) seems like a good move.
For the White Sox, bringing in Alomar and Carl Everett seems rather desperate, although a win-now approach does make sense in their division (and Cy Young seasons from guys like Esteban Loaiza don't come around every day, either). The Alomar deal puzzles me a bit, when the Sox already had D'Angelo Jimenez at second. Jimenez has been in free-fall for the past month or so after a blazing start, but he's still a solid ballplayer unless the Sox really think his various nicks are wearing him down. Apparently they may use Jimenez at third and bench the utterly helpless Joe Crede, another youngster who was a hot prospect not so long ago but has a .271 on base percentage that drags on the Chicago offense like Marley's chains. Upgrading from Crede to Alomar will be a big help (Crede's no whiz on the basepaths either), as will slotting in Everett for various disasters in the outfield.
July 1, 2003
BASEBALL: Trivia Quiz of the Day
Only one hitter has hit his 500th home run off of a Hall of Fame pitcher. Name the batter and the pitcher.
Small hint: the pitcher was in his prime at the time.
Don Malcolm (scroll up from the link to the comments section) has the answer, and much more on 500th homers.
In Bill Simmons' latest Ramblings, he makes a joke about Ashton Kutcher's sex life without calling him "randy." C'mon Bill, there are some jokes you gotta use no matter how few people get them.
June 30, 2003
For our Disney vacation, my wife and I made the mistake (in the interests of saving money) of getting just one hotel room, with the kids (age 3 and 5) sleeping in one bed and us in the other. The problem, of course, was that they wouldn't go to sleep, and there was nowhere else for us to go. Watching TV was out, and so it was that I spent much of the evenings of our vacation sitting on a bathroom floor, drinking cheap Australian Shiraz out of a plastic cup and reading a book I got for Father's Day, Michael Lewis' Moneyball.
Lewis' book has been extensively reviewed elsewhere (see Dr. Manhattan's review here and a writeup here by Matt Welch for examples from the blogosphere), so I'll add my own two cents (or so) without rehashing the whole thing:
1. I've never read any of Lewis' books before (I know, for a guy who works as a securities litigator I'm told that I ought to have read Liar's Poker), and knew him mostly as a Berkeley liberal who writes mediocre and sporadic columns on travel and parenting for Slate. To be honest, then, when I saw that Lewis had written a book called "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game," my first instinct was to assume that the book would be another compliation of the conventional wisdom: payrolls imbalanced, standings imbalanced, money dictates success, we need to reduce income inequality, etc. I'd already read that case laid out as well as it goes in Bob Costas' Fair Ball, and really didn't have the stomach to wade through it again. So, it was with some surprise that I read the early rave reviews revealing that the book was, in fact, the story of the development of sabermetrics and how it came to be that Billy Beane implemented sabermetric principles to run the Oakland A's.
2. When I am reading a book that deals with a subject I know intimately, the first thing I look for is the absences: does the author miss obvious points? Does he ignore important developments? I'm more likely to buy into his descriptions of things I don't know if he's nailed the ones I do.
Lewis does. Every time. He goes through Beane's history with the Mets, rather than presenting him fully formed as an executive. When he introduces Chris Pittaro, now an A's scout, he doesn't forget the one thing Pittaro is known for, which is Sparky Anderson's outlandish hyping of Pittaro in the spring of 1985. When he discusses Scott Hatteberg's reverence for Don Mattingly's patience at the plate, Lewis remembers to remind the reader that Mattingly himself didn't walk that much. Lewis notes the relationship of sabermetrics to Rotisserie baseball, but remembers to note the contradiction in Roto's old-fashioned reliance on Triple Crown stats and steals. Time and again, going through the story of sabermetric analysis, Lewis gets it, even to the point of mocking favorite targets like Joe Morgan, Bud Selig and the Elias Baseball Analyst. On the other hand, the book was somewhat sparse on one thing I would have liked to have learned, which was why the A's soured on Carlos Pena; the only thing Lewis really shows us is that Pena was swinging at too many pitches.
3. Lewis' frame of reference in the bond trading business is apparent; he frequently compares Beane to a bond trader in his dedication to making deals based on superior information.
4. One thing that's interesting is that the book focuses less on the A's application of known, established truths and more on an area where the leading analysts remain on somewhat shaky ground: the amateur draft. Most analysts continue to believe that there's an important place for traditional "tools/observation-based" scouting in the draft, particularly as regards high school players. But the A's have apparently decided to avoid high school players altogether -- a defensible decision, perhaps, given their low budget and their confidence in their metrics for measuring college players. But an ideal draft strategy would take some high school players; Connie Mack loved college players too, but that didn't stop him from snapping up Jimmie Foxx. Lewis makes a persuasive case for Beane's strategy, and the story is in some sense more dramatic because the jury is still out.
5. I do have to wonder why Beane let this book get written. A few baseball bloggers have (fairly enough) mocked Joe Morgan for implying that Beane himself had written the book, but Morgan's larger point is valid: it's clear that this book contains an awful lot of the 'inside' insights of Beane and his staff, gathered with Beane's approval: their draft strategy, how they evaluate players in trades, how Beane manipulates other GMs. If I'm another GM, I'd race out to read this just to get the scoop on how one of my competitors does his business. Lewis implies two motives: First, Beane is frustrated at the lack of recognition he gets for his talents; Lewis discusses this explicitly as the motive for Beane's public courtship by the Red Sox. Second, Beane really thinks the other GMs are all so dumb they won't read or understand the book anyway. Which may be true of some of them, but it suggests an arrogance that could cost Beane.
June 28, 2003
BASEBALL: Selling Himself Short
Due to travel, I missed last Sunday night's Met-Yankee game noted by The Mad Hibernian here. What continues to amaze me is Armando Benitez' unerring instinct for driving down his trade value whenever the Mets are looking to move him. The latest fiasco should be a vivid reminder of why the Red Sox, in particular, should want no part of a guy who can't handle anything resembling a high-pressure game.
June 21, 2003
A real defensive clinic put on last night by Tsuyoshi Shinjo in the Mets' loss to the Yankees, between throwing out Robin Ventura by about 30 feet at third base (erosion is faster than Ventura) and robbing Alfonso Soriano of a home run in center.
We Met fans take our entertainment where we must.
BASEBALL: Pitches Per Inning
Joe Sheehan has a tremendously important article (not subscriber-only, for once) -- with some data I hadn't seen before -- explaining (at least partly) one of baseball's greatest mysteries: why pitchers can't throw as many innings as they used to. Without direct pitch count data, Sheehan approaches the question from a variety of other angles, noting the steady long-term rise of walks + strikeouts/game, the dramatic recent spike in power production from players on the right end of the defensive spectrum (catchers and middle infielders), which raises the stress levels on pitchers who have to fear the longball all the way to the bottom of the lineup (the DH rule has also contributed to this). It's a must-read.
June 20, 2003
BASEBALL: Table Games
An interesting article on how Keith Hernandez (and, unsurprisingly, fellow Mets broadcaster Howie Rose) is hooked on Strat-O-Matic baseball. Ballplayers generally don't seem like the types for these games, but I have always wondered whether there were any ex-Major Leaguers out there who got into table games or Rotisserie after their playing days. Of course, the fact that Hernandez had been grounded in the percentage-based world of table games before he made the majors seems unsurprising, given the kind of player he was.
(Link via Clutch Hits).
June 19, 2003
BASEBALL: Happy Birthday
Worthy of remembering: Today would have been Lou Gehrig's 100th birthday. God bless.
Joe Sheehan, predictably, defends Roger Clemens' snit over his Hall of Fame plaque (Link is subscription only). But that's not the interesting part. The interesting part is Sheehan's statement that "[Roberto] Alomar may eventually be regarded as the first Hall of Famer who could not be associated with any team."
This is monumental ignorance of history. First of all, there have been plenty of journeymen Hall of Famers even in recent years -- Reggie Jackson, Nolan Ryan, Gaylord Perry, Hoyt Wilhelm (Sheehan does mention Ryan). And if you dig further back, there are many other players no more associated with one team than Alomar -- Rabbit Maranville, George Davis, Jim O'Rourke, Dan Brouthers. I'm sure this was a throwaway line, but Sheehan should know better.
June 17, 2003
In progress: Jae Seo at work.
New York 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0
UPDATE: That didn't take long. Perfect game over.
SECOND UPDATE: Seo leaves with a hand injury, which is deeply worrisome, but with the assistance of David Weathers and Armando Benitez, the Mets face the minimum 27 batters en route to the third one-hitter in as many days for or against the Mets.
BASEBALL: Pitching Around .204
Interesting decision last night by Dusty Baker and/or Joe Borowski at the end of the Cubs-Reds game: 4-3 Cubs lead at home, tying run on second base, Adam Dunn at bat, Barry Larkin on deck, and the Cubs choose to pitch around Dunn, walking him on four pitches, to put the winning run on first and face Larkin. Here are the options:
It's not a slam-dunk either way, but a hit ties the game; why not face the guy hitting .204 rather than (1) giving up 50 points of batting average and (2) replacing the risk of a game-winning homer with the risk of a game-winning double (Larkin has 6 extra base hits in 67 at bats, not much less than Dunn's 22 homers in 216 at bats)?
In the end, it worked: Larkin struck out on consecutive check swings. And maybe Baker was looking beyond the year-to-date stats and thinking that Dunn is still a coming superstar, and Larkin is finished. Still, it's an interesting question.
BASEBALL: Bad Hire
This seems like a terrible idea.
Good news, sort of, from Mike Piazza: no dates are projected, but Piazza's rehab is reported to be going well.
BASEBALL: Mariners Replaying 2001
The other day, Joe Sheehan of the Baseball Prospectus wrote a column (subscription-only) on something I'd been meaning to cover: how the Mariners' 2003 mirrors their 2001 season, starting, of course, with Bret Boone getting angry and turning into Lou Ferrigno again.
On another Mariners note, David Pinto notes that John Olerud got his 2000th hit last night.
June 16, 2003
BASEBALL: The Master
I meant to link last week to this interview with Bill James over on Slate. Among other things, James continues to defend his views on Mike Stenhouse (he's done a bit of rethinking on Brad Komminsk and Doug Frobel). And there's this:
[W]hat do you think of the prospects of using play-by-play analysis to differentiate players' defensive skills? Is it possible to draw a meaningful separation between data and noise at the play-by-play level?
Yes, it is possible. But ... this is among my primary projects right now, and I don't want to talk about the sauce while it's still in the skillet.
Sounds like some new defensive measures are on their way . . .
"George is going to want someone to burn a clubhouse down," one executive says. "He doesn't want a campfire. He wants a bonfire." ...
Well, these are the right guys. Both have their strengths as managers, but they're both awfully volatile, and Piniella's failed in the Bronx before. I can't imagine either of them lasting more than 18 months at the helm after replacing Torre.
June 15, 2003
BASEBALL: Today's Met Game
I particularly enjoyed watching Reyes sprint around the bases after his grand slam; Burnitz also had a pretty quick home run trot. I guess when Steve Trachsel's pitching, you do what you can to get the game moving.
The ball was really jumping the whole series with the Angels; besides Reyes' poke to very short left field, Saturday night's game saw Garret Anderson hit one out on a low outside pitch that he had to reach out and lunge for.
BASEBALL: Liar's Baseball?
Michael Lewis, author of the classic Liar's Poker, has a new book out that tracks Billy Beane and his efforts to build a successful and affordable team over the course of the 2002 season. I have not yet read the book, so I can't recommend it, but I'll be sure to read it before I pick up Hillary Clinton's new addition to the literary world.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:13 PM | Baseball 2002-03 | Kiner's Korner | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Best Defensive 3rd Baseman Ever?
During the Yankees/Cardinals game, Tim McCarver declared Scott Rolen the best-fielding third baseman in the history of the game. An example of typical McCarver hyperbole? McCarver had previously thought that Mike Schmidt was the best ever, but changed his mind when Schmidt's former teammate, Larry Bowa (and no friend of Rolen's), declared Rolen better than Schmidt. Interesting to note, McCarver never mentioned Brooks Robinson during the course of his discussion.
BASEBALL: Alomar, Part II
Following up on The Crank's call to platoon Roberto Alomar, the following is Alomar's batting average against lefties over the last few years: .338 (1999), .318 (2000), .279 (2001) and .204 (2002). This decline has continued into this year: he's hitting .138 against lefties.
June 14, 2003
BASEBALL: Not The Usual Suspects
Recorded for posterity, today's AL Batting Average leaders:
1 Melvin Mora, Bal .366/.466/.598
Yup, it's still early . . .
June 13, 2003
BASEBALL: Godzilla Grounded
The prolific Aaron Gleeman has a good and thorough statistical examination of precisely why Matsui's production has failed to live up to his numbers in Japan. Bottom line: he's been hitting too many ground balls to be a major league power hitter.
BASEBALL: Summer With Scully
SI's Kostya Kennedy pays homage to Vin Scully, now in his 54th season broadcasting for the Dodgers.
June 12, 2003
BASEBALL: Platoon Alomar
Yet again, a GM has been replaced, leaving Art Howe behind as a legacy. With only an interim GM in place, this leaves Howe temporarily in de facto charge of the team, as far as his authority with the players. Will he use it?
This is hardly news, but Roberto Alomar needs to quit switch-hitting and/or be platooned. Here's his Avg/Slg/OBP and cumulative splits since the start of 2002:
vsRHP: .294/.407/.371, 575 AB, 169 H, 33 2B, 4 3B, 8 HR, 69 BB
Alomar's noted as a guy the manager needs to kiss up to to a certain extent, but this is ridiculous; he's just killing the team playing against lefthanders. There's no shame in a veteran becoming a platoon player; Lou Whitaker and to some extent George Brett did it, and plenty of others have moved to something like a platoon role as they aged. Whether he can get Alomar to accept a new role -- or whether he even tries -- will say a lot about Howe.
BASEBALL: REGIME CHANGE
I'm busy at work now, but I'll be following up with more analysis in the next few days as time permits. For now - Hooray!
BASEBALL: Around the Horn
What a festival of great baseball on TV last night. You had the Yankees getting no-hit by six pitchers, including Octavio Dotel blowing away four Yankees in the 8th inning. I also got to see most of the Mets-Rangers game (including my first glimpse of Jose Reyes, since I heard Tuesday's game on the radio). Reyes looks like a skinnier Alfonso Soriano, with the high socks and the quickness, although he seems to be a more similar player to a Barry Larkin-type in his long-term, best-case upside. The Mets announcers had a fun stat: Jae Seo has thrown 7 or more innings while allowing 2 or fewer runs 4 starts in a row, the first Mets rookie to do so since Rick Aguilera; Seo is now the Mets' only starter who makes the team look like contenders when they take the field. Then there was the Red Sox mauling one-time hot prospect Brett Tomko, as well as the end of the Dodgers' dissection of the Tigers (man, is Kevin Brown ever back).
June 10, 2003
BASEBALL: Team Defense
David Pinto has a great stat: Runs Created/27 outs against each team's defense, a measure that takes account (as most defensive measures don't) of extra base hits allowed. Go check it out.
BASEBALL: Number 299 . . . Number 299 . . .
Think Clemens has had problems getting to 300 wins? Well, I remember Gary Carter's odyssey to 300 homers in 1988: he needed 9 entering 1988, after hitting 32, 24, and 20 the prior 3 seasons. Carter started hot, with 7 homers through April 26, bringing him to 298 (number 298 was off Tom Glavine); but number 299 didn't come until May 16, and Carter, staying in the lineup most of the way, slogged through a dismal 3-month summer drought before cracking Number 300 on August 11 off Al Nipper at Wrigley Field. (In Carter's case, this was a sign of the end; he hit just 2 more homers in 1988, and never again reached 10 homers or 30 RBI in a season).
Mike's Baseball Rants has a better parallel: Early Wynn's long haul to 300 (among other things, he ended a season at 299). (It's the second item down at the moment; the direct link should be here, but !%^$^#! Blogger's permalinks are busted again).
June 9, 2003
BASEBALL: Another Reason To Vote For Bush
The Hated Yankees haven't won a World Series with a Republican in the White House since 1958. In fact -- you may have seen some variant on this stat over the years -- the Yankees won their first pennant in 1921, and since then:
Democratic Administrations: 40 seasons, 19-3 in the World Series
June 8, 2003
BASEBALL: Groundball/Flyball Platooning
If you're a subscriber, I'd highly recommend this Baseball Prospectus piece by Nate Silver & Gary Huckaby from a few weeks back about platooning pitchers and hitters by groundball/flyball tendency matchups (although I assume they weren't referring to me with the line about how "in terms of practical application on a real life baseball team, a 'sabermetric' biography of the 1952 Yankees isn't particularly useful").
In the end, the Huckaby/Silver analysis isn't terribly useful either, since they don't come up with a great big effect to suggest anything more radical than "if you throw groundball pitchers against groundball hitters, you won't give up a lot of home runs." But it's still an interesting look at the issue.
BASEBALL: Ryne Karros
Random thought from tonight's Yanks-Cubs game; doesn't Eric Karros, in a Cubs uniform, look an awful lot like Ryne Sandberg?
June 7, 2003
David Pinto says Jung Bong is "a tough Bong to get a hit off."
June 4, 2003
BASEBALL: SOSA WHAT?
Christmas, or at least Father's Day, came early this year for Rick Reilly, with the discovery that his antagonist, Sammy Sosa, was caught with a corked bat. Call me cynical in my old age, but I'm just not that scandalized. Does Sosa deserve punishment? Yes. Break the rules, get caught, you have to be punished. But people have used corked bats before, and gotten away with it for a long time - the ones we know of (who eventually got caught somehow) include Albert Belle and Graig Nettles, and Bill James noted some evidence in the last Historical Abstract to suggest that Babe Ruth corked his bat. Everybody's talking about 300-game winners, but we know that Gaylord Perry and Don Sutton defaced the baseball, and other 300-game winners may have as well, including Nolan Ryan. Certainly, Whitey Ford did.
What's more interesting to me is this: a team that wants to give Sosa a hard time in the future can relentlessly check his bats. If they don't, it may be due to an unspoken rule about harassing adversaries -- but it could also suggest that there's more than a few managers out there who don't want their own top slugger's bat checked.
May 30, 2003
BASEBALL: No Relation To Wendell
Highway robbery for the Red Sox in getting the talented 24-year-old fireballer Byun-Hyung Kim from Arizona for Shea Hillenbrand, assuming that Kim is healthy, that is (he just got off the DL). Granted, I'm heavily biased towards sidearmers, but Kim has a higher upside, he's younger than Shea and still reasonably cheap (he makes $3.25 million; Hillenbrand's a bargain at $407,000), and the Sox already have another guy who plays Hillenbrand's position; Hillenbrand can't do anything that Bill Mueller can't. I think this is an absolute steal. Granted, Hillenbrand's guts & attitude have made him a better player than he looks on paper, but he's still a guy who won't have a great average or power numbers, never walks, doesn't steal bases and isn't a great fielder. In the minors he was a mediocre hitter, an awful fielder and often injured. It's true that pennants have been lost for the want of guys like Hillenbrand, but he's still basically a much easier commodity to replace than Kim.
I liked Kim as a starter, and it appears the Sox may stick with that even if they could use a closer. Kim has a less than stellar record against the Yankees, but then, Scott Brosius isn't around to torture him anymore.
Baseball Prospectus lists most-similar players to each guy at same age. Hillenbrand's #1 is Frank Malzone, but #4 is more intriguing for history-minded Sox fans: Danny Cater. Think he'd be worth dealing for a closer?
Kim's comps include Bruce Sutter (#2), Tom Hall and Luis Tiant (his most similar, by far, is Scott Williamson).
BASEBALL: Joe D.
Great article on Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak -- not the 56-game streak, but the professional-record 61-game streak he had in the Pacific Coast League in 1933 (link via Clutch Hits). What's particularly impressive is that the streak started when Joe D. was basically a nobody, a right fielder batting .250 two months into his first professional season and playing in the best minor league in the country. 70 years ago today was his coming-out - DiMaggio had gone 1-4 on May 28 in the second game of a doubleheader, but May 30 was the turning point:
DiMaggio went 6-for-10 -- with a double, triple and home run -- in a doubleheader in Seattle. In those days, a series was a week-long affair, and DiMaggio recorded multiple-hit games in four of the Seals' next five against Seattle.
A star was born.
One thing that almost certainly made the streak easier, especially for a raw rookie, was the PCL's practice of 7-game serieses, which meant seeing the same starting pitchers twice in a week.
May 29, 2003
BASEBALL: Dunn Strikes Out
Joe Sheehan's all upset about Bob Boone benching Adam Dunn over his strikeouts and low batting average ("every game he starts on the bench is another notch in the argument that Boone should be fired. "). I'd agree with Sheehan that Dunn should, as a general matter, be playing everyday given his .569 slugging average. But consider:
1. It's May. If Boone is trying to get a message to Dunn, now's the time to do it.
2. Dunn entered the series in Atlanta in a horrendous 2-for-22 slump.
3. Dunn's .321 on base percentage is too low for a corner outfielder, something I'm sure Sheehan would recognize if Dunn was hitting .285. Because Dunn's hitting .222, Sheehan's quick to defend him on a theory of "Boone's overempasizing batting average." Yeah, maybe; but Dunn does need to hit better than .222 if he's going to get on base enough for the Reds to get anywhere. If a benching for a few days in May gets his attention, that may well be worth it.
BASEBALL: Hating Clemens
Bill Simmons was back in the zone Tuesday with some classic Clemens-hating smack talk. Michele at A Small Victory agrees (along with a great picture), and she's a Yankee fan. David Pinto adds his two cents. Art Martone hands over the soapbox to Lyford for a thorough attempt to rebut Art's homage to Clemens as the Red Sox' greatest pitcher (I still agree with Art on that one).
I'd raise an interesting question for Sox fans, though: would you rather have had Clemens' career with the Sox, followed by his post-Sox career, or Dwight Gooden's career with the Mets, followed by his post-Mets career? Leaving aside, for the moment, the fact that the Mets won a World Series with Gooden (in which Gooden pitched terribly but to which Gooden contributed heavily by his brilliant pitching in the NLCS)?
I'd take Clemens, even with the bellyaching and the betrayal. Gooden was even more disappointing; he gave the Mets some great years in the 80s, but he was in steep decline by the time Clemens hit his peak (1990-92). He was a huge embarrassment with his drug problems. Unlike Clemens, he'll never make the Hall of Fame. He even threw in a no-hitter, something the Mets have never had, with the Yankees.
May 28, 2003
BASEBALL: Jeter and the Yankee Staff
What ails the Yankees? Many things, at the moment; among others, they remain next to last in Major League Baseball (to the woebegotten Rangers defense) in converting balls in play into outs. But since I've raised this issue before, I thought I'd ask again: what is Derek Jeter's glove worth?
Yankees with Derek Jeter in and out of the lineup:
OUT: 3.53 ERA, 0.30 URA, 9.02 H/9, 0.55 HR/9, 2.32 BB/9, 7.68 K/9, .305 BIP%
(URA=Unearned Run Average)
Here are the raw totals:
OUT: 23-10, 295.1 IP, 296 H, 18 HR, 76 BB, 252 K, 126 R, 116 ER, 278/912 BIP
CONCLUSION: Well, you can't blame Jeter for the dropoff in strikeouts and the rise in walks and homers by Yankee pitchers. And the sample size is still fairly small; the Yankee offense has dropped off from 5.93 R/G to 5.16 R/G in the same period, and nobody would argue that Jeter is bad for the offense. But with Jeter in the lineup instead of raw, error-prone rookie Erick Almonte, the Yanks have given up a noticeably higher percentage of hits on balls in play (.317 to .305) and allowed 40% more unearned runs. Clearly, Jeter's return has not been part of the solution.
May 27, 2003
BASEBALL: Vina Down
May 24, 2003
BASEBALL: Sell High?
Maybe you've noticed, maybe you haven't, but Robby Alomar's putting together a decent year; even after a fairly slow week, he's still sporting a .361 OBP and a slugging average near .400, he's leading the team in walks and runs scored, and he hasn't been caught stealing in 5 attempts. Lesson: sell. Alomar's still got a big name, and with just this year on his contract, a contending team should be willing to take a flyer. Candidates:
Minnesota: Not known for big spending, and they've got a young 2B with a good glove in Luis Rivas. Still, Rivas' .285 OBP leaves much to be desired. Not likely - with that division, why spend the money now? - but the Twins could be more interested come late July, when they'd have to eat only 2 months salary.
Oakland: Similar story, and less likely, but they did spring for Ray Durham last year. Depends how Mark Ellis is faring in July.
Philly: They're certainly spending, and a rebuilding team doesn't worry about trading aging veterans at the end of their contracts to divisional rivals. Plus, as I've mentioned before, moving Placido Poilanco to a utility role would be an upgrade. Another team that's likely to wait it out.
Cubs: The Grudz is batting over .300, so no hurry here, either. But with a mediocrity like Grudzielanek at second and Bobby Hill buried in the minors, Alomar would be a good fit for the stretch run.
St. Louis: This one has been rumored, but it only makes sense if Fernando Vina's really finished. They, too will wait and see, but they may be more interested in Benitez; with Izzy still out, the team leader in saves is Cal Eldred.
Los Angeles: Maybe your best bet; the Dodgers are starved for offense. But Alex Cora, despite his pre-2002 history, has actually hit well last year and this one. Thus, again, they'll be in no rush.
CONCLUSION: Mets have little choice but to hang on to Alomar and hope he's still motivated and playing well in July. If he's hitting above .280 on the 4th of July, there will be plenty of takers.
May 23, 2003
BASEBALL: A Barn-Burner
Great Mets-Braves game tonight, and proof positive that you don't always need a good team to have good baseball games. But having an aggressive team, a team that actually cares, helps an awful lot. Of course, almost any game that ends with the tying run thrown out at the plate is, by definition, a good game.
Maybe the Mets should play Burnitz in center more often, given the grand slam tonight. Then again, it was the defensive switch to Shinjo that made the difference at the end of the game. Either way, it's an embarrassment to Roger Cedeno to see an aging power hitter covering center while Cedeno is stuck in right.
May 22, 2003
BASEBALL: Mike on OPS'
Mike's Baseball Rants runs the numbers to see what is, historically, the best measure of offense: batting average, on base percentage, OPS, or Rob Neyer's modified OPS', which weights OBP more heavily than SLG. Unsurprisingly, for most of baseball history, it's OPS' - OPS - OBP - SLG - Avg.
A couple interesting observations:
1. Historically, OPS beats plain old OBP by only a narrow margin.
2. As I noted in my May 2001 column on the Ichiro phenomenon, batting average really was the best measure of offense back in the 1870s, but the changes in the game in the 1880s & 1890s (dropping the number of balls for a walk from 9 to 4, cutting down errors, moving the mound back) brought enough walks and extra base hits into the game to change that.
3. The correlation of any of the stats to team runs scored was lower in the 1880s, 1890s, and 1910s than in later years, and dropped off sharply again in the 1980s & 1990s. Slugging average also had a brief heyday in the 1980s. Why? This is just a guess, but I think that the Earl Weaver-Gene Mauch tug of war had something to do with it: stolen bases and other 1-run strategies were on the rise in the 1960s-70s, but by the 1980s, there were large divergences between teams in the use of such strategies, and that may have undermined the relationship that would exist between traditional base-advancement measures and team scoring (i.e., some teams were losing a lot more baserunners than others).
Or maybe it was just that the Red Sox hit into so damn many double plays.
Either way, I'd be interested to see whether there's a particular type of team that tended to deviate more from the expected relationship between OPS' and runs.
(Mike's post is the one titled "You're So Money, Baby!", if you have trouble with the Blogger permalinks. Mike, come over to Movable Type: all the cool kids are doing it! Make you feel good!)
BASEBALL: Ouch, Ouch, Ouch
Mike Piazza's "groin muscle is . . . folded up like an accordion."
May 21, 2003
BASEBALL: Rocket Fumes
So Roger Clemens wants to go in the Hall of Fame as a Yankee. Thankfully, the Hall took back the decision over what hat is on the plaque after the controversy over Dave Winfield basically auctioning off his hat to the Padres.
Now, if Clemens said "Blue Jays," you might consider it reasonable. Maybe. But Clemens' HOF ticket was fully written by the time he came to NY. I mean, seriously:
Clemens' career in Boston: 192-111 (.634), 3.06 ERA
Clemens' career in Toronto: 41-13 (.759), 2.33 ERA
Clemens' career in NY through 2002: 60-27 (.690), 4.01 ERA
Clemens' best ERA in NY has been 3.51, half a run higher than his career ERA before he arrived in NY. Nobody can seriously think he should enter the Hall in a Yankee hat, and it's pure spite against his old teams that Clemens would even consider such a thing.
May 20, 2003
BASEBALL: Kinney Can
Far from the madding crowd, one of this year's real success stories is former Minnesota Twins pitching prospect Matt Kinney, having a fine year for the Brewers. With a solid outing last night (8 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 6 K) Kinney is now 3-3 (an accomplishment for the 16-29 Brew Crew) with a 3.43 ERA, and his overall line is more impressive: 57.2 IP, 44 H, 6 HR, 19 BB, 51 K.
The 26-year-old Kinney's had little prior success at the major league level, although the Baseball Prospectus blamed last summer's struggles on shoulder tendinitis that sapped his velocity. Hopefully he can handle the increasing pitch counts that are coming his way: 108, 109, 91, 110 and 116 in his last five starts. That's still a pretty moderate workload, but if he hangs around 115 most nights out, that may start to take a toll on a guy who's not accustomed to a full season major league workload.
BASEBALL: The Poor 44, Part 2: 113-118
This is Part Two of a series on the worst-hitting everyday players of 2002.
108-124: The Weak Spots (Stats listed as Avg/OBP/Slg (OPS))
2002 with Cardinals/Phillies: .288/.330/.403 (733 OPS) (604 PA)
Polanco's actually playing everyday, but his time has been restricted by injury. You can do worse than Polanco, as we shall be reminded as we descend the list. And nobody's more aware of this than the Phillies, who for the last several seasons have suffered through Marlon Anderson (695 OPS) at 2B. Last season, Polanco played 131 games at third base; this season, he's been used exclusively at second, which immediately moves him from "critical lineup hole" to "slightly subpar player." On top of that, Polanco - always a good hitter for average - has been walking more this season (he's also been hit by 5 pitches compared to 8 all last year), and as a result has brought his OBP up to a respectable .359.
VERDICT: Polanco's still better suited to utility duty; he's still not a guy who will hit for much power, draw a lot of walks or hit .300, but he murders lefthanded pitching (.368 this year, .341 the prior 3 seasons). But the Phillies have intelligently (if expensively) addressed the situation by moving Polanco to second to replace Anderson with David Bell. That, at least, is progress.
2002 with Dodgers: .281/.330/.402 (731 OPS) (614 PA)
Yes, Paul LoDuca; the rookie sensation of two years ago has left those 25-homer days only a memory. LoDuca hit .281 last season as an everyday catcher in Dodger Stadium, and there are some indications that he was playing hurt.
VERDICT: While his overall numbers are disappointing, you wouldn't consider replacing him, and the Dodgers - short as they are on bats - haven't. They did bring in a shell of the former Todd Hundley, who's scarcely played. LoDuca, like Polanco, has helped himself this season by walking more, and if that holds up, he'll recapture a little more of that 2001 magic.
2002 with Pirates: .246/.322/.408 (730 OPS) (518 PA)
2002 with Brewers: .257/.332/.397 (729 OPS) (500 PA)
Ye wasteful spendthrifts, repent! Young and Hammonds are still working off their horrendous contracts, although "working" for Hammonds is a relative term; he's back to his usual position on the DL. The Pirates have at least taken Young out of the lineup, albeit to replace him with a younger Kevin Young (Randall Simon).
VERDICT: These guys are done as everyday players. Anyone with half a brain would have seen that they were never worth the many millions these purportedly poverty-stricken teams showered on them. The Brewers may try to play Hammonds when healthy, but John Vander Wal (even at his own advanced age) remains a better option with the bat, and Hammonds lacks the glove to challenge the weak-hitting 26-year-old Alex Sanchez in center field.
2002 with Dodgers: .257/.303/.426 (729 OPS) (624 PA)
My first baseball blog post, last August, argued that Beltre had made The Leap, pointing to his .372/.410/.649 AVG/OBP/SLG line over the prior month. I've been at a loss as to what's happened to him; maybe the abdominal surgery has never quite healed? One likely culprit that's at least partially responsible: plate discipline.
BB/K Per 600 PA, and OPS:
Hmmmm. Sometimes, it really is that simple. And notice that it's not the strikeouts, which have been fairly level; it's the fact that his walks fell off the cliff in 2001 and have not recovered.
VERDICT: You don't give up on a guy like Beltre quite yet, but the words "Fernando Tatis" are starting to sound familiar. At a minimum, the Dodgers shouldn't build their pennant race plans around the assumption that he'll just bounce back.
2002 with Devil Rays: .254/.330/.396 (727 OPS) (633 PA)
Cox is off to Japan, freeing up at bats for . . . well, actually for Travis Lee.
VERDICT: I'd always expected better from Cox, who had good minor league numbers and hit well in 2000 before regressing, particularly in the power categories. Replacing him with the punchless Lee isn't much, if any, improvement.
May 19, 2003
BASEBALL: 300 Wins
The Baseball Primer's Chris Dial argues that the 5-man rotation is innocent of charges of killing off the 300-game winner; in fact, he argues that the 5-man rotation may have helped guys get to 300. After all, as I've noted before, Clemens could still be followed by Maddux and Glavine, especially if Glavine can get out of Queens by August.
Dial starts with the obvious: only three 300-game winners started their careers between from 1920 and the mid-1960s. The 300-game winner was thus rare before the mid-60s.
There's a bunch of factors at work here, and clearly a larger one is the fact that modern pitchers don't go as deep into games. But Dial says in the comments:
The 300-G winners from the 60s didn't get 40 starts per season over their careers. Okay, Niekro and his knuckleball would start more often. Seaver *never* started more than 36 games in a season. There would be 3-5 pitchers each season that got more than 36 GS, but not one per team or anything. By 1974, the 5-day rotation was in full use.
I decided to look more closely at the six guys from the 70s who made it to 300. Let's say you capped all their seasons at 35 starts each - where does that get you? For each pitcher, I prorated Wins/Starts down to 35 starts (ignoring the fact that they sometimes made relief appearances):
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1. Steve Carlton, 329 Wins
Carlton started more than 35 games in a season 9 times; prorating his starts, that got him an extra 16 wins. Net: 313 wins.
2. Nolan Ryan, 324 Wins
Ryan started more than 35 games in a season 5 times; prorating his starts, that got him an extra 10 wins. Net: 314 wins.
3. Don Sutton, 324 Wins
Sutton started more than 35 games in a season just 4 times; prorating his starts, that got him an extra 6 wins. Net: 318 wins.
4. Phil Niekro, 318 Wins
Niekro started more than 35 games in a season 9 times; prorating his starts, that got him an extra 15 wins. Net: 303 wins. But then, in the late 70s, Niekro was starting every third or fourth day in what was otherwise an irregular rotation; none of the other Braves pitchers started 40 games a year in those days. If Niekro were pitching today, he might do the same thing.
5. Gaylord Perry, 314 Wins
The one beneficiary, and the one guy in the group who's almost as much a 60s as a 70s pitcher. Perry started more than 35 games in a season 10 times; prorating his starts, that got him an extra 18 wins. Net: 296 wins.
6. Tom Seaver, 311 Wins
Seaver started more than 35 games in a season just 4 times, and it was 36 each time; he really was in a 5-man rotation, albeit one that worked around his schedule. Prorating his starts, that got him an extra 2 wins. Net: 309 wins.
It's true that the 300-game winners of the 70s mostly got there without much help from the 4-man rotation, but they did each get a few extra wins they wouldn't have otherwise had.
Â« Close It
BASEBALL: Piazza Down
I'd say the injury to Piazza is the straw that broke the camel's back, but let's face it: that camel's been face down in the sand for a very long time now. Let the rebuilding begin! I'd have to say it's even time to trade Piazza; the good news, in a sense, is that the injury will probably prevent the Mets from dealing Piazza until Steve Phillips has been fired and replaced with somebody with a rebuilding plan beyond "let's bring in more guys in their late 30s who make $10 million a year."
May 17, 2003
BASEBALL: Bill James Chat Wrap
Bill James, the master himself, made an appearance over at ESPN.com the other day. Some highlights:
Jake (Mountlake Terrace, WA): Bill, can we gleam anything from the Win Shares system after only 40-odd games, or is it a tool that's truly accurate after a full 162-game schedule?
Bill James: Nothing. Win Shares are a tool used to analyze a season after it is over. They have no relevance at all to a moving object.
* * *
Jake (Mountlake Terrace, WA): Kansas City Royals: will they merely settle in as a slightly-above .500 team, or will they crash and burn like the 2001 Minnesota Twins? How do you see the young pitchers progressing (or regressing)?
Bill James: I don't honestly see tham as being any better than they have been. Pena has very significantly re-educated a bunch of the young pitchers, many of whom frankly don't look anything like they did last year. This is ONE step toward making them good major league pitchers--but it is just one step along a long road.
(Looks like Jake was hogging the chat)
* * *
Jason Rose (Chicago): What players would you say are the most valuable commodities in all of baseball, taking into account everything (talent, age, contract status, expected durability)? I would say 1) A Rod, (2) Vlad Guerrero and (3) Mark Prior.
Bill James: I think I would be Prior ahead of Guerrero, but that's a REAL good list. I don't know that there is anybody else who would break up that top three.
* * *
Bill James: I don't know; when did you get the last one? I'll have a book to a publisher next spring. . .don't know when it will appear.
* * *
Jordan: There's been a lot of chatter about moving Piazza to 1B. My feeling is that he's of more value as a catcher even with all the stolen bases, especially with offense at such a premium for the Mets. What's your take?
Bill James: I'd move him, and let Mo Vaughn catch. I think he'd throw out about as many runners, and it would be more entertaining to watch.
* * *
Kevin (Harrisburg, PA): Bill, do you think the comparisons of Randy Wolf to Glavine are legit?
Bill James: Yes. If you put Wolf on the Braves, he would win 18-20 games.
Read the whole thing.
May 16, 2003
BASEBALL: Not So Smooth
Aaron Gleeman's Johan Santana Liberation Watch reads as follows:
Is it rude of me to point out that this omits the inconvenient fact that Santana is walking 4.5 men per 9 innings?
I agree with Aaron's larger point - heck, I've got Santana on both of my rotisserie teams, myself - but he's not Randy Johnson, not yet at least.
BASEBALL: Not Enough Hurt To Go Around
The White Sox have spent the season wallowing in mediocrity in a weak division. Quietly, though, Frank Thomas is back: back to walking a ton, back to the big power numbers, and closing in on .300 (he's currently at .279/.566/.438). And as I've previously noted, D'Angelo Jimenez is having a great year; Esteban Loaiza is 7-1 with a 2.05 ERA; and Damaso Marte is having another fine year out of the bullpen, with 4 saves, a 1.80 ERA and a 17-6 K/BB ratio, and looks likely to wind up wresting the closer's job from Billy Koch for the balance of the season.
What's not working? On the pitching side, as usual, the back of the Chicago rotation is a horror show of inexperienced and overmatched starters; Jon Garland and Josh Stewart have been deplorable. But Mark Buerhle, despite a respectable ERA, has also been alarmingly ineffective: Buehrle has allowed an unearned run per 9 innings, and his peripheral stats are ugly - 58.1 IP, 63 hits, 8 HR, 21 BB, just 25 K. Buehrle just isn't fooling anyone.
On the offensive side: impatience. Behind Thomas and Jimenez, nobody's averaging a walk per 10 plate appearances. Carlos Lee, who drew 75 walks last year, has regressed to just 7, leaving him with a paltry .295 OBP; Joe Crede's been twice as impatient and, along with Paul Konerko, hasn't done anything with the bat.
Up, and down; down, and up. With tonight's victory, they're 20-20. The Sox aren't out of anything, not in mid-May in a weak division. But they're treading water.
May 15, 2003
BASKETBALL/BASEBALL: RIP Dave DeBusschere
Not much time for blogging this morning, but I would recommend the New York Daily News coverage of the death of Dave DeBusschere yesterday of a sudden heart attack at age 62, including a fine Mike Lupica tribute. (You can get DeBusschere's baseball stats here, including his career ERA of 2.90).
May 14, 2003
BASEBALL: A Plea For Help
I got the following email last night, and thought I'd pass it along; I don't know that much about this story, although news reports on the web seem to suggest that this is for real:
[O]n February 22nd, 2003, Carl Riccio, my cousin, a 17 year old junior at Watchung Hills High School in NJ, broke his neck during a high school wrestling match. Carl was an undefeated wrestler and a star baseball player. This tragedy made headline news across the country. These accidents occur only twice a year in the sporting world.
If you're wondering why I'm not much in a mood to write about baseball this morning . . . don't ask.
BASEBALL/POLITICS: Fields of Cash
SO, IT TURNS OUT that Major League Baseball has been berry berry good to members of Congress (about 60/40 to the Democrats), notably Dick Gephardt and James Sensenbrenner (the latter is chairman of a committee that oversees baseball's antitrust exemption), although frankly the amounts of money involved (at least for the individual members) isn't that much (you can't buy a guy like Gephardt for $5,000).
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:00 AM | Baseball 2002-03 | Politics 2002-03 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
May 12, 2003
BASEBALL: The Poor 44, Part One
Now, I'm not the biggest fan of OPS - On Base Plus Slugging - as the be-all & end-all of batting stats, but as long as you recognize its limitations, it's one of the quickest and easiest ways to sum up a player's offensive contributions.
According to ESPN.com, 151 players qualified for the batting title in 2002 (an average of a little more than 5 per team, so we're really looking at the core regulars here, not everyone with something like a full time job) and 107 of them posted an OPS of 750 or better (equivalent to a .350 OBP and .400 slugging, or .330 OBP and .420 slugging, or whatever). In today's game, that's just the cover charge - below a line like that, chances are, you're not contributing with the bat. That leaves 44 players who rarely came out of the lineup but who just didn't cut it with the bat. If you are looking for lineup problems in need of solving, you'd expect that these guys should be it. Let's look at the list and see where the holes were last year, and how many of them have actually been fixed; I'll start with numbers 108-112:
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Stats listed as Avg/OBP/Slg (OPS) (Plate Appearances); 2003 stats through 5/11/03; age as of July 1, 2003
108-124: The Weak Spots
2002 with Orioles: .233/.338/.404 (742 OPS) (627 PA)
Like a number of players on this list, Mora is a utility man -- and a good one -- miscast as an everyday player, especially if he's used (as he was more often than not last season) as an outfielder. By drawing 70 walks and absorbing 20 hit by pitches, Mora showed himself able to get on base a bit even while batting .233.
Mora's playing time has been cut back a bit this season: he's played a good deal of left field and some shortstop, but nothing resembling regular time at any position. Perhaps in part as a result, Mora has started fast for the second straight year.
VERDICT: Keeping him from becoming a fixture in the lineup would be a good sign, but the Orioles' other options are slim pickings.
2002 with Blue Jays/Yankees: .232/.308/.432 (740 OPS) (628 PA)
Before the season, I figured that the odds were against Hideki Matsui being disappointing enough to justify keeping Mondesi and his mega-million contract around, and I would have gone twice for that if you'd told me that Nick Johnson would be slugging .531 with a .469 OBP in the middle of May. But the Hated Yankees dealt away Rondell White, sent Juan Rivera back to Columbus, and handed the everyday right fielder's job to Mondesi. And while Matsui has struggled, it's Mondesi who has responded with by far his best season (so far) since 1997.
VERDICT: Stranger guys have had huge comeback seasons in their 30s, and Mondesi has always been seen by insiders as a guy who didn't live up to his physical tools. The Yanks decided not to give Mondesi away (with his contract, he can't be traded for fair value), and they've been richly rewarded.
2002 with Cubs: .248/.312/.425 (737 OPS) (559 PA)
This is the Alex Gonzalez who used to be with the Blue Jays, if you're not keeping score at home. People seem to have finally given up on him as a promising hitter after years and years of hype and only one, injury-shortened payoff in early 1999. As a shortstop, Gonzalez' 737 OPS wasn't really that awful, so with few other options in the pipeline, the Cubs' willingness to stick with Gonzalez is defensible.
Like the first two guys on the list, though, Gonzalez has started with a bang in 2003, albeit to a less dramatic extent. His power numbers are mostly unchanged and his walk rate is up only slightly; instead, Gonzalez has lifted his batting average 35 points while cutting his strikeout rate very sharply, from 159 per 600 at bats to 104 per 600 at bats.
VERDICT: Probably another tease; cutting your strikeouts by almost a third in one year is not a feat often accomplished, especially for a veteran whose batting line has been mostly unchanged for nearly a decade. Early surges in batting average, unaccompanied by a change in any other skill, is the least likely trend to hold. Still, if Gonzalez hits .265 instead of .248, the Cubs will be happy.
2002 with Royals: .248/.330/.406 (737 OPS) (531 PA)
Want a reason to doubt the Royals? Start with Michael Tucker, another decent if past-his-prime bench player who found everyday time for a dead-end franchise. That's not a misprint above: the Royals really are on a pace to give Tucker almost 700 plate appearances. Tucker's career 771 OPS is about midway between his numbers of last season and this one.
VERDICT: This team will go nowhere over the long season unless they get more playing time for Dee Brown at Tucker's expense.
2002 with Astros .253/.330/.404 (734 OPS) (627 PA)
How far the mighty have fallen. The Astros responded to Biggio's decline with a radical move: pushing him further leftward on the defensive spectrum, from second base to center field. Ordinarily, this would just makes his weak bat a bigger problem, unless (1) Biggio is a major defensive upgrade in center (this seems unlikely, although at least he got Berkman out of center field) or (2) he hits a lot better, which as of yet he hasn't. Of course, the Astros chose option (3), bringing in a serious slugger (Jeff Kent) to play second, but that still means Biggio is clogging an outfield slot that could go to a young masher.
VERDICT: I'm not sure if Biggio's really finished as a hitter; David Pinto notes that he's been on fire lately. But his overall numbers are consistent with what we've seen the last two years, and that's not much, especially when you factor in Minute Maid Field (in fact, the move from the low-scoring Astrodome to high-scoring Enron/Minute Maid has masked exactly how far Biggio has fallen from his prime). I'd say this is one problem that still needs fixing.
5 players, all 5 still in their jobs. Next time, we'll see how long the trend holds.
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BASEBALL: DePodesta For GM
Rotted in the roots, the team has developed three good players in the last 15 years. Of them, only Edgardo Alfonzo contributed anything to the 1999–2000 postseason teams.
Right on the money. The A's brain trust understands the foundation of the game, and whether Phillips does or not, he hasn't acted on it. New management is needed, and DePodesta's reputation suggests that he'd be the best guy for the job (especially considering he's more likely to take it than Billy Beane is).
Is DePodesta worth giving up a top prospect like Jose Reyes or Aaron Heilman? I think I'd say yes. A good GM is worth more than any player (I wouldn't say the same about managers). It's a steep price to pay, but worth it.
BASEBALL: Dodger Blues
An interesting breakdown on the Dodgers' offensive woes and dominant pitching: in 16 home games (through Sunday), the Dodgers have drawn 39 walks and issued 47; in 22 road games, they've drawn 72 walks and issued 71. In other words: 2.69 BB/team/G at Dodger Stadium, 3.25 BB/team/G on the road.
Despite this, in the short season thus far, Dodger Stadium has not lived up to its traditional status as a pitcher's park; the team is batting .275 at Dodger Stadium as opposed to .243 away, and has a slightly higher home ERA (2.88 to 2.81). Result: the Dodgers and their opponents are scoring 3.63 R/team/G at Dodger Stadium, 3.23 in Dodger road games.
In other words: it's not the park. It's the hitters.
May 10, 2003
BASEBALL: Phillips and the Duke
If there's a lesson from the last two years of Steve Phillips with the Mets and the last two seasons Dan Duquette spent in Boston, it's this: the minute the GM starts to worry about being fired, he should be. Phillips and the Duke both had their strong points as GMs, but both gave in to panicked overspending on declining veterans when they reached the point where they were more worried about the back page than about the long haul.
BASEBALL: Estes on the Edge
The Cub Reporter says Shawn Estes has saved his job in the Cubs' rotation, for now. Ah, just wait and see. Estes is one of those guys who's very good at pulling off a good start or two when he needs it to stay employed, but if his past few years is any indication, he'll keep spiralling downward as the season goes on.
May 8, 2003
BASEBALL: Gather No Moss
I have to disagree with The Mad Hibernian on this one, and I stand by my initial skepticism of the Moss deal for the Giants. Look at the numbers: Moss has walked 24 batters in 42.2 IP (more than 5 per 9 innings), while striking out 26, a terrible ratio. He's allowing 1.45 baserunners/IP, which is hideous. Granted, he's allowed just 3 home runs compared to 20 in 179 IP last season. But if Moss has an ERA below 3.50 this season while walking 5 men a game, I'll eat my hat.
BASEBALL: Mo Insurance
The Daily News nails a point I've been thinking about lately: not to wish any ill to Mo Vaughn, but if Mo needs knee surgery, the Mets could wind up passing on much of the cost of his contract to their insurance company, which would relieve a huge pressure from the team.
Change in the Mets organization can't stop with firing Steve Phillips. It has to go straight to the top - Fred Wilpon is in total control of the team, and the Mets can only recover if Wilpon learns to stop pressing his GM to think short-term. This could be the shock to the system that is needed to underline that point.
May 7, 2003
BASEBALL: More Mets, Painful As It Is
Bob Klapisch proposed some remedies for the Mets, assuming this year and next are wasted. Some of those are no-brainers (fire Phillips; trade Mo, Alomar and Benitez), while the others are interesting. Trading Piazza makes sense, certainly on paper (his best years are certainly behind him), but I do understand recognizing what he has done for the franchise and hoping to have him go into the Hall of Fame as a Met. I do like the idea of reducing the ticket prices: the prices were set with certain expectations, which clearly will go unfulfilled. May as well recognize that and treat this as an apology to the fans.
Here is ESPN SportsNation's Top Ten most infamous Mets moments. Quite a disappointment -- nothing here goes back past 1989. Funny, I remember some pretty infamous moments during the '70's and early '80's (I wasn't in a position to watch in the '60s). Still, an entertaining read.
BASEBALL: Dr. Frankenstein Turns On His Monster
Dan Shaughnessy says all the negativity in Red Sox Nation stinks and it sucks and it stinks. This is rather like if Bob Tyrrell wrote a column asking why everyone was so hard on Bill Clinton.
(Link via Bruce Allen's always-comprehensive Boston Sports Media Watch).
May 6, 2003
BASEBALL: Home Run Tony
Bad as the Mets have been this season, I can still get a rise out of Red Sox fans every time I ask them, "hey, why'd you let this Tony Clark guy go?"
BASEBALL: Mets Fans
One thing I would add to The Mad Hibernian's comments below is that Mets fandom is probably more tolerant than many teams' fans of a rebuilding effort, given that the Mets have had such great success with building around home-grown talent in constructing the 1969-73 and 1984-90 teams, and such spectacular failures in importing veteran talent in the early 1990s as well as many individual instances (George Foster, Mickey Lolich, etc.). Granted, the 1997-2000 team was heavily imported veterans and the 1986 team had some of those (Hernandez, Carter, Ojeda, Knight, HoJo, Teufel), but the lesson is clear enough.
May 5, 2003
BASEBALL: No Bombing The Bombers
I've touched on this before, but the Hated Yankees are out-homering their opponents by the preposterous total of 53-17 and out-walking them 153-69. It's nearly impossible to lose when you do that. Two notes on the pitchers:
1. Jeff Weaver, who's not even having a good year, hasn't allowed a home run in 38.1 IP -- this from a guy who allowed 53 homers his first two seasons in the bigs.
2. Juan Acevedo is the only Yankee reliever to allow a home run this season.
BASEBALL: Art on Pedro
I haven't linked to him nearly enough since I moved my own column away from Projo, but Art Martone is always a good read. Check out his April 23 piece on the Pedro-not-talking flap (with some good observations on clutch hitting thrown in) (registration required).
BASEBALL/BLOG: Dr. Manhattan's Return
BASEBALL: More Attacks on Duquette
Gordon Edes relays in his Sunday Globe column this humorous attack by Royals bench coach (and former Red Sox bench coach) Bob Schaefer on his old boss, Dan Duquette:
There's no love lost between Schaefer and Duquette. ''He didn't have the [guts] to fire me,'' Schaefer said. ''But he's running a kids camp, and we're in the big leagues. What can you say about that? If he'd just let people do their job, he'd be as smart as hell and still have his job.
If Jim Duquette is anything like his brother, let's hope the Mets keep Steve Phillips.
Roger Clemens needs 3 more wins for 300. Here's his next 8 scheduled starts, assuming an every-fifth-game schedule:
1. May 10 at OAK
The most likely victim looks like the Tigers, since the odds of Clemens winning more than 2 of 4 starts vs. Oakland, Texas and Boston look a bit slim. But with wins in his next two starts he could very easily go for 300 at Fenway. And, with a little drought, he could also wind up still needing a win heading to Shea Stadium.
May 2, 2003
BASEBALL: Steve Phillips Must Go
I'll go into this in more detail at a later date, but I agree with most of Bruce Markusen's diagnosis of the Mets.
Somebody asked me earlier if you could describe anyone on the Mets as really being in his prime. Several Mets are close to their primes - Piazza, Leiter, Benitez, Trachsel, Floyd, Strickland, maybe Vance Wilson, possibly Wigginton. I'm suspicious of Glavine and Stanton, but both were still effective last season and both have had their moments. You could make a good argument that Trachsel and Floyd are in their primes, although both have started slowly this season, and Floyd is at least past his prime defensively.
BASEBALL: MacDougal Goes Wild
Well, the wheels have come off the Mike MacDougal bandwagon in a hurry after a few bad outings. I'm still kicking myself for not noticing MacDougal in the offseason; his velocity (100+ mph) and backstory (the fact that his control problems last season were partially attributed to the lingering effects of a freak skull fracture from Carlos Beltran throwing his bat into the dugout) made him a good candidate to way exceed, among other things, his Baseball Prospectus PECOTA forecast (which, on the basis of his statistical profile, projected MacDougal for a 9.52 ERA this season). If you got him cheap in a Roto league - or, if, like the Royals, you just plain got him cheap and hold his rights for a few years - there's major cause for encouragement. But we should not have expected him to turn into Billy Wagner or Troy Percival overnight. He'll have his moments, but a guy with 9 walks and 9 K in 12.2 IP is just not ready for that level of prime time dominance.
I forget if I've posted this chart before . . . there's a legitimate debate about whether Bill Mazeroski's glove should carry his bat into the Hall of Fame, but how does Mazeroski stack up as a hitter? Here's his career batting-obp-slugging compared to some other Hall of Famers:
May 1, 2003
BASEBALL: Sox Fever
Kiner's Korner asks below why Red Sox fans have been cautious so far in embracing this team. Leaving aside the ingrained negativity of the Boston media (the Weekly Standard's Christopher Caldwell has some choice words on that score over the Mike Timlin locker room flap), I think a big reason is that the Sox are still behind the Yankees in the standings, and Sox fans are well aware that recent history (i.e., the past 8 decades) isn't exactly littered with examples of the Sox pulling down the Yankees from behind; the only one I can recall is 1988, when the Yankees collapsed after a hot start when Billy Martin was fired and replaced with Lou Piniella, while the Sox caught fire after they replaced John McNamara with Joe Morgan.
April 30, 2003
BASEBALL: Are the Red Sox Quietly Good??
I've been noticing lately that the Red Sox are off to a good start. With last night's win over the Royals, I figured it was time for a post. It sure doesn't feel like they are playing all that well -- the typical Boston fan over-hyping is lacking this year, maybe because the Yankees are off to a tremendous start. Nevertheless, consider this: their bullpen has blown three games flat-out. If they had won those games, the Sox would have the same record as the Yankees. Of course (a) they are playing a soft part of their schedule, (b) they got off to a great start last year and started fading in mid-June and (c) well, it is the Red Sox. So, let's give credit where it is due, but I'm glad to see the fans aren't yet harboring unrealistic expectations. Who knows, though, the Yankees can't keep this pace up, can they??
BASEBALL: Knight-Davis Fight
I was quite disappointed recently when ESPN's Page 2 ran a list of baseball's greatest fights and left off the Mets-Reds brawl of July 22, 1986.
The thing about that fight is, it was one of those games - typical for the Mets in those days - where nothing much happened until the ninth inning, other than Darryl Strawberry getting ejected for arguing balls and strikes. (Note: some of the play-by-play here is from Retrosheet, but sadly they seem to have changed the site layout so you can't link to individual box scores).
UPDATE: Per Jason Steffens' comments, here's the direct link.
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Anyway, the game was going nowhere, 3-1 Reds with two outs in the ninth, when the Mets got two runners on against John Franco and Dave Parker proceeded to drop a routine fly ball by Keith Hernandez (it just popped out of his glove), the game was tied, and off to extra innings.
In the 10th inning, with Jesse Orosco on the mound, Pete Rose singled with one out, and put in Eric Davis to pinch run for himself. Blessed with incredible physical talents, the 24-year-old Davis had only just started playing regularly in June; maybe he was trying to impress his famously aggressive manager, who after all was despised by Mets fans for years after his own fight with Buddy Harrelson in the 1973 NLCS.
So Davis steals second and third (he'd wind up with 80 steals on the season), and at third he goes hard into Ray Knight, and when Knight jaws at him, Davis gives him a shove. Now, baseball players are not really known as good fighters; most of them just throw wild roundhouse Popeye the Sailor Man punches that don't do much damage. But Knight wasn't just any ballplayer; he was a Golden Gloves boxer in high school, and he knew how to throw a punch. He cocked his right arm quickly back and cracked Davis square in the jaw with a punch. You could tell he landed a good one when Davis' head snapped back like a bobblehead.
That's when it really got wild. Besides Knight, high on the list of guys you'd want on your side in a baseball fight was Gary Carter, the only guy I ever saw fight John Stearns to a draw. Carter had great presence of mind; as the dugouts started spilling out, he ran out from behind the plate, whipped off his mask, and almost in one motion, stuck the mask in front of Davis' stomach and just fell on him. Davis, the wind completely knocked out of him by landing on the mask, was out of the fight.
Too many others weren't; this was a baseball fight where it seemed like everyone was actually fighting. The worst of it involved the Reds' starting rotation, which for whatever reason decided to gang up on Kevin Mitchell, the Mets rookie who'd been through more than his share of actual gang fights as a kid in San Diego (he had the scars on his back from chain-whippings to prove it). The pitchers were taking turns holding Mitchell down and pummeling his face; even John Denny, who was on the disabled list, got in the act.
(The brawl also helped cement the end of the line for George Foster, the only Met to stay on the bench; he was released not long after).
When the smoke cleared, so many players were ejected (in the case of Mitchell and Davis, they were also physically unable to keep playing) that the Mets wound up the rest of the game with a ridiculous defensive alignment with Orosco and Roger McDowell alternating between the mound and the outfield (the Mets broadcast showed Pete Rose throwing the rule book in frustration - not the last time, I suspect - when he couldn't find a rule against this) and Carter at third base (Howard Johnson was at short). McDowell avoided fielding anything, but Orosco did catch a fly ball, and Carter started a double play from his new position; only in 1986 would things like this work out for the Mets. In the 14th, Ed Hearn doubled, Orosco (the triple threat!) walked, and Johnson -- then known more for clutch hitting and less as a productive everyday player - blasted a 3-run homer off Ted Power. In the end, it was one of the most memorable regular season games of that whole era.
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April 29, 2003
BASEBALL: D'Angelo Jimenez
One of this season's early surprises is former Yankee prospect D'Angelo Jimenez. At one time, if you recall, many analysts rated Jimenez higher than Alfonso Soriano, before the car wreck that left Jimenez with a broken neck. He's been frustratingly inconsistent ever since, but this season, leading off for the White Sox (with whom he finished well last year) he's off to his best start, thumping the ball with great authority, with 6 doubles, 4 triples and 3 homers adding up to a .549 slugging percentage. Combine that with good plate patience and you've got quite a player, especially if he can sustain his .297 batting average.
If you're looking for a symbol of the Mets' struggles, there's no shortage of choices. One that's been on my mind lately is Roberto Alomar's batting average. As Alomar heated up over the past few weeks, I kept telling myself that I wouldn't get my hopes up for a return of the old Alomar until he got to .300 - a symbolic target, yes, but not so long ago, .300 in late April was no accomplishment for Alomar. His average went as high as .296 on April 24, but then the bottom dropped out: 0 for 13 in the 3-game set with Arizona. At the start of today's action, he's hitting .255.
I'm still waiting.
April 28, 2003
BASEBALL: Yankees' Amazing Start
As a Mets' fan, I reluctantly mention this article that points out some amazing stats of the Yankees' recent tear. I take some comfort that its from a Boston paper; thus, Red Sox fans also have to share the pain. Some examples:
Entering play [Saturday], they'd hit more home runs (45) than the Tigers had scored runs (43). Their on-base percentage of .388 was 34 points better than the team with the second-best OBP, the Red Sox (.354). The starters' ERA of 2.72 was nearly two full runs lower than that of the Sox starters (10-6, 4.62 ERA). The pitching staff had allowed a league-low seven home runs -- while three teams, the Blue Jays, Devil Rays, and Angels, have allowed 30 or more. They'd walked a league-low 54 batters, 50 fewer than the league-worst Rangers (104). Their defense had allowed just one unearned run in 23 games.
I spent a frustrating afternoon at Shea yesterday, watching the Mets make rookie Brandon Webb look like Greg Maddux in his first major league start (with two small children, we couldn't stick around for the nightcap); they wound up with 8 errors and 27 strikeouts on the day. Mo Vaughn made a horrible error at first in the game we saw; it was hard to tell if the fans were yelling 'Mo,' 'Boo,' or 'Moo.' Roger Cedeno is now booed whenever he emerges from the dugout. The only highlight was when I turned to my son (age 5) to tell him to watch carefully when the count went 2-2 on Tony Clark, and sure enough he smacked a line drive home run to left center. This is a weak division, but the Mets sure don't look like the team to take it.
April 27, 2003
One of the really frustrating things about Armando Benitez' early struggles is that the Mets would be in first place now (in spite of all their other problems) if he'd converted those 4 save chances he's blown. What's harder to tell is what's really wrong, and whether it's more than just a bad run for a good pitcher. The main problems -- control trouble, lack of durability beyond 1 inning, lack of movement on his fastball, the fact that he only has two pitches and he's afraid to throw one (the splitter) on a 3-ball count, poor temperment -- are things that have been true for years. The only suggestion I've heard that's new is that he isn't throwing inside enough.
April 26, 2003
More brain tumors for Johnny Oates. Prayers, please.
BASEBALL: Praising Raul
The New York Daily News' Sam Borden asks, "Has anyone ever had a more meaningful immediate impact than Raul Gonzalez?"
Do we really need to answer that?
April 25, 2003
BASEBALL/BASKETBALL: No Comparison
Was Yogi Berra the greatest player in baseball history?
The debate over the proper place of statistics in the analysis of baseball is one that rages on perenially, and probably always will. Sometimes the arguments against statistical analysis descend into self-parody - like when the MVP voters gave Andre Dawson the award in a year when his team finished last, based entirely on his 49 HR and 137 RBI, while refusing to look at the overall picture of Dawson's poor on base percentage and dependence on Wrigley Field. Like when the writers stumped for Tony Perez for the Hall of Fame and simultaneously argued that (1) his career RBI total justified his enshrinement and (2) statistics don't matter, so let's not talk about any of the other numbers, and Perez capped it all off by ranting in his acceptance speech about how numbers don't mean anything (personally, I can't help but wonder every time Perez and Joe Morgan criticize statistics whether it's just a veiled shot at stat-obsessed ex-teammate Pete Rose). Like when pro-Bud Selig sportswriters essentially insist that revenues and expenses are irrelevant to whether a business is making or losing money.
But I digress.
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In fact, there's a fair argument over the outer limits of any statistical analysis to capture everything that happens on the baseball field, as well as the proper balance between statistical metrics that seek to be precise and all-encompassing and those that actually count something. But I write here to zero in on one, narrower pet peeve of mine: the tendency of critics of statistical analyses to use basketball statistics for support. There are a number of examples of this that crop up in the media; here's one I picked sort of at random, from a January 2002 column in The Weekly Standard bashing Wall Street Journal sportswriter Allan Barra. A similar tack was taken by SI a few months before that, if I remember right, comparing the NBA's MVP race to baseball, but I don't have the link. (Can you tell this is a column that was half-written and unfinished for a year?) Let me be very clear about this: basketball stats are different.
An obvious example: Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. Wilt Chamberlain scored 30.1 points per game in his career. Bill Russell averaged 15.1 a game, in a shorter career. Chamberlain had more rebounds, total and per game, and a slighly higher assists/game average. He shot for a higher field goal percentage, much higher. Wilt's signature weakness was free throw shooting, but Russell was also a crummy free throw shooter.
You can slice and dice the numbers severa different ways - playoff stats, run the head-to-head matchups - but no matter how far that narrows the gap, you simply can not make a credible statitsical case that Bill Russell was a better player than Chamberlain, or even particularly close. There's just too much -- too much difference in offense, principally. Twelve points per game for all those years is a lot.
And yet, there are plenty of reasonable people, people quite knowledgeable about the game, who argue that Russell was better. And they might be right - even when you account for better teammates, Russell didn't win all those championships and beat Wilt head-to-head all those times for nothing. The argument can go either way.
Anyway, my point here is not to resolve the Chamberlain-Russell debate, but to make a larger point about statistics. There are people who argue that baseball stats don't matter, but they do, even to the most hidebound fans -- because nobody seriously disputes that they set the parameters of the debate. (This, of course, was the point that Bill James keeps making, and made most pointedly in the Dawson MVP debate: we need to understand the stats first and foremost not because that's how we SHOULD view the game but because that's how we DO view the game).
Arguing for Russell over Chamberlain is very much like arguing for Yogi Berra as the greatest player of all time. Yogi was a great player, quite possibly the best catcher in major league history. His numbers are very good, and he was more consistent and durable than anyone to play his position. He played what some would view as the most important position on the field, and his teams won with incredible regularity - 14 pennants, 10 championships.
But nobody seriously thinks that Yogi Berra was better than Babe Ruth or Willie Mays. The gap in the hard numerical records of their accomplishments is too vast to bridge, because we all know that most of the important things that happen on a baseball field get recorded.
That, ultimately, is what critics of statistical analysis of the game have to contend with. And trying to get mileage out of the fact that basketball stats are more limited just shows how ignorant those critics really are, and how much their facts are determined by their biases, rather than the other way around.
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The Baseball Prospectus runs Joe Sheehan's argument against Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame. You can get my take (from a few years back) on Morris, Bert Blyleven, Tommy John and Jim Kaat here.
April 24, 2003
BASEBALL: Yankee Gloves
There's something unusual going on with the Yankees that you may not have noticed, given that they are getting good pitching, crushing their opposition, and rolling to a record start even for the Yankees: the Yankee defense has been exceptionally ineffective.
Look at the pitching stats: the Yanks are now tied for the AL lead with a 3.01 ERA, but they are 6th in the AL in hits allowed despite a league-leading 156 K, just 50 walks (1 off the league lead), and a league-best 5 home runs allowed (less than half the nearest competitor).
Why? Simple. The Yanks are next to last in the league (above Texas) in turning balls in play into outs, 40 points below the league average (.6748 to .7126).
This has particularly affected the bullpen. Chris Hammond: 9 IP, 11 H, 0HR, 1 BB, 7 K. Antonio Osuna: 11.1 IP, 10 H, 0HR, 8 BB, 13 K. Juan Acevedo: 8 IP, 9 H, 1HR, 1 BB, 7 K. Jose Contreras: 5 IP, 11 H, 0HR, 6 BB, 7 K.
What else do these guys have in common? All new to the team. I'm not sure anyone has studied this, but I wonder if defenses are more effective when they've had time to adjust positioning behind a new pitcher . . .
Here's the other thing: last year, the Yanks were just around the league average. What changed? Well, there's Matsui, but the most obvious change is the loss of the everyday shorstop. Derek Jeter's defensive numbers have never been good, but is it possible they actually miss him? Erick Almonte has a Range Factor of 4.17 and a Zone Rating of .667 this year, and he's fielding an awful .929. Playing under basically the same conditions last season, Jeter's numbers were 3.81, .803 and .977. In other words, Almonte's taking more plays, but only because way more are his his way, and he's making more errors.
Do they miss Jeter? From the numbers alone, I can't say.
April 23, 2003
BASEBALL: Estimated Pitch Counts
The Baseball Prospectus' Nate Silver has another interesting column (subscription required) on estimating pitch counts for pitchers for whom they aren't available.
BASEBALL: Doctor My Eyes
I'm beginning to think that Roger Cedeno needs his eyes checked. He was never a true CF, but he wasn't always this bad an outfielder. It's fairly obvious that he just doesn't see the ball coming until it's too close to do anything about it.
One of this season's real surprises has been new Cubs closer Joe Borowski. I hadn't paid him much attention last season, but Borowski pitched pretty well: 97 K and 29 BB in 95.2 IP, and a 2.73 ERA. He was vulnerable to the long ball, though (10 dingers). And he's been lights-out so far in 2003: 3 saves in 3 tries, 10.2 IP, 3 hits (one a homer), no walks, 13 K, and an 0.84 ERA.
This could be an early test for Dusty Baker in Chicago: if Borowki keeps pitching anything like this, there's just no reason why Six Fingers Alfonseca should ever get his job back.
BASEBALL: Kiss My
A revealing note on tonight's Mets radio broadcast: Howie Rose and Ed Coleman were talking about how Art Howe had moved Roberto Alomar to the leadoff slot, and how important it was to Alomar that Howe personally asked Alomar to bat leadoff rather than writing his name in the lineup. It seems that a manager has to do a lot of stuff like this to get Alomar to play for him, and I suspect Bobby Valentine didn't do that kind of stuff.
BASEBALL: Caption Contest!
April 21, 2003
BASEBALL: Marcus Giles of Ham
Mac Thomason predicted, successfully, that the Braves would bench Marcus Giles after he hit a big home run. It's gratifying, on one level, to see the Mets' longstanding tormentors screw up a talented young hitter who would be very useful to them.
Like Bruce Chen or Jeremy Giambi, I continue to suspect that we don't have the whole story about Giles, although whether the rest of the story is a personality or work ethic thing, an off-the-field problem, or just a bad review of his mechanics is something we fans on the outside aren't privy to.
BASEBALL: The Red Carpet
This isn't exactly news, but you can't possibly evaluate the Royals' 14-3 start without recognizing that (1) they have yet to play a game outside the pitiful AL Central and (2) they haven't even faced the defending division champs.
Of course, if the Royals play .824 ball against the Tigers, Indians and White Sox all year, they'll do well. (I still think the White Sox are a pretty good team). But combining the small sample size with an extremely unbalanced schedule is a good way to get a record that's totally detatched from reality. Especially when your offense is premised on Brent Mayne and Joe Randa hitting like Foxx and Simmons.
BASEBALL/BLOG: Eddie Grant
This site is now the proud sponsors of the memory of Eddie Grant, an infielder with the Phillies, Reds and Giants (and Harvard alum) who was killed in action in the Argonne Forest in October 1918.
BASEBALL: K per Batter
Nate Silver at Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) has an interesting point, albeit one that he concedes most people will continue to ignore because it's not what they're accustomed to: that strikeouts per batter faced is a much better measurement of success than strikeouts per inning, since less effective pitchers face more batters per inning and thus have more opportunities.
April 19, 2003
BASEBALL: Ty Gamer
Speaking of marketing, watching Ty Wigginton barreling into catchers lately reminds me how much fun it is to have aggressive young players on your team. It's been so long . . .
BASEBALL: Ladies' Day
I agree with David Pinto that the Brewers' efforts to woo women to the ballpark with gimmicks like massages and floral arrangement demonstrations is pointless. Stuff like that may help draw the occasional non-baseball-fan-wife to the park, but those women will stay home as soon as you stop offering the gimmes. The goal of marketing, especially for a team with a small fan base, should be to bring people into the park who are likely to come back even when you stop bribing them. After all, any team could fill the seats by paying the fans more to show up than the tickets are worth. The only way to attract more of the kind of fans who will come back is to put an interesting (generally, winning) product on the field).
BASEBALL: Tony! Tony!
Last night's game-winning three-run homer is a good occasion for me to note that I was in favor of the Mets' low-cost acquisition of Tony Clark. Clark's overall numbers still aren't great (batting .235 with no walks), but he's showcased some of his old power (3 homers in 17 at bats). Mo Vaughn's contract remains untradeable and Clark is unlikely to achieve more than stopgap status as an outfielder, but if he can demonstrate that he has his old 30-homer form back, the Mets may well have a guy they can trade in July to a team that needs to upgrade at 1B or DH.
BASEBALL/WAR: Infidel Zionist Red Sox
Jim Caple has an amusing take on what it would sound like if the Hated Yankees hired Iraq's former Disinformation Minister as a broadcaster.
April 18, 2003
BASEBALL: Mo's Targets
Well, last night was a satisfying release; the dam hath burst and the rain shall pour forth on the parched sands . . . a team does need to whomp somebody now and then, and if it gets a win for Jay Seo and some work for Jason Middlebrook, all the better.
One thing I noticed on the radio broadcast last night: they were mentioning how Mo Vaughn just totally owns Julian Tavarez, before Mo cruched a bases-clearing double against him . . . is it just me, or are there an unusual number of pitchers Mo has unreal numbers against (David Wells being the extreme example)? Makes you wonder if his streaks and slumps are almost pre-determined: a week of famine, three days of feast.
April 17, 2003
BASEBALL: Deja Vu All Over Again
The Mets' start is all too reminiscent of last season, when the team was expected to have a solid offense and suspect pitching, but instead started the season with excellent starting pitching and no offense at all. The offense eventually got moving a little, but by then the pitching had unraveled. It's the same start: nobody's hitting, and worse yet, the bullpen's been a disaster. So the team has kept games close by getting some fine starting pitching from people who are unlikely to keep it up.
BASEBALL: What's Ains Worth?
The Law of Competitive Balance teaches us one thing: champions can't repeat without improving. A team that wins in one year will inevitably be dragged back to the pack by players aging, having off years, getting hurt; to counter that, you have to move aggressively to upgrade your weak spots. That's why Kurt Ainsworth, who has shot to a 3-0 start, is so important to the Giants. As I've said before, if Barry Bonds turns back into his old pre-2001 self, superstar though he was, the Giants are in huge trouble.
Ainsworth hasn't been perfect, of course; he's been tagged for 4 homers in 19 IP, which if it keeps up will be enough almost by itself to keep his ERA around 4.
April 16, 2003
One pitcher who intrigued me entering this season was Mike Maroth of the Tigers. Maroth was successful in the minors, showed great control last season as a rookie (1.61 BB/9 IP) and kept the ball in the park (just 7 HR in 128.2 IP). But his K rate was very low: just 4.06 K/9. Historically, the second season is big for that kind of pitcher: either he'll pull up the K rate or it will pull him down. But the Tigers moved in the fences at Comerica, which puts Maroth in a double bind.
Although he's 0-3 and was hit hard last night, the early indications are pretty good: Maroth has 11K to 3 BB and 2 HR through 18.1 IP. He could yet go on to a nice career.
BASEBALL: Crazies in Chicago
Wait, don't answer that.
April 13, 2003
BASEBALL: Bull Throwing
I suppose I can't let the story of the Hall of Fame disinviting Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon from an event honoring 'Bull Durham' over their penchant for anti-war and generally left-wing politics go without comment, but I really can't impove on James Taranto's retort to Robbins' letter (complaining that "baseball is being politicized"): "It does not even seem to have occurred to Robbins that none of this would have happened had he not politicized his own acting career."
Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) thinks otherwise:
[I]t's not that we don't want public figures--entertainers and athletes--to have political opinions. It's that we want them to have the right ones, and when they don't, they simply become cannon fodder. Social consciousness is good, as long as it tends toward the kind of mainstream things everyone can get behind. Curt Schilling can be political in writing an extended letter in the wake of September 11, because he said the right things. Manhattanville basketball player Toni Smith, however, is roundly criticized for her political protest, turning her back on the flag during the national anthem, just as Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was a decade ago. MLB can wrap itself and its personnel in the flag, with no regard to what level of support that decision has within the game.
My initial response to this is, well, duh. If athletes make fairly bland statements with which nearly everybody agrees, few will be offended. If they say things the great majority of the paying customers find abhorrent, they will be unpopular and that will spill over onto the public's affection for them. If they go somewhere in between, choosing sides on an issue where the country is deeply divided, people on the other side may wish to tune them out.
But there's another distinction here that Sheehan seems to miss. There are plenty of people in this country who supported the war with Iraq. There are also plenty of people who objected for one or other reason, based on predictions that the war would not turn out to be in our best interests, or based on a devotion to subjugating our national judgment to international procedural rules. The first group is the classic 'loyal opposition' group, and while they may be foolish and misguided, I don't think they meant America harm; quite the contrary. The second group is indeed 'unpatriotic' in a literal sense -- they are willing to put their nation's interests second to some defined interest of the world at large -- but again, their motives are generally driven by a sense of where our long-term enlightened self-interest lies.
The relevant point for these purposes is that, while both of these groups might find a certain amount of flag-waving, 'support the troops' rhetoric or some of the generic bravado in Schilling's letter to be a bit misplaced or unnecessarily strident, neither group is likely to find such generalized expressions of patriotism offensive. The only people who will be offended by generic appeals to patriotism, the flag or the troops are people who are on some level emotionally committed to anti-Americanism, the view that the exercise of American power is not a force for good in the world. And that's not a mainstream position in this country, or one that any sensible business needs to associate itself with. And, for better or worse, it's that third view that people associate with Sarandon and Robbins.
Let's give another example: would Sheehan find it problematic if baseball fans saw nothing wrong with athletes doing anti-drug PR spots, but objected to athletes who loudly proclaimed that using cocaine was a good thing? That's 'taking sides' all right, but one side is the position supported by the common sense conclusions of a great majority, and the other is a fringe position.
As with the item below, it's important to recognize that not all sides of all controversies are equal. I'm a big fan of bright lines and neutral principles, but there is still no substitute for using our human capacity for moral judgment. And comparing putting the flag on a uniform to giving ideologically charged speeches on issue after issue over a decade and a half -- that's a failure to use that judgment.
April 11, 2003
BASEBALL: DAVID PINTO WIGS OUT
David Pinto's had a good week, interviewing Bill James and getting a link from Rob Neyer. But I think Pinto's getting carried away with Ty Wigginton, suggesting he should bat second. Wigginton's shown some real promise with the bat -- if he can hold up in the field (the jury's still out on that one), Wigginton should hit enough to plug the third base hole. He's a somewhat similar player to Shea Hillenbrand, maybe a bit less power but I think Wigginton is likely to get on base more. But let's be realistic: Wigginton had a .324 OBP in AA in 2000 and a .325 OBP in AAA in 2001. I'd still rather take my chances with Roger Cedeno at the top of the order, and leave Wigginton to hit sixth.
April 10, 2003
BASEBALL: Cubs-Expos Box
A few thoughts on the Cubs-Expos box:
+Loyalty to Mark Grudzielanek (see below) is one thing, but leading off Grudzielanek is entirely another. That's just craaaaazy.
+Man, the Cubs are going to strike out a lot this season: Sosa, Patterson, Alex Gonzalez, Hee Choi . . . there were a lot of whiffs in this series.
+Pity poor Frank Robinson: he led off Jose Macias and batted Wil Cordero cleanup. I know that's not his regular lineup, but still . . .
BASEBALL: Damn Benitez
Damn Benitez . . . he can't go more than an inning; he just can't. I thought at the time that the Mets should have dealt him to the White Sox for Keith Foulke last May/June when Foulke was struggling, while they had the chance. Benitez spoils a well-pitched outing by Tom Glavine. We also see the problem with having (1) limited depth in quality relievers, (2) aging starters who can't go too deep in games, and (3) not enough offense to blow people out now and then: with Mike Stanton overworked and unavailable, Benitez had to be pushed too far, and he got burned.
Nobody'd be happier than me to see this team succeed, but I have certain ideas about how to build a good baseball team, and this team violates those ideas in so many ways that I basically have to root against my own analysis to pull for them. It's frustrating as anything. I'm not ready to give up being a Mets fan, as Bill James did with the Royals (the Royals have far exceeded the ordinary bounds of penury, idiocy and suckitude), but it does get me down sometimes.
BASEBALL: Magic Dust
Chris Kahrl on Baseball Prospectus Premium yesterday (subscription required) was bemoaning Dusty Baker's preference for veteran ballplayers, currently manifested in preferring Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek to giving everyday jobs to Hee Seop Choi and Bobby Hill. That's true enough, and I agree with Kahrl that this is not a wise or cost-effective way to run a baseball team. But maybe we should consider the flip side: maybe Baker's preference for veterans is inseparable from his biggest strength as a manager, the fact that veterans play well for him and respect him as a 'player's manager.' After all, if there's one thing veteran ballplayers don't like, it's young players who are after their jobs. If you're Sammy Sosa, and you see that Baker is loyal to Mark Grudzielanek, what are you going to conclude about how he'll treat you? Joe Torre is the same way.
This is not to suggest that this is the only way to manage men; managers like Casey Stengel and John McGraw got great mileage out of keeping the fear of God in older ballplayers, dropping them at a moment's notice for younger men. But that was also in the days before guaranteed contracts, when players were genuinely hungry; many of today's players share that hunger out of pride or competitiveness, but they don't need to. Sometimes, something else needs to be employed to motivate the millionaire ballplayer, and loyalty is as good a candidate as any. So hiring a manager who -- when given the choice -- will demonstrate loyalty to the old guys may not be as unthinkingly stubborn or stupid as it may sometimes be portrayed.
April 9, 2003
BASEBALL: Pinto Meets James
I hope you didn't miss David Pinto's interview with Bill James. What a coup for a baseball blogger!
BASEBALL: Cone Goes In Hard
Much as I'm skeptical about whether it will work, you gotta love David Cone's grit on the comeback trail. One thing I forgot to mention the other day, but that really impressed me, was Cone going hard into second base to break up a double play. Here's a 40-year old pitcher who probably hasn't run the bases more than once or twice in the past decade, and he's putting his body on the line for an edge on the bases. That's the sort of thing that gets your teammates' notice and respect in a hurry.
April 5, 2003
BASEBALL: Mets 4/5/03
What a difference two days makes. The Mets have been playing in bitterest cold and rain in New York - Frank Robinson came to the park Friday night wearing what looked like oven mitts on his hands and a "remind me why I'm managing again" look on his face, while Expos center fielder Endy Chavez played in a ski hat with a headband over his nose. The Mets' two geriatric starters, David Cone and Tom Glavine, made maximum use of the cold, jamming the Expos' hitters inside and then getting them to wave at outside pitches. Cone twice whiffed Vladimir Guerrero like this. The downside was that Mo Vaughn left today's game with a strained hip flexor (he pulled up a bit lame after a swing); it's unclear whether this was purely precautionary, but Mo was hobbling a bit. I'd love to see Cone and Glavine recapture past glory, although I'm still not optimistic. But things sure look better than they did on Thursday.
April 4, 2003
BASEBALL: 1 Player, 10 Teams
BASEBALL: Kirby Puckett Acquitted
BASEBALL: Mets 4/4/03
To keep yesterday's Mets loss in perspective (beyond the fact that it still leaves them a game ahead of Atlanta), you have to remember that Piazza was serving a suspension, Mo Vaughn was out with a bellyache (in Mo's case, this is a serious affliction), and Mark Prior was on the mound. Third starter or no, Prior is at least one of the top 10 pitchers in the National League, and could easily cement his position as #4 by the end of the season; expecting him to surpass Johnson, Schilling and Oswalt is asking a bit much, but there's no reason he can't surpass the next tier (Maddux, Morris, and perhaps Millwood). Prior's not a "potential" guy like Kerry Wood; he was just about that good already last season (his numbers from last year projected to 34 starts: yes, an 11-11 record, but 208.2 IP, 175 H, 25 HR, 68 BB, 263 K). All he needs is to cut the home runs just a bit and he'll be totally dominant.
(I tried to find a comparable pitching season to Prior's last year - a pitcher with 140 or more K in less than 120 IP, starting 10 or more games - and the only comp I could find was Pedro Martinez' injury-shortened 2001 campaign).
BASEBALL: 3 DAYS INTO THE SEASON, AND ALREADY THEY HAVE TO GIVE THE TICKETS AWAY
A friend forwarded me an email he received from the Mets, announcing that the team was giving away up to 800 tickets to tonight's game -- the team notes that it's David Cone's first start in his return to the team -- to people on the team's email list. The seats are in the Pepsi Picnic Area in left-center field.
With Cone pitching, the last place they need to give tickets away is beyond the fences in fair territory . . .
BASEBALL: SAMMY SOSA QUAGMIRE WATCH
April 3, 2003
BASEBALL: Todd Zeile
Todd Zeile last night put up about a month's production, if you measure by his tenure with the Mets.
BASEBALL: SAMMY SOSA QUAGMIRE WATCH
BASEBALL: CAN'T ANYBODY HERE PLAY
Last night's Mets game, while generally a well-played victory featuring Cliff Floyd's first homer in a Mets uniform, once again featured the train wreck that is Roger Cedeno in center field; if you missed the video, Cedeno made a sliding dive in the ninth inning that ended in a Canseco-like embarrassment, with the ball bouncing off the grass a foot in front of Cedeno and hitting him smack in the face. The play left Armando Benitez with a "maybe it's time to start beating my center fielder" look on his face. Fortunately, the Mets got out of the ninth when Ty Wigginton held on to a game-ending popup, although Wigginton did manage to fall down in the process.
BASEBALL: Art's Back!
April 1, 2003
BASEBALL: QUAGMIRE WATCH
News outlets around the country, including a cover story in USAToday's sports section, announce that Sammy Sosa yesterday "stayed stuck on 499 home runs" for, uh, one consecutive game.
BASEBALL: DON'T MAKE THE LAST OUT OF THE SEASON AT THIRD BASE
Especially on Opening Day. I'll look closer at this later . . . the injury to Derek Jeter's shoulder -- whose seriousness has yet to be fully determined -- pretty much moots my AL East predictions (as well as destroying my rotisserie team, but that's another story). Without Jeter for a substantial period of time, I think the Yankees' advantage over Boston slips to nothing (even granting some healthy sketicism after yesterday about the Red Sox' bullpen). It also cuts down further -- to 5, I think -- the number of guys on the Yankees' active roster who have won a World Championship in a Yankee uniform. How quickly things change. If Steinbrenner wanted to motivate Jeter to hustle more, he's got his wish . . . this looks like another argument against the headfirst slide (sliding headfirst into a base other than home, with a catcher guarding the bag, seems like a worst-case scenario).
I used to be a fan of Enrique Wilson, who will presumably get the starting job now, but Wilson hasn't hit a lick in two years.
BASEBALL: Mets Opening Day
Well, that was an ugly way to start a season. Let's see: Glavine got shelled and had no control, Bacsik couldn't even get enough outs to salvage the rest of the bullpen, the defense came unglued, and there was no serious offensive threat mounted the whole game. I remain very much skeptical of the Glavine signing.
March 31, 2003
BASEBALL: Box Scores
Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. . . . box scores.
BASEBALL: The Blue Jays' ads
The Blue Jays' ads calling for fans to boo Hideki Matsui are pretty tasteless, albeit all in good fun. But are they trying to create an excuse to boo that will distract from the possibility that they will boo the Star Spangled Banner?
BASEBALL: 2003 Pre-Season Predictions
OK, pre-season prediction time, before we're underway in earnest. I'll be brief:
The Musick of the Spheres shall not be interrupted. The Sox have the guns for a strong challenge to a Yankee team that will need to offset age and injury on the pitching staff with some serious production from newcomers Hideki Matsui and Jose Contreras. But the Yanks still have more depth, and the Red Sox are . . . well . . . the Red Sox.
This could be a hugely stratified division, with 2 or possibly 3 horrendous teams, and two well-matched contenders slugging it out for the 90-92 wins needed to win the division. The Twins have one advantage: with no real weak links in their rotation, they may be better suited than the Sox to just pulverize the weak sisters. Believe nothing good you hear about Kansas City pitchers until you see results.
This division could be even tighter than in the past, and has no bad teams. The Rangers still lack quality pitching, the Angels are unlikely to be as injury-free as last season (Troy Glaus' wrist injury is worrisome), and the Mariners could really show some age this year on Edgar, Moyer, and the bullpen. That leaves Oakland, although I'm once again suspicious of their offense (I suspect that Durazo won't live up to the hype -- he's a great hitter but a huge injury risk).
WILD CARD: I'll say Boston over the West contenders.
Yes, the Braves have baseball's best outfield, and they have Maddux and Smoltz and Cox and Mazzone. But I have little faith that the Mike Hampton Experiment will be a smashing success; this team has overcome a lot in the past, but the rotation anchors were always there. No longer. It may well have been time to let Glavine go, but they'll be hard pressed to replace his and Millwood's production, to say nothing of the trick of repeating last year's bullpen miracle with another new cast.
If Millwood is healthy and anything like last year, he will add much-needed stability to the Phils, who have three other talented starters in Vincente Padilla, Randy Wolf & Brandon Duckworth (assuming Duckworth gets healthy). This team has big question marks -- the bullpen is scary, and Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins will be big variables --but the additions of Thome and Millwood makes them the favorite.
The Mets could also win the division if EVERYTHING breaks right -- there are plenty of good old players here, any one of whom could recapture old glory once more. They could also collapse even further. More likely is that some guys bounce back and others don't, and the team slogs in at 84 wins. The fact that David Cone is now the fourth starter is horrifying.
The Marlins just don't have the hitting to keep up.
The Cards are easily the class of this division. I am VERY high on the Cubs Prior-Wood combo (I'm more skeptical of Matt Clement sustaining his success). The Cubs, Astros and Reds are all somewhat similarly situated, athough Cincinnati's pitching is suspect. I strongly suspect that Barry Larkin and Craig Biggio are both just about finished. The Brewers are just hopeless; the Pirates aren't, but they've got a long way to go.
Inertia. The D-Backs' old pitchers and the Giants' bats will keep them in the hunt (San Francisco's additions of Alfonzo, Durham and Cruz should partly offset the losses of Dusty Baker and Jeff Kent). Much will still depend on Barry Bonds staying in the stratosphere; if Bonds bats .295/.595/.428 (his career averages), this team is toast. The Dodgers could improve if Kevin Brown stays healthy and is Kevin Brown again -- certainly they've helped themselves by adding Fred McGriff to replace Karros -- but I don't see a division favorite, either in pitching depth or on offense.
WILD CARD: Oooh, tough. I'll go with the Giants, although I'm courting danger by ignoring the Braves here.
No pre-season postseason picks; that's a fool's errand given the length of the current postseason.
March 29, 2003
BASEBALL: Roto 2003
So, last weekend I did my rotisserie draft. First, I should warn you that a draft conducted via chatroom is a disaster waiting to happen. Part of the problem was that we had a lot of people (myself included) who hadn't used chat rooms before or hadn't registered with AOL. Then, AOL didn't work, so we all had to switch over to Yahoo!, which involved 12 guys (11 teams and the commissioner) turning on a dime to register with a new provider. The delays involved were substantial, and then people started getting randomly kicked out of the Yahoo! chat, until we switched back to AOL. The result was an auction much longer than the usual in-person auction.
Second, the draft went fast when it was moving, and we had 11 teams rather than 12, and I was unusually unprepared this year; you will see from the results that I made some obvious mistakes. If you find reading about other people's Roto teams hopelessly boring -- I don't blame you -- you can skip the rest of this post. But, for sake of full disclosure, here's this year's team (traditional Roto categories, AL-only, $260 budget):
P Bartolo Colon $23 (Risky; Colon's plunging K rate scares me, but he'll win a lot).
Reserves (You can tell I was concerned about my starting pitching).
March 28, 2003
WAR/BASEBALL: A Familiar Pattern
David Pinto has an item from Edward Cossette at Bambino's Curse noting that the emotional roller-coaster coverage of the war has followed a pattern familiar to anyone who's followed the Boston media's coverage of the Red Sox over the years.
March 26, 2003
BASEBALL: Extending The Unit
You have to like the Diamondbacks' 2-year deal with Randy Johnson; with the possible exception of Barry Zito, Johnson's as good a risk as there is among starting pitchers over the next two years. The really interesting question will be whether Johnson, now 39, can defy the odds to get the 76 more victories he needs for 300, which is a good 5 years' work at least.
March 25, 2003
BASEBALL: Ken Rosenthal on the Hated Yankees
Ken Rosenthal says the Hated Yankees won't repeat, but he admits that he expects them almost certainly to make the playoffs, and as we all know, what happens in October can be unpredictable.
March 20, 2003
BASEBALL: Alan Schwartz on Talent
Alan Schwartz has a fun roundup of the high watermark in recent history for talent at each non-pitching position.
BASEBALL: Crudale Overboard
The Cards have apparently sent Mike Crudale to the minors -- the same Crudale who had a 1.88 ERA last season, allowing just 3 homers and 57 baserunners in 52.1 IP last year, while striking out 47 -- on the basis of six bad innings of spring work. I haven't seen Crudale pitch this spring, so maybe his mechanics are totally shot, but doesn't that seem like an overreaction?
BASEBALL: Mariner Fifth Starter
BASEBALL: Reboulet Works on Batting Skills
A few years ago somebody gave a "Most Boring Headline" award to a story captioned "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative." This would have to be the baseball equivalent: "Orioles' Reboulet Works on Batting Skills"
March 19, 2003
BASEBALL: Bubba Takes The Bronx
Not sure I understand how the Yankees trading Rondell White for Bubba Trammell makes sense for either team. Both are righthanded and coming off awful years; Trammell's a bit younger and doesn't have White's notorious injury history; I believe White's a bit better with the glove, and is generally a better hitter. Not a lot of difference, except that (1) White makes twice as much money and (2) Trammell has a club option for another year on his contract. Unless the Yankees are picking up part of the tab for White, I can't see why the Pads gain from adding $2.5 million in salary for a guy who will need to have a good backup ready, and while I've always liked Trammell, he doesn't bring anything new to the table. One result should be that Mondesi will be around in NY now at least until Matsui settles in and Juan Rivera gets his feet wet.
BASEBALL: They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To
March 17, 2003
BASEBALL: Old Hat
It makes sense for Piazza to appeal the 5-game suspension for charging the mound against Guillermo Mota, especially since accepting the 5-day break later might at least give him some needed rest in May or June. But why does ESPN.com use a picture of Mota from the Expos with this story? The guy's been with the Dodgers for over a year now.
BASEBALL: Roto alert!
As longtime readers may know, I've long been in a rotisserie baseball league (12-team AL-only league, traditional roto categories, non-keeper, auction league). For a variety of reasons, we are one or two teams short this year. While we usually draft in Manhattan, this year we are drafting via AOL Instant Messenger on Saturday, March 22 (provided I can figure out the instant messenging technology by then).
If you are interested in joining the league or know someone who is, let me know; you can reach me at baseball_crank -at- yahoo.com.
BASEBALL: Wise Man
Tommy John surgery for Matt Wise. I've always liked Wise for his control record, but the Angels didn't exactly struggle last year without him.
BASEBALL: Making It Count
I guess it helps him make the Phillies' roster, which is the important thing, but you have to figure it's frustrating, if you are Ricky Ledee, to waste a nine-RBI day on a spring training game.
BASEBALL: Sky High
So, if the Mets play in Mexico City all year, Tom Glavine can pretend that it's just the altitude, right?
March 15, 2003
Prayers, please for Tug McGraw.
March 13, 2003
Few sports 'heroes' have let down their fans as badly as Kirby Puckett, who managed, by words and deeds over a period of nearly two decades, to convince us that he was not just an outstanding baseball player but a uniquely good guy. Twins fan and prolific baseball blogger Aaron Gleeman tells us why it hurts so much.
BASEBALL: Run Away!
I was watching last night's Mets-Dodgers game, and the announcers were already talking up the bad blood between Mike Piazza and Guillermo Mota when Mota threw at Piazza. Then he drilled him, and Piazza went into George Brett-Pine Tar mode. Absolutely berserk, eyes popping out, and squaring to punch out Mota. Most baseball fights, guys throw wild roundhouses; they don't know how to fight or don't mean to get into a serious fistfight (A major exception was Ray Knight, a former Golden Gloves boxer in his youth; Knight threw a real pro's punch at Eric Davis in the Mets' famous 1986 brawl, snapping Davis' head back like a punching bag). Piazza, though, was squared up like he meant business, and Mota, tall as he is, threw his glove and turned tail and ran. Nolan Ryan, he ain't. Mota fled all the way into the dugout to get away when Joe McEwing, Jeromy Burnitz and Ty Wigginton went after him, and wound up leaving the park early to avoid a further incident. McEwing got stomped on along the way, but if you're Joe McEwing and they throw at your team's biggest star, you do that. As the papers have noted, Mota and Piazza had one of these blow-ups last year; what I can't seem to locate, but seem to remember, is whether the Mets' feud with Mota goes back to his Expos days (you'll recall some of the epic battles between Turk Wendell and Vladimir Guerrero in recent years).
March 11, 2003
BASEBALL: Murderer's Row
For just a sampling of Alan Trammell's cause for despair at his new job as Tigers' manager, check out this Detroit News writeup on the Tigers' center field prospects. I think he'll be on the phone with Chet Lemon shortly. (Link via Baseball Primer's Clutch Hits).
March 10, 2003
BASEBALL: Milton Lost
The chief grounds for optimism in Twins-land this year was the hope that any return to earth for the bullpen and some of the outfielders would be cancelled out by a return to health for the team's Big Three starters. With Eric Milton now out 4-6 months, those hopes are fading. Much will now ride on the emergence of Johann Santana.
March 4, 2003
BASEBALL: Art Work
Projo's Art Martone (registration required) has some insightful observations on the Red Sox.
BASEBALL: Gil Hodges For Hero
The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) continues its bizarre campaign for Gil Hodges for the Hall of Fame. The Journal doesn't really pretend that Hodges' case is based on his playing accomplishments:
[T]he Hall of Fame is not just about numbers. Its rules plainly state that in addition to athletic ability, membership is also to be measured against "integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team." In all of these categories Gil Hodges, a decorated Marine veteran of Guadalcanal, is in a league all his own. So much so that Hodges's Hall of Fame candidacy may be the only issue that has found Rudy Giuliani, Yogi Berra, the columnist Richard Reeves, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer and this editorial page all on the same team. In an age where Americans have become cynical about their professional athletes, here's hoping that the game that calls itself the National Pastime might soon have the wit to embrace one of the few within its ranks truly deserving of the word "hero."
Uh, well, yeah, Hodges was a hero and a role model. So was Eddie Grant. Hodges is hardly unique in being a war hero; the Hall has already enshrined combat veterans like Yogi, Ted Williams, Warren Spahn, Grover Alexander, and Bob Lemon. The supplemental criteria to the contrary, it's not the Hall of Integrity and Sportsmanship. Hodges was a fine player and a good man, but the Hall has enough problems managing the criteria it already uses; enshrining a guy primarily for his "integrity, sportsmanship, [and] character" would only add to the confusion. A greatful nation -- and two greatful boroughs -- thank you, Gil. That should be enough.
March 3, 2003
BASEBALL: BP 2003
I recently picked up my copy of Baseball Prospectus 2003. A few thoughts:
1. The book now has actual stats, not just context-translated stats. I attribute this nod to conventional baseball-book practice mainly to the desire to snag more market share among the lucrative Rotisserie Baseball player market, as well as to the opportunity presented when the popular STATS, Inc. Handbook was pulled from the market by its new publisher.
2. No EqAs! EqA may well be a well-thought-out system, but I always found the translation into a batting average-type number distracting; I prefer measuring sticks like Runs Created/27 outs or Offensive Winning Percentage that enable you to explain the stat's thrust to a non-stathead without sounding like a monumental dork ("see, it's this measurement of offensive value pegged to a batting-average style scale . . . ") As with a few of the missing metrics, like the pitcher W-L approximations, I wonder if part of the idea was to make more things available only on the $39.95 subscription-only website.
3. No Pitcher Abuse Points. Personally I found the PAP system somewhat useful, but it was always obvious that the system was just a warm-up to a more systematic study. I suspect the PAP system was killed off by Will Carroll; I haven't digested much of Carroll's work yet, but he seems to be taking seriously a systematic study of injuries, a fruitful area for inquiry.
4. I like the new PECOTA projection system (I assume the acronym is a homage to Bill Pecota). As with most systems of this type, I don't have the technical expertise to judge the system itself, but as for its governing assumptions, I like the move to advance Bill James' Similarity Scores by looking at a player's prior 3 years rather than just his cumulative career numbers (this is a particularly significant advance for players over 30), as well as the system's recognition that it's projecting a range of possible outcomes and telling you the odds of each, rather than just making a single "projection." (It also seems that there are, for hitters, fewer stunningly optimistic projections, which especially in the case of young players has been a problem for past Prospectuses; you had to discount rookie projections if you were relying on BP for a Roto draft or risk getting roasted).
One minor bone to pick: Nate Silver identifies Similarity Scores as having been introduced by Bill James in The Politics of Glory, his Hall of Fame book published in the mid-1990s, when in fact -- although I couldn't immediately locate the reference -- James introduced them in one of his Abstracts back in the 1980s.
5. The snider-than-thou random potshots on non-baseball topics still appear throughout the book, and have started to wear real thin on me; it's not really a good idea to heap gratuitous insults on subjects that are not at hand, in my opinion, since you never know what your audience thinks about other topics, and why limit your baseball audience? (I know James did this stuff too, but he at least always had an air of the cranky professor giving up his personal biases and going off on long tangents, rather than just tossing out anonymous hit-n-run one-liners). On the other hand, the book seems almost conciliatory in dealing with baseball management -- the comment on Steve Phillips is a good example -- which could suggest a new humility, or could suggest that these guys are more 'insiders' now, more dependent on (and interesting in becoming) baseball insiders, and less willing to be nasty to them.
BASEBALL: THE NEVERENDING STORYLINE
NY Times, March 2003: Compares David Cone comeback to Tom Seaver's aborted 1987 comeback.
Bill Simmons, July 2001: Compares David Cone comeback to Tom Seaver's aborted 1987 comeback.
February 28, 2003
Click here for the third and final installment of my Projo column taking a decade-by-decade look at underappreciated teams (registration required). Click here for an Instapundit item (linking to a piece talking specifically about Projo) questioning registration-required sites.
February 26, 2003
BASEBALL: Bernie October
I'm sure you've seen this breakdown on Bernie Williams before:
ALDS/ALCS, 1995-2002 (61 games): .316/.575/.424; Averages per 162 games: 45 2B, 37 HR, 135 R, 125 RBI, 114 BB, 112 K
The samples are still small enough that this could just be luck, exacerbated by the fact that (1) the World Series means better pitching, specifically more Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Schilling, Randy Johnson and Kevin Brown, whereas (2) the ALDS/ALCS means three series against the Rangers and two against the Indians. But Bernie is also a guy who started a little slow in his career and has shown broad development, as well as a guy who's a slow starter in-season . . . I thought I'd check, via the splits on ESPN.com, how Bernie has done in interleague play the past 3 years:
vs. AL (1693 PA): .315/.525/.400; Averages per 648 PA: 36 2B, 26 HR, 105 R, 106 RBI, 75 BB, 79 K
Conclusion: At a minimum, no sign of the same effect, although the pattern of more walks and strikeouts against NL pitching does persist. (It's also true that Bernie's done quite well against the Mets, who he now sees every year, but then he batted .111 in the 2000 World Series, which also suggests that the pattern is random). The sample size still isn't big enough to draw a lot of conclusions. I'd still be interested, to see a study of how Bernie fares against a pitcher the first vs. later times to get to the bottom of the issue, but it appears that the more likely explanation for his World Series struggles is the simpler one -- that the Yankees have seen a lot of good pitching, and Bernie has hit in bad luck.
BASEBALL: Veterans Committee Vote
So it looks like the new Veterans Committee wants to wait until Marvin Miller is dead to enshrine him (he's 86 and they won't vote on him again for 4 years). I'm no fan of Miller but he does deserve enshrinement, as does Ron Santo.
Click here, meanwhile (and scroll up from the comments), to see an exceptionally thorough attack on your truly by the volatile and always interesting Don Malcolm, on the subject of Dick Allen's Hall of Fame case (I'm still on the fence on that one -- I've said my piece against Allen from conclusions I reached while researching my attempt to support his candidacy, but Malcolm has his points too, albeit stated in his usually over-the-top fashion, like comparing me to Al Qaeda (hint: Don, don't use the comparison on a guy who Al Qaeda tried to kill; just don't go there). You can go here to the Malcolm post that started it all, and here to my Projo column on the subject.
February 25, 2003
BASEBALL: BREAK OUT THE HOMER HANKIES
February 24, 2003
BASEBALL: Signs of the Season
Nothing says springtime's right around the corner like Frank Thomas bellyaching and feuding with teammates, stories starting with "Ken Griffey is an unhappy camper", optimism over the health of the Yankees' 8th starting pitcher, one-liners about Mo Vaughn's weight, and a stupid Pete Rose controversy.
All we're missing is a "new, mature" Darryl Strawberry. Give it a few weeks.
February 21, 2003
BASEBALL: Fisking Phil Rogers
BASEBALL: Mets sign Tony Clark
Mets sign Tony Clark to a minor league deal. I loved the Clark pickup by the Red Sox last year, and I could not have been more wrong: if the Sox had given Clark's at bats to a merely average first baseman, they might have closed at least a game or two of the six-game gap that cost them the wild card. (Granted, Clark had just 275 at bats, but when you hit .207/.291/.265, you can do a lot of hurt in a little time). And given his injury history, Clark is a good deal less than a 50/50 shot to ever hit well again. But for the Mets -- who have high-risk players at nearly every position, an injury-prone first baseman, and are only committing to a minor league contract rather than the millions the Sox paid Clark -- there's nothing but upside in even the outside chance that Clark's bad back might relent long enough to give back some of the form that made Clark a consistently above-average hitting first baseman for five years entering 2002. The guy is only 30, after all.
I'd rather give him a minor league deal than what the Braves are paying Mike Hampton.
In other news, the same ESPN report notes that El Guapo has retired at the age of "31."
February 20, 2003
BASEBALL: 2002 DIPS
The 2002 Defense Independent Pitching Stats are here!
BASEBALL: Less Mo
Well, looks like Mo Vaughn has reported to camp in about the best shape you could reasonably have hped for -- judge for yourself. Of course, Mo is continually surprised that he can't hit .300 in his thirties at Shea the way he did in his twenties at Fenway.
February 19, 2003
BASEBALL: Bechler Autopsy
An autopsy fingers ephedrine as a major culprit in the death of Steve Bechler. Another cautionary tale.
February 16, 2003
BASEBALL: Projo Column
It went up late, but as I noted Friday, my latest Projo column is posted.
February 14, 2003
BASEBALL: New Crank Column
February 12, 2003
BASEBALL: Raines Watch
I'm really rooting for Rickey Henderson to get to play again in 2003, if only because it would mean that Tim Raines would be nearly alone among quality first-timers on the 2008 Hall of Fame ballot.
I don't really have a problem with the Mets signing Jay Bell, who steps into the John Valentin role; if anything, signing Bell is an indication that Ty Wigginton will really get a shot at the 3B job, since Bell is only a barely credible alternative. Signing a broken-down veteran backup is usually a sign that you've stopped shopping for a first-stringer.
February 10, 2003
BASEBALL: The Rich Get . . .
Of course, the Hated Yankees won the rights to yet another Japanese pitcher.
February 6, 2003
BASEBALL/WAR/POLITICS: Bill James, Sabermetrics, Conservatives, and Bloggers
Dr. Manhattan has a great post - with links aplenty -- discussing the influence of Bill James on the thinking of 'warbloggers' including yours truly. I can't agree more - when I first read the 1983 Abstract (I was 11), James taught me how to think critically, a skill I regularly employ in my baseball columns, my blogging on war and politics, and my day job as a litigator. No one outside my immediate family has had a more profound impact on my life.
1. Dr. Manhattan argues that "When you consider his methodology and the amount of BS he hacked through, Bill James has a valid claim to be the first “anti-idiotarian.”" I'd agree that he fits the profile, but no way is James the first - while it depends how far back you want to go in your intellectual histories, George Orwell would fit that description to a T, and would probably also be cited as a direct inspiration by many in the blogosphere, most notably Andrew Sullivan. Not only did Orwell take a buzzsaw to cant of all types, but he often used the 'Fisking' modus operandi, quoting and methodically demolishing the foolish notions of even the highest and mightiest (read his assault on Leo Tolstoy's pamphlet on Shakespeare, where he starts off picking apart Tolstoy's reading of King Lear and winds up indicting Tolstoy's entire life).
2. I've long wanted to expand on the parallels between sabermetric baseball analysts and political conservative media:
+Both distrust and despise mainstream media, especially the NY Times and network talking heads and their tendencies to echo each others' smug assumptions.
+Both often refer derisively to "conventional wisdom".
+Both took to the Web early, seeking to connect with like-minded people alienated by the mainstream media.
+Both have a near-unshakeable faith in logic, a suspicion of emotional decisionmaking, and a belief that their ideas will ultimately triumph.
+Both tend to rely heavily on principles of basic economics and statistics, with a little Social Darwinism (not the racial type, but the basic idea that better ideas will invariably prevail) thrown in.
+Both are heavily populated by males age 25-40, who were heavily influenced by ideas that have a long pedigree (ask John McGraw or Bill Buckley) but that came of age in the 1980s.
+Both rely heavily on sarcasm, wit and other sometimes impolitic but entertaining methods common to 'outsiders,' due in part to a lack of connections with those on the 'inside.'
+Both are often denounced by the 'mainstream' on charges of being disconnected from reality.
+The ideas of either are rarely confronted on the merits by mainstream analysts who take them seriously.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:45 PM | Baseball 2002-03 | Blog 2002-05 | Politics 2002-03 | War 2002-03 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (2)
February 3, 2003
BASEBALL: The Flushing Flash
BASEBALL: Reaching The Limits
I could not agree more with David Pinto that reducing the size of divisions is far superior to adding more wild cards to the playoffs. But I would also caution that the baseball playoffs are already about as long and unpredictable as they can get. Adding another round would devalue the regular season even if it didn't involve wild cards.
More playoffs also means more stress on pitchers' arms and shorter careers for pitchers on good teams.
From the statistical-analytical perspective, of course, more playoffs also means that more of a player's career - especially for pitchers if they get rested more in anticipation of a long October/November -- occurs in the postseason, in conditions that are hard to compare between players. That makes the job of evaluating players fairly much harder.
February 1, 2003
BASEBALL: New Fenway
Gerry Callahan eulogizes the new Fenway that is not to be any time soon.
January 30, 2003
BASEBALL: Ted Wants Back
Matt Drudge is reporting that Ted Turner wants to buy the Braves back from AOLTimeWarnerBrothersCNNSI.
January 28, 2003
BASEBALL/POLITICS: Dale Murphy
Mac Thomason at Braves Journal notes a report that Dale Murphy may be running for Governor of Utah as a Republican.
January 27, 2003
So the Hated Yankees get former Met Juan Acevedo. Acevedo's no superstar; he had a great year last year because he was pitching in ideal conditions, as a closer for a bad team in a pitcher's park. But while Acevedo at a big contract might have been overpaid, Acevedo for a minor league contract is just the rich getting richer. Where are all the other teams???
BASEBALL: Shea The Future
Lyford, one of the posters on the ProJo boards, has a comprehensive study of 117 players who "debuted at age 24 or greater, debuted after 1919, and had at least one season with 400+ AB and an AB/BB ratio of 25+" -- in other words, a comparison group for Shea Hillenbrand. The results are not encouraging. (Link requires registration).
January 26, 2003
BASEBALL: Hall of Fame Outfielders, 1920s-1930s
There are many, many, too many outfielders in the Hall of Fame from the 1920s and 1930s. Just counting the white Major Leagues, there are 20 outfielders who are in the Hall of Fame largely or entirely for their play in those two decades, and four others who were active and in their primes for a substantial number of seasons in those years. 24 outfielders -- 12 who played mostly or entirely in the NL, 12 mostly or entirely in the AL -- at a time when there were but 16 Major League teams. Hit a fly ball in those years, and the chances were good that a future Hall of Famer would catch it, and the chances decent that to do so he'd call off another future member of the Cooperstown fraternity.
This, by any standard, is too many. Greatness should not be so commonplace; when it is, it's not greatness anymore. Careful inspection makes clear that no use of the term "great" can have meaning if it's stretched so far as to cover all 24.
So, which ones were the true greats? There are many ways to answer that question, but one simple way is to look at each season and figure out who the best in the business were. These guys were competing with each other to see who could help his team win more games. There were winners, and losers. In 1923 or 1937, who was the best in the business, and who was just another one of the guys?
The simplest credible way to measure value is Bill James' Win Shares system, with which many of you will no doubt be familiar. In a nutshell, James measures the number of runs a player is worth to his team offensively, and his share of the runs his team saves defensively, and computes a “share” of the team’s overall wins, with each share worth 1/3 of a win. There are two main sanity checks on the system: (1) most teams have a similar relationship between their runs scored and allowed and the number of games they win; and (2) a team’s total Win Shares are always equal to three times its wins, so the system can’t over- or under-value players by that much, since the total Win Shares on the roster have to add up to a real-world measurement of success.
For a general idea of standards, 20 Win Shares is a real good player, 30 (worth 10 wins a year) is a “major star” type season for an everyday player, 40+ is “superstar having a career year” territory, and 50 puts you with a handful of the best seasons ever. (Over 60 in a season is territory reserved exclusively for pitchers who threw 5-600 innings a year before they moved the mound back in 1893). 348 career Win Shares and above is almost all Hall of Famers, 291-347 is more Hall of Famers than not, 256-90 is still well-populated with Hall of Famers, and below that is mostly the rare player who’s been immortalized.
What I decided to do, besides just looking at career totals, was figure out the top 6 outfielders in each league, each season from 1913 to 1942, ranked by Win Shares. I then added up the total times a player finished in each position, and assigned a scoring system. The scoring was somewhat arbitrary, but I awarded 10 points for being the best outfielder in a league, 8 for second (the gap reflecting the value of being the best), 7 for third, 5 for fourth (another gap when we reach the second team), 4 for fifth, and 3 for sixth (I didn’t start at 1 because I didn’t want a 1st place finish worth 8 times that of sixth; just over 3 seemed fairer for these purposes). If two players tied for a rank, they each got full points. The goal was to measure, in essence, comparitive Peak Value. You can re-score the results yourself if you like, but I think this ranking at least tells us a little. Here we go:
1. Babe Ruth, 149 points, 756 career WS. Best in league: 13 times. Top 3: 15 times. Top 6: 16 times. (I’ll render this as 13-15-16 as I go).
I didn’t spend all those hours with the Win Shares book to prove that Babe Ruth belongs in the Hall; the main point with Ruth is that the scores of all the AL outfielders are lower because the Babe, cranking out 45 WS seasons like clockwork, never gave anyone else the chance to finish first as they might in the NL.
2. Mel Ott, 113 points, 528 WS, 6-12-13.
Not Ruth, but plenty dominant.
3. Tris Speaker, 100 points, 4-10-13
I’ve undervalued these guys because I started counting in the middle of their careers, but, again, there’s no controversy yet.
5. Paul Waner, 82 points, 423 WS, 3-8-12
Averill was the dominant outfielder in the AL for two years between Ruth and Joe D, and the second fiddle to those guys for 7 other seasons. This study confirmed for me that, despite the shortness of his career, Averill was the type of major star who belongs in Cooperstown.
7. George Burns, 66 points, 290 WS, 3-6-10
Yes, for all its profligacy, the Hall missed one. This was George Burns the Giants leadoff man, not the 1926 AL MVP. Burns, a prototypical leadoff guy, played for 3 pennant winners (1913, 1917, and 1921), and the Win Shares system ranks him as the best outfielder in the NL in 1914, 1917 and 1918, the best defensive outfielder in the league in 1922, and the best hitter in the entire league in 1914 and 1919. His career wasn’t that long, and the limited CS data available suggests that he was a terrible percentage base thief, but Burns would certainly not embarrass the Hall by his presence.
8. Al Simmons, 64 points, 375 WS, 2-5-10
I would have expected Simmons to do better, but he and Harry Heilmann suffered from the inability to lead the league in the presence of Ruth, and Simmons’ peak wasn’t really that long. We’re still in Cooperstown territory here, though; Simmons’ numbers are so titanic that you can let out a lot of air and he’s still a great player.
9. Joe DiMaggio, 63 points, 387 WS, 4-7-7
And this is just the first half; I stopped counting in 1942.
10. Zack Wheat, 62 points, 380 WS, 2-6-9
These six all hold up well to scrutiny; each spent about half a decade as one of his league’s first-team outfielders and another half in the second team, and most of them managed a year or two as the best in the circuit. I’m still skeptical of Roush, who never batted .360, hit 10 homers, drove in 90 runs, scored 100, stole 40 bases or drew 50 walks in a season. But the Win Shares system recognizes him as a defensive stud and a guy who had many of his best years before scoring got out of hand. Reluctantly, I guess I’d say he’s been properly enshrined.
16. Ross Youngs, 46 points, 206 WS, 1-4-7
Youngs almost stacks up with the group above in peak value, but he had his last star season at age 27 and died of a degenerative disease at age 30. He was generally the best player on a team that won 4 straight pennants and 2 World Championships. I can live with giving him the benefit of the doubt. But now we’ve got one Hall of Famer per each major league outfield for the two decades; let’s cut the line here.
17. Hack Wilson, 44 points, 224 WS, 2-5-5
I like Cuyler’s package of skills and find it hard to believe he wasn’t more valuable than Roush, but both Cuyler and Wilson had too many holes in their careers, in some cases self-inflicted, to give them the benefit of the doubt in a crowded field.
19. Shoeless Joe Jackson, 42 points, 294 WS, 1-5-6
We’re cutting off Jackson’s prime a bit here; he’d be in the Hall of Fame if he deserved a shot, and he would have been way high on the list if he hadn’t been banned after 1920.
20. Benny Kauff, 41 points, 175 WS, 2-4-5
Another guy who was banned; Kauff is overrated here because he gets credit for being the best player in the Federal League for two years, but he was still a star in the NL for a few more years.
21. Bobby Veach, 37 points, 265 WS, 0-3-7
No immortality for these numbers, although Williams was just 23 when I stopped counting; remember that when you look at the guys below him on the list.
25. Heine Manush, 30 points, 285 WS, 0-3-5
Two guys who got into Cooperstown on batting average and little else, Manush and Combs were stars in their day, but rarely among the real elite and not long enough in the next tier. Johnson, a player of similar value but for bad teams and with a broader package of skills, is today a completely forgotten man.
28. Chuck Klein, 23 points, 238 WS, 0-1-5
Leaving aside Slaughter, who went to war for 3 years and then had the rest of his career outside the scope of this study, you’ve got 3 guys -- Klein, Herman and Williams – who put up numbers that looked much more impressive before we saw with our own eyes what an extreme hitter-friendly context could do for a guy like Dante Bichette. Klein was indeed the best of the bunch, but it’s hard to reconcile the appearance of a high peak with a guy who but once (1933) belonged in the league’s best outfield. Keller, on the other hand, was 25 and just getting rolling in 1942, and would have had a serious Hall of Fame case had he stayed healthy and out of the military.
33. Sherry Magee, 19 points, 354 WS, 0-2-3
Is there no justice? Remember that Magee’s best years were before 1913; he was the best player in the National League in 1910. Waner was . . . well, a guy who hit some singles, occasionally a star-caliber player but often not a particularly good player at all.
35. Lefty O’Doul, 18 points, 144 WS, 1-2-2
I dunno, when I think “Hall of Fame,” I don’t genereally think “Ival Goodman.” Like O’Doul, Goodman was momentarily a major star, and the moment passed quickly, although in Goodman’s case it did get him to two World Serieses with the Reds. As you can see from the career totals, Harry Hooper was twice the player these guys were over the course of his career, and he might have scored a little higher if I’d gone back a few more years. But Hooper as a Hall of Famer is ridiculous; Hooper was an outstanding defensive outfielder and an all-around fundamentally sound player, and he was steady and durable for 17 years. But besides his glove and a knack for drawing walks, Hooper didn’t do anything outstandingly well, and he wasn’t a huge walks guy either (career high: 89). I dare you to explain how Hooper should be in the Hall of Fame while George Burns and Dwight Evans aren’t.
38. Sam Rice, 16 points, 327 WS, 0-0-5
Rice, like Hooper, was incredibly consistent and durable, and Rice has some added footnotes – he missed a year after being drafted into the Army in World War I and also got a late start in the majors because he’d joined the Navy at age 23 after his parents, wife and two children were killed by a tornado (Rice saw combat in the Navy, landing at Vera Cruz in 1914). When he did reach the majors, it was as a pitcher. Without those interruptions, Rice could easily have had 3700 hits in the major leagues, and maybe you’d have to consider him as a Don Sutton type candidate, a minor star of truly exceptional consistency over an exceptionally long time. But as far as peak value, Paskert and Vosmik, two truly unmemorable players, were among the many better than Sam Rice. I think I’d leave Rice out, although it does bother me that I’d basically be counting him out for years that he was wearing his country’s uniform.
41. Pete Reiser, 15 points, 125 WS, 1-1-2
(Zwilling only scores for his Federal League years).
There you have it: Chick Hafey, Hall of Famer, the 44th most dominant outfielder of his era. It must have been the durability he showed over his, er, 13-year career, in which he appeared in more than 138 games twice, both when past his prime. In 1928, Hafey’s best season (138 games, .337, 27 homers, 111 RBI), he finished 12th in the NL MVP voting; teammate Rabbit Maranville got more votes as a 36-year-old, .240-hitting shortstop who batted just 366 times. Hafey was a lesser player by far than Pedro Guerrero, Gary Sheffield, or Fred Lynn. He’s the last Hall of Famer on this list, so I’ll stop here.
24 Hall of Famers; for opposite reasons, I’d maybe keep Sam Rice and Ross Youngs, and I’d maybe put in George Burns. But the guys who clearly just don’t cut it: Hack Wilson, Kiki Cuyler, Heine Manush, Earle Combs, Chuck Klein, Lloyd Waner, and Harry Hooper, and Chick Hafey. They were good, very good; but they were never close to the best of their generation. The Hall of Fame should demand that.
January 23, 2003
BASEBALL: New Projo Column
I've been busy . . . but here's a new Projo piece, on some less-than-well-remembered teams from each decade of the 20th century.
January 22, 2003
BASEBALL: Changing Sox
If Tom Gordon is healthy - big if - he should be better for the White Sox than Antonio Osuna. Why, again, did the Yankees part with El Duque for Osuna? The Red Sox are also busy accumulating cheap bats, which spells ill for Brian Daubach. The downside of having both Jeremy Giambi and David Ortiz is that they are both DHs (Dave Nilsson, at least, can catch and play first). I suppose they are counting on the frequency with which Giambi and Ortiz get hurt (a la the Giambi/Saenz platoon in Oakland). The Sox will also need to work on getting Ortiz' plate discipline back; he hit well last year but his walks and OBP dropped off.
January 16, 2003
The shameful Bartolo Colon trade: Strictly from the Hated Yankees end, this does not look great. I've been a fan of Osuna in the past, but in recent years he has been neither healthy nor outstandingly effective (1.36 baserunners/IP last season, which is uuuuugly). The Yanks could probably use 6 or 7 starters this year, given the age of the staff (granted they have 8, but Hitchcock stinks). I don't know much about the prospect. Then again, the Yankees achieved their top objective, which was keeping Colon out of Fenway.
The Expos got totally raped here. Liefer's a decent lefthanded bat, although his career numbers are not that great, and Biddle has a good arm, but this isn't close to equal value, and there's no high-upside prospect to give a fig leaf of this being anything but a salary dump. El Duque is old, injury-prone, and was never a #1 starter; I think he can still pitch, but he's thrown 200 innings just once for the Yanks. If he started 26 games, 155 IP with a 3.60 ERA for the Yanks, he'd probably go 11-6; with Montreal, that will be worth 6 or 7 wins. Colon, by contrast, is a horse; he averaged nearly 110 pitches a start and threw 130 pitches in a game twice last season. He's worth something to the Yankees, who have depth and will clearly be a contender this year. Montreal, without Colon, will not. He's of little more use to them than Irabu and Yoshii were.
For the White Sox, Christmas came late - trade one half-decent reliever, one half-decent young pitcher, and one corner infielder who's 28 and never had an everyday job, and get one of baseball's best pitchers in return.
January 14, 2003
BASEBALL: Shinjo Returns
I have no real problem with the Mets re-signing Tusyoshi Shinjo, who should help the outfield defense. He can't hit enough to play every day, but he's a useful fourth outfielder. I stand by my initial assessment of Shinjo as a Japanese Darryl Boston, an athletic and fundamentally sound outfielder who could play every day if he was a more disciplined hitter and made more consistent contact.
January 13, 2003
BASEBALL: 27 days Until Pitchers and Catchers
27 days until pitchers and catchers! David Pinto has the link to the story.
January 12, 2003
BASEBALL: Mr. February
The Reds, patron saints of reclaiming lost arms, sign Mr. February himself, Paul Wilson. "Paul has the ability to pitch 180 to 200 innings a year,'' [Reds GM Jim] Bowden said. "We felt it was important to add another proven starter to join Ryan Dempster, Jimmy Haynes and Danny Graves in the rotation.''
Say what you will about Wilson, I would hardly cite his durability as an asset. He's another guy who, having proven that (1) he can pitch and (2) he can't hold up for a full season, ought to be in the bullpen. He's basically a poor man's Steve Karsay.
January 10, 2003
BASEBALL: The Latest
New Projo column on the Hall of Fame due up later today. Meanwhile, the collapse of the latest attempt to screw the Expos out of Bartolo Colon has to be good news for baseball.
BASEBALL: Franco Is Still Not Dead
Note the picture; don't adjust your monitor. John Franco, pitching. Yesterday. In other news, the Mets admit that their players need professional help.
January 8, 2003
BASEBALL: Robert Fick to the Braves
Robert Fick to the Braves. At $1 million, Fick's cheap, and the Braves obviously couldn't depend on 90-year-old Julio Franco and light-hitting pinch hitter Matt Franco to reprise their 2002 success. Fick doesn't really hit enough to be a regular 1B, although he's better than putting Vinny Castilla there. I hadn't realized he'd had 21 assists in the outfield, which is a very impressive figure.
BASEBALL: The Essential Ingredient
I was satisfied, of course, to see Gary Carter finally get his due from Cooperstown. More on that later. Here are some numbers to chew on, when Paul Molitor comes up for the Hall of Fame:
Milwaukee Brewers' record before 1978 arrival of Paul Molitor: 614-836 (.423), no winning seasons (includes 1969 Seattle Pilots)
Milwaukee Brewers' record, 1978-92, with Paul Molitor in the lineup: 1004-851 (.541), 10 winning seasons in 15 years
And here we've got Brewer fans saying it's the logo.
January 3, 2003
BASEBALL: Robert Johnson's Expos
Billionaire BET founder Robert Johnson's rumored bid to buy the Expos and move them to DC is nothing but good news for baseball. Granted, DC may not be the best market, but anything is better than the current charade in Montreal. Hopefully, Johnson is putting the word out NOW that he doesn't want the Expos dismembered; there's just no reason the team should be looking to dump stud starting pitchers Bartolo Colon and Javier Vazquez. I don't know enough about Johnson to know whether he's a Steinbrenner/Mark Cuban win-at-all-costs owner, a Pohlad/Lindner type cheapskate, or something in between. But if he's choosing the market he'll be hard-pressed to cry poverty if it doesn't support his team.
January 2, 2003
BASEBALL: Rey's On Third?
Yes, I'm sure Rey Sanchez can play third base. But if you are going to play him there, why pay anybody on the team $10-15 million a year? The Mets can finish last for a lot less money.
BASEBALL: Derek Zumsteg, Capitalist Pig
Derek Zumsteg over at Baseball Prospectus is openly cheering for the Hated Yankees to spend everyone else into the dust. I love a lot of BP's stuff - despite the loss of Joe Sheehan and Keith Law, two of the more interesting writers - but the Yankee boosterism and out and out gloating over the Yanks' financial advantages wears thin at times.
December 30, 2002
BASEBALL: 2003 HOF Ballot
I eventually intend to get out my Hall of Fame column on Projo. Here's the Executive Summary of who I would vote for, ignoring a few of the most ridiculous candidates:
Eddie Murray - IN. No question. A major star for 7-8 years, a solid and incredibly durable and consistent producer for 18.
Gary Carter - IN. Find me ten better catchers, I dare you. Has been unfairly penalized for sticking around too long; if he'd retired after 1987 he'd have gone in a decade ago.
Bert Blyleven - IN, Jim Kaat & Tommy John OUT. You've read my take on that before; Blyleven lost more games than he should have, given his teams, but such was the fate of a #1 starter in an age of giants, and of a guy who took seriously the duty of saving the bullpen by staying late in close games. His numbers may not look much better than John's and Kaat's, but he played in a later generation, facing more DHs and never tasting the big strike zone of the sixties.
Rich Gossage - IN. Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith - OUT, for now. I'm not ready to put in a great closer