Baseball Crank
"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
March 31, 2006
BASEBALL: He Won't Go All The Way

Eric McErlain asks about George Mitchell's investigation of Barry Bonds: "What are you prepared to do?"

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:59 PM | Baseball 2006 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Quick Mets Thoughts

I'm really not in a position to judge Brian Bannister as a prospect, but he seems like a potentially credible Major League starter, and I have no gripe with giving him a spot in the rotation. But I have a very big problem with taking Aaron Heilman, who I regarded entering the spring as the third starter, and shunting him into an overcrowded bullpen that was supposed to have been adequately stocked by the stupid Jae Seo trade. I'd rather see the Mets use Duaner Sanchez and the underappreciated Heath Bell as the setup guys and Victor Zambrano in long relief, at least until we see if Zambrano needs to be pressed into service in case Pedro or Tracshel breaks down or Bannister proves un-ready.

I will say this for Zambrano: his one great skill is keeping the ball in the park. In fact, his ERAs do show him as a league-average pitcher, a perfectly adequate fifth starter. What's problematic is the strain his short outings puts on the bullpen.

As for the 2B mess, I still don't think Anderson Hernandez is quite major-league ready, but I'd rather see the team let a good prospect play. Still, it's appalling that it has come to this - the number of adequate major league second basemen who were available cheaply in the offseasoon was extensive (even aside from more expensive options like Soriano and Hudson, there were Loretta, Castillo, Bellhorn, Jimenez, Grudzielanek, Graffanino) . . . not all these guys were great options, but they were better than being stuck playing Hernandez without a net. I would have focused on Bellhorn and Jimenez, both guys who are not old (Bellhorn's 31, Jimenez is 28), had been quality regulars as recently as 2004, and could be had basically for nothing.

I'm also not thrilled with Nady playing ahead of Diaz, but that will work itself out.

I'm still convinced that Matsui could be a good hitter for a middle infielder if healthy, and I still think he will be if he leaves the Mets. But that's beside the point; at this stage he's a weak glove with a questionable bat who can't stay healthy. It's time to eat his contract and be done with it.

On an ex-Mets note, as Bill Simmons would say, I wish I could buy stock in things like "Kris Benson's marriage to his nutty wife won't last."

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:01 PM | Baseball 2006 | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
March 30, 2006
BASEBALL: Sox on the Block

This morning's Boston Globe has a profile of Bill James, which quotes James "shortly after returning from an eight-day trip to Fort Myers, Fla., in February" on a project he was doing for the Sox:

''There's a player on our team who we might keep or who we might trade," he generalizes. ''And there's an issue about his performance last year about which we need specific information. The specific information is, do players who have this tendency ever get over it or is it permanent?

''I need to study that, and I need to get that done within a week or two because I need to send it to [general manager] Theo [Epstein] because Theo needs to make a decision. Is this guy going to stay with us or do we involve him in a trade?"

Given that the interview was about two weeks before Bronson Arroyo was traded, I'd assume that's who the master was studying (possibly the drop in Arroyo's G/F or K/9 ratios in 2005). There are actually surprisingly few other candidates: among players with 100 or more at bats or 35 or more IP for the Sawx in 2005, the only ones left as of February were Varitek, Manny, Ortiz, Trot, Graffanino (now with the Royals), Wakefield, Arroyo (now with the Reds), Clement, Wells, Foulke, Timlin, and Schilling. Of course, Varitek and Ortiz are essentially untradeable, there's little enough to study about Manny, and Wakefield, Wells, Timlin and Schilling are all so old you wouldn't bother doing a study to see if they are likely to change some existing pattern. I suppose James could have been studying Trot or Clement (maybe Clement's second-half fade), but those are about the only other candidates.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Baseball 2006 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
March 29, 2006
POLITICS/LAW: DC Circuit Punishes Unlawful Domestic Eavesdropping

The DC Circuit yesterday upheld an award of $10,000 in statutory damages, $50,000 in punitive damages, plus attorneys' fees against a government official who received and caused the publication of a telephone conversation obtained through illegal eavesdropping within the United States. (Via Bashman). The defendant in this long-running legal saga: Democratic Congressman James McDermott. The court found that it was undisputed that McDermott knew that the phone conversation was recorded illegally, a fact that he then conveyed to Adam Clymer of the New York Times, who ran the contents of the illegally tapped phone call on the front page of the Times on January 10, 1997. The plaintiff? None other than House Majority Leader John Boehner, whose cell phone was illegally intercepted when he joined a conference call with the then- House Republican leadership regarding an ethics complaint against Newt Gingrich.

Interestingly, Judge David Sentelle, who was relentlessly demonized by Democrats throughout the 1990s for his role in appointing Ken Starr, disssented, noting among other things that under the majority's reasoning, Rep. Boehner could also have sued the Times.

So, if you are keeping score at home, that would be one House Democrat to zero current Congressional or White House Republicans who have been found by a court of law to have participated in illegal domestic surveillance of political opponents.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:52 AM | Law 2006-08 • | Politics 2006 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: "Where in the World Is John Snow?"

Yesterday's NY Sun asked a good question about why the Bush Administration isn't getting more credit for the current economic good times and pushing harder for its economic agenda. And speculated that Treasury Secretary John Snow should have been replaced by now:

To the untrained eye . . . Mr. Snow is not being pushed as the administration's finance spokesman, even though there are a number of crucial economic issues being debated. According to Washington insiders who did not wish to be quoted, Mr. Snow agreed last fall to resign, and was expected to step aside earlier this year. A Treasury spokesman declined to comment on the issue. It appears that the White House has simply been too busy to find a replacement. Among those mentioned to possibly take his place is Chief of Staff Andrew Card. The administration may have concluded that the timing for advancing Mr. Card's career was poor, and decided to wait for a bit.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:47 AM | Politics 2006 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
March 28, 2006
BASEBALL: 2006 AL West EWSL Report

The second of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2006 revisions to the age adjustment are discussed here. Bear in mind as always that (1) EWSL is a record of past performance, adjusted by age to give an assessment of the available talent on hand; it is not an individualized projection system; (2) individual EWSL are rounded off but team totals are compiled from the unrounded figures; and (3) as demonstrated here in some detail, nearly all teams will win more games than their EWSL total because I'm only rating 23 players per team. Further disclaimers are in my AL East preview here.

Oakland A's

Raw EWSL: 229.33 (76 W)
Adjusted: 256.57 (86 W)
Age-Adj.: 267.34 (89 W)

C32Jason Kendall1916
1B26Dan Johnson*512
2B29Mark Ellis1412
SS26Bobby Crosby#1014
3B28Eric Chavez2122
RF28Milton Bradley1415
CF30Mark Kotsay1918
LF26Nick Swisher*614
DH38Frank Thomas98
C234Adam Melhuse44
INF26Antonio Perez66
OF29Bobby Kielty88
1333Jay Payton1412
SP128Barry Zito1415
SP224Rich Harden1113
SP325Danny Haren79
SP425Joe Blanton*716
SP534Esteban Loaiza128
RP122Huston Street*823
RP231Kiko Calero54
RP328Justin Duchscherer910
RP433Jay Witasick43
RP527Joe Kennedy76

EWSL is much kinder to the A's this year than last, now that the pitching rotation has some experience under its belt. What's debatable here is (1) whether Street's age adjustment is overprojecting him (he'd have to be Eric Gagne to earn 23 Win Shares as a closer) and (2) whether Haren is unfairly downgraded relative to Joe Blanton; both are the same age and earned 13 WS last year, but Haren is penalized for pitching poorly at the major league level for two years while Blanton was in the minors. I still think that fact gives Haren an advantage.

The A's are deep: besides the listed players they have a credible major league 2B at AAA (Keith Ginter), a decent backup 2B in Marco Scutaro, they just acquired Brad Halsey, who had appeared slated for the D-Backs' rotation, and they have Kirk Saarloos and Dan Meyer in reserve at AAA, though Meyer, like Juan Cruz, may turn out to be yet another proof of the dictum to beware pitchers the Braves give up on.

I'm not sure I see Oakland beating the Angels this year, but this is definitely a team that will make the race neck-and-neck, at least. Much will depend on the health of Milton Bradley and Frank Thomas and the sophomore progress of Haren, Blanton, Street, Nick Swisher and Dan Johnson.

Arte's Angels

Raw EWSL: 234.33 (78 W)
Adjusted: 253.60 (85 W)
Age-Adj.: 236.79 (79 W)

C23Jeff Mathis+012
1B23Casey Kotchman#34
2B30Adam Kennedy1515
SS31Orlando Cabrera1411
3B28Chone Figgins1921
RF30Vladimir Guerrero2625
CF32Darin Erstad1311
LF34Garret Anderson1716
DH27Juan Rivera1010
C231Jose Molina64
INF32Edgardo Alfonzo1211
OF29Robb Quinlan#44
1325Dallas McPherson*38
SP133Bartolo Colon1511
SP227John Lackey1312
SP329Jeff Weaver119
SP430Kelvim Escobar108
SP523Ervin Santana*36
RP124Francisco Rodriguez1415
RP230Scot Shields1210
RP334Brendan Donnelly75
RP430JC Romero65
RP528Kevin Gregg34

Anderson's health is in doubt - plantar fascitis is a nasty, nasty ailment (it cost Mark McGwire years of his prime), and at last check the Angels were even considering reviving Tim Salmon, who's been in camp. In his best years, I thought Anderson was underrated by some analysts who failed to account for his remarkable durability, but that asset is a thing of the past.

I like Juan Rivera, but I'm not convinced that Mike Scioscia does. Rivera could top that Win Shares total easily with a full season in the lineup, and Kotchman will obviously do the same if he stays in the lineup all year. Those two are among the main reasons why this race is tighter than EWSL makes it look, and would be tighter if I used a playing time-adjusted system, although I'm leery of adjusting too strictly for playing time because you then miss the value of durability and a sizeable established track record.

I listed Quinlan as an outfielder because I had to put him somewhere, but obviously he's mainly a first baseman. I'm listing McPherson here because I expect him to get significant playing time notwithstanding the fact that he's starting the season at AAA. He's not Troy Glaus, but he's still a solid bat. Macier Izturis should fill that roster slot for now, while Esteban Yan is the likely 11th pitcher. We're probably a year away from the DP combo of Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood.

I drafted Lackey in my Roto league on Saturday (more on that later), but it's possible that, like Escobar's 2004, 2005 was Lackey's career year rather than the start of something bigger.

Texas Rangers

Raw EWSL: 210.67 (70 W)
Adjusted: 233.13 (78 W)
Age-Adj.: 226.06 (75 W)

C30Rod Barajas99
1B26Mark Teixera2731
2B24Ian Kinsler+012
SS29Michael Young2624
3B25Hank Blalock1923
RF28Kevin Mench1213
CF29Brad Wilkerson2018
LF32David Dellucci1210
DH35Phil Nevin139
C226Gerald Laird11
INF31Mark DeRosa43
OF25Laynce Nix57
1331Gary Matthews108
SP131Kevin Millwood108
SP228Vicente Padilla77
SP328Adamn Eaton66
SP424Kameron Loe*49
SP526Juan Dominguez*34
RP131Francisco Cordero1310
RP234Akinori Otsuka#65
RP321Fabio Castro+04
RP428Joaquin Benoit55
RP530Erasmo Ramirez20

Oh, the things that a ballpark can do; Blalock has been vastly overrated by this park, but he's still young and talented; Dellucci's the same useful role player he's always been, but last season he smacked 29 homers (ditto Barajas); people are expecting revivals from Wilkerson and Nevin and a solid rookie year from Kinsler based mainly on the park; Millwood and Padilla look like ticking time bombs in this place. An extreme hitters' park starts out fun but ends up as a house of mirrors, leading its inhabitants to question reality.

You can add Frank Francisco to the bullpen mix if he remains healthy and doesn't throw any more chairs . . . Francisco Cordero and Fabio Castro should not be confused with AL pitchers Fernando Cabrera, Fausto Carmona or Francisco Cruceta. Cordero has been a mild disappointment of late, although some of that is the park; Castro is a Rule 5 guy, so even if he doesn't pan out he'll probably be around all year.

The Rangers' bottom line: probably slightly improved pitching, but not enough of it, and the offense isn't quite as scary as it looks.

Seattle Mariners

Raw EWSL: 176.17 (59 W)
Adjusted: 200.80 (67 W)
Age-Adj.: 192.02 (64 W)

C30Kenji Johjima+012
1B31Richie Sexson1714
2B22Jose Lopez#410
SS24Yuniesky Betancourt*24
3B27Adrian Beltre2121
RF32Ichiro Suzuki2421
CF27Joe Borchard00
LF34Raul Ibanez1514
DH35Carl Everett118
C222Rene Rivera+16
INF28Willie Bloomquist44
OF34Matt Lawton1312
1325Jeremy Reed#68
SP120Felix Hernandez*411
SP231Jarrod Washburn119
SP343Jamie Moyer1110
SP427Joel Pineiro65
SP527Gil Meche65
RP135Eddie Guardado105
RP226Rafael Soriano22
RP328Julio Mateo66
RP429JJ Putz33
RP529George Sherrill#11

EWSL being a measure of established major league play, it is of limited use with a team like the Mariners except to point out that there isn't a lot of established major league talent here. If the imported catcher, Jumanji, lives up to predictions and doesn't turn into another Kaz Matsui (the Mariners, understandably, remain more bullish on Japanese imports than we Mets fans), and if the various rookies hold up, this still won't be a contender but it won't threaten 100 losses, either.

Borchard seems the logical replacement in center, if he can shake off his lifetime .191 batting average and reclaim his prospect status, for the injured Reed, who looks less like the new Tony Gwynn and more like the new Jeff Abbott. I remain somewhat upbeat about Reed, but the injury and the park are a bad combination for him.

I'd say time is due to catch up with some of the 40+ year old pitchers by now, but by all evidence it's already caught up with Moyer; the Mariners are just too pitching-poor to replace him. I do expect some great pitching from Soriano, if healthy.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:40 AM | Baseball 2006 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
March 27, 2006
BASEBALL: Military All-Stars

Got a press release in my emailbox announcing the 2006 "Red, White and Blue Tour of America" by the US Military All-Stars:

In 2005, as in previous years when our country is at war, over 90 percent of our players have served one or more tours in Iraq or Afghanistan. . . .

To support their heroic efforts here in the U.S. we execute an extensive travel schedule of mare than 150 public appearances in support of charities that help our veterans. Players and staff alike fully understand our scope of responsibility far exceeds the games won or lost on the field. However, being true Americans we love to win. Our program is distinguished by a 520-194 overall record of .728 against professional, semiprofessional, and collegiate teams.

In 2006, we will compete against some of the finest professional and NCAA sanctioned summer collegiate organizations in the nation during our "Red, White and Blue Tour of America" including the Golden, Southwest Pacific, Semiprofessional, Cape Cod, New England Collegiate, California Collegiate, Coastal Plain, Atlantic, Central Plain, Western, Semiprofessional Baseball Leagues and the Horizon Summer Series.

Go to for more information.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:56 PM | Baseball 2006 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: The High Priesthood

Tom Elia flags this fatuous comment by Molly Ivins (is there any other kind?):

Bloggers are not news-gatherers, but opinion-mongers. I have long argued that no one should be allowed to write opinion without spending years as a reporter -- nothing like interviewing all four eyewitnesses to an automobile accident and then trying to write an accurate account of what happened. Or, as author-journalist Curtis Wilkie puts it, "Unless you can cover a five-car pile-up on Route 128, you shouldn't be allowed to cover a presidential campaign."

It's bad enough to have to listen to the argument that citizens of a democracy shouldn't be entitled to publish opinions on a war if they haven't fought in one; it's even worse to hear that those citizens - whether or not they have fought in a war - shouldn't publish opinions on one if they haven't covered a war from the hazardous terrain of the Pentagon briefing room . . .

I'm tempted to retort that reporters shouldn't be allowed to offer opinions about the law, legislation, judges or the courts if they haven't gone to law school. The fact is, one of the beauties of the blogosphere is the diversity of experiences people bring to bear - there are many bloggers who can write about law, business, the military, science, medicine and other topics from first-hand experiences that few journalists can match. And on the topic of politics in particular, with the exception of academia, hardly any business in America is less subject to regulation than journalism; journalists tend, if anything, to be uniquely unqualified to understand how government interacts with the governed.

Anyway, I've never been in the "blogs will replace and destroy old media" camp, so to some extent I actually agree with Ivins' broader point that blogs can't really replace the newsgathering resources of newspapers. But if there's one area where blogs are every bit the equal of old media, it's the ability to dispense informed and incisive opinion. Bloggers who are more worthy of attention than Molly Ivins just aren't hard to find.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:18 AM | Politics 2006 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)
March 24, 2006
BASEBALL: 2006 AL East EWSL Report

Once more into the breach of my annual division-by-division roundups, powered by Established Win Shares Levels (EWSL is explained here, and you should read that link before commenting on the method; 2006 revisions to the age adjustment discussed here). Due to time constraints, and for ease in reading the charts, I'm leaving off the intermediate adjustment column, and just listing each player's raw EWSL and the age-adjusted number. Bear in mind as always that (1) EWSL is a record of past performance, adjusted by age to give an assessment of the available talent on hand; it is not an individualized projection system; (2) individual EWSL are rounded off but team totals are compiled from the unrounded figures; and (3) as demonstrated here in some detail, nearly all teams will win more games than their EWSL total because I'm only rating 23 players per team (and I considered going to 24, but I'm not convinced it would make the system more useful, since it would tend to overrate teams that stuff their back bench slots with aging ex-regulars). As always, the depth charts here are drawn from a number of sources and modified to list the guys who will do the work (e.g., if there are two guys battling for a fifth starter spot I'll often list one of them with the relievers if I think they'll both end up pitching), but I take responsibility for any errors. It's still a fluid time for rosters.

One final methodological note: Dave Studeman and others have suggested that a better method would look at WSAB, which measures marginal contributions and thus better adjusts for playing time. The short answer is that I fiddled a bit with WSAB but just didn't have the time this year to incorporate it in the system. Next year I may try something new in that regard.

Without further ado, we start with the AL East, where time and chance happeneth to no one; the race is always to the swift, the battle always to the strong.

The Hated Yankees

Raw EWSL: 297.00 (99 W)
Adjusted: 317.17 (106 W)
Age-Adj.: 280.18 (93 W)

C34Jorge Posada2119
1B35Jason Giambi1914
2B23Robinson Cano*617
SS32Derek Jeter2522
3B30Alex Rodriguez3231
RF37Gary Sheffield3222
CF32Johnny Damon2421
LF32Hideki Matsui2522
DH37Bernie Williams139
C236Kelly Stinnett21
INF32Miguel Cairo76
OF29Bubba Crosby+16
1329Andy Phillips+06
SP142Randy Johnson1716
SP237Mike Mussina1211
SP330Carl Pavano108
SP426Chien-Ming Wang47
SP528Shawn Chacon78
RP136Mariano Rivera1815
RP230Kyle Farnsworth97
RP336Ron Villone65
RP434Aaron Small43
RP530Jaret Wright54

Other pitchers we are likely to see include Tanyan Sturtze and, if he gets healthy enough to pitch this season, Octavio Dotel. Carl Pavano is clearly the key guy on this team; a solid year from Pavano gives them three dependable starters, with a chance for 4 if Wang holds up (no, I don't expect the fairy godmother to give Chacon and Small a new set of ball gowns this season), and could take the pressure off a bullpen that yet again is shaky behind the sandman. On offense, the Yanks are 8 men and out once again, with the decrepit Bernie eating up at bats and minimal help from the bench. And, of course, this is an old, old team.

With Bonds ailing last season and Palmeiro having hung it up, we haven't yet had a test of a guy with the kind of steroids bullseye Sheffield now has painted on him; 2006 will be that test, and we'll see if Sheff proves that he's still impervious both to age and to the media. Long term, of course, if it turns out that a lot of the performances by mid/late-30s slugging of the past decade have been steroids-driven, and those performances don't hold up in the future under the new testing regimes (two big ifs), that could adversely impact Steinbrenner's business model of buying established over-30 veterans.

I'm not optimistic about Cano, who came into camp out of shape and isn't the most disciplined player to start with.

Boston Red Sox

Raw EWSL: 289.17 (96 W)
Adjusted: 292.00 (97 W)
Age-Adj.: 269.77 (90 W)

C34Jason Varitek1817
1B27Kevin Youkilis#45
2B34Mark Loretta2321
SS29Alex Gonzalez1514
3B32Mike Lowell1715
RF32Trot Nixon1211
CF26Coco Crisp1619
LF34Manny Ramirez3128
DH30David Ortiz2625
C228Josh Bard33
INF38JT Snow1411
OF24Wily Mo Pena810
1330Alex Cora1010
SP139Curt Schilling129
SP226Josh Beckett1111
SP331Matt Clement118
SP443David Wells1111
SP539Tim Wakefield129
RP133Keith Foulke108
RP240Mike Timlin1010
RP329David Riske76
RP425Jon Papelbon*25
RP533Julian Tavarez76

I could easily have listed Willie Harris or Tony Graffanino instead of Cora, but the results would be similar. Ditto for whether you consider Youkilis or Snow as the #1 guy at first. I imagine that the Pena deal squeezes Dustan Mohr out of the picture.

Will Loretta still be this good? Coming back from injuries gets harder at his age, but a full recovery to 20+ Win Share territory would be a big help for this team. And for those of you who haven't followed the offseason moves that carefully, that's the Florida Alex Gonzalez, not the one who used to play for the Blue Jays.

This is an even older pitching staff than the Yankees, and with even more question marks, but the Sox may have more alternatives to fall back on. I'll be surprised if we don't see Craig Hansen pitching important innings by July, and Papelbon in the rotation at some point.

Toronto Blue Jays

Raw EWSL: 222.50 (74 W)
Adjusted: 238.00 (79 W)
Age-Adj.: 224.76 (75 W)

C31Ben Molina1411
1B29Lyle Overbay1615
2B24Aaron Hill*512
SS25Russ Adams#69
3B29Troy Glaus1615
RF28Eric Hinske1011
CF27Vernon Wells1919
LF32Frank Catalanotto1211
DH30Shea Hillenbrand1413
C235Gregg Zaun118
INF31John McDonald32
OF25Alexis Rios#710
1329Reed Johnson109
SP129Roy Halladay1513
SP229AJ Burnett87
SP325Gustavo Chacin*717
SP429Josh Towers98
SP530Ted Lilly97
RP130BJ Ryan129
RP232Justin Speier75
RP328Jason Frasor#57
RP432Scott Schoenweis53
RP527Vinny Chulk#44

Though the Jays are now making happy noises about Eric Hinske beating out Rios and Johnson, your guess is as good as mine as to who will end up with the playing time. The Jays and their fans may talk themselves into thinking this is a credible contender, but all you need to do is look at the DH and outfield corner slots to see why this is still a second-rate team; none of those guys is a championship-caliber regular.

One of the drawbacks of EWSL is the mechanical nature of the age adjustments; I don't seriously expect Gustavo Chacin to take that big a step forward in 2006 (he's probably less than a 50/50 bet to tread water). But even if that is balanced by what I regard as lowball figures for Halladay, Burnett and especially Ryan, it is a useful reminder that the Jays will need those guys to step up from what they've done thus far, at least in terms of Halladay and Burnett's durability.

Baltimore Orioles

Raw EWSL: 229.83 (77 W)
Adjusted: 235.33 (78 W)
Age-Adj.: 211.61 (70 W)

C30Ramon Hernandez1312
1B40Jeff Conine146
2B28Brian Roberts2223
SS30Miguel Tejada2726
3B34Melvin Mora2119
RF29Jay Gibbons1211
CF26Corey Patterson1112
LF27Luis Matos99
DH35Javy Lopez1713
C230Geronimo Gil11
INF35Chris Gomez54
OF34Kevin Millar1413
1332David Newhan#56
SP125Daniel Cabrera#69
SP229Bruce Chen87
SP330Rodrigo Lopez97
SP427Erik Bedard#67
SP531Kris Benson87
RP124Chris Ray*25
RP233LaTroy Hawkins97
RP334John Halama32
RP435Todd Williams52
RP528John Parrish34

Parrish and Williams are hurt; I should go back and fix the numbers to replace Parrish with Eric DuBose, but that will have to wait until I have a free minute, and it only makes a slight difference in the bottom line.

As with Loretta, I'm skeptical that Roberts will match his EWSL, especially given the severity of Roberts' injury. And as with the Jays, even if Corey Patterson comes up with a good year, the 1B/LF situation in Baltimore is pretty desperate. Who expected Jeff Conine to still be a regular or semi-regular at 40?

Cabrera, Bedard and Chen should be a good test case for Leo Mazzone.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Raw EWSL: 152.33 (51 W)
Adjusted: 169.80 (57 W)
Age-Adj.: 181.17 (60 W)

C30Toby Hall1010
1B31Travis Lee76
2B24Jorge Cantu#1116
SS30Julio Lugo2120
3B29Aubrey Huff1716
RF25Johnny Gomes*718
CF25Joey Gathright*25
LF24Carl Crawford2026
DH24Rocco Baldelli79
C231Josh Paul11
INF28Ty Wigginton89
OF32Damon Hollins*46
1330Russ Branyan77
SP122Scott Kazmir#59
SP232Mark Hendrickson54
SP328Casey Fossum33
SP425Doug Waechter23
SP525Seth McClung00
RP125Chad Orvella*24
RP228Jesus Colome34
RP330Travis Harper43
RP435Dan Miceli42
RP530Shawn Camp#11

A good roundup of what's happening with Tampa's roster battles can be found here. I probably should have listed Nick Green instead of Branyan. On the other hand, the EWSL totals would be higher if I listed Sean Burroughs, who is apparently on the verge of getting cut.

Other than Travis Lee, the Devil Rays lineup and bench don't look that terrible, especially when you project out more playing time for Baldelli, Gomes and possibly Gathright and add in BJ Upton - who may already be their best hitter but still lacks a fixed position unless he can redeem himself at shortstop in AAA - and, by season's end, possibly even Delmon Young in place of Gathright.

But beyond Scott (gag, cough, retch) Kazmir, the pitching to carry the AL East's long-time doormats to adequacy just isn't here.

You can compare the prior AL East roundups for 2004 here and 2005 here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:25 AM | Baseball 2006 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)
March 22, 2006
BASEBALL: Owner Needed

My Rotisserie league is drafting Saturday in Manhattan (traditional 8-category Roto, auction, AL-only non-keeper league, details re: entry fee and other rules available upon request), and we need a 12th owner. Email me if you are interested.

UPDATE: Looks like we got our volunteer.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:52 AM | Baseball 2006 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
March 20, 2006
BASEBALL: 2006 EWSL All-Stars

Continuing my pre-season romp through Established Win Shares Levels (explained here), using the new age adjustments set out here, I've assembled the top 15 players in baseball entering 2006 as ranked by age-adjusted EWSL, as well as by raw (non-adjusted) EWSL. First, the age-adjusted top 15, plus the tops at each position not represented in the top 15 (EWSL totals are rounded off).

1Albert Pujols261BCardinals43
2Miguel Cabrera231BMarlins32
3Alex Rodriguez303BYankees31
4Mark Teixera261BRangers31
5Adam Dunn261BReds29
6Manny Ramirez34LFRed Sox28
7David Wright233BMets27
8Derrek Lee301BCubs27
9Rafael Furcal28SSDodgers27
10Miguel Tejada30SSOrioles26
11Bobby Abreu32RFPhillies26
12Carl Crawford24LFDevil Rays26
13Vladimir Guerrero30RFAngels25
14Todd Helton321BRockies25
15David Ortiz30DHRed Sox25
-Joe Mauer23CTwins22
-Marcus Giles282BBraves24
-Carlos Zambrano25SPCubs23
-Johan Santana27SPTwins22
-Roger Clemens43SPHimself20
-Roy Oswalt28SPAstros20
-Dontrelle Willis24SPMarlins19
-Francisco Rodriguez24RPAngels15

In short, these are likely the best players in baseball as we enter 2006; with the injuries and age of Barry Bonds, I feel quite comfortable with the EWSL ranking of Pujols as baseball's best by a comfortable margin, although the age adjustment may overstate just a bit how far he stands ahead of the pack. I'm a little more skeptical of the ratings of Furcal and Crawford, but Furcal is obviously rated on his glove and Crawford is a solid established player just entering his prime years and likely to develop more patience and ability to drive the ball (he finished 2005 with a blazing September). Wright and Mauer are ranked only on 2004-05, so their ranking is a little inflated here in terms of what he has actually proven (the raw rankings are all three-year rankings). Note that the only team with two players in the top 15 is the Red Sox with Manny and Ortiz.

Now, the same list, except ranked by raw EWSL - in other words, the guys with the most real accomplishments entering the season, regardless of age. I went out to 16 here to avoid dropping a player solely on a rounding difference:

2A. Rodriguez303BYankees32
3Gary Sheffield37RFYankees32
4Ramirez34LFRed Sox31
7Brian Giles35RFPadres29
8Jim Edmonds36CFCardinals28
12Michael Young29SSRangers26
14Ortiz30DHRed Sox26
15Carlos Delgado341BMets26
16Carlos Beltran29CFMets26
-Jorge Posada34CYankees21
-Jeff Kent382BDodgers25
-Mark Buehrle27SPWhite Sox20
-C. Zambrano25SPCubs18
-Mariano Rivera36RPYankees18

No surprises here, especially not the fact that when you remove age from the picture you get a lot more guys on a handful of the same teams, and more Yankees in particular.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:30 PM | Baseball 2006 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Arroyo for Pena

A logical deal, I think: the Red Sox have traded 29-year-old starter Bronson Arroyo to the Reds for 24-year-old outfielder Wily Mo Pena.

For the Reds, this was an easy one. Arroyo is a talented pitcher who followed a promising 2004 with a rough 2005 after getting cuffed around in the ALCS and World Series in 2004. While there were some warning signs - Arroyo's HR and flyball rates went up and his K rate went down in 2005 - he's not as extreme a flyball pitcher as, say, Eric Milton (who's been eaten alive in tater-happy Cincy; Arroyo's 0.85 G/F ratio last year is still well above Milton's career 0.6 mark), and the Reds are truly desperate for decent starting pitchers while having some options in the outfield. It could be that Arroyo was just a typical pitcher taking a few lumps in his second go around the league and first season carrying a full 200 IP, and he was still just below average; he's still a reasonable bet to put together a solid season.

As for the Sox, there are three possibilities of what to do with Pena:

1. Trade Trot (or finally deal Manny; it may be that the Sox were keeping one eye on dealing Manny as an option later on).

2. Move Ortiz to 1B, move Pena or Manny to DH, have JT Snow hit the bench and let Youkilis and Lowell slug it out for the 3B job.

3. The most likely - platoon Trot, who hasn't slugged above .375 in a season against lefthanded pitching in the past 5 years, with Pena. Pena's young, so you hate to pigeonhole him, but he's a career .272/.537/.342 hitter against lefties, .237/.450/.285 against righties. He and Nixon would make a solid platoon.

Also, I would guess, without having digested all the Boston papers on this, that the departure of Arroyo signals that David Wells isn't going anywhere and that the odds of Jon Papelbon being in the rotation just went up.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:56 PM | Baseball 2006 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
March 16, 2006
POLITICS: Hawkins v. McCain

Speaking as a conservative Republican who is uncommitted in 2008 and keeping an open mind about John McCain - who I voted for in the 2000 NY Republican primary - I haven't the time here to parse out my reactions to this, but John Hawkins' summary of "The Conservative Case Against John McCain In 2008" is certainly worth a read. Then again, Hawkins doesn't really address the War on Terror or answer the two burning domestic policy questions: whether McCain would really cut spending and reform entitlements and whether McCain would appoint judicial conservatives to the bench.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:02 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (21) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Perfect Mediocrity

I was looking over the Baseball Prospectus PECOTA projection depth charts, and noticed the projected records of the Orioles starters for this year: Bruce Chen 11-11, Rodrigo Lopez 11-11, Daniel Cabrera 10-11, Kris Benson 10-11, Erik Bedard 10-10.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:03 AM | Baseball 2006 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
March 15, 2006
BASEBALL: 2005 EWSL Wrapup By Team

Continuing my look back at how Established Win Shares Levels (explained here) fared during the 2005 season. How did teams stack up against their pre-season EWSL? I'm raking the teams here by how their total Win Shares (i.e., their Wins x 3) exceeded their EWSL. Since I rank 23 players for EWSL before the season and a typical team goes through 30 guys a year, most teams will exceed their EWSL (in 2005, 27 of 30 teams did). But there are two ways to do so, and as you will see from the chart below, different teams took different routes. One route is to get more out of your top 23 players; the other is to bring in guys who weren't on my preseason radar screen.

The "EWSL" column shows each team's preseason age-adjusted EWSL for 23 players. "WS" is the number of Win Shares earned by those 23 players in 2005 (I used the WS totals from the Bill James Handbook, for simplicity of use); it includes Win Shares earned for other teams, so some teams get credit here they didn't actually receive on the field. "Team WS" is just Wins x 3. "Diff" is WS-EWSL. "Other"
is (Team WS)-(WS), thus catching the value of other contributors, minus the lost value of guys from the preseason EWSL roster who did their work for someone else. "Net" is (Team WS)-(EWSL), and the table is ranked by this value.

TeamEWSLWSTeam WSDiffOtherNet
White Sox236.61257297+20.3940+60.39
Blue Jays203.89202240-1.8938+36.11
Red Sox258.06264285+5.9421+26.94
Devil Rays175.71147201-28.7154+25.29

By and large, the fans of the teams at the bottom of the chart have the most cause for unhappiness, given how they failed to live up to the talent available to them. And note that the Giants' EWSL numbers already included both the age adjustments and my arbitrary pre-season slice of Barry Bonds' EWSL in half to adjust for his injury. Bonds' near-total wipeout was only the beginning of an epic collapse.

Available established major league talent isn't everything; teams like the Braves and A's and (though still with poor end results) the Devil Rays rebuilt on the fly, promoting youngsters to fill the shortfall of their preseason lineups. Of course, I had mentioned before the season that EWSL's projection of the Braves as a strong last-place team in a tight division, while reasonable on its face (the Braves' 203 Win Shares from the 23 guys I evaluated ended up being close to that of the Mets and Nationals but far behind Philly and Florida), was of limited usefulness because I didn't think they'd get through the season with Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi as their outfield corners.

The best flourishings of talent on hand were the Indians - by far - the Brewers and the Astros. For Houston, this was largely the result of the Pettitte-Clemens duo and Morgan Ensberg. For Milwaukee, it was Brady Clark and Chris Capuano. For Cleveland, it was the amazing season of Jhonny Peralta, plus Grady Sizemore, but it was really all up and down the lineup.

Red Sox fans may be surprised to see that they basically got what they bargained for from their projected lineup. And the Mets weren't far off. EWSL had pegged the Royals before the season as a staggeringly bad team, the worst in baseball, yet the guys I looked at still managed to significantly underachieve that dismal evaluation.

Players who most exceeded their EWSL: Jhonny Peralta 22.9, Chase Utley 17.8, Jason Bay 17.1, Morgan Ensberg 16.4, David Eckstein 16.4, Grady Sizemore 15.3, Brian Roberts 15.0, Chris Carpenter 14.5, Tony Clark 14.2, Andy Pettitte 14.0, Brady Clark 14.0, Craig Counsell 13.6, Manny Ramirez 13.3, Derrek Lee 13.1, David Ortiz 13.0, Jose Contreras 12.9, Felipe Lopez 12.8, Carlos Delgado 12.6, Ryan Dempster 12.6, Ken Griffey jr 12.0, Danny Haren 11.8, Jorge Cantu 11.6, Paul Konerko 11.5, Joe Mauer 11.5, Richie Sexson 11.3, Mark Ellis 11.2, Todd Jones 11.1, Chris Capuano 10.7, Kyle Farnsworth 10.6, Eric Chavez 10.4, David Wright 10.3, Bruce Chen 10.2, Cliff Floyd 10.1, Dustin Hermanson 10.1. Note that a few of these guys went way up mainly because they got closer jobs. A few, like Manny, did nothing more than defy the ravages of age.

Players who fell furthest off their EWSL: Barry Bonds -38.5*, Scott Rolen -24.4, Albert Pujols -19.4, Jim Thome -19.2, Rocco Baldelli -18.8, D'Angelo Jimenez -18.6, Cesar Izturis -17.1, Corey Patterson -16.8, Termel Sledge -16.7, Jeff Bagwell -15.4, Adrian Beltre -14.7, Marquis Grissom -14.3, Eric Gagne -14.2, Erubiel Durazo -13.7, Curt Schilling -13.2, Khalil Greene -12.8, Carlos Beltran -12.6, Mike Lowell -12.5, Sidney Ponson -12.0, Sammy Sosa -11.8, Craig Wilson -11.5, Keith Foulke -11.4, Russ Ortiz -11.1, Nomar Garciaparra -11.0, Koyie Hill -11.0, Bret Boone -10.7, Oliver Perez -10.3, Sean Burroughs -10.3, Kerry Wood -10.2, Frank Thomas -10.2, Steve Finley -10.0. Note that a few of this group are guys I just misprojected to play. Bonds is the dropoff from his total EWSL, not the halved one I used for the team calculation. Note also that a particular type of player was overprojected by EWSL: good glove men in their 20s without a consistent track record with the bat, like Jimenez, Izturis and Greene. They may have been overprojected by the age adjustment to make strides forward that were incompatible with their defense-heavy profiles; you don't improve that much with the glove each year in your mid-20s. Also, the age adjustment's enthusiasm for early-20s hitters failed to take account of how little room for improvement Pujols had left. And let's not discuss why Termel Sledge was listed as a player of significant value entering 2005.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:11 AM | Baseball 2006 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
March 14, 2006
BASEBALL: Age and EWSL, 2004-05 Combined

Revisiting a topic I looked at here and here following the 2004 season, I now have two years of data to work from in evaluating how players tend to perform at each age relative to their adjusted Established Win Shares Levels (EWSLs are explained here). I went back and broke out the totals for 2004 and 2005 into pitchers and non-pitchers. Here are the results, which you may find interesting but which I'm recording here mainly for reference as the backup for the revised age adjustments I'll be using for the 2006 EWSL:



As I've explained before, the nature of any established performance level will exaggerate the upward and downward trajectory of player aging, since a 25-year-old is still being partly compared to his 22-year-old self, while a 35-year-old is still being partly compared to his 32-year-old self. Even so, the dramatic nature of the effects of aging is still apparent, as the rapid pace of improvement stalls out at 27, while the sharp downward spiral begins at 31 and never really lets up. And you can see, as well, how the results of this play out in the expanding and then contracting number of players of each age holding regular jobs.

The youngest age shows disappointments mainly because of guys like BJ Upton who get projected as possible contributors before the season and then stay the full year in the minors. The 40-year-old-and-up crowd looked much better in 2004 than 2005, because Barry Bonds joined their number with a huge raw EWSL and ran off the bridge.



If anything, the aging pattern on the pitchers is more severe, with the rapid growth phase ending by age 26 and steep decline setting in at 29. This is undoubtedly due in good part to injuries as well as to the number of pitchers who only have one decent run around the league. The 40+ pitchers, of course, include a disproportionate number of Clemens and Randy Johnson seasons, and may not be informative for lesser mortals even of the Tom Glavine variety.

One thing is clear, though: never, ever, ever underestimate the power of the tides of age over players in their 30s.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:26 PM | Baseball 2006 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
March 13, 2006
POP CULTURE: Sopranos Spoiler Thread

Well, The Sopranos certainly opened the new season with a dramatic flourish last night. I'm glad we managed to watch, since today's NY Daily News had not just a writeup but a photo spread inside the front page of this episode's big development. Click below the fold for more, but beware that there are spoilers here.

Read More »

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:55 AM | Pop Culture | Comments (2) | TrackBack (1)
March 12, 2006
WAR: Rot in Hell, Slobo

Milosevic is dead, far too late. We may never know if the UN would ever have completed the trial.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 AM | War 2006 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
March 8, 2006
POP CULTURE: Hooked on Hasselhoff

I hope you can watch video on your PC, because I couldn't describe this with all the words at my disposal.

KITT was still a better singer, though.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:07 PM | Pop Culture | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Bonds The Cheater?

A few very quick thoughts on Barry Bonds, steroid user:

1. Yes, there's a difference between allegations and evidence (more of my thoughts on the presumption of innocence here and on its application to Bonds and steroids here), but unless and until (a) fans, bloggers and outsiders get access to documents and witness testimony or (b) some official proceeding is held, this investigation by two Big Media reporters is the best evidence we're likely to get. At this point, the burden shifts to Bonds and his bitter-ender defenders to do some serious, detailed explaining.

2. Next time you wonder if Mark McGwire was a bad role model for kids, remember that he turned out to be a bad role model for a 35-year-old with a first-ballot Hall of Fame career already behind him.

3. More on Bonds' unique, apparently unnatural aging pattern here. And my thoughts on whether steroids help in baseball here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 8:56 AM | Baseball 2006 | Comments (33) | TrackBack (0)
March 7, 2006
BLOG: Just Like Starting Over

So, tomorrow my wife and I bring home our new daughter (baby #3) from the hospital; she was born Monday afternoon. I'd post more but my wife is insistent that we put as little information about the kids on the internet as possible. Let's just say the little lady, like her sister, exercised her full female prerogatives and arrived ten days late.

Hence, of course, the blogging interruption, which will continue; I've actually got a fair amount of stuff stored up from my review of how Established Win Shares Levels (explanation here for new readers) panned out in 2005, and am frantically at work on the 2006 EWSLs, which I use as the framework for my preseason previews. I'll be at home this week and next, so even with the chaos of a new baby I expect to make some progress on that front, but there's no predicting how far I'll get or how much of it will make it into completed posts any time soon. The collateral consequence of this is that the political content around here should be pretty minimal through Opening Day.

Having a third baby six years after the last one is, as I've said before, like coming out of retirement. Every time I feel too old for this, I try to remind myself that lots of people our age (34) are just getting started; we're really just old compared to when we had the first two (I was 25 when my son was born).

Looking at all the baby stuff they sell these days (car seats, infant toys, etc.) and how far it's all advanced from where our first daughter was born, I feel like we had our kids in another century. In fact, we did have our first two in another century, in what seems like another world. When we last brought a baby home from the hospital in the summer of 1999, I was still working in the World Trade Center; Bill Clinton was the president, and "the war" meant Kosovo. John McCain was still a relatively obscure Senator, Howard Dean an extremely obscure governor. The Mets' pitching rotation included Orel Hershiser and Masato Yoshii; the major league home run leader was Mark McGwire. Wade Boggs was still playing. Patrick Ewing and the Knicks were the defending Eastern Conference champs. "The Sopranos" was coming off its first season on TV.

I hadn't started wrting on the web then; nobody had heard of "blogs." Bill Simmons was still an obscure web writer, Glenn Reynolds a law professor known only in his field, Duncan Black and John Hinderaker were just working lawyers, and Aaron Gleeman and Matt Yglesias were still in high school. 1999 was the year I bought my first Baseball Prospectus. (Heck, when my son was born in the summer of 1997 I didn't even have email at work). In 1999, my mom was still with us.

The new arrival shares the name of my grandmother, who was born in 1900 as a subject of Queen Victoria. Life goes on . . . and I should go get some sleep, while the house is still quiet.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:12 PM | Blog 2006-14 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)

Geoff Young has moved! Update your bookmarks - his new site, still Padre-centric, is

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:03 PM | Baseball 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: Kirby Puckett RIP

Kirby Puckett's early death at age 45, from a stroke, is a melancholy occasion on a number of levels, not least the sense that we only thought we knew Puckett, and now wonder who it is we mourn. Here's what I wrote about Puckett's Hall of Fame candidacy in 2000:

Puckett has all the sympathy factors you could imagine pulling for him, which is why his election won't be close. He rose up from a hard-knocks background. His enthusiasm for the game was unmatched. He overcame a physique that reminded nobody of a professional athlete. Before sudden power explosions became common, he mashed his way to 31 homers after seasons of 0 and 4, a feat so improbable that Bob Costas was forced to stick to a late-May promise to name one of his children after him. He won the World Series twice, with teams nobody expected to win, and was a hero in the postseason. He stayed out of trouble, and almost never missed a game. They loved him in Minnesota; his whole career there was like Fred Lynn's 1975. He helped draw 3 million fans a year to a franchise that people say, just ten years later, can't draw enough to survive. His career ended suddenly, after a season where he drove in 99 runs and hit .314; Bill James was projecting him at the time as having a 27% chance at 3000 hits; when he said goodbye to his playing days, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Kirby Puckett was and is about all the things that made us love baseball in the first place - not just the happy things like grown men playing a child's game with a child's joy and millionaires taking time out for autographs and smiles for the kiddies, but the hard things like gritting your teeth through the long season, putting in the extra BP and the adjustments to stay constant from year to year, and shutting out the world long enough to hit a game-winning home run in the World Series. He did enough of those things to plant two championship flags in the rafters of the Metrodome, flags which seem less likely today to be revisited than the one Neil Armstrong put on the moon.

At the end of the day, the writers all want to take their children to Cooperstown and say, "that's Kirby Puckett, and he is one of baseball's all-time greats." After running the numbers and finding him, at the least, very close to the line, I have to confess: so do I. I'd vote him IN.

This was, of course, before we learned about Puckett's checkered history with women, behavior ranging from boorish to dark and dangerous. Like Pete Rose, Steve Garvey, Dwight Gooden and others, Puckett was made out to be a truly special human being by the media, when in fact at least a significant part of his life showed him to be precisely the opposite. And as was true of Rose, at least, all the things we were told about Puckett and his virtues were basically true; they just left out some very important additional facts.

The Puckett we saw, we loved, and we had good reasons for that love. Maybe that's not all we should remember, but it's a part we should not forget.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:54 AM | Baseball 2006 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (2)
March 6, 2006
BASEBALL: A Word From Dan Lewis

I'm still out of blog for the next day or two, but Dan Lewis, a long time friend of the site, asked for a few minutes at this microphone to spread the word on hew newly revamped site. Check it out.


It can be very, very difficult it can get your sports thoughts out
there for everyone else to see. Even if you run a successful blog,
you need to invest countless hours keeping your content fresh. And
you need to spend even more time promoting your site. For most
sports fans, the best place to talk sports is at the water cooler.

Today, we launched, a site that aims to do the
tough work for you. Your job is simply to report the news, express
your opinion, and add to the ever-expanding pages of sports history
and lore. As much or as little as you want. That's right -- your
job is to do exactly the type of stuff you wanted to do, but couldn't
find an easy way to do it.

How does it work? Glad you asked. is the world's first world-writable sports blog and
encyclopedia. Right now, you can surf over to that site and write an
opinion article, report sports news, or contribute to what we hope
will be the Internet's most thorough sports encyclopedia. There's no
registration required. No fees -- ever. You do not even have to ask
us for permission. Just go to and start writing. is built on the MediaWiki platform -- the same engine
that powers Wikipedia. We have added some technological improvements
to allow for easy publishing of opinion and news articles. Fans vote
on which news and opinion articles get highlighted on individual
player, team, and league, pages, and of course, on the front page.
And fans can very easily add to the continuing chronicling of sports
knowledge and information.

In effect, is half-blog, half-encyclopedia -- and 100%
fan driven. To read more about the site, see

We hope you will find to be as valuable a tool as we
believe it can be. If you have any questions about this project,
please do not hesitate to contact us.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:24 AM | Baseball 2006 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
March 3, 2006
BASEBALL: The Mind of Bill James

I recently finished reading my advance copy of The Mind of Bill James: How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball, by Scott Gray, due in stores March 14. The book is a sort of biography of James, mixing in details about his life with a sprawling look at his thinking on many subjects. I enjoyed the book, and if you are either a certified Bill James fanatic or want an introduction to what the fuss is all about, it's worth a read. But the book had three fundamental problems.

The first problem is that Gray is on well-plowed ground here. Michael Lewis' Moneyball, released in 2003, put James' story in the context of the implementation of his ideas by the Oakland A's. Alan Schwartz' The Numbers Game, released in 2004, told James' story again, this time in the context of a historical review of baseball statistics and analysis and their devotees. Gray offers up some new biographical details (did you know that like Babe Ruth and Tom Seaver, James' real first name is George?), but by now the story of the self-published night watchman who was discovered by Dan Okrent and came to dominate the baseball best-seller list is pretty well known, and while Gray keeps the focus almost entirely on James, readers of Lewis' and Schwartz' books may feel this is all something of a rehash.

The second problem is one that's unique to readers like me, the hard-core James fanatics: Gray peppers his book with generous excerpts of James' best writing. He clearly shares my taste in this regard, reliving many of my favorite Jamesian riffs. For readers who haven't been back to the Asbtracts in many years or missed them (or were too young) when they were out, this will undoubtedly be a real treat. Personally, I could recite most of these excerpts by heart at this stage, and so skimmed over a lot of them. One thing I will note is that the book only underlines the crying need for someone to take the out-of-print 1977-88 Abstracts, The Baseball Book 1990-92, the 1994 Player Ratings Book, and the various magazine articles James wrote in those years and collect them all into a hardcover set. There is definitely a market for this stuff - heck, there's a market for increasingly dog-eared old third-hand copies of the Asbtracts - and James' writings in this period deserve to be memorialized for his writing and groundbreaking work as well as to preserve a contemporary account of the era from the perspective of its most incisive observer.

The third problem the book has is - unlike the first two - not dependent on what the reader has or has not read. Gray promises in the preface to ramble off on tangents, and he delivers; these don't get dull or confusing, but the book is rather excessively disorganized, and has something of a patched-together feel to it.

Anyway, as I said, if you are as big a James devotee as I am, any new Bill James is a treat, and besides the new biographical stuff there are extensive discussions with James (mostly conducted via email, apparently) about numerous different subjects (there's a lot of his thoughts on crime stories, which he follows obsessively). And the book has a few other good moments thrown in that aren't strictly on topic, including one priceless if possibly apocryphal anecdote - which I hadn't seen before, though I'd seen similar ones about the same game - about a Red Sox fan watching Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS in a London bar in the wee hours of the morning, when some drunken cricket fan who'd never seen baseball before asks him, "Excuse me, sir, but would the rules permit those fellows to employ a substitute for the bowler? He seems to be laboring a bit."

A fun read, for all of that.

UPDATE: Reviews from Aaron Gleeman and David Pinto and some thoughts from Matt Welch.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:36 AM | Baseball 2006 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)