Baseball Crank
"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
March 31, 2010

Ace with an incisive post on the media and the Tea Party movement.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:05 PM | Politics 2010 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 29, 2010
POLITICS: 8-K? What's An 8-K?

Coming as it does somewhat within my area of professional expertise, this is perhaps the most alarming example yet of the complete ignorance of the Obama Administration and Capitol Hill Democrats regarding how business operates - and to think these same people will be voting on overhauling financial services regulation:

The White House political and legislative operations were said to be livid with the announcement by several large U.S. companies that they were taking multi-million or as much as a billion dollar charges because of the new health-care law, the issue was front-and-center with key lawmakers. By last Friday, AT&T, Caterpillar, Deere & Co., and AK Steel Holding Corp. had all announced that they were taking the one-time charges on their first-quarter balance sheets. More companies were expected to make similar announcements this week.

"These are Republican CEOs who are trying to embarrass the President and Democrats in general," says a White House legislative affairs staffer. "Where do you hear about this stuff? The Wall Street Journal editorial page and conservative websites. No one else picked up on this but you guys. It's BS."

On Friday White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett were calling the CEOs and Washington office heads of the companies that took the financial hits and attacked them for doing so. One Washington office head said that the White House calls were accusatory and "downright rude."

The companies are taking the charges because in 2013 they will lose a tax deduction on tax-free government subsidies they have had when they give retirees a Medicare Part D prescription-drug reimbursement. Many of these companies have more than 100,000 retirees each. AT&T may have more than three-quarters of a million retirees to cover.

"Most of these people [in the Administration] have never had a real job in their lives. They don't understand a thing about business, and that includes the President," says a senior lobbyist for one of the companies that announced the charge. "My CEO sat with the President over lunch with two other CEOs, and each of them tried to explain to the President what this bill would do to our companies and the economy in general. First the President didn't understand what they were talking about. Then he basically told my boss he was lying. Frankly my boss was embarrassed for him; he clearly had not been briefed and didn't know what was in the bill."

It isn't just the President who didn't understand his own proposal. Late Friday, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and Rep. Bart Stupak, chairman of the Oversight and Investigations panel, announced that they would hold hearings in late April to investigate "claims by Caterpillar, Verizon, and Deere that provisions in the new health care reform law could adversely affect their company's ability to provide health insurance to their employees."

Read the whole thing. H/T Moe Lane. Then, read Mark Steyn's explanation of the specific change at issue and why it's likely to change corporate behavior:

In 2003, Washington blessed a grateful citizenry with the Medicare prescription drug benefit, it being generally agreed by all the experts that it was unfair to force seniors to choose between their monthly trip to Rite-Aid and Tony Danza in dinner theatre.

However, in order to discourage American businesses from immediately dumping all their drug plans for retirees, Congress gave them a modest tax break equivalent to 28% of the cost of the plan.

Fast forward to the dawn of the ObamaCare utopia. In one of a bazillion little clauses in a 2,000-page bill your legislators didn't bother reading (because, as Congressman Conyers explained, he wouldn't understand it even if he did), Congress voted to subject the 28% tax benefit to the regular good ol' American-as-apple-pie corporate tax rate of 35%.

For the purposes of comparison, Sweden's corporate tax rate is 26.3%, and Ireland's is 12.5%. But just because America already has the highest corporate tax in the OECD is no reason why we can't keep going until it's double Sweden's and quadruple Ireland's.

I refer you to the decision last year by the donut chain Tim Hortons, a Delaware corporation, to reorganize itself as a Canadian corporation "in order to take advantage of Canadian tax rates." Hold that thought: "In order to take advantage of Canadian tax rates" - a phrase hitherto unknown to American English outside the most fantastical futuristic science fiction.

Ask yourself this: If you impose a sudden 35% tax on something, are you likely to get as much of it? Go on, take a wild guess. On the day President Obama signed ObamaCare into law, Verizon sent an e-mail to all its employees warning that the company's costs "will increase in the short term."

And in the medium term? Well, U.S. corporations that are able to do so will get out of their prescription drugs plans and toss their retirees onto the Medicare pile. So far just three companies - Deere, Caterpillar and Valero Energy - have calculated that the loss of the deduction will add a combined $265 million to their costs.

There are an additional 3,500 businesses presently claiming the break. The cost to taxpayers of that 28% benefit is about $665 per person. The cost to taxpayers of equivalent Medicare coverage is about $1,200 per person. So we're roughly doubling the cost of covering an estimated five million retirees.

Now, let me explain this real simple: If you do something that's going to cost a company a lot of money, they have a whole lot of legal reasons why they have to tell their shareholders that sooner or later. And, if they're being prudent, they will tell them sooner rather than later when it starts showing up in the company's cash flow and the stockholders panic. Dennis the Peasant goes through this in a bit more detail, and he and Erick and Ace all look at Waxman's plan to drag the disclosing CEOs before a Congressional committee to explain why they are daring to inform their shareholders of the impact that the new regulations, specifically the withdrawal of tax breaks, will have on their business.

At least honest leftists would admit that yes, they were doing something genuinely harmful to publicly traded employers, although honest leftists would next try to pass even more laws to prevent the companies from doing anything to pass on the costs to employees, customers and/or taxpayers so as to preserve enough return to shareholders to enable the company to keep raising capital to stay in business. But in the happy-fairy-land of guys like Obama and Waxman, there are never any costs or tradeoffs to heaping new taxes and regulations on businesses in the middle of a recession, and no behavioral incentives changed when you meddle with the tax code.

The level of ignorance here is staggering. George W. Bush understood this stuff. Sarah Palin understands this stuff. Yet, these people whose self-image depends on telling themselves how much smarter than Bush and Palin they are, are continually taken by surprise by these things.

UPDATE: Ben Domenech looks at how Waxman is banking on intimidation but may end up getting more than he bargained for by calling witnesses who have no realistic choice but to contradict him.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:56 PM | Business • | Law 2009-14 • | Politics 2010 | Comments (25) | TrackBack (0)
March 27, 2010
BASEBALL: Roto Madness

Some of this blog's readers are not going to be interested in what follows, but I know some of you are fellow fantasy baseball players interested in my annual draft - which took place today - so click below the fold.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:46 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
March 26, 2010
BASEBALL: 2010 AL Central EWSL Report

Part 3 of my preseason previews is the AL Central; this is the third of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Notes and reference links on the EWSL method are below the fold; while EWSL is a simple enough method that will be familiar to long-time readers, it takes a little introductory explaining, so I'd suggest you check out the explanations first if you're new to these previews. I've also resurrected for this season the team ages, which are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.

Prior previews: the AL West & AL East.

Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
+ (Rookie)
* (Based on one season)
# (Based on two seasons)

Minnesota Twins

Raw EWSL: 241.50 (94 W)
Adjusted: 252.03 (97 W)
Age-Adj.: 243.37 (94 W)
WS Age: 29.05
2010 W-L: 94-68

C27Joe Mauer3031
1B29Justin Morneau2120
2B32Orlando Hudson1915
SS27JJ Hardy1313
3B29Brendan Harris99
RF31Michael Cuddyer1411
CF26Denard Span#1621
LF24Delmon Young1114
DH28Jason Kubel1616
C227Jose Morales*24
INF32Nick Punto108
OF25Alexi Casilla56
1339Jim Thome1511
SP128Scott Baker1211
SP228Nick Blackburn#911
SP326Kevin Slowey67
SP426Francisco Liriano23
SP534Carl Pavano43
RP131Jon Rauch87
RP231Matt Guerrier86
RP325Jose Mijares*49
RP428Jesse Crain43
RP534Clay Condrey54

Subjective Adjustments: None, but given Justin Morneau's usual durability, unless Jason Kubel spends a good deal of time hurt or in the field, Jim Thome's not going to approach 11 Win Shares.

Also on Hand: Position players - Matt Tolbert, Jacque Jones, Ben Revere. Revere, a 22-year-old center fielder, may not make an appearance for a while, but he's a career .337/.396/.430 hitter in the minors, where he averaged 70 stolen bases per 162 games. That's all A ball and lower, so don't get too excited just yet, but a guy who can hit .379/.433/.497 and steal 44 bases in 83 games at age 20, as Revere did in Class A Beloit in 2008, is one to watch. Revere has hit .325 this spring in big league camp, but is headed for AA to work on his defense, which reading between the lines suggests that he'll end up as a left fielder.

Pitchers - Pat Neshek, Glen Perkins, Ron Mahay, Brian Duensing, Bobby Keppel, Anthony Swarzak, Rob Delaney. Also Joe Nathan, of course, but Nathan's having Tommy John surgery today, so Opening Day 2011 is an optimistic timetable.

Analysis: Despite the costly loss of Nathan, which likely leaves the closer job either in Rauch's hands or a combination of Rauch and Guerrier, the Twins remain the class of the field due mainly to Mauer and a solid infield. I already had Mauer approaching historic levels as a two-way catcher when I wrote my Hall of Fame catchers column in February 2009, and that was before he led the AL in batting, slugging and OBP. Fact: Mauer has now had 600 plate appearances in a season three times, and won the batting title all three. Fact: No other AL catcher has ever won a batting title; Mauer has as many as all NL catchers combined (Deacon White did win the 1875 National Association title as a catcher, and White and King Kelly won batting titles while doing some part-time catching in 1877, 1884 & 1886). But Mauer caught only 26% of opposing baserunners last season, by far a career low; like some of the other great catchers, he may end up with his best offensive and defensive seasons a little mismatched.

Delmon Young's progress remains agonizingly slow, but guys like him have been known to creep forward with little apparent improvement and then suddenly kick up to another level; he's still only 24, and I'd wait to see his 2010, 2011 and maybe 2012 before writing him off as a potential star. But the slow pace of Young's improvement, combined with Denard Span's success and Revere's potential, probably contributed to the decision to cut bait on also waiting for Carlos Gomez to progress, even if it meant losing the last tangible tie to the Santana trade. Anyway, adding Hudson and the offensively erratic Hardy should stabilize the infield.

The big question, as is so often true, is the rotation. Liriano has struggled badly enough that there's been talk of converting him to relief, and don't be surprised if that possibility is explored with Nathan out; Duensing could end up replacing him in the rotation. Assuming the old Liriano doesn't resurface, Baker and Slowey should be the anchors. Slowey posted a 5:1 K/BB ratio last season, but coughed up as many homers as walks, and was shut down after July 3 to have surgery on bone chips in his wrist; in Slowey's last two starts with the injury he surrendered 11 runs and 3 homers in 6 innings, ballooning his ERA from 4.04 to 4.86. Slowey's 0.56 spring ERA suggests he may be all the way back. Blackburn, like Baker and Slowey, has amazing control - the Twinkies and the Cardinals were the only major league teams to walk fewer than 3 men per 9 innings last year - but with his low K rate will depend more on the defense, and thus should benefit most from the arrival of the O-Dog.

Punto and Harris are still grappling over who gets to give away the third base job to the other; Casilla, who I have listed here as an outfielder solely because there was no room to list him as something else, is competing with Tolbert for the backup infield job.

Rauch currently holds the single-season record for most saves (18) by a pitcher who is taller than 6'10". Because you needed to know that.

Chicago White Sox

Raw EWSL: 213.17 (84 W)
Adjusted: 224.53 (88 W)
Age-Adj.: 204.31 (81 W)
WS Age: 29.95
2010 W-L: 81-81

C33AJ Pierzynski98
1B34Paul Konerko1513
2B23Gordon Beckham*615
SS28Alexei Ramirez#1417
3B28Mark Teahen1111
RF27Carlos Quentin1313
CF29Alex Rios1615
LF32Juan Pierre119
DH33Andruw Jones65
C234Ramon Castro54
INF43Omar Vizquel74
OF34Mark Kotsay65
1327Jayson Nix*36
SP129Jake Peavy119
SP231Mark Buehrle1613
SP325John Danks1416
SP427Gavin Floyd1211
SP534Freddy Garcia32
RP129Bobby Jenks1110
RP233Matt Thornton107
RP333Scott Linebrink43
RP428Tony Pena77
RP533JJ Putz64

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Brent Lillibridge, who had a horrible 2009. Alejandro de Aza. 24-year-old catcher Tyler Flowers, who improved his career minor league batting line to .293/.406/.495 last season, handled AAA pitching just fine, and got a quick cup of the big league coffee in September. Kenny Williams seems more concerned with Flowers batting .188 in that 10-game trial...I expect him to take over for Pierzynski at some point, but that could be next year unless Pierzynski gets dealt in July.

Pitchers - Sergio Santos, Greg Aquino, Randy Williams, Daniel Hudson, Carlos Torres, Freddy Dolsi, Scott Elarton.

Analysis: As has been the case for a few years now, I'm a little unclear on what the White Sox think they are doing, other than just muddling through in a weak division. On the upside, the double play combination is young and talented, the power hitters are still sort of in their prime other than Jones, the top 4 in their rotation should - if Peavy's healthy - stand up well to anybody but the Red Sox, the bullpen's fairly deep, and as noted there seems to be an orderly succession plan behind the plate. On the downside, Pierre is likely to return to being an offensive millstone and is ill-suited to a power park like whatever they're calling Comiskey these days, and there are serious perennial questions about the attitudes of Quentin, Rios and Jones - if you could give one of those guys Pierre's attitude, you'd be in much better shape (I'm not clear on why Rios is seen as the center fielder here over Pierre). The Jones signing is a gamble, but when you acquire a DH who is 33, overweight and has hit .207/.304/.393 the past three seasons, you need a better Plan B than ... Mark Kotsay? Please tell me they're never gonna wake up one morning with Vizquel as the starting DH.

On balance this looks like a team that can make a run at the division if the Twins stumble and things break well with the rotation (including Garcia, who has a lot to prove after three seasons lost to injury) and the outfield.

Detroit Tigers

Raw EWSL: 180.17 (73 W)
Adjusted: 213.91 (84 W)
Age-Adj.: 204.25 (81 W)
Subj. Adj.: 201.25 (80 W)
WS Age: 29.20
2010 W-L: 80-82

C30Gerald Laird1211
1B27Miguel Cabrera2425
2B25Scott Sizemore+011
SS33Adam Everett54
3B33Brandon Inge1210
RF36Magglio Ordonez1813
CF23Austin Jackson+011
LF36Johnny Damon2116
DH34Carlos Guillen119
C223Alex Avila*24
INF30Ramon Santiago65
OF29Ryan Raburn66
1326Clete Thomas#56
SP127Justin Verlander1615
SP221Rick Porcello*1321
SP325Max Scherzer#68
SP427Jeremy Bonderman32
SP532Nate Robertson32
RP130Jose Valverde1311
RP225Joel Zumaya22
RP332Bobby Seay54
RP428Zach Miner76
RP523Ryan Perry*24

Subjective Adjustments: The 1.581 multiplier for pitchers age 21 and under is based on a sample of 9 seasons, two of them Felix Hernandez and most of them guys who had not, as Rick Porcello did last year, started 31 games in the majors. Projecting him to leap to 21 Win Shares seemed unrealistic even for optimists about Porcello, who after all struck out only 89 batters last year. I trimmed him down -3 to 18.

Overall, the Tigers are heavily dependent on guys without an established profile; they're the only team in the AL starting two pure rookies (Scott Sizemore and Austin Jackson).

Also on Hand: Position players - Jeff Larish.

Pitchers - Dontrelle Willis, who's had a great spring and isn't out of contention for a rotation slot just yet. Armando Galarraga, deposed from the rotation but still hanging around. Fu-Te Ni, Phil Coke, Daniel Schlereth, Eddie Bonine.

Analysis: The Tigers' question marks start with replacing Curtis Granderson, especially defensively. Jackson is currently penciled in as the heir, although they could still go with Clete Thomas. Sizemore is actually the better hitter at this stage than Jackson (.308/.389/.500 between AA and AAA last season; Jackson's career slugging percentage in the minors is .410), but is two years older, and second basemen with questionable gloves are not always the most likely guys to develop as hitters.

Cabrera is reportedly sobered up and slimmed down; we'll see how much that matters and how long it lasts. My guess is that it's not going to affect his hitting much, but of course being in shape and not hung over is likely to help his baserunning, defense and long-term durability. In a way, it seems almost quaint to see a player whose issue is alcohol.

Much of the rest of the offense is creaky, nonexistent (Everett) and/or likely to struggle in Detroit (Damon).

The pitching staff could be impressive if Scherzer finally has a healthy season and Zumaya holds up. Bonderman's ceiling now looks a lot lower than it once did. And getting Dontrelle back on track could help.

Kansas City Royals

Raw EWSL: 179.00 (73 W)
Adjusted: 185.47 (75 W)
Age-Adj.: 182.74 (74 W)
WS Age: 28.74
2010 W-L: 74-88

C36Jason Kendall129
1B24Billy Butler1316
2B26Chris Getz*511
SS28Yuniesky Betancourt1010
3B26Alex Gordon89
RF30David DeJesus1816
CF30Rick Ankiel87
LF34Scott Podsednik87
DH34Jose Guillen87
C228Brayan Pena11
INF27Alberto Callaspo1111
OF27Josh Fields44
1329Mike Aviles#78
SP126Zack Greinke2021
SP231Gil Meche98
SP326Luke Hochevar#22
SP428Robinson Tejeda44
SP529Brian Bannister65
RP126Joakim Soria1415
RP231Juan Cruz43
RP334Kyle Farnsworth32
RP426Kyle Davies55
RP530Roman Colon21

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Mitch Maier, last year a frequent starter in the outfield. Wilson Betemit, Willie Bloomquist, Brian Anderson, Vance Wilson.

Pitchers - Where to begin? Bruce Chen (yes, that Bruce Chen), Jorge Campillo, Phil Humber, Brad Thompson, Victor Marte, Josh Rupe, Matt Herges, 37-year-old Yasuhiko Yabuta (who actually pitched much better in his second crack at American minor leaguers in 2009), Rule V pickup Edgar Osuna, Bryan Bullington.

Analysis: A little hope, but not much. Donald Zachary Greinke was so good in so many ways last year that he has to be considered an elite pitcher and not a one-year fluke, but even the elite don't repeat seasons like that. Gordon, once a hyped "next George Brett" by the same people who used the same tag on Hank Blalock, starts the season on the DL, which puts Callaspo at third. Butler is the trendy pick for a breakout, and for good reason: from June 10 to the end of the season he batted .312/.374/.526 with 34 doubles in 101 games, including a blistering stretch of .346/.418/.596 with 45 RBI in 53 games from August 4 to September 30. That may be partly a matter of being a second-half hittter, but it does seem that Butler's making real progress. He also had ridiculous home/road splits: .362/.415/.612 in KC, .240/.307/.372 on the road. Getz had a .324 OBP last year as a rookie, and should improve enough on that to actually be useful.

Then, there's the ugly side, the guys who have neither present nor future. The acquisition of Podsednik is like the White Sox acquisition of Pierre: cheered by Roto players but mostly an investment in a season that's unlikely to be repeated. Both guys remain useful fourth outfiielders miscast as starting corner outfielders. The Royals remain desperate enough for starting pitching that they've considered using Kyle Farnsworth in the rotation. Kendall is durable and ends their experiment with sub-.300 OBPs behind the plate, but he's old, slow, punchless and can't throw. Betancourt's only 27 and has been declining for two years now (from a peak when his OBP was .308). Guillen remains a 34-year-old headache who's been paid $24 million the past two years to bat .257/.305/.415 and block Butler from DHing. Expectations should be limited accordingly.

Maybe they should get Dontrelle; he could probably use some advice in coming back from anxiety problems from Greinke and Ankiel.

Cleveland Indians

Raw EWSL: 133.00 (57 W)
Adjusted: 153.64 (64 W)
Age-Adj.: 158.73 (66 W)
WS Age: 27.48
2010 W-L: 66-96

C24Lou Marson+111
1B34Russell Branyan108
2B24Luis Valbuena*38
SS24Asdrubal Cabrera1418
3B28Jhonny Peralta1515
RF27Shin-Soo Choo1718
CF27Grady Sizemore2021
LF23Michael Brantley*24
DH33Travis Hafner76
C239Mike Redmond33
INF25Matt LaPorta*24
OF26Trevor Crowe12
1326Andy Marte22
SP132Jake Westbrook32
SP226Fausto Carmona55
SP325Justin Masterson#56
SP425Aaron Laffey45
SP525David Huff*23
RP133Kerry Wood75
RP228Rafael Perez44
RP326Joe Smith44
RP426Tony Sipp*23
RP527Jeremy Sowers22

Subjective Adjustments: None, but Brantley and LaPorta should produce more than that with more playing time (LaPorta may be platooned with Branyan).

Also on Hand: Position players - Anderson Hernandez, Austin Kearns, Mark Grudzeilanek, Brian Bixler, Chris Gimenez, and smooth catching prospect Carlos Santana.

Pitchers - Chris Perez, Jensen Lewis, Scott Lewis, Anthony Reyes, Tom Mastny, Hector Rondon, Carlos Carrasco, Mitch Talbot. Carrasco and Talbot are seen as in the rotation mix not far down the road.

Analysis: I see Baseball Prospectus has the Indians at 79-83. I get where some of the difference comes from: BP, as it often is with unproven players, is bullish on Masterson and LaPorta and has Brantley, Hafner and Westbrook valued relatively more than EWSL does. I'm not going to argue methods here - EWSL isn't a fine-tuned system like PECOTA, but its blunter approach can be summarized as: show me. Because to meet their PECOTA projections, all of those guys will have to do more in the majors than they've established as a baseline the past three seasons in the majors.

On a gut level, I'm conflicted. On the one hand, most divisions end up with a doormat, and the Indians have the look of a team with a complete mess of a starting rotation and an uneven offense beyond Sizemore and Choo. On the other hand, this division isn't overflowing with the kind of tough competition that hangs a 3-15 record on a team in one or more of its head-to-head matchups. Consider: the Indians last year went 4-14 vs Detroit but 16-20 against the Twins and White Sox; the Royals were 6-12 last year against the Twins but 17-19 against the other two. By contrast, the Orioles last year were 15-39 against NY, Boston and Tampa (including 7-29 against the top two) and the Blue Jays were 17-37 against the trio. Cleveland must look at the Blue Jays and think, there but for the grace of God...speaking of which, one major similarity this team has to Toronto is the destructive effects of a huge contract for a declining player in a collapsing economy, although Hafner's deal is not nearly the long-term millstone that Vernon Wells' is.

POSTSCRIPT: If you're wondering, the AL records, with all adjustments factored in, add up to an average of 82 wins per team, which is actually fairly consistent with the AL's aggregate record in the age of interleague play.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
March 25, 2010
BASEBALL: 2010 AL East EWSL Report

Part 2 of my preseason previews is the AL East; this is the second of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Notes and reference links on the EWSL method are below the fold; while EWSL is a simple enough method that will be familiar to long-time readers, it takes a little introductory explaining, so I'd suggest you check out the explanations first if you're new to these previews. I've also resurrected for this season the team ages, which are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.

Prior preview: the AL West.

Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
+ (Rookie)
* (Based on one season)
# (Based on two seasons)

Boston Red Sox

Raw EWSL: 296.33 (112 W)
Adjusted: 298.90 (113 W)
Age-Adj.: 266.84 (102 W)
WS Age: 31.10
2010 W-L: 102-60

C31Victor Martinez1815
1B31Kevin Youkilis2622
2B26Dustin Pedroia2426
SS34Marco Scutaro1714
3B31Adrian Beltre1210
RF34JD Drew1614
CF37Mike Cameron1811
LF26Jacoby Ellsbury1719
DH34David Ortiz1513
C238Jason Varitek96
INF36Mike Lowell1411
OF26Jeremy Hermida1213
1326Jed Lowrie#34
SP130Josh Beckett1512
SP226Jon Lester1516
SP331John Lackey1411
SP425Clay Buchholz44
SP529Daisuke Matsuzaka87
RP129Jon Papelbon1513
RP234Hideki Okajima86
RP328Ramon Ramirez76
RP425Daniel Bard*24
RP543Tim Wakefield97

Subjective Adjustments: None, but bear in mind that EWSL is valuing Lowell, Varitek and Hermida based on being everyday players in 2009, Lowrie in light of extensive playing time in 2008. That's not irrational - teams with that kind of depth often end up needing it, especially Hermida when you consider the injury histories of Drew and Cameron. But in the end, there won't be at bats enough for all of them.

Also on Hand: Position players - Bill Hall (another recently deposed regular!), Josh Reddick, Tug Hulett.

Pitchers - Manny Delcarmen, Joe Nelson, Boof Bonser, Kason Gabbard, Dustin Richardson, Brian Shouse, Fabio Castro, Michael Bowden.

Analysis: This Red Sox team doesn't look offensively strong enough to me to be a real 100-win team, but they and the Yankees are doubtless the strongest teams in the game by a healthy margin, in Boston's case due to their depth, pitching and defense. The rotation has some question marks, especially Matsuzaka and the durability of Lackey, but as with the rest of the roster there are fallbacks. Maybe the biggest vulnerable keystone is Mike Cameron, the oldest guy in the starting lineup and a key to improving Boston's outfield defense; a Drew-Ellsbury-Hermida outfield is not nearly as solid afield.

EWSL recognizes that Lester is really the star of the pitching staff now, and without the tougher road of pitching in Fenway in the AL East, he might be right there with Lincecum, Greinke, King Felix, Santana and maybe Halladay and Sabathia as the game's very best pitchers; as it is, he's at least in the next tier with Verlander, Lee, Wainwright, Haren and Carpenter. But of course Beckett remains the big-game ace.

I remain...I think the proper word is incredulous, rather than skeptical, at Scutaro as a major league everyday shortstop at age 34, but he's built up to this gradually, he's a solid enough bat and defensively the Sawx have Beltre and Pedroia to help cover his sides.

The Defending World Champion Hated Yankees

Raw EWSL: 283.67 (108 W)
Adjusted: 289.60 (110 W)
Age-Adj.: 250.32 (97 W)
WS Age: 31.92
2010 W-L: 97-65

C38Jorge Posada1511
1B30Mark Teixeira2724
2B27Robinson Cano1717
SS36Derek Jeter2418
3B34Alex Rodriguez2522
RF29Nick Swisher1615
CF29Curtis Granderson2120
LF26Brett Gardner#67
DH31Nick Johnson109
C224Francisco Cervelli*24
INF24Ramiro Pena*25
OF36Randy Winn1713
1333Marcus Thames55
SP129CC Sabathia2118
SP233AJ Burnett139
SP338Andy Pettitte119
SP433Javier Vazquez1510
SP524Phil Hughes66
RP140Mariano Rivera1612
RP224Joba Chamberlain88
RP335Damaso Marte32
RP427Alfredo Aceves#55
RP525David Robertson#23

Subjective Adjustments: None. Winn has the same issue as some of the Red Sox bench, but he's sharing time with Gardner, and while 20 Win Shares seems optimistic for the pair, it's not crazy. Also, the Yankees will need bench depth (both Winn and Marcus Thames) with Nick Johnson in the starting lineup.

Also on Hand: Position players - Mike Rivera, Kevin Russo, Jamie Hoffman.

Pitchers - Jonathan Albaladejo, Chan Ho Park, Sergio Mitre, Kei Igawa, Boone Logan, Royce Ring. Chad Gaudin was released this morning.

Analysis: At every turn, the Yankees have a stronger offense and more impressive-looking frontline talent than the Sox, but they're also older (except in center field) and subject to more uncertainties.

Hughes was named the fifth starter today, sending Joba back to the bullpen. Your guess is as good as mine how long either of those assignments will last, although at some point the Yankees need to make a long-term commitment what they're doing with those two guys. I think the die has been cast now to try Hughes as far as he will go as a rotation starter, but Joba is more enigmatic. He may even need a change of scenery.

A-Rod's streak of consecutive 100-Run/100-RBI seasons ended last year at 11, second only to Lou Gehrig's 13. In 14 major league seasons, he's either driven in 100 runs, scored 100 runs, or (12 times) both, every year.

The re-signing of Joe Mauer in Minnesota, the aging and injuries to A-Rod, and the continuing uncertainty around Joba means that there remains no heir apparent to Rivera, Jeter or Posada. When those guys go, this may be a more different team than anyone now envisions.

Tampa Bay Rays

Raw EWSL: 227.83 (89 W)
Adjusted: 241.67 (94 W)
Age-Adj.: 238.37 (93 W)
WS Age: 28.31
2010 W-L: 93-69

C26Dioner Navarro910
1B32Carlos Pena2116
2B29Ben Zobrist1615
SS30Jason Bartlett1917
3B24Evan Longoria#1828
RF25Matt Joyce#34
CF25BJ Upton1822
LF28Carl Crawford1717
DH33Pat Burrell1311
C230Kelly Shoppach98
INF27Willy Aybar66
OF34Gabe Kapler54
1329Hank Blalock66
SP128James Shields1312
SP226Matt Garza1111
SP327Jeff Niemann*611
SP424David Price*37
SP524Wade Davis*12
RP130Rafael Soriano87
RP232Dan Wheeler86
RP327JP Howell98
RP432Grant Balfour65
RP527Andy Sonnanstine44

Subjective Adjustments: None, but Matt Joyce and Wade Davis, if healthy all year, should well exceed their previously established major league performance.

Also on Hand: Position players - Perennial SS prospect Reid Brignac, Desmond Jennings (who is supposed to be Carl Crawford 2.0, although at the same age, Crawford was entering his fourth season as a major league regular), Sean Rodriguez.

Pitchers - Randy Choate, Joaquin Benoit, Lance Cormier, Winston Abreu, Dale Thayer. Abreu's an interesting "prospect" case: a 33-year-old Dominican who entered the Atlanta system in 1994 (before Chipper Jones' first season as a regular), he's crapped out in brief major league trials (7.31 ERA in 44.1 innings for four teams over three seasons), has pitched in Mexico and Japan - but since 2006, he's thrown 168.2 innings at AAA with a 1.93 ERA and eye-popping peripherals: 5.40 H/9, 0.54 HR/9, 3.00 BB/9, 12.68 K/9.

Analysis: The Brewers had a wonderful collection of talent in the 1978-83 period, but somehow they only put together the one magical pennant (plus a postseason appearance in the scrambled season of 1981). Somehow, they often ended up third. Will that be the fate of these Rays? The good news is, there still seems to be a fair amount of potential upside/bounce-back here. Their Win Shares age marks them as the youngest team in the division (if Baltimore is hoping to rebuild to where the Rays are now, they need to build back in time). BJ Upton, David Price, Pat Burrell, Dioner Navarro and Andy Sonnanstine could hardly have had more disappointing seasons in 2009, and James Shields was off his game as well; Price and Wade Davis could potentially arrive in a hurry. On the other hand, a Navarro-like dropoff could easily plague the three Rays who played massively above expectations last season: Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett and Jeff Neimann (Zobrist Win Shares the last three seasons: 1, 8, 27). Check out how Tampa's infield, powered by Zobrist and Bartlett, stacked up last season against their division rivals:

Average starting infielder, 2009:


(Poor Nick Green has the honor of dragging down the Red Sox. Note the low GIDP total for the Rays despite Longoria hitting into 27 despite batting third behind Crawford all year, mostly with Upton or Bartlett leading off - that high a total suggests that it's in the team's interests for Crawford in particular to run more ahead of him to avoid that this year, although as it is he ran 76 times last season). Niemann is perhaps unfairly lumped in that group, as he had a fine minor league record, and his signature skill (a low HR rate) has persisted at every level; if he can bump up his K rate even a little from 6.2 K/9 last season (it was 9.1 for his minor league career), he could be a star.

Boy, this division has some 24-year-old pitchers, doesn't it?

Navarro sounds as if he'll be reasonably ready to start the season despite a horrific spring training collision with Jacque Jones, who's fighting tooth and nail for a roster spot on the Twins.

Baltimore Orioles

Raw EWSL: 171.50 (70 W)
Adjusted: 193.50 (78 W)
Age-Adj.: 181.93 (74 W)
WS Age: 29.61
2010 W-L: 74-88

C24Matt Wieters*511
1B30Garrett Atkins1110
2B32Brian Roberts2016
SS30Cesar Izturis87
3B36Miguel Tejada1814
RF26Nick Markakis1921
CF24Adam Jones#1015
LF26Nolan Reimold*511
DH32Luke Scott119
C235Chad Moeller21
INF32Ty Wigginton97
OF25Felix Pie45
1326Robert Andino#22
SP135Kevin Millwood107
SP231Jeremy Guthrie108
SP324Brad Bergesen*510
SP423Brian Matusz*23
SP522Chris Tillman*12
RP132Mike Gonzalez65
RP227Jim Johnson67
RP327Cla Meredith44
RP435Koji Uehara*23
RP536Mark Hendrickson54

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Jeff Salazar, Lou Montanez, Michael Aubrey.

Pitchers - Matt Albers, Dennis Sarfate, Alfredo Simon, Will Ohman.

Analysis: In another division, I'd be guardedly optimistic; the Orioles finally seem to be getting their rotation together, their outfield is reasonably young and talented, Wieters still looks like an eventual superstar if not the immediate one everybody predicted last season, and the infield and bullpen are at least anchored mostly by competent veterans (Gonzalez, like Soriano with the Rays, was heisted from a Braves franchise disproportionately disgusted with its bullpen help). Granted, there are trouble signs: Millwood has been terrible this spring, Markakis could just as easily turn into Ben Grieve rather than Carl Yastrzemski, Reimold may not repeat last season's pleasant surprise, and any of the trio of Matusz, Bergesen, and Tillman could easily go the way of so many promising young pitchers. But the main problem the Orioles face is 54 games on their schedule with the Beasts of the East.

I swear, I will spend the next several years muttering "e before i spells Greinke, i before e spells Wieters."

Tejada has averaged 27 GIDP per year the past four seasons, leading the league five times in six years; he hasn't yet cracked Jim Rice's surprisingly durable single-season record of 36.

Luke Scott's Win Shares the past three seasons: 11, 11, 11. That's an established performance level.

Toronto Blue Jays

Raw EWSL: 150.50 (63 W)
Adjusted: 160.50 (67 W)
Age-Adj.: 153.81 (64 W)
WS Age: 29.39
2010 W-L: 64-98

C29John Buck76
1B33Lyle Overbay1210
2B28Aaron Hill1818
SS33Alex Gonzalez65
3B27Edwin Encarnacion1011
RF29Jose Bautista87
CF31Vernon Wells1210
LF22Travis Snider*38
DH26Adam Lind1416
C235Jose Molina64
INF35John McDonald32
OF29Jeremy Reed22
1332Randy Ruiz*22
SP125Ricky Romero*511
SP228Shaun Marcum65
SP330Scott Richmond*23
SP425Brandon Morrow56
SP524Marc Rzepcynski*25
RP132Jason Frasor65
RP234Scott Downs86
RP328Jeremy Accardo33
RP432Kevin Gregg97
RP534Shawn Camp43

Subjective Adjustments: None. This is all there is, folks. But Snider should beat 8 WS if he's in the lineup all year.

Also on Hand: Position players - Raul Chavez, Joey Gathright, Jorge Padilla, Jarrett Hoffpauir.

Pitchers - Plenty of about the same quality as the guys listed above: Brian Tallet, Brett Cecil, Dana Eveland, David Purcey, Jesse Carlson, Dustin McGowan, Jesse Litsch.

Analysis: 2010 marketing slogan: "Hey, we already paid them." Marcum, who did not throw a pitch last season, has been named to start Opening Day, replacing the departed (liberated?) Roy Halladay. The Yankees, Sox and Rays may be tough places to break in as a young starting pitcher given the pressures, but Baltimore and Toronto are even less enviable, especially Toronto without Millwood: the youngsters (in Richmond's case, not even young) have to carry the front of the rotation on top of facing all those tough opponents.

The Jays aren't so desperately under-talented - there's at least a plausible gap-filler at most every position, and the bullpen's deep enough in decent arms that they should eventually be able to figure out which ones are going to pitch well this year - but in this division, with so little front-line talent and an unproven rotation, I'll be surprised if they avoid 100 losses.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:00 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
March 24, 2010
BASEBALL: 2010 AL West EWSL Report

Part 1 of my preseason previews is the AL West; this is the first of six division previews, using Established Win Shares Levels as a jumping-off point. Notes and reference links on the EWSL method are below the fold; while EWSL is a simple enough method that will be familiar to long-time readers, it takes a little introductory explaining, so I'd suggest you check out the explanations first if you're new to these previews. I've also resurrected for this season the team ages, which are weighted by non-age-adjusted EWSL, so the best players count more towards determining the age of the roster.

Some players are rated based on less than three seasons or given a rookie rating. Key:
+ (Rookie)
* (Based on one season)
# (Based on two seasons)

Seattle Mariners

Raw EWSL: 225.00 (88 W)
Adjusted: 241.34 (94 W)
Age-Adj.: 218.33 (86 W)
Subj. Adj: 216.33 (85 W)
WS Age: 29.94
2010 W-L: 85-77

C26Adam Moore+111
1B27Casey Kotchman1213
2B26Jose Lopez1415
SS32Jack Wilson108
3B32Chone Figgins2116
RF36Ichiro Suzuki2619
CF27Franklin Gutierrez1314
LF32Milton Bradley1411
DH40Ken Griffey jr116
C227Rob Johnson*59
INF29Ryan Garko1312
OF30Ryan Langerhans33
1334Eric Byrnes65
SP124Felix Hernandez2022
SP231Cliff Lee1714
SP331Erik Bedard97
SP428Ian Snell55
SP527Ryan Rowland-Smith76
RP128David Aardsma98
RP227Mark Lowe44
RP329Sean White44
RP427Brandon League33
RP526Shawn Kelley*23

Subjective Adjustments: As I did last season, I'm trying to be very sparing with introducing purely subjective adjustments into what is intended to be an objective system, but sometimes you have to have a sanity check. I'm docking 2 Win Shares from Adam Moore, the Mariners' rookie catcher, because I can't quite value the combination of him and weak-hitting #2 catcher Rob Johnson as being cumulatively worth 20 Win Shares, and given the choice between the two, I prefer to dock the guy who is less proven. That said, Moore's career line in the minors is .301/.369/.483; even factoring in the very large adjustment from a Class A hitters' haven like High Desert to Safeco, that suggests a guy who will bring noticeably more pop than the punchless Johnson.

Also on Hand: Position players - Jack Hannahan, Matt Tuiasosopo, Corey Patterson, Mike Sweeney, Mike Carp, Josh Bard, Michael Saunders.

Pitchers - Luke French, Jason Vargas, Yusmiero Petit, Garrett Olson, Kanekoa Texeira, Randy Messenger, Ryan Feierabend. French appears to be the favorite to take Bedard's rotation slot until when and if Bedard is ever ready to pitch, and with Cliff Lee starting the season shelved with an abdominal strain, the staff may need to dig deeper than that. French put in three very undistinguished seasons in the Tigers' system before reeling off 13 excellent starts at AAA Toledo last year, posting a 2.98 ERA and improving his K/BB ratio to 3.6 from 1.47, earning him a promotion. He had a 3.38 ERA but weak peripherals with Detroit before arriving in Seattle, where he surrendered a ghastly 2.1 homers per 9 innings in 38 innings of work. So, French should be regarded as a work in progress.

Analysis: Probably no team moved as aggressively or with as clear a plan in mind in the offseason as the Mariners, a franchise adrift for much of the past 6 years despite occasional youth movements and spurts at overachieving contention-like records (last season's 85 wins exceeded their Pythagorean record - i.e., their record as predicted from runs scored and allowed - by 10 games). The reason was obvious: they saw an opportunity and a limited window to grab it. The opportunity came in the form of the Angels' free agency losses - John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Vlad Guerrero, on the heels of last year's losses of Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Jon Garland and Garret Anderson. It's cold comfort to Angels fans that many of those guys were declining commodities unlikely to match their prior production in Anaheim; the point was that that prior production will be hard to replace, leaving the team that dominated this division to the tune of five division titles in six years suddenly vulnerable. At the same time, with star Ichiro Suzuki now 36 and Felix Hernandez subject to the usual concerns about how long a very young pitcher can stay on top before he breaks down, the team had a sense of urgency about seizing this opportunity.

The Mariners' plan wasn't brilliant, but you can accomplish quite a lot just by knowing what you want to do and sticking with it. They snagged Figgins from the Angels, which killed two birds with one stone, depriving the Angels of his services and importing a slap hitter more suited to Safeco than departing underachieving slugger Adrian Beltre. Even if Figgins can't sustain his improvement in walks last season, he'll be a solid addition in the short run. Casey Kotchman was brought in to soften the blow of Russell Branyan's departure, and while Kotchman is a fairly punchless hitter, he's just hitting age 27 and he and Milton Bradley are both guys who similarly don't depend on the home run for their offensive value (Kotchman may end up platooned with Ryan Garko at first). Ditto for stretch-drive acquisition Jack Wilson at short and scrap heap claim Eric Byrnes.

On the pitching side, bringing in Cliff Lee was part of a larger project (along with last season's addition of Ian Snell) to prop up the Mariners' low team strikeout rate (only Felix Hernandez notched more than 90 Ks last season), rendering them less dependent on repeating last season's AL-best-by-a-wide-margin .712 Defensive Efficiency Rate, and enable the team to re-sign the rehabbing Erik Bedard without having to bank on him as the #2 starter.

Not everything fit the pattern, of course; the team re-upped 40-year-old Ken Griffey jr. to DH (assuming Bradley can play left), after Griffey hit .214, albeit with a really freaky home-road split in which he mauled opposing pitchers at Safeco but was utterly helpless on the road. But Griffey is apparently supposed to provide veteran leadership. If he falls on his face in a "Willie Mays, 1973" way, the Mariners don't have a ton of hitting depth to cover the LF/DH spots, especially if Bradley is, as usual, frequently unavailable. Griffey is the most extreme example of a division-wide trend: the average AL West DH is 36 years old this season.

Clearing 90 wins by more than a hair will be an uphill battle for Seattle unless Lee, Bedard, and Snell suddenly all get healthy and back to top form at once - like the rest of this division, the Mariners are out of the wild card race before the season starts, when you look at the AL East - but this team has definitely made the moves necessary to swipe a division title if one can be had in the high 80s.

The Angels

Raw EWSL: 221.17 (87 W)
Adjusted: 230.68 (90 W)
Age-Adj.: 210.64 (83 W)
WS Age: 30.12
2010 W-L: 83-79

C28Mike Napoli1011
1B27Kendry Morales1212
2B26Howie Kendrick1416
SS26Erick Aybar1517
3B25Brandon Wood#11
RF36Bobby Abreu2216
CF34Torii Hunter2118
LF31Juan Rivera108
DH36Hideki Matsui1511
C227Jeff Mathis55
INF29Macier Izturis1514
OF29Reggie Willits33
1327Freddy Sandoval+04
SP127Jered Weaver1413
SP226Scott Kazmir910
SP327Ervin Santana109
SP431Joel Pineiro87
SP529Joe Saunders1311
RP134Brian Fuentes108
RP233Fernando Rodney75
RP330Brian Stokes33
RP431Jason Bulger*46
RP525Kevin Jepsen*24

Subjective Adjustments: None, although I expect Brandon Wood to finally establish himself as a reputable major league hitter after cracking 160 home runs in a long minor league career that saw him bat .272/.338/.497, .296/.375/.595, and .293/.353/.557 over the past three full seasons at AAA. Also, one assumes that Kendry Morales will do better than 12 Win Shares, but I don't argue with EWSL's bias against guys like Wood and Morales whose recent history still includes flopping in extended trials against big-league competition.

Also on Hand: Position players - Robb Quinlan.

Pitchers - Scot Shields, Sean O'Sullivan. The stability of the Angels, even with all the free agent losses, is reflected in how few battles for roster spots and starting jobs they have this spring; if everybody's healthy, you'll know who their players are.

Analysis: Mike Scioscia also knows what he's doing, though I'm starting to worry he's suffering from Gene Mauch/Buck Rogers Syndrome, where the ownership assumes he can keep winning without having to supply him with quality players. Notice, as is often the case with the Angels, the focus on prime talent: the roster above includes two 25-year-olds, three 26-year-olds, five 27-year-olds, a 28-year-old, and three 29-year-olds - more than half the roster in that age cohort, and except for the outfield (where Abreu's age remains a concern) the age is mostly concentrated in the bullpen. That's a similar distribution to the one I noted in the 2002 World Champs.

That said, the Angels' fate will rest with the health of their starting rotation, especially the power pitchers. Kazmir needs to rebound, and recent reports are not optimistic about Ervin Santana. And I remain skeptical that Pineiro can keep his walk and home run rates sufficiently microscopic to survive his inability to strike anybody out. If Weaver and Saunders end up as this team's 1-2 starters, they're in trouble and could easily sink below .500.

Texas Rangers
Raw EWSL: 181.67 (74 W)
Adjusted: 203.30 (81 W)
Age-Adj.: 201.73 (80 W)
Subj. Adj.: 199.73 (80 W)
WS Age: 28.27
2010 W-L: 79-83

C25Jarrod Saltalamacchia67
1B24Chris Davis#69
2B28Ian Kinsler2323
SS21Elvis Andrus*921
3B33Michael Young1916
RF29Nelson Cruz1110
CF24Julio Borbon*36
LF29Josh Hamilton1615
DH35Vladimir Guerrero1612
C226Taylor Teagarden*33
INF25Joaquin Arias#11
OF28David Murphy1010
1332Endy Chavez33
SP127Scott Feldman98
SP228Rich Harden99
SP323Tommy Hunter*49
SP426Brandon McCarthy34
SP523Derek Holland*12
RP130Frank Francisco76
RP229CJ Wilson87
RP327Darren O'Day#56
RP439Darren Oliver87
RP522Naftali Feliz*37

Subjective Adjustments: A primary reason why I added subjective adjustments was what I think of as the Khalil Greene problem, since he's one of the first (but not the last) second-year shortstops to exhibit it: EWSL assesses a very young hitter as having a lot of rapid room for growth, but as a result it tends to overvalue second-year hitters who are (1) under age 25 and (2) have a disproportionate amount of their value in their gloves. Nobody improves that much defensively from a good start in one year. So, rather than 21 Win Shares, I've trimmed back Elvis Andrus by 2 Win Shares to 19, which is still +2 from last year's total of 17.

Also on Hand: Position players - Esteban German, Max Ramirez, Brandon Boggs, Toby Hall. Ramirez is the third of Texas' troika of hugely hyped young catchers, but he had a .234/.323/.336 train wreck of a season at AAA last year, and with Saltalamacchia and Teagarden scuffling at the major league level, suddenly nobody's talking about this as the second coming of the Giants' McCovey vs Cepeda problem.

Pitchers - Colby Lewis (who's been in Japan and may end up in the rotation), sometime closer Chris Ray, Edwar Ramirez, Matt Harrison, Dustin Nippert, Doug Mathis.

Analysis: The story has been the same for years: the sun is rise, the sun is set, and there's no pitching in Texas yet. Have we finally turned a corner? Certainly, this team's pitching doesn't present the ghastly hue that doomed past Rangers squads to the cellar. Last season's 4.57 team ERA was actually better than the league average, especially when adjusted for the park. Scott Feldman's one-season improvement suggests a guy who can serve as an innings-eater (though 0.9 HR, 3.1 BB & 5.4 K/9 are decent numbers, but don't foretell much more room for growth, esepcially after two seasons of being pounded). Whether he stays in middle relief or becomes a Joba Rules-style starter, Naftali Feliz has an enormous upside as a power pitcher. Young control/groundball starter Tommy Hunter had a good ERA last season, while Derek Holland, who struggled, struck out more than twice as many as he walked (7.0 K, 3.1 BB, but a frightening 1.7 HR/9) following a fairly spectacular tour through the minor leagues (career rates of 0.4 HR, 2.6 BB, 9.9 K, albeit mostly in A ball). Rich Harden - who's only a year older than Feldman - is on hand, bringing the same gambler's chance to Texas that Bedard and Snell bring to Seattle, Kazmir and Santana to Anaheim, and Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer to Oakland. For once, there's some hope. But in the short run, the pitching will have an uphill battle to match last season with the departure of staff ace Kevin Millwood, the dependence on young pitchers and potentially erratic setup men and the mercurial Harden.

(UPDATE: It currently looks like the Rangers will be trying CJ Wilson in the rotation and McCarthy in the bullpen, but we'll see how long that experiment lasts.)

The offense was more unreliable last season. Kinsler's 30-30 numbers made Roto fans happy, but a .253 batting average just isn't enough in a park like Texas. Andrus was adequate and promising, but still isn't an offensive plus. Davis needs to arrest his strike zone problems before his career vanishes. And one of the catchers needs to step up.

Vlad Guerrero was a good gamble - he fell off last season and could be almost done, but guys with his talent and track record have been known to bust out with one last gasp around this age, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see him notch a season like Andres Galarraga's first year in Atlanta, Juan Gonzalez' first year in Cleveland, Frank Thomas' first year in Oakland, or Gary Gaetti's 1995 with Kansas City.

Oakland A's

Raw EWSL: 168.67 (69 W)
Adjusted: 196.13 (79 W)
Age-Adj.: 196.19 (79 W)
WS Age: 27.90
2010 W-L: 79-83

C26Kurt Suzuki1517
1B24Daric Barton#79
2B33Mark Ellis1311
SS26Cliff Pennington*56
3B28Kevin Kouzmanoff1515
RF25Ryan Sweeney#1015
CF30Coco Crisp88
LF29Rajai Davis99
DH31Jack Cust1613
C228Landon Powell*35
INF27Jake Fox*36
OF30Gabe Gross87
1327Eric Patterson*23
SP131Ben Sheets76
SP232Justin Duchscherer53
SP322Brett Anderson*49
SP426Dallas Braden56
SP522Trevor Cahill*48
RP126Andrew Bailey*918
RP230Brad Ziegler#88
RP331Michael Wuertz76
RP429Craig Breslow54
RP526Joey Devine#34

Subjective Adjustments: None.

Also on Hand: Position players - Travis Buck, a supposedly healthy Eric Chavez.

Pitchers - Gio Gonzalez, Vin Mazzaro, Lenny DiNardo, Brett Tomko, Jerry Blevins, Clayton Mortenson. Also Josh Outman, the obligatory Tommy John rehab case.

Analysis: Sure, Billy Beane's vaunted "Moneyball" savvy and bargain-hunting skills are widely revered. Sure, he's spun silk from a sow's ear repeatedly with Chad Bradford- and Scott Hatteberg-style scrap heap finds. Sure, every year when I do my post-season EWSL wrapups, the A's are at or near the top of the list of teams getting the most Win Shares from guys not even on their preseason 23-man lineup, attesting to Beane's ongoing ability to retool his teams on the fly.

But look back at the glory days of Beane's A's and you'll notice something else: Jason Giambi won the MVP Award in 2000 and was the runnerup the following year, batting .338/.476/.653 over those two seasons; Miguel Tejada won the award in 2002 and averaged 30 HR and 116 RBI from 2000-2003. Barry Zito won the Cy Young Award in 2002, going 23-5. Ben Grieve was Rookie of the Year in 1998, Bobby Crosby in 2004, Huston Street in 2005. Tim Hudson went 20-6 in 2000, and finished 2d, 4th and 6th in the Cy Young balloting over a four-year period. Mark Mulder had 21- and 19-win seasons back to back, finishing second in the Cy Young balloting in 2001. Eric Chavez averaged 100 RBI per year from 2001-2005. In short: the A's had stars, big ones, most of them homegrown along with star-level seasons from acquisitions like Jermaine Dye, Matt Stairs and John Jaha.

That's what's missing now from a team whose best everyday player is...Kevin Kouzmanoff? Kurt Suzuki? Ryan Sweeney? Rajai Davis? Ugh. You can hold together a battleship with duct tape, but you need a battleship first.

The A's have the usual array of young pitchers, granting that none of the starters are blazing from the minor league gate as Hudson and Zito did, and Sheets and Duchscherer are rolls of the dice. The bullpen could be outstanding, but beware of their various aches and pains: Bailey was a great surprise last season but spring soreness could portend a guy who takes a step back after flying too close to the sun for a year, and Breslow and Devine are also various shades of banged up. I expect Beane to press enough buttons to keep Oakland around .500, but for more than that, they need to wish upon a star.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:00 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 23, 2010
POLITICS: Unflexible

There will be many more things coming out about Obamacare as we finally get a fix on what was in the massive final bill, like the provisions exempting senior Congressional staff from its provisions or Jim Webb's worry that some military plans were not properly exempted from the bill.

Francis Cianfrocca looks at the foolishness of Obamacare slashing the tax exemption for flexible spending accounts. Health savings accounts and other flexible spending accounts, combined with high-deductible health plans, are one of the few ways we have to impose price discipline on care itself, and that's being replaced by a plan that puts massive upward pressure on the price of insurance, at the demand side by mandating its purchase by everyone and on the cost side by imposing a battery of restrictions on insurers' ability to evaluate risk or provide choice in what kind of coverage can be included in a plan. Personally, I recently switched my family to a high-deductible plan to avoid the rising rates of full-service plans, and on top of its various other bad effects the bill will limit my ability to use pretax funds to pay for healthcare; lots of people will be in the same boat, especially small business owners and employees and others among the self-employed who may not work for large organizations.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:29 PM | Politics 2010 | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)
LAW: Triple FAIL

Here's the opening of the syllabus of today's lone Supreme Court opinion, United Student Aid Funds, Inc. v. Espinosa, No. 08-1134, a unanimous decision written by Justice Thomas:

A plan proposed under Bankruptcy Code (Code) Chapter 13 becomes effective upon confirmation, see 11 U. S. C. ss1324, 1325, and will re-sult in a discharge of the debts listed in the plan if the debtor completes the payments the plan requires, see s1328(a). A debtor may obtain a discharge of government-sponsored student loan debts only if failure to discharge that debt would impose an "undue hardship" on the debtor and his dependents. ss523(a)(8); 1328. Bankruptcy courts must make this undue hardship determination in an adversary proceeding, see Fed. Rule Bkrtcy. Proc. 7001(6), which the party seeking the determination must initiate by serving a summons and complaint on his adversary, see Rules 7003, 7004, 7008. Respondent Espinosa's plan proposed repaying the principal on his student loan debt and discharging the interest once the principal was repaid, but he did not initiate the required adversary proceeding. The student loan creditor, petitioner United, received notice of the plan from the Bankruptcy Court and did not object to the plan or to Espinosa's failure to initiate the required proceeding. The Bankruptcy Court confirmed the plan without holding such a proceeding or making a finding of undue hardship. Once Espinosa paid his student loan principal, the court discharged the interest. A few years later, the Department of Education sought to collect that interest.

If you're keeping score at home:

(1) The debtor failed to use the proper procedure to request the discharge of his interest obligations;

(2) The creditor failed to object when given notice of this defective proceeding; and

(3) The court failed to make the necessary findings to justify the discharge.

Can't anybody play this game?

Sensibly enough, after being presented with this train wreck of mutual malpractice, the Court decided to let sleeping dogs lie, holding that the creditor couldn't go back later on and reopen the judgment, having failed to object at the time (the creditor had argued, and the Ninth Circuit had agreed, that the court's failure to make the hardship finding was equivalent to acting without jurisdiction and thus voided the judgment even without a timely objection).

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:10 AM | Law 2009-14 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 22, 2010
BASEBALL: The Top Ten (Twelve, Actually)

Continuing my warmup posts on Established Win Shares Levels, since I have kept you all waiting for the team previews, here's how the method, with the updated 2010 age adjustments, values the top 10 players (actually twelve, as I'm listing the guys who are essentially tied at 26 EWSL) in the game in terms of established performance level adjusted by age. EWSL is explained here. Chart below the fold.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:05 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 21, 2010
BASEBALL: EWSL 2010 Age and Rookie Baselines

It's time once again, however belatedly, for my annual division previews using Established Win Shares Levels, which are explained here. Before we get to rolling out the 2010 EWSLs, I have to update the age adjustments and rookie values I use each year. These are based on the data I have gathered over the past six seasons, and so with each passing year, one would hope they become progressively more stable and useful in evaluating the established talent base on hand for each team entering each season. As a reminder: EWSL is not a prediction system. It's a way of assessing the resources on hand. Time, chance, and mid-season replacements happen to all.

First up is the age adjustments; I've reformatted the table a bit from year to year. See my writeups on the age adjustments following the 2004 season - also here - 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 seasons. Here's the 2009 age adjustments (i.e, how each age of non-pitcher or pitcher stacked up to their un-age-adjusted EWSL), and the totals for 2004-09 - in some ways, if you study these sorts of things, the numbers accumulated over this many seasons become interesting in themselves:

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:02 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 19, 2010
POLITICS: No Quarter: How Left-Wing Blogs Seek To Destroy Rather Than Debate

If you have been reading or writing blogs for some time, you may recall the early, heady days of the blogosphere back around 2002-03. Many of us old-school bloggers started back then (I started writing baseball on the web in May 2000, and political blogging in August 2002; RedState wouldn't be founded until the summer of 2004). The blog world was a small town in those days, where everybody knew everybody, nobody was too big to respond to emails, comments or trackbacks (remember trackbacks?), and for all the fire of political debate, there was a broad-based sense that blogs constituted a community of interest that crossed party lines. Bloggers were glad to see recognition given to blogs and bloggers, engaged in debate across ideological lines, and in some cases informal alliances sprung up, as when blogs on the right and left alike united to drive media interest in ousting Trent Lott as GOP Senate Majority Leader after the 2002 elections over his comments about Strom Thurmond. Sites like The Command Post, which followed the blow-by-blow of the Iraq War, featured contributors from both sides of the political spectrum (myself included, along with others who would later become contributors at RedState). I don't want to overstate the degree of comity or idealize that era, but there was at least some degree of prevailing ethos that bloggers - amateurs using the internet to gather news and offer citizen punditry - had something in common even when their partisan and ideological interests diverged.

Those days are long, long gone. The coordinated and utterly predictable left-wing assault on CNN's hiring of RedState leader Erick Erickson over the past few days is merely the latest illustration of how the left side of the blogosphere sees it as its role not to debate conservative bloggers and pundits, but to destroy us and preclude us from being heard. Nobody on our side of the aisle should be under any illusion about the depths of personal enmity harbored towards us by the left blogs, nor the fact that they will spare no effort to go after us personally. These are not good people, they are not our friends, and they mean us harm.

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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:33 PM | Politics 2010 | Comments (27) | TrackBack (0)
March 18, 2010
POLITICS: Legislative Make-Believe

Andrew Hyman walks through why the "Slaughter Solution" - i.e., pretend to have passed the Senate healthcare bill through the House without actually voting on the language of the same bill that passes the Senate, in flagrant violation of the Presentment Clause of Article I of the Constitution - is not at all like other "deem and pass" procedures used in the past. Of course, it's debatable whether some of the prior maneuvers are entirely kosher under Article I either, but one thing about the "Gephardt rule" discussed by Hyman (the name of which should identify which party cooked it up in the first place) is that at least it doesn't involve the House changing its own rules mid-stream after different bills have passed the House and Senate; when the vote is taken under that rule, everyone already knows what the procedure will be and must calculate and justify their political position accordingly. (Worse yet, the reconciliation procedure the Democrats are proposing presupposes that if parts of the deemed-passed bill are stripped out by the Senate, there will be no opportunity for the House to see the bill again, meaning that House members are being asked to buy a pig in a poke).

Besides it being terrible politics to use such obvious gimmickry, "deem and pass" seems politically pointless - nobody's going to buy that their Congressman who voted for the rule didn't effectively vote for the bill - and legally dangerous, since the Supreme Court has twice in the past quarter century (INS v. Chadha and Clinton v. City of New York) affirmed that it will strike down violations of the Presentment Clause, when the resulting enactment is challenged by citizens, states or municipalities adversely affected by its terms. The Court doesn't like to get involved in the internal affairs of Congress, but if there's one thing in Article I that's so basic that any viewer of Schoolhouse Rock will remember it and the Court will enforce it, it's that the same bill has to pass both houses before it becomes a law. I cannot possibly imagine a worse outcome for the Democrats than moving heaven and earth to pass Obamacare, and incur the political price for doing so, only to have it struck down by the Supreme Court - perhaps after they have lost their commanding majorities in Congress - on the grounds that they essentially cheated by changing the rules in the middle of the game to pass something that wouldn't pass under the traditional rules.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Politics 2010 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
March 16, 2010
POLITICS: The Right To Surf

Meet John Smith. John is a surfer by trade. He dreams of competitive surfing; his walls are decorated with posters of famous surfers. But he has just one problem: here in his home town of Dubuque, Iowa, he can only surf small streams and brooks. "Sometimes, I just stand there on my board, waiting and waiting for some kid to throw a rock so I can have a ripple to surf on," says Smith, a vacant, far-away look coming into his grey eyes. "I bring a book with me to kill time. It's sad and frustrating. We don't have access to high-speed, high-volume waves here in Dubuque. My kids ask me when we're going to get them. I tell them, I just don't know."

But help is on the way: the Obama Administration promises to use billions of dollars in stimulus funds to build professional-quality wave machines in every zip code by 2014, to help connect surfers like John Smith to the world wide wave culture.

Seriously, this CNN sob story about lack of high-speed internet access in some markets is not much better. We'd all like to see more high-speed broadband, but since when is it a right guaranteed by the federal government? And is Uncle Sam really not spending enough money already on things we might want but don't need?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:53 PM | Politics 2010 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
March 15, 2010
BASEBALL: Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Lee at Gettysburg, Napoleon at Waterloo; historians will forever debate whether they erred at critical junctures by misunderstanding or misjudging the lay of the land. In a similar vein, Morgan Ensberg says on his blog that he was mis-positioned by Phil Garner at a key moment in the 2005 NLCS due to an optical illusion from Garner's vantage point in the Minute Maid dugout.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:44 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Good friend and RedState colleague Neil Stevens has launched Unlikely Voter, a new poll-analysis site. Go check it ouand get in on the ground floor of what is sure to be a busy site this election season. The initial explanatory post looks at the Specter/Sestak Senate primary race in Pennsylvania.

Neil is RS' resident tech/math guy, and aims to provide some mathematical rigor to the space already inhabited by RealClearPolitics' multi-poll averaging and Nate Silver's; while both of those sites are useful, RCP is an apples-and-oranges snapshot rather than an analysis site, and Silver's site, while superficially impressive, is too often driven by advocacy and in some cases apparent vendettas against particular polling firms, and tends at times to overstate the degree of certainty in its models, which tend to assume that all trends will continue indefinitely (like when Silver constructed a polling model predicting approval of same-sex marriage in 2009 by the following states: Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Nevada, Washington, Alaska, New York, Oregon) or tend to predict things like legislative votes that can't reliably be predicted with mathematical models.

We really have never had a satisfactory replacement in this space for Gerry Daly's site, and hopefully Neil will fill that gap.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:27 PM | Politics 2010 • | Poll Analysis | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 11, 2010

Joshua Fisher, in the course of a useful primer on sabermetric stats, makes a point I've come back to again and again:

Our arrogance comes from the strength of our position; we're right about baseball and we know it. The problem is that things have become almost cultish; our alphabet-soup language poses a formidable barrier to entering the club. And that's where these primers come in. If we can walk people through the silliness of pitcher wins and ERA, they'll greet FIP with open arms. That's the plan.

But I'm not sure it works as elegantly as we'd like. I believe we've reached a sort of saturation point with advanced stats. Most anyone who wants to know about WAR is already plugged in. And the primers, while enjoyable, accurate, and insightful, are still lessons. I don't know about the rest of you, but I got into sabermetrics because I enjoyed discovery. There's a fine line between learning and being taught, and the former is much more enjoyable than the latter.

What's more, at the end of the day, do we really care if the people we watch the game with know the differences between UZR and Dewan Plus/Minus? Does it matter if they can discuss the merits and flaws of SIERA? Do our friends need to carry run expectancy charts in their briefcases?

I say no. What's important about sabermetrics isn't the statistics, but the approach to the game.

This has long been one of my two major critiques of Baseball Prospectus, much as I respect and value what BP brings to the table (the other is the ceaseless hyping of prospects without adequate perspective about how often super-prospects stumble and face a learning curve even when on their way to great careers): too much advanced math too close to the surface, too many non-obvious acronyms (WXRL sounds like a radio station to me), too many boutique stats with non-obvious scales (quick: what's the typical WARP for an All-Star? An MVP?). That's all well and good if you are writing a trade journal for professional GMs, and sometimes that seems to be what BP aspires to, but it's impossible for even an educated BP reader to translate this stuff quickly and cleanly to neophytes. And it often leaves one with a false sense of certainty about inherently imprecise inquiries, while the opaque nature of the numbers renders their inner workings impervious to analysis by most outsiders, who simply have to take the workings of the formulae on faith. Personally, I never use any math on this site more complex than algebra; partly that's my own mathematical limitations, and I recognize that there are times when a regression analysis would come in very handy, but if you start with the assumption that your readers come to be entertained and enlightened rather than have all arguments settled for all time, it's sometimes worth trading some level of precision for more easily understood measurements. That's a lesson Bill James, not just the greatest original thinker among baseball analysts but also the greatest popularizer of the form, has never forgotten, and I try to adhere to his example.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:28 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: 2009 EWSL Wrapup By Team

Further to the process of looking back at 2009's Established Win Shares Levels reports in preparation for 2010, here's how the 2009 teams stacked up. The first column is the number of EWSL by team (recall that my preseason reports collect only 23 players, so I'm always going to be a little short); the second is the number of win shares earned by those 23 players in 2009 (whether on that team or not); the third is the difference between the two; fourth is team wins; fifth is the total number of WS for the team's players minus those earned by the 23 guys I identified before the season; the last column is total team WS minus EWSL.

TeamEWSL2009 WSDiffWinsRestWS-EWSL

Unsurprising that the Mets were the biggest underachievers. Also unsurprising that the A's were near the top, as happens nearly every year, in Win Shares earned by players not on the preseason depth chart, topped only by the Mariners.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:34 AM | Baseball 2010 • | Baseball Studies | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 10, 2010
BASEBALL: Say Goodbye, Part I

Part of the process of compiling my annual Established Win Shares Levels-driven preseason previews is looking back at the prior season. Let's start with a look at the mortality of baseball careers: a list of the players from the 2008 previews who didn't make it into anybody's previews in 2009, by how they did in 2009:

10 or more Win Shares: These guys seriously returned to the land of the living, in Hughes' case making his mark on his second try as a prospect.

Adam Kennedy, David Aardsma, Scott Podsednik, Tony Gwynn, Angel Pagan, Jonny Gomes, Jason Hammel, Phil Hughes, Jason Frasor

5-10 Win Shares: These guys re-established themselves as major leagers.

Carl Pavano, Clay Buchholz, Jason Nix, Robinson Tejeda, Mike Sweeney, Lance Cormier, Omar Vizquel, Danys Baez, Josh Anderson, Scoyy Eyre, Miguel Batista, Justin Miller, Gabe Kapler, Shawn Camp

1-4 Win Shares: Some of these guys are just scrubs who flit on and off the 23d roster slot; others returned briefly from injury; others were winding down Hall of Fame careers.

Tim Hudson, Freddy Garcia, Brian Stokes, Brett Tomko, Jack Hannahan, Brendan Donnelly, Jason Jennings, Josh Bard, Pedro Martinez, Claudio Vargas, Brian Anderson, Bartolo Colon, Matt Herges, Andy Marte, Jeremy Sowers, Josh Fogg, Rich Vanden Hurk, Chad Gaudin, Tyler Walker, Robb Quinlan, Matt Albers, Brayan Pena, Luis Ayala, Tim Redding, Billy Wagner, Kyle Kendrick, Tom Gorzelanny, Brian Shouse, Jeremy Accardo, Ryan Langerhans, Paul Bako, Juan Castro, Kip Wells, Dustin Moseley, Ramon Ramirez, John Smoltz, Josh Barfield, Matt Belisle, Randy Flores, Juan Rincon, Alejandro de Aza, Doug Brocail, Tony F. Pena, Tony Abreu, Kevin Cash, Kevin Cameron, Nomar Garciaparra, Edgar Gonzalez, Eliezer Alfonzo, Jamie Burke, Garrett Olson, Kevin Frandsen, Chad Bradford, Jason Isringhausen, Esteban German, Julian Tavaraz, Paul Byrd, Luis Hernandez, Eric Milton, Matt Murton.

0 Win Shares: Most of these guys barely played and are all but finished as big leaguers.

Rich Hill, Jimmy Gobble, Vinny Chulk, Dontrelle Willis, Taylor Tankersley, Aaron Boone, JR Towles, Joel Peralta, Jason Repko, David Riske, Marlon Anderson, Angel Berroa, Casey Fossum, Shelley Duncan, Ian Kennedy, Chris Denorfia, Jeff Salazar, Emil Brown, Shawn Hill, Chris Burke, Brian Barton, Joaquin Arias, Russ Adams, Brian Burres, Alex Cintron, Wil Ledezma, Jorge Sosa, Fernando Cabrera, Lenny DiNardo, Rodrigo Lopez, Sergio Mitre, Guillermo Quiroz, So Taguchi

Did Not Play: Aside from a few guys rehabbing major injuries, nearly all these guys' careers have now ended.

Antonio Alfonseca, Moises Alou, Tony Armas, Rick Bauer, Robby Hammock, Brad Hennessey, Paul McAnulty, Brian Broussard, Aaron Fultz, Norris Hopper, Jacque Jones, Daryle Ward, Juan Salas, Jake Westbrook, Jeff Francis, Dan Ortmeier, Scott Proctor, Jason Wood, Toby Hall, Clay Hensley, Ryan Shealy, Oscar Villereal, Chris Capuano, Callix Crabbe, Wes Littleton, Pat Neshek, Bobby Kielty, Jose Valentin, Kei Igawa, Pablo Ozuna, Franquelis Osoria, Brian Babcock, Noah Lowry, Ron Washington, Joaquin Benoit, Jason Botts, Adam Loewen, Shawn Marcum, Dustin McGowan, Matt Chico, Javier Valentin, Dmitri Young, Armando Benitez, Gary Bennett, Ryan Bowen, Ambiorix Burgos, Sean Casey, Juan Castillo, Gustavo Chacin, Shawn Chacon, Brady Clark, Humberto Cota, Jose Cruz Jr., Ray Durham, Damion Easley, Jim Edmonds, Brad Eldred, Morgan Ensberg, Johnny Estrada, Brian Fahey, Eric Gagne, Lee Gardner, Justin Germano, Jay Gibbons, Marcus Giles, Gary Glover, Chris Gomez, Luis Gonzalez, Mark Grudzielanek, Orlando Hernandez, Jason Hirsh, Tadahito Iguchi, Chuck James, Geoff Jenkins, Dan Johnson, Byun Hyung Kim, Mike Lamb, Jason Lane, Jon Lieber, Esteban Loaiza, Paul Lo Duca, Kameron Loe, Ruddy Lugo, Hector Luna, Rob Mackowiak, Tom Mastny, Macay McBride, Adam Melhuse, Kevin Mench, Trot Nixon, Josh Paul, Jay Payton, Wily Mo Pena, Odalis Perez, Andy Phillips, Mike Rabelo, Mike Redman, Al Reyes, Dave Roberts, Kenny Rogers, Kirk Saarloos, Rudy Seanez, Richie Sexson, Ben Sheets, Andy Sisco, Chris Snelling, Scott Speizio, Scott Stewart, Mark Sweeney, Frank Thomas, Scott Thorman, Mike Timlin, Steve Trachsel, Jason Tyner, Jose Vidro, Ryan Wagner, Brad Wilkerson, Vance Wilson, Matt Wise, Jake Woods.

Again: some of these last two lists are guys who will be back, but most won't, and while there are plenty of names there of guys who were real or potential stars at one point or another - 20-game winners, 100-RBI guys, World Series heroes, ERA champs, hot prospects - and few of them left on their own terms.

It's a tough business.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:03 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
March 8, 2010
BLOG: Ramping Up

Regular readers have undoubtedly noticed that things have been quiet about here lately. Partly that's work and family time commitments, and partly I've been using Twitter more for links and one-liners, and doing more longer-form posts for the blog, but I'm also at the point of the year where I'm ramping up on the preseason baseball previews, which require a lot of development time. I've also got something else baseball-related in the works that took a lot of time and won't be out for a bit.

I'll be back to talk about good news for the Mets, if there ever is any.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:46 PM | Baseball 2010 • | Blog 2006-14 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
March 5, 2010
POLITICS: Taranto Sinks Paul Krugman's Battleship

Krugman couldn't have walked into this one any worse if he tried.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:26 PM | Politics 2010 | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
March 3, 2010
POLITICS: Stark Raving Chairman

So, with the ethically-challenged tax-evading Charles Rangel temporarily stepping down from running the House's tax-writing committee (Ways and Means; this as opposed to the tax-evading Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, who's in charge of enforcing the tax code, and the head of the Senate's tax-writing commitee, Max Baucus, who for variety's sake had a sex scandal involving a staffer/girlfriend he tried to get appointed US Attorney), the Democrats have turned to the next in line by seniority, 79-year-old San Francisco paleoliberal Fortney "Pete" Stark. What could possibly go wrong? Brian Faughnan collects some of the greatest hits of the craziest man in Congress here; I've looked previousy at Stark's lunacy here; Moe Lane asks whether Stark's memory problems are the result of lack of integrity, generalized confusion or something genuinely wrong with him here.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 2:03 PM | Politics 2010 | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)
BASEBALL: One More Thing

Looking over the Biblical array of misfortunes plaguing the Mets last season (and I'm still kicking myself that that column didn't even get to the Tony Bernazard fiasco, which turned out to be a gift that keeps on giving), you'd be forgiven for thinking the Mets had covered pretty much everything that could possibly go wrong.

But no! We didn't have a performance-enhancing drug scandal! Which we have now, with Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes questioned in an FBI investigation of an HGH-dealing doctor (how HGH could help Reyes, in particular, is beyond me; HGH, which helps build mass but doesn't actually aid any sort of performance, is arguably useful to guys already using steroids to add muscle mass; while steroids can help sprinters too - think Ben Johnson - a player looking mainly to improve his fast-twitch lean muscles would have no need I can think of for HGH).

Anyway, yet another story I really would rather avoid. Can't anybody here just play this game?

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:54 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Ezra Klein, Underpants Gnome

Underpants Gnomes

Should President Obama politicize the Federal Reserve? If so, what would he accomplish? Ezra Klein of the Washington Post seems to think he should, and that this would somehow magically create jobs - but you would look long and hard for an explanation of how this would work.

For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Klein is the Washington Post's resident left-wing blogger (as opposed to its resident left-wing activist, Greg Sargent, or its resident right-wing bloggers or activists...of which it employs none) and one of the prime examples of a paid, professional left-wing blogger who has never held a job besides blogger/pundit. Klein is well-read, wonkish and earnest to a fault - he's perhaps the last man in Washington who takes government financial projections at face value - but often comically insulated from how the world works, and why. I follow his Twitter feed in large part for the entertainment value of watching him attempt to navigate the most mundane daily tasks - he gives off the impression of a man who can't brush his teeth in the morning without a position paper telling him how. I suppose in some ways I was like that myself once, but then I went to law school, got married, got a job, kids, a house, a mortgage...the sort of things that force you to engage the world at a level other than theory.

Anyway, Klein posted yesterday on his enthusiasm for a piece by Neil Irwin, also in the WaPo, on the opening of a third vacancy at the Fed and what it could mean for monetary policy going forward. Klein writes:

When people talk about the need for Democrats and the administration to focus on jobs, nothing they could get through Congress could plausibly be half as important as maximizing their long-term impact on the composition of the Federal Reserve....

Kohn's resignation is the fifth possible opening on the Federal Reserve Board. Two other possible slots were filled: The first went to Daniel Tarrulo, a banking expert who advised the campaign and is now overseeing banking regulation at the Fed. The second was Ben Bernanke's renomination, and whatever you think of the merits of reappointing Bernanke, it certainly did not represent the administration's decision to try to leave their imprint on the Federal Reserve.

Every smart economic observer I know is baffled by the administration's failure to nominate anyone for the two slots that have been empty for months. Those are votes and arguments that the administration could have put at the Fed's table and has simply chosen not to...I'm not versed enough in this stuff to have any candidates in mind. But the critique of the administration's strategy on jobs that I find compelling is that they've not had any coordinated strategy when it comes to the Federal Reserve.

Klein further enthused on Twitter that his post was "something major the Obama administration actually could do about the jobs situation, but hasn't." Except, nowhere does he actually get around to explaining how the Obama Administration putting its "imprint" or "impact" or "arguments" on the Federal Reserve Board would change Fed policy, let alone create jobs where none exist today. It's Underpants Gnomes logic: Step one: appoint left-wingers to the Fed. Step two: ??? Step three: Profit!

To get even a vague idea of how Klein expects this to work, you have to dig into the 18th through 21st paragraphs of Irwin's story:

At the moment, Fed officials are unified behind a policy of ultra-low interest rates to support the economy. But as the economy improves, some officials, especially presidents of regional Fed banks, are likely to be more eager than Bernanke to raise interest rates and drain the money supply, even at the risk of slowing the recovery. There are early signs of those pressures emerging, including a decision by Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig to dissent at the last policymaking meeting, preferring not to promise to leave rates low for an "extended period."

New Obama appointees could push the center of gravity of the committee in the president's preferred direction. Fed watchers generally expect the president to favor appointees who would be in line with Bernanke's thinking or perhaps even more tilted toward worrying about unemployment as opposed to inflation.

Some liberal economists argue that the president should quickly appoint Fed governors who would be inclined to leave rates low for longer to try to get growth going again, even if it comes at the cost of mild inflation.

At the same time, an appointee who is viewed as too soft on inflation or too close to the administration could cause problems. If financial markets doubt the Fed's willingness to combat inflation, either because of appointees' economic views or because of a perception that they want to boost growth in the run-up to the presidential election, interest rates could rise. That would slow the economy.

You see here a glimmer of why Klein is hesitant to come right out and say what he thinks. First, we have the already unsavory suggestion that the Fed should be treated as just another bureaucracy to be captured by the Left through the appointment of ideologues to supposedly non-partisan "career" positions. Klein doesn't seem to know what a central bank is. The Fed can act rapidly and in incredible size during a crisis, and without checks and balances (aka, Republicans). At a time when the Left feels hemmed in by the traditional political process at every step, the Fed looks like the one institution that can be the archetypical "man of action." The Fed needs that independence - it's core to the mission of an inflation-fighting central bank - but it's also the reason Congress allowed the Fed to be formed only with great trepidation and after 100 years of bitter debate, why its long, staggered terms tend to resist partisan Fed-packing, and why it's emergency powers should be narrowly circumscribed and not extended into an ongoing, wholesale economic-emergency state that supplants political decisionmaking by the elected branches rather than a traditional central bank focused laser-like on a stable currency.

On the merits, Klein's invocation of Irwin's piece is even more menacing. The unnamed "liberal economists" mentioned here are essentially arguing for an inflationary policy of keeping interest rates artificially low, rather than focusing on keeping the currency stable, which is supposed to be what central bankers' job is. While economic observers are divided on the importance of various contributing factors to the recent financial crisis, many smart observers argue that the Fed made the problem worse by keeping interest rates artificially low for too long, thus artificially reducing the cost of borrowing to invest in real estate, thus artificially inflating the asset bubble in real estate (at a minimum, the Fed did nothing to prevent the dynamics of an asset bubble from playing out the way asset bubbles do). The policy that Irwin describes with some skepticism, but which Klein apparently views as a godsend, runs the risk of repeating the exact same mistake and reinflating the same bubble. There are signs that we already have that problem; whether that worries you or not, we shouldn't be advocating putting people on the Fed with an ideological agenda of exacerbating that process.

That's the optimistic scenario. As Irwin notes, the pessimistic scenario is based on the fact that banks that lend at low rates get blindsided when inflation devalues their returns on those loans - thus, while easy money can cause inflation, fears of easy money causing inflation can simultaneously drive up interest rates and stifle job growth. That's called stagflation - inflation plus high interest rates and high unemployment - and while Ezra Klein isn't old enough to remember it from the Jimmy Carter era, in which interest rates cracked 20%, those of us who are do not want a Fed that thinks it's an acceptable risk to run. (Indeed, it was the Fed under Paul Volcker that played a crucial role, along with the Reagan Administration, in breaking the back of stagflation and setting the stage for the booms of the 1980s and 1990s, even at the short-term cost of making the recession even worse).

Some degree of politics in Fed appointments is inevitable, and moreso given the vast powers the Fed has accrued in recent years. But Obama's reappointment of Ben Bernanke, the Fed chair appointed by George W. Bush, and his grudgingly bipartisan confirmation by the Senate, is a reminder that even in the hyper-partisan Obama Era, there are some parts of the government in which nearly everyone recognizes that it's still dangerous to put ideology and partisan self-interest above predictability and stability. Klein's suggestion that Obama tilt the Fed towards the abyss of asset bubbles or stagflation is a reminder that a lack of common sense and experience can be a dangerous thing.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:15 PM | Politics 2010 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
March 1, 2010
BASEBALL: The Age of Innocence

As usual, Joe Posnanski is mostly spot-on.

I do think steroids are worse than amphetamines in baseball, although it's a matter of degree. First of all, I'm no doctor but my guess is that using steroids year-round is worse for you than using amphetamines on game days. Relatedly, why we at least feel instinctively that steroids are a bigger deal is that they actually change the structure of your body, or help doing so, as opposed to just being a more extreme version of legal stimulants like caffeine.

But I agree completely with the broader point: there never was an age of innocence in baseball. At most, there was an age of maturity - the generation who played in the late 40s and early 50s, the age of guys 5-10 years older than Willie Mays, seem to have been a more serious and mature generation of players, not by nature but by experience, so many of them having experienced World War II. Among other things, the breaking of the color line would probably have been harder if so many of the players of that era hadn't had that experience. But it was hard nonetheless. And that generation still had its share of all the sins of baseball and society from the 1870s to the present day, just leavened a bit with hard experience.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:02 PM | Baseball 2010 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)